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23501  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: US plans to go after opium on: April 29, 2009, 08:30:59 AM
Its the NYTimes.  Caveat lector!

Looks like it could be a major development.  Perfect timing in view of Krenz's point two above-- it would have been really nice if the President gave the generals the troops they tell him they need instead of half the number  angry

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

ZANGABAD, Afghanistan — American commanders are planning to cut off the Taliban’s main source of money, the country’s multimillion-dollar opium crop, by pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the group’s operations.

 
The plan to send 20,000 Marines and soldiers into Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul Provinces this summer promises weeks and perhaps months of heavy fighting, since American officers expect the Taliban to vigorously defend what makes up the economic engine for the insurgency. The additional troops, the centerpiece of President Obama’s effort to reverse the course of the seven-year war, will roughly double the number already in southern Afghanistan. The troops already fighting there are universally seen as overwhelmed. In many cases, the Americans will be pushing into areas where few or no troops have been before.

Through extortion and taxation, the Taliban are believed to reap as much as $300 million a year from Afghanistan’s opium trade, which now makes up 90 percent of the world’s total. That is enough, the Americans say, to sustain all of the Taliban’s military operations in southern Afghanistan for an entire year.

“Opium is their financial engine,” said Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the deputy commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. “That is why we think he will fight for these areas.”

The Americans say that their main goal this summer will be to provide security for the Afghan population, and thereby isolate the insurgents.

But because the opium is tilled in heavily populated areas, and because the Taliban are spread among the people, the Americans say they will have to break the group’s hold on poppy cultivation to be successful.

No one here thinks that is going to be easy.

Only 10 minutes inside the tiny village of Zangabad, 20 miles southwest of Kandahar, a platoon of American soldiers stepped into a poppy field in full bloom on Monday. Taliban fighters opened fire from three sides.

“From the north!” one of the soldiers yelled, spinning and firing.

“West!” another screamed, turning and firing, too.

An hour passed and a thousand bullets whipped through the air. Ammunition was running low. The Taliban were circling.

Then the gunships arrived, swooping in, their bullet casings showering the ground beneath them, their rockets streaking and destroying. Behind a barrage of artillery, the soldiers shot their way out of Zangabad and moved into the cover of the vineyards.

“When are you going drop the bomb?” Capt. Chris Brawley said into his radio over the clatter of machine-gun fire. “I’m in a grape field.”

The bomb came, and after a time the shooting stopped.

The firefight offered a preview of the Americans’ summer in southern Afghanistan. By all accounts, it is going to be bloody.

Like the guerrillas they are, Taliban fighters often fade away when confronted by a conventional army. But in Afghanistan, as they did in Zangabad, the Taliban will probably stand and fight.

Among the ways the Taliban are believed to make money from the opium trade is by charging farmers for protection; if the Americans and British attack, the Taliban will be expected to make good on their side of that bargain.

Indeed, Taliban fighters have begun to fight any efforts by the Americans or the British to move into areas where poppy grows and opium is produced. Last month, a force of British marines moved into a district called Nad Ali in Helmand Province, the center of the country’s poppy cultivation. The Taliban were waiting. In a five-day battle, the British killed 120 Taliban fighters and wounded 150. Only one British soldier was wounded.

Many of the new American soldiers will fan out along southern Afghanistan’s largely unguarded 550-mile-long border with Pakistan. Among them will be soldiers deployed in the Stryker, a relatively quick, nimble armored vehicle that can roam across the vast areas that span the frontier.

All of the new troops are supposed to be in place by Aug. 20, in order to provide security for Afghanistan’s presidential election.

The presence of poppy and opium here has injected a huge measure of uncertainly into the war. Under NATO rules of engagement, American or other forces are prohibited from attacking targets or people related only to narcotics production. Those people are not considered combatants.

But American and other forces are allowed to attack drug smugglers or facilities that are assisting the Taliban. In an interview, General Nicholson said that opium production and the Taliban are so often intertwined that the rules do not usually inhibit American operations.

“We often come across a compound that has opium and I.E.D. materials side by side, and opium and explosive materials and weapons,” General Nicholson said, referring to improvised explosive devices. “It’s very common — more common than not.”
-----------
Page 2 of 2)



But the prospect of heavy fighting in populated areas could further alienate the Afghan population. In the firefight in Zangabad, the Americans covered their exit with a barrage of 20 155 millimeter high-explosive artillery shells — necessary to shield them from the Taliban, but also enough to inflict serious damage on people and property. A local Afghan interviewed by telephone after the firefight said that four homes had been damaged by the artillery strikes.

Then there is the problem of weaning poppy farmers from poppy farming — a task that has proved intractable in many countries, like Colombia, where the American government has tried to curtail poppy production. It is by far the most lucrative crop an Afghan can farm. The opium trade now makes up nearly 60 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, American officials say. The country’s opium traffickers typically offer incentives that no Afghan government official can: they can guarantee a farmer a minimum price for the crop as well as taking it to market, despite the horrendous condition of most of Afghanistan’s roads.

“The people don’t like to cultivate poppy, but they are desperate,” Mohammed Ashraf Naseri, the governor of Zabul Province, told a group of visitors this month.

To offer an alternative to poppy farming, the American military is setting aside $250 million for agriculture projects like irrigation improvements and wheat cultivation. General Nicholson said that a $200 million plan for infrastructure improvements, much of it for roads to help get crops to market, was also being prepared. The vision, General Nicholson said, is to try to restore the agricultural economy that flourished in Afghanistan in the 1970s. That, more than military force, will defeat the Taliban, he said.

“There is a significant portion of the enemy that we believe we can peel off with incentives,” the general said. “We can hire away many of these young men.”

Even if the Americans are able to cut production, shortages could drive up prices and not make a significant dent in the Taliban’s profits.

The foray into Zangabad suggested the difficulties that lie ahead. The terrain is a guerrilla’s dream. In addition to acres of shoulder-high poppy plants, rows and rows of hard-packed mud walls, used to stand up grape vines, offer ideal places for ambushes and defense.

But the trickiest thing will be winning over the Afghans themselves. The Taliban are entrenched in the villages and river valleys of southern Afghanistan. The locals, caught between the foes, seem, at best, to be waiting to see who prevails.

On their way to Zangabad, the soldiers stopped in a wheat field to talk to a local farmer. His name was Ahmetullah. The Americans spoke through a Pashto interpreter.

“I’m very happy to see you,” the farmer told the Americans.

“Really?” one of the soldiers asked.

“Yes,” the farmer said.

The interpreter sighed, and spoke in English.

“He’s a liar.”





23502  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iranian arms ship sunk? on: April 29, 2009, 08:27:02 AM
LINK
CAVEAT: While sources not completely thin, not completely gelled either. Haaretz is reporting, as well as Egyptian & Sudanese media (with their different perspective as you might imagine).

Last update - 07:53 27/04/2009
'Iran arms ship bound for Gaza downed near Sudan'

By Haaretz Service

An Iranian vessel laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area, the Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa reported on Sunday.

Anonymous sources in Khartoum told the newspaper that an unidentified warship bombed the Iranian vessel as it prepared to dock on Sudan before transferring its load for shipment to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

These sources said they suspects U.S. or Israeli involvement in the attack, but neither Washington nor Jerusalem have released a statement yet on the matter.

The Israel Air Force, meanwhile, is suspected of attacking a convoy of Iranian arms that passed through Sudan en route to Gaza in January, according to reports released in March.

American officials confirmed the IAF involvement in that attack, The New York Times later reported, abd said they had received intelligence reports that an Iranian Revolutionary Guards operative had gone to Sudan to help organize the weapons convoy said the report.

Israel has neither denied nor confirmed involvement in that incident.

In February, Cypriot authorities detained an Iranian arms ship en route Iranian arms ship en route to Syria, apparently upon request of the U.S. and Israel.

A search of the ship, which was sailing from Iran to the Syrian port of Latakia, found ammunition for T-72 tanks, used by the Syrian army, as well as various types of mortar shells, said a senior Israeli official.

The United States has claimed that the ship was carrying weapons from Iran to Hamas or the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.
23503  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton on: April 29, 2009, 08:21:19 AM
"As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature."

--Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, June 1788
23504  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Team Dog Brothers MMA? on: April 28, 2009, 10:54:58 AM
Frankfurter for one  cool
23505  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Oy vey on: April 28, 2009, 08:59:03 AM
By SUZANNE SATALINE, JONATHAN D. ROCKOFF and CHRISTOPHER CONKEY
As secret missions go, this one was a flop.

On Monday morning, one of the 747s used to ferry around the U.S. president was dispatched to the Statue of Liberty, escorted by a fighter jet. Assignment: Get some fresh glamour shots of the plane.

The Air Force said the flight needed to remain confidential. So while New York police knew about it, as did at least one person in the mayor's office, regular New Yorkers remained in the dark.

As a result, to onlookers Monday all across downtown Manhattan -- where the World Trade Center once stood -- the photo shoot looked like a terrorist attack. People watched in horror as a massive aircraft, trailed closely by an F-16 fighter jet, banked and roared low near the city, in a frightening echo of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Fearing the worst, thousands of people streamed out of the skyscrapers and into the streets. Some buildings ordered evacuations. "Oh God, it was mayhem in here, just mayhem," says Rubin Shimon, manager of Styling Haircutters, a barbershop near Ground Zero. Many people took shelter in the shop to call loved ones on their cellphones.

It was all over in a half-hour or so. Then the finger-pointing began. "I'm annoyed -- furious is a better word -- that I wasn't told," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference. He'd been scheduled to talk about a swine-flu outbreak at a Queens school, but also sounded off at the federal government for its "badly conceived" flyover plan.

He chastised his own office for its role in keeping the flyover secret. On Thursday night, city officials say, a junior mayoral aide had been alerted to the flyover by the Federal Aviation Administration, which requested that it be kept secret. Someone in City Hall alerted the New York Police Department, but no public announcement was made.

Marc Mugnos was reprimanded for not apprising the mayor, and a disciplinary letter was placed in his file, a spokesman said. Mr. Mugnos couldn't be reached for comment.

 Low-Flying Plane Causes Scare in Manhattan
1:44
A low-flying airplane escorted by military jets sent worried workers fleeing offices in the New York City area. The FAA said it was a "photo op" conducted by a unit of the Air Force.
The email sent to City Hall describes a "flying photo op" -- government-speak for a publicity photo -- to include two or possibly three passes over the area. The email, sent by an FAA official and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, lists flight patterns and specifies a photo-op altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet.

The email specifies that the information "only be shared with persons with a need to know" and "shall not be released to the public." It also says that, "Due to the possibility of public concern regarding [Department of Defense] aircraft flying at low levels, coordination with Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies...has been accomplished."

The email's author, James J. Johnston, of FAA air traffic, declined to comment.

An Obama administration official said the mission was "classified" by the military and that the FAA, which controls much of the airspace over Manhattan, did what the military asked. "The mission was to send [the aircraft] up to get a picture of it flying around the Statue of Liberty," this person said. "They said they needed to update their photo files." President Obama wasn't aboard.

More
Vote: How does the Air Force One "photo op" affect your confidence in White House decision making?Wash Wire: Caldera Takes BlamePlane Scare Has Happened BeforeReaders' reactions: Plane 'Flying VERY Low'Readers' Photos: Jets Circle N.Y.Send photos to yourphotos@wsj.comThe New York photo shoot wasn't the only one planned. The White House had scheduled a follow-up session on May 5 or May 6 in Washington, D.C., according to two government officials. The D.C. flyover has now been canceled, a government official said.

Louis Caldera, a former Secretary of the Army who runs the White House Military Office, took the blame. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption," he said. "I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

Mr. Caldera met Monday afternoon with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina "to hear the president's displeasure," an official said.

It was a beautiful spring day in the Big Apple -- perfect for picture taking. The aircraft, painted in White House livery, was trailed by one F-16 fighter jet. The aircraft had flown from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, across New Jersey, down the Hudson River and then circled the Statue of Liberty before heading off.

For many who witnessed the maneuver, it stirred dark memories. Andrew Wybolt, who works for Barclays PLC in a skyscraper that borders the Hudson, said people rushed for the windows when they heard the planes. "They just started sprinting and freaking out," he said.

 
Associated Press
Louis Caldera, pictured in 2006, took blame for the flight.
Thousands of workers from Merrill Lynch, American Express and other companies in the buildings that ring the former World Trade Center site hustled for the exits. Many stood outside their offices, nervously looking up into the sky, while hundreds of others walked north, along the West Side Highway, as thousands of people had done the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

"To do something like this to all these people who have already been through 9-11 is just wrong," said Greg Forman, a broker at the New York Mercantile Exchange, which is located in a building along the Hudson river, across the street from the World Trade Center site.

One block north, construction workers on the 43-story Goldman Sachs Group Inc. tower said they had a close-up view of the low-flying plane. "I saw that thing coming and ran down the stairs," said Eddie Navedo, who was clearing construction debris on the 23rd floor of the new building when he spotted the plane flying low over the river, then banking sharply to the west. "Everybody was saying, it's a terrorist attack."

Not everyone lost his cool. Mr. Shimon, the manager of the barbershop where people fled on Monday, was present for the attacks in 2001, and in fact at that time worked in a shop even closer to the World Trade Center than his current one. He watched the towers fall that day.

So did the events of Monday scare him? "To tell you the truth, not really," Mr. Shimon said. "I didn't think it was such a big deal. I'm a New Yorker."

—Jonathan Weisman, Alex Frangos and Michael Corkery contributed to this article
23506  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Barofsky gets it right on: April 28, 2009, 08:53:53 AM
A high-five is due the Special Inspector General for the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program. In his quarterly report to Congress last week, Neil Barofsky promotes a reform to help prevent the next credit disaster.

Mr. Barofsky criticizes the New York Fed's Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) for relying on the major credit-rating agencies to determine if securities are safe enough for taxpayers. Under the TALF, the New York Fed provides nonrecourse loans to private firms to buy AAA-rated pools of mortgages and other assets. But can you trust that triple-A rating?

Mr. Barofsky notes that credit ratings on residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) "have proven to be unreliable and largely irrelevant to the actual value and performance of the security. Arguably, the wholesale failure of the credit rating agencies to rate adequately such securities is at the heart of the securitization market collapse, if not the primary cause of the current credit crisis." Hear, hear.

Could this message finally penetrate the crania of senior U.S. officials? Mr. Barofsky reports that his office "has been informed by the Federal Reserve that it is considering, but has not yet adopted" a plan to replace credit ratings with actual examinations of the underlying loan portfolios. He further reports that Treasury says that "conducting due diligence with respect to the underlying collateral" will be part of its plan for investing in mortgage-backed securities. Imagine that: Trying to find out what they are buying before committing your money.

So many bad ideas are coming from Washington these days that a rare good one needs more exposure and support. Pour it on, Mr. Barofsky. Taxpayers need a champion, and the financial system needs an alternative to the credit-rating oligopoly.
23507  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: What's in the pipeline? on: April 28, 2009, 08:21:05 AM
Where Will the Swine Flu Go Next?

AS the swine flu threatens to become the next pandemic, the biggest questions are whether its transmission from human to human will be sustained and, if so, how virulent it might become. But even if this virus were to peter out soon, there is a strong possibility it would only go underground, quietly continuing to infect some people while becoming better adapted to humans, and then explode around the world.

What happens next is chiefly up to the virus. But it is up to us to create a vaccine as quickly as possible.

Influenza viruses are unpredictable because they are able to mutate so rapidly. That capacity enables them to jump easily from species to species, infecting not only pigs and people but also horses, seals, cats, dogs, tigers and so on. An avian virus responsible for the 1918 pandemic jumped first from birds to humans, then from humans to swine (as well as other animals). Now, and not for the first time, pigs have given a virus back to humans.

Mutability makes even existing, well-known flu viruses unpredictable. A new virus, formed by a combination of several existing ones as this virus is, is even less predictable. After jumping to a new host, influenza can become more or less virulent — in fact, different offshoots could go in opposite directions — before a relatively stable new virus emerges.

Influenza pandemics have occurred as far back in history as we can look, but the four we know about in detail happened in 1889, 1918, 1957 and 1968. The mildest of these, the so-called Hong Kong flu in 1968, killed about 35,000 people in the United States and 700,000 worldwide. Ordinary seasonal influenza, in comparison, now kills 36,000 Americans a year, because the population has a higher proportion of elderly people and others with weak immune systems. (If a virus like the Hong Kong flu hit today, it would probably kill more people for the same reason.)

The worst influenza pandemic, in 1918, killed 675,000 in the United States. And although no one has a reliable worldwide death toll, the lowest reasonable number is about 35 million, and some scientists believe it killed as many as 100 million — at a time when the world’s population was only a quarter of what it is today. The dead included not only the elderly and infants but also robust young adults.

What’s important to keep in mind in assessing the threat of the current outbreak is that all four of the well-known pandemics seem to have come in waves. The 1918 virus surfaced by March and set in motion a spring and summer wave that hit some communities and skipped others. This first wave was extremely mild, more so even than ordinary influenza: of the 10,313 sailors in the British Grand Fleet who became ill, for example, only four died. But autumn brought a second, more lethal wave, which was followed by a less severe third wave in early 1919.

The first wave in 1918 was relatively mild, many experts speculate, because the virus had not fully adapted to humans. And as it did adapt, it also became more lethal. However, there is very good evidence that people who were exposed during the first wave developed immunity — much as people get protection from a modern vaccine.

A similar kind of immune-building process is the most likely explanation for why, in 1918, only 2 percent of those who contracted the flu died. Having been exposed to other influenza viruses, most people had built up some protection. People in isolated regions, including American Indian reservations and Alaskan Inuit villages, had much higher case mortality — presumably because they had less exposure to influenza viruses.

The 1889 pandemic also had a well-defined first wave that was milder than succeeding waves. The 1957 and 1968 pandemics had waves, too, though they were less well defined.

In all four instances, the gap between the time the virus was first recognized and a second, more dangerous wave swelled was about six months. It will take a minimum of four months to produce vaccine in any volume, possibly longer, and much longer than that to produce enough vaccine to protect most Americans. The race has begun.

John M. Barry, a visiting scholar at the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, is the author of “The Great Influenza.”
23508  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Cyberweapons race on: April 28, 2009, 08:10:40 AM
When American forces in Iraq wanted to lure members of Al Qaeda into a trap, they hacked into one of the group’s computers and altered information that drove them into American gun sights.

When President George W. Bush ordered new ways to slow Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb last year, he approved a plan for an experimental covert program — its results still unclear — to bore into their computers and undermine the project.   (WHY ON EARTH IS THIS INFO BEING DIVULGED?!?-- Marc)

And the Pentagon has commissioned military contractors to develop a highly classified replica of the Internet of the future. The goal is to simulate what it would take for adversaries to shut down the country’s power stations, telecommunications and aviation systems, or freeze the financial markets — in an effort to build better defenses against such attacks, as well as a new generation of online weapons.

Just as the invention of the atomic bomb changed warfare and deterrence 64 years ago, a new international race has begun to develop cyberweapons and systems to protect against them.

Thousands of daily attacks on federal and private computer systems in the United States — many from China and Russia, some malicious and some testing chinks in the patchwork of American firewalls — have prompted the Obama administration to review American strategy.

President Obama is expected to propose a far larger defensive effort in coming days, including an expansion of the $17 billion, five-year program that Congress approved last year, the appointment of a White House official to coordinate the effort, and an end to a running bureaucratic battle over who is responsible for defending against cyberattacks.

But Mr. Obama is expected to say little or nothing about the nation’s offensive capabilities, on which the military and the nation’s intelligence agencies have been spending billions. In interviews over the past several months, a range of military and intelligence officials, as well as outside experts, have described a huge increase in the sophistication of American cyberwarfare capabilities.

Because so many aspects of the American effort to develop cyberweapons and define their proper use remain classified, many of those officials declined to speak on the record. The White House declined several requests for interviews or to say whether Mr. Obama as a matter of policy supports or opposes the use of American cyberweapons.

The most exotic innovations under consideration would enable a Pentagon programmer to surreptitiously enter a computer server in Russia or China, for example, and destroy a “botnet” — a potentially destructive program that commandeers infected machines into a vast network that can be clandestinely controlled — before it could be unleashed in the United States.

Or American intelligence agencies could activate malicious code that is secretly embedded on computer chips when they are manufactured, enabling the United States to take command of an enemy’s computers by remote control over the Internet. That, of course, is exactly the kind of attack officials fear could be launched on American targets, often through Chinese-made chips or computer servers.

So far, however, there are no broad authorizations for American forces to engage in cyberwar. The invasion of the Qaeda computer in Iraq several years ago and the covert activity in Iran were each individually authorized by Mr. Bush. When he issued a set of classified presidential orders in January 2008 to organize and improve America’s online defenses, the administration could not agree on how to write the authorization.

A principal architect of that order said the issue had been passed on to the next president, in part because of the complexities of cyberwar operations that, by necessity, would most likely be conducted on both domestic and foreign Internet sites. After the controversy surrounding domestic spying, Mr. Bush’s aides concluded, the Bush White House did not have the credibility or the political capital to deal with the subject.

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



(Page 2 of 4)



Cyberwar would not be as lethal as atomic war, of course, nor as visibly dramatic. But when Mike McConnell, the former director of national intelligence, briefed Mr. Bush on the threat in May 2007, he argued that if a single large American bank were successfully attacked “it would have an order-of-magnitude greater impact on the global economy” than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mr. McConnell, who left office three months ago, warned last year that “the ability to threaten the U.S. money supply is the equivalent of today’s nuclear weapon.”


The scenarios developed last year for the incoming president by Mr. McConnell and his coordinator for cybersecurity, Melissa Hathaway, went further. They described vulnerabilities including an attack on Wall Street and one intended to bring down the nation’s electric power grid. Most were extrapolations of attacks already tried.

Today, Ms. Hathaway is the primary author of White House cyberstrategy and has been traveling the country talking in vague terms about recent, increasingly bold attacks on the computer networks that keep the country running. Government officials will not discuss the details of a recent attack on the air transportation network, other than to say the attack never directly affected air traffic control systems.

Still, the specter of an attack that could blind air traffic controllers and, perhaps, the military’s aerospace defense networks haunts military and intelligence officials. (The saving grace of the air traffic control system, officials say, is that it is so old that it is not directly connected to the Internet.)

Studies, with code names like Dark Angel, have focused on whether cellphone towers, emergency-service communications and hospital systems could be brought down, to sow chaos.

But the theoretical has, at times, become real.

“We have seen Chinese network operations inside certain of our electricity grids,” said Joel F. Brenner, who oversees counterintelligence operations for Dennis Blair, Mr. McConnell’s successor as national intelligence director, speaking at the University of Texas at Austin this month. “Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do.”

But the broader question — one the administration so far declines to discuss — is whether the best defense against cyberattack is the development of a robust capability to wage cyberwar.

As Mr. Obama’s team quickly discovered, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies both concluded in Mr. Bush’s last years in office that it would not be enough to simply build higher firewalls and better virus detectors or to restrict access to the federal government’s own computers.

“The fortress model simply will not work for cyber,” said one senior military officer who has been deeply engaged in the debate for several years. “Someone will always get in.”

That thinking has led to a debate over whether lessons learned in the nuclear age — from the days of “mutually assured destruction” — apply to cyberwar.

But in cyberwar, it is hard to know where to strike back, or even who the attacker might be. Others have argued for borrowing a page from Mr. Bush’s pre-emption doctrine by going into foreign computers to destroy malicious software before it is unleashed into the world’s digital bloodstream. But that could amount to an act of war, and many argue it is a losing game, because the United States is more dependent on a constantly running Internet system than many of its potential adversaries, and therefore could suffer more damage in a counterattack.

In a report scheduled to be released Wednesday, the National Research Council will argue that although an offensive cybercapability is an important asset for the United States, the nation is lacking a clear strategy, and secrecy surrounding preparations has hindered national debate, according to several people familiar with the report.

The advent of Internet attacks — especially those suspected of being directed by nations, not hackers — has given rise to a new term inside the Pentagon and the National Security Agency: “hybrid warfare.”

It describes a conflict in which attacks through the Internet can be launched as a warning shot — or to pave the way for a traditional attack.



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



Page 3 of 4)



Early hints of this new kind of warfare emerged in the confrontation between Russia and Estonia in April 2007. Clandestine groups — it was never determined if they had links to the Russian government — commandeered computers around the globe and directed a fire hose of data at Estonia’s banking system and its government Web sites.


The computer screens of Estonians trying to do business with the government online were frozen, if they got anything at all. It was annoying, but by the standards of cyberwar, it was child’s play.

In August 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia, the cyberattacks grew more widespread. Georgians were denied online access to news, cash and air tickets. The Georgian government had to move its Internet activity to servers in Ukraine when its own servers locked up, but the attacks did no permanent damage.

Every few months, it seems, some agency, research group or military contractor runs a war game to assess the United States’ vulnerability. Senior intelligence officials were shocked to discover how easy it was to permanently disable a large power generator. That prompted further studies to determine if attackers could take down a series of generators, bringing whole parts of the country to a halt.

Another war game that the Department of Homeland Security sponsored in March 2008, called Cyber Storm II, envisioned a far larger, coordinated attack against the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It studied a disruption of chemical plants, rail lines, oil and gas pipelines and private computer networks. That study and others like it concluded that when attacks go global, the potential economic repercussions increase exponentially.

To prove the point, Mr. McConnell, then the director of national intelligence, spent much of last summer urging senior government officials to examine the Treasury Department’s scramble to contain the effects of the collapse of Bear Stearns. Markets froze, he said, because “what backs up that money is confidence — an accounting system that is reconcilable.” He began studies of what would happen if the system that clears market trades froze.

“We were halfway through the study,” one senior intelligence official said last month, “and the markets froze of their own accord. And we looked at each other and said, ‘Our market collapse has just given every cyberwarrior out there a playbook.’ ”

Just before Mr. Obama was elected, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research group in Washington, warned in a report that “America’s failure to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problems facing the new administration.”

What alarmed the panel was not the capabilities of individual hackers but of nations — China and Russia among them — that experts believe are putting huge resources into the development of cyberweapons. A research company called Team Cymru recently examined “scans” that came across the Internet seeking ways to get inside industrial control systems, and discovered more than 90 percent of them came from computers in China.

Scanning alone does no damage, but it could be the prelude to an attack that scrambles databases or seeks to control computers. But Team Cymru ran into a brick wall as soon as it tried to trace who, exactly, was probing these industrial systems. It could not determine whether military organizations, intelligence agencies, terrorist groups, criminals or inventive teenagers were behind the efforts.

The good news, some government officials argue, is that the Chinese are deterred from doing real damage: Because they hold more than a trillion dollars in United States government debt, they have little interest in freezing up a system they depend on for their own investments.

Then again, some of the scans seemed to originate from 14 other countries, including Taiwan, Russia and, of course, the United States.

Bikini Atoll for an Online Age

Because “cyberwar” contains the word “war,” the Pentagon has argued that it should be the locus of American defensive and offensive strategy — and it is creating the kind of infrastructure that was built around nuclear weapons in the 1940s and ’50s.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is considering proposals to create a Cyber Command — initially as a new headquarters within the Strategic Command, which controls the American nuclear arsenal and assets in space. Right now, the responsibility for computer network security is part of Strategic Command, and military officials there estimate that over the past six months, the government has spent $100 million responding to probes and attacks on military systems. Air Force officials confirm that a large network of computers at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama was temporarily taken off-line within the past eight months when it was put at risk of widespread infection from computer viruses.



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



Page 4 of 4)



But Mr. Gates has concluded that the military’s cyberwarfare effort requires a sharper focus — and thus a specific command. It would build the defenses for military computers and communications systems and — the part the Pentagon is reluctant to discuss — develop and deploy cyberweapons.



In fact, that effort is already under way — it is part of what the National Cyber Range is all about. The range is a replica of the Internet of the future, and it is being built to be attacked. Competing teams of contractors — including BAE Systems, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University and Sparta Inc. — are vying to build the Pentagon a system it can use to simulate attacks. The National Security Agency already has a smaller version of a similar system, in Millersville, Md.

In short, the Cyber Range is to the digital age what the Bikini Atoll — the islands the Army vaporized in the 1950s to measure the power of the hydrogen bomb — was to the nuclear age. But once the tests at Bikini Atoll demonstrated to the world the awesome destructive power of the bomb, it became evident to the United States and the Soviet Union — and other nuclear powers — that the risks of a nuclear exchange were simply too high. In the case of cyberattacks, where the results can vary from the annoying to the devastating, there are no such rules.

The Deterrence Conundrum

During the cold war, if a strategic missile had been fired at the United States, screens deep in a mountain in Colorado would have lighted up and American commanders would have some time to decide whether to launch a counterattack. Today, when Pentagon computers are subjected to a barrage, the origin is often a mystery. Absent certainty about the source, it is almost impossible to mount a counterattack.

In the rare case where the preparations for an attack are detected in a foreign computer system, there is continuing debate about whether to embrace the concept of pre-emption, with all of its Bush-era connotations. The questions range from whether an online attack should be mounted on that system to, in an extreme case, blowing those computers up.

Some officials argue that if the United States engaged in such pre-emption — and demonstrated that it was watching the development of hostile cyberweapons — it could begin to deter some attacks. Others believe it will only justify pre-emptive attacks on the United States. “Russia and China have lots of nationalistic hackers,” one senior military officer said. “They seem very, very willing to take action on their own.”

Senior Pentagon and military officials also express deep concern that the laws and understanding of armed conflict have not kept current with the challenges of offensive cyberwarfare.

Over the decades, a number of limits on action have been accepted — if not always practiced. One is the prohibition against assassinating government leaders. Another is avoiding attacks aimed at civilians. Yet in the cyberworld, where the most vulnerable targets are civilian, there are no such rules or understandings. If a military base is attacked, would it be a proportional, legitimate response to bring down the attacker’s power grid if that would also shut down its hospital systems, its air traffic control system or its banking system?

“We don’t have that for cyber yet,” one senior Defense Department official said, “and that’s a little bit dangerous.”
23509  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: April 28, 2009, 07:59:40 AM
"It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good; and that this spirit is more apt to be diminished than prompted, by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it."

--James Madison, Federalist No. 37
23510  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Understanding Swine Flu on: April 28, 2009, 07:19:39 AM


By HENRY I. MILLER
The extent and impact of the swine flu epidemic, which appears to have originated in Mexico and spread rapidly to a dozen countries and parts of the U.S., is still unknown. The epidemiology of such disease outbreaks is rather like a jigsaw puzzle, and we are now at the stage where the picture is intriguing even if we're not sure what we're seeing.

 
Chad Crowe
 We do know the number of cases in Mexico exceeds 1,995, there have been at least 149 deaths, and there have been 20 cases in five U.S. states (with no fatalities as yet). And that the outbreak causes us to confront complex issues that encompass medicine, epidemiology, virology and even politics and ethics.

These events demonstrate that good surveillance is needed in order to detect early on that a new infectious agent, transmissible between humans, has emerged. Unfortunately, conditions in many countries are conducive to the emergence of such new infectious agents, especially flu viruses, which mutate rapidly and inventively. Intensive animal husbandry procedures that place poultry and swine in close proximity to humans, combined with unsanitary conditions, poverty and grossly inadequate public-health infrastructure of all kinds -- all of which exist in Mexico, as well as much of Asia and Africa -- make it unlikely that a pandemic can be prevented or contained at the source.

In theory, a flu pandemic might be contained in its early stages by performing "ring prophylaxis" -- aggressively using antiflu drugs, vaccines and quarantines to isolate relatively small outbreaks of the new infectious agent. Addressing H5N1 avian flu in 2005, Johns Hopkins University virologist Donald S. Burke said, "it may be possible to identify a human outbreak at the earliest stage, while there are fewer than 100 cases, and deploy international resources -- such as a WHO [World Health Organization] stockpile of antiviral drugs -- to rapidly quench it. This 'tipping point' strategy is highly cost-effective."

But a strategy can be "cost-effective" only if it is feasible. Early ring prophylaxis might work in Minneapolis, Toronto, Singapore or Zurich. In places such as Indonesia, China and Mexico, however, the expertise, coordination, discipline and infrastructure are lacking. Moreover, there is no vaccine available to prevent infection of humans by the new H1N1 swine flu (or by H5N1 avian flu, for that matter).

The rapid and constant movement of goods and people around the world makes early containment virtually impossible. We saw this with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003: Within a matter of weeks, the disease spread rapidly from southern China to infect individuals in some 37 countries, killing about 800.

In the current swine flu outbreak, New York City high-school students apparently brought the virus back from Mexico and infected their classmates. All six cases so far reported in Canada were connected directly or indirectly with travel to Mexico.

Flu viruses can be directly transmitted (via droplets from sneezing or coughing) from pigs to people, and vice versa. These cross-species infections occur most commonly when people are in close proximity to large numbers of pigs, such as in barns, livestock exhibits at fairs, and slaughterhouses. And, of course, flu is transmissible from human to human, either directly or via contaminated surfaces.

Pigs are uniquely susceptible to infection with flu viruses of mammalian and avian origin. This is of concern for a couple of reasons. First, pigs can serve as intermediaries in the transmission of flu viruses from birds to people. And when avian viruses infect pigs, they adapt and become more efficient at infecting mammals -- which makes them more easily transmitted and dangerous to humans.

Second, pigs can serve as hosts in which two (or more) influenza viruses infecting an animal simultaneously can undergo "genetic reassortment," a process in which pieces of viral RNA (the virus's genetic material, similar to DNA) are shuffled and exchanged, creating a new organism. The influenza viruses responsible for the world-wide 1957 and 1968 flu pandemics -- which killed about 70,000 and 34,000, respectively, in the U.S. -- were such viruses, containing genes from both human and avian viruses.

Experience shows that attempts to stem the spread of an outbreak may actually exacerbate it. In 2006, China's chaotic effort to vaccinate 14 billion chickens to control avian flu was compromised by counterfeit vaccines and the absence of protective gear for vaccination teams. This likely spread contagion by vaccinators who carried infected fecal material on their shoes from one farm to another.

The situation in Mexico resembles the scenario we might expect for an outbreak of a major human-to-human pandemic in its earliest stages: a large number of illnesses among social and family contacts of victims; infection of health-care workers and patients in hospitals where the victims are treated; and the rapid spread of confirmed cases from an initial region to other countries as people infected by the virus travel while it is incubating, but before they become seriously ill.

Because they have been stockpiled for use in the event of an avian flu pandemic, large amounts of the antiflu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza are available. However, they must be administered during the first couple of days after symptoms begin to be an effective treatment. They can also prevent the onset of the disease if administered in adequate doses prior to exposure. The danger of using antiflu drugs in poor countries with inadequate public-health facilities such as Mexico is that they may be administered improperly and in suboptimal doses, which would promote viral resistance and intensify an outbreak.

If the swine flu outbreak becomes a pandemic with a high rate of severe complications (such as pneumonia) and death, we will need to be smart, nimble and flexible. That will involve triage on many levels -- including decisions about which patients are likely to benefit from scarce commodities such as drugs and ventilators -- as well as "social engineering" determinations about issues such as mandatory quarantine, the canceling of public events, shutting airports and closing our southern border. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Dr. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is a former flu researcher and was an official at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration from 1977 to 1994.
23511  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Source on: April 28, 2009, 07:09:16 AM
The Source


By Tzvi Freeman
It's not that Abraham and Moses gave the world the ideas of morality and value of life. These ideas were known to Adam and to Noah -- only that with time, humankind had mostly forgotten them.

What these giants brought to the world was a greater idea: That the values essential to humanity's survival can only endure when they are seen as an outcome of monotheism. They must be tied to an underlying reality, and that reality is the knowledge of a Oneness that brings us into being.
23512  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party on: April 28, 2009, 12:05:04 AM

After attending my local Tea Party, I signed up at their website.  This came in today:

http://southbaytaxdayteaparty.typepad.com:80/south-bay-tax-day-tea-party/2009/04/your-tax-dollars-at-work.html
23513  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Team Dog Brothers MMA? on: April 27, 2009, 07:37:49 PM
Hope to kick things off in a week or two.  We are looking at Tuesdays, mid-day in Hermosa Beach.

 cool
23514  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The Tribe grows on: April 27, 2009, 06:55:46 PM
We are proud to announce the birth of a son, Dougal Fraser Stewart born at 19.58 GMT at 7lb 11oz, to Cat Lynn and C-Point Dog cool cool cool
23515  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: April 27, 2009, 06:27:09 PM
Oraciones por la gente de Mexico en su momentos dificiles.
23516  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Pig Flu gathering momentum here in US on: April 27, 2009, 03:48:40 PM

"Swine flu fears prompt global quarantine plans"
By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard, Ap Medical Writer –

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Monday the threat of spreading swine flu infections was a concern but "not a cause for alarm," while customs agents began checking people coming into the United States by land and air. The World Health Organization said there were 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. but no deaths.

Countries across the globe increased their vigilance amid increasing worries about a worldwide pandemic, Obama told a gathering of scientists that his administration's Department of Health and Human Services "has declared a public health emergency as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively."

The acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Richard Besser, said that Americans should be prepared for the problem to become more severe, and that it could involve "possibly deaths."

The quickening pace of developments in the United States in response to some 1,600 swine flu infections in neighboring Mexico — and reports of over 100 deaths — was accompanied by a host of varying responses around the world. The European Union advised against nonessential travel to the U.S. and Mexico, while China, Taiwan and Russia considered quarantines and several Asian countries scrutinized visitors arriving at their airports.

U.S. customs officials began checking people entering U.S. territory. Officers at airports, seaports and border crossings were watching for signs of illness, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.

If a traveler says something about not feeling well, the person will be questioned about symptoms and, if necessary, referred to a CDC official for additional screening, Easterling said. The customs officials were wearing personal protective gear, such as gloves and masks, he said.

Multiple airlines, including American, United, Continental, US Airways, Mexicana and Air Canada, said they were waiving usual penalties for changing reservations for anyone traveling to, from, or through Mexico, but had not canceled flights.

The CDC's Besser said that while the U.S. hasn't advised against travel to Mexico, it has urged people to take precautions, such as frequent hand-washing while there.

A private school in South Carolina was closed Monday because of fears that young people who recently returned from Mexico might have been infected.

"We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States," Obama said. "I'm getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take."

"But one thing is clear: Our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community," the president said. "And this is one more example of why we cannot allow our nation to fall behind."

Besser, the CDC official, described the new U.S. border initiative as "passive screening." He said authorities were "asking people about fever and illness, looking for people who are ill."

The U.S. declared a national health emergency in the midst of uncertainty about whether the mounting sick count meant new infections were increasing or health officials had simply missed something that had been simmering for weeks or months. The declaration allowed Washington to ship roughly 12 million doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile to states in case they are needed.

Besser traveled the morning news-show circuit Monday, telling interviewers the U.S. government was being "extremely aggressive" and saying he wouldn't personally recommend traveling to parts of Mexico where the new virus had taken hold.

Besser said he was not reassured by the fact that so far in the U.S., no one had died from the disease.

"From what we understand in Mexico, I think people need to be ready for the idea that we could see more severe cases in this country and possibly deaths," he said. "That's something people have to be ready for and we're looking for that. So far, thankfully, we haven't seen that. But we're very concerned and that's why we're taking very aggressive measures."

Meanwhile, officials of Newberry Academy in South Carolina said Monday that seniors from the school were in Mexico earlier this month and some had flu-like symptoms when they returned.

State Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley said test results on the students could come back as early as Monday afternoon. The agency has stepped up efforts to investigate all flu cases in South Carolina. There have been no confirmed swine flu cases in the state.

A New York City school where eight cases were confirmed will be closed Monday and Tuesday, and 14 schools in Texas, including a high school where two cases were confirmed, will be closed for at least the next week. Some schools in California and Ohio also were closing after students were found or suspected to have the flu.

In Mexico, the outbreak's center, soldiers handed out 6 million face masks to help stop the spread of the virus that is suspected in up to 103 deaths. Most other countries are reporting only mild cases so far, with most of the sick already recovering.

Spain reported its first confirmed swine flu case on Monday and said another 17 people were suspected of having the disease. The European Union health commissioner advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico and the United States. Also, three New Zealanders recently returned from Mexico are suspected of having it.

"These are the early days," said World Health Organization spokesman Peter Cordingley. "It's quite clear that there is a potential for this virus to become a pandemic and threaten globally." He said it was spreading rapidly in Mexico and the southern United States.

Worldwide, attention focused on travelers.

"It was acquired in Mexico, brought home and spread," Nova Scotia's chief public health officer, Dr. Robert Strang, said of Canada's first confirmed cases.

___

Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson and Olga R. Rodriguez in Mexico City; Frank Jordans in Geneva; Mike Stobbe in Atlanta; Maria Cheng in London and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.
23517  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Change in plans? on: April 27, 2009, 01:19:46 PM
Second post of the day:

NYT

BAGHDAD — The United States and Iraq will begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities, focusing on the troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials. Some parts of Baghdad also will still have combat troops.


Some combat troops will remain at Camp Prosperity, which is in the heart of Baghdad.

Everywhere else, the withdrawal of United States combat troops from all Iraqi cities and towns is on schedule to finish by the June 30 deadline, and in many cases even earlier. But because of the level of insurgent activity in Mosul, United States and Iraqi military officials will meet Monday to decide whether to consider the city an exception to the deadline in the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, between the countries.

“Mosul is the one area where you may see U.S. combat forces operating in the city” after June 30, the United States military’s top spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, said in an interview.

In Baghdad, however, there are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.

In addition, Forward Operating Base Falcon, which can hold 5,000 combat troops, will also remain after June 30. It is just within Baghdad’s southern city limits. Again, Iraqi officials have classified it as effectively outside Baghdad, so no exception to the agreement needs to be granted, in their view.

Combat troops with the Seventh Field Artillery Regiment will remain in the heart of Baghdad at Camp Prosperity, located near the new American Embassy compound in the Green Zone. In addition to providing a quick reaction force, guarding the embassy and noncombat troops from attack, those soldiers will also continue to support Iraqi troops who are now in nominal charge of maintaining security in the Green Zone.

The details of troop withdrawals and the transfer of facilities are negotiated by the Joint Military Operations Coordinating Committee, led by the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and the Iraqi defense minister, Abdul Qadir al-Obaidi. At its meeting on Monday, the committee will discuss a host of transfer issues, as well as whether to grant any exceptions to the June 30 deadline, and it will make recommendations to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a final decision.

The spokesman for the Iraqi military, Maj. Gen. Muhammad al-Askari, who is also the secretary to the committee’s Iraqi contingent, said also that a decision on Mosul would be made at Monday’s meeting, which he called “critical.”

“I personally think even in Mosul there will be no American forces in the city, but that’s a decision for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi prime minister,” General Askari said.

General Perkins also expressed specific concerns about Mosul, noting how important the city is to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

“For Al Qaeda to win, they have to take Baghdad. To survive they have to hold on to Mosul,” he said. “Mosul is sort of their last area where they have some maybe at least passive support.”

In Baghdad, whether combat troops remain in the city may well be a function of how they are defined, as well as where the city limits lie.

The Camp Victory complex includes Camps Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer, plus the prison known as Camp Cropper, where so-called high-value prisoners are kept. It also includes the military side of Baghdad International Airport.

General Askari emphatically said that the June 30 provision did not apply to the Camp Victory complex because it was effectively outside the city. General Askari also said having American combat troops at Camp Prosperity would not violate the terms of the agreement, because they are there for force protection and to guard the nearby embassy.

“If there is a small group to stay in that camp to guard the American Embassy, that’s no problem,” he said. “The meaning of the SOFA is that their vehicles cannot go in the streets of Baghdad and interfere with our job.”

The Green Zone was handed over to Iraqi control Jan. 1, when the agreement went into effect. In addition to the United States-Iraqi patrols, most of the security for the Green Zone’s many checkpoints and heavily guarded entry points is still done by the same private contractors who did it prior to Jan. 1.

“What you’re seeing is not a change in the numbers, it’s a doctrine change,” said First Sgt. David Moore, a New Jersey National Guardsman with the Joint Area Support Group, which runs the Green Zone. “You’re still going to have fighters. Every U.S. soldier is trained to fight.”

One of the Green Zone’s biggest bases, Forward Operating Base Freedom, was handed back to Iraqi control on April 1, at least most of it. The United States military kept the swimming pool.

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

age 2 of 2)


In addition to troops, Camp Prosperity will house many American contractors and other personnel. Next door, at Camp Union III, the military is in the process of setting up housing for several thousand soldiers, trainers and advisers working for the Multi-National Security Transition Command, which now has its headquarters elsewhere in the Green Zone.

While those principal Baghdad bases will remain, the United States military has been rapidly erasing its footprint everywhere else in Baghdad. The so-called troop surge added 77 small bases, known as combat outposts, patrol bases and joint security stations, spread throughout the city’s neighborhoods to get United States troops closer to the people. At the height, in 2007, there were nearly 100 such bases. All of them will have been turned over to the Iraqis by June 30, and many already have been, General Perkins said. He added that in many cases the Iraqis would choose not to use them for their own troops.

Nationwide, the American military presence is also changing quickly as June 30 approaches. A survey of northern and central Iraqi provinces by New York Times reporters confirmed that American troops had already withdrawn from all of the bases situated in the centers of major towns or cities, with the exception of Mosul.

General Perkins said that American combat forces had already been drawing down steadily in Iraq’s cities, replaced by Iraqi troops. By September 2008, the number of American troops in Iraq had dropped by about 20 percent from the peak during the so-called troop surge in 2007, he said. An additional 8,000 left by the end of January.

As of April 17, there were 137,934 American service members in Iraq, according to Lt. Col. Amy Hannah, a public affairs officer. An additional 16,000 will go by September, General Perkins said.

“We don’t want to lose the gains we’ve had so far,” he said. “We don’t want to rush to failure here. This isn’t just, we’re going home. We’re just moving.”

“We don’t mean you won’t have soldiers trained in combat skills in the city,” General Perkins said. Trainers and advisers can stay, under the terms of the agreement, and combat troops can re-enter on operations if invited by the Iraqis, he said.

General Perkins gave the example of sending the 82nd Airborne Division to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “The 82nd are combat troops, but that was not a combat mission,” he said.
23518  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq brings this to our attention on: April 27, 2009, 12:50:22 PM
Iraqi leader: U.S. raid that killed 2 breached accord

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is accusing U.S. troops of violating the security agreement between the two countries after a raid in Wasit province Sunday that left two people dead, Iraqi State TV reported.
 
U.S. troops raided a house in the city of Kut and arrested six suspected members of so-called "special groups" -- groups that are funded, armed and trained by Iran, according to the U.S. military.
 
During the operation, which the military said was "fully coordinated and approved by the Iraqi government," a man and a woman were killed by U.S. troops, the military said.
 
Al-Maliki's accusation that the United States violated the security pact is the first time the Iraqi government has claimed a breach in the deal that governs the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. It was reached last November and implemented in January.
 
Under the agreement, the U.S. military cannot carry out raids without Iraqi permission and warrants. And Iraq has primary jurisdiction over members of the U.S. military who commit "grave premeditated felonies" outside of certain geographical boundaries and when they are off duty.
 
Al-Maliki has asked Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to release the suspects detained in the raid, and to hand over "those who committed the crime" -- or U.S. troops -- to the Iraqi judiciary, state television reported.
 
The U.S. military statement said when troops approached the residence, "an individual with a weapon came out of the home. Forces assessed him to be hostile, and they engaged the man, killing him," the U.S. military statement said.
 
A woman who "moved into the line of fire" was also killed in the shooting, the U.S. military said.
 
An Interior Ministry official told CNN the raid was on the home of a tribal leader, and said U.S. forces killed the leader's wife and brother and detained a number of family members.
Speaking on Iraqi State TV, the deputy governor of Wasit province called the killings "cold-blooded murder."
 
The U.S. military said there was a warrant issued for the arrest of the targeted individual -- "a network financier, who is also responsible for smuggling weapons into the country to support JAM Special Groups and Promise Day Brigade," a U.S. military statement said.

Iraqi State TV reported that Iraq's defense ministry ordered the arrest of two Iraqi commanders in Kut who apparently allowed the U.S. military to carry out the raid.
23519  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reagan on: April 27, 2009, 12:44:53 PM
"We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression -- to preserve freedom and peace. Since the dawn of the atomic age, we've sought to reduce the risk of war by maintaining a strong deterrent and by seeking genuine arms control. 'Deterrence' means simply this: making sure any adversary who thinks about attacking the United States, or our allies, or our vital interests, concludes that the risks to him outweigh any potential gains. Once he understands that, he won't attack. We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression." --Ronald Reagan
23520  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: April 27, 2009, 12:42:00 PM
"In response to an unprecedented expansion of federal power, citizens have held hundreds of 'tea party' rallies around the country, and various states are considering 'sovereignty resolutions' invoking the Constitution's Ninth and Tenth Amendments. For example, Michigan's proposal urges 'the federal government to halt its practice of imposing mandates upon the states for purposes not enumerated by the Constitution of the United States.' While well-intentioned, such symbolic resolutions are not likely to have the slightest impact on the federal courts, which long ago adopted a virtually unlimited construction of Congressional power. But state legislatures have a real power under the Constitution by which to resist the growth of federal power: They can petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. An amendments convention is feared because its scope cannot be limited in advance. The convention convened by Congress to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation produced instead the entirely different Constitution under which we now live. Yet it is precisely the fear of a runaway convention that states can exploit to bring Congress to heel. ...[A] Federalism Amendment would provide tea-party enthusiasts and other concerned Americans with a concrete and practical proposal by which we can restore our lost Constitution."

--Georgetown University professor of constitutional law Randy Barnett
================

"It really is difficult to imagine how people who have entirely given up managing their own affairs could make a wise choice of those who are to do that for them. One should never expect a liberal, energetic, and wise government to originate in the votes of a people of servants." --French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

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

"One of the most important events of our lifetimes may have just transpired. A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe. Nominally, the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement ... only applies to new-car emissions. But pretty much everyone agrees that the ruling opens the door to regulating, well, everything. According to the EPA, greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide -- the gas you exhale -- as well as methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. It is literally impossible to imagine a significant economic or human activity that does not involve the production of one of these gases. Don't think just of the gas and electricity bills. Cow flatulence is a serious concern of the EPA's already. What next? ... Whether or not global warming is a crisis that warrants immediate, drastic action (I don't think it does), and whether or not such wholesale measures would be an economic calamity (they would be), the EPA's decision should be disturbing to people who believe in democratic, constitutional government. ...[T]he EPA has launched its power grab over all that burns, breathes, burps, flies, drives and passes gas."

--National Review editor Jonah Goldberg
=====================


23521  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH on: April 27, 2009, 12:05:37 PM
Obama’s Foreign Policy Disasters

By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | 4/27/2009

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.



FP: Victor Davis Hanson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
What report card would you give the Obama administration in terms of foreign policy right now? Why?

Hanson: An Incomplete that at the present rate will turn into a D/F if he is not careful.

Obama has confused a number of issues: intractable problems like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Islamic terrorism, etc. both pre- and post-dated George Bush; they present only bad and worse choices, and are predicated on different agendas of authoritarians that hinge on whether the United States can or cannot deter their regional megalomaniac dreams.

In the long-term, Obama's nontraditional heritage and charisma make little difference; on the other hand, serial apologies, "Bush did it", the "reset button" ad nauseam, trumpeting the "I was only (fill in the blank) when that happened" etc. have a brief shelf life, and achieve only a transitory buzz, similar to a Bono-celebrity tour.


He needs to cut out the messianic style, and realize that millions of brave souls, who invest at great danger in democracy, freedom, open markets, etc. around the world, count on an American President for moral support and guidance against a bullying Russia, Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Chavez's thugs, Castro jailers, et al.


When they see Obama's moral equivalence, they realize they are on their own and must cut their own deals to survive--understanding that multicultural trendiness is now a cynical cover for moral laxity and 'can't we all get along?' appeasement. So by all means smile and shake hands, but don't confuse that for tough diplomacy or protecting American global interests. Increasing the Bush billion-dollar deficit to $1.7, with another $9 trillion in additional aggregate debt will very soon curtail American options abroad, and our enemies are now waiting for opportune moments for exploitation.


FP: What danger does Putin’s regime pose to the West? What is your recommendation in terms of U.S. policy toward Putin? What mistakes has the new administration made so far in that department? For instance, in terms of the reset button fiasco, it means that the Obama team doesn’t even have a sound translator on hand. This is real grounds for worry, yes?


Hanson: We have three or four broad aims at this juncture: one, to ensure that former Soviet republics, which on their free accord sought integration with the West -- the Baltic Republics, Ukraine, Georgia, etc. -- are not forced back into a Russian Empire against their will; that Eastern European states remain autonomous and free to protect themselves from Iranian nuclear blackmail should they wish anti-ballistic missile protection; that Russia understands that there will be consequences if its technology ensures an Iranian bomb; and that Europe has assurances of support should Russia engage in energy blackmail—or worse.


Putin et al. know that their brinksmanship agendas were not predicated on Bush's smoke 'em out lingo; so to suggest Bush's tough talk, even if gratuitous in the first team, created crises where they otherwise did not exist, is absurd. Ms. Clinton—completely marginalized so far by Obama's obsessive need to bask in the pop-star limelight abroad—should know that. She has competent advisors; I cannot believe they really fall for the campaign mode nonsense that their sensitivity and diplomatic adroitness ipsis factis will translate into either friendship or better Russian behavior.

FP: The Obama administration apparently is set to give 900 million to Hamas. In other words, they want to give money to the Palestinian Nazi Party. What do you make of this? What must Obama do toward Hamas, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, etc? Do you think he will do it and/or is he even capable or cognizant of what is actually going on and what is at stake?

Hanson: I am very worried. Israel I think is alone now. The failed Freeman appointment, the historically puerile al-Arabiya interview (cf. e.g., Obama's praise of the good ole days, some thirty years ago, when Sadat was murdered, Khomeini took over, Saddam was flexing his muscles, Americans were routinely murdered, etc.) the Samantha Power appointment, the 'outreach' to Syria, the video for Iran, the Gaza/Hamas rebuilding, the tough behind-the-scenes lectures to Israel—all this bodes ill.


Does Team Obama really believe that a murderous autocratic cabal like Hamas is merely different from a democratic constitutional republic like Israel? At best we have naiveté at the helm (Obama thinks he can mesmerize misunderstood killers), at worst, a genuine feeling that Israel is an aggressive, Western imperialist power exploiting indigenous people of color who simply wish to be free--in other words, the Rev. Wright-Bill Ayers-Rashid Khalidi view of the Middle East.


FP: What did you make of Obama’s Chavez meeting and his new disposition toward Latin America? Perhaps it is time to try something new?

Hanson: Not really. We stand for open markets, free trade, personal freedom, human rights, and consensual government. Others like Castro, Morales, Chavez, and Ortega simply don't. Why would anyone any more believe these thugs, who justify their lust for power by the age-old mantra of "we suffer for the people", as they try to engineer an equality of result--through any means necessary, with all power and prestige going to themselves?

They will say anything to blame a successful U.S., to rationalize the self-inflicted misery and failure of Latin America. Shaking Chavez's hand is a minor lapse if that; but in aggregate, the continuance of the glad-handing, trashing the US, showcasing his racial solidarity, listening to Ortega's rant, photo-oping with thugs--all that does two things abroad: first, it undercuts brave democrats in places like Columbia and elsewhere in Central America; two, it sends a message to fence-sitters in more important states like Peru, Brazil, Chile, etc. that authoritarian socialism, not free-market democracy, is now the wave of the future, and so they better get with the new neighborhood–or else!

FP: What do you think is the greatest threat right now facing the U.S. , Israel and the West?

Hanson: We have three: one, we have mortgaged our options to the Chinese and other debt holders. By going into $20 trillion in aggregate debt we will cut our military, pull back, dress it up with utopian rhetoric, and cede huge areas of the globe over to regional autocracies.


Second, some are already prepping for the Iranian catastrophe to come, by talking of "containing" Iran, as if we have given up on embargoing, blockading, and other more severe 11th hour measures to stop a Khomeinist nuke. Once that happens the Arab Sunni states will rush to get a bomb, Israel will be periodically blackmailed as Hamas, Hezbollah, etc will be given Iranian nuclear assurance (acting deranged with your finger on the trigger is smart in nuclear poker). Add in al Qaeda that thinks there are now new rules in Washington that can be tested--and you have a recipe for a dangerous world. We seem to think that not being attacked since 9/11 was some sort of natural occurrence, or perhaps yet another government ensured entitlement.

FP: Victor Hanson, thank you for joining us in these tough times.


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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.
23522  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / part three on: April 27, 2009, 11:56:31 AM
part three

Not all the Khyber agency militants are ideologically driven jihadists like Baitullah Mehsud of the TTP and Mullah Fazlullah of the TNSM. Some are organized-crime elements who lack religious training and have long been engaged in smuggling operations. When the Pakistani military entered the region to crack down on the insurgency, these criminal groups saw their illegal activities disrupted. To continue to earn a livelihood, many of these criminal elements were reborn as militants under the veil of jihad.


SHAHBAZ BUTT/AFP/Getty Images
Trucks remain at a standstill on a road after Islamic militants destroyed a bridge in Khyber district on Feb. 3, 2009LI commander Bagh (the alleged former convoy driver) is uneducated overall, and never received any kind of formal religious education. He became the leader of LI two years ago when he succeeded Deobandi cleric Mufti Munir Shakir. Bagh stays clear of targeting Pakistani military forces and says his objective is to clean up the area’s criminal elements and, like his counterparts in other parts of the Pashtun region, impose a Talibanesque interpretation of religious law. This tendency on the part of organized-crime elements in Pakistan to jump on the jihad bandwagon actually runs the risk of weakening the insurgency. Because criminal groups are not ideologically driven, it is easier for Pakistani forces and U.S. intelligence operatives to bribe them away from the insurgency.

The Southern Route
The southern route into Afghanistan is the shorter of the two U.S.-NATO supply routes. The entire route traverses the 813-kilometer-long national highway N-25, running north from the port of Karachi through Sindh and northwest into Balochistan before crossing into southern Afghanistan at the Chaman border crossing.

About 25 to 30 percent of the supplies going to U.S.-NATO forces operating in southern Afghanistan travel along this route. Though most of the southern route through Pakistan is relatively secure, the security risks rise dramatically once the trucks cross into Afghanistan on highway A-75, which runs through the heart of Taliban country in Kandahar province and surrounding areas.

Once out of Karachi, the route through Sindh is secure. Problems arise once the trucks hit Balochistan province, a resource-rich region where ethnic Baloch separatists have waged an insurgency for decades against Punjabi rule. The Baloch insurgency is directed against the Pakistani state and is led by three main groups: the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the People’s Liberation Army. The BLA is the most active of the three and focuses its attacks on Pakistani police and military personnel, natural gas pipelines and civil servants. The Pakistani military deals with the Baloch rebels with an iron fist, but the Baloch insurgency has been a long and insoluble one. (Balochistan enjoyed autonomy under the British, and when Pakistan was created it forcibly took over the province; successive Pakistani regimes have mishandled the issue.)

Once inside Balochistan, the supply route runs first into the major industrial town of Hub (also known as Hub Chowki) and then into the Baloch capital of Quetta. These are areas that have witnessed a number of Baloch separatist attacks in recent years, including the December 2004 bombing of a Pakistani military truck in Quetta (claimed by the BLA), the killing of three Chinese engineers working at Gwadar Port in May of the same year and, more recently, the abduction of the head of the U.N. refugee agency (an American citizen) in February 2009 from Quetta. Although the Baloch insurgency has been relatively calm over the past year, unrest reignited in the province in early April after the bodies of three top Baloch rebel leaders were discovered in the Turbat area near the Iranian border. The Baloch separatist groups claim that the rebel leaders died at the hands of Pakistani security forces.

The Baloch rebels have no direct quarrel with the United States or NATO member states and are far more interested in attacking Pakistani targets. But they have struck foreign interests before in Balochistan to pressure Islamabad in negotiations. Baloch rebels also demonstrated the ability to strike Western targets in Karachi when they bombed a KFC fast-food restaurant in November 2005. Although the separatists have yet to show any interest in attacking U.S.-NATO convoys running through the region, future attacks cannot be ruled out.

The main threat along this route comes from Islamist militants who are active in the final 150-kilometer stretch of the road between the Quetta region and the Chaman border crossing. This section of highway N-25 runs through what is known as the Pashtun corridor in northwest Balochistan, bordering South Waziristan agency on the southern tip of the FATA.

Although the supply route traversing this region has seen very few attacks, the situation could easily change. A number of jihadists who have sought sanctuary from the firefights farther north as well as Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar and his Quetta Shura (or leadership council) are believed to be hiding in the Quetta area. The Pashtun corridor also is the stronghold of Pakistan’s largest Islamist party, the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. In addition, the al Qaeda-linked anti-Shiite group LeJ has been engaged in sectarian and other attacks in the region. Northwestern Balochistan also is a key launchpad for Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan and is the natural extension of Pakistani Taliban activity in the tribal belt. Although the Baloch separatists are firmly secular in their views, they have been energized by the rise of Islamist groups fighting the same enemy: the Pakistani state.

A Worrisome Outlook
The developing U.S. military strategy for Afghanistan suffers from a number of strategic flaws. Chief among them is the fact — and there is no getting around it — that Pakistan serves as the primary supply line for both the Western forces and the jihadist forces fighting each other in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s balancing act between the United States and its former Islamist militant proxies is becoming untenable as many of those proxies turn against the Pakistani state. And as stability deteriorates in Pakistan, the less reliable the landscape is for facilitating the overland shipment of military supplies into Afghanistan. The Russians, meanwhile, are not exactly eager to make life easier for the United States in Afghanistan by cooperating in any meaningful way on alternate supply routes through Central Asia.

Jihadist forces in Pakistan’s northwest have already picked up on the idea that the long U.S.-NATO supply route through northern Pakistan makes a strategic and vulnerable target in their campaign against the West. Attacks on supply convoys have thus far been concentrated in the volatile tribal badlands along the northwest frontier with Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Taliban are growing bolder by the day and are publicly announcing their intent to spread beyond the Pashtun areas and into the Pakistani core of Punjab. The Pakistani government and military, meanwhile, are strategically stymied. They cannot follow U.S. orders and turn every Pashtun into an enemy, and they cannot afford to see their country crushed under the weight of the jihadists. As a result, the jihadists gain strength while the writ of the Pakistani state erodes.

But the jihadists are not the only ones that CENTCOM should be worrying about as it analyzes its logistical challenges in Pakistan. Islamist sympathizers in Pakistan’s security apparatus and organized crime elements can take — and have taken — advantage of the shoddy security infrastructure in place to transport U.S.-NATO supplies through the country. In addition, there are secular political forces in play — from the MQM in Karachi to the Baloch rebels in Quetta — that could tip the balance in areas now considered relatively safe for transporting supplies to Afghanistan.

The United States is becoming increasing reliant on Pakistan, just as Pakistan is becoming increasingly unreliable. There are no quick fixes to the problem, but the first step in addressing it is to understand the wide array of threats currently engulfing the Pakistani state.
23523  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: April 27, 2009, 11:55:26 AM


The Northern Route
The northern route through Pakistan, used for transporting the bulk of U.S.-NATO overland supplies to Afghanistan, travels through four provinces — Sindh, Punjab, the NWFP and the tribal badlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — before it snakes its way through the Khyber Pass to reach the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan.

Route Variations
Convoys generally travel on main north-south national highway N-5 or a combination of N-5 and N-55 from Karachi to Torkham, a distance that can range from approximately 1,325 kilometers to 1,820 kilometers. Most transporters say they prefer the combination of N-5 and N-55, which allows them to cut across Sindh by switching from N-5 to N-65 near Sukkur and then jumping onto N-55 at Shikarpur before heading into Punjab. A small percentage of trucks (some 5 percent) use a combination of national highways and what are called “motorways,” essentially expressways that allow for better security, have no traffic lights and avoid urban centers. These motorways also have fewer chokepoints and thus fewer opportunities for militant ambushes, but they also lack rest stops, which is why most convoys travel on the national highways.

Pakistani transporters tell STRATFOR that they typically decide on a day-to-day basis whether to go the longer N-5 route or the shorter N-55 route. If they feel the security situation is bad enough, they are far more likely to take the longer N-5 route to Peshawar, which reduces their risk because it goes through less volatile areas — essentially, less of the NWFP. With the Taliban rapidly taking over territory in the NWFP, trucks are likely to rely more heavily on N-5.

Sindh
Once the trucks leave Karachi, the stretch of road through Sindh province is the safest along the entire northern route. Most of Sindh, especially the rural areas, form the core support base of the secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which controls both the federal and the provincial governments. Outside of Karachi, there is virtually no serious militant Islamist presence in the province. However, small pockets of jihadists do pop up from time to time. In 2004, a top Pakistani militant leader, Amjad Farooqi of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), who worked closely with al Qaeda Prime operational commander Abu Faraj al-Libi and was responsible for assassination attempts on Musharraf, was killed in a shootout with police in the town of Nawabshah in central Sindh.

Punjab
Once out of Sindh and into Punjab province, the northern supply route enters the core of Pakistan, the political, industrial and agricultural heartland of the country where some 60 percent of the population is concentrated. The province is also the mainstay of the country’s powerful military establishment, with six of the army’s nine corps are headquartered in the key urban areas of Rawalpindi, Mangla, Lahore, Gujranwala, Bahawalpur and Multan.

This province has not yet witnessed jihadist attacks targeting the U.S.-NATO supply chain, but the jihadist threat in Punjab is slowly rising. Major jihadist figures have found a save haven in the province, evidenced by the fact that several top al Qaeda leaders, including the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were captured in various parts of Punjab, including Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Gujarat. Punjab also has witnessed a number of high-profile jihadist attacks in major cities, including suicide bombings in the capital, Islamabad, and its twin city Rawalpindi (where the military is headquartered) as well as manpower-heavy armed assaults in the provincial capital, Lahore, where teams of gunmen have assaulted both moving and stationary targets. The attacks have mostly targeted Pakistani security installations and have been conducted mainly by Pashtun jihadists in conjunction with Punjabi jihadist allies. The bulk of jihadist activity in the province takes place in the northern part of Punjab, closer to the NWFP border, where suicide bombings have been concentrated.


QAZI RAUF AFRIDI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani soldiers guard trucks carrying NATO supplies on a street in the Khyber tribal region near the Afghan border on Jan. 1The Punjabi jihadist phenomenon was born in the 1980s, when the military regime of Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq aggressively pursued a policy of Islamization to secure power and weaken his principal opponent, the PPP, whose government he had overthrown to come to power. It was during the Zia years that Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, was heavily involved in backing Islamist militias to fight the Marxist government and its allied Soviet troops Afghanistan, where many of the Punjab-based groups joined the Pashtun groups and had their first taste of battle. Later in the 1990s, many of these Punjabi groups, who followed an extremist Deobandi interpretation of Sunni Islam, were used by the security establishment to support the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and to aid the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir. Sectarian groups like Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) were also developed to help the regime keep the Shiite minority in Pakistan contained.

Pakistan’s Afghan and Kashmiri jihadist project suffered a major setback with the 9/11 attacks against the United States and the American response. Caught between contradictory objectives — the need to align itself with the United States and to preserve its Islamist militant assets — Pakistan eventually lost control of many of its former Islamist militant assets, who then started teaming up with al Qaeda-led transnational jihadists in the region.

Most alarming for Islamabad is the fact that these groups are now striking at the core of Pakistan in places like Lahore, where brazen assaults were launched on March 3 against a bus carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team and on March 30 against a police academy. These attacks illustrated this trend of Pakistan’s militant proxies turning against their erstwhile patron — first in the Pashtun areas and now in Punjab. The Lahore attacks also both involved multi-man assault teams, a sign that the jihadists are able to use a large number of Islamist recruits from the province itself.

Though Pakistan came under massive pressure to crack down on these groups in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have considerable influence in the Lahore region. Similarly, LeJ and JeM have growing pockets of support in various parts of Punjab, particularly in southern Seraiki-speaking districts such as Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan. One of the major causes of rising support for such jihadist groups in Punjab stems from a incident in 2007, when a clerical family hailing from the border region between Punjab and Balochistan led an uprising at Islamabad’s Red Mosque. The subsequent security operation to regain control of the mosque from the militants turned many locals against the military and into the arms of the Islamists.

While the major urban areas of Punjab have not been spared by jihadists, most jihadist activity in the province is concentrated closer to the provincial border with the NWFP. The route that travels along N-5 must pass through Wah, Kamra and Attock, the three main towns of northwestern Punjab. Each of these towns has been rocked by suicide attacks. Attock was the scene of a July 2004 assassination attempt against former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Kamra, home of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, an aircraft servicing and manufacturing facility, was the scene of a December 2007 suicide attack targeting a school bus carrying children of air force personnel. In August 2008 in Wah, a pair of suicide bombers struck Pakistan’s main ordnance factory.

There are indications that such jihadist activity could creep further south into the heart of Punjab and potentially target the U.S.-NATO supply chain. The Taliban are growing bolder by the day now that they have made significant territorial gains in the greater Swat region in the NWFP further north. As the security situation in the NWFP and FATA deteriorates, U.S.-NATO supply depots and terminals are being moved further south to Punjab where they will be safer, or so it is thought. However, locals in the area are already protesting the relocation of these terminals because they know that they will run a greater chance of becoming Taliban targets the more closely attached they are to the U.S.-NATO supply chain. These people have good reason to be nervous. The jihadists are now openly declaring grander intentions of spreading beyond the Pashtun-dominated periphery into Punjab, Pakistan’s core. Though it would take some time to achieve this, these jihadist groups would have a strategic interest in carrying out attacks against Western supply lines in Punjab that could demonstrate the jihadist reach, aggravate already intense anti-U.S. sentiment and hamper U.S.-NATO logistics for the war in Afghanistan.

NWFP/FATA
The last leg of the northern supply line runs through the NWFP and the tribal badlands of the FATA. This is by far the most dangerous portion along the route and where Taliban activity is already reaching a crescendo.

Once in the NWFP the route goes through the district of Nowshehra before it reaches the provincial capital Peshawar and begins to hug Taliban territory. A variety of Taliban groups based in the FATA, many of whom are part of the TTP umbrella organization and/or the Mujahideen Shura Council, have taken over several districts in western NWFP and are now on Peshawar’s doorstep. There have been several attacks in Peshawar and further north in Charsaddah, where former Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao twice escaped assassination at the hands of suicide bombers, and east in Nowshehra, where an army base was targeted.


TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers inspect seized ammunition on Jan. 2Though suicide attacks have occurred in these areas, the Pashtun jihadists are not in control of the territory in the NWFP that lies east of Peshawar. All attacks on the northern route have taken place to the west of Peshawar, on the stretch of N-5 between Peshawar and the Torkham border crossing, a distance of nearly 60 kilometers where jihadist activity is intensifying.

Once the transporters reach Peshawar, they hit what is called the “ring road” area, where 15 to 20 bus terminals are located for containers coming from Karachi to stop and then head toward Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. The area where the bus terminals are situated is under the jurisdiction of Peshawar district, a settled and relatively calm area. But when the trucks travel east on the Peshawar-Torkham road toward Afghanistan, they enter a critical danger zone. Some Pakistani truckers have refused to drive this stretch between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass for fear of being attacked. Militants destroyed a key bridge in February on the Peshawar-Torkham road, where there are a dozen of other bridges that can be targeted in future attacks. The most recent and daring attack on highway N-5 between Peshawar and Torkham was the March 27 suicide bombing of a mosque during Friday prayers that killed dozens of local political and security officials.

For those convoys that make it out of the Peshawar terminal-depot hub, the next major stop is the Khyber Pass leading into Khyber agency, where the route travels along N-5 through Jamrud, Landikotal and Michni Post and then reaches the border with Afghanistan. The border area between Peshawar district and Khyber agency is called the Karkhano Market, which is essentially a massive black market for stolen goods run by smugglers, drug dealers and other organized-crime elements. Here one can find high quality merchandise at cheap prices, including stolen goods that were meant for U.S. and NATO forces. STRATFOR sources claim they have seen U.S.-NATO military uniforms and laptops going for $100 in the market.

Khyber agency (the most developed agency in the tribal belt) has been the scene of high-profile abductions, destroyed bridges and attacks against local political and security officials. Considering the frequency of the attacks, it appears that the militants can strike at the supply chain with impunity, and with likely encouragement from Pakistani security forces. This area is inhabited by four tribes — the Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori and Shimani. But as is the case in other agencies of the FATA, the mullahs and militia commanders have usurped the tribal elders in Khyber agency. As many as three different Taliban groups in this area are battling Pakistani forces as well as each other.

Militiamen of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh’s LI, heavily patrol the Bara area and have blown up several shrines, abducted local Christians and fought gunbattles with police. LI is not part of Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP umbrella group but maintains significant influence among the tribal maliks. Mehsud is allied with another faction called the Hakimullah Group, which rivals a third faction called Amr bil Maarouf wa Nahi Anil Munkar (“Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice”), whose leader, Haji Namdaar, was killed by Hakimullah militiamen.
23524  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Long Strat piece on: April 27, 2009, 11:54:46 AM
U.S.-NATO: Facing the Reality of Risk in Pakistan
Stratfor Today » April 27, 2009 | 1119 GMT
Introduction
Pakistan is the primary channel through which U.S. and NATO supplies travel to support the war effort in Afghanistan. The reason for this is quite simple: Pakistan offers the shortest and most logistically viable overland supply routes for Western forces operating in landlocked Afghanistan. Once Pakistan found itself in the throes of an intensifying insurgency mid-2007, however, U.S. military strategists had to seriously consider whether the United States would be able to rely on Pakistan to keep these supply lines open, especially when military plans called for increasing the number of troops in theater.

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In late 2008, as Pakistan continued its downward spiral, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. David Petraeus began touring Central Asian capitals in an attempt to stitch together supplemental supply lines into northern Afghanistan. Soon enough, Washington learned that it was fighting an uphill battle in trying to negotiate in Russian-dominated Central Asia without first reaching a broader understanding with Moscow. With U.S.-Russian negotiations now in flux and the so-called “northern distribution network” frozen, the United States has little choice but to face the reality in Pakistan.

This reality is rooted in the Pakistani Taliban’s desire to spread south beyond the Pashtun-dominated northwest tribal badlands (where attacks against the U.S.-NATO supply lines are already intensifying) into the Pakistani core in Punjab province. Punjab is Pakistan’s industrial heartland and home to more than half of the entire Pakistani population. If the Taliban manage to establish a foothold in Punjab, then the idea of a collapsing Pakistani state would actually become a realistic scenario. The key to preventing such a scenario is keeping the Pakistani military, the country’s most powerful institution, intact. However, splits within the military over how to handle the insurgency while preserving ties with militant proxies are threatening the military’s cohesion. Moreover, the threats to the supply lines go even further south than Punjab. The port of Karachi in Sindh province, where U.S.-NATO supplies are offloaded from ships, could be destabilized if the Taliban provoke local political forces.

In league with their jihadist brethren across the border in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban and their local affiliates are just as busy planning their next steps in the insurgency as the United States is in planning its counterinsurgency strategy. Afghanistan is a country that is not kind to outsiders, and the overwhelming opinion of the jihadist forces battling Western, Pakistani and Afghan troops in the region is that this is a war that can be won through the power of exhaustion. Key to this strategy will be an attempt to make the position of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan untenable by increasing risk to their supply lines in Pakistan.





(click image to enlarge)

A Dearth of Security Options
As the pre-eminent global maritime power, the United States is able to sustain military operations far beyond its coastlines. Afghanistan, however, is a landlocked country whose inaccessibility prevents the U.S. military from utilizing its naval prowess. Instead, the United States and NATO must bring in troops, munitions and militarily sensitive materiel directly by air and rely on long, overland supply routes through Pakistan for non-lethal supplies such as food, building materials and fuel (most of which is refined in Pakistan). This logistical challenge is compounded by the fact that the overland supply routes run through a country that is trying to battle its own jihadist insurgency.

The deteriorating security situation in Pakistan now requires an effective force to protect the supply convoys. Though sending a couple of U.S.-NATO brigades into Pakistan would provide first-rate security for these convoys, such an option would be political dynamite in U.S.-Pakistani relations. Pakistan already has an extremely low tolerance for CIA activity and U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle attacks on its soil. The sight of Western forces operating openly in the country would be a red line that Islamabad simply could not cross. Even if this were an option, U.S.-NATO forces are already stretched to the limit in Afghanistan and there are no troops to spare to send into Pakistan — nor is there the desire on the part of the United States or NATO to insert their troops into such a dicey security situation.


Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David PetraeusEnlisting the Pakistani military would be another option, but the Pentagon has thus far resisted allowing the Pakistani military to take direct charge of protecting and transporting U.S.-NATO supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan. The reasons for this are unclear, but they likely can be attributed (at least in part) to U.S. distrust for the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus, which is heavily infiltrated by Islamist sympathizers who retain links to their militant Islamist proxies.

Instead, CENTCOM’s logistics team has given the security responsibility to private Pakistani security contractors. This is not unusual in recent U.S. military campaigns, which have come to rely on private contractors for many logistical and security functions, including local firms in countries linked to the military supply chain. In Pakistan, such contractors provide security escorts to Pakistani truck drivers who transport supplies from the port of Karachi through Pakistan via a northern route and a southern route into Afghanistan, where the supplies are then delivered to key logistical hubs. While this approach provided sufficient security in the early years of the Afghan campaign, it has recently become an issue because of increasingly aggressive attacks by Taliban and other militants in Pakistan.

STRATFOR is told that many within the Pakistani military have long resented the fact that Washington has not entrusted them with the responsibility to secure the routes. The reasons behind the Pakistani military’s complaints are twofold. First, the military feels that its authority is being undermined by the dealings between the U.S. military and local contractors. Even beyond these deals, the Pakistani military consistently expresses its frustration when it is not the chief interlocutor with the United States in Pakistan, and has done so as much when U.S. officials have met with local leaders in the country and with the civilian government in Islamabad.

Second, there is a deep financial interest on the part of the military, which does not want to miss out on the large profits reaped by private security contractors in protecting the supply routes. As a result, Pakistani security forces are believed to turn a blind eye and occasionally even facilitate attacks on U.S. and NATO convoys in Pakistan in order to pressure Washington into giving the contracts to the better-equipped Pakistani military. That said, it is unclear whether the Pakistani military could fulfill such a commitment since the military itself is already stretched thin between its operations along the Afghan-Pakistani border and its massive military focus on the eastern border with India.

Many of the private Pakistani security companies guarding the routes are owned by wealthy Pakistani civilians who have strong links to government and to retired military officials. The private Pakistani security firms currently guarding the routes include Ghazi Security, Ready Guard, Phoenix Security Agency and SE Security Agency. Most of the main offices of these companies are located in Islamabad, but these contractors have also hired smaller security agencies in Peshawar. The private companies that own terminals used for the northern and southern supply routes include al Faisal Terminal (whose owner has been kidnapped by militants and whose whereabouts are unknown), Bilal Terminal (owned by Shahid Ansari from Punjab), World Port Logistics (owned by Major Fakhar, a nephew of former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf), Raziq International, Peace Line, Pak-Afghan and Waqar Terminal.

While the owners of these security firms make a handsome profit from the U.S.-NATO military contracts, the guards who actually drive and protect the trucks ferrying supplies make a meager salary, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 rupees (under $65) per month. Not surprisingly, the security is shoddy, with three to five poorly trained and equipped guards usually spread throughout a convoy who are easily overrun by Taliban forces that frequently attack the convoys in hordes. Given their poor compensation, these security guards feel little compulsion to hold their positions and resist concerted assaults.


BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
A Pakistani soldier stands guards on top of an armored personnel carrier on a street in Quetta on April 12The motivations for attacks against the supply infrastructure can vary. The Taliban and their jihadist affiliates are ideologically driven to target Western forces and increase the cost for them to remain in the region. There are also a number of criminally motivated fighters who adopt the Taliban label as a convenient cover but who are far more interested in making a profit. Both groups can benefit from racketeering enterprises that allow them to extort hefty protection fees from private security firms in return for the contractors’ physical safety.

One Pakistani truck driver relayed a story in which he was told by a suspected Taliban operative to leave his truck and come back in the morning to drive to Afghanistan. When the driver returned he found the truck on fire. Inadequate security allows for easy infiltration and manipulation by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which is already heavily penetrated by Islamist sympathizers. Drivers will often strike a deal with the militants allowing raids on the convoys in return for a cut of the proceeds once the goods are sold on the black market. One indication of just how porous U.S.-NATO security arrangements are in Pakistan is that the commander of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam (LI), is allegedly a former transporter himself now using jihad as a cover for his criminal activities.

STRATFOR is not aware of any plans by the Pentagon to turn these security contracts over to the Pakistani military. It is even more unclear whether doing so would do much to improve the situation. If the U.S. military continues to rely on these contractors to guard the supply routes in the face of a growing Taliban threat, certain changes could be made to enhance the contractors’ capabilities. Already, U.S. logistics teams are revising the northern route by moving some of the supply depots farther south in Punjab where the security threat is lower (though the Taliban are attempting to expand their presence there). More funding could also be directed toward these security contractors to ensure that the guards protecting the convoys are properly trained and paid sufficiently to give them more of an incentive to resist Taliban attacks. Nonetheless, the current outsourcing to private Pakistani security firms is evidently fraught with complications that are unlikely to be resolved in the near term.

Karachi: The Starting Point
Both supply routes originate in Pakistan’s largest city and primary seaport, Karachi. The city is Pakistan’s financial hub and provides critical ocean access for U.S.-NATO logistics support in Afghanistan. If Karachi — a city already known to have a high incidence of violence — were to destabilize, the Western military supply chain could be threatened even before supplies embarked on the lengthy and volatile journey through the rest of Pakistan.

There are two inter-linking security risks in Karachi: the local ruling party — the Mutahiddah Qaumi Movement (MQM) — and the Islamist militancy. The MQM is a political movement representing the Muhajir ethnic community of Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from India. Since its rise in the 1980s, the party has demonstrated a proclivity for ethnic-driven violence through its armed cadres. While the MQM does not have a formal militia and is part of the Sindh provincial legislature as well as the national parliament, the party is very sensitive about any challenges to its power base in the metropolitan Karachi area and controls powerful organized crime groups in the city. On many occasions, clashes between MQM and other rival political forces have paralyzed the city.


STR/AFP/Getty Images
Armed Pakistani militantsIdeologically speaking, the MQM is secular and has been firmly opposed to Islamist groups since its inception. The party has been watching nervously as the Taliban have crept southward from their stronghold in the country’s northwest. In recent weeks, the MQM also has been the loudest political voice in the country sounding the alarm against the growing jihadist threat. The party is well aware that any jihadist strategy that aims to strike at Pakistan’s economic nerve center and the most critical node of the U.S.-NATO supply lines makes Karachi a prime target.

The MQM is particularly concerned that Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will try to encroach on its turf in Karachi. While the Waziristan-based TTP itself has very little presence in Karachi, it does have a jihadist network in the city that could be utilized. Many Taliban members come from Pashtun tribes and derive much of their political support from Pashtun populations. Karachi has a Pashtun population of 3.5 million, making up some 30 percent of the city’s population. Moreover, Karachi police have reported that Taliban members are among the “several hundred thousand” tribesmen fleeing violence in the frontier regions who have settled on the outskirts of Karachi.

Jihadists have thus far demonstrated a limited ability to operate in the city. In 2002, jihadists kidnapped and killed U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and attacked the U.S. Consulate. In a 2007 suicide attack on a vehicle belonging to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, jihadists killed a U.S. diplomat and injured 52 others on the eve of one of then-President George W. Bush’s rare trips to Pakistan. A host of Pakistani jihadist groups as well as “al Qaeda Prime” (its core leadership) have been active in the area, evidenced by the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, deputy coordinator of the 9/11 attacks, in Karachi in 2002.

Until now the MQM did not perceive the Taliban to be a direct threat to its hold over the city, but the MQM is now feeling vulnerable given the Taliban’s spread in the north. There has been a historic tension between the MQM and the significant Pashtun minority in Karachi. The MQM regards this minority with deep suspicion because it believes the Pashtuns could provide a safe haven for Pashtun jihadists seeking to extend their influence to the south.

In the wake of the “shariah for peace” agreement in the Swat district of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), tensions have risen between the MQM and the country’s largest Pashtun political group, the Awami National Party (ANP), which rules the NWFP and is the party chiefly responsible for negotiating the peace agreement with the Tehrik-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), the jihadist group in the greater Swat region. MQM’s 19 members of parliament were the only ones who did not vote in favor of the Swat peace deal, which has amplified its concerns over the threat of Talibanization in Pakistan. In response, TNSM leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad has declared parliamentarians who oppose the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation non-Muslims. The MQM is also trying to mobilize religious groups that oppose the Sunni Islamic Deobandi movement, particularly Barelvis, against the Taliban.

With rising Muhajir-Pashtun ethnic tensions, the MQM-ANP spat and the MQM’s fear of a jihadist threat to its authority, conditions in Karachi are slowly building toward a confrontation. Should jihadists demonstrate a capability to step up operations in the city, the MQM will show little to no restraint in cracking down on the city’s Pashtun minority through its armed cadres, which would lead to wider-scale clashes between the MQM and the Pashtun community. There is a precedent for urban conflict in Karachi, and it could cause authorities to impose a citywide curfew that would disrupt operations at the port and impede supplies from making their way out of the city.

The situation described above is still a worst-case scenario. Since Karachi is the financial center of the country, the MQM-controlled local government, the federal government in Islamabad and the Rawalpindi-based military establishment all share an interest in preserving stability in this key city. It will also likely take some time before Pakistani jihadists are able to project power that far south. Even a few days or weeks of turmoil in Karachi, however, will threaten the country’s economy — which is already on the verge of bankruptcy — and further undercut the weakened state’s ability to address the growing insecurity. So far, the MQM has kept its hold over Karachi, but the Taliban already have their eyes on the city, and it would not take much to provoke the MQM into a confrontation that could threaten a crucial link in the U.S.-NATO supply chain.

23525  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stratfor on Pig Flu on: April 27, 2009, 11:06:55 AM
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 27, 2009 - Swine Flu Outbreak
April 27, 2009 | 1500 GMT

ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Mexican Navy stands guard at Pantitlan subway station in Mexico City on April 26Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.

Related Special Topic Page
Weekly Updates
We need to ramp up on a number of issues related to the H1N1 swine flu outbreaks. So far there are 1,663 suspected infections and 103 reported deaths. Nearly all of the infections and all of the deaths are in Mexico (98 percent of both have been in Mexico City itself). The high population density of Mexico City has allowed the new strain to spread very quickly and provided ample opportunities for it to be carried abroad. There are now suspected cases in Canada, New Zealand, Spain, France, Israel, Brazil and the United States.

But before we delve deeper into this topic, we must clarify what this is not. It is obvious that we’re not dealing with a 1918 style pandemic. The current H1N1 strain � “H1” and “N1” indicate certain proteins on the surface of the flu virus � was first detected in March. While there obviously have been deaths, we are not seeing numbers that indicate this is particularly horrible disease. Something like the 1918 avian virus would already be killing people in significant numbers in places as scattered as Singapore, Buenos Aires and Moscow. It appears that this H1N1 strain is simply a new strain of the common flu that is somewhat more virulent. All evidence thus far indicates that a simple paper mask is effective at limiting transmission, and that common anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza work well against the new strain.

That does not mean there will not be disruptions. Several governments already are banning the import of North American pork products. Considering that the human-communicable strain has already traveled to every continent, this is a touch silly, but governments must appear to do something — and there is nothing seriously that can be done to quarantine a continent from something as communicable as a flu bug. We expect limited travel restrictions to pop up sooner rather than later. EU Health Commissioner Andorra Vassiliou has already recommended that Europeans rethink any plans to travel to North America. This is not yet a ban or even a travel warning, but those are logical next steps for spooked governments. Several states have been using thermal scanners at airports to check passengers for fevers, and so isolate potential carriers (this measure is of limited use — once a carrier is in the airport, he has probably already spread the virus).

Tasking:
The busy folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) need to become our new best friends. The CDC is not like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — it is not tasked to provide any hands-on, local support. Instead, they are a sort of brain trust of researchers that decode the virus, and based on their findings, produce recommendations as to how to limit the virus’ spread and mitigate the virus’ effects. At present the CDC has not yet decoded the virus.

We also need to touch base with various national health authorities the world over who were stressed about a possible H5N1 outbreak in 2007. Many of the procedures that were put into place to deal with a potential H5N1 catastrophe (information dissemination, vaccine dissemination, antiviral stockpiles, etc) remain applicable for combating this new H1N1 strain. We need to familiarize ourselves with what the thresholds are for the major health authorities. Some question to ask: At what point would you consider quarantines? At what point would you release antiviral stockpiles? How big are those stockpiles? What steps are you taking to detect new cases? Are there any travel or trade restrictions that you are considering or implementing?

Are there any places in the world where H1 flu strains are not prevalent? Once you have the flu, you develop a natural resistance to not just that specific strain, but any strain that is somewhat similar. H1 has been present in the United States for years and H1 strains regularly make it into American flu vaccines. Since it is believed that it is the H1 portion of this new virus that has been tweaked, in theory this will provide Americans with some limited protection. Are there any national populations that lack this protection?

We need to look at trade as well. Already Russia, China and the Philippines have barred pork imports of North American origin. (Incidentally, you are never at risk of contracting flu viruses from meat products unless you fail to cook it thoroughly.) We need to look at the trade question from two points of view. First, what trade flows (primarily pork) could be directly affected. Second, the global economy really does not need a major confidence hit right now. We need to be extremely vigilant of any indirect impacts this will have on capital availability, travel and consumer spending in the current fragile economic climate. Asian and European stock markets had a bad day today, but not inordinately so (Japan’s Nikkei — one of the world’s largest exchanges by value — actually rose a bit).

But the biggest question is why have there been deaths in Mexico City and not anywhere else? The idea that the Mexican health system is subpar does not hold: most people do not seek medical treatment for flu symptoms, so medical quality does not yet seriously enter into the picture. The explanation could be nothing more complicated than the fact that the strain first broke out in Mexico City and has not yet advanced far enough elsewhere to produce deaths (and if that is the case we should be seeing some terminal cases in the United States in the next few days).

So far the CDC does not have an opinion on this topic, but we need to discover if there is something fundamentally different about the situation — or the virus — in Mexico vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
23526  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The NY congressional loss on: April 27, 2009, 10:42:18 AM
Republicans lost another Congressional race on Friday, as Democratic newcomer Scott Murphy was declared the victor by some 400 votes in the March 31 special House election in New York state. But you wouldn't know it from the response of House Minority Leader John Boehner, who declared that GOP candidate Jim Tedisco "forced the Democratic Party to invest heavily and defend a seat they should have had in the bag."

I-yi-yi.

New York's 20th Congressional district is precisely the kind the GOP will have to win if it wants to regain a majority. It is one of the few Northeast districts where Republicans retain a party registration advantage, and Republican John Sweeney had held it for four terms before Democrat (and recently appointed Senator) Kirsten Gillibrand won in 2006. George W. Bush carried it twice.

Republicans lost because they fielded a poor candidate who ran a lousy campaign. While Mr. Murphy was a fresh face who could plausibly argue he'd assist President Obama's call for change, Republicans picked an Albany careerist who personified more of the same. GOP power broker (and Al D'Amato pal) Joe Mondello rigged the nomination to deny a real contest, thus cutting out the likes of former state Assembly minority leader John Faso.

At one point, Mr. Tedisco had a 20-point lead but squandered it by waffling on the Obama stimulus plan, running anti-Wall Street ads that confused the Republican base, and waiting until the last few days to criticize pro-union "card check" legislation. In other words, Mr. Tedisco betrayed that he wasn't all that different than the other politicians who have made Albany the tax and spend center of America.

The fact that the race was so close shows that, had Republicans run a credible candidate, they had a chance to send a message to Blue Dog Democrats in Congress that Mr. Obama's agenda is less popular than he is. Mr. Boehner would do better to stop spinning defeat and start looking for candidates who believe in something beyond their own careers.
23527  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Liberal fascism at work on: April 27, 2009, 10:37:41 AM
WSJ

The cavalier use of brute government force has become routine, but the emerging story of how Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke forced CEO Ken Lewis to blow up Bank of America is still shocking. It's a case study in the ways that panicky regulators have so often botched the bailout and made the financial crisis worse.

In the name of containing "systemic risk," our regulators spread it. In order to keep Mr. Lewis quiet, they all but ordered him to deceive his own shareholders. And in the name of restoring financial confidence, they have so mistreated Bank of America that bank executives everywhere have concluded that neither Treasury nor the Federal Reserve can be trusted.

Mr. Lewis has told investigators for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that in December Mr. Paulson threatened him not to cancel a deal to buy Merrill Lynch. BofA had discovered billions of dollars in undisclosed Merrill losses, and Mr. Lewis was considering invoking his rights under a material adverse condition clause to kill the merger. But Washington decided that America's financial system couldn't withstand a Merrill failure, and that BofA had to risk its own solvency to save it. So then-Treasury Secretary Paulson, who says he was acting at the direction of Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, told Mr. Lewis that the feds would fire him and his board if they didn't complete the deal.

Mr. Paulson told Mr. Lewis that the government would provide cash from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to help BofA swallow Merrill. But since the government didn't want to reveal this new federal investment until after the merger closed, Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke rejected Mr. Lewis's request to get their commitment in writing.

"We do not want a disclosable event," Mr. Lewis says Mr. Paulson told him. "We do not want a public disclosure." Imagine what would happen to a CEO who said that.

After getting the approval of his board, Mr. Lewis executed the Paulson-Bernanke order without informing his shareholders of the material events taking place at Merrill. The merger closed on January 1. But investors and taxpayers had to wait weeks to learn that the government had invested another $20 billion plus loan portfolio insurance in BofA, and that Merrill had lost a staggering $15 billion in the last three months of 2008.

This was the second time in three months that Washington had forced Bank of America to take federal money. In his testimony to the New York AG's office, Mr. Lewis noted that an earlier TARP investment in his bank had a "dilutive effect" on existing shareholders and was not requested by BofA. "We had not sought any funds. We were taking 15 [billion dollars] at the request of Hank [Paulson] and others," Mr. Lewis testified.

But it is the Merrill deal that raises the most troubling questions. Evaluating the policy of Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson on their own terms, this transaction fundamentally increased systemic risk. In order to save a Wall Street brokerage, the feds spread the risk to one of the country's largest deposit-taking banks. If they were convinced that Merrill had to be saved, then they should have made the public case for it. And the first obligation of due diligence is to make sure that their Merrill "rescuer" of choice -- BofA -- had the capacity to bear the losses. Instead they transplanted the Merrill risk to BofA shareholders, the bank's depositors and the taxpayers who ensure those deposits. And then they had to bail out BofA too.

Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson also undermined the transparency that is a vital source of investor confidence. Disclosure is not a luxury to be enjoyed only when markets are rising. It is the foundation of the American regulatory system and a reason investors have long sought to keep their money within U.S. borders. Could either man have believed that their actions wouldn't eventually come to light, with all of the repercussions for their bank rescue plans?

Mr. Paulson told Mr. Cuomo's investigators that he also kept former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox out of the loop while forcing BofA to rescue Merrill. Mr. Cox wasn't the only one. Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke both sit on the Financial Stability Oversight Board, comprised of federal regulators who oversee TARP. Two days after Mr. Lewis told the dynamic duo that Merrill's losses were exploding and that he was looking for a way out, Mr. Bernanke chaired and Mr. Paulson attended a meeting of this board. Minutes of the meeting show no mention of BofA or Merrill.

At the next meeting on January 8, a week after the merger had closed, the minutes again make no mention of either regulator telling their colleagues that they had committed tens of billions of dollars. Yet the minutes helpfully note that among the topics discussed were "coordination, transparency and oversight."

Meeting minutes suggest Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson finally informed fellow board members at 4:30 p.m. on January 15, after news outlets had already reported a pending new taxpayer investment in BofA. What exactly did Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson tell their colleagues about their plans for TARP prior to January 15?

Let's hope they treated their government colleagues better than they've treated Ken Lewis, whom they hung out to dry. After making him an offer he could hardly refuse, they've let him endure a public flogging from shareholders and the press, lengthy discussions with prosecutors, plus new hiring and compensation rules that limit his bank's ability to compete.

No wonder no banker in his right mind trusts the Fed or Treasury, and no wonder nobody but Pimco and other Treasury favorites is eager to invest in the TALF, the PPIP, or any of the other programs that require trusting the government as a business partner.

The political class has spent the last few months blaming bankers for everything that has gone wrong in the financial system, and no doubt many banks have earned public scorn. But Washington has been complicit every step of the way, from the Fed's easy money to the nurturing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and since last autumn with regulatory and Congressional panic that is making financial repair that much harder. The men who nearly ruined Bank of America have some explaining to do.

 
23528  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: April 27, 2009, 10:27:01 AM
The folks who ran Katrina now look to takeover the people's remaining medical freedoms.  A giant clusterfcuk comes , , ,  cry
23529  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Eagles hunting wolves!!! on: April 26, 2009, 08:27:51 PM
http://www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=Re644qgnCtw&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Esherdog%2Enet%2Fforums%2Ff7%2Fmongolians%2Dusing%2Deagles%2Dhunt%2Dwolves%2Dthats%2Dright%2Deagles%2D959782%2F&feature=player_embedded
23530  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eagles hunting wolves!!! on: April 26, 2009, 08:26:06 PM
http://www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=Re644qgnCtw&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Esherdog%2Enet%2Fforums%2Ff7%2Fmongolians%2Dusing%2Deagles%2Dhunt%2Dwolves%2Dthats%2Dright%2Deagles%2D959782%2F&feature=player_embedded
23531  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Demographics on: April 26, 2009, 12:17:32 PM
Are these numbers accurate?  No sources are given.  If they are, what are the implications?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-3X5hIFXYU
23532  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc on: April 26, 2009, 09:36:49 AM
More:

The CDC
http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/swineflu_you.htm
23533  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT Guile helps Taliban on: April 26, 2009, 08:47:29 AM
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Initially, Buner was a hard place for the Taliban to crack. When they attacked a police station in the valley district last year, the resistance was fearless. Local people picked up rifles, pistols and daggers, hunted down the militants and killed six of them.

But it was not to last. In short order this past week the Taliban captured Buner, a strategically vital district just 60 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. The militants flooded in by the hundreds, startling Pakistani and American officials with the speed of their advance.

The lesson of Buner, local politicians and residents say, is that the dynamic of the Taliban insurgency, as methodical and slow-building as it has been, can change suddenly, and the tactics used by the Taliban can be replicated elsewhere.

The Taliban took over Buner through both force and guile — awakening sleeping sympathizers, leveraging political allies, pretending at peace talks and then crushing what was left of their opponents, according to the politicians and the residents interviewed.

Though some of the militants have since pulled back, they still command the high points of Buner and have fanned out to districts even closer to the capital.

That Buner fell should be no surprise, local people say. Last fall, the inspector general of police in North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, complained that his officers were being attacked and killed by the hundreds.

Mr. Khan was so desperate — and had been so thoroughly abandoned by the military and the government — that he was relying on citizen posses like the one that stood up to the Taliban last August.

Today, the hopes that those civilian militias inspired are gone, brushed away by the realization that Pakistanis can do little to stem the Taliban advance if their government and military will not help them.

The people of Buner got nothing for their bravery. In December, the Taliban retaliated for the brazenness of the resistance in the district, sending a suicide bomber to disrupt voting during a by-election. More than 30 people were killed and scores were wounded.

Severe disenchantment toward the government rippled out of the suicide bombing for a very basic reason, said Amir Zeb Bacha, the director of the Pakistan International Human Rights Organization in Buner. “When we took the injured to the hospital there was no medicine,” he said.

The election was rescheduled but turned out to be a farce. Voters were too scared to show up, said Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, a former interior minister, who lives in the area and has twice escaped Taliban suicide bombers.

The peace deal the military struck with the Taliban in February in neighboring Swat further demoralized people in Buner. Residents and local officials said they asked themselves how they could continue to resist the Taliban when the military had abandoned the effort. The Taliban were emboldened by the deal: it called for the institution of Shariah, the strict legal code of Islam based on the Koran, throughout Malakand Agency, which includes Swat and Buner. It allowed the Taliban amnesty for their killings, floggings and destruction of girls schools in Swat.

Still, when the Taliban rolled into Buner from Swat through the town of Gokan on April 5, a well-to-do businessman, Fateh Mohammed, organized another posse of civilian fighters to take on the militants in the town of Sultanwas.

Five civilians and three policemen were killed, he said. Some newspaper reports said 17 Taliban were killed.

At that point, the chief government official in charge of Malakand, Mohammed Javed, proposed what he called peace talks. Mr. Javed, an experienced bureaucrat in the Pakistani civil service, was appointed in late February as the main government power broker in Malakand even though he was known to be sympathetic to the Taliban, a senior government official in North-West Frontier Province said. The government had been under pressure to bring calm to Swat and essentially capitulated to Taliban demands for Mr. Javed’s appointment, the official said.

In an apparent acknowledgment that Mr. Javed had been too sympathetic to the Taliban, the government announced Saturday that he had been replaced by Fazal Karim Khattack.

In what some residents in Swat and now in Buner say had been a pattern of favorable decisions led by Mr. Javed on behalf of the Taliban, the talks in Buner turned out to be a “betrayal,” said a former police officer from the area, who was afraid to be identified.






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

(Page 2 of 2)



The talks gave the militants time to gather reinforcements from neighboring Swat, he said. And at the same time, the Taliban put such pressure on the members of Mr. Mohammed’s posse, or lashkar, that they disappeared or fled, Mr. Mohammed said.

Taliban militants in the main town of Daggar in the Buner District of Pakistan.
“The police part of our lashkar left, and I was all alone,” he said. On the night of April 11, he fled, too, he said in a telephone conversation from Karachi, where he has gone to hide.

The militants at that point occupied his three gas stations, his flour mill and his 20-room house, he said. They had also commandeered more than 20 other houses in Sultanwas belonging to his relatives, he said.   In a show of who was in charge in Mr. Mohammed’s absence, the Taliban established a training camp in Sultanwas, said Mr. Bacha, the human rights officer.

To bolster their strength, and insinuate themselves in Buner, the Taliban also relied heavily on the adherents of a hard-line militant group, the Movement for the Implementation of the Shariah of Muhammad, which has agitated for Islamic law in Pakistan.  Their leader, Sufi Mohammed, comes from the region around Swat and Buner and has whipped up local support and intimidated Taliban opponents.

The group has called on graduates of a huge madrasa near the main town of Daggar in Buner to run local district governments, beckoning one from as far as the southern port of Karachi to run a municipality, said Khadim Hussain, a professor of linguistics and communication at Bahria University in Islamabad.

Whatever the number, early last week the Taliban showed their power by ordering the state courts shut. They announced that they would open Islamic courts, practicing Shariah, by the end of the month.

The militants have also placed a tax payable to the Taliban on all marble quarried at mines, said a senior police officer who worked in Buner.

At gas stations belonging to Mr. Mohammed, they pumped gas and drove off without paying, the officer said.

“No one dare ask them for payment,” he said.

The police were so intimidated they mostly stayed inside station houses, he said. “They are setting up a parallel government.”

With their success in Buner, the Taliban felt flush with success and increasingly confident that they could repeat the template, residents and analysts said. In the main prize, the richest and most populous province, Punjab, in eastern Pakistan, the Taliban are relying on the sleeper cells of other militant groups, including the many fighters who had been trained by the Pakistani military for combat in Kashmir, and now felt abandoned by the state, they said.


It would not be difficult for the Taliban to seize Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, by shutting down the airport and blocking the two main thoroughfares from Islamabad, a Western official with long experience in the province said.

At midweek, a convoy of heavily armed Taliban vehicles was seen barreling along the four-lane motorway between Islamabad and Peshawar, according to Mr. Sherpao, the former minister of the interior.   Across North-West Frontier Province, the Taliban are rapidly consolidating power by activating cells that consisted of a potent mix of jihadist groups, he said. In some places, the Taliban have entered mosques saying they had come only to preach, but in fact the strategy is to spread fear that pushes people into submission and demoralizes the police, he said.   

Everywhere, they have preyed on the miseries of the poor, saying that Islamic courts would settle their complaints against the rich. “Every district is falling into their lap,” Mr. Sherpao said.
23534  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Today's NYT on: April 26, 2009, 08:37:24 AM
XICO CITY — This sprawling capital was on edge Saturday as jittery residents ventured out wearing surgical masks and President Felipe Calderón published an order that would give his government emergency powers to address a deadly flu outbreak, including isolating those who have contracted the virus, inspecting the homes of affected people and ordering the cancellation of public events.

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Related
Students Fall Ill in New York, and Swine Flu Is Likely Cause (April 26, 2009)
Worrying About Every Cough at a Queens School (April 26, 2009)
Dot Earth: Contagion on a Small Planet (April 26, 2009) White-coated health care workers fanned out across the international airport here to look for ailing passengers, and thousands of callers fearful they might have contracted the rare swine flu flooded government health hot lines. Health officials also began notifying restaurants, bars and nightclubs throughout the city that they should close.

Of those Mexicans who did go out in public, many took the advice of the authorities and donned the masks, which are known here as tapabocas, or cover-your-mouths, and were being handed out by soldiers and health workers at subway stops and on street corners.

“My government will not delay one minute to take all the necessary measures to deal with this epidemic,” Mr. Calderón said in Oaxaca State during the opening of a new hospital, which he said would set aside an area for anyone who might be affected by the new swine flu strain that has already killed as many as 81 people in Mexico and sickened more than 1,300 others.

Mr. Calderón pointed out that he and the other officials who attended the ceremony intentionally did not greet each other with handshakes or kisses on the cheek, which health officials have urged Mexicans to avoid.

At a news conference Saturday night to address the crisis, Mexico’s health minister, José Ángel Córdova, said 20 of the 81 reported deaths were confirmed to have been caused by swine flu, while the rest are being studied. Most of the cases of illness were reported in the center of the country, but there were other cases in pockets to the north and south.

The government also announced at the news conference that schools in and around the capital that serve millions of students would remain closed until May 6.

With 20 million people packed together tight, Mexico City typically bursts forth on the weekends into parks, playgrounds, cultural centers and sidewalk cafes. But things were quieter than usual on Saturday.

The government encouraged people to stay home by canceling concerts, closing museums and banning spectators from two big soccer matches on Sunday that will be played in front of television cameras, but no live crowd.

At street corners on Saturday, even many of the jugglers, dancers and musicians who eke out a living collecting spare change when the traffic lights turn red were wearing bright blue surgical masks.

The newspaper Reforma reported that President Obama, who recently visited Mexico, was escorted around Mexico City’s national anthropology museum on April 16 by Felipe Solis, an archaeologist who died the next day from flu-like symptoms. But Dr. Córdova said that it does not appear that Mr. Solis died of influenza.

White House officials said Saturday that they were aware of the news reports in Mexico but that there was no reason to be concerned about Mr. Obama’s health, that he had no symptoms and that his medical staff had recommended he not be tested.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said Saturday that it had sent a team of experts to Mexico to assist with the investigation of the outbreak, which has already been reported in Texas and California and possibly in New York, raising fears that it could spread into a global pandemic.

The possible New York cases were reported at a Queens high school, where eight students tested positive for a type of influenza that health officials suspect could be the new swine flu. Some of the school’s students had traveled to Mexico recently.

Still, the World Health Organization, which held a meeting on Saturday to discuss the outbreak, chose not to raise the level of global pandemic flu alert, which has been at a Level 3 because of the avian flu.

Epidemiologists want to know exactly when the first cases occurred in Mexico. Mexican health officials said they first noticed a huge spike in flu cases in late March. In mid-April, they began noticing that otherwise healthy people were dying from the virus. But it was only on Thursday night that officials first sounded an alarm to the population by closing schools, after United States health officials announced a possible swine flu outbreak.

By issuing the emergency decree Saturday, Mr. Calderón may have been trying to head off criticism that his government had been too slow to act. He had earlier called in the army to distribute four million masks throughout the capital and its suburbs.

Lt. Raymundo Morales Merla, who stood outside a military transport truck parked outside a downtown subway station on Saturday, led a group of 27 soldiers who had arrived at 7 a.m. to hand out as many masks as they could.

The scene at the airport was alarming, with doctors stationed at the entrances to answer questions and to keep an eye out for obviously sick people. Regular public address announcements in English and Spanish warned travelers that anyone exhibiting any symptoms should cancel their flight and immediately seek medical attention.

Even Sunday Mass will probably be affected. The Roman Catholic Church gave worshipers the option to listen to Masses on the radio and told priests who decided to hold services to be brief and put Communion wafers in worshipers’ hands instead of their mouths.

Axel de la Macorra, 46, a physics professor at National Autonomous University of Mexico, said he became worried when he learned recently that a 31-year-man who played at a tennis club he once belonged to had suddenly died. “He got sick at the beginning of April and two weeks later, he was dead,” said Mr. de la Macorra, who was weighing whether to attend a First Communion with 200 guests on Saturday.

“My mother told me to wear it so I did,” said Noel Ledezma, 29, who had his mask pulled down so he could sip a coffee and eat a muffin as he walked to work. “Who knows who will be next.”

Sarahe Gomez, who was selling jewelry at a mall in the upscale Polanco neighborhood, spoke through a mask to the few customers who visited her kiosk. “I’m in the middle of all these people and one of them could have it,” she said. “The virus could be anywhere. It could be right here.”

She then took a half step back.

“This is no joke,” said Servando Peneda, 42, a lawyer who ventured out to pay a bill, but left his two sons home. “There’s 20 million of us in this city and I’d say half of us have these masks on today. I know all of us will die one day, but I want to last out the week.”

Antonio Betancourt contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.
23535  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Class at Inosanto Academy on: April 26, 2009, 08:21:51 AM
And a rockin' good time it was.

Started with a Dos Triques stick combination and was pleased at the understanding every one was showing of the angles of the footwork.

Then we applied it in Kali Tudo with a combination that everyone seemed to really like.  I don't have a name for it yet, but as I was driving home I realized it and the Flying Bong Sao variations are part of the same matrix.  I need to make this clear next week.
23536  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Bat vs. knife on: April 26, 2009, 07:57:20 AM
Bat takes out knife wielding criminal

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiNPKcNpLNk&feature=related
23537  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / two women kill with 3" knife/knives on: April 26, 2009, 07:33:30 AM


"pocket knife" stabbing death in my town

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LONGMONT, Colo. — As a Longmont teenager lay bleeding on the porch of a stranger’s home late Monday night, his good friend who stood by his side and called 911 never noticed the mortal wound. According to 911 tapes released Thursday, the friend of Logan Cameron Steele Sisson, 19, thought his friend was bleeding from a rough fight with two women and two men, but told dispatchers the worst wound was likely a broken arm. But police say the violent attack was far worse, and while the victim’s friend didn’t know the full extent of the injuries, the women accused of inflicting them should have. Mariena Amber Harris, 19, of Longmont, and Lakesha Marie Crutcher, 20, a transient, continued to be held Thursday at the Boulder County Jail on suspicion of second-degree murder in the teen’s death. They’re expected to be charged today. Harris told several people after the stabbing that she was responsible for the fatal blow, Longmont police Cmdr. Tim Lewis said. Both women knew — or should have known — that bringing a knife with them to the city’s Lanyon Park after a confrontation at a nearby “4/20” pot party could end with someone dead, he said. “The investigation shows us they were aware of the magnitude of the incident,” Lewis said of the women. He said the nature of Sisson’s wounds would have made it “apparent what occurred,” although he declined to elaborate. An autopsy Tuesday concluded Sisson died from a stab wound to the chest. Lewis said detectives believe they’ve recovered the murder weapon, which is described as a pocketknife with a blade about 3-inches long. A knife with a blade longer than 3½ inches is generally not legal to carry, according to state law. Boulder County Coroner Tom Faure declined to release information about the number of stab wounds that Sisson suffered, and it could be weeks before an official autopsy is released. Sisson was stabbed shortly after being told to leave the 4/20 party when the woman hosting the celebration became the “object of his unwanted affection,” police said. According to the Longmont Times-Call, the 43-year-old hostess denied police accounts that it was a pro-pot party and said that she asked Sisson to leave because he brought alcohol and she knew he was underage. The paper agreed to withhold the woman's name at her request. Sisson’s friend, who was walking with him Monday night after police say Sisson was kicked out of a nearby party, told 911 dispatchers there was a “big ol’ fight” happening at Lanyon Park about 11 p.m. “There’s a bunch of people fighting,” the teenage caller said. Asked whether he could see what was happening, the man replied, “No, I started walking away because they started picking (expletive) with me.”
The caller identified his 19-year-old friend’s attackers as two women. He told the dispatcher he couldn’t see any weapons involved. “It was physical, they were down on the ground beating him,” the man said. “The girls were?” the dispatcher asked. “Yeah,” he replied. About five minutes later, the same man called 911 again. This time, the fight was over and he’d gone to meet up with Sisson, who had staggered across the street and was bleeding on the front porch of a nearby house.
“I was walking down the street and um, like, two more guys showed up and they just kept beating up this one guy,” the caller said while standing beside a dying Sisson. “He’s my friend and he’s laying on the steps right now and he’s bleeding pretty bad.” Police have said two men, Robert Glenn Wittmer, 35, of Longmont, — who was arrested Tuesday and is being held on possible charges of being an accessory to murder — and another man whose name has not been released, arrived at the scene and joined in the fight. The caller told dispatchers the men, “beat him (Sisson) up, they picked up the girls and they left.” When the dispatcher asked if Sisson was hurt, the man said his friend was bleeding, but apparently never noticed the mortal stab wound. “I think his right arm is broken,” the caller said. The caller, whom police described as a transient, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Lewis, the Longmont commander, said the man was among Sisson’s inner circle of friends. He also said the caller’s actions Monday night — leaving the fight to phone police — was “prudent” given the circumstances. Lewis said the investigation continued Thursday into the hours before and after the stabbing. He said detectives have interviewed the second man who showed up at the fight, but there are “no imminent arrests planned” in the case. On Thursday afternoon, a memorial grew at the corner of Lanyon Park. Sisson’s adoptive father, mother, grandmother and other relatives gathered near a pile of photos, cards, candles and a poem dedicated to Sisson. The family declined comment, but a note left behind read, “Logan Sisson is our angel.”

http://www.dailycamera.com/news/2009...d-beating-him/
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23538  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Piracy on: April 26, 2009, 07:27:09 AM
Italian Cruise Ship Fires on Somali Pirates

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Italian Cruise Ship Fires on Somali Pirates

Sunday , April 26, 2009

ROME —
An Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people on board fended off a pirate attack far off the coast of Somalia when its Israeli private security forces exchanged fire with the bandits and drove them away, the commander said Sunday.

Cmdr. Ciro Pinto told Italian state radio that six men in a small white boat approached the Msc Melody and opened fire Saturday night, but retreated after the Israeli security officers aboard the cruise ship returned fire.

"It felt like we were in war," Pinto told state radio.

None of the roughly 1,000 passengers and 500 crew members were hurt, Melody owner Msc Cruises said in a statement issued by its German branch.

Domenico Pellegrino, head of the Italian cruise line, said Msc hired the Israelis because they were the best trained security agents, the ANSA news agency reported.

Civilian shipping and passenger ships have generally avoided arming crewmen or hiring armed security for reasons of safety, liability and compliance with the rules of the different countries where they dock. Saturday's exchange of fire was one of the first reported between pirates and a nonmilitary ship. International military forces have battled pirates, with U.S. Navy snipers killing three holding an American captain hostage in one of the highest-profile incidents.

The attack occurred about 200 miles north of the Seychelles, and about 500 miles east of Somalia, according to the anti-piracy flotilla headquarters of the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa.

Pinto said the pirates fired with automatic weapons, slightly damaging the liner, and tried to put a ladder on board. But he said they were unable to climb aboard.

The commander said his security forces opened fire with pistols and the ANSA news agency said the pistols had been kept in a safe under the joint control of the commander and security chief.

The Spanish warship SPS Marques de Ensenada was meeting up with the liner to escort her through the pirate-infested northern Gulf of Aden, the Maritime Security Center said.

The cruise ship was headed as scheduled to the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The Melody was on a 22-day cruise from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy.

Pirates have attacked more than 100 ships off the Somali coast over the last year, reaping an estimated $1 million in ransom for each successful hijacking, according to analysts and country experts.

Another Italian-owned vessel remains in the hands of pirates. The Italian-flagged tugboat Buccaneer was seized off Somalia on April 11 with 16 crew members aboard.
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23539  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tracking school in Borneo on: April 25, 2009, 10:50:39 PM
Next > 

25 April 2009
Brunei, Borneo Island

This quick email from Borneo is an update about the combat tracking course conducted by the British military.

Tracking is a lost art in the British and U.S. militaries.  Even among the most highly trained forces, you’ll seldom come across anyone who can honestly track a man or interpret signs.  Many times in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve seen combat forces come up on signs of the enemy – and our folks do set to work analyzing ever smidgen they can find – but only in a single case did I see soldiers who started tracking on a very subtle trail that was less than obvious.  Not surprisingly, those soldiers were “good old boys” from the 278th Tennessee National Guard.  Where those soldiers learned tracking I do not know.  Presumably they got it from growing up in the boondocks, and they probably got it from their granddaddies.  We didn’t get any enemies that day, but the 278th soldiers definitely were able get on what I thought was the right trail, and they tracked quite a distance (after a bomb exploded).  They weren’t playing around.  More recently, I was with American some soldiers in Afghanistan and there was a very minor shootout wherein nobody got hurt.  At least two Taliban were seen going over a hill after the bullets were swapped.  Our boys closed the gap as fast as they could and tried to get them, but we never picked up their trail and the enemy escaped.  I believe that the British and Gurkha trackers I am seeing in this school in Borneo might well have picked up that trail, and nailed the Taliban that day.

The tracking school only started on Monday, and we just finished Saturday’s training which began with classroom work and ended with about five hours of tracking in the jungle.  We started with 21 students but are down to 17 after something between the Netherlands and Brunei governments caused four Dutch students to drop out today.  The Dutch soldiers are upset.  The Brits also are upset because the Dutch were good tracking students, and also the Dutch have Afghan combat experience under their belts, as do most of the British.  And so it’s good to hear about their experiences, and how tracking might apply back in Afghanistan, because most of these Soldiers and Marines are heading back over.  All seven instructors are combat veterans from some place or another.  Some of the students have three combat tours behind them, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.  None of these Marines and Soldiers had any experience in tracking, yet after having started only on Monday, by late this afternoon in that steaming jungle, they were successfully tracking Gurkhas.  (The Gurkhas had gone before us to leave track.)  I can say with absolute certainty that very few British or American soldiers would have been able to follow those tracks.  Maybe some of those soldiers from the 278th Tennessee National Guard could have pulled it off, but I doubt that 99% of the others could have even found the first subtle signs.

Toward the end of the day, my section of five soldiers lost the Gurkha tracks, and so the soldiers “probed” and “casted” to regain the trail, but we just lost it fair and square.  We didn’t get them this time.

The jungle was losing light, so we started to head out of the jungle to catch some trucks back to base.  There were a few interesting “jungle things” to photograph, and so while the five British students and an instructor headed out, I stayed back with an instructor named Taff Jones, a British Marine, to get the last photos.

There was no trail in or out, and we honestly didn’t know which way the others had gone because we had hardly paid attention.  (Though we knew the exact azimuth to get out, so we knew where their signs should be).  Instead of going on compass, the Taff picked up their trail, which was difficult to see, and we walked at a brisk pace.  Taff seldom even stopped, but would just point out sign as we bounded through.  Taff would say things like, “See that transfer?”  “Flattening here.”  “Look at that beautiful print.”  A few signs were obvious, but mostly they were subtle.  Again, I think 99% of the American or British soldiers would have almost zero chance of following that trail.  At one point I thought Taff lost the trail, because he just stopped and started looking around.  Then he said something like, “They stopped here and turned around.”  In fact they had zigzagged a lot, and later told us they did turn around there.  We found the others waiting for us.  If they had been the Taliban, we could have nailed them.  Or we could have radioed and had them cutoff or ambushed.

All the combat veterans in the course are of the same opinion.  We can put a lot more whipping on al Qaeda and other enemies in Afghanistan if more of our people learn how to track.  Nobody has to be Tonto to do this.  You just need good instructors, good eyes, and the willingness to practice.  This training is cheap.  No ammo, no airplanes, no high tech, and just about anyone can get a lot better very quickly.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll try to email each day about the progress.

Your Writer,

Michael

23540  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: April 25, 2009, 10:48:15 PM
Jkrenz may be busy with more pressing matters.  Until he has time to join us once again and perhaps comment on my preceding post, here's this:

April 26, 2009

In Taliban’s Surge in Pakistan, a Pattern of Guile and Force

By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan


Initially, Buner was a hard place for the Taliban to crack. When they attacked a police station in the valley district last year, the resistance was fearless. Local people picked up rifles, pistols and daggers, hunted down the militants and killed six of them.

But it was not to last. In short order this past week the Taliban captured Buner, a strategically vital district just 60 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. The militants flooded in by the hundreds, startling Pakistani and American officials with the speed of their advance.

The lesson of Buner, local politicians and residents say, is that the dynamic of the Taliban insurgency, as methodical and slow-building as it has been, can change suddenly, and the tactics used by the Taliban can be replicated elsewhere.

The Taliban took over Buner through both force and guile — awakening sleeping sympathizers, leveraging political allies, pretending at peace talks and then crushing what was left of their opponents, according to the politicians and the residents interviewed.

Though some of the militants have since pulled back, they still command the high points of Buner and have fanned out to districts even closer to the capital.

That Buner fell should be no surprise, local people say. Last fall, the inspector general of police in North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, complained that his officers were being attacked and killed by the hundreds.

Mr. Khan was so desperate — and had been so thoroughly abandoned by the military and the government — that he was relying on citizen posses like the one that stood up to the Taliban last August.

Today, the hopes that those civilian militias inspired are gone, brushed away by the realization that Pakistanis can do little to stem the Taliban advance if their government and military will not help them.

The people of Buner got nothing for their bravery. In December, the Taliban retaliated for the brazenness of the resistance in the district, sending a suicide bomber to disrupt voting during a by-election. More than 30 people were killed and scores were wounded.

Severe disenchantment toward the government rippled out of the suicide bombing for a very basic reason, said Amir Zeb Bacha, the director of the Pakistan International Human Rights Organization in Buner. “When we took the injured to the hospital there was no medicine,” he said.

The election was rescheduled but turned out to be a farce. Voters were too scared to show up, said Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, a former interior minister, who lives in the area and has twice escaped Taliban suicide bombers.

The peace deal the military struck with the Taliban in February in neighboring Swat further demoralized people in Buner. Residents and local officials said they asked themselves how they could continue to resist the Taliban when the military itself had abandoned the effort. The Taliban were emboldened by the deal: it called for the institution of Shariah, the strict legal code of Islam based on the Koran, throughout Malakand Agency, which includes Swat and Buner. It allowed the Taliban amnesty for their killings, floggings and destruction of girls schools in Swat.

Still, when the Taliban rolled into Buner from Swat through the town of Gokan on April 5, a well-to-do businessman, Fateh Mohammed, organized another posse of civilian fighters to take on the militants in the town of Sultanwas.

Five civilians and three policemen were killed, he said. Some newspaper reports said 17 Taliban were killed.

At that point, the chief government official in charge of Malakand, Mohammed Javed, proposed what he called peace talks. Mr. Javed, an experienced bureaucrat in the Pakistani civil service, was appointed in late February as the main government power broker in Malakand even though he was known to be sympathetic to the Taliban, a senior government official in North-West Frontier Province said. The government had been under pressure to bring calm to Swat and essentially capitulated to Taliban demands for Mr. Javed’s appointment, the official said.

In an apparent acknowledgment that Mr. Javed had been too sympathetic to the Taliban, the government announced Saturday that he had been replaced by Fazal Karim Khattack.

In what some residents in Swat and now in Buner say had been a pattern of favorable decisions led by Mr. Javed on behalf of the Taliban, the talks in Buner turned out to be a “betrayal,” said a former police officer from the area, who was afraid to be identified.

The talks gave the militants time to gather reinforcements from neighboring Swat, he said. And at the same time, the Taliban put such pressure on the members of Mr. Mohammed’s posse, or lashkar, that they disappeared or fled, Mr. Mohammed said.

“The police part of our lashkar left, and I was all alone,” he said. On the night of April 11, he fled, too, he said in a telephone conversation from Karachi, where he has gone to hide.

The militants at that point occupied his three gas stations, his flour mill and his 20-room house, he said. They had also commandeered more than 20 other houses in Sultanwas belonging to his relatives, he said.

In a show of who was in charge in Mr. Mohammed’s absence, the Taliban established a training camp in Sultanwas, said Mr. Bacha, the human rights officer.

To bolster their strength, and insinuate themselves in Buner, the Taliban also relied heavily on the adherents of a hard-line militant group, the Movement for the Implementation of the Shariah of Muhammad, which has agitated for Islamic law in Pakistan.

Their leader, Sufi Mohammed, comes from the region around Swat and Buner and has done the job of whipping up local support and intimidating Taliban opponents.

The group has called on graduates of a huge madrasa near the main town of Daggar in Buner to run local district governments, beckoning one from as far as the southern port of Karachi to run a municipality, said Khadim Hussain, a professor of linguistics and communication at Bahria University in Islamabad.

Estimates of the number of militants in Buner vary. Some local residents said they believed that there were about 3,000, including fighters trained for combat in Kashmir. District Police Officer Abdul Rashid, the chief of police in Buner, said in a telephone interview that there were only 200.

Whatever the number, early last week the Taliban showed their power by ordering the state courts shut. They announced that they would open Islamic courts, practicing Shariah, by the end of the month.

The militants have also placed a tax payable to the Taliban on all marble quarried at mines, said a senior police officer who worked in Buner.

At gas stations belonging to Mr. Mohammed, they pumped gas and drove off without paying, the officer said.

“No one dare ask them for payment,” he said.

The police were so intimidated they mostly stayed inside station houses, he said. “They are setting up a parallel government.”

With their success in Buner, the Taliban felt flush with success and increasingly confident that they could repeat the template, residents and analysts said. In the main prize, the richest and most populous province, Punjab, in eastern Pakistan, the Taliban are relying on the sleeper cells of other militant groups, including the many fighters who had been trained by the Pakistani military for combat in Kashmir, and now felt abandoned by the state, they said.

“We see coordination all over the country,” Mr. Hussain, the university professor, said. “The situation is very dangerous.”

It would not be difficult for the Taliban to seize Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, by shutting down the airport and blocking the two main thoroughfares from Islamabad, a Western official with long experience in the province said.

At midweek, a convoy of heavily armed Taliban vehicles was seen barreling along the four-lane motorway between Islamabad and Peshawar, according to Mr. Sherpao, the former minister of the interior.

Across North-West Frontier Province, the Taliban are rapidly consolidating power by activating cells that consisted of a potent mix of jihadist groups, he said.

In some places, the Taliban have entered mosques saying they had come only to preach, but in fact the strategy is to spread fear that pushes people into submission and demoralizes the police, he said.

Everywhere, they have preyed on the miseries of the poor, saying that Islamic courts would settle their complaints against the rich. “Every district is falling into their lap,” Mr. Sherpao said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/wo...6buner.html?hp
23541  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Tamiflu on: April 25, 2009, 08:41:14 AM
Pasting this from the Health thread here too:
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WHO ready with antivirals to combat swine flu
Fri Apr 24, 2009 5:11pm EDT  Email | Print | Share| Reprints | Single Page[-] Text

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that it was prepared with rapid containment measures including antivirals if needed to combat the swine flu outbreaks in Mexico and the United States.

The Geneva-based agency has been stockpiling doses of Roche Holding's Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, a pill that can both treat flu and prevent infection.

The new virus, not previously detected in pigs or humans, has proved sensitive to the drug, the WHO said in a statement.

The WHO and its regional office in Washington, D.C., are also sending experts to Mexico to help health authorities with disease surveillance, laboratory diagnosis and clinical management of cases.

Mexican health officials have reported more than 850 cases of pneumonia in the capital, Mexico City, including 59 who died. In San Luis Potosi, in central Mexico, 24 cases including 3 deaths have been detected.

They have also informed the WHO about a third suspected outbreak of swine flu in Mexicali, near the U.S. border, with four suspect cases and no deaths so far.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control have said there were 8 cases of swine influenza in California and Texas and no deaths.

Health authorities in the two North American countries have the resources required already in place, including Tamiflu, and are "well equipped," according to the WHO.

"WHO is prepared with rapid containment measures should it be necessary to be deployed," WHO spokeswoman Aphaluck Bhatiasevi told Reuters.

The United Nations agency saw no need at this point to issue travel advisories warning travelers not to go to parts of Mexico or the United States. "However, the situation may change depending on what the situation in the field is," she said.

The WHO will convene a meeting of its Emergency Committee on international health regulations, probably on Saturday afternoon, she added.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan was flying back to Geneva overnight from Washington, D.C., for the emergency discussions which would link public health authorities and experts in various parts of world in a virtual meeting, she said.

The emergency committee could make recommendations including whether to change the pandemic alert level, she added.

"Because there are human cases associated with an animal influenza virus, and because of the geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks, plus the somewhat unusual age groups affected, these events are of high concern," the WHO said in a statement.
23542  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Election results in Indonesia on: April 25, 2009, 08:24:40 AM
JAKARTA, Indonesia — From Pakistan to Gaza and Lebanon, militant Islamic movements have gained ground rapidly in recent years, fanning Western fears of a consolidation of radical Muslim governments. But here in the world’s most populous Muslim nation just the opposite is happening, with Islamic parties suffering a steep drop in popular support.


In parliamentary elections this month, voters punished Islamic parties that focused narrowly on religious issues, and even the parties’ best efforts to appeal to the country’s mainstream failed to sway the public.

The largest Islamic party, the Prosperous Justice Party, ran television commercials of young women without head scarves and distributed pamphlets in the colors of the country’s major secular parties. But the party fell far short of its goal of garnering 15 percent of the vote, squeezing out a gain of less than one percentage point over its 7.2 percent showing in 2004.

That was a big letdown for a party and a movement that had grown phenomenally in recent years, even as more radical elements directed terrorist attacks against Western tourists and targets. The party had projected that it would double its share of seats in Parliament even as it stuck to its founding goal of bringing Shariah, or Islamic law, to Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, with 240 million people.

Altogether, the major Islamic parties suffered a drop in support from 38 percent in 2004 to less than 26 percent this year, according to the Indonesian Survey Institute, an independent polling firm whose figures are in keeping with partial official results.

Political experts and politicians attribute the decline to voters’ disillusionment with Islamic parties that once called for idealism, but became embroiled in the messy, often corrupt world of Indonesian politics. They also say that the popular president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is expected to be re-elected in July, appropriated the largest Islamic party’s signature theme of clean government through a far-reaching anticorruption drive.

On a deeper level, some of the parties’ fundamentalist measures seem to have alienated moderate Indonesians. While Indonesia has a long tradition of moderation, it was badly destabilized with the end of military rule in 1998, which gave rise to Islamist politicians who preached righteousness and to some hard-core elements, who practiced violence. The country has only recently achieved a measure of stability.

Although final results from the election on April 9 will not be announced until next month, partial official results and exit polls by several independent companies indicate that Indonesians overwhelmingly backed the country’s major secular parties, even though more of them are continuing to turn to Islam in their private lives.

“People in general do not feel that there should be an integration of faith and politics,” said Azyumardi Azra, director of the graduate school at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University. “Even though more and more Muslims, in particular women, have become more Islamic and have a growing attachment to Islam, that does not translate into voting behavior.”

The Islamic parties’ 2004 surge occurred around the time that Indonesian terrorists were attacking hotels and nightclubs popular among Westerners, as well as the Australian Embassy here. A growing number of communities were adopting Shariah as some of the smaller, more hard-line Islamic parties also pushed to insert Islamic law in the Constitution.

The hard-line stance, though, was at odds with the attitudes of Indonesians; most of them practice a moderate version of Islam and were attracted to the Islamic parties for nonreligious reasons.

In 2004, just two years after its founding, the Prosperous Justice Party came out of nowhere, then joined the coalition government of President Yudhoyono and won several governors’ races. Although one of its founding principles is to bring Islamic law to Indonesia, the party attracted middle-class urban voters by emphasizing clean government, anticorruption policies and humanitarian activities.

Once the Islamic parties were in office, their pristine image was tarnished after several of their lawmakers were prosecuted in corruption cases. One member of the Prosperous Justice Party is under investigation in a bribery case.

The parties angered many Indonesians by pressing hard on several symbolic religious issues, like a vague “antipornography” law that could be used to ban everything from displays of partial nudity to yoga. The governor of West Java, a member of the Prosperous Justice Party, tried to ban a dance called jaipong, deeming it too erotic, but many people view it as part of their cultural heritage.

“There are now problems in hotels because they can’t serve alcohol,” said Jusuf Wanandi, a political analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research group based here. “That’s why people started to recognize what they are up to and why the middle class that supported them now have second thoughts.”

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Page 2 of 2)



Ahmad Zainuddin, a lawmaker with the Prosperous Justice Party and one of its founders, acknowledged that support for his party had fallen considerably in the election. Mr. Zainuddin, 42, who had predicted that the party would double its share of the votes, now says that it would be hard pressed to expand its appeal.


“If we emphasize Shariah or religious matters, our supporters will decline, so we should emphasize mostly clean government and anticorruption,” he said in an interview at the party’s headquarters, whose facade mostly bears images of the party’s humanitarian activities and has no references to its religious goals.

But Mr. Zainuddin — who graduated from Lipia, a Saudi-financed university here that promotes Wahhabism, a rigid interpretation of Islam — also believes in the party’s founding goal of carrying out Shariah in Indonesia.

The party is now split between those committed to pursuing the party’s Islamist goals and those who want to stress good government.

Zulkieflimansyah, 36, a lawmaker with the Prosperous Justice Party, said many younger party members were trying to steer the party away from its Islamist origins and away from older members who were inspired by radical Islamic organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan.

Mr. Zulkieflimansyah, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name, added: “If we are too critical, they will kick us harder than we thought. Or, borrowing an expression from our friends in the United States, don’t force a pig to sing. It will not work, and it annoys the pig as well.”

Despite the Islamic parties’ decline, they remain influential, analysts say. The country’s major secular parties, including President Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, have courted them and their supporters. And the Prosperous Justice Party, despite its minor gain of less than one percentage point, is pressing to increase the number of ministers it has in the coalition government to four from three.

“It’s still not clear where they stand on many issues like freedom of expression, morality, the place of women,” said Ahmad Suaedy, director of the Wahid Institute, a research organization based here. “The agenda of many people inside the party is still to Islamize Indonesia, and that’s a constraint on democracy.”
23543  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Teach for America on: April 25, 2009, 08:17:42 AM
Here's a quiz: Which of the following rejected more than 30,000 of the nation's top college seniors this month and put hundreds more on a waitlist? a) Harvard Law School; b) Goldman Sachs; or c) Teach for America.

 
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Teach for America CEO Wendy Kopp.
If you've spent time on university campuses lately, you probably know the answer. Teach for America -- the privately funded program that sends college grads into America's poorest school districts for two years -- received 35,000 applications this year, up 42% from 2008. More than 11% of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35% of African-American seniors at Harvard. Teach for America has been gaining applicants since it was founded in 1990, but its popularity has exploded this year amid a tight job market.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right? Hardly. Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that Teach for America is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year's applicants. Districts place a cap on the number of Teach for America teachers they will accept, typically between 10% and 30% of new hires. In the Washington area, that number is about 25% to 30%, but in Chicago, former home of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is an embarrassing 10%.

This is a tragic lost opportunity. Teach for America picks up the $20,000 tab for the recruitment and training of each teacher, which saves public money. More important, the program feeds high-energy, high-IQ talent into a teaching profession that desperately needs it. Unions claim the recent grads lack the proper experience and commitment to a teaching career. But the Urban Institute has studied the program and found that "TFA status more than offsets any experience effects. Disadvantaged secondary students would be better off with TFA teachers, especially in math and science, than with fully licensed in-field teachers with three or more years of experience."

It's true that only 10% of Teach for America applicants say they would have gone into education through another route, but two-thirds stay in the field after their two years. One program benefit is that its participants don't have to pass the dreadful "education" courses that have nothing to do with what they'll be teaching. Those courses are loved by unions as a credentialing barrier that makes it harder to get into teaching.

Some districts may be wising up. Mississippi's education superintendent has asked Teach for America to double the size of its 250-member corps in the poor Delta region and is encouraging local superintendents to raise hiring caps. Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has also sharply increased the percentage of corps members among its new teachers, to 250.

But why have any caps? Teach for America young people should be able to compete on equal terms with any other new teaching applicant. The fact that they can't is another example of how unions and the education establishment put tenure and power above student achievement.
23544  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT on: April 25, 2009, 08:15:26 AM
ama Tactic Shields Health Care Bill From a Filibuster
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy CARL HULSE
Published: April 24, 2009
WASHINGTON — At the prodding of the White House, Democratic Congressional leaders have agreed to pursue a plan that would protect major health care legislation from Republican opposition by shielding it from last-minute Senate filibusters.

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The aggressive approach reflects the big political claim that President Obama is staking on health care, and with it his willingness to face Republican wrath in order to guarantee that the Democrats, with their substantial majority in the Senate, could not be thwarted by minority tactics.

While some Democratic senators were reluctant to embrace the arrangement, Mr. Obama made clear at a White House session on Thursday afternoon that he favored it, people with knowledge of the session said.

Mr. Obama has given way in some battles with Congress, but the new stance suggests he may be much less willing to compromise when it comes to health care, his top legislative priority, even if it means a bitter partisan fight.

The no-filibuster arrangement is fiercely opposed by Republican leaders, who say health care is too important to be exempted from the Senate rules that usually mean major bills must win support from 60 senators.

At the White House meeting this week, Mr. Obama told senators from both parties that he did not want a health care overhaul to fail if it came up a vote shy of the 60 needed to break filibusters, the people with knowledge of the session said. Republicans have used the procedure themselves in the past, but Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told Mr. Obama in the meeting that that approach was likely to heighten partisan tensions in Congress.

The arrangement is spelled out in a tentative budget agreement reached Thursday night between Congressional leaders and the White House, allowing health legislation that meets budget targets to be approved by a simple Senate majority, under a process known as reconciliation.

Democrats say they intend to use the process as a last resort, and will include a provision in the budget that would not trigger the Senate shortcut until Oct. 15. That would leave the door open for months of negotiations over health care legislation, which the Democrats hope to deliver by the end of the year.

“Virtually everyone who has been part of these discussions recognizes that reconciliation is not the preferred way to write this legislation,” said Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “But the administration wants to have a reconciliation instruction as an insurance policy.”

Mr. Conrad said the decision not to invoke the no-filibuster rule until mid-October was intended “as a signal that people are very serious and want this to work through the normal give-and-take.”

But that might not mollify Republicans, who say that once Democrats have the ability to fast-track the measure they will have no incentive to negotiate seriously with Republicans.

Republicans have threatened to use their own procedural weapons to bog down the Senate if Democrats adopt a budget that restricts filibusters on an issue as important as health care.

“The floor of the Senate will become a very untidy place if they start using reconciliation for major policy,” warned Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, senior Republican on the budget panel.

Mr. Conrad and Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the House Budget Committee chairman, were hammering out final details of the $3.5 trillion budget in talks with the administration that were expected to head into the weekend.

“Most issues have been resolved,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said Friday, “but there are some that have not.”

The Democrats can rely on 58 votes in the Senate, and expected to add a 59th once the courts finish their review of the disputed election in Minnesota. But Mr. McConnell said that using the no-filibuster approach on health care “without the benefit of a full and transparent debate, does a disservice to the American people.”

“It would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis,” he said.

Mr. Conrad had advised against using reconciliation, saying it did not lend itself to such a complex issue as health care.

But Mr. Conrad came under intense pressure from the White House, his own Senate leadership and the House to include it, to guard against Republicans’ using the filibuster to kill a health care bill. Proponents of reconciliation note that House and Senate Republicans have so far stood almost united against the new administration’s major initiatives.

Besides the agreement to use reconciliation, negotiators were coming to terms on lingering tax issues and the overall level of domestic spending, with the amount originally requested by Mr. Obama expected to be reduced by about $10 billion for 2010. The White House was pushing for final approval of a budget by Wednesday to put a successful coda on the Obama administration’s first 100 days.

The tentative agreement would also apply reconciliation rules to a less-partisan fight over student lending, but does not include filibuster protection for energy or climate-change legislation.

Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, said Friday that he would prefer not to pursue health legislation through the reconciliation process.

“I think it gets in the way,” Mr. Baucus said, explaining that his goal was to produce a health care bill that could “get significantly more than 60 votes.”

“If we jam something down somebody’s throat, it’s not sustainable,” he said.

But other leading Democrats say they need the ability to circumvent filibusters if Republicans refuse to negotiate. They noted that Republicans often relied on reconciliation when they held power, notably using it to enact President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Senate rules give the minority party, in this case the Republicans, ample ability to snarl the legislative process in a chamber where much activity is conducted under agreements between majority and minority leadership.

Republicans could force multiple votes on mundane matters, slow walk administration nominations, force Democrats to spend days teeing up bills for debate and require lengthy bills to be read in full. In 2005, Democrats threatened to bring the Senate to a halt using similar tactics when Republicans said they would strip them of the ability to filibuster judicial nominations. That showdown was averted.

Now, Republicans would run some political risk of being portrayed as obstructing health care and other initiatives sought by a popular new president if they were seen as shutting down the Senate out of pique.

Robert Pear contributed reporting.
23545  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Nattering nabob of negativism" on: April 25, 2009, 08:10:54 AM
Woof JKrenz:

Following up on your previous post concerning the matter of "plans":

First, I hope I do not grate on your nerves as a "nattering nabob of negatavism" (my fellow seniors may recognize an effort at humor here-- the quote is from disgraced VP under Richard Nixon Spiro Agnew).  There you are, fighting to protect us and I keep whining "Where's the plan?  WTF is the plan?"

You wrote:

"As far as a plan?  I don't mean to sound too cynical but everyday I spend over here (not sure about India), the less I think that the concept of a "plan" is something easily comprehended by folks in this part of the world unless they are directly benefited by it immediately and tangibly."

No doubt this is true, but my concern is US.  As events in Iraq showed us, having the right plan/strategy is essential.  As events in Iraq showed, and show us right now, having a Commander in Chief with commitment to the cause is essential-- and lack of commitment is catastropic.  I could be wrong, but IMHO right now we may be beginning to see the unraveling of everything we have fought for in Iraq because of the President's determination to bug out regardless of the consequences.  In a larger sense I worry about his innate ability to commit to anything requiring force of arms when the going gets tough-- and General Petraeus has just said that Afpakia could easily be a worse situation than Iraq was.    Do we the American people have what it takes to stay the course?  Does our President?

But I am getting ahead of myself-- so allow me to return to the matter of "WTF is "The Plan"?"

One example of a plan would be what retired Col Ralph Peters has suggested-- working from memory it was something like this:  Go in and kick ass, then leave while saying "Do something stupid again" and we'll be back even harder to kick your asses again.

Another example of a plan would be to seek to establish democracy and women's rights and defund the enemy by taking out the opium crops.

Another example would be to maintain a low grade war of indefinite duration keeping the AQ-Taliban distracted by by lobbing in Predators and the life.

Another example would be to take out Pakistan's nukes and come home.

These are all plans.  WTF is the plan under President Obama?

As best as I can tell it is to:

1) Give less troops than required and lob predators until , , , what?
2) Not address the role of the opium trade in financing the enemy
3) Continue to maintain the fantasy of the Durand Line (i.e. that there is a border between Afg and Pak and not simply Pashtunstan)
4) Wonder WTF to do as Pak collapses.
5) Lack the will to go after Pak's nukes-- and certainly Secretary Clinton and his recent responses to North Korea's missile test bodes quite poorly here.





23546  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Dog Brothers en Rosario, Argentina on: April 25, 2009, 07:32:16 AM
Nicolas participa frequentemente en nuestro foro para instructores dando buenos informes sobre sus clases y haciendome preguntas.  Estoy muy contento con su tarea en Argentina.
23547  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: April 25, 2009, 07:21:37 AM
Por favor comparta articulos aqui sobre la situacion.
23548  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: BO's bug out produces the predicted on: April 25, 2009, 07:17:59 AM
As our man in Iraq has been warning for some time now , , ,
================

BAGHDAD — A deadly outburst of violence appears to be overwhelming Iraq’s police and military forces as American troops hand over greater control of cities across the country to them. On Friday, twin suicide bombings killed at least 60 people outside Baghdad’s most revered Shiite shrine, pushing the death toll in one 24-hour period to nearly 150.

Iraqis at the site of one of two suicide attacks outside a shrine on Friday in Baghdad burned incense and placed candles. Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage.

Like many recent attacks, the bombings appeared intended to inflame sectarian tensions, to weaken Iraq’s security forces and to discredit its government.

The bombings on Friday ominously echoed attacks like the one at a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 that unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed and pushed the country toward civil war.

The latest bombings — there have been at least 18 major attacks so far this month — so far have not prompted retaliatory attacks, but they have strained what remains a fragile society deeply divided between Sunnis and Shiites.

Two suicide bombers struck within five minutes of each other on streets leading to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim and his grandson. One of the attacks, and perhaps both, were carried out by women, witnesses said.

Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage to the shrine, a golden-domed landmark in the predominantly Shiite Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad that is devoted to 2 of the 12 imams of Shiite Islam. At least 125 people were wounded, many of them also Iranians.

A loose coalition of Sunni militant forces, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for carrying out many of the recent attacks.

Seemingly attentive to the public wrath, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki took the unusual step of ordering the creation of a special committee to investigate the attack on Friday and the lapses in security that apparently allowed it to happen. The state television network, Al Iraqiya, reported on Friday evening that Mr. Maliki also ordered the detention of two national police commanders responsible for security in the area.

The killing of so many Iranians prompted Iraq to close its border crossing to Iran at Muntheriya in Diyala Province, through which thousands of Iranians a week pass on pilgrimages to Iraq’s holy Shiite sites.

The deadliest of the three bombings on Thursday struck a restaurant filled with Iranian travelers in Muqdadiya, a town in Diyala not far from the border. The toll in that attack rose to 56, with Iranians making up the majority of the dead. Over all, at least 89 people were killed in the bombings on Thursday, and more than 100 were wounded.

After the attacks on Friday, angry Iraqis who gathered amid the bloody debris blamed lax security and corruption of the police and government officials for what had happened. Some of their anger had a strongly sectarian cast.

“They have been ruling us for 1,400 years,” said a Shiite army soldier who identified himself only as Abu Haidar, referring to the Sunni domination of Shiites in Iraq. “We took it over for four years, and they are slaughtering us.”

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, describes the recent attacks as part of a campaign called Harvest of the Good, which it announced in March.

In a statement distributed on extremist Web sites at the time, the group’s leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, ridiculed President Obama as “Washington’s black man” and called his plan to withdraw American forces by 2011 an “implied avowal of defeat.”

On Thursday, Iraq’s military claimed to have arrested Mr. Baghdadi, but what was touted as a major success appeared to be in question.

Extremist Web sites denied his arrest, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors claims and other statements by terrorist and extremist groups. The American military command also said in a statement that it could not confirm “the arrest or capture” of the leader, who the American military believes to be a fictitious Iraqi figurehead of a movement that includes many foreign fighters.

American and Iraqi officials have expressed growing concern that the Islamic State of Iraq, Al Qaeda and other extremists have been able to regroup and exploit gaps in security that are forming as American commanders have closed scores of combat outposts across the country, leaving day-to-day security in the hands of the Iraqis. “All the killing of Shiites is done by Al Qaeda,” a man who identified himself only as Abu Mohammed said after Friday’s bombings. “America was not able to finish them off. How can our forces do it?”

A senior national police official on Friday bluntly cited the limitations of Iraq’s security forces and their equipment for detecting explosives, typically hand-held wands used at checkpoints that the official described as fakes.

==========

(Page 2 of 2)



“We need to redeploy our security units to fill gaps because the American withdrawal gave the terrorists motives to reactivate their sleeper cells,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he said he would be punished for speaking frankly about such shortcomings. “We need more cars, modern equipment to detect explosives.”

A relative of a victim of a suicide bombing outside the Kazimiyah hospital in Baghdad on Friday.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed Jasim, a senior commander at the Ministry of Defense, cited other factors behind the recent violence. They included what he called “reactions to political issues” that had divided Iraq since provincial elections in January and the release of thousands of detainees held by American forces into a feeble economy.

As part of a new security agreement with Iraq that took effect this year, the Americans are required to release all Iraqis in their custody or to transfer them to Iraqi jails. “They are releasing detainees randomly, and some of the detainees who have been released might still have contact with Al Qaeda,” General Jasim said in a telephone interview. “And when they return back to their normal life and do not find work, they return back to Al Qaeda.”

General Jasim also lamented the inability of Iraqi forces to stop attacks against what he described as soft targets, like markets and mosques. “The security procedures are continuing,” he said, “but the security forces cannot exist in every inch.”

It was not clear whether the attacks on Friday were specifically aimed at Iranians or the Shiite site they were visiting. The chief administrator at the shrine, Sheik Fadhil al-Anbari, blamed the police for failing to stop the bombings, which he said were intended to disrupt an economy that the visiting pilgrims had bolstered.

“The crowds of the Iranian visitors have brought a boom to the economy in Kadhimiya, and Al Qaeda does not want this,” he said in a telephone interview. “These attacks are clearly meant to sabotage the country.”

23549  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm): The Running Dog Game on: April 25, 2009, 07:02:50 AM
Ready to start shipping any day now!!!  Waiting to get our shipment from the dupe house!
23550  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sen. Gregg on: April 25, 2009, 07:01:25 AM
By BRIAN M. CARNEY
Sen. Judd Gregg is perhaps best known for something he didn't do. Two weeks into the Obama administration, he announced that he was leaving the Senate to become commerce secretary. Two weeks later, he withdrew his name, drawing a testy jab from the administration for denying it a bipartisan feather in its cap.

 
Zina SaundersIt's hard to reconcile the man who nearly boarded the Obama express with the tough-minded Republican senator who sat across from The Wall Street Journal's editorial board at our offices earlier this week. As for the lessons he learned from his dalliance with the administration, he reserves his criticism for himself: "I should have been smart enough to see the daylight before I walked in the door. . . . I don't think there's any big lesson here for anybody but myself, which is the obvious: It would have been impossible for me to be with the president 100% of the time, which is what a cabinet secretary has to be."

Just how obvious that should have been became clear in the course of our interview. Also obvious, Mr. Gregg said, was that the Obama administration is filled with "really capable, dedicated, smart, sharp people with an agenda that they intend to pursue aggressively."

The kind words mostly stop there. From health care to global warming, financial regulation, spending and tax policy, Mr. Gregg doesn't pull any punches in his criticism of the new president. He may be "a charismatic person" with "a very strong understanding of who he is and what he wants to do," but when it comes to the substance of what Mr. Obama seeks to accomplish, Mr. Gregg is less charitable. "They have a goal," the senator says, "and he's very open about it. They are going to grow this government."

Mr. Gregg believes the stakes are high. "This is the first time a budget's had real meaning in a long time," he says. In recent years, presidential budgets have been formulaic exercises. Even if Congress went on to adopt them, they would only serve, at best, as rough guidelines for the real work of crafting the appropriations bills that actually set discretionary funding levels. But this budget "is real, and he [Mr. Obama] intends to push it."

That's bad news, in Mr. Gregg's view, because "We're headed on an unsustainable path. The simple fact is these [budget] numbers don't work and the practical implications of them are staggering for the nation and the next generation."

His "main concern," he says, "is that if you look at the Obama budget, it projects on average about a $1 trillion deficit [every year] over the next 10 years." And as a result of all that spending, "You see the size of government growing from 21% [of gross domestic product] to 22%, to 23%, 24%, 25% . . . toward 30%."

Set against this spending growth, Mr. Gregg points out, "the revenue base is only so big. Granted, right now it's way down because of the economic situation. But even if you took it back to an economy that's performing extremely well, say [revenues of] even 19% [of GDP], you can't close that gap under the present projected situation. And so we're in trouble. And the policies of this administration are driving that to an even more acute situation." Spending and deficits are both heading skyward, and government debt held by the public is heading toward 80% of GDP.

For Mr. Gregg, this is like living a nightmare. He has been a hard-nosed advocate for government spending restraint since his days as a Congressman (1981-87) and governor of New Hampshire (1987-93). At times, his commitment to fiscal responsibility led him to oppose tax cuts when they weren't matched by spending restraint. Those stances incurred the ire of his Republican colleagues, but he always stuck to his fiscal-responsibility guns. Now he's staring down a spending explosion that makes those battles look picayune.

One of the big drivers of government spending in the Obama budget is universal health insurance. And on this point, Mr. Gregg says, "At least Obama was half-way honest about how much he was going to spend on health care. He had it at $600 billion. And the real number . . . is $1.2 trillion." But that's better than Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad. "What Conrad did was take the entire amount off-budget and not account for any of it." Mr. Obama's budget, therefore, "was honest to a higher degree. It held itself to a higher degree of integrity than the Senate budget or the House budget."

Well, except for one point: "the huge savings that they claimed on defense spending, which was a total fraud." Mr. Gregg refers to the fact that the administration's budget builds the full cost of the surge in Iraq into the budget baseline. Under that assumption, we would continue to appropriate money for the surge every year for the next 10 years. That allows the administration to "find" $1.6 trillion in savings, "all of which is spending we would never do," according to Mr. Gregg.

Health-care reform is not just about the price tag. How it gets done matters too. And in Mr. Gregg's view, the Obama administration's goal is crystal-clear. "This is a single-payer government. . . . It doesn't want to say that publicly and it rejects it publicly. But the goal is to push that substantively. Because that's what they believe." In other words, what Mr. Obama bills as a "public option" for those who need health insurance but can't get it through their employer or in the private market would soon become the only option -- even for those happy with their current insurance.

Before you cry "conspiracy," Mr. Gregg argues that he has history on his side. The Democrats, he says, pulled the same public-private switcheroo before with student loans for college. Back in the late 1990s, "there was a huge debate in the committee . . . between myself and [Senator Ted] Kennedy over a private plan versus a public plan." In the end, they compromised -- the government would offer loans directly to students, but that program would have to compete with private-sector lenders. "And the agreement was very formal, and the record shows this very clearly. We agreed to level the playing field, put both plans on the playing field at an equal status and see who won. Well, private plans won. Big time."

Given the choice, most borrowers went to the private sector for their loans. But the Democrats who wanted to nationalize the student-loan market did not take defeat in the marketplace gracefully. "They didn't like that," Mr. Gregg says. "So ever since then they've tilted the playing field back and now they're going to wipe out the private plans in their budget."

When it comes to health insurance, Mr. Gregg expects more of the same. "That's the scenario that you're going to see if you have a public plan for insurance that competes with the private plans. That's the game plan" -- call it competition at first, but tighten the screws until the private insurers leave the market or get forced out. But with health-care spending representing 17% of GDP and climbing, the stakes are much, much larger. "Everyone in this country is affected by these policies."

And while the aspiration for universal coverage may be noble, the practical realities of getting there may prove harder for the American public to swallow. "There's no question," the senator says, "that this is a debate about rationing to a large degree. All your single-payer systems are rationing systems. It's also a debate about technology and innovation. Because you will not have capital pursuing technology, innovation and science if it's health-care related, because the return on capital won't be there. And these things are so expensive, especially on the pharmaceutical side and the biologic side, that you'll dramatically slow improvements in the quality of health care through science with a single-payer plan." Mr. Gregg thinks that critique will resonate with the public.

Even so, given the balance of power in Washington, Mr. Gregg gives the Democrats good chances of success in nationalizing our health-insurance market. "I think the odds are pretty good that it's going to happen -- that you'll have a major health-care reform bill pass." As he says, "Elections have consequences."

That said, Mr. Gregg doesn't necessarily think the American people will be happy with those consequences if the Democrats succeed in pushing through a "stalking horse" for a single-payer health-care system. "If they produce a partisan bill and pass it on a party-line vote, it's their baby," he warns. "They're going to have to defend it in the next election cycle and it's likely that it's not going to be perceived as fair by the American people."

Moreover, he says, "I don't think the American people want unilateral government control over the entire health-care system. I think most people understand that we've got a pretty good health-care system. It doesn't reach as many people as it should, and that has to be corrected. But it's innovative, it gives you decent health care for most Americans, and it's a lot better than any of the other countries that have these massive national plans."

That, together with the runaway spending and growing pile of debt, could yet set the stage for a Republican comeback, and sooner than most pundits would predict. Mr. Gregg will not run for re-election when his current term ends next year. Republicans, he says, "became very clouded as to what we stood for under the Bush presidency." But now they're getting their "definition" back.

"We're beginning to speak in a much more definitional voice on issues that were historically Republican issues: fiscal responsibility, giving individuals the opportunity to go out and create a better life for themselves, American exceptionalism, viewing America as a special place, not apologizing for our nation. These are things that we've always, as a party, resonated around. And I think we're starting to do it again." He corrects himself: "I know we are."

The Republican excesses during the Bush administration "haven't been forgiven and they haven't been forgotten" by voters. But if the president and his majorities in Congress get their way, voters will, Mr. Gregg believes, be ready for an alternative. "And we're the only show in town."

Mr. Carney is a member of the Journal's editorial board and the coauthor of "Freedom, Inc.," forthcoming from Crown Business in the fall.

 
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