DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Amazing grace
on: July 16, 2010, 03:39:22 AM
THE CONSIDERATE BAGPIPER
As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a
grave side service for a homeless man.
He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery
in the Kentucky back-country.
As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost; and being a typical man
I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy
had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.
There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly
and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked
down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.
The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and
soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.
And as I played 'Amazing Grace,' the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all
wept together. When I finished I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car.
Though my head hung low my heart was full.
As I was opening the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen nothin'
like that before and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed
on: July 16, 2010, 03:35:48 AM
My understanding is that GH. Bush always thought Jeb would be the more likely to achieve the presidency and was surprised when it turned out to be GW. I don't know that much about Jeb, but the little I know does not suggest that he would be the forceful leader committed to rolling back of the Feds to traditional proportions that we need.
The Pawlenty piece is pretty good. The one time I caught him for a substantial piece of air time he struck me as , , , OK, lacking in fire-in-the-belly as so many Republicans are. Still, the construction of this piece suggests that he is getting "the storyline" for his campaign in order.
I gather Newt is once again making serious noises. Truly a tragedy IMHO that Fred Thompson muddied the waters in a way that kept him out last time. I'd love to see what he could bring at this point in time, or whether he has lost his edge with too much punditry.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / 10 Ways We Are Being Tracked
on: July 15, 2010, 09:58:05 AM
Saturday, July 10, 2010
10 Ways We Are Being Tracked, Traced, and Databased
Are technological advances infringing on our right to privacy?
The war on terror is a worldwide endeavor that has spurred massive investment into the global surveillance industry - which now seems to be becoming a war on "liberty and privacy." Given all of the new monitoring technology being implemented, the uproar over warrantless wiretaps now seems moot. High-tech, first-world countries are being tracked, traced, and databased, literally around every corner. Governments, aided by private companies, are gathering a mountain of information on average citizens who so far seem willing to trade liberty for supposed security. Here are just some of the ways the matrix of data is being collected:
GPS -- Global positioning chips are now appearing in everything from U.S. passports, cell phones, to cars. More common uses include tracking employees, and for all forms of private investigation. Apple recently announced they are collecting the precise location of iPhone users via GPS for public viewing in addition to spying on users in other ways.
Internet -- Internet browsers are recording your every move forming detailed cookies on your activities. The NSA has been exposed as having cookies on their site that don't expire until 2035. Major search engines know where you surfed last summer, and online purchases are databased, supposedly for advertising and customer service uses. IP addresses are collected and even made public. Controversial websites can be flagged internally by government sites, as well as re-routing all traffic to block sites the government wants to censor. It has now been fully admitted that social networks provide NO privacy to users, while technologies for real-time social network monitoring are already being used. The Cybersecurity Act attempts to legalize the collection and exploitation of your personal information. Apple's iPhone also has browsing data recorded and stored. All of this despite the overwhelming opposition to cybersurveillance by citizens.
RFID -- Forget your credit cards which are meticulously tracked, or the membership cards for things so insignificant as movie rentals which require your SSN. Everyone has Costco, CVS, grocery-chain cards, and a wallet or purse full of many more. RFID "proximity cards" take tracking to a new level in uses ranging from loyalty cards, student ID, physical access, and computer network access. Latest developments include an RFID powder developed by Hitachi, for which the multitude of uses are endless -- perhaps including tracking hard currency so we can't even keep cash undetected. (Also see microchips below).
Traffic cameras -- License plate recognition has been used to remotely automate duties of the traffic police in the United States, but have been proven to have dual use in England such as to mark activists under the Terrorism Act. Perhaps the most common use will be to raise money and shore up budget deficits via traffic violations, but uses may descend to such "Big Brother" tactics as monitors telling pedestrians not to litter as talking cameras already do in the UK.
Computer cameras and microphones -- The fact that laptops -- contributed by taxpayers -- spied on public school children (at home) is outrageous. Years ago Google began officially to use computer "audio fingerprinting" for advertising uses. They have admitted to working with the NSA, the premier surveillance network in the world. Private communications companies already have been exposed routing communications to the NSA. Now, keyword tools -- typed and spoken -- link to the global security matrix.
Public sound surveillance -- This technology has come a long way from only being able to detect gunshots in public areas, to now listening in to whispers for dangerous "keywords." This technology has been launched in Europe to "monitor conversations" to detect "verbal aggression" in public places. Sound Intelligence is the manufacturer of technology to analyze speech, and their website touts how it can easily be integrated into other systems.
Biometrics -- The most popular biometric authentication scheme employed for the last few years has been Iris Recognition. The main applications are entry control, ATMs and Government programs. Recently, network companies and governments have utilized biometric authentication including fingerprint analysis, iris recognition, voice recognition, or combinations of these for use in National identification cards.
DNA -- Blood from babies has been taken for all people under the age of 38. In England, DNA was sent to secret databases from routine heel prick tests. Several reports have revealed covert Pentagon databases of DNA for "terrorists" and now DNA from all American citizens is databased. Digital DNA is now being used as well to combat hackers.
Microchips -- Microsoft's HealthVault and VeriMed partnership is to create RFID implantable microchips. Microchips for tracking our precious pets is becoming commonplace and serves to condition us to accept putting them in our children in the future. The FDA has already approved this technology for humans and is marketing it as a medical miracle, again for our safety.
Facial recognition -- Anonymity in public is over. Admittedly used at Obama's campaign events, sporting events, and most recently at the G8/G20 protests in Canada. This technology is also harvesting data from Facebook images and surely will be tied into the street "traffic" cameras.
All of this is leading to Predictive Behavior Technology -- It is not enough to have logged and charted where we have been; the surveillance state wants to know where we are going through psychological profiling. It's been marketed for such uses as blocking hackers. Things seem to have advanced to a point where a truly scientific Orwellian world is at hand. It is estimated that computers know to a 93% accuracy where you will be, before you make your first move. Nanotech is slated to play a big role in going even further as scientists are using nanoparticles to directly influence behavior and decision making.
Many of us are asking: What would someone do with all of this information to keep us tracked, traced, and databased? It seems the designers have no regard for the right to privacy and desire to become the Controllers of us all.
Posted by Activist at 6:45 AM Labels: biometrics, databased, facial recognition, GPS tracking, Internet freedom, RFID, right to privacy, tacked, traced
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Passport Fraud
on: July 15, 2010, 09:27:04 AM
Who knows? Certainly nothing we are getting on this is likely to be true
In another vein, here's this:
The Shifting Landscape of Passport Fraud
July 15, 2010
By Scott Stewart
The recent case involving the arrest and deportation of the Russian intelligence network in the United States has once again raised the subject of document fraud in general and passport fraud in particular. The FBI’s investigation into the group of Russian operatives discovered that several of the suspects had assumed fraudulent identities and had obtained genuine passports (and other identity documents) in their assumed names. One of the suspects assumed the identity of a Canadian by the name of Christopher Robert Mestos, who died in childhood. The suspect was arrested in Cyprus but fled after posting bail; his true identity remains unknown. Three other members of the group also assumed Canadian identities, with Andrey Bezrukov posing as Donald Heathfield, Elena Vavilova as Tracey Foley and Natalia Pereverzeva as Patricia Mills.
Passport fraud is a topic that surfaces with some frequency in relation to espionage cases. (The Israelis used passport fraud during the January 2010 operation to assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas militant commander.) Passport fraud is also frequently committed by individuals involved in crimes such as narcotics smuggling and arms trafficking, as well as by militants involved in terrorist plots. Because of the frequency with which passport fraud is used in these types of activities — and due to the importance that curtailing passport fraud can have in combating espionage, terrorism and crime — we thought it a topic worth discussing this week in greater detail.
Passports and Investigations
While the use of passports goes back centuries, the idea of a travel document that can be used to absolutely verify the identity of a traveler is a relatively new concept. Passports containing the photos of the bearer have only been widely used and mandated for international travel for about a century now, and in the United States, it was not until 1918 that Congress enacted laws mandating the use of U.S. passports for Americans returning from overseas and home country passports with visas for foreigners wishing to visit the United States. Passport fraud followed closely on the heels of these regulations. Following the American entry into World War I, special agents from the State Department’s Bureau of Secret Intelligence became very involved in hunting down German and Austrian intelligence officers who were then using forged documents to operate inside the United States.
In the decades after World War I, the Bureau of Secret Intelligence’s successor organization, the Office of the Chief Special Agent, became very involved in investigating Nazi and Communist agents who committed passport fraud to operate inside the United States. As the Office of the Chief Special Agent evolved into the State Department’s Office of Security and then finally the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), special agents from the organization continued to investigate passport and visa fraud. In addition to foreign intelligence officers, they have also investigated terrorists, fugitives and other criminals who have committed passport fraud. Since the State Department is the agency that issues U.S. passports and visas, it is also the primary agency charged with ensuring the integrity of those documents. Therefore, in much the same manner that U.S. Secret Service agents are charged with investigating counterfeit currency (and ensuring the integrity of currency for the Treasury Department), DS agents are charged with investigating passport fraud.
DS agents are not the only ones who investigate passport fraud, however. As the FBI matured organizationally and became the primary domestic counterintelligence agency, the bureau also began to work passport fraud investigations involving foreign intelligence officers. Soviet and other Communist “illegals” — intelligence officers operating without official cover — frequently assumed the identities of deceased infants, and because of this, the FBI developed a particular interest in passport fraud investigations involving infant death identity (IDI) cases. However, passport fraud is only one of the many criminal violations that the FBI investigates, and most FBI agents will not investigate a passport fraud case during their career.
As the agency primarily responsible for border and immigration enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also investigates identity-document fraud, including passport fraud, although many of the cases ICE agents work involve foreign passports. ICE also has a forensic document laboratory that is the best in the world when it comes to the technical investigation of fraudulent identity documents.
Another U.S. government agency that watches passport fraud with a great deal of interest is the CIA. Not only does it have an operational interest in the topic — the agency wants to be able to use fraud for its own purposes — but it is also very interested in being able to verify the true identities of walk-ins and other potential sources. Because of this, the CIA needs to have the ability to spot fraudulent documents. During the 1980s, the CIA produced an excellent series of unclassified guides on the terrorist use of passport and visa fraud called the “Redbook.” The Redbook was discontinued in 1992, just as the jihadist threat to the United States was beginning to emerge.
As in any area where there are overlapping jurisdictions and investigations, there is sometimes tension and bureaucratic jealously between the various agencies involved in investigating passport fraud. The level of tension is frequently lower in scenarios where the agencies work together (as on joint terrorism task forces) and where the agents and agencies have become accustomed to working together. In the forensic realm, the ICE laboratory generally has an excellent relationship with the State Department, the FBI (and the document section of the FBI laboratory) and the CIA’s document laboratory.
Types of Passport Fraud
There are several different types of passport fraud. The first is the intentional issuing of a genuine passport in a false identity by a government. Real passports are often issued in false identities to provide cover for intelligence officers, but this can also be done for other reasons. For example, in late 1990, during Operation Desert Shield, the Iraqi government provided a large group of Iraqi intelligence officers with Iraqi passports in false identities so that these officials could travel abroad and conduct terrorist attacks against U.S. interests. These Iraqi teams were dispatched all over the world and were provided direction (as well as weapons and IED components) by Iraqi intelligence officers stationed in embassies abroad. The explosives and firearms were sent around the world via diplomatic pouches (which are exempt from search). Following failed terrorist attacks in Manila and Jakarta in January 1991, DS agents investigating the case discovered that the Iraqi operatives were traveling on sequentially numbered Iraqi passports. This discovery allowed a worldwide alert to go out and governments in several different regions of the world were able to arrest or deport scores of Iraqi agents.
A second type of fraud involving genuine passports is where the government is not knowingly involved in the issuance of the passport for the fraudulent identity. In such cases, an applicant uses fraudulent identification documents to apply for a passport. The group of documents needed to obtain a passport — called “breeder” documents — normally includes a birth certificate, a Social Security card and a driver’s license. A set of fraudulent breeder documents can be counterfeit, genuine but altered (this can be done by changing the name or date of birth) or genuine documents obtained by fraud.
This is where the IDI cases come in. In these cases, someone applies for a replacement birth certificate of a deceased infant or child of their approximate age and then uses the birth certificate to obtain a Social Security card and driver’s license. The person applying for the replacement birth certificate usually claims their original birth certificate was lost or stolen.
Due to changes in procedure and technology, however, it has become more difficult in recent years to obtain a copy of the birth certificate of an infant or child who died in the United States. Birth-certificate registries are now tied electronically to death registries in every state, and if someone attempts to get the birth certificate of a dead person, it is quickly noticed and an investigation launched. Also, Social Security numbers are now issued at birth, so it is very difficult for a 25- or 30-year-old person to apply for a new Social Security number. Because of these factors, IDI cases have declined significantly in the United States.
Breeder documents are generally easier to counterfeit or obtain by fraud than a passport. However, as identity documents become more cross-referenced in databases, it is becoming more difficult to obtain a passport using a counterfeit birth certificate and Social Security number. Because of this, it has become more common for a person to buy a set of genuine breeder documents from a drug user or criminal looking for some quick cash. It is also possible to buy a genuine birth certificate and Social Security card from a corrupt official. While such documents are genuine, and can carry the applicant’s true or chosen name, such genuine documents are much more expensive than the other options. Of course, passport office employees can also be bribed to issue a genuine passport with fraudulent breeder documents, though there is a remote risk that such fraud will be caught in an audit.
At the present time, it is far easier and cheaper to obtain a genuine foreign passport by fraud than it is a U.S. passport, but corruption and plain old mistakes still allow a small number of fraudulent U.S. passports to get into the system. There are still some countries where a genuine passport in any identity can be obtained for just a few hundred dollars. Generally, it is more difficult to get passports from more developed nations (such as those that participate in the U.S. visa waiver program) than it is from less developed nations, where corruption is more prevalent. Still, corruption is a worldwide problem when it comes to passports and other identity documents.
Stolen blank passports have also been used over the years. For example, after Operation Desert Storm, an Iraqi passport office in Basra was sacked and thousands of blank Iraqi passports were stolen and then sold on the black market. One of those blanks was bought by a Pakistani jihadist operative named Abdul Basit, who had the blank passport filled out with his photograph and the name of a fictitious Iraqi citizen named Ramzi Yousef. After he entered the United States, Basit organized the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The problem with stolen blanks is that they are usually reported fairly quickly and their numbers are entered into international databases. Furthermore, like a counterfeit passport, a stolen blank passport will not correspond to information entered into passport databases, and it is therefore difficult to travel using one. In the case of Basit, he used a British passport altered to include his photo to leave Pakistan but then used the Iraqi passport to make an asylum claim once he arrived in the United States.
This highlights another category of genuine passports used in passport fraud, those that are real but have been altered, usually by replacing the photo appearing on the passport. Passport fraud investigators refer to this as a photo-subbed passport. In the 1970s, it was fairly easy to photo-sub passports from most countries, but in the past couple of decades, many countries have taken great efforts to make this process more difficult. The use of high-tech laminates and now, in current U.S. passports, RFID chips that contain a photo that must match the one appearing on the passport make it far harder to photo-sub passports today. Of course, efforts to increase passport security haven’t always worked as planned. In 1993, the State Department began issuing a new high-tech passport with a green cover that was supposed to be impossible to photo-sub. Within a few months of the first issuance of the passports, document vendors discovered that the laminate on the green passports could be easily removed by placing a block of dry ice on the passport, changing the photo and then pressing the laminate back down with an iron. Due to the ease of photo-subbing these passports, their value on the black market skyrocketed, and the “fraud proof” green passports had to be taken out of circulation after less than a year.
Finally, we have counterfeit passports, which are passports created from scratch by a document vendor. Like counterfeit currency, there is a vast range of quality when it comes to counterfeit passports, and as a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. On the streets of places like Bangkok, Hong Kong or New York, one can buy counterfeit passports from a wide array of countries. There is, however, a vast difference between the passport one can purchase for $100 and the one that can be purchased for $10,000. Also, like currency, some passport counterfeiters will even attempt to use elements of genuine passports, like the optically “dead” paper with little or no fluorescence used for the pages and the holographic laminates used on the photo pages. However, like photo-subbed passports, it is far more difficult to create a functional counterfeit passport today than it was several years ago. Not only does the passport have to be of high quality, but the number needs to correspond to the database of legitimately issued passports. Therefore, most counterfeit passports are useful for traveling in the third world but would not withstand the scrutiny of authorities in the developed world.
In spite of these problems, there is still a market for counterfeit and photo-subbed passports. While they may not be useful for traveling to a country like the United States or France, they can be used to travel from a place like Pakistan or China to a gateway country in the Western Hemisphere like Venezuela or a gateway country in Europe like Albania. Because of this, American and European passports still fetch a decent price on the black market and are frequently stolen from or sold by Westerners. Citizens of Western countries who travel to terrorist training camps are also frequently encouraged to “donate” their passports and other documents to the group that trains them. There are also many reports that Mossad makes use of the passports of foreign Jews who move to Israel and give their passports to the intelligence agency. Stolen or deliberately lost passports not only can be altered or cloned but also can be used for travel by people who physically resemble the original bearer, although once they are reported stolen or lost and entered into lookout databases, their utility declines.
A Shifting Focus
The difficulty in obtaining functional travel documents has affected the way criminal and terrorist organizations operate. With increasing scrutiny of travel documents, groups like al Qaeda have found it progressively more difficult to travel to the West. This is one of the factors that has led to their increasing use of operatives who have the ability to travel to where the planned attack is to be conducted, rather than sending a more professional terrorist operative to conduct the attack.
This difficulty in counterfeiting passports has even affected intelligence agencies, which are the best passport counterfeiters in the world. This is why we see intelligence agencies like Mossad having to clone passports — that is, create a counterfeit passport that bears the same name and number of a legitimate passport — or even resort to other types of fraud to obtain genuine passports for operatives. It has become difficult to fabricate a usable passport using a fictitious name. Mossad operatives have gotten in trouble for attempting to fraudulently obtain genuine passports in places like New Zealand. And Mossad is certainly not the only intelligence service experiencing this difficulty in obtaining documents for its operatives.
Because of these difficulties, intelligence agencies and militant and criminal organizations have begun to place increasing importance on recruiting assets involved in the issuance of identity documents. At an embassy, a consular officer is viewed as almost as important a person to recruit as a code clerk. A corrupt consular officer can make a great deal of money selling documents. But the threat can extend far from an overseas embassy. If an organization like the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (or the Sinaloa cartel) can recruit an employee at the New Jersey Office of Vital Statistics, they can arrange to have their agent occasionally issue a genuine birth certificate (camouflaged in a large stack of legitimately issued documents) in a fraudulent identity for their use. Likewise, if they can recruit a clerk at the Social Security office in Jersey City, they can get that agent to occasionally issue a Social Security number and card that corresponds to the birth certificate. These primary documents can then be used to obtain a driver’s license (the key identity document for living in the United States) and eventually a passport for international travel.
Of course, recruiting an agent who works inside an agency is not the only way to obtain identification documents. Several years ago, a cleaning company owned by a group of Nigerians placed a low bid on the contract to provide cleaning services to Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Florida. Shortly after the company began providing services to the DMV, the agency suffered a rash of thefts across the state that included not only blank driver’s licenses and laminates but an entire machine that took the photos and processed the blank licenses.
The advent of cross-referencing databases, machine-readable passports routinely checked against such databases, radio frequency identification technology and procedures intended to prevent fraud have helped curtail many types of passport fraud. That said, passports are still required to travel for nefarious purposes, and these security measures have caused resourceful criminals, terrorists and intelligence agencies to shift their focus from technical methods of fraud toward exploiting humans in the process. In many places, the effort made to vet and monitor employees issuing documents is far less extensive than the effort made to physically protect documents from counterfeiting. The end result is that humans have become the weakest link in the equation.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics
on: July 14, 2010, 06:11:33 PM
Forgive me, but fcuk the Chamber of Commerce. Not only were Stimulus 1,2, & 3 not responsible for preventing a depression (a point on which some reasonable people disagree) but more pertinently here it is not the fg job of the government to CREATE jobs!!!
The CoC here is simply the corporate face of the same fascist economic model of which BO is the socialist face. BOTH are about the government directing the economy. I certainly don't remember hearing many complaints out of the CoC when Bush was getting the ball rolling.
It is the government's job to get out of the way!!!
PS: Regarding Willie, his presidency was a giant mess until Gingrich and the Reps took over Congress. Also relevant, but not due to Bill's doings, were the peace dividend from the collapse of the Soviet Empire; the rollback of welfare, and the cuts in the capital gains tax rate.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fairfax County Militia Plan
on: July 14, 2010, 05:09:14 PM
"A well regulated militia, composed of the gentlemen, freeholders, and other free men was necessary to protect our ancient laws and liberty from the standing army. And we do each of us, for ourselves respectively, promise and engage to keep a good fire lock in proper order and to furnish ourselves as soon as possible with and always keep by us, one pound of gunpowder, four pounds of lead, one dozen gun flints and a pair of bullet moulds, with a cartouch box or powderhorn and bag for balls."
Fairfax County Militia Plan, written by George Mason, co author with James Madison of the Second Amendment
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants & interesting thought pieces
on: July 14, 2010, 10:56:26 AM
I too find that there are several passages with which I disagree. I posted it because of the influence his Black Swan book has had.
I don't even understand what he means with this one:
"Citizens should not depend on financial assets as a repository of value and rely on fallible "expert" advice for their retirement: Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as warehouses of value."
I'm confused, what form does he think savings should take?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Haqqani network to be designated "terrorist"?
on: July 14, 2010, 10:41:49 AM
U.S. May Label Pakistan Militants as Terrorists
By MARK LANDLER and THOM SHANKER
Published: July 13, 2010
WASHINGTON — The new American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, is pushing to have top leaders of a feared insurgent group designated as terrorists, a move that could complicate an eventual Afghan political settlement with the Taliban and aggravate political tensions in the region.
General Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group, known as the Haqqani network, late last week in discussions with President Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to several administration officials, who said it was being seriously considered.
Such a move could risk antagonizing Pakistan, a critical partner in the war effort, but one that is closely tied to the Haqqani network. It could also frustrate the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the nine-year-old war and consolidate his own grip on power.
The case of the Haqqani network, run by an old warlord family, underscores the thorny decisions that will have to be made over which Taliban-linked insurgents should win some sort of amnesty and play a role in the future of Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai has already petitioned the United Nations to lift sanctions against dozens of members of the Taliban, and has won conditional support from the Obama administration, so long as these people sever ties to Al Qaeda, forswear violence and accept the Afghan Constitution.
“If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them,” Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said to reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
From its base in the frontier area near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, the Afghan capital, and across eastern Afghanistan, carrying out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations. It is allied with Al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch under Mullah Muhammad Omar, now based near Quetta, Pakistan.
But the group’s real power may lie in its deep connections to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which analysts say sees the Haqqani network as a way to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders have recently offered to broker talks between Mr. Karzai and the network, officials said, arguing that it could be a viable future partner.
American officials remain extremely skeptical that the Haqqani network’s senior leaders could ever be reconciled with the Afghan government, although they say perhaps some midlevel commanders and foot soldiers could. Some officials in Washington and in the region expressed concerns that imposing sanctions on the entire network might drive away some fighters who might be persuaded to lay down their arms.
The idea of putting the Haqqani network on a blacklist was first made public on Tuesday by Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who has just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Levin did not disclose any conversations he might have had with General Petraeus on the subject.
The Haqqani network is perhaps the most significant threat to stability in Afghanistan, said Mr. Levin, a powerful voice in Congress on military affairs as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Mr. Levin also advocated increasing attacks against the organization by Pakistan and by the United States, using unmanned drone strikes.
“At the moment, the Haqqani network — and their fighters coming over the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan — is the greatest threat, at least external threat, to Afghanistan,” Mr. Levin said at a morning breakfast with correspondents.
“More needs to be done by Pakistan,” he added. “The Pakistanis have said they now realize, more than ever, that terrorism is a threat to them — not just the terrorists who attack them directly, but the terrorists who attack others from their territory.”
Placement on the State Department’s list would mainly impose legal limits on American citizens and companies, prohibiting trade with the Haqqani network or its leaders and requiring that banks freeze their assets in the United States.
But Mr. Levin noted that the law would also require the United States government to apply pressure on any nation harboring such a group, in this case Pakistan.
In Kabul, a spokesman for General Petraeus said he would not comment on any internal discussions. But in public General Petraeus has expressed alarm about the network and has talked about his desire to see the Pakistani military act more aggressively against the group’s stronghold in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.
In testimony before Mr. Levin’s committee last month, General Petraeus said he viewed the network as a particular danger to the mission in Afghanistan.
He said he and other senior military officers had shared information with their counterparts in Pakistan that showed the Haqqani network “clearly commanded and controlled” recent attacks in Kabul and against the Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, which is controlled by the United States.
The focus on a political settlement is likely to intensify next week at a conference in Kabul, to be headed by Mr. Karzai and attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials. Mr. Karzai recently signed a decree authorizing the reintegration of lower-level Taliban fighters, and Mr. Holbrooke said the meeting would kick off that program, which will be financed by $180 million from Japan, Britain and other countries, as well as $100 million in Pentagon funds.
But Mr. Karzai is eager to extend an olive branch to higher-level figures as well. His government wants to remove up to 50 of the 137 Taliban names on the United Nations Security Council’s blacklist. Mr. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the administration supported efforts to cull the list, but would approve names only on a case-by-case basis. Certain figures, like Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, remain out of bounds, he said.
For its part, the United States is trying to keep the emphasis on the low-level fighters, rather than the leadership. The planned American military campaign in Kandahar, officials said, could weaken the position of Taliban leaders, making them more amenable to a settlement.
Still, the United States backs “Afghan-led reconciliation,” Mr. Holbrooke said. And he said the administration was encouraged by recent meetings between Mr. Karzai and Pakistani leaders, which he said were slowly building trust between these often-suspicious neighbors.
“Nothing could be more important to the resolution of the war in Afghanistan,” he said, “than a common understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan on what their strategic purpose is.”
David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Scientist heads home
on: July 14, 2010, 10:37:57 AM
Scientist Heads Home, Iran Says
By DAVID E. SANGER and WILLIAM YONG
Published: July 14, 2010
WASHINGTON — An Iranian nuclear scientist who American officials say defected to the United States last year, provided information about Iran’s nuclear weapons program and then developed second thoughts, was flying home on Wednesday, less than two days after walking into the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy here and saying he wanted a ticket back to Tehran.
The scientist, Shahram Amiri, “has left the United States for the Iranian capital, Tehran,” Press TV, the state-run satellite broadcaster, reported. A few hours later, state television said he was flying via Doha, Qatar, and would arrived in Tehran on Thursday.
The bizarre episode was the latest in a tale that has featured a mysterious disappearance from a hotel room in Saudi Arabia, rumors of a trove of new intelligence about Iran’s nuclear facilities and a series of contradictory YouTube videos. It immediately set off a renewed propaganda war between Iran and the United States.
Iranian officials have said for months that Mr. Amiri, 32, was kidnapped in the spring of 2009, taken to the United States and imprisoned and tortured. Iranian media outlets quoted Mr. Amiri on Tuesday as saying that the United States had wanted to quietly return him to Iran and “cover up the kidnapping.”
American intelligence officials have scoffed at such accounts.
On Wednesday, Press TV said, “Analysts say U.S. intelligence officials decided to release Amiri after they failed to advance their propaganda campaign against Iran’s nuclear program via fabricating interviews with the Iranian national.”
State television showed footage of Mr. Amiri in what it said was an interview at the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistan Embassy on Tuesday. He said had been under “psychological pressure” in the United States and had been offered financial incentives to tell American news outlets that he had come to America voluntarily to hand over a set of documents that were shown to him on a laptop. He had not agreed to do so, he said.
In the first official acknowledgment of Mr. Amiri’s presence in the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that he had arrived in the country “of his own free will” and could leave whenever he wished — an indication, she said, that he was hardly a prisoner of the United States government.
But clearly the latest chapter in the saga of Mr. Amiri, a specialist in radiation detection, was an embarrassment to American intelligence agencies and offered a peephole view of what is informally called the “brain drain” program to lure Iranian scientists and engineers out of their country.
Mr. Amiri was described as an important confirming source about the Iranian nuclear program, but he was considered too junior and too removed from the program’s central leadership to have deep knowledge. According to an American intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Mr. Amiri used his expertise in radiation detection to monitor employee safety at many of Iran’s atomic plants and facilities.
The strange saga of Mr. Amiri began when he vanished during a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia 13 months ago. Almost immediately, it was clear that he was in the hands of Western intelligence agencies, and American officials now say that he was spirited quickly to the United States.
Shortly after Mr. Amiri disappeared, the Iranian government protested that he had been kidnapped by the United States, and it asked the United Nations secretary general to arrange for his return.
It is unclear when Mr. Amiri’s debriefings by American intelligence officials ended. But at some point he was placed in the national resettlement program, a sort of witness-protection program run by the C.I.A. for defectors, and starting in the spring his nervousness about the fate of his wife and child grew markedly.
A former senior American intelligence official said he believed that the Iranians had threatened Mr. Amiri’s family, and a current American official said that “the Iranians are not above using relatives to try to influence people.” Whatever the reason, one evening, looking haggard and unshaven, Mr. Amiri made a video, apparently on his laptop computer.
It showed a young man speaking in Persian through a computer phone hookup and saying that he had been kidnapped in a joint operation involving the C.I.A. and the Saudi intelligence service in Medina, Saudi Arabia, on June 3, 2009. State television offered a similar version on Wednesday, quoting Mr. Amiri as saying he had been offered a ride in a car by some Persian-speaking men in a car while he was on his way to a mosque in Medina.
The man who appeared in the earlier video also said he had been taken to a house and injected with something, and that when he awoke, he was on a plane heading to the United States.
He said he was recording the video on April 5 in Tucson.
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But hours later, another video appeared on YouTube, apparently made after the first one, with professional help. Appearing in a well-lighted room that appeared to be a library, with the added touch of a globe and a chessboard, Mr. Amiri looked well groomed. He identified himself as a student in a Ph.D. program and said he was eager to complete his studies and return to his family.
He insisted that he was free and safe, and he demanded an end to what he called false videos about himself, saying he had no interest in politics or experience in any nuclear weapons programs. He then made a third video, similar to the first.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton left it unclear why Mr. Amiri made his dramatic appearance at a storefront offshoot of the Pakistani Embassy on Monday evening, seeking refuge, a passport and a plane ticket.
Mrs. Clinton, answering reporters’ questions at a news conference at the State Department with Iraq’s foreign minister, said Mr. Amiri had been scheduled to leave for Iran a day earlier but “was unable to make all of the necessary arrangements” to travel through other countries. “He’s free to go,” she said. “He was free to come. Those decisions are his alone to make.”
It is unclear what awaits Mr. Amiri in Iran, whether a hero’s welcome or an interrogation by Iranian authorities. Iranian state television said on Wednesday that he would be met by members of his family when he arrives in Tehran on Thursday.
Mr. Amiri had worked at Malek Ashtar University in Iran, which is linked to the powerful Revolutionary Guards, and the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an opposition group based in France, reported in April that Mr. Amiri worked at the “Mojdeh” site, which they described as an atomic nerve center disguised as an academic complex.
Mr. Amiri is also believed to have once worked at Lavizan, a military research base outside Tehran that was razed in 2003 and 2004 as atomic inspectors in Vienna raised questions about its possession of highly enriched uranium.
Mrs. Clinton, in insisting that Mr. Amiri could leave, called for the release of three American hikers who were arrested and charged with entering Iranian territory in July 2009. But, unlike it did in the Russian prisoner swap last week, the United States made no effort to try to negotiate a trade, officials said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Beware those Black Swans
on: July 13, 2010, 10:33:30 PM
Beware those Black Swans
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Published 05 July 2010
The bestselling economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that we can’t make the world financial system immune to shocks –– but we can make sure it’s much more robust by building randomness into our planning.
After completing my book The Black Swan, I spent some time meditating on the fragility of systems with the illusion of stability. This convinced me that the banking system was the mother of all accidents waiting to happen. I explained in the book that the best teachers of wisdom are the eldest, because they may have picked up invisible tricks that are absent from our epistemic routines and which help them survive in a world more complex than the one we think we understand. So being old implies a higher degree of resistance to "Black Swans" (events with the following three attributes: they lie outside the realm of regular expectations; they carry an extreme impact; and human nature makes us concoct explanations for their occurrence after the fact).
Take Mother Nature, which is clearly a complex system, with webs of interdependence, non-linearities and a robust ecology (otherwise it would have blown up a long time ago). It is a very old person with an impeccable memory. Mother Nature does not develop Alzheimer's - and there is evidence that even humans would not easily lose brain functions with age if they took long walks, avoided sugar, bread, white rice and stock-market investments, and refrained from taking economics classes or reading the New York Times.
Let me summarise my ideas of how Mother Nature deals with the Black Swan. First, she likes redundancies. Look at the human body. We have two eyes, two lungs, two kidneys, even two brains (with the possible exception of company executives) - and each has more capacity than is needed ordinarily. So redundancy equals insurance, and the apparent inefficiencies are associated with the costs of maintaining these spare parts and the energy needed to keep them around in spite of their idleness.
The exact opposite of redundancy is naive optimisation. The reason I tell people to avoid attending an (orthodox) economics class and argue that economics will fail us is the following: economics is largely based on notions of naive optimisation, mathematised (poorly) by Paul Samuelson - and these mathematics have contributed massively to the construction of an error-prone society. An economist would find it inefficient to carry two lungs and two kidneys - consider the costs involved in transporting these heavy items across the savannah. Such optimisation would, eventually, kill you, after the first accident, the first "outlier". Also, consider that if we gave Mother Nature to economists, it would dispense with individual kidneys - since we do not need them all the time, it would be more "efficient" if we sold ours and used a central kidney on a time-share basis. You could also lend your eyes at night, since you do not need them to dream.
Almost every major idea in conventional economics fails under the modification of some assumption, or what is called "perturbation", where you change one parameter or take a parameter henceforth assumed to be fixed and stable by the theory, and make it random. Take the notion of comparative advantage, supposedly discovered by David Ricardo, and which has oiled the wheels of globalisation. The idea is that countries should focus on "what they do best". So one country should specialise in wine, another in clothes, even though one of them might be better at both. But consider what would happen to the country if the price of wine fluctuated. A simple perturbation around this assumption leads one to reach the opposite conclusion to Ricardo. Mother Nature does not like overspecialisation, as it limits evolution and weakens the animals.
This explains why I found the current ideas on globalisation (such as those promoted by the journalist Thomas Friedman) too naive, and too dangerous for society - unless one takes into account the side effects. Globalisation might give the appearance of efficiency, but the operating leverage and the degrees of interaction between parts will cause small cracks in one spot to percolate through the entire system.
The debt taboo
The same idea applies to debt: it makes you very fragile under perturbations. We currently learn in business schools to engage in borrowing, against all historical traditions (all Mediterranean cultures developed over time a dogma against debt). "Felix qui nihil debet", goes the Roman proverb: "Happy is he who owes nothing." Grandmothers who survived the Great Depression would have advised doing the exact opposite of getting into debt: have several years of income in cash before any personal risk-taking. Had the banks done the same, and kept high cash reserves while taking more aggressive risks with a smaller portion of their portfolios, there would have been no crisis.
Documents dating back to the Babylonians show the ills of debt, and Near Eastern religions banned it. This tells me that one of the purposes of religious traditions has been to enforce prohibitions to protect people against their own epistemic arrogance. Why? Debt implies a strong statement about the future, and a high degree of reliance on forecasts. If you borrow $100 and invest in a project, you still owe $100 even if you fail in the project (but you do a lot better in case you succeed). So debt is dangerous if you are overconfident about the future and are Black Swan-blind - which we all tend to be. And forecasting is harmful since people (especially governments) borrow in response to a forecast (or use the forecast as a cognitive excuse to borrow). My "Scandal of Prediction" (bogus predictions that seem to be there to satisfy psychological needs) is compounded by the "Scandal of Debt": borrowing makes you more vulnerable to forecast error.
Just as Mother Nature likes redundancies, so she abhors anything that is too big. The largest land animal is the elephant, and there is a reason for that. If I went on a rampage and shot an elephant, I might be put in jail and get yelled at by my mother, but I would hardly disturb the ecology of Mother Nature. On the other hand, my point about banks in my book - that if you shot a large bank, I would "shiver at the consequences" and that "if one falls, they all fall" - was subsequently illustrated by events: one bank failure, Lehman Brothers, in September 2008, brought down the entire edifice.
The crisis of 2008 provides an illustration of the need for robustness. Over the past 2,500 years of recorded ideas, only fools and Platonists have believed in engineered utopias. We shouldn't think that we can correct mistakes and eliminate randomness from social and economic life. The challenge, rather, is to ensure that human mistakes and miscalculations remain confined, and to avoid them spreading through the system - just the way Mother Nature does it. Reducing randomness increases exposure to Black Swans.
My dream is to have a true "epistemocracy"; that is, a society robust against expert errors, forecasting errors and hubris, one that can be resistant to the incompetence of politicians, regulators, economists, central bankers, bankers, policy wonks and epidemiologists.Here are ten principles for a Black Swan-robust society.
What is fragile should break early while it's still small: Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks become the biggest.
No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains: Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bailout should be free, small and risk-bearing. We got ourselves into the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France, in the 1980s, the Socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.
People who drove a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus: The economics establishment lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system in 2008. Find the smart people whose hands are clean to get us out of this mess.
Don't let someone making an "incentive" bonus manage a nuclear plant - or your financial risks: Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show "profits" from these savings while claiming to be "conservative". Bonuses don't accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives.
Time to definancialise
Compensate complexity with simplicity: Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. Complex systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy, not debt and optimisation.
Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning label: Complex financial products need to be banned because nobody understands them, and few are rational enough to know it. We need to protect citizens from themselves, from bankers selling them "hedging" products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.
Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence: Governments should never need to "restore confidence". Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. We just need to be able to shrug off rumours, to be robust to them. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains: Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homoeopathy, it's denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it's a structural one. We need rehab.
Citizens should not depend on financial assets as a repository of value and rely on fallible "expert" advice for their retirement: Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as warehouses of value.
Make an omelette with the broken eggs: The crisis of 2008 was not a problem to fix with makeshift repairs. We will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into a robust economy by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties. Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller firms and no leverage - a world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks, and in which companies are born and die every day without making the news.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Media blocked from oil spill
on: July 13, 2010, 10:21:40 AM
Team Blocks Media from Oil Spill
Posted July 12th, 2010 at 4:00pm
Last week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported that the federal government was blocking media access to coastal areas around the Gulf, preventing them from taking photos and reporting on the environmental damage of the oil spill. You can watch the video and see Cooper is livid that the Obama administration is treating him and his colleagues this way.
Cooper of course compares this to Katrina when media were blocked from…well we’re unsure what the media was blocked from in Katrina, since the photos and video from the Superdome, the Convention Center, the overpasses, levees, streets and neighborhoods contributed to possibly the most photographed crisis in history. (Cooper points out that they were blocked from seeing people “dying in their homes” – yeah, uh, same thing)
There are two real stories here, and we do appreciate Cooper bringing one of them to light. The media should of course not be blocked by the federal government from safely reporting on the spill and its affects. The heartbreaking images of oil soaked pelicans, turtles, tarballs and destroyed marshes achieve one important goal – to remind Americans of the disaster the federal government is ignoring. To this day, the media continue to have unnecessarily limited and prohibitive access to the disaster area, including reporters being hassled on public streets. NPR reported yesterday on a reporter who was asked to reveal the images on his camera, and his social security number by members of the local police, FBI and BP.
But there is a second story.
The second story is that while national reporters are fighting the Obama administration’s lack of transparency, they’re not reporting the Obama administration’s lack of competence. Every minute a correspondent scuba dives into the Gulf to reveal that oil is, well, murky, or an anchor shows you another tarball, we miss out on real journalistic oversight.
The Obama administration is making catastrophic decisions every day that is crippling the Gulf Coast environment and economy, yet this story is not being told. A team of experts from The Heritage Foundation, without any credentials, were able to move along the coast unfettered, interview officials, fisherman, port workers and experts to discover major mistakes being made in the response efforts. These stories do not require a pristine camera shot, but rather some old fashioned investigating.
Yes, the story that the White House is engaging in a cover-up mentality is important. As the Louisville Courier-Journal reported yesterday: “The National Press Photographers Association has sent a letter to President Obama expressing outrage at the new rules and requesting that he rescind them. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a union that includes broadcast journalists, is monitoring reports of denial of access and censorship.”
But as Billy Nungesser, President of Plaquemines Parish said to Anderson Cooper: “Maybe if [the Federal Government] spent more time getting things like that deployed to pick up the oil, they wouldn’t have to worry about blocking access from the media…if we did our job, and did the right thing, the news you would be reporting would be good news. You would be showing marsh being clean.”
Exactly, let’s also focus on what the government is hiding rather than just the methods they’re using to keep things hidden. And if the government is held accountable for the cleanup they are solely responsible for managing, then the media will be let in because the story will finally get better. We hope.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russian Spies and Strategic Intel
on: July 13, 2010, 10:17:26 AM
Russian Spies and Strategic Intelligence
July 13, 2010
By George Friedman
The United States has captured a group of Russian spies and exchanged them for four individuals held by the Russians on espionage charges. The way the media has reported on the issue falls into three groups:
That the Cold War is back,
That, given that the Cold War is over, the point of such outmoded intelligence operations is questionable,
And that the Russian spy ring was spending its time aimlessly nosing around in think tanks and open meetings in an archaic and incompetent effort.
It is said that the world is global and interdependent. This makes it vital for a given nation to know three things about all of the nations with which it interacts.
First, it needs to know what other nations are capable of doing. Whether militarily, economically or politically, knowing what other nations are capable of narrows down those nations’ possible actions, eliminating fantasies and rhetoric from the spectrum of possible moves. Second, the nation needs to know what other nations intend to do. This is important in the short run, especially when intentions and capabilities match up. And third, the nation needs to know what will happen in other nations that those nations’ governments didn’t anticipate.
The more powerful a nation is, the more important it is to understand what it is doing. The United States is the most powerful country in the world. It therefore follows that it is one of the prime focuses of every country in the world. Knowing what the United States will do, and shifting policy based on that, can save countries from difficulties and even disaster. This need is not confined, of course, to the United States. Each country in the world has a list of nations that it is interdependent with, and it keeps an eye on those nations. These can be enemies, friends or just acquaintances. It is impossible for nations not to keep their eyes on other nations, corporations not to keep their eyes on other corporations and individuals not to keep their eyes on other people. How they do so varies; that they do so is a permanent part of the human condition. The shock at learning that the Russians really do want to know what is going on in the United States is, to say the least, overdone.
Russian Tradecraft Examined
Let’s consider whether the Russian spies were amateurish. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviets developed a unique model of espionage. They would certainly recruit government officials or steal documents. What they excelled at, however, was placing undetectable operatives in key positions. Soviet talent scouts would range around left-wing meetings to discover potential recruits. These would be young people with impeccable backgrounds and only limited contact with the left. They would be recruited based on ideology, and less often via money, sex or blackmail. They would never again be in contact with communists or fellow travelers. They would apply for jobs in their countries’ intelligence services, foreign or defense ministries, and so on. Given their family and academic backgrounds, they would be hired. They would then be left in place for 20 or 30 years while they rose in the ranks — and, on occasion, aided with bits of information from the Soviet side to move their careers ahead.
The Soviets understood that a recruited employee might be a double agent. But stealing information on an ad hoc basis was also risky, as the provenance of such material was always murky. Recruiting people who were not yet agents, creating psychological and material bonds over long years of management and allowing them to mature into senior intelligence or ministry officials allowed ample time for testing loyalty and positioning. The Soviets not only got more reliable information this way but also the ability to influence the other country’s decision-making. Recruiting a young man in the 1930s, having him work with the OSS and later the CIA, and having him rise to the top levels of the CIA — had that ever happened — would thus give the Soviets information and control.
These operations took decades, and Soviet handlers would spend their entire careers managing one career. There were four phases:
Identifying likely candidates,
Evaluating and recruiting them,
Placing them and managing their rise in the organization,
And exploiting them.
The longer the third phase took, the more effective the fourth phase would be.
It is difficult to know what the Russian team was up to in the United States from news reports, but there are two things we know about the Russians: They are not stupid, and they are extremely patient. If we were to guess — and we are guessing — this was a team of talent scouts. They were not going to meetings at the think tanks because they were interested in listening to the papers; rather, they were searching for recruits. These were people between the ages of 22 and 30, doing internships or entry level jobs, with family and academic backgrounds that would make employment in classified areas of the U.S. government easy — and who in 20 to 30 years would provide intelligence and control to Moscow.
In our view, the media may have conflated two of Moscow’s missions.
Twin Goals and the Espionage Challenge
One of the Russian operatives, Don Heathfield, once approached a STRATFOR employee in a series of five meetings. There appeared to be no goal of recruitment; rather, the Russian operative tried to get the STRATFOR employee to try out software he said his company had developed. We suspect that had this been done, our servers would be outputting to Moscow. We did not know at the time who he was. (We have since reported the incident to the FBI, but these folks were everywhere, and we were one among many.)
Thus, the group apparently included a man using software sales as cover — or as we suspect, as a way to intrude on computers. As discussed, the group also included talent scouts. We would guess that Anna Chapman was brought in as part of the recruitment phase of talent scouting. No one at STRATFOR ever had a chance to meet her, having apparently failed the first screening.
Each of the phases of the operatives’ tasks required a tremendous amount of time, patience and, above all, cover. The operatives had to blend in (in this case, they didn’t do so well enough). Russians have always had a tremendous advantage over Americans in this regard. A Russian long-term deployment took you to the United States, for example. Were the Americans to try the same thing, they would have to convince people to spend years learning Russian to near-native perfection and then to spend 20-30 years of their lives in Russia. Some would be willing to do so, but not nearly as many as there are Russians prepared to spend that amount of time in the United States or Western Europe.
The United States can thus recruit sources (and sometimes it gets genuine ones). It can buy documents. But the extremely patient, long-term deployments are very difficult for it. It doesn’t fit with U.S. career patterns or family expectations.
The United States has substituted technical intelligence for this process. Thus, the most important U.S. intelligence-collection agency is not the CIA; it is the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA focuses on intercepting communications, penetrating computer networks, encryption and the like. (We will assume that they are successful at this.) So whereas the Russians seek to control the career of a recruit through retirement, the NSA seeks access to everything that is recorded electronically. The goal here is understanding capabilities and intentions. To the extent that the target is unaware of the NSA’s capabilities, the NSA does well. In many ways, this provides better and faster intelligence than the placement of agents, except that this does not provide influence.
The Intelligence Assumption
In the end, both the U.S. and Russian models — indeed most intelligence models — are built on the core assumption that the more senior the individual, the more knowledge he and his staff have. To put it more starkly, it assumes that what senior (and other) individuals say, write or even think reveals the most important things about the country in question. Thus, controlling a senior government official or listening to his phone conversations or e-mails makes one privy to the actions that country will take — thus allowing one to tell the future.
Let’s consider two cases: Iran in 1979 and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991. The fall of the Shah of Iran and the collapse of the Soviet empire were events of towering importance for the United States. Assume that the United States knew everything the shah’s senior officials and their staffs knew, wrote, or said in the period leading up to the Iranian Revolution. Or assume that the shah’s prime minister or a member of the Soviet Union’s Politburo was a long-term mole.
Either of those scenarios would not have made any difference to how events played out. This is because, in the end, the respective senior leadership didn’t know how events were going to play out. Partly this is because they were in denial, but mostly this is because they didn’t have the facts and they didn’t interpret the facts they did have properly. At these critical turning points in history, the most thorough penetration using either American or Russian techniques would have failed to provide warning of the change ahead. This is because the basic premise of the intelligence operation was wrong. The people being spied on and penetrated simply didn’t understand their own capabilities — i.e., the reality on the ground in their respective countries — and therefore their intentions about what to do were irrelevant and actually misleading.
In saying this, we must be very cautious, since obviously there are many instances in which targets of intelligence agencies do have valuable information and their decisions do actually represent what will happen. But if we regard anticipating systemic changes as one of the most important categories of intelligence, then these are cases where the targets of intelligence may well know the least and know it last. The Japanese knew they were going to hit Pearl Harbor, and having intelligence on that fact was enormously important. But that the British would collapse at Singapore was a fact not known to the British, so there would have been no way to obtain that information in advance from the British.
We started with three classes of intelligence: capabilities, intentions and what will actually happen. The first is an objective measure that can sometimes be seen directly but more frequently is obtained through data held by someone in the target country. The most important issue is not what this data says but how accurate it is. Intentions, by contrast, represent the subjective plans of decision makers. History is filled with intentions that were never implemented, or that, when implemented, had wildly different outcomes than the decision maker expected. From our point of view, the most important aspect of this category is the potential for unintended consequences. For example, George W. Bush did not intend to get bogged down in a guerrilla war in Iraq. What he intended and what happened were two different things because his view of American and Iraqi capabilities were not tied to reality.
American and Russian intelligence is source-based. There is value in sources, but they need to be taken with many grains of salt, not because they necessarily lie but because the highest placed source may simply be wrong — and at times, an entire government can be wrong. If the purpose of intelligence is to predict what will happen, and it is source-based, then that assumes that the sources know what is going on and how it will play out. But often they don’t.
Russian and American intelligence agencies are both source-obsessed. On the surface, this is reasonable and essential. But it assumes something about sources that is frequently true, but not always — and in fact is only true with great infrequency on the most important issues. From our point of view, the purpose of intelligence is obvious: It is to collect as much information as possible, and surely from the most highly placed sources. But in the end, the most important question to ask is whether the most highly placed source has any clue as to what is going to happen.
Knowledge of what is being thought is essential. But gaming out how the objective and impersonal forces will interact and play out it is the most important thing of all. The focus on sources allows the universe of intelligence to be populated by the thoughts of the target. Sometimes that is of enormous value. But sometimes the most highly placed source has no idea what is about to happen. Sometimes it is necessary to listen to the tape of Gorbachev or Bush planning the future and recognize that what they think will happen and what is about to happen are very different things.
The events of the past few weeks show intelligence doing the necessary work of recruiting and rescuing agents. The measure of all of this activity is not whether one has penetrated the other side, but in the end, whether your intelligence organization knew what was going to happen and told you regardless of what well-placed sources believed. Sometimes sources are indispensable. Sometimes they are misleading. And sometimes they are the way an intelligence organization justifies being wrong.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Somalia, Uganda
on: July 12, 2010, 11:55:02 AM
Somali militants praise attacks that killed 64
July 12, 2010 - 7:32am
By MAX DELANY and JASON STRAZIUSO
Associated Press Writers KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - An al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group suspected in twin bombings in Uganda's capital that killed 64 people watching the World Cup final endorsed the attacks on Monday but stopped short of claiming responsibility, as Uganda's president vowed to hunt down those responsible.
The blasts came two days after a commander with the Somali group, al-Shabab, called for militants to attack sites in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
The attacks also raise concerns about the capabilities of al-Shabab, which the U.S. State Department has declared a terrorist organization. If confirmed that the group carried out the attacks, it would be the first time al-Shabab has struck outside Somalia.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, Sheik Yusuf Sheik Issa, an al-Shabab commander, told The Associated Press early Monday that he was happy with the attacks in Uganda but refused to confirm or deny that al-Shabab was responsible.
"Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy. May Allah's anger be upon those who are against us," Sheik said.
Kampala's police chief, Kale Kaihura, said he believed al-Shabab could be responsible.
A California-based aid group, meanwhile, said one of its American workers was among the dead. Police said Ethiopian, Indian and Congolese nationals were also among those killed and wounded, police said.
Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said Monday there were indications that two suicide bombers took part in the late Sunday attacks, which left nearly 60 others wounded.
Blood and pieces of flesh littered the floor among overturned chairs at the scenes of the blasts, which went off as people watched the game between Spain and the Netherlands. The attack on the rugby club, where crowds sat outside watching a large-screen TV, left 49 dead, police said. Fifteen others were killed in the restaurant explosion.
"We were enjoying ourselves when a very noisy blast took place," said Andrew Oketa, one of the hospitalized survivors. "I fell down and became unconscious. When I regained, I realized that I was in a hospital bed with a deep wound on my head."
Several Americans from a Pennsylvania church group were wounded in the restaurant attack including Kris Sledge, 18, of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. He said from a hospital bed afterward that he was "just glad to be alive."
Florence Naiga, 32, a mother of three children, said her husband had gone to watch the World Cup final at the rugby club.
"He did not come back. I learnt about the bomb blasts in the morning. When I went to police they told me he was among the dead," she said.
Invisible Children, a San Diego, California-based aid group that helps child soldiers, identified the dead American as one of its workers, Nate Henn, who was killed on the rugby field. Henn, 25, was a native of Wilmington, Delaware.
"From traveling the United States without pay advocating for the freedom of abducted child soldiers in Joseph Kony's war, to raising thousands of dollars to put war-affected Ugandan students in school, Nate lived a life that demanded explanation. He sacrificed his comfort to live in the humble service of God and of a better world, and his is a life to be emulated," the group said in a statement on its website.
Kony heads the Lord's Resistance Army, which has waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal rebellions, in northern Uganda.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni toured the blast sites Monday and said that the terrorists behind the bombings should fight soldiers, not "people who are just enjoying themselves."
"We shall go for them wherever they are coming from," Museveni said. "We will look for them and get them as we always do."
Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said it was too early to speculate about any military response to the attacks.
Somalia's president condemned the blasts and described the attack as "barbaric."
Al-Shabab, which wants to overthrow Somalia's weak, U.N.-backed government, is known to have links with al-Qaida. Al-Shabab also counts militant veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan conflicts among its ranks.
Al-Shabab's fighters, including two recruited from the Somali communities in the United States, have carried out multiple suicide bombings in Somalia.
Uganda's government spokesman said the first blast occurred at the Ethiopian Village restaurant at 10:55 p.m. Two more blasts happened at the rugby field 20 minutes later, he said.
Ethiopia, which fought two wars with Somalia, is a longtime enemy of al-Shabab and other Somali militants who accuse their neighbor of meddling in Somali affairs. Ethiopia had troops in Somalia between December 2006 to January 2009 to back Somalia's fragile government against the Islamic insurgency. Ethiopia later withdrew its troops under an intricate peace deal mediated by the United Nations.
In addition to Uganda's troops in Mogadishu, Uganda also hosts Somali soldiers trained in U.S. and European-backed programs.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.S. was prepared to provide any necessary assistance to the Ugandan government.
President Barack Obama was "deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks," Vietor said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Obama in offering condolences and added, "The United States stands with Uganda. We have a long-standing, close friendship with the people and government of Uganda and will work with them to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice."
Officials said the Sunday attacks will not affect the African Union summit being held in Uganda from July 19-27. Many African leaders are expected to attend.
"The summit will go on. The AU and African countries have the resolve to fight terrorism with the international community," said Ramtane Lamamra, the AU's peace and security commissioner.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Death Tax
on: July 12, 2010, 10:38:04 AM
It has come to this: Congress, quite by accident, is incentivizing death.
When the Senate allowed the estate tax to lapse at the end of last year, it encouraged wealthy people near death's door to stay alive until Jan. 1 so they could spare their heirs a 45% tax hit. Now the situation has reversed: If Congress doesn't change the law soon—and many experts think it won't—the estate tax will come roaring back in 2011.
Not only will the top rate jump to 55%, but the exemption will shrink from $3.5 million per individual in 2009 to just $1 million in 2011, potentially affecting eight times as many taxpayers.
The math is ugly: On a $5 million estate, the tax consequence of dying a minute after midnight on Jan. 1, 2011 rather than two minutes earlier could be more than $2 million; on a $15 million estate, the difference could be about $8 million.
Of course, there is a "death incentive" whenever Congress raises the estate tax. But it hasn't happened in decades; the top rate has held steady or fallen since 1942, according to tax historian Joseph Thorndike of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit group. In fact, the jump from zero to 55% would be "the largest increase in a major tax that we've ever seen," Mr. Thorndike says.
Death or Taxes
That possibility presents a bizarre menu of options for wealthy older people—and their heirs. Estate planning was never cheerful, but now it is getting downright macabre, at least for the tax averse.
"You don't know whether to commit suicide or just go on living and working," says Eugene Sukup, an outspoken critic of the estate tax and the founder of Sukup Manufacturing, a maker of grain bins that employs 450 people in Sheffield, Iowa. Born in Nebraska during the Dust Bowl, the 81-year-old Mr. Sukup is a National Guard veteran and high school graduate who founded his firm, which now owns more than 70 patents, with $15,000 in 1963. He says his estate taxes, which would be zero this year, could be more that $15 million if he were to die next year.
Advisers say the estate-tax dilemma is especially awkward for heirs. "At least in December 2009, people wanted to keep their relatives alive," says Ronald Aucutt, an estate-tax attorney with McGuire Woods in the Washington area. Now he and others are worried that heirs may be tempted to pull plugs on Dec. 31. Economists might call the taking of a life to reap a tax advantage a "perverse incentive." District attorneys might call it homicide.
Taxpayers trying to cope with such surreal situations need to understand how they came to be. The roots go back to 2001, when Congress cut the estate tax rate to 45% from 55% and increased the exemption gradually over a decade. From its 2001 level of $675,000, the exemption rose to $3.5 million per individual by 2009.
Thanks to legislative sausage making, the rules got extreme after that: The tax disappeared altogether in 2010, but was programmed to revert in 2011 to a $1 million exemption with a top 55% rate.
Few Washington insiders expected Congress to allow the tax to snap back so sharply next year. So why, with nine years to act, didn't it fix the problem? Political wisdom holds that estate tax changes can't happen in election years for fear of angering voters, and Hurricane Katrina derailed a 2005 opportunity. Late last year, the House of Representatives passed an extension of the 2009 estate tax, but the Senate didn't act.
Compounding the problem, lawmakers didn't hammer out a fix early this year, as many had expected. Extending the 2009 law retroactive to the beginning of 2010 would have made a seamless transition and resolved issues taxpayers are now facing. Instead, the estate tax has been in limbo all year.
Senators are divided among three possible solutions. Some favor the pre-Bush rate of 55%, while others advocate a 35% rate (with a more generous exemption). A third group prefers the old 45% rate.
Many Washington insiders are betting Congress won't act this year because of an overflowing to-do list, the fall election and fewer than 40 working days left in 2010. At least one near-deal has failed the Senate this year.
Pressure to act will likely grow following the November elections, when Congress is expected to address many other expiring Bush-era tax breaks, including income taxes and capital-gains rates.
Meanwhile, the living and their relatives face a complex calculus with unknown variables. The Internal Revenue Service has yet to issue guidance explaining current estate-tax law, and no one knows if Congress will include retroactive elements when members deal with the tax.
"Not only is the future uncertain, but the past is also. We have no idea what the law is," Mr. Aucutt says.
So far in 2010, an estimated 25,000 taxpayers have died whose estates are affected by current law, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That group includes least two billionaires, real-estate magnate Walter Shorenstein and energy titan Dan Duncan.
Another unknown is whether—assuming lawmakers act—changes will be retroactive to the beginning of 2010, and if they will be mandatory. Experts say a pure retroactive extension might be constitutional, but they doubt one is feasible at this late date.
"Enough very wealthy people have died whose estates have the means to challenge a retroactive tax, and that could tie the issue up in the courts for years," says tax-law professor Michael Graetz of Columbia University.
Whatever the outcome, few see the zero-tax regime persisting for very long because of the nation's stratospheric debt and deficits. "I don't see how Congress can get out of this without creating winners and losers," says Beth Kaufman, an attorney at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington.
Estate planners and doctors caution against making life-and-death decisions based on money. Yet many people ignore that advice. Robert Teague, a pulmonologist who ran a chronic ventilator facility at a Houston hospital for two decades, found that money regularly figured in end-of-life decisions. "In about 10% of the cases I handled at any one time, financial considerations came into play," he says.
Struggling to Live
In 2009, more than a few dying people struggled to live into 2010 in hopes of preserving assets for their heirs. Clara Laub, a widow who helped her husband build a Fresno, Calif., grape farm from 20 acres into more than 900 acres worth several million dollars, was diagnosed with advanced cancer in October, 2009. Her daughter Debbie Jacobsen, who helps run the farm, says her mother struggled to live past December and died on New Year's morning: "She made my son promise to tell her the date and time every day, even if we wouldn't," Mrs. Jacobsen says.
In New York the lapsing tax spawned a major family conflict, according to one attorney. As a wealthy patriarch lay dying at the end of the year, it became clear that under the terms of the will his children would receive more if he died in 2010, while his wife (not the children's mother) stood to benefit if he died in 2009. The wife then filed a "do not resuscitate" order and the children challenged it. The patriarch lived a few days into 2010, but his estate, like Mrs. Laub's, remains unsettled given the legislative uncertainty.
Mr. Aucutt, who has practiced estate-tax law for 35 years, expects to see "truly gruesome" cases toward the end of the year, given the huge difference between 2010 and 2011 rates.
Without knowing what the estate tax is, has been or will be, advisers say it is difficult to offer counsel that applies broadly, as techniques that work under one version of the law backfire in others.
Entrepreneur Eugene Sukup: 'You don't know whether to commit suicide or keep on living and working.'
Whatever happens, advisers say people who might be affected should take a careful look at their power-of-attorney documents. Under last year's law, large gifts before death sometimes made sense, depending on the state of residence. This year they could be a terrible move.
Advisers also suggest paying attention to health-care proxies. Who will be making choices, using what factors? Anne L. Stone, an attorney in McLean, Va., has an elderly female client who recently instructed her to write a provision into a health proxy directing her children to take estate taxes into account when making end-of-life decisions.
What about the options for taxpayers who are so eager to reduce their heirs' tax burden that they are considering ending their lives? Three states—Oregon, Washington and Montana—allow versions of the practice. Oregon's law took effect in 1997 and Washington enacted a similar one in 2009. Montana's Supreme Court recently ruled that nothing in the state constitution prohibited doctors aiding patients with dying, but voters haven't yet specifically authorized it.
Still, states strongly discourage what's becoming known as "suicide tourism" with elaborate residency and documentation requirements.
Similarly, some countries, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, have long allowed physicians to aid patients in dying. But only Switzerland extends this benefit to foreigners.
Doctors and hospice professionals, meanwhile, say moving terminally ill patients to places with so-called aid-in-dying laws is usually a bad idea because it adds stress at an already difficult time. "Many people are thinking about [the estate tax], but the truth is that committing suicide is not a normal way of ending your life," says Porter Storey, vice president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.
The uncertainty of the legislation is causing stress even for relatively healthy taxpayers like Art Nickel, who is 78 and lives in the Denver area. He owns a substantial sum in low-cost stock accumulated during a 35-year career as an IBM systems engineer. Like Mr. Sukup, he started with nothing and worked his way up, putting himself through the University of Wisconsin and serving in the Air Force.
"I plan to keep living," Mr. Nickel says, "but I don't know how to plan until Congress straightens this mess out."
—John D. McKinnon contributed to this article.
Write to Laura Saunders at email@example.com
and Mary Pilon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters)
on: July 12, 2010, 10:33:36 AM
Understood, but I seek to push further than that. I seek to assert that there is no reasonable position to the contrary-- which would also mean that the material should be taught that way too , , , What do you think?
Brief · July 12, 2010
"I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others; this, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home." --George Washington
Re: The Left
"Attorney General Eric Holder and the rest of the open-borders DOJ team have invoked a 'preemption' doctrine based on the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause to attack Arizona's anti-illegal immigration measure and oppose local and state enforcement of federal immigration laws. Never mind that the Arizona law was drafted scrupulously to comply with all federal statutes and the Constitution. You gotta love Obama's fair-weather friends of the Constitution. When a state acts to do the job the feds won't do, Obama's legal eagles run to the Founding Fathers for protection. When, on the other hand, left-wing cities across the country pass illegal alien sanctuary policies that flagrantly defy national immigration laws and hamper cross-jurisdiction enforcement, the newfound federal preemption advocates are nowhere in sight. The Obama DOJ's lawsuit against Arizona is sabotage of the people's will and the government's fundamental responsibility to provide for the common defense." --columnist Michelle Malkin
"[T]o ascribe the word 'sector' to the limitless Unconstitutional and unnecessary public 'businesses' is pure subterfuge. The plunder sector is the only accurate title for what the government does outside its strict Constitutional scope. Any and all government 'stimulus' retards growth because it removes current and future wealth from its producers and gives it to central planners who are not subject to the market but to voters, a significant part of which do not pay for the bread and circuses they demand.... But if Barack Obama is trying to implode the system, and he is to succeed in doing so, how does he know that the people of this nation will not revolt? Does he assume that people will simply demand a government that makes all of their decisions for them? Perhaps he knows that this is a failing battle, but he realizes that if we manage to teeter for years on the edge, at least he will have accelerated the decline for fundamental transformation, swelling the public payroll and finances, sufficiently hobbling the private sector, weakening our morale and making people exponentially more reliant on government. Even if he cannot push all the way to totalitarian collectivism, he can still get us close enough that is almost impossible to repeal massive statism." --columnist Andrew Mellon
"Today, Americans are stifled by big government, smothered by over-regulation, and taxed to death. Our Founding Fathers who risked everything they had -- their fortunes, their families, their lives -- to secure freedom for us would not recognize our current economic reality as anything even close to the economic liberty they worked so hard to secure. Yes, we are endowed by our Creator with the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. But the government formed to protect those rights now makes it awfully hard for Americans to see economic liberty anywhere and nearly impossible to pursue financial security and the happiness that comes with it. It's time to reclaim a bit of that old time religion. It's time to secure economic liberty by cutting taxes, reducing regulations and shrinking the size of government. We've got to free individuals to use our God-given talents and imaginations to build a better life for ourselves and our children or we will eventually lose our liberty altogether." --columnist Rebecca Hagelin
"When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion -- when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing -- when you see money flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors -- when you see that men get richer by graft and pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you -- when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice -- you may know that your society is doomed." --author and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982)
"If there's any message that I wish to convey today, it is: be of good cheer. We're coming back and coming back strong. Our confidence flows not from our skill at maneuvering through political mazes, not from our ability to make the right deal at the right time, nor from any idea of playing one interest group off against the other. Unlike our opponents, who find their glee in momentary political leverage, we [nourish] our strength of purpose from a commitment to ideals that we deeply believe are not only right but that work. ... We are, and proudly so, but we are also the keepers of the flame of liberty." --Ronald Reagan
For the Record
"How might our founders have commented about [the] U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding our rights to keep and bear arms? Justice Samuel Alito, in writing the majority opinion, said, 'Individual self-defense is the central component of the Second Amendment.' The founders would have responded 'Balderdash!' Jefferson said, 'What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.' George Mason explained, '(T)o disarm the people (is) the best and most effectual way to enslave them.' Noah Webster elaborated: 'Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed. ... The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.' Contrary to Alito's assertion, the central component of the Second Amendment is to protect ourselves from U.S. Congress, not street thugs." --economist Walter E. Williams
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Will wonders never cease?
on: July 12, 2010, 10:14:05 AM
OMG, I actually agree with a POTH editorial
The life of animals raised in confinement on industrial farms is slowly improving, thanks to pressure from consumers, animal rights advocates, farmers and legislators. In late June, a compromise was reached in Ohio that will gradually put an end to the tiny pens used for raising veal calves and holding pregnant sows, spaces so small the animals can barely move.
In California last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold in the state conform to the provisions of Proposition 2, the humane farming law that was embraced by state voters in a landslide in 2008. By 2015, every whole egg sold in the state must come from a hen that is able to stretch her wings, standing or lying, without touching another bird or the edges of her cage. This requirement would at least relieve the worst of the production horrors that are common in the industry now.
Since California does not produce all the eggs it eats, this new law will have a wider effect on the industry; every producer who hopes to sell eggs in the state must meet its regulations.
Heartening as these developments are, there is also strong resistance from the food industry and from fake consumer-advocacy groups that are shilling for it.
In fact, there is no justification, economic or otherwise, for the abusive practice of confining animals in spaces barely larger than the volume of their bodies. Animals with more space are healthier, and they are no less productive.
Industrial confinement is cruel and senseless and will turn out to be, we hope, a relatively short-lived anomaly in modern farming.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: AIDs
on: July 12, 2010, 10:06:05 AM
Buried in this piece are some really scary data about transmssion rates:
WASHINGTON — President Obama will unveil a new national strategy this week to curb the AIDS epidemic by slashing the number of new infections and increasing the number of people who get care and treatment.
“Annual AIDS deaths have declined, but the number of new infections has been static and the number of people living with H.I.V. is growing,” says a final draft of the report, obtained by The New York Times.
In the report, the administration calls for steps to reduce the annual number of new H.I.V. infections by 25 percent within five years. “Approximately 56,000 people become infected each year, and more than 1.1 million Americans are living with H.I.V.,” the report says.
Mr. Obama plans to announce the strategy, distilled from 15 months of work and discussions with thousands of people around the country, at the White House on Tuesday.
While acknowledging that “increased investments in certain key areas are warranted,” the report does not propose a major increase in federal spending. It says the administration will redirect money to areas with the greatest need and population groups at greatest risk, including gay and bisexual men and African-Americans. The federal government now spends more than $19 billion a year on domestic AIDS programs.
On average, the report says, one person is newly infected with H.I.V. every nine and a half minutes, but tens of thousands of people with the virus are not receiving any care. If they got care, the report says, they could prolong their own lives and reduce the spread of the virus to others. By 2015 the report says, the United States should “increase the proportion of newly diagnosed patients linked to clinical care within three months of their H.I.V. diagnosis to 85 percent,” from the current 65 percent.
The first-ever national AIDS strategy has been in the works since the start of the administration. It comes in the context of growing frustrations expressed by some gay rights groups. They say that more money is urgently needed for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, and they assert that the White House has not done enough to secure repeal of the law banning military service by people who are openly gay or bisexual.
The report tries to revive the sense of urgency that gripped the nation in the first years after discovery of the virus that causes AIDS. “Public attention to the H.I.V. epidemic has waned,” the report says. “Because H.I.V. is treatable, many people now think that it is no longer a public health emergency.”
The report calls for “a more coordinated national response to the H.I.V. epidemic” and lays out specific steps to be taken by various federal agencies.
Mr. Obama offers a compliment to President George W. Bush, who made progress against AIDS in Africa by setting clear goals and holding people accountable.
The program begun by Mr. Bush, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, “has taught us valuable lessons about fighting H.I.V. and scaling up efforts around the world that can be applied to the domestic epidemic,” the report says.
Mr. Obama’s strategy is generally consistent with policies recommended by public health specialists and advocates for people with H.I.V. But some experts had called for higher goals, more aggressive timetables and more spending on prevention and treatment.
The report makes these points:
¶Far too many people infected with H.I.V. are unaware of their status and may unknowingly transmit the virus to their partners. By 2015, the proportion of people with H.I.V. who know of their condition should be increased to 90 percent, from 79 percent today.
¶The new health care law will significantly expand access to care for people with H.I.V., but federal efforts like the Ryan White program will still be needed to fill gaps in services.
¶Federal spending on H.I.V. testing and prevention does not match the need. States with the lowest numbers of H.I.V./AIDS cases often receive the most money per case. The federal government should allocate more of the money to states with the highest “burden of disease.”
¶Health officials must devote “more attention and resources” to gay and bisexual men, who account for slightly more than half of new infections each year, and African-Americans, who account for 46 percent of people living with H.I.V.
¶The H.I.V. transmission rate, which indicates how fast the epidemic is spreading, should be reduced by 30 percent in five years. At the current rate, about 5 of every 100 people with H.I.V. transmit the virus to someone in a given year.
If the transmission rate is unchanged, the report says, “within a decade, the number of new infections would increase to more than 75,000 per year and the number of people living with H.I.V. would grow to more than 1.5 million.”
The report finds that persistent discrimination against people with H.I.V. is a major barrier to progress in fighting the disease.
“The stigma associated with H.I.V. remains extremely high,” it says. “People living with H.I.V. may still face discrimination in many areas of life, including employment, housing, provision of health care services and access to public accommodations.”
The administration promises to “strengthen enforcement of civil rights laws” protecting people with H.I.V.
One political challenge for the administration is to win broad public support for a campaign that will focus more narrowly on specific groups and communities at high risk for H.I.V. infection.
“Just as we mobilize the country to support cancer research whether or not we believe that we are at high risk of cancer and we support public education whether or not we have children,” the report says, “fighting H.I.V. requires widespread public support to sustain a long-term effort.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Challenges in training Pak army
on: July 12, 2010, 09:59:23 AM
Its POTH, so caveat lector
WARSAK, Pakistan — The recent graduation ceremony here for Pakistani troops trained by Americans to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda was intended as show of fresh cooperation between the Pakistani and American militaries. But it said as much about its limitations.
Nearly 250 Pakistani paramilitary troops in khaki uniforms and green berets snapped to attention, with top students accepting a certificate from an American Army colonel after completing the specialized training for snipers and platoon and company leaders. But this new center, 20 miles from the Afghanistan border, was built to train as many as 2,000 soldiers at a time. The largest component of the American-financed instruction — a 10-week basic-training course — is months behind schedule, officials from both sides acknowledge, in part because Pakistani commanders say they cannot afford to send troops for new training as fighting intensifies in the border areas.
Pakistan also restricts the number of American trainers throughout the country to no more than about 120 Special Operations personnel, fearful of being identified too closely with the unpopular United States — even though the Americans reimburse Pakistan more than $1 billion a year for its military operations in the border areas. “We want to keep a low signature,” said a senior Pakistani officer.
The deep suspicion that underlies every American move here is a fact of life that American officers say they must work through as they try to reverse the effects of the many years when the United States had cut Pakistan off from military aid because of its nuclear weapons program.
That time of estrangement, which lasted through the 1990s, left the Pakistanis feeling scorned and abandoned by the United States, and its military distant and seeded with officers and soldiers sympathetic to conservative Islam — and even at times the very militants they are today charged with fighting.
Today the American-led war in Afghanistan and its continuing campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas have made the United States suspect at all levels of the military, and among the Pakistani population, as anti-Americanism has hit new heights. This training program is among the first steps to repair that relationship. “This is the most complex operating environment I’ve ever dealt with,” said Col. Kurt Sonntag, a West Point graduate who handed out the graduation certificates here.
Such are the limits on the Americans that dozens of Pakistani enlisted “master trainers,” taught by the Americans, do the bulk of the hands-on instruction here. Since January 2009, about 1,000 scouts from Pakistan’s Frontier Corps have completed the training, which is designed to help turn the 58,000-member paramilitary force that patrols the tribal areas from a largely passive border force into skilled and motivated fighters.
The personnel training is just one piece of what is now a multipronged relationship. With combating Al Qaeda and the Taliban now the overriding priority, the United States provides Pakistan with a wide array of weapons, shares intelligence about the militants, and has given it more than $10 billion toward the cost of deploying nearly 150,000 troops in and around the border areas since 2001 — with the promise of much more to come.
On June 27, the United States delivered to Pakistan the first of three new F-16 jet fighters equipped with precision targeting instruments for day and night use. A half dozen United States Air Force pilots traveled here to train and qualify Pakistani aviators on night operations.
Washington is stressing that these upgraded fighters will be used by Pakistan against the militants in the tribal areas, but they also augment the F-16 fleet that the United States has financed over the years as part of the country’s arsenal that is directed against India.
By urging Pakistan to embrace counterinsurgency training, the United States is trying to steer the Pakistani Army toward spending more resources against what Washington believes is Pakistan’s main enemy, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, rather than devoting almost the entire military effort against India, American officials said. Central to this approach is an array of training that the Americans tailor to what Pakistani says it needs for the Frontier Corps, its conventional army and its Special Operations forces.
About a dozen American trainers are assigned to yearlong duty at this training center, a cluster of classrooms and dormitories and adjacent training ranges on a large campus, which the United States spent $23 million to build, plus another $30 million for training and equipment requested by the Pakistani military.
The most gifted Frontier Corps marksmen are selected for sniper training, a skill in need against the Taliban who have been using Russian-made Dragonov sniper rifles to deadly effect against the Pakistani Army.
Five two-man sniper teams, trained to use American-made M24 rifles as well as how to work with a spotter, measure wind speeds and camouflage their positions, received awards from Colonel Sonntag. But five two-man teams were dropped during the training because their math skills were not good enough, another American trainer said.
Much of the training here is aimed at building the confidence of the Frontier Corps scouts, some of whom have relatives in the Taliban, and who speak the same language, Pashto, as many militants. Often the militants are better armed and more handsomely paid than the scouts.
Three basic skills were built into the course, one of the American trainers said: How to shoot straight, how to administer battlefield first aid, and how to provide covering fire for advancing troops.
Until a few years ago, the Frontier Corps was widely ridiculed as corrupt and incompetent. But under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, salaries have quadrupled to about $200 a month, new equipment is flowing in, and the scouts are winning praise in combat. Still, General Khan acknowledged in an interview that the training here was still “settling down and maturing.”
The scouts face a battle-hardened enemy that has lived in the mountains around here for decades. “We’ve been here one-and-a-half years,” said Col. Ahsan Raza, the training center’s commandant. “They have been preparing for the last 20 years.”
The Pakistani Army also conducts training on its own without direct American aid. At the Pabbi Hills training center, halfway between Islamabad and Lahore, a visitor drives up a rutted dirt road, past clusters of troop tents pitched amid acacia trees, to a sprawling, 2,500-acre series of ranges and obstacle courses.
Every Pakistani Army unit assigned to the fight in the country’s tribal belt now receives at least four weeks of training in what the Pakistani Army calls “low-intensity conflict.”
Atop a 30-foot-high observation tower that doubles as a rappelling wall, Maj. Shaukat Hayat, second in command of the 55 Baloch Regiment, a 700-man infantry unit, oversees as his troops drill in how to clear a militant’s house. A billowing white smoke grenade offers advancing forces cover as they go room to room, exchanging gunfire with mock militants.
A Pakistani trainer stands on a walkway above the roofless rooms that allows him to observe and grade the troops’ performance. “When they’re done, they’ll go back and review what they did, and do it again,” said Major Hayat, 36.
The instructors are veterans of the campaigns in the tribal areas. Troops conduct live-fire drills on outdoor ranges with popup targets of militants. Similar drills at indoor ranges have paper targets with pictures of guerrillas and civilians, testing the troops’ split-second skills to judge friend or foe under fire.
But simulating the fight with the militants goes only so far, Pakistani officers say.
“It’s good textbook training, but the final training has to take place on the ground and must deal with the idea of a bullet coming at you,” said Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, who commands all Pakistani forces in the tribal areas. “After that first encounter, it’s done. They’re O.K.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Dem Governors concerned
on: July 12, 2010, 09:53:29 AM
Published: July 11, 2010
BOSTON — In a private meeting with White House officials this weekend, Democratic governors voiced deep anxiety about the Obama administration’s suit against Arizona’s new immigration law, worrying that it could cost a vulnerable Democratic Party in the fall elections.
Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association on Sunday.
While the weak economy dominated the official agenda at the summer meeting here of the National Governors Association, concern over immigration policy pervaded the closed-door session between Democratic governors and White House officials and simmered throughout the three-day event.
At the Democrats’ meeting on Saturday, some governors bemoaned the timing of the Justice Department lawsuit, according to two governors who spoke anonymously because the discussion was private.
“Universally the governors are saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about jobs,’ ” Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, said in an interview. “And all of a sudden we have immigration going on.”
He added, “It is such a toxic subject, such an important time for Democrats.”
The administration seemed to be taking a carrot-and-stick approach on Sunday. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in town to give the governors a classified national security briefing, met one-on-one with Jan Brewer, the Republican who succeeded her as governor of Arizona and ardently supports the immigration law.
About the same time as that meeting, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said on a taped Sunday talk show that the Justice Department could bring yet another lawsuit against Arizona if there is evidence that the immigration law leads to racial profiling.
Ms. Brewer said she and Ms. Napolitano did not discuss the current lawsuit. Instead, in a conversation she described as cordial, they discussed Arizona’s request for more National Guard troops along the border with Mexico, as well as other resources.
The Democrats’ meeting provided a window on tensions between the White House and states over the suit, which the Justice Department filed last week in federal court in Phoenix. Nineteen Democratic governors are either leaving office or seeking re-election this year, and Republicans see those seats as crucial to swaying the 2012 presidential race.
The Arizona law — which Ms. Brewer signed in April and which, barring an injunction, takes effect July 29 — makes it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant there. It also requires police officers to determine the immigration status of people they stop for other offenses if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that they might be illegal immigrants.
The lawsuit contends that controlling immigration is a federal responsibility, but polls suggest that a majority of Americans support the Arizona law, or at least the concept of a state having a strong role in immigration enforcement.
Republican governors at the Boston meeting were also critical of the lawsuit, saying it infringed on states’ rights and rallying around Ms. Brewer, whose presence spurred a raucous protest around the downtown hotel where the governors gathered.
“I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that almost every state in America next January is going to see a bill similar to Arizona’s,” said Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, a Republican seeking re-election.
But the unease of Democratic governors, seven of whom are seeking re-election this year, was more striking.
“I might have chosen both a different tack and a different time,” said Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado, a Democrat who was facing a tough fight for re-election and pulled out of the race earlier this year. “This is an issue that divides us politically, and I’m hopeful that their strategy doesn’t do that in a way that makes it more difficult for candidates to get elected, particularly in the West.”
The White House would not directly respond to reports of complaints from some Democratic governors.
But David Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the president remained committed to passing an immigration overhaul, and that addressing the issue did not mean he was ignoring the economy.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t have a good, healthy debate about the economy and other issues,” Mr. Axelrod said.
Mr. Obama addressed the economy last week during stops in Kansas City and Las Vegas, and has been calling on Congress to offer additional tax relief to small businesses.
And the heads of Mr. Obama’s national debt commission — Alan K. Simpson and Erskine B. Bowles — were on hand here on Sunday to press the economic issue.
The nation’s total federal debt next year is expected to exceed $14 trillion, and Mr. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Mr. Bowles, a Democrat and the White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, offered a gloomy assessment if spending is not brought under control even more.
“This debt is like a cancer,” Mr. Bowles said. “It is truly going to destroy the country from within.”
Still, the issue of immigration commanded as much attention as anything here this weekend.
Ms. Brewer, who was trailed by television cameras all weekend, called the lawsuit “outrageous” and said the state was receiving donations from around the country to help fight it.
“I think Arizona will win,” she said, “and we will take a position for all of America.”
Immigration was not the only topic at the Saturday meeting between Democratic governors and two White House officials — Patrick Gaspard, Mr. Obama’s political director, and Cecilia Munoz, director of intergovernmental affairs. But several governors, including Christine Gregoire of Washington, said it was a particularly heated issue.
Ms. Gregoire, who does not face an election this year, said the White House was doing a poor job of showing the American public that it was working on the problem of illegal immigration.
Page 2 of 2)
“They described for me a list of things that they are doing to try and help on that border,” Ms. Gregoire said of the White House officials at the closed-door meeting. “And I said, ‘The public doesn’t know that.’ ”
She added, “We’ve got a message void, and the only thing we’re hearing is that they’re filing a lawsuit.”
Some Democrats also joined Republicans in calling for Congress to pass an immigration policy overhaul this year.
“There are 535 members of Congress,” said Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, a Democrat. “Certainly somebody back there can chew gum and hold the basketball at the same time. This is not an either-or.”
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico praised the Justice Department’s lawsuit, saying his fellow Democrats’ concerns were “misguided.”
“Policy-wise it makes sense,” said Mr. Richardson, who is Hispanic and who leaves office this year on term limits, “and Obama is popular with Hispanic voters and this is going to be a popular move with them nationally.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland — a Democrat who voiced apprehension about the lawsuit in the private meeting, according to the two governors who requested anonymity — said in an interview that he supported it.
“The president doesn’t have control over some of the timing of things that happen,” Mr. O’Malley said. “When those things arise, you can’t be too precious about what’s in it for your own personal political timing or even your party’s timing. When matters like this arise, I think the president has to take a principled stand.”
But Mr. Bredesen said that in Tennessee, where the governor’s race will be tight this year, Democratic candidates were already on the defensive about the federal health care overhaul, and the suit against Arizona further weakened them. In Tennessee, he said, Democratic candidates are already “disavowing” the immigration lawsuit.
“Maybe you do that when you’re strong,” he said of the suit, “and not when there’s an election looming out there.”
Mr. Ritter of Colorado said he wished the Justice Department had waited to sue Arizona until after the law went into effect, to give the public a chance to see how difficult it would be to enforce.
“It’s just an easier case to make,” he said. “I just think that law enforcement officers are going to have a terribly difficult time applying this law in a constitutional way.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Littoral Combat Ships
on: July 12, 2010, 09:43:14 AM
By NATHAN HODGE
WASHINGTON—This summer, the Navy expects to choose between two competing designs for the Littoral Combat Ship, a fast, shore-hugging warship that will take on 21st century missions like chasing pirates and intercepting drug smugglers.
The Littoral Combat Ship, produced by General Dynamics, underway during builder's trials.
.At issue is more than a shipbuilding contract. The contest underscores a broad discussion taking place inside and outside the Navy about the future size and shape of the service's fleet.
U.S. naval power is built in large part around carrier strike groups, a costly armada of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and escort ships that project American power around the globe. Littoral Combat Ships are pint-size in comparison. They will be roughly the size of a frigate—smaller than a destroyer, larger than a patrol boat—but with more automation.
Fully loaded for combat, they will have about 75 people aboard, about a third a frigate's crew. In often outsize Pentagon terms, the craft will be relatively cheap: roughly half a billion dollars each. A new carrier is projected to cost around $10 billion.
The Navy is choosing between designs offered by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the U.S. unit of Australia's Austal Ltd., which has teamed with General Dynamics Corp. Both models have innovative features. The Lockheed variant, 378 feet long and built at Fincantieri Marine Group LLC's Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, Wis., has a high-speed steel hull that lets it travel at over 40 knots (about 50 miles an hour).
The Austal/General Dynamics ship is built around an aluminum trimaran design, a configuration never before used in a U.S. warship. Derived from a high-speed commercial ferry, the 419-foot ship features a 7,300-square-foot flight deck and a spacious mission bay for combat equipment.
One of each ship design is already in service, and the Navy expects to award a fixed-price contract to a single winner for 10 of the new warships. Another order of five ships is to be awarded to a competing shipyard sometime in 2012.
The Littoral Combat Ship award comes at a crucial time for the sea service. An austerity drive at the Pentagon, fueled in part by slowing growth in the Defense Department's budget, is placing new pressure on Navy spending and raising questions about whether the service will have to scale back an ambitious long-term shipbuilding plan.
In a recent speech, Adm. Gary Roughead, the Navy's top admiral, pointed to the "potential for a procurement squeeze," saying that operations, maintenance and manpower costs had the potential to cut into money available for equipment purchases.
Further adding pressure, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has publicly asked whether the Navy needs to stick with plans to keep 11 aircraft carrier strike groups for the next three decades, saying the U.S. already enjoyed "massive overmatch" against any other navy.
And in a recent analysis of the Navy's current 30-year shipbuilding plan, the Congressional Budget Office warned that the Navy wouldn't be able to afford all the ships on its wish list, even if it continues to receive the same amount of funding for ship construction—an average of about $15 billion a year in 2010 dollars.
Maren Leed, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, says the Navy faces a much tighter budget in coming years, which may force it to make choices, trading purchases of expensive ships like carriers for more investment in ships like the Littoral Combat Ship.
The smaller and cheaper Littoral Combat Ship may help the Navy stick to a goal important to its top officials. For several years, they have argued publicly for a shipbuilding program that would allow them to build out to a 313-ship fleet, up from 288 ships today.
Lawmakers involved in the defense spending process are also keen to boost ship numbers. Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, recently told reporters that "numbers make a difference" when it comes to maintaining a global naval presence, and the current fiscal year 2011 budget request includes nine new ships that count toward that 313-ship goal. But Rep. Gene Taylor (D., Miss.), chairman of the seapower subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Navy was retiring older ships more quickly than it was buying new ones.
"This is the third CNO [chief of naval operations] I've dealt with who's said the 313 ship is a floor, not a ceiling," he said in an interview. "And yet they send over a ship retention plan that goes the wrong way."
The service also canceled two earlier shipbuilding contracts for Littoral Combat Ships, because the prices had become too high. The Navy's decision to pare down the Littoral Combat Ship to a single design is supposed to yield a more affordable ship.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Women fighters
on: July 12, 2010, 09:29:07 AM
Lonely Dog writes:
Today I got the most recent fighters application. I’m very glad that
this year we have a strong female pool of fighters.
So far we have:
Monika (52kg), Arianna (53kg), Laetitia (55kg), Lynn (60kg), and Christine
I'm sure you all will have a lot of fun.
see you all soon,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / retired CIA Russian expert says
on: July 11, 2010, 09:56:02 AM
Spy swap was a mistakeBy Gene Coyle, Special to CNNJuly 11, 2010 9:40 a.m. EDT
Ex-CIA Russian expert says the quick spy swap will be seen as sign of U.S. weakness
He says it sends the message that there's no risk for Russia to spy on the U.S.
Coyle: U.S. is right to try to maintain good relations with Moscow
Alleged spies should have spent more time behind bars, he says
Editor's note: Gene Coyle is a retired, Russian-speaking, 30-year veteran of the CIA, who specialized for most of his career on Russian affairs. He is a recipient of the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit. He is now an adjunct professor at Indiana University and the author of two spy novels.
(CNN) -- The Obama administration's rush to sweep the recent Russian spy scandal off the table as quickly as possible with this swap is a bad move on several counts.
It is understandable and correct that President Barack Obama values the overall U.S.-Russian relationship above the question of whether a few Russian spies spend years in jail.
The "reset" campaign was an excellent idea; too bad no one in our Department of State knew how to correctly spell the word in Russian when Secretary Hillary Clinton presented the "button" to the Russian Foreign Minister. However, there is a line between seeking a mutually beneficial relationship and delusional pandering.
The history of U.S.-Russian relations shows that dealing respectfully but firmly is what works best. Most importantly, Moscow only agrees to anything that it perceives to be at least 50 percent in its self-interest, not because we've been nice guys. The only thing releasing all of these deep-cover Russian intelligence officers within a matter of days is going to teach Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, an old KGB officer, is that Obama is a pushover -- overly focused on making sure not to offend Russia.
Aside from sending the wrong political message, the quick swap also tells the leadership of the Russian government and the SVR, its intelligence service, that there is really no downside to being caught carrying out espionage in America.
Any intelligence service in the world, including Russia's, when deciding whether to carry out a particular espionage operation looks at the "risk factor." What will be the blow back if this becomes known?
Running "illegals" -- that is, Russians posing as citizens from a third country and who have no overt connection to the Russian embassy or consulates in America -- would usually be considered a high-risk operation by Moscow because those Russian citizens don't have diplomatic immunity if caught. It's bad press and it's bad for morale within the SVR if one, much less 11, of your deep cover officers get caught and are facing decades in prison. But Obama has now just told the SVR, "Hey, there is no penalty for spying in America. If we catch you, we'll just let you go so as not to damage 'big picture' relations."
We did show Russia certain appropriate courtesies in these arrests, which would have indicated we didn't want to harm our political relationship with Russia.
We waited until Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had made his visit to America. We waited until after the G20 meetings in Canada. We haven't even publicly named or expelled the Russian diplomats who were apparently observed being involved in the communications with these illegals. (Hopefully, the Department of State has at least told the Russian ambassador that certain of his diplomats should quietly leave America.) And speaking of morale, what message does this send to the hundreds of FBI special agents who spent thousands of hours working these cases?
According to various press accounts, the number of Russian intelligence officers in America and Western Europe has already returned to Cold War levels. Obama has now told the Russians, there isn't even a problem if we catch you. Try anything you want.
Normally, when any intelligence service has a major flap as this was, it would order an immediate stand down of other operations in that country for perhaps several months while it tried to figure out what had gone wrong. By immediately sending these SVR officers back to Moscow, they will be available to assist in that investigation.
Not knowing what all they were involved in -- it was certainly more than "penetrating the local PTA" -- I don't necessarily advocate having kept these people in prison for decades, but a year or two in prison before offering a swap would have sent a strong message to Putin and the SVR. And if the press accounts are accurate, getting four people out of Russian jails in return for these 10 doesn't seem like much of a bargain either. (An 11th suspect detained in Cyprus remains on the loose after being released on bail.)
Obama is no doubt an intelligent fellow, but he certainly didn't get very good advice from his intelligence community or Russian experts about how to handle this spy caper.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gene Coyle.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Kristoff: Waiting for Ghandi
on: July 11, 2010, 08:49:36 AM
Waiting for Gandhi
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: July 9, 2010
BILIN, West Bank
Despite being stoned and tear-gassed on this trip, I find a reed of hope here. It’s that some Palestinians are dabbling in a strategy of nonviolent resistance that just might be a game-changer.
The organizers hail the methods of Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., recognizing that nonviolent resistance could be a more powerful tool to achieve a Palestinian state than rockets and missiles. Bilin is one of several West Bank villages experimenting with these methods, so I followed protesters here as they marched to the Israeli security fence.
Most of the marchers were Palestinians, but some were also Israeli Jews and foreigners who support the Palestinian cause. They chanted slogans and waved placards as photographers snapped photos. At first the mood was festive and peaceful, and you could glimpse the potential of this approach.
But then a group of Palestinian youths began to throw rocks at Israeli troops. That’s the biggest challenge: many Palestinians define “nonviolence” to include stone-throwing.
Soon after, the Israeli forces fired volleys of tear gas at us, and then charged. The protesters fled, some throwing rocks backward as they ran. It’s a far cry from the heroism of Gandhi’s followers, who refused even to raise their arms to ward off blows as they were clubbed.
(I brought my family with me on this trip, and my kids experienced the gamut: we were stoned by Palestinian kids in East Jerusalem, and tear-gassed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank.)
Another problem with these protests, aside from the fact that they aren’t truly nonviolent, is they typically don’t much confound the occupation authorities.
But imagine if Palestinians stopped the rock-throwing and put female pacifists in the lead. What if 1,000 women sat down peacefully on a road to block access to an illegal Jewish settlement built on Palestinian farmland? What if the women allowed themselves to be tear-gassed, beaten and arrested without a single rock being thrown? Those images would be on televisions around the world — particularly if hundreds more women marched in to replace those hauled away.
“This is what Israel is most afraid of,” said Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a prominent Palestinian who is calling for a nonviolent mass movement. He says Palestinians need to create their own version of Gandhi’s famous 1930 salt march.
One genuinely peaceful initiative is a local boycott of goods produced by Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Another is the weekly demonstrations in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah against evictions of Palestinians there. And in Gaza, some farmers have protested Israel’s no-go security zones by publicly marching into those zones, even at the risk of being shot.
So far there is no Palestinian version of Martin Luther King Jr. But one candidate might be Ayed Morrar. A balding, mild-mannered activist, he was the mastermind behind the most successful initiative so far: nonviolent demonstrations a half-dozen years ago in the West Bank village of Budrus against Israel’s construction of a security fence there. More than many other Palestinians, he has a shrewd sense of public relations.
“With nonviolent struggle, we can win the media battle,” Mr. Morrar told me, speaking in English. “They always used to say that Palestinians are killers. With nonviolence, we can show that we are victims, that we are not against Jews but are against occupation.”
Mr. Morrar spent six years in Israeli prisons but seems devoid of bitterness. He says that Israel has a right to protect itself by building a fence — but on its own land, not on the West Bank.
Most Palestinian demonstrations are overwhelmingly male, but in Budrus women played a central role. They were led by Mr. Morrar’s quite amazing daughter, Iltezam Morrar. Then 15, she once blocked an Israeli bulldozer by diving in front of it (the bulldozer retreated, and she was unhurt).
Israeli security forces knew how to deal with bombers but were flummoxed by peaceful Palestinian women. Even when beaten and fired on with rubber bullets, the women persevered. Finally, Israel gave up. It rerouted the security fence to bypass nearly all of Budrus.
The saga is chronicled in this year’s must-see documentary “Budrus,” a riveting window into what might be possible if Palestinians adopted civil disobedience on a huge scale. In a sign of interest in nonviolent strategies, the documentary is scheduled to play in dozens of West Bank villages in the coming months, as well as at international film festivals.
I don’t know whether Palestinians can create a peaceful mass movement that might change history, and their first challenge will be to suppress the stone-throwers and bring women into the forefront. But this grass-roots movement offers a ray of hope for less violence and more change.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yemen, next Afg?-4
on: July 11, 2010, 08:07:28 AM
Page 10 of 10)
So far the most masterful piece of propaganda by Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula is still the "Battle of Marib" video. In it, Raymi tells the story
of the Yemeni military's effort to destroy an Al Qaeda cell and capture Aidh
al-Shabwani, a young militant with a lame leg whom one government official
described to me as "a sort of local Robin Hood figure." The raid was a
humiliating failure. The army lost several tanks and armored vehicles to the
guerrillas, who knew the local orange groves and deserts well. The Al Qaeda
men took possession of a weapons convoy and captured seven soldiers, who
were later released.
The video's most striking feature is its anxious plea to tribesmen to resist
payments and pressure from the Yemeni government and its Saudi and American
backers. It starts off with an acknowledgment that the raid took place
because of a "betrayal" by local tribal leaders. Then Raymi intones: "How
shameful it is that some sheiks allow themselves to become soldiers and
slaves of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is himself but a slave to Saudi riyals and
American dollars. I say to these sheiks: be careful that you don't become a
piece of chewing gum that a person enjoys for a short time and then throws
away." After Raymi and another narrator describe the Al Qaeda victory, the
second narrator offers a more refined formulation, noting that the seven
soldiers' lives were spared: "If you don't support the mujahedeen, then at
least don't stand against them." Since then, the group has released a stream
of statements and videos outlining its basic objectives: to recruit more
followers, overthrow Saleh and use Yemen as a base to attack the Saudi
monarchy and build an Islamic caliphate.
AFTER THE DAWN cruise-missile strike on Rafadh, the open-air tribal meeting
reached a conclusion. The elders decided that Quso and his Al Qaeda gang had
become a threat to the tribes. Two deadly missiles had struck in less than a
week; more might be coming. Tribal hospitality was one thing, and it was a
shame that the five young men were killed. But the presence of Quso and his
recruits was endangering everyone. They had to go. The elders deputized
Ahmed and a fellow tribesman to evict them.
Ahmed told me he sat in his pickup truck with Quso and spoke to him firmly:
"Are you satisfied? All of the people here have been living in the
mountains, in the trees, for a week. Now we want you out, and don't come
back unless you're alone." The Al Qaeda man said nothing. He seemed subdued
and appeared to understand that he could not challenge the tribe's decision.
Ahmed drove Quso out of the valley on a bumpy dirt track. As they drove,
Quso contacted other Al Qaeda members in the area, and they picked them up
one by one. Before long there were 11 men piled into the truck. Ahmed said
he left them on the nearest main road and returned to his valley. A few days
later, Quso came back. This time he was alone. As of mid-February, he still
was living alone in his grandfather's house, according to Jifri, who visited
Not everyone has reacted to the airstrikes this way. In the neighboring
province of Abyan, an airstrike killed dozens of people, most of them women
and children, according to local witnesses. The civilian death toll created
a groundswell of anger at the Yemeni government and the United States that
was a boon to Al Qaeda recruiters, several local people told me. Ali
al-Shal, an opposition member of the Yemeni Parliament who is from a village
close to where the Abyan airstrikes took place, told me it was too dangerous
for him to visit afterward. Ultimately he was able to visit, but only once
and only by drawing on his family connections with local tribal figures.
"There was not much sympathy for Al Qaeda before, but the strike has created
a lot of sympathy," he said.
IN RECENT WEEKS, Al Qaeda has sounded more confident than ever, issuing
threats and calls to arms, along with publishing its Internet magazine and
introducing an English-language online magazine called Inspire. In May, a
botched air raid led to the death of a tribal leader in Marib who was
negotiating on the government's behalf with a local Al Qaeda leader,
infuriating the local tribes and further eroding President Saleh's
credibility. On June 19, four heavily armed men stormed the fortified
headquarters of the Political Security Organization in the southern port
city of Aden, freeing prisoners suspected of being Al Qaeda members and
Before leaving Yemen, I traveled to Aden. Near the dilapidated oil refinery
built by the British, I found the Quso family home, in a row of simple stone
and concrete bungalows. Fahd's father, Muhammad al-Quso, was just walking up
to the door as I arrived. He was an old man with a deeply lined face,
dressed in a red-and-white futa and headdress. He walked with a cane. Inside
the house he sat down heavily in an armchair and told the story of his son's
life. It was a biography that matched many others in Yemen.
Fahd was born in 1975, his father said, and grew up alongside four brothers
and six sisters. He was a happy child and a good student at the local
elementary school, called al-Saafir. But his parents wanted him to have some
religion, so when he was 14 they sent him - along with some of his friends
from the neighborhood - to a school up north called Dar al-Hadith. The
school is famous as one of the first Wahhabi institutions in Yemen; John
Walker Lindh was reportedly among the future jihadists who studied there.
After he came home, he studied welding at the local technical school. But he
decided not to work at the refinery, as his father had. When I asked about
the accusations that his son took part in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in
2000, he winced and said he didn't believe it. He complained that the
authorities had jailed him, and then later, after freeing him, jailed his
brother-in-law for no reason. Finally, I asked Muhammad whether his son was
a member of Al Qaeda, as the authorities claimed.
"No," he said, "I don't believe this." He was silent for a long time,
staring at the closed door of the house, which was illuminated at its edges
by a bright rectangle of afternoon sunlight. Then he spoke again.
"He is a mujahid," he said, or holy warrior. "He is fighting those who
occupy Arab lands. He is fighting unbelievers."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yemen, next Afg?-3
on: July 11, 2010, 08:06:37 AM
Page 7 of 10)
By 2007, it was clear that a new and more dangerous generation of Al Qaeda
militants was emerging. Unlike their predecessors, these men aimed openly to
overthrow the Yemeni state and refused all dialogue with it. Many later
claimed that they suffered torture in Yemeni prisons during long terms -
usually without formal charges. Some of them had gone to Iraq and returned
with valuable battlefield skills. The attacks grew bloodier and more
frequent: a suicide bombing in July 2007 killed eight Spanish tourists;
there were attacks on oil pipelines. In September 2008, suicide bombers in
two cars struck the U.S. Embassy in Sana in a meticulously planned operation
that left 10 Yemenis and all 6 attackers dead.
Saleh tried to win the militants over through intermediaries. Nasser
al-Bahri, a 35-year-old former driver for bin Laden, told me that he tried
reaching out to the new militants. They refused, and he soon discovered he
was on a "death list" of accused traitors. Several other former jihadists
told me the same thing. "I try to talk to these people," said Ali Muhammad
al-Kurdi, another militant Islamist who fought in Afghanistan. "They tell
me, 'You are an agent.' " Some of the older jihadists advised Saleh to
immunize the state from attacks by Islamizing it. He briefly deployed a
morality-police brigade, modeled on the notorious cane-wielding mutawa in
Saudi Arabia. The attacks continued.
Finally, in January of last year, Tareq al-Fadhli received his late-night
phone call from the president. Saleh said he would release 130 Al Qaeda
sympathizers right away as a good-will gesture and asked Fadhli to arrange
Fadhli told me that he formed a committee of former jihadis and began
traveling through the areas where Al Qaeda has found sanctuary - Marib,
Shabwa, Jawf and Abyan provinces. "The tribal sheiks cooperated with us
everywhere," Fadhli told me. "Whenever we found Qaeda members, we told them:
'The government wants you to turn yourself in, but it's O.K. We will
guarantee your safety.' "
In the end, 20 people on the government's 60-most-wanted list agreed to stop
fighting, Fadhli said. But the mediators never made any progress with Nasser
al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda's Yemen-based branch, or his top
A few months after the failed negotiation, in April 2009, Fadhli defected
from the government, joining the southern secessionist movement. He told me
that he was tired of hearing Saleh offer tempting deals to Al Qaeda while
refusing to even talk to the leaders in the south, whose movement - rooted
in claims of economic discrimination - is populist, secular and nonviolent.
Meanwhile, the United States grew increasingly concerned about Al Qaeda's
growth in Yemen and about Saleh's tendency to see it as a family problem,
solvable through dialogue. Veteran jihadists were said to be coming to Yemen
from Afghanistan and Somalia. Last summer, Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the
overall commander of American military forces in the Middle East, visited
Sana, and the number of American military trainers working with Yemen's
counterterrorism forces quietly grew. In the fall, a select group of
American officials met with Saleh and showed him irrefutable evidence that
Al Qaeda was aiming at him and his relatives, who dominate Yemen's military
and intelligence services. That seems to have abruptly changed Saleh's
attitude, American diplomats told me. The Yemenis began to mount more
aggressive ground raids on Al Qaeda targets, in coordination with the
airstrikes that began in December.
But the strikes and raids were a short-term tactic. The real problem was
that Yemen, with its mind-boggling corruption, its multiple insurgencies,
its disappearing oil and water and its deepening poverty, is sure to descend
further into chaos if something does not change. Everyone has acknowledged
this, including President Obama and a growing chorus of terrorism analysts.
So far, the calls for action have yielded nothing. I spoke to a number of
American officials in Washington and to a variety of diplomats at the
embassy in Sana. They all told me the same thing: no one has a real strategy
for Yemen, in part because there are so few people who have any real
expertise about the country. No American diplomats travel to the provinces
where Al Qaeda has found sanctuary. Even the Yemeni government has great
difficulty reaching these places; often they have no idea whether airstrikes
or bombing runs have hit their targets, because they dare not show up to
check until days afterward.
Officially, American policy in Yemen is twofold: using airstrikes and raids
to help the Yemeni military knock out Al Qaeda cells, while increasing
development and humanitarian aid to address the root causes of radicalism.
In late June, the White House announced it was more than tripling its
humanitarian assistance, to $42.5 million. But the numbers are still small
given Yemen's need. And diplomats concede that they have not figured out how
to address the central issues of poor governance, corruption and the
economy. "There is a huge amount of diplomacy that needs to be done and is
not being done," Edmund J. Hull, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2001 to
2004, said when I met him in Washington. "It makes me uneasy to hear that
we're not getting out to those remote areas. One way or another, we have
ceded the initiative to Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda is calling the shots."
Page 8 of 10)
AL QAEDA HAS a clear Yemen strategy. On Jan. 23, 2009, the group released a
high-quality video clip on the Internet showing four men sitting on a floor,
with a clean white curtain and a flag behind them. One of them was Nasser
al-Wuhayshi, the group's leader, wearing a white turban, and one was Qassim
al-Raymi, its military commander, clad in fatigues and a red-and-white
kaffiyeh. Sitting alongside them were two new Qaeda commanders, both former
detainees from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.
The video was a setback for President Obama, who had been inaugurated days
earlier and had made a high-profile pledge to close Guantánamo - where
nearly half the remaining inmates were Yemenis - within a year. But the real
news was Al Qaeda's announcement that same month that it was merging its
Saudi and Yemeni branches into a single unit: Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula. The new group incorporated a number of fighters from Saudi
Arabia, where the government had cracked down fiercely on terrorist
networks. It proclaimed a broad ambition: to serve as a base for attacks
throughout the region and to replace the infidel governments of Yemen and
Saudi Arabia with a single theocratic state.
At the heart of this new effort was an unlikely leader. Wuhayshi is a tiny
man, less than five feet tall. In videotapes he sits motionless, his pinched
face blank, his small eyes expressionless. Raymi, the group's burly military
commander, speaks passionately, his hands knifing through the air, his eyes
full of righteous anger. By contrast, Wuhayshi seems almost catatonic.
Yet Al Qaeda men treat him with deep veneration. "When they see him, they
kiss him on the forehead, like a great sheik," said Abdulelah Hider Shaea, a
Yemeni journalist who interviewed Wuhayshi and other Al Qaeda leaders before
the video's release. "They all love and respect him." Shaea, who was
blindfolded and driven out to a remote area for his interview, said Wuhayshi
was laconic but quick-witted, with flashes of sarcastic humor and a
remarkable ability to adduce Koranic verses to back up anything he said.
Wuhayshi's authority seems to derive mostly from his long proximity to bin
Laden, whom he served for six years as a private secretary in Afghanistan.
"During bombing raids, everyone else would scatter, but he would stay by bin
Laden's side," Shaea said, echoing a story other Al Qaeda members told him
about their leader. The founders seem to have been impressed: bin Laden's
deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement in November 2008 formally
recognizing Wuhayshi as the emir, or prince, of Al Qaeda in the region.
Shaea and others who have studied him say Wuhayshi appears to be modeling
himself on bin Laden, who has always been more cerebral guide than
day-to-day commander. Wuhayshi left Afghanistan in late 2001 and was
arrested by Iranian authorities; they handed him over two years later to
Yemen, which jailed him without charge. Little is known about his early life
in Abyan province in southern Yemen. Personality aside, he seems to have
much in common with Raymi, his fiery military commander. Both men come from
ordinary families, studied at religious schools and fought in Afghanistan,
according to Shaea and other Yemeni journalists. Both served time afterward
in Yemeni prisons. And both were among the 23 militants who escaped from the
central Sana prison in February 2006.
The two men have also followed bin Laden's example in building an
ever-more-sophisticated propaganda arm for Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula, including frequent video and audio tapes and an Internet
magazine, Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battles), that appears every two
months or so. The magazine makes for bizarre reading, by turns chilling and
poignant. The first page of one recent issue showed a colorful 1950s-style
stock image of a hand that was mixing fluid in a chemical beaker, alongside
a hand grenade and the headline "Year of the Assassination." The authors are
clearly familiar with the style of Western magazine journalism, and many
articles are framed as regular features like View From the Inside and The
Leader's Editorial. There are didactic items, with headlines like "Shariah
Is the Solution" and "Practical Steps Toward the Liberation of Palestine."
But some of the articles are almost whimsical ("A Mujahid's Thoughts"), and
there are sharp satires ("The Saudi Media on Mars"). Much of the content has
an earnest, proselytizing tone, a bit like the ads that Western corporations
publish to trumpet their civic responsibility. One recent article, for
example, was titled "Inside View: Why We're Fighting in the Arabian
Page 9 of 10)
Since it first appeared in early 2008, the magazine has grown steadily more
polished, and the quality of its Koranic scholarship has improved, said
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University who has spent years
tracking Al Qaeda in the region. Its content has mirrored the influx of
Saudi militants into the group, including Said Ali al-Shihri, a former
Guantánamo detainee who is now the deputy emir of Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula. Perhaps the magazine's most frequent target for abuse is Prince
Muhammad bin Nayef, who directs Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism efforts and
has become heavily involved with Yemen's struggle with Al Qaeda. In August,
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula came close to assassinating bin Nayef when
a Saudi suicide bomber posing as a repentant member of the group was allowed
into the prince's Jedda home and detonated a bomb. Bin Nayef was only
lightly injured. Afterward, Sada al-Malahim published a lengthy defense of
the tactic under the headline "War Is Deception," citing Koranic verses that
approve of deceit as a tool in times of war.
The target audience for all this rhetoric is a bit of a mystery: Internet
access is rare in Yemen, especially in the areas where Al Qaeda operates.
There is evidence that the group may be aiming to win over members of the
military or even the political elite (not an implausible goal, given the
depth of sympathy for jihadism in Yemen). As for the broader public, one
hint came in a video the group released last summer. The 18-minute video,
"The Battle of Marib," about a successful battle with the Yemeni military,
pointedly emphasized the accuracy of Al Qaeda's casualty count. The
narrator, Qassim al-Raymi, mocks the government for failing to acknowledge
that seven soldiers were captured. The video then cuts to a government press
conference, in which a spokesman stumbles badly in response to questions
from journalists and refuses - just as Raymi said- to acknowledge the
soldiers' capture. The video then returns to Raymi, who, facing the camera
almost gloatingly, delivers his message: "I call upon all Muslims to take
their information from clear and correct sources, like the jihadi Web sites
on the Internet."
It is far from clear how Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in remote
and desperately underdeveloped areas, turns out such a slick product.
Shaea, the Yemeni journalist who interviewed Al Qaeda's top leaders, told me
he also met four members of the group's media arm in a room that was set up
like a studio, with computers and other equipment. "You could tell they were
rich and well educated," he said. "Some did not look like Arabs. They did
not speak, so I wondered if they even spoke Arabic."
If Wuhayshi and Raymi want to recreate the original Al Qaeda in Yemen, they
also seem to have learned from its mistakes. Starting in 2009, the group
used its Internet magazine and intermittent videos to make increasingly
passionate appeals to the people of Yemen - and especially to its tribes.
The magazine echoed populist discontent about government corruption,
unemployment and unfair distribution of revenue from Yemen's oil, much of
which comes from the very areas where Al Qaeda is active. The articles often
show a deep understanding of local concerns; one issue in 2008 included an
anguished complaint about the government's mishandled response to a flood in
the eastern province of Hadramawt.
Al Qaeda's Afghanistan-based leadership reinforced the tribal message in
early 2009, when Zawahiri issued an audiotape addressed to "the noble and
defiant tribes of Yemen," urging them to rise up against Saleh's government.
"Don't be less than your brothers in the defiant Pashtun and Baluch tribes,"
he said. "Don't be helpers of Ali Abdullah Saleh. . . . Support your
brothers the mujahedeen." At the same time, the group strove to marry
members to tribal women and mediate tribal disputes.
The reason for all this was simple: a global reaction was developing against
militants acting in the name of Al Qaeda, largely because of their extreme
and often indiscriminate violence. In Iraq, the local Al Qaeda branch
alienated tribes that provided crucial support for them in Anbar province,
paving the way for the American-backed "awakening movement" that threw them
out. Wuhayshi and his men clearly wanted to prevent that from happening in
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yemen, next Afg? -2
on: July 11, 2010, 08:04:32 AM
Page 4 of 10)
Rafadh, several hundred miles southeast of the capital, is in some ways
typical of the areas where Al Qaeda found refuge in Yemen. It is set among
dry mountains populated by baboons, there are no paved roads and cars must
travel laboriously along dirt tracks that wind among the hills. There is no
public water supply or electricity and no functioning school. The valley was
largely peaceful during the 1970s and '80s, when the socialist government
that ruled South Yemen - a separate country until it united with the north
in 1990 - tried to eradicate tribalism. But since then Yemen's president,
Ali Abdullah Saleh, has encouraged tribal practices, and the feuds have
returned. Rafadh itself has been devastated by a tribal conflict that has
raged for years, killing at least a dozen people and wounding many more in
an area with only a few hundred inhabitants.
Ahmed played a central role in the feud. In 2006, Ahmed's father and older
brother were gunned down by men posing as customers at the father's market
stall. Afterward, he told me, he drove the bullet-riddled bodies to the
nearest police station to ask for justice. The police captain in charge
waved him off dismissively, he said, telling him, "You tribes are always
causing trouble - deal with it yourself."
He did. Ahmed gathered five cousins and together they hunted down and shot
two men they believe were among the killers and three other men who were
sheltering them. The feud briefly threatened to escalate into a broader war.
The government promised to mediate but failed to do so, and the feud grew
with further kidnappings and clumsy army suppression. Many local people felt
the government was largely to blame.
It was then that Fahd al-Quso, the Al Qaeda figure, arrived in the valley.
He had roots in the area but, perhaps more important, he was an outlaw to
the Yemeni authorities, and that alone earned him a welcome in Rafadh. The
United States wanted him in connection with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole,
which killed 17 American sailors. The Yemeni police arrested his younger
brother, a tactic aimed at pressuring Quso to turn himself in.
"Fahd was a victim in the eyes of the tribes," Ahmed told me. "They accepted
what he said. People distrust the government here, so those who have
problems with it will get sympathy."
Last summer, as Al Qaeda's Arabian branch began setting off alarms in
Washington, Quso became more active, Ahmed told me. "We saw lots of Al Qaeda
guys coming and going from his house," Ahmed said. They tended to keep to
themselves, refusing to give rides to others from the village.
But the tribesmen of Rafadh continued to shelter Quso and his men and not
just because of their shared hatred of the government. Quso had offered to
supply teachers for the village school. Local families knew he was with Al
Qaeda but welcomed the news for a simple reason: there were no teachers in
the school at all. "The people were saying, 'We would rather have our kids
get an Al Qaeda education than be illiterate,' " Jifri told me. After
hearing about Quso's offer, Jifri went to officials in Sana and delivered a
blunt message: "Right now you have one Al Qaeda guy in Rafadh, tomorrow you
will have 700."
Initially, Jifri said, the government refused to provide teachers, saying
any town that was willing to accept help from Al Qaeda was beneath contempt.
Finally, they relented.
"The government agreed to send 6 teachers," Jifri told me. "Fahd brought
WHEN PEOPLE TALK about the government in Yemen, they really mean one man:
Ali Abdullah Saleh. Despite the country's many political parties - Islamist,
Socialist, Arab nationalist - the country is run almost entirely by Saleh,
and he runs it exactly like a sheik: using his own tribe as a power base and
constantly making deals to head off his rivals. Saleh came to power in 1978;
pictures of him at the time show a skinny young man in a military cap that
looks too big for him, his eyes covered by aviator sunglasses.
At the time, most of Yemen was still just emerging from isolation. In 1962 a
group of military officers, inspired and aided by Gamal Abdel Nasser in
Egypt, overthrew the xenophobic religious dynasty that, from its northern
base, ruled much of Yemen for centuries. Some of the young officers hoped to
modernize Yemen and make it more like other Arab countries. In the mid-1970s
one Yemeni president, Ibrahim al-Hamdi, tried to tame the powerful tribal
sheiks, extend the state's power throughout the country and unify with South
Yemen, which emerged from British occupation in 1967. Yemeni intellectuals
still talk about Hamdi with nostalgia. But the sheiks and their Saudi
backers were not pleased. In October 1977, Hamdi was found riddled with
bullets in his Sana home. The killers had thrown the bodies of murdered
French prostitutes beside him to blacken his legacy.
Page 5 of 10)
Saleh was not a man to make such mistakes. He fought in a tribal army as a
teenager and then made his way up through the ranks of the military,
impressing superiors with his ruthlessness and charm. He became a tank
commander - a crucial skill at a time when tanks were a new and essential
weapon. When Hamdi's successor, Ahmad al-Ghashmi, was blown up by a bomb
hidden in a briefcase, Saleh was a compromise replacement. No one expected
him to last long.
Three decades later, Saleh retains a stiff, military bearing, with a strong
jaw and glinting eyes. In person he conveys an impression of fierce pride
and gruffness and the natural defensiveness of a man from a small tribe who
fought his way up with no more than an elementary-school education. When I
interviewed him in 2008, he seemed impatient and almost angry. His eyes
darted around the room as he fired off commands to his aides in a guttural
voice. He bridled at questions about the American role in Yemen. "Arrogant,"
he said, staring at me, then adding disdainfully in English, "Cowboys."
SOME SAY SALEH has lasted so long because, unlike his predecessors, he knew
not to take on the tribes directly. "Saleh survived by mastering the tribal
game as no one else had," Khaled Fattah, the tribal expert, said. He did so
in two ways. First, he coddled the big tribal sheiks, bringing them into the
capital and building them large homes. He created a patronage network that
grew substantially after Yemen began pumping oil in the 1980s, paying large
sums to sheiks, military leaders, political figures and anyone who might
pose a threat to his power. Much of Yemen's budget now goes into corruption
and kickbacks - worth billions of dollars - that fuel this network,
according to diplomats, analysts and oil-industry figures in Sana.
Second, Saleh adopted what some Yemenis call "the policy of management
through conflicts." If a tribe was causing trouble, he would begin building
up its rivals as a counterweight. If a political party became threatening,
he would do the same thing, sometimes even creating a cloned version of the
same party with people on the government payroll. "The government plays
divide and rule with us," Arfaj bin Hadban, a tribal sheik from Jawf
province, north of Sana, said. "If one tribe will not do what he wants, he
gets the neighbors to pressure it. Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's
weapons, sometimes it's employment for the tribesmen."
But in a sense, the key to Saleh's long rule - and to much of Yemen's modern
history - lies just to the north in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom squats atop
Yemen on the map like a domineering older brother with a rebellious sibling.
Starting in 1962, the Saudi royal family viewed Yemenis' democratic
aspirations with alarm and began paying hefty stipends to tribal sheiks
throughout the country to reinforce its influence. Later, the Saudis began
spreading their hard-line strand of Islam throughout the country, with help
from some like-minded Yemenis. Hundreds of religious schools sprang up
teaching Salafism, the puritanical sect that denounces all other sects as
heresy. (The Saudi variant is usually called Wahhabism.) This was bound to
be divisive in Yemen, where a third or more of the population were Zaydis,
an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
As the influence of the Salafists grew, Saleh formed close ties to jihadists
and radical clerics like Abdul Majid al-Zindani, who is listed by the U.S.
Treasury Department as a "specially designated global terrorist." Saleh had
a political motive: Salafists are mostly quiescent and preach obedience to
the ruler (even if they call for violent jihad in other lands). That was an
appealing trait in Yemen's complex social mosaic, where rivalries based on
class, region, religious sect and lineage are endemic. But Saleh also knew
that he needed the Saudis, who are widely believed to have arranged his
accession in the first place.
When I met him, Saleh seemed enraged that anyone should dare to criticize
his methods. "We have unified the country and brought stability," he told
me. That is true. Saleh orchestrated the unification of north and south
Yemen in 1990, and he has remained in power for 32 years. But even as he
spoke, in June 2008, those achievements seemed to be unraveling. Zaydi
rebels from the north - angered by Saleh's support for the Salafists - were
gaining ground. In the south, a groundswell of economic discontent was
rising and later became an open secessionist movement. The fact that Saleh
is now trying to arrange for his son Ahmed Saleh to succeed him as president
has alienated many tribal leaders and other allies, narrowing Saleh's power
base. In the past year, as Al Qaeda began to mount more frequent attacks, he
turned to some old friends for help, only to see them abandon him.
Page 6 of 10)
One night in January 2009, Tareq al-Fadhli, a 42-year-old aristocrat from
south Yemen, received a phone call from Saleh. Fadhli wasn't surprised: the
Yemeni president is famously impulsive and has a habit of calling people
late at night with urgent ideas or demands that are sometimes forgotten by
daylight. But this one was unusual. Saleh wanted to convene all the old
jihadis who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Fadhli told me.
"He wanted us to make a dialogue with the new generation of Al Qaeda,"
Fadhli said. "He said he wanted to arrange to send them abroad to Saudi
Arabia and Somalia, and in return he would release the ones who were in
prison." The released prisoners would stay in Yemen.
It was a bold idea, to put it mildly. Saudi Arabia is Yemen's most important
ally and had waged bloody battles to rid itself of homegrown jihadi
fighters. But Al Qaeda, once a manageable problem, seemed to be running out
of control in Yemen, and America was putting on the pressure. Saleh was
desperate to find a way to rid himself of the militants, preferably without
calling in American airstrikes or doing anything else that would alienate
the radical clerics on whose political support he counted.
Fadhli, who has mournful eyes and a distinguished face, was a natural
intermediary and an old ally. As a young man, he fought for three years in
Afghanistan, leaving only after he was wounded at Jalalabad. He had formed a
close friendship with Osama bin Laden, whom he still remembers fondly.
Later, when the socialists of southern Yemen rebelled in 1994, Fadhli formed
a brigade of jihadists at the central government's request and helped put
down the rebels. His friend bin Laden helped out, providing millions of
dollars' worth of arms and hundreds of fighters who were hungry for another
chance to kill godless socialists.
After that, the former jihadis split. Fadhli, like many others, went back to
civilian life, becoming a landowner in the south and an adviser to Saleh. He
said goodbye to bin Laden in Sudan in 1994 and has not seen him since. But
some veterans continued to preach jihad and to train in Afghanistan with Al
Qaeda, which began to call for the overthrow of secular Arab regimes.
The first real sign that the jihadis were a source of trouble at home came
in 2000 with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in the Yemeni port town of Aden
on the southern coast. Seventeen American sailors were killed. A year later,
after the Sept. 11 attacks, Saleh recognized that a major shift had taken
place. Fearing that the United States might invade Yemen, he flew to
Washington and pledged his support. At home, his security forces rounded up
hundreds of former jihadists and jailed them en masse without charge. In
November 2002, the C.I.A. used a Predator drone to kill Abu Ali al-Harithi,
then the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen, as he was driving in the desert east
Saleh knew his collaboration with the United States could make the jihadis
turn on him. He was furious after American officials leaked word of their
role in the Harithi assassination. Later, Saleh repeatedly denied the
Americans permission to kill Al Qaeda leaders during Yemen's 2006
presidential election because he feared the strikes might harm his electoral
prospects, according to one high-ranking Yemeni official. Saleh had
struggled for years to find a compromise between the radicals and the
Americans. He created an Islamic "dialogue" program to bring jihadists under
the umbrella of the state, then abandoned it after several of its graduates
returned to terrorism. Popular sympathy for the jihadist cause was still
high, and in February 2006 Saleh suffered a deep embarrassment when 23
prisoners, many of them in Al Qaeda, escaped from a maximum-security prison
in Sana. The authorities offered a preposterous explanation: the men
tunneled out of their cell with spoons and table legs and emerged in the
bathroom of a neighboring mosque. The truth, the high-ranking official told
me, was that officers in the Political Security Organization arranged the
escape. "You have to remember, these officers used to escort people from
Sana to Pakistan during the Afghan jihad," he said. "People made
relationships, and that doesn't change so easily."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Yemen, the next Afg?
on: July 11, 2010, 08:03:08 AM
Just before dawn on Dec. 24, an American cruise missile soared high over the
southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, arced down toward the dark
mountains above the Rafadh Valley in Yemen's Shabwa province and found its
mark, crashing into a small stone house on a hillside where five young men
were sleeping. Half a mile away, a 27-year-old Yemeni tribesman named Ali
Muhammad Ahmed was awakened by the sound. Stumbling out of bed, he quickly
dressed, slung his AK-47 over his shoulder and climbed down a footpath to
the valley that shelters his village, two hours from the nearest paved road.
He already sensed what had happened. A week earlier, an American airstrike
killed dozens of people in a neighboring province as part of an expanded
campaign against Al Qaeda militants. (Although the U.S. military has
acknowledged playing a role in the airstrikes, it has never publicly
confirmed that it fired the missiles.)
Ahmed soon came upon the shattered house. Mangled bodies were strewn among
the stones; he recognized a fellow tribesman. Scattered near the wreckage
were bits of yellow debris with the words "US Navy" and long serial numbers
written on them. A group of six or seven young men were standing in the dawn
half-light, looking dazed. All were members of Al Qaeda. Among them was Fahd
al-Quso, a longtime militant who is wanted by the F.B.I. for his suspected
role in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. The missile had struck in
one of the most remote and inaccessible valleys on earth, in a place where
Al Qaeda has been trying to establish a foothold. Quso was the local cell
leader and had been recruiting young men for years. Ahmed knew him well.
I met Ahmed several weeks later in Sana, the Yemeni capital, where he works
part time as a bodyguard. By that time, Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch had claimed
credit for a failed effort to detonate a bomb in a Detroit-bound jetliner on
Christmas Day, igniting a global debate about whether Yemen was the next
front in the war on terror. Yemen's once-obscure vital statistics were
flashing across TV screens everywhere: it is the Arab world's poorest
country, with a fast-growing and deeply conservative Muslim population of 23
million. It is running out of oil and may soon be the first country in the
world to run out of water. The central government is weak and corrupt,
hemmed in by rebellions and powerful tribes. Many fear that Al Qaeda is
gaining a sanctuary in the remote provinces east of Sana, similar to the one
it already has in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On the day I met him, Ahmed - a small, rail-thin man with a bony face -
seemed still awed and a bit frightened by what happened in his valley. He
was dressed in a tattered blazer and a futa, the patterned cloth skirt
Yemeni men often wear. He sat on a sofa leaning forward with his hands on
his thighs, glancing occasionally at me. We were in a small, sparely
furnished office belonging to Ahmed's employer and friend Abdulaziz
al-Jifri, who had given him permission to speak. It was evening, and in the
room next door men could be heard laughing and chatting as they drank tea
and chewed khat, the narcotic leaf Yemenis use to relax.
"We took the bodies under the trees," Ahmed continued in a quiet voice. "One
was from my tribe. He had just joined Al Qaeda, and that was his first night
sleeping with them." He paused, and I caught a hint of defensiveness,
perhaps also of anger, in his eyes. He seemed reluctant to stray from his
narrative, but it was clear that he felt the bombing was an injustice. "We
knew they were Qaeda, but they were young, and they hadn't done anything,
and they were locals," he said. "They came and went at checkpoints, and the
government didn't seem to care. So we dealt with them normally.. . .
"Later I took the bodies to the graveyard," he went on to say. "Then I
talked with Fahd's cousin about what we should do about him."
Within an hour, Ahmed said, the discussions expanded, and Ali al-Asowad, the
aging sheik of the Abdullah tribe, was summoned from his house. The sun was
rising over the arid brown hills around Rafadh and soon almost 100 people
were sitting under the spreading boughs of an acacia tree for an emergency
(Page 2 of 10)
Dozens of people spoke. Some were angry. Most people in the valley were
related to the dead men or knew them. The victims had scarcely stood out in
Rafadh, where everyone carried weapons and hatred of the Yemeni government
was nothing unusual. What did it matter that they hated America and called
themselves Qaeda? Some of the tribesmen also spoke in defense of Fahd
al-Quso, who moved to the area in 2007. His grandfather had a house there,
so he had a right to the tribe's protection. But others stood up and shouted
angrily that Quso had put the whole tribe in needless danger by basing
himself in their village; more American bombs might be coming soon.
The people of Rafadh had decisions to make, ones that might soon ramify
across all of Yemen's remote mountains and deserts and even half a world
away in the Pentagon. What did Al Qaeda mean to them? Was it worth
protecting? A bargaining chip to be used against a neglectful government? Or
just an invitation to needless violence?
SANA RESEMBLES A FORTRESS, not just in its architecture but in its
geography. It is set on a high plateau, surrounded by arid, craggy
mountains. At its heart is the Old City, a thicket of unearthly medieval
towers and banded spires that stands out sharply in the dry desert air. This
was the entire city until a few decades ago, its high walls locked every
evening at dusk. Today Sana is a far more sprawling place, with Internet
cafes and swarms of beat-up taxis and a sprinkling of adventure tourists.
The Old City gates are mostly gone now, and although men still carry the
traditional daggers known as jambiyas in their belts, they also wear
blazers, often with cheap designer logos on their sleeves. Like other Arab
capitals, it is full of policemen, and there are occasional checkpoints
manned by bored-looking soldiers in camouflage uniforms.
But Yemen is different. Beneath the familiar Arab iconography, like pictures
of the president that hang in every shop, there is a wildness about the
place, a feeling that things might come apart at any moment. A narcotic haze
descends on Yemen every afternoon, as men stuff their mouths with glossy
khat leaves until their cheeks bulge and their eyes glaze over. Police
officers sit down and ignore their posts, a green dribble running down their
chins. Taxi drivers get lost and drive in circles, babbling into their
cellphones. But if not for the opiate of khat, some say, all of Yemen - not
just those areas of the south and north already smoldering with discontent -
would explode into rebellion.
One morning in Sana, I discovered a crowd of people protesting in the stone
courtyard outside the cabinet building. Many had shackle scars on their
wrists and ankles. They came from an area called Jaashin, about 100 miles
south of the capital. But some of them, I found, did not even know that
Jaashin was in the Republic of Yemen. Their only real ruler was the local
sheik, Muhammad Ahmed Mansour, who is, it turns out, a kind of latter-day
Marquis de Sade. Mansour is also a poet, who earns extra license for his
cruelties by writing florid odes to Yemen's president. Some pilgrims from
Jaashin said they were imprisoned, shackled and beaten by the sheik - who
maintains his own army and several prisons - after refusing to relinquish
their property to him. I asked Ahmed Abdu Abdullah al-Haithami, a bent old
farmer in a tattered green jacket, what country he was living in. He looked
up at me with imploring eyes. "All I know is that God rules above, and the
sheik rules here below," he said. All of this, I later learned, was
documented by Yemeni lawyers, who have been working on behalf of the people
of Jaashin for years to little effect. As one lawyer, Khaled al-Alansi, put
it to me, "If you can't fight sheik Mansour, how can you possibly fight Al
Two thousand years ago, the area east of Sana held one of the earth's most
prosperous kingdoms, a lush agricultural region of spices and fruits, fed by
irrigation canals from a vast man-made dam. The Romans called Yemen "Arabia
Felix," or Happy Arabia. Today, the eastern region is an arid wasteland.
Most people scrape by on less than $2 a day, even though they live atop
Yemen's oil and gas fields. There are few ways to make a living other than
smuggling, goat-herding and kidnapping. The region is also, chronically, a
war zone. Tribal feuds have always been part of life here, but in recent
years they have grown so common and so deadly that as much as a quarter of
the population cannot go to school or work for fear of being killed. The
feuds often devolve into battles with bands of raiders mowing down their
rivals with machine-gun fire or launching mortars into a neighboring
village. No one knows how many people die in these wars, but Khaled Fattah,
a sociologist who has studied Yemen's tribes for years, told me that
hundreds of victims a year is a conservative estimate.
Page 3 of 10)
Every time I drive out of Sana I get an ominous sense of going backward in
time to a more lawless era. As the city's towers fade in the distance, the
houses drop away into level desert and occasional piles of construction
rubble. The traffic thins out and consists mostly of pickup trucks carrying
tribesmen with patterned cloth kaffiyehs tied around their heads. You pass
the first of several checkpoints, where skinny soldiers in ill-fitting
uniforms warily circle the car, looking for weapons or kidnapping victims.
You pass towering, desolate mountains of black and brown igneous rock. Once
you're out of Sana province, there are virtually no signs of the Yemeni
state. Every able-bodied man seems to carry an AK-47 rifle over his
shoulder; it's not uncommon to see rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. Only
the oil and gas fields, hidden behind wire fences and vigilantly watched
over by the Yemeni military, seem to merit the government's attention.
Last year I expected to see at least a few government soldiers when I
visited the ancient city of Shibam in Hadramawt, the vast eastern province
where Osama bin Laden's father was born. A few months earlier, four South
Korean tourists were blown up by a suicide bomber as they admired the view
of Shibam from across the valley. I was a little nervous. "Don't worry," my
guide said, patting my shoulder as we walked up to the ridge where the
Koreans died. "Ever since the bombing they have put this place on high
security." But when we got to the top of the ridge there was not a single
soldier or policeman to be seen. We gazed out over the valley in silence. A
sign stood nearby, showing a pair of binoculars and the words in English
"Discover Islam." As we began to leave, my guide smiled broadly and gestured
at the sign. "The Koreans - they discovered Islam," he said, giggling at his
Even in the capital, law and order often mean less than they do in other
Arab countries. One afternoon I was having tea with Abdulaziz al-Jifri when
a shot rang out nearby. I thought nothing of it; it might have been a
firecracker or someone testing a gun. We were in the safest area of the
city, a neighborhood called Hadda, where rich Yemenis and foreign diplomats
have built an enclave in recent decades. But Jifri got up from the cushion
where he was sitting to go see what happened. He came back 15 minutes later
with a look of surprise on his face. A friend of the family, a wealthy
tribal figure, had been shot dead a block away. The victim, Jifri explained,
was walking up to the gate of his home when someone apparently shot him once
in the head. There were no witnesses and no one even bothered to call the
police, who are so corrupt and incompetent that most people view them as
"There is no law in Yemen," Jifri said, shaking his head. We went on
drinking tea and talking politics.
By then, I had spent at least a dozen afternoons at Jifri's house. He was a
unique figure: educated in Britain and Saudi Arabia, he was designated by
his father - a wealthy businessman with political connections - as a liaison
to the tribes in Shabwa and Marib, two of the main areas where Al Qaeda is
said to find sanctuary. He is tall and handsome, with large, mischievous
brown eyes and a knack for setting a room on fire with laughter. His family
are sayyids, or descendants of the prophet Muhammad, and that gave them a
special status in the caste like social hierarchy that prevailed until
Yemen's republican revolution in 1962. Even now, the Jifris are trusted and
respected like few other clans in rural Yemen.
Jifri became my link to rural Yemen. There was no way for me to travel to
Shabwa or Marib undetected, I was told. So day after day I would sit on a
cushion beside him in the family's rectangular living room as various sheiks
and relatives from those provinces arrived to sip tea, chew khat and talk
until dark about what was happening among the tribes. It was there that I
met Ali Muhammad Ahmed, along with others from the area around Rafadh, in
Shabwa province, the valley where the cruise missile struck on Dec. 24. The
Jifris themselves have a house in the Rafadh Valley.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Banking issues
on: July 11, 2010, 07:45:34 AM
This article is from POTH and as such its integrity, particularly on a subject such as this one, is suspect. That said, I post it because I respect Paul Volcker.
Volcker Pushes for Reform, Regretting Past Silence
By LOUIS UCHITELLE
Published: July 9, 2010
JUST before the Fourth of July weekend, Paul A. Volcker packed his fishing gear and set off for his annual outing to the Canadian wilds to cast for Atlantic salmon.
He left behind a group of legislators in Washington still trying to nail down a controversial attempt to overhaul the nation’s financial regulations in the wake of the country’s most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.
A well-regarded lion of the regulatory world, Mr. Volcker had endorsed the legislation before he went fishing, but unenthusiastically. If he were a teacher, and not a senior White House adviser and the towering former chairman of the Federal Reserve, he says, he would have given the new rules just an ordinary B — not even a B-plus.
“There is a certain circularity in all this business,” he concedes. “You have a crisis, followed by some kind of reform, for better or worse, and things go well for a while, and then you have another crisis.”
As the financial overhaul took final shape recently, he worked the phone from his Manhattan office and made periodic visits to Washington, trying to persuade members of Congress to make the legislation more far-reaching. “Constructive advice,” he calls it, emphasizing that he never engaged in lobbying.
For all of what he describes as the overhaul’s strengths — particularly the limits placed on banks’ trading activities — he still feels that the legislation doesn’t go far enough in curbing potentially problematic bank activities like investing in hedge funds.
Like few other policy giants of his generation, Mr. Volcker has been a pivotal figure in the regulatory universe for decades, and as he looks back at his long, storied career he confesses to some regrets, in particular for failing to speak out more forcefully about the dangers of a seismic wave of financial deregulation that began in the 1970s and reached full force in the late 1990s.
Despite his recent efforts to ensure that the financial legislation might correct what he regards as some of the mistakes of the deregulatory years, he’s concerned that it still gives banks too much wiggle room to repeat the behavior that threw the nation into crisis in the first place.
Some analysts share Mr. Volcker’s worries that the proposed changes may ultimately not be enough.
“It could be we will look back in 10 years and say, ‘Wow, Volcker really changed the tone of the debate and the outcome,’ ” says Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a historian of financial crises and regulation. “But I kind of worry that is not going to happen.”
Hear, hear, says Mr. Volcker.
“People are nervous about the long-term outlook, and they should be,” he says.
AMONG the tools that Mr. Volcker has been able to deploy when regulatory debates heat up is the public support he enjoys in financial and political circles.
He earned that esteem over many years, and is famously credited for making tough-minded choices to tame runaway inflation as Fed chairman from 1979 to 1987, when he served under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
At the age of 82, Mr. Volcker is from a generation of Wall Street personalities who accepted strict financial regulation as a fact of life through much of their careers. In his recent push for more stringent financial regulations than he believed Congress — and the Obama administration, for that matter — were inclined to approve, he lined up public support for a tougher crackdown from other well-known financiers who are roughly his age, including George Soros, Nicholas F. Brady, William H. Donaldson and John C. Bogle.
His most visible contribution to the current regulatory overhaul effort is what has come to be known as the Volcker rule, which in its initial form would have banned commercial banks from engaging in what Wall Street calls proprietary trading — that is, risking their own funds to speculate on potentially volatile products like mortgage-backed securities and credit-default swaps.
Such bets added considerable tinder to the financial conflagration that erupted in 2008. Many went horribly awry, and the federal government used taxpayer money to bail out banks, Wall Street firms and even a major insurer.
“I did not realize that the speculative trading by commercial banks had gotten as far out of hand as it had,” says Mr. Volcker, explaining why he first proposed the rule 18 months ago.
Congressional handicappers and Wall Street originally gave the Volcker rule a slim chance of becoming part of the overhaul bill — until, in fact, it got solidly on track to do just that.
Mr. Volcker thinks that Congress has watered down his trading rule — more on that later — but rather than roar in protest, he has resigned himself to the present shape of the Volcker rule as well as the overall legislation.
“The success of this approach is going to be heavily dependent on how aggressively and intelligently it is implemented,” he says, emphasizing that a new, 10-member regulatory council authorized by the bill will have to be vigilant and tough to prevent the nation’s giant banks and investment houses from pulling America into yet another devastating credit crisis. “It is not just a question of defining what needs to be done, but carrying it out in practice, day by day, bank by bank.”
The 2,400-page financial overhaul legislation, already passed by the House, is coming up for a vote in the Senate this week.
The Obama administration says it is now satisfied with the broader legislation, and in particular with the Volcker rule in its amended form.
“The Volcker rule was designed to make sure that banks could not engage in proprietary trading or create risks to the system through their investments in hedge funds or private equity,” says Neal S. Wolin, the deputy Treasury secretary. “We accomplished that.”
Some members of Congress who have backed the bill still say that it is not as restrictive as they would like, but that a more sweeping bill — one that also hewed to Mr. Volcker’s original conception — wouldn’t make it through the Senate, where the vote is expected to be close.
Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, subscribes to that view. He says that there are stronger measures he would have preferred to see in the bill, including the original version of the Volcker rule, but that political reality dictated otherwise.
“I would give the present bill an A-minus,” Mr. Frank says, “when you consider that six months ago people were saying the Volcker rule had no chance.”
Mr. Frank is quick to point out that Mr. Volcker signed off on the compromises that got the Volcker rule into the bill. Mr. Volcker doesn’t dispute that.
“The thing went from what is best to what could be passed,” he says.
Page 2 of 3)
THE financial bill has been routinely described in the news media and on Capitol Hill as the most far-reaching regulatory overhaul since the Great Depression, which in some aspects it may be. But it certainly falls short of re-establishing some of the strict boundaries that the earlier laws put in place.
In Chicago on Nov. 26, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama announced that Mr. Volcker would lead an Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
Those laws, most notably the Glass-Steagall Act, forbade commercial banks (what are now, for example, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America) and investment banks (like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) from mingling plain-vanilla products like savings accounts, mortgages and business loans with the more high-octane, high-risk endeavors of trading.
Such rules managed to keep the banks and the Wall Street investment houses — and the broader economy that depended on them — out of a 2008-style crisis for several decades. But the gradual unwinding of those regulations began in the 1970s as Mr. Volcker rose to prominence, first as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 1975, and then as Fed chairman.
Mr. Volcker says that most of the deregulation came after he left the Fed. His reluctance to deregulate contributed in part to his departure under pressure from the Reagan administration. His replacement, Alan Greenspan, openly campaigned to weaken and finally repeal Glass-Steagall, and President Bill Clinton signed the repeal into law in 1999.
Although Mr. Volcker opposed the repeal, he didn’t go public with his concerns. “It is very difficult to take restrictive action when the economy and the financial markets seemed to be doing so well,” he says of his silence at the time. “But eventually things blew up.”
He also says he failed to anticipate just how wild things would become, post-Glass-Steagall: “Those were the days before credit-default swaps, derivatives, securitization. All of that changed the landscape, and now some adjustment must be made.”
There were other, earlier silences. Starting in the 1970s, ceilings came off the interest rates banks could place on most deposits and loans. A rising inflation rate made the ceilings impractical, and competition from unregulated money market funds was siphoning big chunks of deposits from the banks.
“The lifting of interest-rate ceilings was inevitable,” he says. “I was for doing it more gradually, but it got such a momentum that we moved the limits more abruptly than I wanted to.”
In the wake of those changes, banks were suddenly free to charge more for risky loans, and that encouraged risky lending. The subprime mortgage market grew out of this dynamic, as did the panoply of complex, mortgage-backed securities, credit-default swaps and heart-stopping leverage that finally produced the 2008 crisis.
In retrospect, Mr. Volcker regrets not challenging the widely held assumptions that underpinned much of this. “You had an intellectual conviction that you did not need much regulation — that the market could take care of itself,” he says. “I’m happy that illusion has been shattered.”
THE Volcker rule, in its initial, undiluted form, was an attempt to resurrect the spirit of Glass-Steagall.
The administration initially did not want to separate banks and investment houses, and wanted federal regulation and protections in place for both the Banks of America and the Goldman Sachses of the world. Mr. Volcker disagreed. Let Goldman Sachs and others trade to their hearts’ content, he argued in Congressional testimony last fall, and if they fail they can lose their own money, not get a dime in bailouts from taxpayers, and then be dismantled by the government in an orderly fashion.
Old-fashioned commercial banks that made loans to individuals and businesses were much more essential to the financial system, he argued, and deserved broader federal support than pure Wall Street trading shops.
But in exchange for that support, Mr. Volcker said, commercial banks had to agree to a partial resurrection of Glass-Steagall that corralled their trading activities. His hope is that the trading restrictions will make the nation’s banks embrace the business of commercial and consumer lending more fully and move away from speculative trading.
To encourage that shift, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, co-sponsored an amendment to the financial bill that would have incorporated the Volcker rule with all of its original restrictions. Mr. Volcker even had a hand in writing the amendment, so much so that Senator Merkley suggested, only half-jokingly, that it should be called the Merkley-Levin-Volcker amendment.
The White House, after resisting, signed on to the proposal, and so did Congress after much internal wrangling — but the legislation now contains what Mr. Volcker considers an annoying and potentially dangerous loophole.
Instead of forbidding banks to make investments in hedge funds and private equity funds, the amendment allows them to invest up to 3 percent of their capital in such funds, so long as the fund is “walled off” from the bank in a separate subsidiary.
Page 3 of 3)
Banks won’t be allowed to leverage their investments by lending to a hedge fund; such a loan, if sizable enough, could endanger the bank if the hedge fund should fail. In addition, if regulators discover that a bank is overexposed to a given fund, they are required to intervene and, in some cases, may even be able to shut down the fund or restrict its activities, in order to preserve a bank’s well-being.
But the lending restriction is not as clear-cut as it should be, cautions Senator Merkley.
“We have to get some clarification on that,” he says.
Nor is it clear that a bank wouldn’t try to come to the aid of a hedge fund or a private equity firm in danger of failing if that failure would also cause financial or reputational problems for the bank.
For all of that, Henry Kaufman, a Wall Street economist and a contemporary of Mr. Volcker, wonders how effectively regulators will enforce any of the bill’s numerous mandates. “The legislation is a Rube Goldberg contraption,” he says, “and there are very long timelines before the Volcker rule is fully implemented.”
Whatever warts exist in the Volcker rule, its author says that other positive elements of the larger bill are still worthy and important.
“Don’t take the Volcker rule out of perspective,” he says. “It is one aspect of a broad reform, and it became a big issue because the administration initially disagreed.”
MR. VOLCKER has had a lukewarm relationship with the Obama White House, where the approach to the economy and financial regulation has been dominated by Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, and Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council.
Both men were at the center of the deregulatory whirlwind that swept across Wall Street and Washington over the last decade or so, and analysts have considered them to be friendlier to Wall Street and less inclined to pursue tougher regulations than Mr. Volcker would be.
Mr. Volcker supported Mr. Obama in the 2008 presidential election, and the new president named him to lead his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, a group of distinguished outsiders with little real impact on White House policy — until Mr. Volcker publicly proposed the ban on proprietary trading by commercial banks.
After the proposal gained support outside Washington, the president embraced it and dubbed it the Volcker rule. That gave Mr. Volcker more access to the White House and the Treasury on regulatory policy, but people who work with him say that the White House doesn’t regularly seek his input on other issues.
However complicated his relationship with Washington, Mr. Volcker says his personal life has taken a turn for the better. He had been a widower since 1998, until six months ago when he married Anke Dening, his longtime administrator, executive secretary, adviser and constant companion. Ms. Dening, who is German-born and speaks several languages, travels regularly with her husband and often serves as his interpreter.
When it comes to interpreting the financial legislation, Mr. Volcker says he remains less than impressed. “We have to have a regulatory system that reflects today’s problems and tomorrow’s potential problems,” he says. “This bill attempts to do that. Does it do it perfectly? Obviously it does not go as far as I felt it should go.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: K2
on: July 11, 2010, 07:34:45 AM
The Sisyphean futility of it all , , ,
ST. LOUIS — Seated at a hookah lounge in the Tower Grove district, Albert Kuo trained his lighter above a marbleized glass pipe stuffed with synthetic marijuana. Inhaling deeply, Mr. Kuo, an art student at an area college, singed the pipe’s leafy contents, emitting a musky cloud of smoke into the afternoon light. Mr. Kuo, 25, had gathered here with a small cohort of friends for what could be the last time they legally get high in Missouri on a substance known popularly as K2, a blend of herbs treated with synthetic marijuana.
“I know it’s not going to kill me,” said Mr. Kuo, who likened the drug’s effects to clove cigarettes. “It’s a waste of time, effort and money to ban something like this.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, signed a bill prohibiting possession of K2. Missouri is the nation’s eighth state this year to ban the substance, which has sent users to emergency rooms across the country complaining of everything from elevated heart rates and paranoia to vomiting and hallucinations.
Investigators blame the drug in at least one death, and this month, Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas, a Democrat, signed an emergency order banning the substance. Similar prohibitions are pending in at least six other states, including Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Ohio, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“It’s like a tidal wave,” said Ward Franz, the state representative who sponsored Missouri’s legislation. “It’s almost an epidemic. We’re seeing middle-school kids walking into stores and buying it.”
Often marketed as incense, K2 — which is also known as Spice, Demon or Genie — is sold openly in gas stations, head shops and, of course, online. It can sell for as much as $40 per gram. The substance is banned in many European countries, but by marketing it as incense and clearly stating that it is not for human consumption, domestic sellers have managed to evade federal regulation.
“Everybody knows it’s not incense,” said Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. “That’s done with a wink and a nod.”
First developed in the lab of a Clemson University chemist, John W. Huffman, K2’s active ingredients are synthetic cannabinoids — research-grade chemicals that were created for therapeutic purposes but can also mimic the narcotic effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. In a statement, Mr. Huffman said the chemicals were not intended for human use. He added that his lab had developed them for research purposes only, and that “their effects in humans have not been studied and they could very well have toxic effects.”
Nevertheless, pure forms of the chemical are available online, and investigators believe that many sellers are buying bulk quantities, mixing them with a potpourrilike blend of herbs and labeling the substance K2.
“It’s not like there’s one K2 distributor — everybody is making their own stuff, calling it K2 and selling it, which is the most unnerving aspect,” said Dr. Christopher Rosenbaum, an assistant professor of toxicology at the University of Massachusetts who is studying the effects of K2 in emergency room patients.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that so far this year there have been 567 K2-related calls, up from 13 in 2009. But investigators add that no one is really certain what is in K2, and people are arriving at emergency rooms with symptoms that would not normally be associated with marijuana or a synthetic form of the drug.
“I don’t know how many people are going for a box of doughnuts after smoking K2, but they’re sure getting some other symptoms,” said Dr. Anthony Scalzo, a professor of emergency medicine at the St. Louis University who first reported a rise in K2-related cases and is collaborating with Dr. Rosenbaum in researching K2’s effects. “These are very anxious, agitated people that are requiring several doses of sedatives.”
Dr. Scalzo, who is also the medical director for the Missouri Poison Control Center, added that although tests had found cannabinoids in K2, it was unclear “whether the reaction we’re seeing is just because of dose effect, or if there’s something in there we haven’t found yet.”
That question remains at the center of an investigation into the death of David Rozga, an Iowa teenager who last month committed suicide shortly after smoking K2. Mr. Rozga, 18, had graduated from high school one week earlier and was planning to attend college in the fall.
According to the police report, Mr. Rozga smoked the substance with friends and then began “freaking out,” saying he was “going to hell.” He then returned to his parents’ house, grabbed a rifle from the family’s gun room and shot himself in the head.
“There was nothing in the investigation to show he was depressed or sad or anything,” said Detective Sgt. Brian Sher of the Indianola Police Department, who led the investigation. “I’ve seen it all. I don’t know what else to attribute it to. It has to be K2.”
But many users say they are undaunted by reports of negative reactions to the drug. K2 does not show up on drug tests, and users say that while they would like to know what is in it, they would take their chances if it means a clean urine test.
The Missouri ban, which goes into effect Aug. 28, prohibits several cannabinoids that investigators have found in K2 and related products. Nevertheless, investigators and researchers say that bans like the one in Missouri are little more than “Band-Aids” that street chemists can sidestep with a slight alteration to a chemical’s molecular structure.
“Once it goes illegal, I already have something to replace it with,” said Micah Riggs, who sells the product at his coffee shop in Kansas City. “There are hundreds of these synthetics, and we just go about it a couple of them at a time.”
Investigators say that a more effective ban might arise once the Drug Enforcement Administration completes its review of cannabinoids, placing them under the Controlled Substances Act. Currently, however, only one such substance is controlled under the act, though the agency has listed four others as “chemicals of concern.”
“It’s hard to keep up with everything,” said Ms. Carreno of the D.E.A., adding, “The process of scheduling something is thorough and time consuming, and there are a lot of gifted chemists out there.”
Meanwhile, states are largely on their own when it comes to controlling this new breed of synthetic cannabis, which often comes down to a game of cat-and-mouse where law enforcement agents, politicians, users and their families must formulate new responses as each iteration of a drug comes to market.
“Where does a parent go to get answers?” asked Mike Rozga, who said he learned of K2 only after his son’s death. “We talk to our kids about sex. We talk to our kids about drugs, and we talk to our kids about drinking and being responsible. But how can you talk to your kids about something you don’t even know about?”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: Desalinization in Australia
on: July 11, 2010, 07:26:01 AM
It is POTH (the NY Times) some some wooly-headedness is to be expected.
BRISBANE, Australia — In Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, early British explorers searching for a source of drinking water scoured the bone-dry interior for a fabled inland sea. One overeager believer even carted a whaleboat hundreds of miles from the coast, but found mostly desert inside. Today, Australians are turning in the opposite direction: the sea.
In one of the country’s biggest infrastructure projects in its history, Australia’s five largest cities are spending $13.2 billion on desalination plants capable of sucking millions of gallons of seawater from the surrounding oceans every day, removing the salt and yielding potable water. In two years, when the last plant is scheduled to be up and running, Australia’s major cities will draw up to 30 percent of their water from the sea.
The country is still recovering from its worst drought ever, a decade-long parching that the government says was deepened by climate change. With water shortages looming, other countries, including the United States and China, are also looking to the sea.
“We consider ourselves the canary in the coal mine for climate change-induced changes to water supply systems,” said Ross Young, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia, an umbrella group of the country’s urban water utilities. He described the $13.2 billion as “the cost of adapting to climate change.”
But desalination is also drawing fierce criticism and civic protests. Many homeowners, angry about rising water bills, and environmentalists, wary of the plants’ effect on the climate, call the projects energy-hungry white elephants. Stricter conservation measures, like mandating more efficient washing machines, would easily wring more water from existing supplies, critics say.
Desalination has also helped dampen the enthusiasm for a “big Australia,” the previous, immigration-friendly government’s projection that the country’s population will rise to 36 million in 2050, from 22 million now.
“Big waste of money,” said Helen Meyer, 65, a retired midwife in Tugun, the town where the northeastern state of Queensland opened a $1 billion desalination plant last year. “It cost a lot of money to build, and it uses a lot of power. Australia is a dry country. I think we just have enough water for 22 million people. What are we going to do when we’re up to 36 million?”
The plant, sprawling across 15 acres next to an airport and near residential neighborhoods, provides water to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, and other areas of southeastern Queensland, the nation’s fastest-growing region. Despite technical problems that temporarily shut down the plant recently, it has been supplying 6 percent of the region’s water needs and has the capacity to deliver 20 percent, said Barry Dennien, chief executive of the SEQ Water Grid Manager, the utility that oversees this region’s water supply.
The drought in this region lasted from 2000 to 2009, as the reservoir behind the largest dam, Wivenhoe, dropped to only 16 percent of capacity at one point. (On a recent visit, it was at 98 percent.) While it took the state authorities until 2005 to grasp the magnitude of the crisis, Mr. Dennien said, they moved quickly after that.
Besides restricting water use and subsidizing the purchase of home water tanks to capture rainwater, the state spent nearly $8 billion to create the country’s most sophisticated water supply network. It fashioned dams and a web of pipelines to connect 18 independent water utilities in a single grid. To “drought proof” the region, it built facilities for manufacturing water, by recycling wastewater, to use for industrial purposes, and by desalinating seawater. Production of desalinated water can be adjusted according to rain levels.
“When the last of the assets were coming online, it rained, as it always does,” Mr. Dennien said, adding that the region now has enough water for the next 20 years.
“We’ve got a method of operating the grid that the next time any sign of drought occurs, we can just,” he snapped his fingers, “build something else or turn something else on, and we’ve got enough water supply.”
Other cities are making the same bet. Perth, which opened the nation’s first desalination plant in 2006, is building a second one. Sydney’s plant started operating early this year, and plants near Melbourne and Adelaide are under construction.
Until a few years ago, most of the world’s large-scale desalination plants were in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, though water scarcity is changing that. In the United States, where only one major plant is running, in Tampa Bay, officials are moving forward on proposed facilities in California and Texas, said Tom Pankratz, a director of the International Desalination Association, based in Topsfield, Mass. China, which recently opened its biggest desalination plant, in Tianjin, could eventually overtake Saudi Arabia as the world leader, he said.
Many environmentalists and economists oppose any further expansion of desalination because of its price and contribution to global warming. The power needed to remove the salt from seawater accounts for up to 50 percent of the cost of desalination, and Australia relies on coal, a major emitter of greenhouse gases, to generate most of its electricity.
Critics say desalination will add to the very climate change that is aggravating the country’s water shortage. To make desalination politically palatable, Australia’s plants are using power from newly built wind farms or higher-priced energy classified as clean. For households in cities with the new plants, water bills are expected to double over the next four years, according to the Water Services Association.
But critics say there are cheaper alternatives. They advocate conservation measures, as well as better management of groundwater reserves and water catchments. “Almost every city which has implemented a desalination plant has nowhere near maxed out or used up their conservation potential,” said Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney. Even without restrictions, cities could easily save 20 percent of their water, Mr. White said.
He said cities should practice “desalination readiness” by drawing plans to build a plant, but should carry them out only as a last resort in the event of a severe drought.
Mr. Young of the Water Services Association said desalination in Australia costs $1.75 to $2 per cubic meter, including the costs of construction, clean energy and production. The prices are probably the world’s highest, said Mr. Pankratz of the International Desalination Association, adding that desalination was cheaper in countries with less strict environmental standards. He said the cost at a typical new plant in the world today would be about $1 per cubic meter.
Opponents of desalination say that a cheaper and environmentally friendlier alternative is recycling wastewater, though persuading people to drink it remains difficult and politically delicate. The SEQ Water Grid Manager, for instance, retreated from its initial plan to introduce recycled wastewater into its drinking reservoirs after it began raining.
“There’s a stigma against recycled water,” said David Mason, 40, a resident of Tugun.
“But since there’s only so much water in the world, and it’s been through somebody’s body or some other place over the past 250 million years, maybe it’s not that bad. At least, it might be better than desalination.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Preamble of the Bill of Rights
on: July 10, 2010, 10:22:32 AM
Pasting this post by PC on the Well Armed People thread here. This is an excellent and usually overlooked point.
Liberal lawyers, judges, professors, and other so called Constitutional experts have for many years been poisoning the well by putting various ideas and interpretations of the Second Amendment out in the public sphere that completely goes against what the amendment was intended to protect. Any course you take in college or book you pick up on the Bill of Rights, will firmly place these ideas in your mind; things like saying the Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights to make sure the government had soldiers at the ready and now it is outdated for that purpose. In other words this wasn't about protecting a citizens right to keep and bear arms at all but instead it was about protecting the United States from attack and it was put there as a benefit to the government and the states to have a armed militia.
This poison pill that they have drilled into our heads and into every lawyer and Constitutional expert that comes out of our finest schools, has been what the enemies of freedom have hung their hat on in order to strip the Second Amendment of its power to protect citizens from tyranny. Of course the latest ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States, has worked as an antidote to lessen the effect of that poisonous idea. However, the poison is still there in every major work on the Bill of Rights and Constitutional law. So here I would like to counter these ideas with some simple facts that you might use to correct the record.
Let's start with first things first. What was the intended purpose of the Bill of Rights to begin with? For that we can look at the preamble to the Bill of Rights. What? Never heard of that before? I wonder why? Well, here it is:
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine
THE Conventions of a number of States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that futher declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent starts of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.
The second paragraph states the reason and purpose for the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment by the way, very plainly..."in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent starts of its institution."
It makes it very clear that these amendments are intended to restrict the government and not to give it protections, but instead to ensure public confidence. Next, what the Second Amendment actually said before it was misconstructed and abused and rewritten by the poisonous pen of interpretation.
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The first part is what the interpreters deem to contain the important meaning and purpose of the amendment and the last half, according to them, is just meaningless drivel. Now, anyone who's thinking hasn't been impaired by the poisonous ideas planted in all the literature about the Second Amendment would immediately recognize the first part as being a supporting statement to what follows, and they would respect the placement of commas that separate the statement from the declaration and restriction clause. What did the Preamble say? "...in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that futher declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added." and what does the last half of the Second Amendment say? This is the declaratory part, note the comma: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, And the restrictive part: shall not be infringed."
The first part that mentions the Militia as a supporting statement, is just one given reason among many as to why this declaration and restriction had its place in the Bill of Rights and it has no importance or bearing on its meaning at all, at least not if you believe the preamble. Which might explain why it is never mentioned in all those expert opinions.
Am I really that much smarter than all all those Constitutional experts? These people are despicable for intentionally misleading the public and undermining our rights by way of academic terrorism. This is intellectual dishonesty at its worse.