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23501  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: June 26, 2009, 08:14:20 PM
Indulge this old gray beard in reminding you that the Air Traffic Controllers Union, a public union, went on strike when President Reagan first took office.  He shocked the excrement out of them and the Dems when he fired them.  OTOH, NYC has a long and extremely expensive history of negotiating with striking public transit and sanitation unions.
23502  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / No guns for negroes on: June 26, 2009, 12:35:09 PM

http://www.jpfo.org/filegen-a-m/movieplay-ngn-swf.htm
23503  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq-7 on: June 26, 2009, 12:05:08 PM
third post

A couple of weeks ago while en route to al Kut I got to see during the course of 3-minutes the best Iraq has to offer security-wise, and their typical slackers.
 
Hard to explain but we were in MRAPs crossing Suicide Bridge (as affectionately named by the soldiers at FOB Delta).  Suicide is a one lane bridge.  So at one point we had to stop and wait for the bridge to be availlable to us.
 
As we were slowing down for the stop I could see two Iraqi Army soldiers standing security.  Beforfe the MRAP even stopped I thoought to myself these guys are STRAC.  You could see it in their demeanor, the way they comported themselves and their alert behavior.  As soon as our MRAPs stopped they both went into hyper alert mode.  Scanning 360.  Weapons more ready.  Basically they were ready to instantly shoot.  Clearly in good shape.  Out of the ordinary camo uniforms.  Helmets on in 115 degree weather.  The kind of guys in appearance that 99 out of 100 of us would probably not want to take on.  It's like they instinctively knew halted Army MRAPs = exponentially elevated threat level.  I tried to get a photo but it did not come out.  Damn shame.
 
So after a minute or two we start moving.  We get to the other side of the bridge and there were a couple of Iraqi soldiers and police basically sitting on their fat asses, cigarettes dangling from their fat worthless faces.  Utter disgraces to a professional military and law enforcement presence.
 
I could not help but wonder if when I read aboout all the soldiers and policemen getting killed around the country every day at checkpoints were these worthless, disgraceful clowns.  And conversely, whoever trained these other two soldiers I hope they have gotten to see the end result of their labor.
 
June 30th draws ever nearer and I am not convinced the Iraqis have it together to repel the coming juggernaut.
23504  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iraq Security on: June 26, 2009, 11:33:35 AM
second post

Summary
STRATFOR learned June 25 that ailing top Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim’s health has worsened. Al-Hakim was a key player in both Iranian and U.S. plans for the future of Iraq, and his death will complicate matters for Iran. Meanwhile, U.S. forces are preparing to withdraw from urban areas in Iraq on June 30. The main question is whether Iraqi security forces are ready to take on more security responsibilities at a time when a lot could go wrong in their country.


STRATFOR learned June 25 that the condition of ailing top Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim has deteriorated and that U.S. military authorities are preparing for his death. Al-Hakim, who had long received treatment in Tehran for lung cancer, leads Iraq’s largest and most pro-Iranian Shiite political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Al-Hakim’s worsening condition comes at a very critical time, considering that he has been a key player in both U.S. and Iranian plans for post-Baathist Iraq.

As far as the Iranians are concerned, al-Hakim’s death will complicate matters as they seek to consolidate the gains they have made in Iraq since the rise of a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Iran is embroiled in a huge internal power struggle between rival conservative factions that came out into the open with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial election victory June 12. A loss of a key foreign policy asset at a time of intense domestic turmoil limits the extent to which Tehran can counter Washington’s moves to finalize the security environment in Iraq.

U.S. plans revolve around a June 30 deadline for the implementation of a key phase of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that requires U.S. troops to complete the withdrawal of combat forces form Iraqi cities. This will not be a sudden or rapid process; the United States has been preparing for this deadline for months, carefully monitoring the progress of Iraqi security forces and slowly drawing back. Nor will the process be uniform. As per a deliberate vagueness in the text of the agreement, U.S. forces likely will retain a significant presence in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, the scene of continuing jihadist violence.

The SOFA is the guiding document crafted to oversee the transition of day-to-day security responsibility from U.S. troops to Iraqi forces in preparation for a 2011 withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from the country. Since the agreement’s signing in December 2008, Iraqi forces have taken on more of these responsibilities, while U.S. forces have moved into more of an advisory capacity. Iraqi forces have been running the routine street patrols, checkpoints and other security facilities and have been taking an increasingly greater role in counterinsurgency operations against jihadists.

That said, in places like the capital and Mosul, Iraqi troops still depend heavily upon U.S. troops. Therefore, as U.S. forces transition from tactical oversight to strategic oversight, the main question is the extent to which Iraqi forces will be able to maintain the relative calm that has existed since 2007, when the U.S. military turned Sunni nationalist insurgents who were fighting U.S. troops into critical forces combating al Qaeda in Iraq. The next few months will be a crucial test for Iraq’s security forces, revealing whether they can act as a national force or whether they will succumb to ethno-sectarian struggles. In turn, the Iraqi forces’ success (or lack thereof) will determine the degree to which U.S. forces will have to intervene to stabilize the situation. It should be noted that most of the violence in Iraq has been in urban areas — the same areas from which some 130,000 U.S. forces are leaving under the SOFA.

With their independence and proficiency still a work in progress, it is unclear how capable and willing Iraqi security forces are to perform in a manner that will prevent another descent into sectarian bloodshed. A larger concern is that the violence level in Iraq has remained steady in recent months, with periodic attacks taking place across the country. In the past few days there have been two noteworthy attacks, in Kirkuk and Baghdad, on Shiite targets affiliated with the movement of radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Realizing that this is the time to try to stir up ethno-sectarian tensions and stage a comeback, suspected jihadists have carried out suicide attacks. The June 30 pullback date is also a symbolic time for attacks, as it gives the impression that the jihadists are driving U.S. forces out and that Iraq remains unsafe.

The principals of the country’s three major ethno-sectarian groups have an interest in making sure that the political disputes among them do not escalate to the point of violence. In spite of their intention to remain peaceful, they run into problems when they try to pursue their respective political objectives. A particularly problematic issue is the lingering — and potentially explosive — induction of Sunni tribal militiamen affiliated with the Awakening Councils into the state’s Shiite-dominated security apparatus. Despite his moves away from Islamist sectarian politics and toward a secular Iraqi national platform (which gave him significant gains in recent provincial elections), Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to limit Sunnis’ power, and thus has refused to allow more than 20 percent of these militiamen into the security apparatus. Though the Awakening Councils also made significant gains in the provincial vote and have a bigger stake in the system, there is still a major concern that many of these tribal fighters could revert to their old ways.

At the intra-Shiite level, internal rivalries continue to simmer even though al-Hakim’s ISCI performed badly in the provincial polls and the al-Sadrites’ political and military power has been diminished. After al-Hakim’s death, his successor — likely his son Ammar al-Hakim — will need to consolidate his hold over the movement and ward off rivals’ attempts to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the power vacuum. Iran, which has played the various Iraqi Shiite factions off one another, will have to re-establish an intra-Shiite balance of power. Iran also could try to stir up trouble in Iraq in order to reposition itself in relation to the United States after the Iranian election crisis.

In northern Iraq, the Kurdish bid for greater autonomy pits the Kurds against the Sunnis and Shia. Furthermore, the Kurds will be holding their own regional elections this month. With President Jalal Talabani — leader of one of the two major parties in the Kurdistani alliance that controls the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) — nearing retirement from political activity due to health conditions, the internal balance of power among the Kurds is also in play. The ongoing dispute over sharing energy revenues between the federal government and the KRG and tensions over the future status of the contested oil-rich northern region of Kirkuk are also issues that could easily create security situations.

In other words, there is a lot that can go wrong at a time when Iraqi forces are supposed to demonstrate that they can function as a national force capable of keeping the various ethno-sectarian groups in Iraq from succumbing to multi-directional centrifugal forces. Therefore, the next several months — especially ahead of the Jan. 30, 2010, parliamentary elections that could shake up the political establishment formed after the 2003 regime change — will be very telling in terms of the Iraqi factions’ abilities to keep their disputes within acceptable parameters.

From the U.S. point of view, the Iraqi forces’ performance will be critical in terms of Washington’s ability to focus on Afghanistan and ultimately disengage militarily from the Islamic world.

23505  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strat: Iraq oil on: June 26, 2009, 11:29:09 AM
Iraq’s oil minister is being forced to defend himself against various charges stemming from the country’s stagnant oil production. The charges come during a period of heightening tensions over oil among Iraq’s feuding Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. Ultimately, it will probably be up to an outside power to manage this political maelstrom — and of these powers, Turkey is the one to watch.


Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani returned to the Iraqi parliament on June 25 to defend himself against a multitude of complaints from parliamentarians involving such issues as Iraq’s declining oil output, its languishing hydrocarbons law and the corruption and mismanagement of the Iraqi oil industry’s profits.

Due to a steep drop in once record-high crude prices over the past year, and aggravated by budget constraints and political infighting, Iraq’s current oil output has stagnated at around 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) — well below the country’s enormous oil production potential. Since oil revenues account for 95 percent of the state’s income, Shahristani has become the natural scapegoat for Iraq’s current political and economic woes. And with a major oil auction on the horizon, the country’s first since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi oil brawl is bound to escalate in the coming weeks. Given what he is up against, there is no guarantee that Shahristani will make it out of these June parliamentary grill sessions in one piece, but he has given no indication that he is prepared to bow out of this fight.

Shahristani’s plan to breathe some life back into Iraq’s oil industry involves circumventing parliamentary approval to allow 32 of the world’s major energy companies on June 29-30 to bid on 20-year-long service contracts to develop Iraq’s six largest oil producing fields and two untapped natural gas fields. These energy companies, which include ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch/Shell, ConocoPhillips, Turkish Petroleum Corp., BP, France’s Total, Italy’s Eni, Russia’s Gazprom Neft and LUKoil, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp. and China National Petroleum Corp., are taking a risk in investing in a country that has yet to pass an oil law, and whose politics pose a severe threat to business deals. Despite the risks, all these firms have a deep interest in securing these potentially lucrative contracts.

But first, the oil minister must answer to the Federation of Oil Unions in the Shiite southern oil hub of Basra. The southern labor unions produce the bulk of Iraqi crude and are extremely hesitant to allow foreign companies a piece of their contracts. The union federation has strongly criticized the oil minister for offering long-term service contracts, asserting that Iraqi companies and their employees are fully capable of developing the fields themselves. Shahrahstani’s opponents in parliament argue that oil exploration — not production of existing fields — is needed to increase production. Shahristani, on the other hand, claims that exploration will take too much time, and there is a stronger need to focus on boosting current production. He argues that the foreign companies are the ones that the have the training, technological expertise and tools to more rapidly and efficiently boost Iraq’s oil output by an additional 1.5 million bpd within four to five years.

This debate is not only about southern oil unions worried about being edged out by foreign oil majors. As Shahristani himself has claimed, there is a much wider political agenda involving multiple Iraqi factions currently in play.

The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), currently the largest Shiite party in parliament and the political bloc most closely aligned to Iran, carries a great deal of clout in the Shiite south that could strengthen the anti-Shahristani movement. After having fared poorly against Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies in January provincial polls, the ISCI is doing whatever it can to weaken the prime minister’s power base so that it can be on a stronger political footing for legislative elections slated for Jan. 30, 2010.

The ISCI’s strategy involves using its clout in parliament to chip away at al-Maliki’s Cabinet appointees. Already, Iraqi Trade Minister Falah al-Sudani and former Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani have been forced to resign. Shahristani, who maintains his political independence — and yet is in agreement with al-Maliki’s vision of a strong, centralized government — is next on the target list.

In addition to natural political competition, the ISCI and al-Maliki are on two different wavelengths in trying to shape the future of Iraq. The ISCI, and the Iranians by extension, envision a federalist model of Iraq that essentially carves out a Shiite autonomous zone in the south (similar to the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north). This would augment Iran’s influence in Iraq via their Iraqi Shiite allies. This vision, however, is directly at odds with that of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, smaller regional Shiite parties and the mainstream Sunni parties, who all agree on the need for a strong, centralized government in Iraq that can build up its immunity to foreign penetration. Al-Maliki and Shahristani have been able to draw support from Sunni and Shiite factions for their strong stance against federalism and their iron-fist approach with the Kurds, but they are also up against a number of sore losers from the provincial elections who want to see the prime minister weakened.





Click to enlarge
The ISCI has no shortage of allies to use against al-Maliki. The oil unions in the south do not always get along politically with the ISCI, but they do share a common interest in fighting Shahristani’s oil investment program. The ISCI also has a parliamentary alliance with the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, which recently succeeded in getting its own man in the parliamentary speaker position to use as a platform to challenge al-Maliki directly. Finally, the ISCI has found an ally among the Kurds, who have the most to lose in this oil battle against al-Maliki and Shahristani.

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is locked into conflict with Baghdad over how to manage the country’s massive oil wealth. Blessed by its energy resources and cursed by its geography, the Kurdish region is up against not only Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Arab communities, but also by its far more powerful neighbors — Turkey, Iran and Syria, who all share a common interest in extinguishing any notion of Kurdish independence or even expanded autonomy.

The Kurds’ best defense against their rivals is to gain as much control as possible over energy resources in the north and to use their region’s energy appeal to lure in foreign investors. The more foreigners buy into the Kurdish region, the more protection the Kurds receive against outside penetration. Consequently, from the moment Saddam Hussein fell from power and the Kurds organized politically, the KRG has been extremely active in inviting foreign firms to explore and develop Iraq’s northern fields.

To sweeten the pot, the Kurds have offered these firms extremely attractive Production-Sharing Agreements (PSAs) that offer firms ownership stakes in the fields. This policy directly opposes Shahristani’s push only to allow foreign firms to charge fees, as opposed to offering them ownership rights that would undermine Baghdad’s central authority, for raising output. The Kurds know they have a narrow window of opportunity to secure these energy rights, and will thus fight tooth and nail in parliament to shoot down Shahristani and al-Maliki’s policies that aim to assert central authority in Iraq and undermine Kurdish autonomy.

But the Kurds can only go so far in their dealings with foreign energy firms, dealings Baghdad terms “illegal” and “unconstitutional.” Energy companies have been exploring and developing fields in the north, but any plan to export for real profit must have both Turkey’s (as the export link) and Baghdad’s approval. The Kurds, however, are feeling more emboldened after the central government — under heavy pressure to raise Iraq’s oil output — reluctantly allowed oil to flow from KRG fields in the north to the Turkish port at Ceyhan for export beginning June 1. The budget pressure on Baghdad allowed the KRG to take another step forward in furthering Kurdish autonomy, but the Kurds also know this export opportunity can just as easily be snatched away by their rivals. For now, the Kurds are trying to exploit the wider criticism against Shahristani, a move that will allow them to continue with business as usual on the energy front while Baghdad remains at odds with itself.

From intra-Shiite rivalries to panicky oil unions to Kurdish-Arab political battles, there are a number of reasons for the world’s oil supermajors to be nervous about the June 29-30 auction. These political fissures run deep, and will continue to hold the country back from checking off critical items on the parliamentary agenda, such as signing a viable oil law. With the central government on the defensive, it will most likely be up to an outside power to manage this political maelstrom.

Of these powers, the United States is too distracted to enter into Iraqi internal politics to resolve these conflicts, and Iranian influence is largely limited to their Shiite allies. Turkey, however, is the country to watch in Iraq’s energy evolution. The Turks are already on an ascendant path in the region, and have been busily shoring up ties with key members of each of Iraq’s warring factions, including the Kurds. If Turkey intends to fulfill its long-term objective to control a substantial portion of Iraq’s energy industry, it is only a matter of time before Ankara dives deeper into Iraqi politics.

23506  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / ACTION items on: June 26, 2009, 10:52:59 AM
This thread is for calls to citizens to action:
==================================

Dear Marc,

It's not often that a single bill so clearly defines the struggle between freedom and control. Those are the stakes with the National Energy Tax, H.R. 2454, and the House will likely vote on it today.

President Obama stated yesterday that the National Energy Tax is a "jobs bill." He's right. But it's not an American jobs bill. It's a China jobs bill, because that's where our jobs will go. Experts predict that this bill would destroy between 1,105,000 and 2,479,000 jobs on average, every year*. We can't let that happen.

Please take a minute to call your member of Congress, and urge him or her to vote NO on H.R. 2454.

Here's the link to find their phone number: http://www.americansolutions.com/take-action/call.php?memberid=0038000000aUJncAAG&zipfull=30096&submitted=D

Yesterday, American Solutions members made over 15,000 phone calls to their Congressmen. It's an amazing number, but we must push harder, because Speaker Pelosi, Al Gore and their left-wing allies are trying to corral moderate Republicans and Democrats to vote for what could be the largest tax increase in American history.

But, Congress is feeling the pressure. Your call - right now - can make a huge difference.

Please take a minute to call your member of Congress, and urge him or her to vote NO on H.R. 2454.

Together, we can stop this, and work towards implementing a real jobs bill, that will grow our economy, provide more energy at lower cost, and strengthen our national security.


Your friend,

Newt Gingrich
General Chairman
American Solutions

P.S.  Keep up to date on all the key issues by joining our Facebook Page and following us on Twitter.

23507  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / McFarlane on: June 26, 2009, 08:21:39 AM
 ROBERT MCFARLANE
One casualty of the Iraq war has been the confusion among politicians about the proper place of democracy promotion in American foreign policy. Iran's recent election -- which evoked a very vocal, frustrated opposition -- brings into sharp focus the urgent need for clarity concerning this issue. Do we support those seeking freedom from oppression? And if so, how? It may do well to recall how we got into this confused state.

Sixteen or so years ago a small circle of cold warriors, flush with victory, concluded that with the dissolution of the Soviet Union democracy and free enterprise had been vindicated. To these neoconservatives, the task of future American presidents would be to spread the gospel of democracy -- using force if necessary -- so that governments everywhere would become accountable to their people and thus less likely to wage war. In 2003, it was arguably democracy promotion, rather than the threat of weapons of mass destruction, which triggered the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Throughout his two terms in office, President George W. Bush was an indefatigable advocate of democracy, even when it resulted in the victories of such un-Jeffersonian parties as Hezbollah and Hamas. Thus began the neocon versus realist battle. The current situation in Iran offers an opportunity to turn this debate in a less doctrinaire, more coherent direction.

To oversimplify, in Iran, the wrong man may have won. Yet a strong, vibrant opposition exists there that ought to be nurtured. Ilan Berman, a vice president at the American Foreign Policy Council, is one the best analysts of Iranian politics today. Mr. Berman explains the reasons for this opposition:

"Iran is a country in the grip of massive socio-economic malaise. Inflation . . . stands at nearly 30 percent. Unemployment is rampant, officially pegged at over 10 percent but unofficially estimated to be as much as two-and-a-half times that figure. Nearly a quarter of the Iranian population now lives under the poverty line, and both prostitution and drug addiction are rampant. Add to these Ahmadinejad's gross mismanagement of the national economy over the past four years, and it is easy to see why Iran's leaders fear that outrage over a stolen election could spiral into something more."

But will it? What is to become of the aspirations and lives of the hundreds of thousands of Iranian dissidents who are braving police brutality in the name of freedom and accountability? The reason we should care goes well beyond perpetuating Wilsonian principles. It involves upholding realist principles too.

Iran poses a formidable threat to U.S. and allied interests for three principal reasons. Tehran's illegal drive to become a nuclear-weapons state is well underway. The country's 7,000 centrifuges are enriching uranium that could produce enough weapons-grade material for one or more bombs within a year. If Iran continues down that path, whether successfully or not, other Middle Eastern nations will be eager to move forward with their own deterrent nuclear programs. A proliferation cascade would then ensue among countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and perhaps Jordan. Before long, matters will have gone beyond the ability of institutions or statecraft to control.

The very existence of Iran's nuclear program is seen to pose an existential threat to Israel. Even an undeclared yet plausible Iranian nuclear threat gives the country an enormous amount of political leverage in its relationships throughout the region. Its ability to coerce neighbors over any disagreement would rise exponentially.

Another issue is Iran's sponsorship and support of terrorist groups -- Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestinian areas, and less prominently, Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unless Iran ends its support for these organizations, they will ultimately destroy Israel, not to mention their own host countries.

Denying Israel's very right to exist, while openly arming terrorist groups bent on destroying Israel, constitutes aggression by any standard of international law. These deeds ought to be a matter of formal sanction.

President Barack Obama has made clear his wish to engage Iran's government. But he ignores a fundamental question. What, beyond conversation, does engagement mean?

Dealing with Iran, the president needs to use all the tools of diplomacy at his disposal. First, the president needs to strengthen our position by adding partners. Mr. Obama should sit down with moderate Arab states. He should listen to their views and forge an agreed regional security strategy. Such a strategy should include a vigorous program of support for the Iranian opposition, based on a well-funded program of broadcasts and other communications into Iran. This would help the opposition become better organized and grow. Recent surveys reflect that Iran is the most "wired" nation in the Middle East. Nearly 35% of its population is connected to the Internet.

Further, Mr. Obama must raise awareness among our European and Asian allies of how serious a threat to regional peace Iran has become. He should then launch an effort at the United Nations Security Council to impose strong sanctions on anyone supplying gasoline to Iran. This will underline what should be our commitment to defang Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Barack Obama is seeking to craft a doctrine of effective realism, a doctrine that advances our own interests and those of democratic aspirants throughout the world. It will stand or fall on his actions toward Iran in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. McFarlane, who served as President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser (1983-85), is a senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
23508  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Fannie Mae health care on: June 26, 2009, 08:06:50 AM
By JOHN E. CALFEE
President Obama and most congressional Democrats say they want to preserve private health insurance. They also want to add a "public plan" to compete with private insurance plans. Their basic argument is that a public plan would offer needed competition, save money through low administrative costs and zero profits, realize greater economies of scale, and be a superior negotiator of the prices of medical services and technology.


 The first three arguments are bogus. The fourth argument is only half-bogus -- but the half that isn't reveals a great danger: If a public plan is inserted into private insurance markets, the American health-care system could rapidly evolve into a single-payer system, which would have devastating effects on R&D for new medical technology.

The first argument, that we need a public plan to spur competition, just isn't plausible. Hundreds of health insurance plans already exist, and employer benefit managers can choose among numerous alternatives. There is no lack of firms willing to compete to provide health insurance.

As to the second argument, what is to be saved by avoiding profits? Nonprofit health insurance firms are common, including many of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans. Nonprofit status has not proved to be a reliable source of efficiency and cost-saving. The addition of new nonprofit cooperatives and the like -- as a bipartisan group of senators has proposed -- would make little difference, unless the new plans are given the power to set prices and take on extra risk supported by government subsidies.

Would a public plan have lower administrative costs? Well, how often are public enterprises run more efficiently than private ones? Why did practically all economically advanced nations dismantle their public airlines, phone companies, and so on, invariably obtaining lower administrative costs and consumer prices?

As Stanford University health economist Victor Fuchs has pointed out, what "insurance" firms actually sell to large employers -- which account for the single largest segment of the entire health-care market -- is usually administrative services, not actual insurance. (Large companies are not insured; they pay benefits directly.) There is no reason to expect a Medicare-like public plan to match the administrative efficiency of Aetna, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint. Medicare doesn't even try. It outsources most administrative services to the private sector.

Turning to public plans like Medicare and Medicaid for more efficient administration is a fool's errand.

What about economies of scale? Aetna currently serves about 18 million subscribers, UnitedHealth Care serves between 25 million and 30 million, and WellPoint more than 35 million. That is more than is served by the health-care monopoly of Canada (population 33.6 million), and more than the entire health-care systems of most European nations. Once a plan reaches a few million subscribers, there may not be a lot of economies of scale left that can enable public plans to provide lower prices.

Finally, there is the crucial task of negotiating prices for doctors, hospitals, clinics, drugs, devices and thousands of other items essential to modern health care. Here, there are really two arguments for a public plan. The first is about bargaining skill and the firm size, basic ingredients in any negotiating environment.

There is no reason to think the administrators of a public plan will possess skills superior to those honed by private plan personnel during years of negotiations under the pressure of competition. Nor is there any reason to think that mere size would help.

True enough, relatively small European nations routinely obtain better drug prices than are achieved by mammoth American pharmacy benefit managers such as Express Scripts (50 million patients) and Medco (60 million patients), each of whose numbers exceed the entire citizenry of all but the largest European nations. Even sparsely populated New Zealand (population four million) gets better prices than the giant drug-price negotiators in the American private market.

Their success is due to what economists call "monopsony power." Monopsony occurs when a single buyer negotiates prices with several competing sellers (as opposed to monopoly, where there are many buyers but one seller).

Thus, if you want to sell your branded drug in New Zealand, your prices are negotiated with PharMac, a branch of the government. Much the same is true when selling to Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and essentially the entire developed world save the United States. The negotiating power of these government entities results from monopsony, not superior skill.

For example, the various sellers of cholesterol drugs (Lipitor, Crestor, and so on) have to compete with one another while they all face a single government negotiator. If one seller balks at government prices, it leaves competitors to pick up more sales. The same is true for most other drug classes and most medical devices. This uneven battle ensures that negotiated prices will be well below those in a competitive market.

But here is where the huge risks of creating a "public plan" to compete with private insurance firms come into focus. Foremost among these risks are the effects of monopsony power in the purchase of medical technology.

The U.S. is unique because it alone is the source of half of world-wide profits that provide the payoff for the complex, lengthy, and expensive process of developing new treatments. When other nations construct their health-care systems, they ignore the impact of their pricing policies on R&D incentives. As the dominant R&D funding wellhead, we do not have that option.

Competitive markets have generated the prices and the profits necessary to induce a steady flow of medical innovation in this country. A public plan option would tend to dismantle that system. The people in charge will not know how to set reimbursement levels to motivate reasonable R&D efforts, and there is no reason to expect them to try. In public plans, the tried-and-true method is to push the prices of suppliers down until something gives -- too few doctors willing to take on Medicare patients, for example -- and then to ease up. That is a destructive approach to medical technology R&D.

Who knows what drugs will not be developed if reimbursement levels for a new multiple-sclerosis treatment are too measly? In virtually every advanced economy but our own, pricing authorities simply make sure prices are high enough so that existing drugs continue to be made available. We can expect a public plan here to do the same. The inevitable result is to drastically under-incentivize R&D.

This problem would not matter if a public plan remained small -- but it would likely grow into a monster. Monopsony negotiating power will generate lower prices, so many consumers will switch to a public plan. Employers eager to offload health-care costs will also dump unwilling employees into the public plan. That is the basis for the Lewin Group's much-cited prediction that a public plan would come to dominate any market in which it is allowed to compete.

Bargaining power, however, is far from the only potential source of below-market prices for public plans. In the home mortgage market, the public plans -- known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- were for years viewed by investors as less risky because they would be bailed out by the federal government if they took on too much risk. That translated into lower prices (the interest rates paid by borrowers), which eventually translated into extraordinary and unseemly growth, culminating in bankruptcy and a federal bailout.

The lesson for health insurance is clear. All insurance plans -- especially in health-care markets -- have to take on risk. Prudent planning, including the maintenance of reasonable financial reserves, is necessary. That increases costs. It would be all too easy for a public plan to gain a competitive advantage by taking on extra risk while keeping prices low because everyone would expect the federal government to take care of financial surprises down the road.

In sum, a public plan would possess formidable and perhaps overwhelming competitive advantages -- generated not by efficiency but by the artificial advantages of "public" status. This would have two disastrous consequences. The first will be to cause most Americans now covered by private insurance to move to public insurance -- one step away from single-payer health care. The second will be to undermine incentives to develop more of the immensely valuable medical technology that is central to all of health care.

Mr. Calfee is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
23509  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: June 26, 2009, 07:53:40 AM
Geopolitical Diary: A Shift in the U.S.-Israeli Drama
June 25, 2009
A meeting that had been scheduled this week in Paris between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, was canceled Wednesday.

Netanyahu’s spokesman said the meeting was called off so that the Americans and Israelis could have more time to “clarify some issues.” But Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot then published a report citing an unnamed Israeli official, who said the U.S. administration had sent the following “stern” message to Netanyahu: “Once you’ve finished the homework we gave you on stopping construction in the settlements, let us know. Until then, there’s no point in having Mitchell fly to Paris to meet you.”

The U.S. explanation for the scrapped meeting was much tamer: State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Netanyahu and Mitchell had canceled the meeting so that Mitchell could meet first with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak next Monday in Washington. It is still unclear who canceled on whom, but the Israelis seem intent on giving the impression that the Americans are the ones being unreasonable.

Tensions in the U.S.-Israeli relationship can be traced to the post-election crisis in Tehran.

To understand this, we need to rewind to June 4 in Egypt, as U.S. President Barack Obama attempted to reach out to the Muslim masses and distinguish his policies in the region from those of George W. Bush. In that speech, Obama focused on the Israeli-Palestinian issue for several reasons. First, by generating perceptions that his administration was not afraid to stand up to Israel over the issue of West Bank settlements, he might draw an increase in Arab support that could be used to form a more solidified coalition against Iran. Second, he could counter Iranian attempts to hijack the Palestinian cause. Iran’s increasingly blatant support for Hamas is designed to call out the hypocrisy of Arab regimes who pledge support for the Palestinians in public for rhetorical reasons, but whose actions are limited by their own strategic concerns. By laying the groundwork rhetorically for greater acceptance of U.S. policy in the region, Obama could strengthen his negotiating position in regard to Iran — or so the theory went.

But by issuing an ultimatum on the West Bank, Obama also invited a confrontation with Israel. From the Israeli point of view, there is no compelling reason to negotiate on the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian territories are divided geographically, politically and ideologically between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — and because the Palestinian government is in shambles, there is no authority for the Israelis to deal with in the first place. Still, Obama thought it would be worth the risk to raise tensions with Israel if it would advance his agenda in dealing with Iran.

That strategy already had a number of built-in flaws, but its chances of success appear even slimmer in the aftermath of Iran’s June 12 presidential election. Obama has been careful in his statements on Iran for good reason. He made it clear before and after the Iranian election that he was prepared to deal with Tehran, regardless of who won the presidency. An exclusive report by the Washington Times on Wednesday reinforced this idea: Prior to the election, Obama was said to have delivered a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei through the Swiss Embassy, reiterating his desire to negotiate. Though Obama recognizes that it would be useless to reject the election victory of someone he would be dealing with anyway, he still faces a significant problem at home. With the right wing stressing the futility of talking to an unchanged Iranian regime and the left wing and human rights groups condemning talks with a regime that violently suppresses protests, he is under pressure to take a tougher stance on Iran. Any attempt at talks with Iran also will be widely viewed in the United States as negotiating with an illegitimate government, given the strong allegations of vote fraud in the election.

The Israelis can see that Obama’s diplomatic strategy for Iran — a strategy about which Israel was never really enthused — is rolling toward the gutter. Therefore, the Israelis have an opportunity. Obama previously had tried to pressure Israel over the settlements issue, when he was in a stronger position and knew that Netanyahu would have a heck of a time balancing between the right- and left-wing parties in his own coalition an issue as contentious as the West Bank. Netanyahu first sidestepped the issue with his own peace speech, driving U.S.-Israeli negotiations into the ground by insisting on the right to “natural growth” in the West Bank and the disarmament of the Palestinian territories. Now, Israel sees a U.S. president who is getting hammered at home for his Iran strategy —and whose options on dealing with Iran are dwindling rapidly on the international front.

Obama desperately wants to avoid harsher actions against Iran for fear that Russia will use Iran as a geopolitical lever. The Russians are already hinting privately that they can make the Iran issue more complicated for Washington, through strategic weapons sales, should the Americans fail to meet Moscow’s demands in Eurasia. In essence, Obama is fast becoming stuck in the same mess that ensnared a number of presidents before him.

With the U.S. president in a quandary over Iran, Netanyahu has an opportunity to regain the upper hand, pull the settlement issue from the agenda and start pushing his preferred methods of dealing with Iran — including harsher sanctions. Knowing the constraints Washington is facing on the Iran front, Netanyahu at the very least can get Obama to back off on his demands for Israel, but first he has to snap Washington back to attention. This begins with a mini-diplomatic drama over a canceled meeting with a U.S. envoy. Netanyahu likely will be able to generate several more “crises” should he need them, but that all depends on how much strain Israel wants to put on its relationship with the United States at this point.
23510  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton on: June 26, 2009, 07:03:21 AM
"To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients, by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted."

--Alexander Hamilton, Report on Manufactures, December, 1791
23511  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Knife Law on: June 26, 2009, 07:02:22 AM
Good post David. 

Has anyone here written a letter about this yet?  NOW is the time for comments people!
23512  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Rest in Peace on: June 26, 2009, 06:59:04 AM
Neither FF or EM were really on my radar screen, but please forgive me my curmdgeonly moment.  Why is the fcuk is MJ here?
================

Q: Why does Michael Jackson have a tough guy reputation?
A: He has licked every kid possible.

Q: Why did Michael Jackson get food poisoning?
A: He ate a nine year old wiener!

Q: Why were Michael Jackson's pants so small?
A: They belonged to somebody else.



Q: What do Michael Jackson and Walmart have in common?
A: They both have small boys pants at half off!

Q: How many Michael Jacksons does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. Michael Jackson only screws little boys!

Q: What did the man on the beach say to Michael Jackson?
A: Get out of my sun!

Q: What do Michael Jackson and zits have in common?
A: They both wait till your 12 to come on your face!

Q: How do we know Michael is guilty?
A: Several children have fingered him.

Q: Why does Michael Jackson like to lose foot races to little boys?
A: He likes to come in a little behind.

Q: How do you know when it's bedtime at the Jackson residence?
A: When the big hand touches the little hand...
23513  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Michael Jackson may be feeling a bit warm on: June 26, 2009, 12:19:10 AM

Q: Why does Michael Jackson have a tough guy reputation?
A: He has licked every kid possible.

Q: Why did Michael Jackson get food poisoning?
A: He ate a nine year old wiener!

Q: Why were Michael Jackson's pants so small?
A: They belonged to somebody else.



Q: What do Michael Jackson and Walmart have in common?
A: They both have small boys pants at half off!

Q: How many Michael Jacksons does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. Michael Jackson only screws little boys!

Q: What did the man on the beach say to Michael Jackson?
A: Get out of my sun!

Q: What do Michael Jackson and zits have in common?
A: They both wait till your 12 to come on your face!

Q: How do we know Michael is guilty?
A: Several children have fingered him.

Q: Why does Michael Jackson like to lose foot races to little boys?
A: He likes to come in a little behind.

Q: How do you know when it's bedtime at the Jackson residence?
A: When the big hand touches the little hand...
23514  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hillary is wrong about the settlements on: June 24, 2009, 11:37:39 PM
By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
Despite fervent denials by Obama administration officials, there were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. As the Obama administration has made the settlements issue a major bone of contention between Israel and the U.S., it is necessary that we review the recent history.

In the spring of 2003, U.S. officials (including me) held wide-ranging discussions with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. The "Roadmap for Peace" between Israel and the Palestinians had been written. President George W. Bush had endorsed Palestinian statehood, but only if the Palestinians eliminated terror. He had broken with Yasser Arafat, but Arafat still ruled in the Palestinian territories. Israel had defeated the intifada, so what was next?

 
Getty Images
 
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Jordan's King Abdullah, June 4, 2003.
We asked Mr. Sharon about freezing the West Bank settlements. I recall him asking, by way of reply, what did that mean for the settlers? They live there, he said, they serve in elite army units, and they marry. Should he tell them to have no more children, or move?

We discussed some approaches: Could he agree there would be no additional settlements? New construction only inside settlements, without expanding them physically? Could he agree there would be no additional land taken for settlements?

As we talked several principles emerged. The father of the settlements now agreed that limits must be placed on the settlements; more fundamentally, the old foe of the Palestinians could -- under certain conditions -- now agree to Palestinian statehood.

In June 2003, Mr. Sharon stood alongside Mr. Bush, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at Aqaba, Jordan, and endorsed Palestinian statehood publicly: "It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state." At the end of that year he announced his intention to pull out of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. government supported all this, but asked Mr. Sharon for two more things. First, that he remove some West Bank settlements; we wanted Israel to show that removing them was not impossible. Second, we wanted him to pull out of Gaza totally -- including every single settlement and the "Philadelphi Strip" separating Gaza from Egypt, even though holding on to this strip would have prevented the smuggling of weapons to Hamas that was feared and has now come to pass. Mr. Sharon agreed on both counts.

These decisions were political dynamite, as Mr. Sharon had long predicted to us. In May 2004, his Likud Party rejected his plan in a referendum, handing him a resounding political defeat. In June, the Cabinet approved the withdrawal from Gaza, but only after Mr. Sharon fired two ministers and allowed two others to resign. His majority in the Knesset was now shaky.

After completing the Gaza withdrawal in August 2005, he called in November for a dissolution of the Knesset and for early elections. He also said he would leave Likud to form a new centrist party. The political and personal strain was very great. Four weeks later he suffered the first of two strokes that have left him in a coma.

Throughout, the Bush administration gave Mr. Sharon full support for his actions against terror and on final status issues. On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush handed Mr. Sharon a letter saying that there would be no "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Instead, the president said, "a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel."

On the major settlement blocs, Mr. Bush said, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." Several previous administrations had declared all Israeli settlements beyond the "1967 borders" to be illegal. Here Mr. Bush dropped such language, referring to the 1967 borders -- correctly -- as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.

On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth. Mr. Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: "Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements."

Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.

They were not secret, either. Four days after the president's letter, Mr. Sharon's Chief of Staff Dov Weissglas wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that "I wish to reconfirm the following understanding, which had been reached between us: 1. Restrictions on settlement growth: within the agreed principles of settlement activities, an effort will be made in the next few days to have a better definition of the construction line of settlements in Judea & Samaria."

Stories in the press also made it clear that there were indeed "agreed principles." On Aug. 21, 2004 the New York Times reported that "the Bush administration . . . now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward."

In recent weeks, American officials have denied that any agreement on settlements existed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 17 that "in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility."

These statements are incorrect. Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation -- the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step.

It is true that there was no U.S.-Israel "memorandum of understanding," which is presumably what Mrs. Clinton means when she suggests that the "official record of the administration" contains none. But she would do well to consult documents like the Weissglas letter, or the notes of the Aqaba meeting, before suggesting that there was no meeting of the minds.

Mrs. Clinton also said there were no "enforceable" agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?

Regardless of what Mrs. Clinton has said, there was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to break the deadlock, withdraw from Gaza, remove settlements -- and confront his former allies on Israel's right by abandoning the "Greater Israel" position to endorse Palestinian statehood and limits on settlement growth. He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.

Mr. Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, handled Middle East affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009.
23515  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prisons on: June 24, 2009, 11:27:20 PM
CO friend texted me the following:
===========
 3 Way's 2 Stay out of Trouble in Prison:
 Don't Gamble.
Don't Do Drugs.
 Don't have a Bitch.
 This will keep U All out of 90% of All problems.
  Because some one else will want your Bitch.
 If U don't pay your Debts , U will Be a Bitch.
 & Stand Up 4 Yourself All  The Time.
 Or! get ready 2 get Hitched:(

 There's 30 of Us Staff Members  @ Work right Now.
 & 650 of Them. Do the Math.
 If you don't like the Hospitality,= don't come 2 Prison *
23516  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Buchanan on: June 24, 2009, 10:19:17 PM
Who'd have thought it?  A thoughtful piece from Pat Buchanon:


Ten Days That Shook Tehran

Given its monopoly of guns, bet on the Iranian regime. But, in the long run, the ayatollahs have to see the handwriting on the wall.
Let us assume what they insist upon -- that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 election; that, even if fraud occurred, it did not decide the outcome. As Ayatollah Khamenei said to loud laughter in his Friday sermon declaring the election valid, "Perhaps 100,000, or 500,000, but how can anyone tamper with 11 million votes?"

Still, the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad must hear the roar of the rapids ahead. Millions of Iranians, perhaps a majority of the professional class and educated young, who shouted, "Death to the Dictatorship," oppose or detest them. How can the regime maintain its present domestic course or foreign policy with its people so visibly divided?

 Where do the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad go from here?

If they adopt a harder line, defy Barack Obama and refuse to negotiate their nuclear program, they can continue to enrich uranium, as harsher sanctions are imposed. But to what end adding 1,000 more kilograms?

If they do not intend to build a bomb, why enrich more? And if they do intend to build a bomb, what exactly would that achieve?
For an Iranian bomb would trigger a regional arms race with Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking nuclear weapons. Israel would put its nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger. America would retarget missiles on Tehran. And if a terrorist anywhere detonated a nuclear bomb, Iran would risk annihilation, for everyone would assume Tehran was behind it.

Rather than make Iran more secure, an Iranian bomb would seem to permanently isolate her and possibly subject her to pre-emptive attack.

And how can the Iranians survive continued isolation?

According to U.S. sources, Iran produced 6 million barrels of crude a day in 1974 under the shah. She has not been able to match that since the revolution. War, limited investment, sanctions and a high rate of natural decline of mature oil fields, estimated at 8 percent onshore and 11 percent offshore, are the causes. A 2007 National Academy of Sciences study reported that if the decline rates continue, Iran's exports, which in 2007 averaged 2.4 million barrels per day, could decrease to zero by 2015.
You cannot make up for oil and gas exports with carpets and pistachio nuts.

If Tehran cannot effect a lifting of sanctions and new investments in oil and gas production, she is headed for an economic crisis that will cause an exodus of her brightest young and quadrennial reruns of the 2009 election.

And there are not only deep divisions in Iran between modernists and religious traditionalists, the affluent and the poor, but among ethnic groups. Half of Iran's population is Arab, Kurd, Azeri or Baluchi. In the Kurdish northwest and Baluchi south, secessionists have launched attacks the ayatollah blames on the United States and Israel.

As they look about the region, how can the ayatollahs be optimistic?

Syria, their major ally, wants to deal with the Americans to retrieve the Golan. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are hostile, with the latter having uncovered a Hezbollah plot against President Hosni Mubarak.

Hamas is laser-focused on Gaza, the West Bank and a Palestinian state, and showing interest in working with the Obama administration.

Where is the Islamic revolution going? Where is the state in the Muslim world that has embraced Islamism and created a successful nation?

Sudan? Taliban Afghanistan? Somalia is now in final passage from warlordism to Islamism. Does anyone believe the Al-Shahab will create a successful nation?

As for the ayatollahs, after 30 years, they are deep in crisis -- and what have they produced that the world admires?

Even if the "green revolution" in Iran triggers revolts in the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, can Iran believe Sunni revolutionary regimes will follow the lead of a Shia Islamic state? How long did it take Mao's China to renounce its elder brother in the faith, Khrushchev's Russia?

When one looks at the Asian tigers -- South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia -- or at the China or India of recent decades, one sees nations that impress the world with their progress.

Iran under the mullahs has gone sideways or backward. Now, with this suspect election and millions having shown their revulsion of the regime, the legitimacy and integrity of the ayatollahs have been called into question.

Obama offers the regime a way out.

They may exercise their right to peaceful nuclear power, have sanctions lifted and receive security guarantees, if they can prove they have no nuclear weapons program and will cease subverting through their Hezbollah-Hamas proxies the peace process Obama is pursuing between Israel and Palestine.

If Iran refuses Obama's offer, she will start down a road at the end of which are severe sanctions, escalation and a war that Obama does not want and Iran cannot want -- for the winner will not be Iran.


23517  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prisons on: June 24, 2009, 02:30:50 PM
Well, its the NY Slimes, so caveat lector.  Bad dog on me for forgetting to point this out.
23518  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine on: June 24, 2009, 02:29:50 PM
Putting aside the politics of this footage, for those of us, e.g. me, who are cherry to these things, there is some footage here of a fresh gunshot wound.  Note the failure to adress the exit wound.

VERY GRAPHIC, not suitable for office environments, viewing by children, etc.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JykkvYbNsk0
23519  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Waziristan on: June 24, 2009, 08:27:58 AM
The Pakistani military is coming closer to launching a full-scale assault against Taliban militants in South Waziristan, one of the lawless tribal areas in Pakistan’s northwest where the Taliban are most deeply entrenched. The offensive will be Islamabad’s second attempt in recent months to strike at the roots of an insurgency that has advanced beyond the fringes of the country to threaten its very core.

The first attempt took place in Swat, a critical district that is too close to the capital for comfort. There, a failed cease-fire with the Taliban forced the government to rethink its policy of preferring compromise to confrontation. In April and May, Pakistani air and ground forces moved into the region, destroying some of the insurgency’s infrastructure and reclaiming urban areas. The operation was a dubious success: It displaced millions of people and stirred up local resentment that could feed into the insurgency, while requiring a long-term commitment from Pakistani troops.

Operation Salvation Path, as the developing assault in Waziristan is called, is Islamabad’s next step in taking the fight to the Taliban’s largest grouping. It is the logical continuation of the campaign, after having gained some momentum in Swat. But this time the challenge is far more formidable. Unlike Swat, North and South Waziristan historically were relatively autonomous regions, ruled by traditional tribal leaders. It was not until 2004 that the Pakistani state, goaded by the United States, even attempted to show force in the region. In Swat, militants were more local in their interests and emerged mostly because of a power vacuum that was waiting to be filled — whereas the Taliban commanders who established themselves in Waziristan took advantage of the region’s rugged terrain to hide out and plan attacks against high-level targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to train militants from around the world. The Taliban in Waziristan have withstood several attacks by the Pakistani army: Each time they have fought the army to a standstill, reinforcing their position. And while Swat is nestled within the North-West Frontier Province, giving the Pakistanis a better chance at entrapping the militants, Waziristan has a long, traversible boundary with Afghanistan that allows militants ample supply and escape routes.

The Pakistani army will confront these and a host of other obstacles as it attempts to subdue a large area with inadequate forces — while also trying to save face with the public as refugees spill out of Waziristan and collateral damage increases. The greater challenge is not winning the immediate battle, but consolidating gains and building institutions of governance and security that will last.

Waziristan’s location along the Afghan border calls attention to the fact that the ongoing offensive is not just an internal Pakistani issue, but a wider geopolitical one. The timing of the army offensives coincides with a broader shift in U.S. and NATO strategy against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The latest unit to deploy as part of the U.S. surge in Afghanistan will focus its efforts in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, far from North and South Waziristan. But the question is what will happen when Taliban militants from Waziristan are pushed into Afghanistan by the Pakistani assault from the east, leading U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to step up operations. Will the parallel counterinsurgency campaigns force loosely affiliated elements of Taliban to coalesce into a coherent fighting force, or wedge them apart as each element focuses more intently on its own objectives and survival?

As Pakistani soldiers are preparing to move into Waziristan, U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones is planning a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India this week. The United States is in an interesting position: Pakistan is finally doing what Washington has wanted it to do all along — spearheading attacks directly against Taliban positions on its side of the border, so as to deprive Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan places of refuge and to secure supply lines essential to the U.S.-led effort. While the Pakistanis are acting out of fear for their own security, rather than out of sudden eagerness to earn their billions of dollars in U.S. assistance, their moves are nevertheless an indication of the fighting spirit Washington needs to see if its own plans are to have even a chance at success.

But the deeper worry for the United States is this: It is by no means a foregone conclusion — or even necessarily likely — that the Pakistani military will be able to succeed in the mission at hand. There are too many variables, boiling down to how much of a fight the militants put up and whether Islamabad will be capable of a sustained campaign that will carry a high rate of attrition and exact high political costs. And Washington knows that its own plans — which extend much farther than South Asia, and well beyond the next two years — will be affected by Islamabad’s performance now.

23520  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: June 24, 2009, 07:33:11 AM
I'm not sure I agree with all of that.

As a general economic principle it seems sound to me to have the person consuming a service be the person paying for the service.  Indeed, IMHO a rather large percentage of our problems with this issue come from having someone other than the consumer pay.

It may well be that simply having a small or even no deductible combined with a higher percentage of patient participation in the bill is the way to go-- here I have no opinion.
23521  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: START quid pro quo on: June 24, 2009, 07:25:38 AM
Russia: The START Quid Pro Quo

Speaking in Vienna on Tuesday, as an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference began, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov apparently linked the issue of a U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system to that of nuclear disarmament. Lavrov said there is an obvious link between nuclear disarmament and an American BMD system in Europe, noting, “This position is shared by the presidents of our two countries.” The comments came two weeks before U.S. President Barack Obama’s scheduled meeting with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, in Russia, where they plan to discuss a replacement for the expiring 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Replacing START is a priority for Russia. Though the Soviets, during the Cold War, at times might have been able to match U.S. technological capabilities and industrial resources — a burden that contributed to the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse — the Russia of today most certainly cannot. Maintaining parity with the United States in strategic nuclear weaponry, even if only in appearance, is impossible without a treaty limiting the quality and type of weapons that the United States is allowed to field.

The Americans, on the other hand, have grown to rely on the nuclear treaty as a way to monitor the status of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and to enhance cooperation in curbing nuclear proliferation. This is something that the United States would prefer not to give up, but it is by no means essential. The Russians are certainly not about to distribute nuclear technology to terrorist groups that would be almost as likely to use it against St. Petersburg as they would against New York. So while monitoring the Russian arsenal is useful, it is no longer as crucial as it was during the Cold War. In short, the United States does not face a fundamental strategic threat with the expiration of the treaty, but it seems that Russia does.

Therefore, linking the START talks — currently under way in Geneva — with the BMD system is quite a gamble. STRATFOR sources in Russia first suggested in late May that an internal debate was being waged in the Kremlin over whether to make such a play. Essentially, the Kremlin is using a valuable chip to efforts to extract a big concession from the United States. For this gamble to work, Washington essentially must both believe the bluff and value the START talks as much as the Russians do.

It is not clear how the U.S. administration will respond to this. From a purely strategic point of view, Washington very well could let the treaty expire and then pressure Russia with nuclear rearmament — if not under Obama, then under a future administration — to expose just how few resources Moscow can mobilize in a parity campaign. Moscow is probably betting that Obama, already as lukewarm on the BMD system as an American president will get, is highly vested in nuclear disarmament for domestic political purposes. Nuclear disarmament is also the only issue on which Russia and the United States still have relatively good relations. It is the only point on which contact remains open, and the Russians are hoping the Americans won’t be willing to lose that.

For Russia, this might come down to sacrificing a long-term goal — strategic nuclear parity with the United States — for what the Kremlin views as the equally important, short-term goal of preventing U.S. military encroachment in Central Europe through the BMD system. U.S. military proximity to the Russian borders also could be classed as a long-term concern, but BMD in Poland and the Czech Republic is the issue that has Moscow’s attention at the moment. However, sacrificing the nuclear parity guaranteed by a bilateral treaty for what could be only a brief pause (and even that much is not guaranteed) in U.S. military expansion into Central Europe would not necessarily be a good trade. This is particularly true if the United States decides to move into Central Europe at some later date in a different way — such as establishing so-called “lily pad” bases, housing pre-positioned equipment, that can be ramped up into a proper base in times of crisis — or through other means.

This is the quandary the Kremlin has faced in debating whether to link the two issues. Thus, Lavrov’s statement, coming two weeks before the Obama-Medvedev meeting, might not be a definitive declaration of policy, but more a trial balloon to test the U.S. response.

There is another grave danger for the Kremlin in this strategy: the possibility that Washington might come to realize just how little nuclear disarmament means to it after all.

 

 
23522  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Prisons on: June 24, 2009, 07:20:43 AM
Woof All:

I wasn't sure whether to post this thread in this forum or the Politics and Religion forum.   Obviously I chose here.  This thread is for things that happen in prison.

Kicking this off is this from today's NY Times:

Rape in Prison
Published: June 23, 2009

Rape accompanied by savage violence has long been part of prison life. Congress finally confronted this horrendous problem by passing the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. In addition to bringing attention to a long overlooked problem, the new law created a commission that has put forth a broad set of rape-prevention standards that deserve to become mandatory in correctional agencies throughout the country.

The commission report, released earlier this week, should come as alarming news. It suggests, for example, that rapes carried out by corrections officers and inmates are widespread, but the actual rates of rape vary widely from place to place.

Drawing on a federal survey of more than 63,000 state and federal inmates, the commission said that about 4.5 percent reported being sexually abused at least once during the previous 12 months. Extrapolating from this data, the commissioners estimate that there were at least 60,000 rapes of prisoners nationally during this period.

Young people in custody are particularly vulnerable. In pilot study of nine youth facilities, nearly 1 in 5 respondents reported one nonconsensual sexual contact during the previous year.

Rape is not inevitable, however. Strong leaders who are committed to fighting the problem can minimize these savage and traumatic assaults. For starters, the commission recommends that all correctional agencies develop explicit, written zero-tolerance policies on this issue.

These agencies, which need to do a better job of screening corrections workers, should adopt the policy that employees who participate in sexual assaults or look the other way while they occur will be fired. Zero-tolerance policies should eventually be integrated into collective-bargaining agreements with unions.

Beyond that, corrections agencies need to make it easier for people in custody to report rape without facing reprisal. The reports need to be promptly and thoroughly investigated. The agencies need to keep publicly accessible records on the reports and investigations. And they need to develop plans for preventing any rape scenarios that continue to recur.

The report represents a strong first step in confronting this problem. The next step lies with Attorney General Eric Holder, who can approve the report’s recommendations and thereby make the standards mandatory for federal prisons and state prisons that accept federal money.
23523  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams: Property Rights on: June 24, 2009, 07:02:38 AM
"The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If `Thou shalt not covet' and `Thou shalt not steal' were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free."

--John Adams, A Defense of the American Constitutions, 1787
23524  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Making and quaking on: June 24, 2009, 07:01:26 AM
Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears

By JAMES GLANZ

Published: June 23, 2009

 

The danger of digging deeper (An especially fascinating, and brief, interactive graphic)

BASEL, Switzerland — Markus O. Häring, a former oilman, was a hero in this city of medieval cathedrals and intense environmental passion three years ago, all because he had drilled a hole three miles deep near the corner of Neuhaus Street and Shafer Lane.

He was prospecting for a vast source of clean, renewable energy that seemed straight out of a Jules Verne novel: the heat simmering within the earth’s bedrock.

All seemed to be going well — until Dec. 8, 2006, when the project set off an earthquake, shaking and damaging buildings and terrifying many in a city that, as every schoolchild here learns, had been devastated exactly 650 years before by a quake that sent two steeples of the Münster Cathedral tumbling into the Rhine.

Hastily shut down, Mr. Häring’s project was soon forgotten by nearly everyone outside Switzerland. As early as this week, though, an American start-up company, AltaRock Energy, will begin using nearly the same method to drill deep into ground laced with fault lines in an area two hours’ drive north of San Francisco.

Residents of the region, which straddles Lake and Sonoma Counties, have already been protesting swarms of smaller earthquakes set off by a less geologically invasive set of energy projects there. AltaRock officials said that they chose the spot in part because the history of mostly small quakes reassured them that the risks were limited.

Like the effort in Basel, the new project will tap geothermal energy by fracturing hard rock more than two miles deep to extract its heat. AltaRock, founded by Susan Petty, a veteran geothermal researcher, has secured more than $36 million from the Energy Department, several large venture-capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Google. AltaRock maintains that it will steer clear of large faults and that it can operate safely.

But in a report on seismic impact that AltaRock was required to file, the company failed to mention that the Basel program was shut down because of the earthquake it caused. AltaRock claimed it was uncertain that the project had caused the quake, even though Swiss government seismologists and officials on the Basel project agreed that it did. Nor did AltaRock mention the thousands of smaller earthquakes induced by the Basel project that continued for months after it shut down.

The California project is the first of dozens that could be operating in the United States in the next several years, driven by a push to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases and the Obama administration’s support for renewable energy.

Geothermal’s potential as a clean energy source has raised huge hopes, and its advocates believe it could put a significant dent in American dependence on fossil fuels — potentially supplying roughly 15 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030, according to one estimate by Google. The earth’s heat is always there waiting to be tapped, unlike wind and solar power, which are intermittent and thus more fickle.

According to a 2007 geothermal report financed by the Energy Department, advanced geothermal power could in theory produce as much as 60,000 times the nation’s annual energy usage. President Obama, in a news conference Tuesday, cited geothermal power as part of the “clean energy transformation” that a climate bill now before Congress could bring about.

Dan W. Reicher, an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration who is now director of climate change and energy at Google’s investment and philanthropic arm, said geothermal energy had “the potential to deliver vast amounts of power almost anywhere in the world, 24/7.”

Power companies have long produced limited amounts of geothermal energy by tapping shallow steam beds, often beneath geysers or vents called fumaroles. Even those projects can induce earthquakes, although most are small. But for geothermal energy to be used more widely, engineers need to find a way to draw on the heat at deeper levels percolating in the earth’s core.

Some geothermal advocates believe the method used in Basel, and to be tried in California, could be that breakthrough. But because large earthquakes tend to originate at great depths, breaking rock that far down carries more serious risk, seismologists say. Seismologists have long known that human activities can trigger quakes, but they say the science is not developed enough to say for certain what will or will not set off a major temblor.

Even so, there is no shortage of money for testing the idea. Mr. Reicher has overseen a $6.25 million investment by Google in AltaRock, and with more than $200 million in new federal money for geothermal, the Energy Department has already approved financing for related projects in Idaho by the University of Utah; in Nevada by Ormat Technologies; and in California by Calpine, just a few miles from AltaRock’s project.

Steven E. Koonin, the under secretary for science at the Energy Department, said the earthquake issue was new to him, but added, “We’re committed to doing things in a factual and rigorous way, and if there is a problem, we will attend to it.”

The tone is more urgent in Europe. “This was my main question to the experts: Can you exclude that there is a major earthquake triggered by this man-made activity?” said Rudolf Braun, chairman of the project team that the City of Basel created to study the risks of resuming the project.

“I was quite surprised that all of them said: ‘No, we can’t. We can’t exclude it,’ “ said Mr. Braun, whose study is due this year.

“It would be just unfortunate if, in the United States, you rush ahead and don’t take into account what happened here,” he said.

Basel’s Big Shock

By the time people were getting off work amid rain squalls in Basel on Dec. 8, 2006, Mr. Häring’s problems had already begun. His incision into the ground was setting off small earthquakes that people were starting to feel around the city.

Mr. Häring knew that by its very nature, the technique created earthquakes because it requires injecting water at great pressure down drilled holes to fracture the deep bedrock. The opening of each fracture is, literally, a tiny earthquake in which subterranean stresses rip apart a weak vein, crack or fault in the rock. The high-pressure water can be thought of loosely as a lubricant that makes it easier for those forces to slide the earth along the weak points, creating a web or network of fractures.

Mr. Häring planned to use that network as the ultimate teapot, circulating water through the fractures and hoping it emerged as steam. But what surprised him that afternoon was the intensity of the quakes because advocates of the method believe they can pull off a delicate balancing act, tearing the rock without creating larger earthquakes.

Alarmed, Mr. Häring and other company officials decided to release all pressure in the well to try to halt the fracturing. But as they stood a few miles from the drill site, giving the orders by speakerphone to workers atop the hole, a much bigger jolt shook the room.

“I think that was us,” said one stunned official.

Analysis of seismic data proved him correct. The quake measured 3.4 — modest in some parts of the world. But triggered quakes tend to be shallower than natural ones, and residents generally describe them as a single, explosive bang or jolt — often out of proportion to the magnitude — rather than a rumble.

Triggered quakes are also frequently accompanied by an “air shock,” a loud tearing or roaring noise.

The noise “made me feel it was some sort of supersonic aircraft going overhead,” said Heinrich Schwendener, who, as president of Geopower Basel, the consortium that includes Geothermal Explorers and the utility companies, was standing next to the borehole.

“It took me maybe half a minute to realize, hey, this is not a supersonic plane, this is my well,” Mr. Schwendener said.

By that time, much of the city was in an uproar. In the newsroom of the city’s main paper, Basler Zeitung, reporters dived under tables and desks, some refusing to move until a veteran editor barked at them to go get the story, said Philipp Loser, 28, a reporter there.

Aysel Mermer, 25, a waitress at the Restaurant Schiff near the Rhine River, said she thought a bomb had gone off.

Eveline Meyer, 44, a receptionist at a maritime exhibition, was on the phone with a friend and thought that her washing machine had, all by itself, started clattering with an unbalanced load. “I was saying to my friend, ‘Am I now completely nuts?’ “ Ms. Meyer recalled. Then, she said, the line went dead.

Mr. Häring was rushed to police headquarters in a squad car so he could explain what had happened. By the time word slipped out that the project had set off the earthquake, Mr. Loser said, outrage was sweeping the city. The earthquakes, including three more above magnitude 3, rattled on for about a year — more than 3,500 in all, according to the company’s sensors.

Although no serious injuries were reported, Geothermal Explorers’ insurance company ultimately paid more than $8 million in mostly minor damage claims to the owners of thousands of houses in Switzerland and in neighboring Germany and France.

Optimism and Opportunity

In the United States, where the Basel earthquakes received little news coverage, the fortunes of geothermal energy were already on a dizzying rise. The optimistic conclusions of the Energy Department’s geothermal report began driving interest from investors, as word trickled out before its official release.

In fall 2006, after some of the findings were presented at a trade meeting, Trae Vassallo, a partner at the firm Kleiner Perkins, phoned Ms. Petty, the geothermal researcher who was one of 18 authors on the report, according to e-mail messages from both women. That call eventually led Ms. Petty to found AltaRock and bring in, by Ms. Petty’s tally, another six of the authors as consultants to the company or in other roles.

J. David Rogers, a professor and geological engineer at the Missouri University of Science and Technology who was not involved in the report, said such overlap of research and commercial interests was common in science and engineering but added that it might be perceived as a conflict of interest. “It’s very, very satisfying to see something go from theory to application to actually making money and being accepted by society,” Professor Rogers said. “It’s what every scientist dreams of.”

Ms. Petty said that her first “serious discussions” with Ms. Vassallo about forming a company did not come until the report was officially released in late January 2007. That June, Ms. Petty founded AltaRock with $4 million from Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures, an investment firm based in California.

The Basel earthquake hit more than a month before the Energy Department’s report came out, but no reference to it was included in the report’s spare and reassuring references to earthquake risks. Ms. Petty said the document had already been at the printer by the fall, “so there was no way we could have included the Basel event in the report.”

Officials at AltaRock, with offices in Sausalito, Calif., and Seattle, insist that the company has learned the lessons of Basel and that its own studies indicate the project can be carried out safely. James T. Turner, AltaRock’s senior vice president for operations, said the company had applied for roughly 20 patents on ways to improve the method.

Mr. Turner also asserted in a visit to the project site last month that AltaRock’s monitoring and fail-safe systems were superior to those used in Basel.

“We think it’s going to be pretty neat,” Mr. Turner said as he stood next to a rig where the company plans to drill a hole almost two and a half miles deep. “And when it’s successful, we’ll have a good-news story that says we can extend geothermal energy.”

AltaRock, in its seismic activity report, included the Basel earthquake in a list of temblors near geothermal projects, but the company denied that it had left out crucial details of the quake in seeking approval for the project in California. So far, the company has received its permit from the federal Bureau of Land Management to drill its first hole on land leased to the Northern California Power Agency, but still awaits a second permit to fracture rock.

“We did discuss Basel, in particular, the 3.4 event, with the B.L.M. early in the project,” Mr. Turner said in an e-mail response to questions after the visit.

But Richard Estabrook, a petroleum engineer in the Ukiah, Calif., field office of the land agency who has a lead role in granting the necessary federal permits, gave a different account when asked if he knew that the Basel project had shut down because of earthquakes or that it had induced more than 3,500 quakes.

“I’ll be honest,” he said. “I didn’t know that.”

Mr. Estabrook said he was still leaning toward giving approval if the company agreed to controls that could stop the work if it set off earthquakes above a certain intensity. But, he said, speaking of the Basel project’s shutdown, “I wish that had been disclosed.”

Bracing for Tremors

There was a time when Anderson Springs, about two miles from the project site, had few earthquakes — no more than anywhere else in the hills of Northern California. Over cookies and tea in the cabin his family has owned since 1958, Tom Grant and his sister Cynthia Lora reminisced with their spouses over visiting the town, once famous for its mineral baths, in the 1940s and ’50s. “I never felt an earthquake up here,” Mr. Grant said .

Then came a frenzy of drilling for underground steam just to the west at The Geysers, a roughly 30-square-mile patch of wooded hills threaded with huge, curving tubes and squat power plants. The Geysers is the nation’s largest producer of traditional geothermal energy. Government seismologists confirm that earthquakes were far less frequent in the past and that the geothermal project produces as many as 1,000 small earthquakes a year as the ground expands and contracts like an enormous sponge with the extraction of steam and the injection of water to replace it.

These days, Anderson Springs is a mixed community of working class and retired residents, affluent professionals and a smattering of artists. Everyone has a story about earthquakes. There are cats that suddenly leap in terror, guests who have to be warned about tremors, thousands of dollars of repairs to walls and cabinets that just do not want to stay together.

Residents have been fighting for years with California power companies over the earthquakes, occasionally winning modest financial compensation. But the obscure nature of earthquakes always gives the companies an out, says Douglas Bartlett, who works in marketing at Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco, and with his wife, Susan, owns a bungalow in town.

“If they were creating tornadoes, they would be shut down immediately,” Mr. Bartlett said. “But because it’s under the ground, where you can’t see it, and somewhat conjectural, they keep doing it.”

Now, the residents are bracing for more. As David Oppenheimer, a seismologist at theUnited States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., explains it, The Geysers is heated by magma welling up from deep in the earth. Above the magma is a layer of granite-like rock called felsite, which transmits heat to a thick layer of sandstone-like material called graywacke, riddled with fractures and filled with steam.

The steam is what originally drew the power companies here. But the AltaRock project will, for the first time, drill deep into the felsite. Mr. Turner said that AltaRock, which will drill on federal land leased by the Northern California Power Agency, had calculated that the number of earthquakes felt by residents in Anderson Springs and local communities would not noticeably increase.

But many residents are skeptical.

“It’s terrifying,” said Susan Bartlett, who works as a new patient coordinator at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco. “What’s happening to all these rocks that they’re busting into a million pieces?”
23525  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Luttwak on: June 24, 2009, 12:09:09 AM
By EDWARD N. LUTTWAK
At this point, only the short-term future of Iran's clerical regime remains in doubt. The current protests could be repressed, but the unelected institutions of priestly rule have been fatally undermined. Though each aspect of the Islamic Republic has its own dynamic, this is not a regime that can last many more years.

When it comes to repression, Iran has a spectrum of security instruments that can be used synergistically. The national police can take care of routine crowd control; riot-police units can beat some demonstrators in order to discourage others; the much more brutal, underclass Basij militiamen enjoy striking and shooting affluent Iranians; and the technical arm of the regime can block cellular service to disrupt demonstrations, as well as stall Internet services.

If the protests were to seriously escalate, the Revolutionary Guard troops with their armored vehicles might also be called in, though at some risk to the regime, given that reformist presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai was their longtime commander. The alternative -- calling in the regular army -- would be much more risky since the loyalty of the generals is unknown. So far the regime has required neither.

What has undermined the very structure of the Islamic Republic is the fracturing of its ruling elite. It was the unity established by Ayatollah Khomeini that allowed the regime to dominate the Iranian people for almost 30 years. Now that unity has been shattered: The very people who created the institutions of priestly rule are destroying their authority.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's leading rival for the presidency, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was prime minister from 1981-89 when the Islamic Republic acquired its administrative structure, including its unelected head, the supreme leader. Though the supreme leader must be obeyed in all things, Mr. Mousavi now flatly rejects the orders of Ali Khamenei to accept Ahmadinejad's re-election. In this, Mr. Mousavi is joined by another presidential candidate, former parliament speaker and pillar of the establishment Mehdi Karroubi, and a yet more senior founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. President from 1989-97, Mr. Rafsanjani is also chairman of the Assembly of Experts, whose 86 members choose the supreme leader and can ostensibly remove him.

During the campaign, Ahmadinejad accused Mr. Rafsanjani and his children of corruption on live television. So if Ahmadinejad's re-election is to be "definitive" and even "divine," as Supreme Leader Khamenei has declared, Mr. Rafsanjani would have to resign from all his posts and his children would have to leave Iran. Instead, he is reportedly trying to recruit a majority of the Assembly of Experts to remove Khamenei, or at least force him to order new elections.

The other key undemocratic institution of the Islamic Republic, founded in part by Messrs. Mousavi and Rafsanjani, is the 12-member Council of Guardians that can veto any laws passed by the elected parliament and any candidate for the parliament or the presidency. In recent years, the Council has persistently sided with extremists and Ahmadinejad, using its veto powers aggressively. Supreme Leader Khamenei logically chose the Council to deal with the election dispute.

Last week, the Council of Guardians announced that it might recount 10% of the ballots and summoned Messrs. Mousavi, Karroubi and Rezai. All three rejected the recount offer, and only Mr. Rezai showed up before the Council. Messrs. Mousavi and Karroubi simply refused to appear, explicitly denying the Council's authority as well as that of the supreme leader.

This is highly significant. Were it not for the office of the supreme leader and the Council, Iran would be a normal democratic republic.

In theory, if Ahmadinejad, Khamenei and the extremists of the Council of Guardians were all replaced by consensus figures, the Islamic Republic could continue as before. But in practice, that is impossible. Huge numbers of Iranians haven't been demonstrating at risk of beatings and worse for the uncharismatic and only marginally moderate Mr. Mousavi. His courage under pressure has certainly raised his popularity, but he is still no more than the accidental symbol of an emerging political revolution.

What's clear is that after years of humiliating social repression and gross economic mismanagement, the more educated and the more productive citizens of Iran have mostly turned their backs on the regime. Even if personally religious, they now reject the entire post-1979 structure of politicized Shiite Islam with its powerful ayatollahs, officious priests, strutting Revolutionary Guards and low-life Basij militiamen. Many Iranians once inclined to respect clerics now view them as generally corrupt -- including the Ahmadinejad supporters who applauded his attacks on Mr. Rafsanjani.

Had Mr. Mousavi won the election, modest steps to liberalize the system -- he would have allowed women to go out with uncovered heads, for example -- would only have triggered demands for more change, eventually bringing down the entire system of clerical rule. In the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev's very cautious reforms designed to perpetuate the Communist regime ended up destroying it in less than five years. In Iran, the system is much newer, and the process would likely have been faster.

Some important clerics have long suggested that men of religion should strive to regain popular respect by voluntarily giving up political power. That may provide a way out eventually. But for now, Supreme Leader Khamenei is in the impossible position of having to support a president whose authority is not accepted by much of the governing structure itself. Even the extremist Parliament Speaker Ali Larjani has declared that the vote count was biased.

Therefore, even if he remains in office, Ahmadinejad cannot really function as president. For one thing, the parliament is unlikely to confirm his ministerial appointments, and he cannot govern without them. If Khamenei is not removed by the Assembly of Experts and Ahmadinejad is not removed by Khamenei, the government will continue to be paralyzed.

The great news is that, below the eroding machinery of priestly rule, the essential democratic institutions in Iran are up and running and need only new elections for the presidency and the parliament.

Mr. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the author of "Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace" (Belknap, 2002).
23526  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Quick Draw McGraw on: June 23, 2009, 11:45:47 PM
http://www.wimp.com/samuraibaseball/
23527  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO jokes Brian Williams is his boy toy on: June 23, 2009, 10:15:23 PM
http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=101667
23528  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: June 23, 2009, 12:24:43 PM
Mexico Security Memo: June 22, 2009
Stratfor Today » June 22, 2009 | 2214 GMT

The Mexican military increased the number of troops deployed to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, by 1,500 June 20, as part of the ongoing joint law enforcement and military operation to combat drug cartels. The new deployment brings the total number of troops deployed in Juarez to 5,500, with 1,300 troops patrolling surrounding areas. The boost in troops in the troubled border town demonstrates the Mexican government’s high level of commitment to maintaining a large deployment in Juarez, and comes at a time when the security situation is deteriorating.

The initial troop increase to Juarez in March succeeded in significantly reducing violence, with an average of only two deaths per day by late March. However, over the past several weeks violence has surged to an average of more than eight homicides per day. STRATFOR sources in Juarez say declining violence between the large cartels (Sinaloa and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization), which remain the military’s main focus, was the primary reason for the initial drop and that the recent violence is associated with increased competition among local drug dealers. It is possible that the government is seeking to combat the rise of smaller organizations with the recent deployment, but the operational goals of the deployment have not been divulged.

Additionally, a little over 5,000 cadets from a Mexican military academy arrived in the Golden Triangle region of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango states, to assist troops already in the region in counternarcotics operations such as eradicating crops and establishing check points. Rugged and sparsely populated, the Golden Triangle is the center of marijuana production for many drug trafficking organizations. The deployment of cadets indicates how thinly spread the Mexican military’s resources are — but it also provides an excellent training opportunity for the cadets. There are roughly 2,500 troops and federal law enforcement agents already in the region, and this deployment represents a significant increase of boots on the ground, but the cadets’ lack of experience will likely limit their roles.

Narco Sharks from Costa Rica

On June 16, Mexican authorities in the port city of Progreso, Yucatan state, seized nearly 2,000 pounds of cocaine concealed inside some 100 dead sharks that had been shipped inside a refrigerated cargo container. The drugs were reportedly detected by customs and naval personnel performing a routine inspection. The shipment, which appeared to be intended for a company in Tonala, Jalisco state, that manufactures shark-skin goods, was sent on a commercial transport ship from Costa Rica, where the company had recently opened an office to facilitate its import needs. A Mexican navy official said it appears the shipment was organized by the Gulf cartel and that a member of Los Zetas was to be responsible for escorting the shipment once it reached Progreso.

Following the discovery of the cocaine in Mexico, authorities in Costa Rica launched a series of investigations both in the city where the shipment originated and at a hotel compound farther south. Police there eventually arrested three Costa Rican citizens and named two Mexican men suspected of organizing the operation but who have so far evaded capture.

The presence of Mexican cartels in Central America is something STRATFOR has been tracking for some time. Among the more noteworthy aspects of this case is the supposed presence of Gulf cartel operatives inside Costa Rica. Until now, all investigations of Mexican cartels in the country have appeared to point exclusively to the Sinaloa cartel. If, in fact, this latest shipment was a Gulf cartel or Zeta operation, it would be stronger evidence of another Mexican drug trafficking organization operating inside Costa Rica — a development that could have negative implications for the country’s security environment. Not only would it increase the potential for corruption among local police and other officials, it also could lead to violent turf battles between the two Mexican cartels on Costa Rican soil.

June 15

A shipping entrepreneur was found murdered and handcuffed in a union office in Veracruz, Veracruz state. Police said the victim was handcuffed minutes before he was executed.
A methamphetamine laboratory was discovered by members of the Mexican army in a remote cave in Michoacan state, making it the sixth such facility found in the state in June.
A police commander was found executed with a single gunshot wound to the head at his home in Acapulco, Guerrero state. Authorities believe he was shot with his own weapon.
Members of the Mexican military arrested Juan “El Puma” Manuel Jurado Zarzoza, the reported head of Los Zetas in Cancun, Quintana Roo state. Juardo was allegedly part of the group of attackers that carried out the assassination of retired Gen. Mauro Enrique Tello Quinones.

June 16

A firefight between members of a local kidnapping gang and members of various law enforcement agencies in Uruapan, Michoacan state, resulted in the death of three kidnappers. Police received a report of a kidnapping minutes before intercepting the vehicle the kidnappers were driving. The man who was kidnapped before the incident was subsequently rescued.
Authorities found the bodies of seven unidentified people in Gomez Palacio, Durango state. The victims appeared to have been tortured but did not have gunshot wounds.
Three bodies were found in Guasave, Sinaloa state, with multiple gunshot wounds.

June 17

A deputy police chief in Tijuana, Baja California state, was shot to death by several armed men.
The attorney for a Gulf cartel suspect arrested in 2002 was shot to death in downtown Veracruz, Veracruz state, by several armed men.

June 18

The bodies of three men were found inside a vehicle in Cancun, Quintana Roo state, with a sign that read, in part, “We are the new group ‘Zeta killers’ and we are against kidnapping and extortion, and we are going to fight against [Los Zetas] in every state for a clean Mexico.”
Eight police officers were wounded in Puebla, Puebla state, when the vehicle they were riding in was fired upon by several armed men.

June 19

Gunmen traveling in several vehicles opened fire and threw fragmentation grenades at an ambulance that was carrying an alleged gang member to a hospital in Morelia, Michoacan state.

June 20

Four people were shot to death in separate incidents in Acapulco, Guerrero state, including one victim who had recently been released from prison.
An attempted traffic stop in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, led to a firefight between police and drug gang suspects that left at least on person dead.

June 21

Federal police agents at a highway checkpoint near Las Choapas, Veracruz state, seized nearly 2,000 pounds of cocaine from a large truck. Authorities believe the truck was heading to Mexico City.
23529  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: June 23, 2009, 11:53:36 AM
By SIOBHAN GORMAN
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration plans to kill a controversial Bush administration spy satellite program at the Department of Homeland Security, according to officials familiar with the decision.

The program came under fire from its inception two years ago. Democratic lawmakers said it would lead to domestic spying.

Police Chiefs' Letter to Napolitano The program would have provided federal, state and local officials with extensive access to spy-satellite imagery — but no eavesdropping capabilities— to assist with emergency response and other domestic-security needs, such as identifying where ports or border areas are vulnerable to terrorism.

It would have expanded an Interior Department satellite program, which will continue to be used to assist in natural disasters and for other limited security purposes such as photographing sporting events. The Wall Street Journal first revealed the plans to establish the program, known as the National Applications Office, in 2007.

"It's being shut down," said a homeland security official.

The Bush administration had taken preliminary steps to launch the office, such as acquiring office space and beginning to hire staff.

The plans to shutter the office signal Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's decision to refocus the department's intelligence on ensuring that state and local officials get the threat information they need, the official said. She also wants to make the department the central point in the government for receiving and analyzing terrorism tips from around the country, the official added.

Lawmakers alerted Ms. Napolitano of their concerns about the program-that the program would violate the Fourth amendment right to be protected from unreasonable searches-before her confirmation hearing.

Once she assumed her post, Ms. Napolitano ordered a review of the program and concluded the program wasn't worth pursuing, the homeland official said. Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa declined to speak about the results of the review but said they would be announced shortly.

The lawmakers were most concerned about plans to provide satellite imagery to state and local law enforcement, so department officials asked state and local officials how useful that information would be to them. The answer: not very useful.

"In our view, the NAO is not an issue of urgency," Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, wrote to Ms. Napolitano on June 21.

Writing on behalf of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Chief Bratton said that were the program to go forward, the police chiefs would be concerned about privacy protections and whether using military satellites for domestic purposes would violate the Posse Comitatus law, which bars the use of the military for law enforcement in the U.S.

Rep. Jane Harman (D., Calif.), who oversees the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, said she was alarmed when she recently saw that the Obama administration requested money for the program in a classified 2010 budget proposal. She introduced two bills that would terminate the program.

"It's a good decision," Ms. Harman said in an interview. "This will remove a distraction and let the intelligence function at [the department] truly serve the community that needs it, which is local law enforcement."

Supporters of the program lamented what they said was the loss of an important new terrorism-fighting tool for natural disasters and terrorist attacks, as well as border security.

"After numerous congressional briefings on the importance of the NAO and its solid legal footing, politics beat out good government," said Andrew Levy, who was deputy general counsel at the department in the Bush administration.
23530  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Old Jews telling jokes on: June 23, 2009, 11:40:18 AM
http://oldjewstellingjokes.com/
23531  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Retired woman cop chokes bank robber on: June 23, 2009, 11:38:44 AM
Woman puts man in sleeper hold, stops bank heist

Monday, June 22, 2009

(06-22) 20:09 PDT Mission Viejo, Calif. (AP) --
Cyndi Orel worked as a police officer for 25 years and never caught a bank robber. She was apparently saving that hobby for retirement.

The retired Long Beach police officer foiled a bank robbery at a grocery store Saturday when she put a 220-pound bank robber in a chokehold until he passed out. Orel is about 5 feet 7 inches and 128 pounds

"I never caught a bank robber," Orel said Monday at press conference held by the Orange County sheriff's office. "This was pretty exciting just because of the nature. You don't have time to think about it. You just react."

Orel was at the Mission Viejo Albertsons store when a bank employee shouted that a man with a gun was trying to rob the branch. As another shopper scuffled with the robber, Orel put a sleeper hold on him, blocking blood to his brain and making him pass out twice. Later, they discovered the man did not have a gun. (NOTE: certainly the possibility of things turning out differently was quite possible had he been armed).


Orel credited the man who helped subdue the robber, but sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said she was "being modest because if it wasn't for the control hold that she placed on him he would not have been rendered unconscious."

Orel said she learned the move at the police academy 28 years earlier, and only used it a few times during her years on patrol. She retired in 2006 but said she keeps active by running laps and lifting small weights.
Deputies arrested Tony Fennell, 52, of Las Vegas, who they believe committed eight to 10 bank robberies, Amormino said.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/06/22/state/n200930D89.DTL
23532  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Stephens-- religion of peace on: June 23, 2009, 09:01:29 AM
It isn't always that the words Allahu Akbar sound this sweet to Western ears.

It's a muggy Friday afternoon and I'm standing curbside right outside Iran's Permanent Mission to the U.N. in New York City. Preaching in Farsi is a turbaned Shiite imam named Mohsen Kadivar. Hours earlier, in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had delivered a bullying sermon at Tehran University, warning the opposition that they would be "responsible for bloodshed and chaos" if they continued to march. Mr. Kadivar's sermon -- punctuated by the Allahu Akbars of 20 or so kneeling worshippers -- is intended as a direct riposte. Allahu Akbar has also become the rallying cry of the demonstrators in Iran.

Mr. Kadivar, 50, is a well-known quantity in Iran. As a young engineering student he was arrested by the Shah's police for agitating against the regime. He later became a seminarian in Qom, where he studied under the increasingly liberal-leaning Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. Like his teacher, who had once been the Ayatollah Khomeini's designated successor, Mr. Kadivar ran afoul of the regime. In 1999, he was arrested a second time and jailed for 18 months. He credits Mir Hossein Mousavi -- then a university faculty colleague of his -- for helping to spring him free. He's now teaching at Duke.

 
Iranian reformist clergyman Mohsen Kadivar.
Mr. Kadivar's chief claim to fame rests on a three-part work of political philosophy titled "The Theories of the State in Shiite Jurisprudence." At heart, it is a devastating theological critique of the Ayatollah Khomeini's notion of "the rule of the jurist" (Velayat e Faqih), which serves as the rationale for the near-dictatorial powers enjoyed by the Supreme Leader.

"The principle of Velayat e-Faqih is neither intuitively obvious nor rationally necessary," Mr. Kadivar wrote. "It is neither a requirement of religion nor a necessity for denomination. It is neither a part of Shiite general principles nor a component of detailed observances. It is, by near consensus of the Shiite Ulama, nothing more than a jurisprudential minor hypothesis."

Or, as Mr. Kadivar simplified it for me in an interview in the back of his van, "There are two interpretations of Islam. The aggressive Islam of Ahmadinejad, or the mercy Islam of Mousavi."

Why is this significant? Take a look at the color Mr. Mousavi's supporters have chosen for their movement: Green is the color of Islam, meaning the demonstrators are taking on the regime on its own terms. Part of that challenge is to Iran's republican pretensions, mocked by voter turnout that the regime itself admits exceeded 100% in some 50 districts.


Global View columnist Bret Stephens describes the path to democracy.
Those pretensions were mostly a farce to begin with, given the nature of a system rigged to produce an "Islamic" result. But they also served as a thin edge of the wedge, creating the opening through which a theocratic state can be challenged on theological grounds. In so doing, they exposed what might be described as the twin paradoxes of the Islamic Revolution.

The first is that any revolution carried out in the name of God is also susceptible to being challenged in the name of God -- and God has many names. As with the Communist revolutions of the 20th century, which were ultimately answerable to the verdict of History in which they placed so much stock, the ideological foundation of the Islamic Revolution rests with the prevailing views of a Shiite clerisy. Thanks to people like Mr. Kadivar, those views now tilt increasingly against the regime: So far, he notes, two of Iran's four major seminaries have refused to endorse Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "victory."

The second paradox involves the nature of revolution itself. All political revolutions involve liberation, at least from whatever came before. But liberation is not a synonym for liberty and is often antithetical to it. In 1979, Iran was "liberated" from the Shah's oppressive rule, but it did not gain any measure of liberty. Thirty years on, what the demonstrators in Tehran's streets seek is to join the liberationist impulses of the regime's founding with the liberal aspirations of the revolution's children.

Whether they'll succeed will depend partly on their willingness to continue their protests -- possibly through crippling work stoppages -- but mostly on the willingness of the regime to enforce its will. Mr. Kadivar is convinced a large segment of the regime's all-important Revolutionary Guards side with the demonstrators. But they have their own perquisites to look after, and liberal revolutionaries are often crippled by their own innate distaste of violence.

Which makes it all the more essential that a regime that has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of its people not recover it through international recognition. Mr. Kadivar praises President Obama's "no meddling" stance so far, but insists the president not recognize Mr. Ahmadinejad's government once its second term officially begins in August. He shouldn't hold his breath. As for the green revolutionaries, they will soon find out what consolation, or strength, they draw from knowing God is on their side, with or without America.
23533  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton on: June 23, 2009, 08:36:41 AM
"[T]he Constitution ought to be the standard of construction for the laws, and that wherever there is an evident opposition, the laws ought to give place to the Constitution. But this doctrine is not deducible from any circumstance peculiar to the plan of convention, but from the general theory of a limited Constitution."

--Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 81, 1788
23534  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: June 23, 2009, 08:34:53 AM
Nice piece Rachel-- though the curmudgeon in me notes IIRC that the man the young in Teheran are supporting was a key founder in the nuke program which may well be intended to wipe out Israel.

Anyway, enjoy your vacation, we look forward to your return.

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

By Tzvi Freeman
The history of humankind is not about the rise and fall of empires, their wars and their conquests. It is about a different sort of war, a singular one: The battle over whether the Creator of this place belongs here or in some heaven above.

That is the battle each one of us fights, and that is the story of all humanity's journey. And that is all that really matters. For that is all there is to any human being.
23535  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Palo Canario on: June 23, 2009, 01:31:23 AM
Claro que si'.  Lo buscare' en buena resolucion.

Las tres proximas semanas seran dificiles.  Parece que Cindy estara' escogida para "jury duty" (los 12 personas quienes deciden inocente o culpable) en un caso de invasion de casa y matanza-- por lo cual yo estare' responsables para nuestros hijos.
23536  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm): The Running Dog Game on: June 23, 2009, 01:21:20 AM
http://maxiitheblindwatchmaker.blogspot.com/2009/06/kali-tudo-2-tm-running-game-vs-guard.html
23537  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Team Kali Tudo on: June 23, 2009, 12:41:35 AM
I too am enjoying this class greatly.  Its nice to see people moving forward briskly.  cool

SS: Poi,  I forgot to mention today that Kevin sends his apologies for not making it.
====================

Today we deepened our understanding of the "half carrot dodger dracula".  As we began drilling briskly with gloves, it became apparent that we needed to clean up the precision of our silat elbows, so the middle section of the class when to some KT clinch work and the combination which we use to teach the movements.  Having cleaned the movement up, we brought it back to "half carrot dodger-dracula" and all reported feeling pleased at the greater and safer efficiency of the attack developed by the clinch training patterns.  As a teacher I felt very , , , crafty.
23538  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Second today from Stratfor on: June 23, 2009, 12:18:04 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Iran's Battles on the Streets and Behind the Scenes
June 22, 2009
Over the past 72 hours, the city of Tehran has become a glass house. The windows are a bit dirty due to media censorship, but through Web sites like YouTube and Twitter — and simply by word of mouth — the world has gotten a decent glimpse of threats to the Islamic Republic being met with an iron fist.

Most of the Western media coverage of the demonstrations in Tehran has been emotion-driven and focused on a segment of the Iranian population — dominated by educated, young urban elites — that has dared to cross a line by shouting “death to the dictator” against the president and supreme leader, and in calling for a Green Revolution to bring down the system established by the Islamic Revolution. This somewhat distorted coverage not only fails to seriously consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s significant and legitimate popularity in the country, but also spreads a perception that a mass revolution has taken root. However, evidence points to the contrary.

A good measure of a revolution is its response to repression. As the weekend progressed, the state’s tools of repression were put to work, and the demonstrations dwindled in size. Just as important, the people protesting on Sunday were from the same social group as those protesting from the beginning. In other words, the bazaar merchants, the socially and religiously conservative lower classes, the labor groups and others lacked a reason for or interest in joining a movement of urban youths.

The world may not be witnessing an overnight revolution, but there is no doubt that the regime is greatly unnerved by the demonstrations. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an ultimatum at Friday prayers, calling for protesters to end the demonstrations and accept Ahmadinejad as president. That demand was openly defied and only increased the protesters’ fervor. In the longer term, it will become increasingly difficult for the regime to keep a lid on this dissent, but the state has all the tools it needs to put down such uprisings for now.

What is far more concerning for Khamenei is what is happening behind the scenes, among the clerical and military elite. Ahmadinejad has been the catalyst for a political brawl among highly influential figures in the clerical establishment, including Assembly of Experts Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani. These prominent politicians and clerics, among others who hail from the holy city of Qom, view Ahmadinejad — a non-clerical, firebrand president who happens to have the backing of the supreme leader — as a major threat not only to their own political careers, but also to the unity and power of the wealthy clerical establishment.

Each of these figures has battled Ahmadinejad in his own way: Mir Hossein Mousavi, a member of the Expediency Council, has had (relatively speaking) the least to lose as a branded reformist, and therefore put a lot on the line by assuming leadership of the demonstrations on Saturday. Now, Mousavi is nowhere to be found. Rafsanjani has stayed out of sight, but has been extremely active in pressuring Khamenei and using as leverage his position in the Assembly of Experts — an institution that has the power to dismiss the supreme leader. Larijani has moved much more carefully. With visible reluctance, he sat next to Ahmadinejad during last Friday’s sermon, in a demonstration of solidarity requested by the supreme leader himself. However, he has not backed down from demanding probes into violence committed by Basij militiamen against protesters, and on Sunday, he accused the Guardians Council outright of being biased toward Ahmadinejad in this election. Meanwhile, senior cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (who long was expected to be the successor to Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) has been trying to energize demonstrators and is rumored to be calling for a national strike.

This power struggle also appears to be nipping at the non-clerical security establishment. Figures like defeated presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie — who was head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for 16 years — and Yayha Rahim Safavi, who commanded the IRGC for 10 years and is now military adviser to Khamenei, are staunch opponents of Ahmadinejad. Given their tenures, they also wield a great deal of influence among those whose duty it is to defend the Islamic Republic. STRATFOR is also getting some indications that fissures are emerging within the military over the election fallout, though the degree of the tension remains unclear.

Altogether, this battle — taking place far from the world of Twitter — is the more immediate threat to Iran’s stability. The level of infighting in the regime’s upper levels is unprecedented and represents a litmus test for a supreme leader who, for two decades, has attempted to rule by consensus among the clerics and military elite. Ahmadinejad looks to have shaken things up more than Khamenei anticipated, and there is no guarantee that Khamenei’s clout will be enough to subdue this growing anti-Ahmadinejad coalition.

Things are looking rocky for the supreme leader, but political warfare among elites is not unique to Iran by any means. Such infighting is part and parcel of any politically competitive environment. Still, the Islamic Republic has never witnessed such deep schisms in the institutions that are designed to safeguard the Islamic Revolution. Khamenei has made a conscious choice in defending Ahmadinejad, but the price of that choice is creeping upward by the day.
23539  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: June 22, 2009, 04:16:09 PM
By George Friedman

Related Link
The Geopolitics of Iran: Holding the Center of a Mountain Fortress
Related Special Topic Page
Ongoing Coverage and Updates
Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.

Revolutions fail when no one joins the initial segment, meaning the initial demonstrators are the ones who find themselves socially isolated. When the demonstrations do not spread to other cities, the demonstrations either peter out or the regime brings in the security and military forces — who remain loyal to the regime and frequently personally hostile to the demonstrators — and use force to suppress the rising to the extent necessary. This is what happened in Tiananmen Square in China: The students who rose up were not joined by others. Military forces who were not only loyal to the regime but hostile to the students were brought in, and the students were crushed.

A Question of Support
This is also what happened in Iran this week. The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators — who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents — failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people demonstrating. Amid the breathless reporting on the demonstrations, reporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones. The media thus did not recognize these as the signs of a failing revolution.

Later, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke Friday and called out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, they failed to understand that the troops — definitely not drawn from what we might call the “Twittering classes,” would remain loyal to the regime for ideological and social reasons. The troops had about as much sympathy for the demonstrators as a small-town boy from Alabama might have for a Harvard postdoc. Failing to understand the social tensions in Iran, the reporters deluded themselves into thinking they were witnessing a general uprising. But this was not St. Petersburg in 1917 or Bucharest in 1989 — it was Tiananmen Square.

In the global discussion last week outside Iran, there was a great deal of confusion about basic facts. For example, it is said that the urban-rural distinction in Iran is not critical any longer because according to the United Nations, 68 percent of Iranians are urbanized. This is an important point because it implies Iran is homogeneous and the demonstrators representative of the country. The problem is the Iranian definition of urban — and this is quite common around the world — includes very small communities (some with only a few thousand people) as “urban.” But the social difference between someone living in a town with 10,000 people and someone living in Tehran is the difference between someone living in Bastrop, Texas and someone living in New York. We can assure you that that difference is not only vast, but that most of the good people of Bastrop and the fine people of New York would probably not see the world the same way. The failure to understand the dramatic diversity of Iranian society led observers to assume that students at Iran’s elite university somehow spoke for the rest of the country.

Tehran proper has about 8 million inhabitants; its suburbs bring it to about 13 million people out of Iran’s total population of 70.5 million. Tehran accounts for about 20 percent of Iran, but as we know, the cab driver and the construction worker are not socially linked to students at elite universities. There are six cities with populations between 1 million and 2.4 million people and 11 with populations of about 500,000. Including Tehran proper, 15.5 million people live in cities with more than 1 million and 19.7 million in cities greater than 500,000. Iran has 80 cities with more than 100,000. But given that Waco, Texas, has more than 100,000 people, inferences of social similarities between cities with 100,000 and 5 million are tenuous. And with metro Oklahoma City having more than a million people, it becomes plain that urbanization has many faces.

Winning the Election With or Without Fraud
We continue to believe two things: that vote fraud occurred, and that Ahmadinejad likely would have won without it. Very little direct evidence has emerged to establish vote fraud, but several things seem suspect.

For example, the speed of the vote count has been taken as a sign of fraud, as it should have been impossible to count votes that fast. The polls originally were to have closed at 7 p.m. local time, but voting hours were extended until 10 p.m. because of the number of voters in line. By 11:45 p.m. about 20 percent of the vote had been counted. By 5:20 a.m. the next day, with almost all votes counted, the election commission declared Ahmadinejad the winner. The vote count thus took about seven hours. (Remember there were no senators, congressmen, city council members or school board members being counted — just the presidential race.) Intriguingly, this is about the same time in took in 2005, though reformists that claimed fraud back then did not stress the counting time in their allegations.

The counting mechanism is simple: Iran has 47,000 voting stations, plus 14,000 roaming stations that travel from tiny village to tiny village, staying there for a short time before moving on. That creates 61,000 ballot boxes designed to receive roughly the same number of votes. That would mean that each station would have been counting about 500 ballots, or about 70 votes per hour. With counting beginning at 10 p.m., concluding seven hours later does not necessarily indicate fraud or anything else. The Iranian presidential election system is designed for simplicity: one race to count in one time zone, and all counting beginning at the same time in all regions, we would expect the numbers to come in a somewhat linear fashion as rural and urban voting patterns would balance each other out — explaining why voting percentages didn’t change much during the night.

It has been pointed out that some of the candidates didn’t even carry their own provinces or districts. We remember that Al Gore didn’t carry Tennessee in 2000. We also remember Ralph Nader, who also didn’t carry his home precinct in part because people didn’t want to spend their vote on someone unlikely to win — an effect probably felt by the two smaller candidates in the Iranian election.

That Mousavi didn’t carry his own province is more interesting. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett writing in Politico make some interesting points on this. As an ethnic Azeri, it was assumed that Mousavi would carry his Azeri-named and -dominated home province. But they also point out that Ahmadinejad also speaks Azeri, and made multiple campaign appearances in the district. They also point out that Khamenei is Azeri. In sum, winning that district was by no means certain for Mousavi, so losing it does not automatically signal fraud. It raised suspicions, but by no means was a smoking gun.

We do not doubt that fraud occurred during Iranian election. For example, 99.4 percent of potential voters voted in Mazandaran province, a mostly secular area home to the shah’s family. Ahmadinejad carried the province by a 2.2 to 1 ratio. That is one heck of a turnout and level of support for a province that lost everything when the mullahs took over 30 years ago. But even if you take all of the suspect cases and added them together, it would not have changed the outcome. The fact is that Ahmadinejad’s vote in 2009 was extremely close to his victory percentage in 2005. And while the Western media portrayed Ahmadinejad’s performance in the presidential debates ahead of the election as dismal, embarrassing and indicative of an imminent electoral defeat, many Iranians who viewed those debates — including some of the most hardcore Mousavi supporters — acknowledge that Ahmadinejad outperformed his opponents by a landslide.

Mousavi persuasively detailed his fraud claims Sunday, and they have yet to be rebutted. But if his claims of the extent of fraud were true, the protests should have spread rapidly by social segment and geography to the millions of people who even the central government asserts voted for him. Certainly, Mousavi supporters believed they would win the election based in part on highly flawed polls, and when they didn’t, they assumed they were robbed and took to the streets.

But critically, the protesters were not joined by any of the millions whose votes the protesters alleged were stolen. In a complete hijacking of the election by some 13 million votes by an extremely unpopular candidate, we would have expected to see the core of Mousavi’s supporters joined by others who had been disenfranchised. On last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the demonstrations were at their height, the millions of Mousavi voters should have made their appearance. They didn’t. We might assume that the security apparatus intimidated some, but surely more than just the Tehran professional and student classes posses civic courage. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

Tensions Among the Political Elite
All of this not to say there are not tremendous tensions within the Iranian political elite. That no revolution broke out does not mean there isn’t a crisis in the political elite, particularly among the clerics. But that crisis does not cut the way Western common sense would have it. Many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues.

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.

The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime.

Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution. The two main factions used the third smaller faction in various ways, however. Ahmadinejad used it to make his case that the clerics who supported them, like Rafsanjani, would risk the revolution and play into the hands of the Americans and British to protect their own wealth. Meanwhile, Rafsanjani argued behind the scenes that the unrest was the tip of the iceberg, and that Ahmadinejad had to be replaced. Khamenei, an astute politician, examined the data and supported Ahmadinejad.

Now, as we saw after Tiananmen Square, we will see a reshuffling among the elite. Those who backed Mousavi will be on the defensive. By contrast, those who supported Ahmadinejad are in a powerful position. There is a massive crisis in the elite, but this crisis has nothing to do with liberalization: It has to do with power and prerogatives among the elite. Having been forced by the election and Khamenei to live with Ahmadinejad, some will make deals while some will fight — but Ahmadinejad is well-positioned to win this battle.
23540  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Man bites dog!!! on: June 22, 2009, 04:01:17 PM

Sarkozy says burqas are 'not welcome' in France

1 hr 25 mins ago
PARIS – President Nicolas Sarkozy said the Muslim burqa would not be welcome in France, calling the full-body religious gown a sign of the "debasement" of women.

In the first presidential address to parliament in 136 years, Sarkozy faced critics who fear the burqa issue could stigmatize France's Muslims and said he supported banning the garment from being worn in public.

"In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity," Sarkozy said to extended applause at the Chateau of Versailles, southwest of Paris.
"The burqa is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement — I want to say it solemnly," he said. "It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic."

Dozens of legislators have called for creating a commission to study a possible ban in France, where there is a small but growing trend of wearing the full-body garment despite a 2004 law forbidding it from being worn in public schools.  France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population, an estimated 5 million people, and the 2004 law sparked fierce debate both at home and abroad.  Even the French government has been divided over the issue, with Immigration Minister Eric Besson saying a full ban would only "create tensions," while junior minister for human rights Rama Yade said she was open to a ban if it was aimed at protecting women forced to wear the burqa.

The terms "burqa" and "niqab" often are used interchangeably in France. The former refers to a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan with only a mesh screen over the eyes, whereas the latter is a full-body veil, often in black, with slits for the eyes.
A leading French Muslim group, the French Council for the Muslim Religion, has warned against studying the burqa, saying it would "stigmatize" Muslims.

Sarkozy was due to host a state dinner Monday with Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani of Qatar, where women wear Islamic head coverings in public — whether while shopping or driving cars.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090622/...arkozy_burqa_3
23541  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The desk story on: June 22, 2009, 03:52:52 PM
A Good Teacher

A lesson that should be taught in all schools . . And colleges
 
Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School inLittle Rock, did something not to be forgotten.
 
On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks out of her classroom.   When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.
 
'Ms. Cothren, where're our desks?'
 
She replied, 'You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.'
 
They thought, 'Well, maybe it's our grades..'
 
'No,' she said..
 
'Maybe it's our behavior.'
 
She told them, 'No, it's not even your behavior.'
 
And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom.   By early afternoon television news crews had started gathering in Ms.Cothren's classroom to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.
 
The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the deskless classroom, Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he/she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.'
 
At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it.
 
Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.
 
Martha said, 'You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it.'
 
By the way, this is a true story.


Please consider passing this along so others won't forget that the freedoms we have in this great country were earned by U. S. Veterans.
 

http://www.snopes.com/glurge/nodesks.asp

23542  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Govt health care violates 9th? on: June 22, 2009, 08:10:37 AM
By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and LEE A. CASEY
Is a government-dominated health-care system unconstitutional? A strong case can be made for that proposition, based on the same "right to privacy" that underlies such landmark Supreme Court decisions as Roe v. Wade.

The details of this year's health-care reform bill are still being hammered out. But the end result is sure to be byzantine in complexity. Washington will have immense say over how, when and through whom Americans are treated. Moreover, despite the administration's public pronouncements about painless cuts in wasteful spending, only the most credulous believe that some form of government-directed health-care rationing can be avoided as a means of controlling costs.

The Supreme Court created the right to privacy in the 1960s and used it to strike down a series of state and federal regulations of personal (mostly sexual) conduct. This line of cases began with Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 (involving marital birth control), and includes the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The court's underlying rationale was not abortion-specific. Rather, the justices posited a constitutionally mandated zone of personal privacy that must remain free of government regulation, except in the most exceptional circumstances. As the court explained in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), "these matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life."

It is, of course, difficult to imagine choices more "central to personal dignity and autonomy" than measures to be taken for the prevention and treatment of disease -- measures that may be essential to preserve or extend life itself. Indeed, when the overwhelming moral issues that surround the abortion question are stripped away, what is left is a medical procedure determined to be "necessary" by an expectant mother and her physician.

If the government cannot proscribe -- or even "unduly burden," to use another of the Supreme Court's analytical frameworks -- access to abortion, how can it proscribe access to other medical procedures, including transplants, corrective or restorative surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, or a myriad of other health services that individuals may need or desire?

This type of "burden" analysis will be especially problematic for a national health system because, in the health area, proper care often depends upon an individual's unique physical and even genetic history and characteristics. One size clearly does not fit all, but that is the very essence of governmental regulation -- to impose a regularity (if not uniformity) in the application of governmental power and the dispersal of its largess. Taking key decisions away from patient and physician, or otherwise limiting their available choices, will render any new system constitutionally vulnerable.

It is true, of course, that forms of rationing already exist in our current system. No one who has experienced the marked reluctance to treat aggressively lethal illnesses in the elderly can doubt that. However, what may be permissible for private actors -- including doctors and insurance companies -- is not necessarily lawful when done by the government.

Obviously, the government does not have to pay for any and all services individual citizens may desire. And simply refusing to approve a procedure or treatment under applicable reimbursement rules, as under the government-run Medicare and Medicaid, does not make the system unconstitutional. But if over time, as many critics fear, a "public option" health insurance plan turns into what amounts to a single-payer system, the constitutional issues regarding treatment and reimbursement decisions will be manifold.

The same will be true of a quasi-private system where the government claims a large role in defining acceptable health-insurance coverage and treatments. There will be all sorts of "undue burdens" on the rights of patients to receive the care they may want. Then the litigation will begin.

Anyone who imagines that Congress can simply avoid the constitutional issues -- and lawsuits -- by withdrawing federal court jurisdiction over the new health system must think again. A brief review of the Supreme Court's recent war-on-terror decisions, brought by or on behalf of detained enemy combatants, will disabuse that notion. This area of governmental authority was once nearly immune from judicial intervention. Over the past five years, however, the Supreme Court (supposedly the nonpolitical branch) has unapologetically transformed itself into a full-fledged, policy-making partner with the president and Congress.

In the process, the justices blew past specific congressional efforts to limit their jurisdiction and involvement like a hot rod in the desert. Questions of basic constitutionality (however the court may define them) cannot now be shielded from judicial review.

It is, of course, impossible to predict how and when the courts will ultimately rule on the new health system. Much depends on the details and the extent to which reasonable and practical private alternatives to the national plan remain. In crafting the law, however, its White House and congressional sponsors must keep privacy -- that near absolute right to personal autonomy they have so often praised and promoted -- squarely before them. The only thing that is certain today is that the courts, and not Congress, will have the last word.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey worked in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
23543  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Is it Constitutional? on: June 22, 2009, 08:09:57 AM
By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and LEE A. CASEY
Is a government-dominated health-care system unconstitutional? A strong case can be made for that proposition, based on the same "right to privacy" that underlies such landmark Supreme Court decisions as Roe v. Wade.

The details of this year's health-care reform bill are still being hammered out. But the end result is sure to be byzantine in complexity. Washington will have immense say over how, when and through whom Americans are treated. Moreover, despite the administration's public pronouncements about painless cuts in wasteful spending, only the most credulous believe that some form of government-directed health-care rationing can be avoided as a means of controlling costs.

The Supreme Court created the right to privacy in the 1960s and used it to strike down a series of state and federal regulations of personal (mostly sexual) conduct. This line of cases began with Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 (involving marital birth control), and includes the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The court's underlying rationale was not abortion-specific. Rather, the justices posited a constitutionally mandated zone of personal privacy that must remain free of government regulation, except in the most exceptional circumstances. As the court explained in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), "these matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life."

It is, of course, difficult to imagine choices more "central to personal dignity and autonomy" than measures to be taken for the prevention and treatment of disease -- measures that may be essential to preserve or extend life itself. Indeed, when the overwhelming moral issues that surround the abortion question are stripped away, what is left is a medical procedure determined to be "necessary" by an expectant mother and her physician.

If the government cannot proscribe -- or even "unduly burden," to use another of the Supreme Court's analytical frameworks -- access to abortion, how can it proscribe access to other medical procedures, including transplants, corrective or restorative surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, or a myriad of other health services that individuals may need or desire?

This type of "burden" analysis will be especially problematic for a national health system because, in the health area, proper care often depends upon an individual's unique physical and even genetic history and characteristics. One size clearly does not fit all, but that is the very essence of governmental regulation -- to impose a regularity (if not uniformity) in the application of governmental power and the dispersal of its largess. Taking key decisions away from patient and physician, or otherwise limiting their available choices, will render any new system constitutionally vulnerable.

It is true, of course, that forms of rationing already exist in our current system. No one who has experienced the marked reluctance to treat aggressively lethal illnesses in the elderly can doubt that. However, what may be permissible for private actors -- including doctors and insurance companies -- is not necessarily lawful when done by the government.

Obviously, the government does not have to pay for any and all services individual citizens may desire. And simply refusing to approve a procedure or treatment under applicable reimbursement rules, as under the government-run Medicare and Medicaid, does not make the system unconstitutional. But if over time, as many critics fear, a "public option" health insurance plan turns into what amounts to a single-payer system, the constitutional issues regarding treatment and reimbursement decisions will be manifold.

The same will be true of a quasi-private system where the government claims a large role in defining acceptable health-insurance coverage and treatments. There will be all sorts of "undue burdens" on the rights of patients to receive the care they may want. Then the litigation will begin.

Anyone who imagines that Congress can simply avoid the constitutional issues -- and lawsuits -- by withdrawing federal court jurisdiction over the new health system must think again. A brief review of the Supreme Court's recent war-on-terror decisions, brought by or on behalf of detained enemy combatants, will disabuse that notion. This area of governmental authority was once nearly immune from judicial intervention. Over the past five years, however, the Supreme Court (supposedly the nonpolitical branch) has unapologetically transformed itself into a full-fledged, policy-making partner with the president and Congress.

In the process, the justices blew past specific congressional efforts to limit their jurisdiction and involvement like a hot rod in the desert. Questions of basic constitutionality (however the court may define them) cannot now be shielded from judicial review.

It is, of course, impossible to predict how and when the courts will ultimately rule on the new health system. Much depends on the details and the extent to which reasonable and practical private alternatives to the national plan remain. In crafting the law, however, its White House and congressional sponsors must keep privacy -- that near absolute right to personal autonomy they have so often praised and promoted -- squarely before them. The only thing that is certain today is that the courts, and not Congress, will have the last word.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey worked in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
23544  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wilson on: June 22, 2009, 07:42:22 AM
"The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it."

--James Wilson, Of the Study of Law in the United States, Circa, 1790
23545  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Afghan fight shows challenge for US troops on: June 21, 2009, 11:02:55 PM
Afghan fight shows challenge for U.S. troops
Bloody summer in forecast as Washington tries to turn around the war
The Associated Press
updated 11:44 a.m. PT, Sun., June 21, 2009


NOW ZAD, Afghanistan - Missiles, machine guns and strafing runs from fighter jets destroyed much of a Taliban compound, but the insurgents had a final surprise for a pair of U.S. Marines who pushed into the smoldering building just before nightfall.

As the two men walked up an alley, the Taliban opened fire from less than 15 yards, sending bullets and tracer fire crackling inches past them. They fled under covering fire from their comrades, who hurled grenades at the enemy position before sprinting to their armored vehicles.

The assault capped a day of fighting Saturday in the poppy fields, orchards and walled compounds of southern Afghanistan between newly arrived U.S. Marines and well dug-in Taliban fighters. It was a foretaste of what will likely be a bloody summer as Washington tries to turn around a bogged-down, eight-year-old war with a surge of 21,000 troops.

"This was the first time we pushed this far. I guess they don't like us coming into their back door," said Staff Sgt. Luke Medlin, who was sweeping the alley for booby traps as Marine Gunner John Daly covered him from behind when the Taliban struck.

"And now they know we will be back," said Medlin, from Richmond, Ind.

Symbol of what went wrong
The fighting was on the outskirts of Now Zad, a town that in many ways symbolizes what went wrong in Afghanistan and the enormous challenges facing the United States. It is in Helmand province, a center of the insurgency and the opium poppy trade that helps fund it.

Like much of Afghanistan, Now Zad and the surrounding area were largely peaceful after the 2001 invasion. The United Nations and other Western-funded agencies sent staff to build wells and health clinics.

But in 2006 — with American attention focused on Iraq — the insurgency stepped up in the south. Almost all the city's 35,000 people fled, along with the aid workers.

British and Estonian troops, then garrisoned in Now Zad, were unable to defeat the insurgents. They were replaced last year by a small company of about 300 U.S. Marines, who live in a base in the center of the deserted town and on two hills overlooking it.

The Taliban hold much of the northern outskirts and the orchards beyond, where they have entrenched defensive positions, tunnels and bunkers.

The Marines outnumber the Taliban in the area by at least 3-to-1 and have vastly superior weapons but avoid offensive operations because they lack the manpower to hold territory once they take it. There are no Afghan police or troops here to help.

"We don't have the people to backfill us. Why clear something that we cannot hold?" said Lt. Col. Patrick Cashman, head of the battalion in charge of Now Zad and other districts in Helmand and Farah provinces, where some 10,000 Marines are slowly spreading out in the first wave of the troop surge.

'A bad situation'
Cashman said the Marines did not intend to allow the Taliban free rein in parts of Now Zad, but was unable to give any specific plans or time frame for addressing what he acknowledged is "a bad situation."


Saturday's mission was aimed at gathering intelligence and drawing a response from enemy positions close to a street called "Pakistani alley" because of one-time reports suggesting fighters from across the border had dug in there.

"We're bait," one Marine said as the convoy of five vehicles left the base at 8 a.m. and trundled north.

It quickly came across a roadside bomb — the kind which killed a member of the company on June 6 and has wounded at least seven others in the four weeks since the company has been stationed here. An engineer was dispatched and came back an hour later carrying the parts of the bomb — two 82mm mortar shells attached to a pressure plate.


Heading to inspect suspected tunnel
The vehicles were heading to inspect a suspected tunnel when the Taliban struck, firing mortars that landed close by. Machine gunners atop the vehicles and troops in an open-sided truck scanned the scene for plumes from weapons fire.

"We're taking fire from both sides here!" Lance Cpl. James Yon yelled.

"Hit 'em Yon!" came the call from below.

Hours of exchanges followed, with the Taliban opening fire with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, machine-gun fire and rockets from the orchards or inside walled compounds.

A mortar punctured the tire of a Humvee; a grenade swooshed just over a troop truck.

"That was close," Daly said. "If they were a better shot, we'd be canceling Christmas."

Each time the insurgents attacked, the Marines returned fire if they could spot their foes or radioed in coordinates for air strikes.

"Bombs are away," a voice crackled over the radio as Dutch fighter jets dropped laser-guided bombs on a compound, sending clouds of dust mushrooming into the air. The planes then strafed the position, leaving a line of fire and destruction 50 yards long. Other times mortar teams back at the base in Now Zad pummeled enemy positions.

Final close call
The Marines left their vehicles twice. Each time, they came under attack as they entered maze-like, high-walled compounds with ill-fitting, aging wooden doors and small windows, ideal for sniper positions.

In the late afternoon, U.S. forces fired two missiles from 55 miles away to hit a compound being used by the attackers. Minutes later, Marine Harrier jets strafed the compound, setting fire to a wheat field outside it but sparing a poppy patch — an irony not lost on the troops.

The Marines got their final close call as they assessed the compound for damage.

After blowing a hole through the wall, Medlin and Daly were met by a hail of bullets as they pressed up an alley.

"Gunner, are you good? You need to come back!" one Marine shouted into the gathering gloom. "I'll cover you!"

The two man leapt to safety. Daly sprained his ankle as he leapt from a wall, but that was the only Marine injury.

Twenty minutes after the troops withdrew, two Cobra helicopters fired a Hellfire missile that streaked at a 45-degree angle across the night sky into the building, then bombed and strafed it, igniting a blaze.


"Payback time," one Marine muttered in the dark of a truck; cheers erupted in another vehicle.

There were no confirmed Taliban casualties, but observers later spotted a funeral, and video images suggested others were killed in the aerial attacks.

Capt. Zachary Martin said such sustained contact sent the militants a message that they were not safe anywhere and bought the Marines — and the few civilians in the area — some "security space."

"We kicked the snot out of these guys," he told the Marines on their return to base, some 14 hours after they left.

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

June 22, 2009

With a Plan and a Rope, Captives Escaped Taliban

By ADAM B. ELLICK
KABUL, Afghanistan


An Afghan journalist who was held captive by the Taliban for more than seven months along with a New York Times reporter revealed details on Sunday of a nighttime escape that included weeks of careful plotting, taking advantage of weary guards and dropping down a 20-foot wall with a rope.

The Afghan journalist, Tahir Ludin, 35, said in an interview that the escape early Saturday from the second floor of a Taliban compound in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, was a desperate attempt by two severely demoralized reporters who believed that the Taliban were not seriously negotiating and would hold them indefinitely.

Mr. Ludin and David Rohde, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The Times, along with their driver, Asadullah Mangal, were abducted outside Kabul on Nov. 10 as Mr. Rohde traveled to interview a Taliban commander for a book he was writing about Afghanistan.

Mr. Ludin said that he and Mr. Rohde had been threatened with death by their captors. The past two to three months were so “hopeless,” Mr. Ludin said, that he considered committing suicide with a large knife. Mr. Rohde, who was reuniting with his family on Sunday, confirmed the accuracy of Mr. Ludin’s account but declined to comment further.

The three men were abducted on a road just a few minutes from where they planned to meet the Taliban commander, known as Abu Tayeb, in Logar Province, southeast of Kabul.

Mr. Ludin had previously escorted two other foreign journalists to safe interviews with the commander, and during those meetings the two established a degree of trust. Mr. Ludin said Mr. Tayeb had betrayed that trust by directly orchestrating the kidnapping.

The reporters and the driver were shuttled to various houses in Pakistan’s tribal areas while they were imprisoned, Mr. Ludin said.

As their captivity dragged on, he said, he and Mr. Rohde began plotting their escape by surveying the compound and its surroundings.

Once, Mr. Ludin said, he faked illness to visit a doctor outside the complex. Other times he asked his captors if he could watch local cricket matches — a sport he pretended to adore — so that he could study potential escape routes.

Still, it seemed impossible to escape from a town controlled by Taliban and foreign militants.

On Friday evening, in a planned bid to keep their captors awake as late as possible to ensure that the men would eventually sleep soundly, Mr. Ludin challenged the militants who slept beside them in the same room to a local board game.

When at last the games ended at midnight, the journalists waited for the militants to fall asleep.

At 1 a.m., Mr. Rohde woke Mr. Ludin and sneaked out of the room. Mr. Ludin recited several verses of the Koran and followed him. They made their way to the second floor, and Mr. Ludin got to the top of a five-foot-high wall.

When Mr. Ludin looked down, he said, he was greeted by an unnerving view: a 20-foot drop.

Mr. Rohde handed Mr. Ludin a rope that he had found two weeks earlier and had hidden from the guards. They fastened the rope to the wall, and Mr. Ludin lowered himself along the rope before unclenching his fists for good.

He crashed to the ground, leaving him with a sprained right foot and other injuries. He cut his foot, he said, pointing to his swollen and heavily bruised ankle and his bandaged big toe.

Mr. Rohde then lowered himself along the wall and jumped down without injury, Mr. Ludin said.

When asked why their captives did not hear the thump of their impact with the ground, Mr. Ludin said they waited to make the escape attempt on a night when the city had electrical power. At night, an old, noisy air-conditioner that ran masked the sound.

As the two men walked away, dogs barked at them from nearby compounds. At one point, barking stray dogs rushed at them in the darkness. To their surprise, no Taliban members emerged from nearby houses.

After 15 minutes, Mr. Ludin said, they arrived at a Pakistani militia post that he had spotted during one of his daytime trips outside the house. In the darkness, a half-dozen guards who suspected they were suicide bombers aimed rifles at them and shouted for them to raise their hands and not move.

“They said, ‘If you move, we are going to shoot you,’ ” he said.

Mr. Ludin said he was shivering in the darkness, and it took 15 minutes of anxious conversation to convince the guards that he had been kidnapped along with an American journalist — who hardly looked the part, with his long beard and Islamic attire.

The men were eventually allowed in the compound, ordered to take off their shirts, searched, blindfolded and taken to the base’s headquarters. After Pakistani officials confirmed their identities, they were treated well. Later that day, they were transferred to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and to an American military base outside Kabul.

While telling his story, Mr. Ludin showed flashes of his exuberant personality, as when he waved his arms and proclaimed “the food was excellent,” or when he joked about the gray hairs he had grown since his abduction. He spoke with his seven children gathered around him.

But more often than not, Mr. Ludin spoke in a burst of sentences and alluded several times to being in a confused mental state. On three occasions, he mistakenly referred to a visiting journalist as “David.”

Mr. Ludin said the driver, Mr. Mangal, appeared to be overwhelmed by fear of his captors and had not participated in the planning or the escape.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/22/wo...2tahir.html?hp
23546  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: toronto dbma training camp featuring Crafty Dog, Top Dog and Sled Dog Aug 21-23 on: June 21, 2009, 10:57:54 PM
@ Jeff:  Awesome you will be there  cool

@ Rene:  Still waiting for that info so I can post it on our Seminar page.
23547  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Team Kali Tudo on: June 20, 2009, 09:10:20 AM
Looking forward to a rocking good time on Monday!
23548  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North Korea on: June 20, 2009, 09:09:00 AM
Fox News.com - 19 June 2009

The U.S. military is preparing for a possible intercept of a North Korean flagged ship suspected of proliferating weapons material in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution passed last Friday, FOX News has learned.

The USS John McCain, a Navy destroyer, is positioning itself in case it gets orders to intercept the ship Kang Nam as soon as it leaves the vicinity off the coast of China, according to a senior U.S. defense official. The order to inderdict has not been given yet, but the ship is moving into the area.

"Permission has not been requested. Nor is it clear it will be," a military source told FOX News. "This is a very delicate situation and no one is interested in precipitating a confrontation."

The ship left a port in North Korea Wednesday and appears to be heading toward Singapore, according to a senior U.S. military source. The vessel, which the military has been tracking since its departure, could be carrying weaponry, missile parts or nuclear materials, a violation of U.N. Resolution 1874, which put sanctions in place against Pyongyang.

The USS McCain was involved in an incident with a Chinese sub last Friday - near Subic Bay off the Philippines. The Chinese sub was shadowing the destroyer when it hit the underwater sonar array that the USS McCain was towing behind it.

This is the first suspected "proliferator" that the U.S. and its allies have tracked from North Korea since the United Nations authorized the world's navies to enforce compliance with a variety of U.N. sanctions aimed at punishing North Korea for its recent nuclear test.

The ship is currently along the coast of China and being monitored around-the-clock by air.

The apparent violation raises the question of how the United States and its allies will respond, particularly since the U.N. resolution does not have a lot of teeth to it.

The resolution would not allow the United States to board the ship forcibly. Rather, U.S. military would have to request permission to board -- a request North Korea is unlikely to grant.

North Korea has said that any attempt to board its ships would be viewed as an act of war and promised "100- or 1,000-fold" retaliation if provoked.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that the resolution allows states to seek permission to inspect cargo.

"If permission is not granted, then the flag state, the owner of the ship, is instructed to send that ship to a port for -- for a formal inspection to be made," Kelly said, adding that he would not go into any details of any particular ship or the way inspections are conducted.

"We would hope that -- that North Korea would -- would comply with international law and -- and allow the inspection," he said.

Since the U.S. does not expect to be granted permission, it expects to be asked to interdict that it will have to shadow the ship until it runs out of fuel. At that point, the ship would likely have to be towed into the port.

The U.S. military may request that the host country not provide fuel to the ship when it enters its port. North Korean merchant ships usually need fuel as they approach Singapore and the ports of eastern India. When tipped off, Indian port authorities are stringent enforcers of UN sanctions against ships carrying contraband.

The U.S. Navy does not need to enforce the sanctions. Instead, it could "poison the host," a move that entails working behind the scenes with Indian Ocean port authorities to inspect and confiscate illegal cargos.

This move worked last year when U.S. officials reportedly warned Indian officials in advance of a North Korean transport aircraft that had requested permission to fly through Indian airspace on the way to Iran after stopping in Burma to refuel. The Indians refused to allow the aircraft to fly through their airspace. The aircraft reportedly was carrying gyroscopes for ballistic missiles.

The Kang Nam is known to be a ship that has been involved in proliferation activities in the past -- it is "a repeat offender," according to one military source. The ship was detained in October 2006 by authorities in Hong Kong after the North Koreans tested their first nuclear device and the U.N. imposed a subsequent round of sanctions.

"North Korea does not export anything other than weapons," a U.S. official told FOX News. "And this ship is presumed to be carrying something illicit given its past history."

The latest tension follows a Japanese news report that North Korea may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the military is "watching" that situation "very closely," and would have "some concerns" if North Korea launched a missile in the direction of Hawaii. But he expressed confidence in U.S. ability to handle such a launch.

Gates said he's directed the deployment of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense, a mobile missile defense system used for knocking down long- and medium-range missiles.

"The ground-based interceptors are clearly in a position to take action. So, without telegraphing what we will do, I would just say ... I think we are in a good position, should it become necessary, to protect the American territory."
23549  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Will resume after Labor Day on: June 20, 2009, 08:45:08 AM
Woof All:

I just realized I forgot to post here that my Saturday class at the Inosanto Academy is suspended for the summer and will resume after Labor Day.

TAC!
Guro Crafty
23550  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Founding Fathers as fathers on: June 20, 2009, 07:54:58 AM
By BARBARA DAFOE WHITEHEAD
Barack Obama is a doting father who says that one of the greatest pleasures of his presidency is eating dinner with his daughters on the nights when he is in town.

Some of the nation's Founding Fathers were not so lucky. Doting dads though they were, patriotic service forced them to live apart from their families for years at a time. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the three Founders who spent the most time abroad, missed milestone events. Franklin was a no-show at his daughter's wedding and his wife's funeral. Adams was in Philadelphia when his wife, Abigail, gave birth to a stillborn daughter. While in France, Jefferson received word that his 2-year-old daughter had died of whooping cough. The news came seven months after her funeral.

Trans-Atlantic separations proved too painful to bear. Whenever possible, the Founders took their children with them or sent for the children once they had established a household abroad. John Adams set off on his maiden voyage to England accompanied by his 9-year-old son, John Quincy. On a second crossing he brought along sons John Quincy and Charles. His teenage daughter, Abigail, arrived in France with her mother a few years later. Benjamin Franklin's son, William, and his two grandsons, Temple Franklin and Benny Bache, were part of the Franklin overseas ménage at various times. A new widower, Jefferson took his elder daughter, Patsy, along with him on his diplomatic mission to France and later sent for his younger daughter, Polly.

The children were not always thrilled to go. Charles Adams sobbed inconsolably as he boarded the ship with his father. Eight-year-old Polly begged her father to let her remain at home in Virginia with her beloved aunt: "I am very sorry you sent for me," she bravely wrote. "I don't want to go to France." Still she went, accompanied on the journey by a 14-year-old babysitter named Sally Hemings. Upon arrival in London, the homesick girl spent the next month in the temporary care of Abigail Adams until her father sent a French-speaking manservant to fetch her. Abigail pointedly reminded Jefferson that the experience was traumatic for the child who, once again, was faced with separation from a mother figure and sent off to live with a father she did not know.

Nor was the arrangement a piece of cake for their fathers. In addition to the all-consuming diplomatic responsibilities of winning allies and funders for the Revolution, these lone fathers had to raise Revolutionary Kids. Chief among their responsibilities was securing an elite European education for their young offspring while protecting them from the temptations and dissipations of living abroad. The Founders' children and grandchildren kept company with an aristocratic power elite, savored Continental fads and fashions, and learned to speak fluent French.

It was all too easy, their fathers worried, for the Revolutionary Kids to abandon the republican virtues of industry and frugality and, even worse, to lose their native language. "It is a mortification to me," John Adams wrote to John Quincy, "that you write better in a foreign language than in your mother tongue."

To protect their children from corrupting influences, therefore, the Founding Fathers had to part with them again. Franklin dispatched his 9-year-old grandson, Benny Bache, to school in Switzerland for five years. The Adams sons attended schools in Holland. The Jefferson daughters were placed in a convent in Paris.

Yet no matter how devoted, the Founding Fathers were not inclined, as today's parents are, to lavish their students with praise. "Good job" was not in their vocabulary. "Take care you never spell a word wrong," Jefferson admonished his younger daughter. "Remember too . . . not to go out without your bonnet because it will make you very ugly and then we should not love you so much."

Nor did the Founding Fathers leave it up to their children to "make good choices." Instead, they moralized endlessly on the perils of indolence, time-wasting and thriftlessness. Jefferson reproved Patsy: "If at any moment, my dear, you catch yourself in idleness, start from it as you would from the precipice of a gulph." John Adams lectured John Quincy, hardly a slouch of a student, to "lose no Time. There is not a moral Percept of clearer Obligation or of greater Import."

When Benny Bache asked his grandfather for a gold watch, Franklin responded tartly: "You should remember that I am at a great Expence for your education . . . and you should not tease me for things that can be of little or no Service to you."

Even the profligate Thomas Jefferson embraced the virtue of frugality. When Patsy appealed for extra money, her father refused: "The rule I wish to see you governed by is of never buying anything which you have not money in your pocket to pay for. Be assured that it gives much more pain to the mind to be in debt, than to do without any article whatever which we may seem to want."

Judged by today's psychological standards, these 18th century fathers sound harsh and unfeeling. Yet to see the Founding Fathers as flesh-and-blood dads, to glimpse their struggles to rear their children at a time of grave uncertainty and peril, is to appreciate their service and sacrifice anew. Founding a nation meant more than winning a war. It also called upon the nation's Founders to pass on the passion for freedom, educational excellence and civic virtue to their children and grandchildren.

John Adams said it best in a letter to Abigail: "The education of our children is never out of my Mind . . . Fire them with Ambition to be useful and make them disdain to be destitute of any useful or ornamental knowledge or accomplishment. Fix their Ambition upon great and solid objects."

Ms. Whitehead is director of the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values and co-editor of "Franklin's Thrift: The Lost History of a American Virtue," just published by Templeton Press
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