Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Ex-Im Bank deal
on: January 12, 2011, 08:18:31 AM
By SUDEEP REDDY
A worthy read BD.
Here's this, which may bear watching:
WASHINGTON—The Export-Import Bank of the U.S. is taking on China's export machine, in a deal designed as a model for developed nations to challenge China in markets around the world.
In a move crafted with White House involvement, the U.S. export-financing agency agreed for the first time to match China's cheaper financing terms to get the Pakistan government to buy 150 General Electric Co. locomotives.
.The financing terms for the $477 million deal required the U.S. to work with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a multilateral organization that monitors export-financing terms by developed countries—but not by China—to attempt to provide a level playing field.
The move is one of several challenges the Obama administration has made to China, the world's largest exporter, as its president, Hu Jintao, prepares to visit Washington next week.
"They're winning deals in part because they're not playing by the rules," Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg said in an interview. "This says: We're not going to sit idly by and let you buy business. We will compete and make sure you stand toe to toe with American companies and American workers."
The Ex-Im Bank deal is one of several steps the Obama administration has taken to pursue its goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years. The U.S. and other governments have been pressing China to let its currency appreciate, which would make Chinese exports more expensive. The administration also has brought complaints against China at the World Trade Organization, most recently challenging Chinese subsidies for production of wind-power equipment.
"Anytime the U.S. wins a trade case…it opens the door for other countries," said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University and former head of the International Monetary Fund's China division. "It opens the floodgates for other countries and it emboldens other countries to act more forcefully against China." But, he added, "how far you can push that strategy remains to be seen."
The Pakistan deal was seen as a key test case by the Ex-Im Bank, which financed $25 billion of exports in the fiscal year that ended in September 2010. China's export-financing arm has ramped up in the past decade to support its exports. U.S. officials estimate that the Chinese agency already finances more than the total export financing of the Group of Seven industrialized nations combined.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington didn't immediately respond to requests to comment.
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A General Electric plant in Erie, Pa., pictured, will manufacture the locomotives for Pakistan Railways. The deal, expected to support about 700 jobs in the U.S., fits with the goal of increasing American exports.
.Pakistan had indicated its interest in buying locomotives made by GE if the U.S. matched China's financing terms, which were sweeter than those allowed by the OECD agreement. The Chinese railcars were 30% to 50% cheaper than the GE products, but U.S. officials said Pakistan wanted the American equipment.
"The underlying premise has been that we ought to let products compete on their own merits, their own quality, their own value, and not let financing be a distorting factor," Mr. Hochberg said. China, not an OECD member, has long operated outside the group's agreed-upon terms. "Tolerance of that began to wear thin over the last 18 months," Mr. Hochberg said.
Early last year, the Ex-Im board agreed to finance about $437 million of the deal under a 12-year loan. It would carry a lending rate, tied to Treasury bond yields, that is now about 3% and an exposure fee of 8.2%. Ex-Im Bank notified the OECD, and officials said other OECD members encouraged the bank to move forward as a challenge to China's practices. The locomotives, which Pakistan's government plans to buy over two years, will be manufactured in Erie, Pa. The deal, expected to support about 700 U.S. jobs, has been approved by Pakistan pending a review by its Supreme Court.
"We are pleased that Ex-Im Bank offered fair, competitive and transparent financing to Pakistan Railways in support of GE's proposal," GE said in a statement Tuesday. "Ex-Im Bank's financing creates a level playing field for U.S. companies to compete and, ultimately, lays the foundation to sustain existing and to create new U.S. high-tech manufacturing jobs."
Officials at the U.S. Treasury, State Department, Commerce Department and White House were involved in striking the deal with Pakistan, which is important to U.S. strategic interests.
Last month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Pakistan and promised billions of dollars in infrastructure spending. The Chinese are building rail and road links from Xinjiang down through Kashmir to the Arabian Sea, and also financed the port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea coast, through grants and concessional financing. Pakistan imports more than twice as much in goods from China annually as it does from the U.S. The U.S. has reoriented its aid in Pakistan to focus more on infrastructure, in part to challenge China. That has antagonized India, which is especially angered by the Kashmir rail link through disputed territory. The U.S. hopes its new focus will help influence Pakistan to be more pliable in fighting Taliban militants and help boost the U.S.'s image with Pakistanis.
The Chinese are expected to try to avoid embarrassment in the Hu-Obama meeting next week, and the Obama administration is expected to play on that to press China for changes in trade, foreign exchange and national-security policies. But thus far China's military has rebuffed U.S. calls for regular high-level defense talks.
In the U.S., the administration isn't the only player setting the tone. On Tuesday, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a panel created by Congress that often takes a hard line on China, said growing Chinese strength in telecommunications could pose a danger for the U.S. "This greater potential role for China has generated concerns regarding corresponding potential national security implications of manufacturing and investment by China's telecommunications companies," its report said.
At least one House panel, the Foreign Affairs Committee, is considering holding hearings during Mr. Hu's visit on China's human rights, economic and foreign exchange practices.
—Bob Davis and Tom Wright contributed to this article.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: How to cut government spending
on: January 12, 2011, 06:58:00 AM
Not exactly on point in that it addresses revenues, not spending but of interest nonetheless:
It hasn't received much, if any, media attention, but there's some good budget news to report for a change. Federal tax revenues are rising briskly again, which should allow progress against deficits if the politicians can control their spending appetites.
The Congressional Budget Office reported last week that federal tax receipts climbed in December by $18 billion, following somewhat smaller gains in the previous two months. For the first quarter of fiscal 2011, revenues have climbed by $44 billion, or nearly 9%, to $531 billion. Especially encouraging is that these revenue gains came predominantly from individual income taxes, which rose 23% in the first three months to $256 billion. Individual tax receipts continued to fall in 2010 even as corporate receipts rose, so the current increase is a sign that wages and bonuses are rising again for workers who have a job.
It's true these increases come off historic modern lows, as receipts fell to a mere 14.9% of the economy in fiscal 2009 and 2010. The modern average is closer to 18.5%, which is the revenue the economy typically throws off when it's growing at a healthy clip. But the revenue increase is a reminder that the only sustainable cure for deficits is more rapid economic growth and the revenues that flow from it. We'll be fascinated to see if revenues continue to increase this year in the wake of the extension of the Bush-Obama tax rates and the one-year cut of two percentage points in the payroll tax. Payroll tax revenue will fall, but our guess is that individual income tax receipts will rise.
We should add that the deficit declined only modestly in the first fiscal quarter because spending rose by $26 billion to $902 billion. So the deficit remained a huge $371 billion. Spending is expected to be 25% of GDP for 2011, with a deficit of 10% of GDP. If Republicans in Congress can whittle away at spending while the economy throws off more revenue, the deficit should begin to decline again after the record chasms under Nancy Pelosi's Democrats. The keys are to cut spending and keep growth alive.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Eek! A Man
on: January 12, 2011, 06:51:56 AM
By LENORE SKENAZY
Last week, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Timothy Murray, noticed smoke coming out of a minivan in his hometown of Worcester. He raced over and pulled out two small children, moments before the van's tire exploded into flames. At which point, according to the AP account, the kids' grandmother, who had been driving, nearly punched our hero in the face.
Mr. Murray said she told him she thought he might be a kidnapper.
And so it goes these days, when almost any man who has anything to do with a child can find himself suspected of being a creep. I call it "Worst-First" thinking: Gripped by pedophile panic, we jump to the very worst, even least likely, conclusion first. Then we congratulate ourselves for being so vigilant.
Consider the Iowa daycare center where Nichole Adkins works. The one male aide employed there, she told me in an interview, is not allowed to change diapers. "In fact," Ms. Adkins said, "he has been asked to leave the classroom when diapering was happening."
Now, a guy turned on by diaper changes has got to be even rarer than a guy turned on by Sponge Bob. But "Worst-First" thinking means suspecting the motives of any man who chooses to work around kids.
Maybe the daycare center felt it had to be extra cautious, to avoid lawsuits. But regular folk are suspicious, too. Last February, a woman followed a man around at a store berating him for clutching a pile of girls' panties. "I can't believe this! You're disgusting. This is a public place, you pervert!" she said—until the guy, who posted about the episode on a website, fished out his ID. He was a clerk restocking the underwear department.
Given the level of distrust, is it any wonder that, as the London Telegraph reported last month, the British Musicians' Union warned its members they are no longer to touch a child's fingers, even to position them correctly on the keys? Or that a public pool in Sydney, Australia last fall prohibited boys from changing in the same locker room as the men? (According to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, the men demanded this, fearing false accusations.)
What's really ironic about all this emphasis on perverts is that it's making us think like them. Remember the story that broke right before Christmas? The FBI warned law-enforcement agencies that the new Video Barbie could be used to make kiddie porn. The warning was not intended for the public but it leaked out. TV news celebrated the joy of the season by telling parents that any man nice enough to play dolls with their daughters could really be videotaping "under their little skirts!" as one Fox News reporter said.
This queasy climate is making men think twice about things they used to do unselfconsciously. A friend of mine, Eric Kozak, was working for a while as a courier. Driving around an unfamiliar neighborhood, he says, "I got lost. I saw a couple kids by the side of the road and rolled down my window to ask, 'Where is such-and-such road?' They ran off screaming."
Another dad told me about taking his three-year-old to play football in the local park, where he'd help organize the slightly older kids into a game. Over time, one of the kids started to look up to him. "He wanted to stand close to me, wanted approval, Dad stuff, I guess. And because of this whole 'stranger danger' mentality, I could sense this sort of wary disapproval from the few other parents at the playground. So I just stopped going."
And that's not the worst. In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn't stop to help for fear he'd be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.
We think we're protecting our kids by treating all men as potential predators. But that's not a society that's safe. Just sick.
Ms. Skenazy is a public speaker and author of the blog and book, "Free-Range Kids" (Wiley, 2010).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jefferson quotes Beccaria
on: January 12, 2011, 05:33:41 AM
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man." --Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment, quoted by Thomas Jefferson in Commonplace Book
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / When Congress was Armed and Dangerous
on: January 12, 2011, 04:42:51 AM
THE announcement that Representatives Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Jason Chaffetz of Utah are planning to wear guns in their home districts has surprised many, but in fact the United States has had armed congressmen before. In the rough-and-tumble Congress of the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, politicians regularly wore weapons on the House and Senate floors, and sometimes used them.
During one 1836 melee in the House, a witness observed representatives with “pistols in hand.” In a committee hearing that same year, one House member became so enraged at the testimony of a witness that he reached for his gun; when the terrified witness refused to return, he was brought before the House on a charge of contempt.
Perhaps most dramatic of all, during a debate in 1850, Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi pulled a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. (Someone eventually took it from his hand.) Foote had decided in advance that if he felt threatened, he would grab his gun and run for the aisle in the hope that stray shots wouldn’t hit bystanders.
Most famously, in 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina caned Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor so brutally that Sumner had to be virtually carried from the chamber — and did not retake his seat for three years. Clearly, wielded with brute force, a cane could be a potent weapon.
By the 1850s, violence was common in Washington. Not long after Sumner’s caning, a magazine told the story of a Michigan judge who traveled by train to the nation’s capital: “As he entered the main hall of the depot, he saw a man engaged in caning another ferociously, all over the room. ‘When I saw this,’ says the judge, ‘I knew I was in Washington.’”
In Congress, violence was often deployed strategically. Representatives and senators who were willing to back up their words with their weapons had an advantage, particularly in the debate over slavery. Generally speaking, Northerners were least likely to be armed, and thus most likely to back down. Congressional bullies pressed their advantage, using threats and violence to steer debate, silence opposition and influence votes.
In 1842, Representative Thomas Arnold of Tennessee, a member of the Whig Party, learned the hard way that these bullies meant business. After he reprimanded a pro-slavery member of his own party, two Southern Democrats stalked toward him, at least one of whom was armed with a bowie knife — a 6- to 12-inch blade often worn strapped to the back. Calling Arnold a “damned coward,” his angry colleagues threatened to cut his throat “from ear to ear.” But Arnold wasn’t a man to back down. Ten years earlier, he had subdued an armed assassin on the Capitol steps.
As alarming as these outbursts were, until the 1840s, reporters played them down, in part to avoid becoming embroiled in fights themselves. (A good many reporters received beatings from outraged congressmen; one nearly had his finger bitten off.) So Americans knew relatively little of congressional violence.
That changed with the arrival of the telegraph. Congressmen suddenly had to confront the threat — or temptation — of “instant” nationwide publicity. As Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire reminded his colleagues within minutes of the Foote-Benton clash, reports were “already traveling with lightning speed over the telegraph wires to the remotest borders of the Republic.” He added, “It is not impossible that even now it may have been rumored in the city of St. Louis that several senators are dead and weltering in their blood on the floor of the Senate.”
Violence was news, and news could spawn violence. Something had to be done, but what? To many, the answer was obvious: watch your words. As one onlooker wrote to the speaker of the House shortly after Sumner’s caning, “gentlemen” who took part in the debate over slavery should “scrupulously avoid the utterance of unnecessarily harsh language.” There was no other way to prevent the “almost murderous feeling” that could lead to “demonstrations upon the floor, which in the present state of excitement, would almost certainly lead to a general melee and perhaps a dozen deaths in the twinkling of an eye.”
Unfortunately, such admonitions had little effect. The violence in Congress continued to build until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Today, in the wake of an episode of violence against a member of Congress, we’re again lamenting the state of political rhetoric, now spread faster than ever via Twitter, Web sites, text messaging and e-mail. Once again, politicians are considering bearing arms — not to use against one another, but potentially against an angry public.
And once again we’re reminded that words matter. Communication is the heart and soul of American democratic governance, but there hasn’t been much fruitful discourse of late — among members of Congress, between the people and their representatives or in the public sphere. We need to get better at communicating not only quickly, but civilly.
Joanne B. Freeman, a professor of history at Yale, is at work on a book about violence in Congress.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Chinese inflation
on: January 12, 2011, 04:38:53 AM
BEIJING — When garment buyers from New York show up next month at China’s annual trade shows to bargain over next autumn’s fashions, many will face sticker shock.
Though many Chinese are earning higher salaries, the government has become worried that rising inflation could lead to social unrest.
“They’re going to go home with 35 percent less product than for the same dollars as last year,” particularly for fur coats and cotton sportswear, said Bennett Model, chief executive of Cassin, a Manhattan-based line of designer clothing. “The consumer will definitely see the price rise.”
Inflation has arrived in China. And after Tuesday’s release of crucial financial statistics by China’s central bank, few economists expect Beijing officials to be able to tame rising prices any time soon.
While American importers of Chinese goods will feel the squeeze, the effect on American consumers may be more subtle and the overall impact on United States inflation may be minimal.
There are simply too many other markups along the way — from transportation to salesclerks’ wages — that affect the American retail prices of Chinese-made products. Excluding those markups, imports from China are equal to little more than 2 percent of the overall American economy.
The bigger consumer impact is in China itself. As China’s booming economy enables more of its own citizens to buy the goods pouring out of its factories, Chinese consumers are feeling inflation directly. And Beijing is increasingly worried about the social unrest that could result.
In China, consumer prices were 5.1 percent higher in November than a year earlier, according to official government data. And many economists say the official figures actually understate the rate of inflation, which might in reality be twice as high.
“Four percent, China can bear it — beyond 5 percent, people will complain a lot,” said Huo Jianguo, president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation here.
Higher global commodity prices, as well as rising wages in China, play roles in the increasing cost of Chinese goods. But economists say the main reason for the inflation now is China’s foreign exchange reserves, which surged by a record amount in the fourth quarter.
The central bank has been pumping out currency at an ever-accelerating pace over the past decade to limit the renminbi’s appreciation against the dollar. That strategy has helped preserve a competitive advantage of Chinese exporters by keeping their prices relatively low on global markets — while also protecting the jobs of tens of millions of Chinese workers in export factories.
Now, though, that cheap currency policy seems to be reaching its limits. The extra renminbi are feeding inflation. That is starting to undermine exporters’ price competitiveness — just as a stronger renminbi would do if Beijing was not intervening to begin with.
Money supply figures for December, which the central bank released on Tuesday, showed that cash and bank deposits were increasing at a rate twice as fast as even China’s soaring economy. Ever more renminbi are available to buy goods and services.
Victor Fung, the group chairman of Li & Fung in Hong Kong, a 35,000-employee trading company that supplies most of the world’s big retailers with Asian goods, said that contracts signed late last year would produce a jump of 10 to 20 percent in the import prices of consumer goods arriving at American ports by the second quarter of this year.
“By the middle of this year, you’ll see considerable diversion of trade away from China,” which will start to bring down the United States trade deficit with China, Mr. Fung said in an interview.
But there are only limited alternatives to China as a supplier of cheap goods. As American retail chains scramble to shift orders to other countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, they are finding that inflation is emerging as an issue across much of Asia.
What is more, the far smaller factories in other Asian countries have little capacity to absorb the huge orders that Chinese factories routinely handle, corporate executives and economists said.
In China, there is little question that the consumer price index understates the true extent of inflation
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A holdover from the days of central planning, the Chinese consumer price index includes apartment rents but excludes soaring costs for owner-occupied housing. And it is based heavily on the prices of an outdated list of consumer products that are no longer popular. Garments qualify for inclusion only once they have been on sale continuously for at least six months, for example, which frequently means that they are no longer in style.
Hu Xingdou, an economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that a more accurate gauge of inflation would show consumer prices rising 10 percent a year. The National Bureau of Statistics has said it is actively studying ways to improve the consumer price index.
Inflation in China is not just the result of China’s currency market intervention, although Mr. Hu and other economists describe it as the biggest single cause. Another cause is aggressive lending by Chinese banks, despite repeated demands by regulators to slow things down.
Rising prices for exports are also caused by wage increases for Chinese blue-collar workers, whose pay has been climbing as much as 15 percent a year. Those workers have more clout than they once did because the supply of factory labor from rural areas, which once seemed inexhaustible, is starting to dry up — a result of three decades of China’s “one child” policy of family planning, as well as a big expansion in university enrollment.
And globally, strong demand from consumers in China and other emerging economies is pushing up not only gasoline prices, but also the prices of cashmere, rabbit fur, cotton, copper and many other commodities.
Candy Chen, the sales manager of the Zhenjiang Weishun Toys Company in Zhenjiang, China, said that the cost of plastic stuffing for the company’s toy animals had nearly doubled in the past year, while wages were up 10 to 15 percent.
The effect of higher prices in China on broad measures of American inflation is far from clear. The rule of thumb for many consumer products, from shoes to garments to toys, is that the import price is only a quarter to two-fifths of the final retail price, which also includes transportation within the United States and the wages, rent, electricity bills and other costs incurred by stores.
After showing little change for nearly two years, import prices for goods arriving from China at American docks rose from September to November at a rate equivalent to an annual rise of 3.6 percent.
In another indicator that the Chinese central bank released Tuesday, China’s foreign reserves leaped by $199 billion in the fourth quarter. The increase was much larger than economists had expected, and they suggested that China had roughly doubled its intervention in currency markets to around $2 billion a day.
China’s reserves, at $2.85 trillion, dwarf those of the world’s second-largest holder, Japan, with $1.04 trillion. The United States, by contrast, holds only $46.4 billion of foreign reserves because it prints dollars, the main reserve currency.
Mr. Model of Cassin, who is visiting Beijing this week from his company headquarters just off Seventh Avenue, said that the world had changed and that Chinese manufacturers were now more interested in catering to their domestic market than in offering rock-bottom prices to big American companies.
“All of a sudden, they’re more interested in selling domestically,” he said. “The American wholesaler will fight them on $5. The domestic retailer doesn’t care as much.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Who knew? Not Hu
on: January 12, 2011, 04:32:38 AM
BEIJING — China’s military conducted a test flight of a new stealth fighter jet on Tuesday, overshadowing an important visit to Beijing by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates aimed at improving defense ties — and apparently catching China’s civilian leadership off guard.
Staging the test flight of the long-secret J-20 while Mr. Gates was in Beijing amounted to an unusually bold show of force by China. But the demonstration also raised questions about the degree of civilian control of the Chinese military, as President Hu Jintao and other civilian leaders gave their American visitors the impression that they were unaware that the test had been conducted only hours before they received Mr. Gates at the Great Hall of the People.
A senior American defense official said that when Mr. Gates asked Mr. Hu to discuss the test it was evident to the Americans that the Chinese leader and his top civilian advisers were startled by the query and were unprepared to answer him. Photos of the flight of the radar-evading J-20 had been prominently posted on unofficial Chinese military Web sites a few hours before the meeting.
"The civilian leadership seemed surprised by the test," Mr. Gates told reporters on Wednesday morning in Mutianyu, during a visit to the Great Wall outside Beijing.
In remarks to reporters on Tuesday in Beijing, Mr. Gates said that Mr. Hu did acknowledge the test, apparently later in the same meeting, and that he assured Mr. Gates that it “had absolutely nothing to do with my visit.”
Asked if he truly believed that, Mr. Gates said, “I take President Hu at his word.”
But he said the episode also underscored concerns that the Chinese military might sometimes act independently of the country’s political leadership, a growing worry of American defense officials who say they do not know the real goals of the secretive Chinese armed forces. “I’ve had concerns about this over time,” Mr. Gates said.
Chinese officials provided only a brief summary of the meeting between Mr. Gates and Mr. Hu and did not address the perception by Pentagon officials that Mr. Hu had not been informed of the test.
A Hong Kong-based expert on the Chinese military, Andrei Chang, said in a telephone interview that the Chinese stealth fighter, which has the same two angled tailfins that are the trademark of the Pentagon’s own stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor, flew for about 15 minutes over an airfield in the city of Chengdu. Photos of the jet in flight also appeared on a computer bulletin board run by Global Times, a state-run newspaper known for its hawkish positions.
The J-20, a midair-refuelable, missile-capable jet designed to fly far beyond China’s borders, was for years kept in top-secret development by the Chinese. American officials said they saw the test flight as a provocative display of muscle by China’s military but were unsure for whom the show was meant: Mr. Gates, Mr. Hu or both.
As China’s No. 1 leader, Mr. Hu heads the Central Military Commission, the top military body, as well as the Communist Party. But aside from Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and Mr. Hu’s heir apparent, who recently joined the commission, Mr. Hu is the only civilian official who has authority over the sprawling and increasingly well-financed military bureaucracy. It is not clear to what extent he exercises day-to-day control of military activities.
Some American officials speculated that the test flight was meant in part as an act of defiance against Mr. Hu, who has ordered the Chinese military to try to smooth over years of rocky relations with the Pentagon. Mr. Gates made the trip here at the invitation of Mr. Hu, who is to meet with President Obama at the White House next week and by all accounts is eager for his American visit to be a success.
Joseph S. Nye Jr., a Harvard professor and a former assistant secretary of defense who was in Beijing on Tuesday for a conference on United States-China relations, said it was not a complete surprise to him that Mr. Hu appeared uninformed of the test flight. “The Chinese military often sets its own agenda on day-to-day operations without political approval,” he said.
It is not the first time the Chinese military has operated in its own sphere. In 2007, Bush administration officials said they were unable to get the most basic diplomatic response from China after their detection of a successful Chinese missile test to destroy a satellite, and were uncertain whether China’s top leaders, including Mr. Hu, were fully aware of the test before it occurred.
The rapidly modernizing Chinese military, which has increasingly challenged the United States Navy in Pacific waters, first rolled out the plane last week, in what was regarded as a tough-minded welcome to Mr. Gates before he even arrived.
Mr. Gates, however, reacted by playing down the spectacle. In comments to reporters on his plane en route to Beijing, he questioned “just how stealthy” the Chinese fighter really was, then said the Pentagon was stepping up investments in a range of weapons, jet fighters and technology in response to the J-20 and other aspects of the Chinese military buildup in the Pacific.
The airborne debut of the J-20 capped a series of recent tests that resembled at times a celebration of the nation’s growing military and technological might.
In a string of demonstrations last week at an aviation center in Chengdu, in central China, the fighter taxied down a runway on Wednesday, then reappeared on Thursday for another high-speed runway test, almost taking off before parachutes popped out and slowed it to a halt.
That test was watched by a crowd of luminaries ferried to the site in a Boeing 737, according to Mr. Chang, the military expert. On Friday, two planeloads of officials watched another runway test, this time staging a ceremony and snapping pictures of themselves with the test pilot. Yet another large crowd witnessed Tuesday’s first flight, Mr. Chang said.
Such military high-fives must be measured against the long road the J-20 almost certainly must travel. The F-22 Raptor was conceived in 1981, took its first test flight in 1990, and did not enter operational service until 2004.
The Pentagon ordered four F-22 prototypes built to speed development. As far as is known, the Chinese have built two. Mr. Chang estimated that it could be a decade before China’s stealth plane enters production.
In that sense, the hoopla surrounding the tests — both inside and outside China — suggests that the symbolism of Tuesday’s flight may considerably outweigh its immediate significance.
Pentagon officials have more forcefully pushed the Chinese military to be less secretive about its intent and its weapons. Chinese military experts noted that at the very least, the test flight was transparent.
At the Great Wall, Mr. Gates stood in the cold sunshine framed by China’s attempt to repel foreign invaders and said that the commander of China’s nuclear missile forces, General Jing Zhiyuan, had accepted his invitation to visit the United States Strategic Command in Nebraska.
Mr. Gates said that no date had been set but held it out as an example of a small step of progress.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: A police force eradicated
on: January 12, 2011, 04:28:48 AM
GUADALUPE DISTRITO BRAVOS, Mexico — Her uncle, the mayor who gave her the job nobody else wanted, warned her to keep a low profile, to not make too much of being the last remaining police officer in a town where the rest of the force had quit or been killed. But in pictures for local newspapers, Érika Gándara, 28, seemed to relish the role, posing with a semiautomatic rifle and talking openly about the importance of her new job.
“I am the only police in this town, the authority,” she told reporters.
Then, two days before Christmas, a group of armed men took her from her home, residents say, and she has not been seen since.
It was an ominous punctuation mark on the wave of terror that has turned this cotton farming town near Texas into a frightened outpost of the drug war. Nearly half of its 9,000 residents have fled, local officials say, leaving block after block of scorched homes and businesses and, now, not one regular police officer.
Far from big, infamous cities like Ciudad Juárez, one of the most violent places in the Americas, the war with organized crime can batter small towns just as hard, if with less notice.
The cotton towns south of Juárez sit in territory disputed by at least two major drug trafficking groups, according to government and private security reports, leading to deadly power struggles. But the lack of adequately trained police officers, a longstanding crisis that the government has sought to address with little resolution, allows criminal groups to have their way.
“Small cities and towns are really highly impacted,” said Daniel M. Sabet, a visiting professor at Georgetown University who studies policing in Mexico. “They offer strongholds organized crime can hold and control.”
Some towns consider themselves so vulnerable that they have gone out of their way not to antagonize criminals. Believing that those involved in organized crime would be less inclined to harm women — and because fewer men are willing to take the job — local officials have appointed a handful of women in the past year to senior police ranks in small cities and towns here in Chihuahua, the country’s most violent state.
After a spate of violence in a neighboring town, Praxédis Guerrero, local officials selected a 20-year-old college student in November as police chief to run the force of nine women and two men, hoping that criminal networks would see her as less threatening.
Marisol Valles, the young police chief, has made it clear that she leaves major crimes to state and federal authorities to investigate. Really, she said, she just reviews civil infractions issued by other officers and rarely leaves the office. “I am more like an administrator,” said Ms. Valles, who does not carry a gun or wear a uniform.
But the criminals have not discriminated. Hermila García, the woman appointed police chief of Meoqui, a small city in central Chihuahua, was killed on Nov. 30 after only a month in the job.
Guadalupe tried to put a nonthreatening face on law enforcement by appointing Ms. Gándara chief in October. But it appears that she tried — or at least talked about — taking the job more seriously, to the regret of her uncle, Mayor Tomás Archuleta. He had good reason to counsel a low profile: He took office after his predecessor was killed last summer, part of a wave of assassinations of local officials across Mexico.
“I told Érika, ‘Be careful,’ to not make waves,” Mr. Archuleta said, openly frustrated by the picture of her with the rifle. Like Ms. Valles, her role is more to issue citations, leaving serious crimes to state and federal authorities.
Guadalupe has plenty of them to investigate. There are as many abandoned homes and businesses — several of them gutted — as occupied ones. One recent morning, four homes smoldered from an attack and two people had been shot dead with high-powered weapons, the bullets leaving several gaping holes in cinder-block walls.
Few people here leave their homes after 5 p.m., and see soldiers and police officers only briefly after a major crime or when they are guarding the monthly delivery of government pension checks for retirees.
“We lock ourselves in most of the time,” said Eduardo Contreras, 26, as he watched residents douse and pick through the embers of their smoldering homes.
In a voice choked with tears, María Torres, 70, who grew up here, said, “This is so sad what has happened here,” as she carried a sign for a church service.
Mr. Archuleta, the mayor, said the town mainly gets its protection from soldiers based at a recreation center in Praxédis Guerrero. Maybe, Mr. Archuleta suggested, not having local police officers is better. He said local residents had told him that common crimes like burglary had dropped out of fear of drawing the attention of a military patrol.
“There aren’t any” minor crimes, he said, his voice dropping to a near whisper.
But townspeople disputed that, complaining that the soldiers or state and federal police officers were rarely seen except after major violence had occurred.
“There is no police, no fire department, no social services, nothing here,” said the middle-aged matriarch from one burned-out home, declining to give her name for fear of reprisals. “People get away with everything here. Nothing gets investigated, not even murders.”
Not long afterward, a four-truck caravan of federal police officers arrived from another town, hopping down from their vehicles, taking notes and asking her and other family members for a word. The family refused even to open the gate for the police, apparently out of fear of being seen talking to them, and the officers moved on. The officers appeared to be taking stock, driving from crime scene to crime scene and taking notes, but not mounting a forensic investigation.
At the site of the double murder in the morning, one officer dabbed at a pool of blood and body fluid on the driveway with a stick; another picked up a piece of flesh and playfully tossed it at a companion.
Ms. Gándara may not have investigated much deeper. Local police officers in small towns usually play a mostly preventive role, refereeing minor disputes, handling the town drunk and quieting rowdy teenagers, city managers said. Many are not armed.
Mr. Archuleta would say little else about his niece, Ms. Gándara, citing an investigation by the state prosecutor’s office, which would not comment on a motive. But he noted that he had turned to her when nobody else would take the job. She had experience as a security guard and appeared not to be involved in any criminal activity, he said.
“Who knows what people do in their private lives,” he said, “but I did not think she was involved in anything.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Robert Wright: First comes fear/Jon Stewart
on: January 12, 2011, 04:25:10 AM
I have read two of this writer's books on evolutionary psychology, "The Moral Animal" and "Non-Zero Sum" and think them outstanding. The following I do NOT think outstanding, but I post it here to provoke conversation, then Jon Stewart, who comes quite a bit closer to Truth:
People on the left and right have been wrestling over the legacy of Jared Loughner, arguing about whether his shooting spree proves that the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks of the world are fomenting violence. But it’s not as if this is the only data point we have. Here’s another one:
Six months ago, police in California pulled over a truck that turned out to contain a rifle, a handgun, a shotgun and body armor. Police learned from the driver — sometime after he opened fire on them — that he was heading for San Francisco, where he planned to kill people at the Tides Foundation. You’ve probably never heard of the Tides Foundation — unless you watch Glenn Beck, who had mentioned it more than two dozen times in the preceding six months, depicting it as part of a communist plot to “infiltrate” our society and seize control of big business.
Note the parallel with Loughner’s case. Loughner was convinced that a conspiracy was afoot — a conspiracy by the government to control our thoughts (via grammar, in his bizarre worldview). So he decided to kill one of the conspirators.
It’s not clear where Loughner got his conspiracy theory. The leading contender is a self-styled “king of Hawaii” who harbors, along with his beliefs about government mind control, a conviction that the world will end next year. But it doesn’t matter who Loughner got the idea from or whether you consider it left wing or right wing. The point is that Americans who wildly depict other Americans as dark conspirators, as the enemy, are in fact increasing the chances, however marginally, that those Americans will be attacked.
In that sense, the emphasis the left is placing on violent rhetoric and imagery is probably misplaced. Sure, calls to violence, explicit or implicit, can have effect. But the more incendiary theme in current discourse is the consignment of Americans to the category of alien, of insidious other. Once Glenn Beck had sufficiently demonized people at the Tides Foundation, actually advocating the violence wasn’t necessary.
By the same token, Palin’s much-discussed cross-hairs map probably isn’t as dangerous as her claim that “socialists” are trying to create “death panels.” If you convince enough people that an enemy of the American way is setting up a system that could kill them, the violent hatred will take care of itself.
When left and right contend over the meaning of incidents like this, the sanity of the perpetrator becomes a big issue. Back when Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood, the right emphasized how sane he was and the left how crazy he was. The idea was that if Hasan was sane, then he could be viewed as a coherent expression of the Jihadist ideology that some on the right say is rampant in America. In the case of Loughner, the right was quick to emphasize that he was not sane and therefore couldn’t be a coherent expression of right-wing ideology. Then, as his ideology started looking more like a left-right jumble, and his weirdness got better documented, a left-right consensus on his craziness emerged.
My own view is that if you decide to go kill a bunch of innocent people, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not a picture of mental health. But that doesn’t sever the link between you and the people who inspired you, or insulate them from responsibility. Glenn Beck knows that there are lots of unbalanced people out there, and that his message reaches some of them.
This doesn’t make him morally culpable for the way these people react to things he says that are true. It doesn’t even make him responsible for the things he says that are false but that he sincerely believes are true. But it does make him responsible for things he says that are false and concocted to mislead gullible people.
I guess it’s possible that Beck actually believes his hyper-theatrically delivered nonsense. (And I guess it’s possible that professional wrestling isn’t fake.) But in that case the responsibility just moves to Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, and Rupert Murdoch, its owner. Why are they giving a megaphone to someone who believes crazy stuff?
The magic formula of Palin and Beck — fear sells — knows no ideology. When Jon Stewart closed his Washington “rally to restore sanity” with a video montage of fear mongers, he commendably included some on the left — notably the sometimes over-the-top Keith Olbermann. The heads of MSNBC have just as much of an obligation to help keep America sane as the heads of Fox News have.
To be sure, at this political moment there is — by my left-wing lights, at least — more crazy fear-mongering and demonization on the right than on the left. But that asymmetry is transient.
What’s not transient, unfortunately, is the technological trend that drives much of this. It isn’t just that people can now build a cocoon of cable channels and Web sites that insulates them from inconvenient facts. It’s also that this cocoon insulates them from other Americans — including the groups of Americans who, inside the cocoon, are being depicted as evil aliens. It’s easy to buy into the demonization of people you never communicate with, and whose views you never see depicted by anyone other than their adversaries.
In this environment, any entrepreneurial fear monger can use technology to build a following. You don’t have to be the king of Hawaii to start calling yourself the king of Hawaii and convince a Jared Loughner that there’s a conspiracy afoot.
So I’m not sure how much good it would do if you could get a Glenn Beck to clean up his act. With such a vast ecosystem of fear mongers, his vacated niche might be filled before long. But I think Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch owe it to America to at least do the experiment.
Postscript: Encouragingly, Roger Ailes said in the wake of the Tucson shooting that “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.” So stay tuned. Also encouragingly, two journalists from liberal and conservative magazines — the American Prospect and National Review — had an extremely civil discussion about the Tucson shooting, about 24 hours after it happened, on my Web site Bloggingheads.tv.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / POTH on the killer
on: January 12, 2011, 04:19:17 AM
TUCSON — The police were sent to the home where Jared L. Loughner lived with his family on more than one occasion before the attack here on Saturday that left a congresswoman fighting for her life and six others dead, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department said on Tuesday.
A spokesman, Jason Ogan, said the details of the calls were being reviewed by legal counsel and would be released as soon as the review was complete. He said he did not know what the calls were about — they could possibly have been minor, even trivial matters — or whether they involved Jared Loughner or another member of the household.
A friend of Mr. Loughner’s also said in an interview on Tuesday that Mr. Loughner, 22, was skilled with a gun — as early as high school — and had talked about a philosophy of fostering chaos.
The news of police involvement with the Loughners suggests that county sheriff’s deputies were at least familiar with the family, even if the reason for their visits was unclear as of Tuesday night.
The account by Mr. Loughner’s friend, a rare extended interview with someone close to Mr. Loughner in recent years, added some details to the emerging portrait of the suspect and his family.
“He was a nihilist and loves causing chaos, and that is probably why he did the shooting, along with the fact he was sick in the head,” said Zane Gutierrez, 21, who was living in a trailer outside Tucson and met Mr. Loughner sometimes to shoot at cans for target practice.
The Loughner family released a statement on Tuesday, its first since the attacks, expressing — in a six-line document handed to reporters outside their house — sorrow for the losses experienced by the victims and their families.
“It may not make any difference, but we wish that we could change the heinous events of Saturday,” the statement said. “There are no words that can possibly express how we feel. We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better.”
The new details from Mr. Gutierrez about Mr. Loughner — including his philosophy of anarchy and his expertise with a handgun, suggest that the earliest signs of behavior that may have ultimately led to the attacks started several years ago.
Mr. Gutierrez said his friend had become obsessed with the meaning of dreams and their importance. He talked about reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “The Will To Power” and embraced ideas about the corrosive, destructive effects of nihilism — a belief in nothing. And every day, his friend said, Mr. Loughner would get up and write in his dream journal, recording the world he experienced in sleep and its possible meanings.
“Jared felt nothing existed but his subconscious,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “The dream world was what was real to Jared, not the day-to-day of our lives.”
And that dream world, his friend said, could be downright strange.
“He would ask me constantly, ‘Do you see that blue tree over there?’ He would admit to seeing the sky as orange and the grass as blue,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “Normal people don’t talk about that stuff.”
He added that Mr. Loughner “used the word hollow to describe how fake the real world was to him.”
As his behavior grew more puzzling to his friends, he was getting better with a pistol. Starting in high school, Mr. Loughner honed his marksmanship with a 9-millimeter pistol, the same caliber weapon used in the attack Saturday, until he became proficient at handling the weapon and firing it quickly.
“If he had a gun pointed at me, there is nothing I could do because he would make it count,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “He was quick.”
He also said that Mr. Loughner had increasing trouble interacting in social settings — during one party, for instance, Mr. Loughner retreated upstairs alone to a room and was found reading a dictionary.
Jared Loughner’s retreat — whether into the desert with his gun, or into the recesses of his dreams — coincided with a broader retreat by the Loughner family that left them increasingly isolated from their community, neighbors said.
His father, Randy, once more of a presence in their mostly working-class neighborhood in northwest Tucson as he went off to work as a carpet-layer and pool-deck installer, became a silent and often sullen presence.
One neighbor, George Gayan, who said he had known the family for 30 years, described a kind of a gradual “pulling back” by the family.
“People do this for different reasons,” said Mr. Gayan, 82. “I don’t know why.”
Some years ago, Randy Loughner built a wall to shield the side porch of the family’s home. Because of his often bellicose attitude, neighbors sometimes kept their distance.
Leslie Cooper owns the house next door, where her son and his family live. She recounted a time when her grandchildren would not chase after a ball that landed in the Loughners’ backyard.
“They had to buy a new one,” said Ms. Cooper, who was told of the incident by her son. “I’d tell my son, those are not normal people over there — there’s a reason why they stick to themselves,” she said, adding that she had warned him to steer clear of Randy Loughner.
“I said, be careful around that guy — don’t get him angry,” she added.
Other people in the neighborhood, though, said they saw glimpses of compassion in the Loughner family, and an ability to reach out to others, sometimes unexpectedly.
Richard Mckinley, 41, whose mother lives down the street from the Loughners, said his mother appreciated how Randy and Amy Loughner were among the first people to visit when her husband died two years ago.
“They were some of the first people to pay respects,” he said.
In contrast to the reputation of his father, Jared Loughner’s mother, Amy, is considered pleasant but reserved by those who know her.
She commuted about an hour each day to her job managing Agua Caliente Park, an area of spring-fed ponds surrounded by giant palm trees in the desert on the outskirts of Tucson. The impeccably maintained park was quiet Tuesday, but for the chirping of the dozens of species of birds that call it home and the occasional crunch of a birder’s hiking boots along the trails.
Donna DeHaan, a former board member of the nonprofit group that helps support the park, said Ms. Loughner was a reliable manager with a good background in environmental issues. Ms. DeHaan said she never spoke about her family but was always pleasant, if a tad quiet and shy.
Mr. Gutierrez said he sensed very little communication within the family when he was among them.
“Every time I met his parents they were kind of quiet and estranged,” he said. Jared Loughner did not complain about his parents, Mr. Gutierrez said, and seemed to simply accept the lack of interaction as a fact of life.
“Jared really did not talk to his parents or talk about them,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “I felt they were not really good reaching out and he was not good at reaching out to his parents.”
After his arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia in 2007, Mr. Loughner was ordered to attend a diversion program run by the county attorney’s office. The chief deputy county attorney, Amelia Craig Cramer, said the program is intended for first-time offenders who have no history of violence or serious mental illness.
Mr. Loughner was referred to an approved drug education program, and completed the required sessions in 30 days.
But the program is primarily educational, Ms. Cramer said, focused on “the dangers of drugs and the dangers of substance abuse,” rather than the kind of in-depth counseling that friends, including Mr. Gutierrez, strongly felt that Mr. Loughner needed.
“It got worse over time,” Mr. Gutierrez said. He said he stopped talking to Mr. Loughner last March, when their interactions grew increasingly unpredictable and troubling.
“He would call me at 2 a.m. and asked, ‘Are you hanging out in front of my house, stalking me?’ He started to get really paranoid, and said he did not want to see us anymore and did not trust us,” Mr. Gutierrez said, referring to himself and another friend. “He thought we were plotting to kill him or steal his car.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The MB in the West
on: January 12, 2011, 03:30:16 AM
The Muslim Brotherhood in the West
Oct 28th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION of The Economist
Two books with a very different approach
The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition. By Alison Pargeter. Saqi; 248 pages; £20. To be published in America by Saqi in January; $29.95. Buy from Amazon.com, buy from Amazon.co.UK
WHICH Muslims should Western governments engage with, and which should they shun? Since the bombings in New York and Washington on September 11th 2001, and the later attacks in Madrid and London, few questions have been so urgent or have generated such fevered debate. Some experts and government officials—Lorenzo Vidino, in the first of these books, calls them the optimists—argue for dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement born in Egypt in the 1920s which now has a worldwide network of followers and institutions. A countervailing school—the pessimists, to whom Mr Vidino is closer—suggests that the Brothers are wolves in sheep’s clothing, sharing much of the militants’ agenda but hiding behind a mask of doublespeak.
Mr Vidino, who recently joined the RAND Corporation, a research outfit in Washington, DC, has in the past prophesied, in sometimes strident tones, that the Brotherhood’s ultimate goal is to extend Islamic law throughout Europe and America. He has berated those who fail to see the danger as hopelessly naive. His book is more restrained. He allows the “optimists” their say and acknowledges that the West faces a genuine dilemma in forming a judgment about such a big, baggy movement which speaks with many voices.
Though he remains a sceptic, he provides a wealth of information to let the rest of us make up our minds. He explains how in the 1950s a small, tightly knit band of Brothers successfully transplanted the movement to Europe. Led by Said Ramadan, the son-in-law of the Brotherhood’s Egyptian founder, these pioneers turned Geneva and Munich into the hubs of a network of mosques and institutions lubricated with Saudi funding.
A similar process was at work in the United States, and here Mr Vidino’s charge-sheet may give even optimists pause. He makes extensive use of court documents from the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based Muslim charity convicted in 2008 of channelling money to the Palestinian group, Hamas. Mr Vidino believes the documents reveal the existence of a wide and hitherto secret Brotherhood network with links to two of America’s best-known Muslim organisations, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America. Both groups deny having such links, and have long condemned terrorism in unequivocal terms.
As for his bolder claim—that the movement aims at nothing less than the spread of Islamic law through Europe and America—Alison Pargeter, a Cambridge scholar and author of the second of these books, considers this scaremongering. Her book is shorter and more measured than Mr Vidino’s, and she has a surer grasp of the political dynamics of the Middle East, the soil from which the Brotherhood sprang. As her subtitle suggests, she regards it as an essentially reactionary movement unable to break with its past. Its hallmarks are pragmatism, opportunism and an ambivalent attitude towards the uses of violence.
The difference in the two authors’ approach is exemplified by their treatment of a document found by the Swiss authorities in 2001 at the home of a senior Brotherhood financier. The Arabic document, dated December 1982 and widely known as “The Project”, sets out what Mr Vidino regards as the movement’s strategy for global dominion. Ms Pargeter sees it as a “fairly mundane wish list”. The portrait of the Brotherhood that emerges from her book is scarcely attractive but it is a weaker, more fractured thing than the sleekly dangerous creature depicted by Mr Vidino.
Should the West engage with the Brothers? On this, perhaps surprisingly, the two authors agree. The Islamists have become “part of the furniture”, as Ms Pargeter puts it; besides, there are few credible alternatives. It is better to talk to them, carefully and without illusions.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Alan Reynolds: So what?
on: January 11, 2011, 02:16:21 PM
A front-page Wall Street Journal feature, titled "Housing Recovery Stalls," worries that "a new bout of declining home prices is threatening to hamper the U.S. recovery."
A dip in the Case-Shiller moving average of home prices in 20 cities for August to October is said to be "troublesome headwind" for the economy in 2011, and "markets such as Sacramento, Las Vegas and parts of Arizona and Florida are at risk of more declines."
Some of those cities may indeed account for a significant share of the Case-Shiller index, because that index covers only 20 cities (and Sacramento, the centerpiece of the story, is not one of them). However, a few troubled cities in a few states do not represent the entire nation.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which examines all 50 states, reported home prices rising in October. The FHFA found third-quarter home prices higher than a year ago in 10 states, but seven of those 10 are excluded from the Case-Shiller index.
Yet even Case-Shiller shows home prices higher than a year ago in three cities where the boom-bust cycle was quite severe — Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
Writing ominously about the Case-Shiller index in the Wall Street Journal, however, bearish author Peter B. Schiff prophesizes that home prices all over the country will fall by somewhere between 24.32% and 28.3% over the next five years.
He imagines home prices must magically revert to some "3.35% annual 100-year trend line," even though no prices of any assets or goods have ever followed such a century-long "trend." This is utter nonsense.
To get closer to reality, suppose home prices in 2011 really did keep falling in "Sacramento, Las Vegas and parts of Arizona and Florida." So what? GDP growth depends on new production, not on prices at which existing homes change hands. In November, housing starts were up 3.9% and new homes sales were up 5.5%.
Falling home prices ultimately help the homebuilding industry because lower prices increase home sales and shrink the excess inventory of existing homes. The stock of existing homes fell to 9.5 months of supply in November from 12.5 months in July. That, not "stalling" prices, is the housing recovery that matters.
Moreover, new homebuilding often occurs in cities where home prices are not falling. Regardless of troubles in Sacramento and Las Vegas, the National Association of Home Builders reports year-to-date increases in building permits of 172% in San Jose (through October) and 88% in Carson City. Surprisingly, building permits were also up 59% in Miami and 133% in Detroit.
The most persistently incorrect argument about the alleged dangers of letting overpriced homes fall to an affordable level is that falling home prices supposedly have a devastating effect on household wealth.
"Homes remain a key part of Americans' wealth," says the Journal article. "Households held $6.4 trillion of home equity at the end of the third quarter, alongside $12.2 trillion in stocks and mutual fund shares. ... For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, Moody's Economy.com chief economist Mark Zandi estimates."
The table alongside shows that the $6.4 trillion of home equity in the third quarter was only 11.9% of estimated household wealth, which was $54.9 trillion. The Journal's reference to "$12.2 trillion in stocks and mutual fund shares" leaves out retirement accounts, bonds, rental property, farmland, precious metals and family-owned businesses, among other things.
Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, is the author of Income and Wealth (Greenwood Press 2006).
More by Alan ReynoldsHousing wealth has no more impact on consumer spending than any other sort of wealth. In fact, the $6 trillion increase in overall household wealth since early 2009 was nearly as large as total home equity. The five-year decline in home equity is partly because homeowners took out larger mortgages to cash out equity while home prices were rising.
The notion that an assumed "double dip" in housing prices might cause a double dip in real GDP confuses home prices with homebuilding. Many who now warn of grave dangers arising from a brief dip in the Case-Shiller index are the same folks who once told us, quite incorrectly, that the economy could never recover until the Case-Shiller index turned decisively upward.
Lower prices on homes are clearly helping recent home buyers, leaving them with more money to spend on other things. Sellers, real estate agents and mortgage lenders prefer higher prices, of course. But that is why government policy should never favor sellers over buyers.
In short, anxiety about falling home prices is based on (1) a limited sample of 20 cities, (2) confusing home prices with homebuilding, (3) forgetting that lower prices are as beneficial to buyers as they are harmful to sellers and (4) grossly exaggerating the importance of housing to overall wealth.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / POTH: When a nuke hits , , ,
on: January 11, 2011, 01:48:06 PM
Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another
big city with an atom bomb. What should people there do? The government has
a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and
don’t come out till officials say it’s safe.
The advice is based on recent scientific analyses showing that a nuclear
attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the
lethal radiation that follows a blast, a simple tactic seen as saving
hundreds of thousands of lives. Even staying in a car, the studies show,
would reduce casualties by more than 50 percent; hunkering down in a
basement would be better by far.
But a problem for the Obama administration is how to spread the word without
seeming alarmist about a subject that few politicians care to consider, let
alone discuss. So officials are proceeding gingerly in a campaign to educate
“We have to get past the mental block that says it’s too terrible to think
about,” W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, said in an interview. “We have to be ready to deal with it” and help
people learn how to “best protect themselves.”
Officials say they are moving aggressively to conduct drills, prepare
communication guides and raise awareness among emergency planners of how to
educate the public.
Over the years, Washington has sought to prevent nuclear terrorism and limit
its harm, mainly by governmental means. It has spent tens of billions of
dollars on everything from intelligence and securing nuclear materials to
equipping local authorities with radiation detectors.
The new wave is citizen preparedness. For people who survive the initial
blast, the main advice is to fight the impulse to run and instead seek
shelter from lethal radioactivity. Even a few hours of protection, officials
say, can greatly increase survival rates.
Administration officials argue that the cold war created an unrealistic
sense of fatalism about a terrorist nuclear attack. “It’s more survivable
than most people think,” said an official deeply involved in the planning,
who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The key is avoiding nuclear
The administration is making that argument with state and local authorities
and has started to do so with the general public as well. Its Citizen Corps
Web site says a nuclear detonation is “potentially survivable for thousands,
especially with adequate shelter and education.” A color illustration shows
which kinds of buildings and rooms offer the best protection from radiation.
In June, the administration released to emergency officials around the
nation an unclassified planning guide 130 pages long on how to respond to a
nuclear attack. It stressed citizen education, before any attack.
Without that knowledge, the guide added, “people will be more likely to
follow the natural instinct to run from danger, potentially exposing
themselves to fatal doses of radiation.”
Specialists outside of Washington are divided on the initiative. One group
says the administration is overreacting to an atomic threat that is all but
Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New America Foundation and New York University’s
Center on Law and Security, recently argued that the odds of any terrorist
group obtaining a nuclear weapon are “near zero for the foreseeable future.”
But another school says that the potential consequences are so high that the
administration is, if anything, being too timid.
“There’s no penetration of the message coming out of the federal
government,” said Irwin Redlener, a doctor and director of the National
Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “It’s deeply
frustrating that we seem unable to bridge the gap between the new insights
and using them to inform public policy.”
White House officials say they are aware of the issue’s political delicacy
but are nonetheless moving ahead briskly.
The administration has sought “to enhance national resilience — to withstand
disruption, adapt to change and rapidly recover,” said Brian Kamoie, senior
director for preparedness policy at the National Security Council. He added,
“We’re working hard to involve individuals in the effort so they become part
of the team in terms of emergency management.”
A nuclear blast produces a blinding flash, burning heat and crushing wind.
The fireball and mushroom cloud carry radioactive particles upward, and the
wind sends them near and far.
The government initially knew little about radioactive fallout. But in the
1950s, as the cold war intensified, scientists monitoring test explosions
learned that the tiny particles throbbed with fission products — fragments
of split atoms, many highly radioactive and potentially lethal.
But after a burst of interest in fallout shelters, the public and even the
government grew increasingly skeptical about civil defense as nuclear
arsenals grew to hold thousands of warheads.
In late 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the director of central
intelligence told President George W. Bush of a secret warning that Al Qaeda
had hidden an atom bomb in New York City. The report turned out to be false.
But atomic jitters soared.
“History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to
act,” Mr. Bush said in late 2002.
In dozens of programs, his administration focused on prevention but also
dealt with disaster response and the acquisition of items like radiation
Page 2 of 2)
“Public education is key,” Daniel J. Kaniewski, a security expert at George
Washington University, said in an interview. “But it’s easier for
communities to buy equipment — and look for tech solutions — because there’s
Homeland Security money and no shortage of contractors to supply the silver
Dr. Irwin Redlener of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness says new
insights are not reaching the public.
Duck and Cover
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 revealed the poor state of disaster
planning, public and private officials began to question national
preparedness for atomic strikes. Some noted conflicting federal advice on
whether survivors should seek shelter or try to evacuate.
In 2007, Congress appropriated $5.5 million for studies on atomic disaster
planning, noting that “cities have little guidance available to them.”
The Department of Homeland Security financed a multiagency modeling effort
led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The
scientists looked at Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other
big cities, using computers to simulate details of the urban landscape and
The results were revealing. For instance, the scientists found that a bomb’s
flash would blind many drivers, causing accidents and complicating
The big surprise was how taking shelter for as little as several hours made
a huge difference in survival rates.
“This has been a game changer,” Brooke Buddemeier, a Livermore health
physicist, told a Los Angeles conference. He showed a slide labeled “How
Many Lives Can Sheltering Save?”
If people in Los Angeles a mile or more from ground zero of an attack took
no shelter, Mr. Buddemeier said, there would be 285,000 casualties from
fallout in that region.
Taking shelter in a place with minimal protection, like a car, would cut
that figure to 125,000 deaths or injuries, he said. A shallow basement would
further reduce it to 45,000 casualties. And the core of a big office
building or an underground garage would provide the best shelter of all.
“We’d have no significant exposures,” Mr. Buddemeier told the conference,
and thus virtually no casualties from fallout.
On Jan. 16, 2009 — four days before Mr. Bush left office — the White House
issued a 92-page handbook lauding “pre-event preparedness.” But it was
silent on the delicate issue of how to inform the public.
Soon after Mr. Obama arrived at the White House, he embarked a global
campaign to fight atomic terrorism and sped up domestic planning for
disaster response. A senior official, who spoke on the condition of
anonymity, said the new administration began a revision of the Bush
administration’s handbook to address the issue of public communication.
“We started working on it immediately,” the official said. “It was
recognized as a key part of our response.”
The agenda hit a speed bump. Las Vegas was to star in the nation’s first
live exercise meant to simulate a terrorist attack with an atom bomb, the
test involving about 10,000 emergency responders. But casinos and businesses
protested, as did Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. He told the federal
authorities that it would scare away tourists.
Late last year, the administration backed down.
“Politics overtook preparedness,” said Mr. Kaniewski of George Washington
When the administration came out with its revised planning guide in June, it
noted that “no significant federal response” after an attack would be likely
for one to three days.
The document said that planners had an obligation to help the public “make
effective decisions” and that messages for predisaster campaigns might be
tailored for schools, businesses and even water bills.
“The most lives,” the handbook said, “will be saved in the first 60 minutes
through sheltering in place.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor weekly report
on: January 11, 2011, 10:43:10 AM
U.S. Executive Kidnapped in Monterrey
A heavily armed group kidnapped a U.S. citizen early the morning of Jan. 4 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, in an incident apparently not yet reported in open source media in Mexico. The victim, who reportedly worked for a U.S.-based company with operations in Monterrey, apparently was driving a company-issued armored luxury vehicle at the time of the kidnapping, according to STRATFOR sources.
The victim was traveling through Monterrey when up to three vehicles blocked his passage. The attackers’ first vehicle, which had local Mexican law enforcement markings and lights, cut the victim off from the front, while a second vehicle blocked the victim’s vehicle from the rear. According to STRATFOR sources, a third vehicle then blocked the victim’s vehicle from the side, leaving him boxed in against the curb.
At this point, an unknown number of heavily armed assailants emerged from the vehicles and approached the victim. The victim was quickly removed from his vehicle and placed in one of the attacker’s vehicles.
The victim was severely beaten during the ordeal, and was released later in the evening in the nearby city of Escobedo, Nuevo Leon state, just north of Monterrey. No ransom was demanded, indicating that the attackers’ main objective was stealing the armored luxury vehicle.
Armored cars are especially sought-after items by organized crime elements, who see them as offering safety. Multinational corporations sometimes share this view of armored cars, despite problems emerging from a lack of training in their use. As with any luxury vehicle, driving an armored luxury vehicle significantly raised the U.S. citizen’s profile, thereby making him or her a target for such an operation.
This operation demanded at least minimal pre-operational surveillance of the victim’s routes and routine. The tactics the kidnappers demonstrated show that they were highly trained. Initial reports indicate that at least some, if not all, of the assailants involved in the Jan. 4 incident were members or former members of the local municipal police departments in Escobedo or San Nicolas. Los Zetas have routinely employed municipal officers in these areas for this type of activity.
STRATFOR has been anticipating an escalation in kidnappings in the Monterrey area. This is due to the large concentration of wealth in the region and to the defensive posture the Zetas have had to assume due to their ongoing conflict with the New Federation in the Monterrey area. The rise in kidnappings in Monterrey over the past six months has alarmed the U.S. diplomatic community there, forcing the departure of all minor dependants of all U.S. diplomatic personnel from the region.
The incident shows the Zetas are in fact focusing on kidnapping operations in the region. With an apparent new push by the New Federation to target Los Zetas’ support network (mainly local police and journalists working for the Zetas), a continuation of this trend is likely, as Los Zetas seek additional funds and resources to combat the New Federation offensive. This attack also underscores the need to maintain a minimal profile in contested criminal environments in Mexico such as Monterrey and to employ the use of countersurveillance techniques such as surveillance detection routes and varying routines and routes, as the attacker likely keyed in on the victim’s daily routine.
Authorities in Acapulco, Guerrero state, found 15 bodies, 14 of them decapitated and one partially decapitated, along a sidewalk Jan. 8 near the commercial center of Plaza Sendero. Two notes accompanying the corpses were signed “El Chapo,” a reference to Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. The armed men reportedly arrived several hours earlier in multiple SUVs, according the Mexican newspaper Milenio, which cited eyewitnesses. Shopkeepers and citizens were ordered to leave or be shot. The fountain in the plaza reportedly flowed red after the armed men sought to wash the blood from the 15 bodies off of their hands and equipment. Ten more bodies were found around the Acapulco metro area during the same time period, most of which had multiple bullet wounds to the head and chest.
Acapulco has been the scene of numerous gruesome murders over the past year or so. The majority of that fighting stemmed from conflicts between the Beltran Leyva Organization/Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS) and La Familia Michoacan. Notes attributed to El Chapo suggest a shift in the cartel dynamic in the Acapulco region. The Sinaloa Federation has not fought over the Acapulco area since early 2008, when the newly formed BLO effectively kicked forces loyal to El Chapo out of the region. The latest incident suggests El Chapo and the Sinaloa Federation might be seeking to stake a claim to the region once again.
Even so, the beheadings and gruesome tactics on display Jan. 8 are more reminiscent of those employed by CPS members, especially in the Acapulco region. Cartels have been known to leave notes falsely attributing blame for crimes to distract authorities or to shift public opinion against a rival cartel. Whatever the case here, another layer of conflict may have emerged in the complex and ever-changing cartel environment in the Acapulco region.
(click here to view interactive graphic)
Unidentified gunmen injured a police officer during a patrol in Taxco de Alarcon, Guerrero state.
Unidentified gunmen shot and killed the deputy director of public security for Empalme, Sonora state as he drove.
Soldiers killed three gunmen during a traffic stop in the Palmira neighborhood of Apatzingan, Michoacan state.
An unidentified gunman shot and killed the interim director of Sonora state prisons as he left home in Hermosillo, Sonora state.
Police in Tlajomulco de Zuniga, Jalisco state, discovered a severed pair of feet.
A group of unidentified gunmen killed three construction workers from the same family at a job site in the municipality of Quechultenango, Guerrero state.
Security forces in Mexico City arrested David Romo, the leader of the church of “Holy Death” (aka La Santa Muerte) for allegedly receiving ransom payments obtained from a group of suspected kidnappers.
The bodies of four men shot dead were discovered in the municipality of Tepehuanes, Durango state. Two of the bodies were inside an abandoned vehicle.
The bodies of two unidentified men were discovered in Tocumbo, Michoacan state. The victims had been blindfolded and bore signs of torture. One of the bodies had had several fingers severed and bore a gunshot wound to the forehead.
Unidentified gunmen ambushed and injured two police officers in the municipality of Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon state.
Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a police officer riding a motorcycle in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state.
Soldiers in Zuazua, Nuevo Leon state, killed two suspected gunmen during a firefight. One police officer was injured during the incident.
Unidentified attackers attacked the Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, with firearms and grenades. No injuries were reported.
Unidentified gunmen shot and killed the public security director of Taretan, Michoacan state, as he drove to Ziracuaretiro, Michoacan state, with his family. The director’s wife and children were not injured.
Police in the municipality of Lerdo, Durango state, discovered a common grave with seven bodies.
Unidentified gunmen stole four vehicles from a used car lot in the Valle de Linda Vista neighborhood of Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon state. The attackers reportedly also kidnapped the business owner.
The body of Saul Vara Rivera, the mayor of Zaragoza, Coahuila state, was discovered in the municipality of Galeana, Nuevo Leon state. Vara Rivera, who apparently was shot dead, had been missing since Jan. 5.
Police in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, arrested Felipe Zurita Cruz, a suspected drug trafficking route operator for the Sinaloa cartel.
Four suspected criminal gunmen were killed during a firefight with police in Tepic, Nayarit state. Three gunmen, two police officers and a civilian were injured.
Security forces discovered 15 decapitated bodies in Acapulco, Guerrero state. Three messages alluding to Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin Guzman Loera were found at the scene of the crime.
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a municipal police post in Acapulco, Guerrero state, injuring a police commander and two secretaries.
Five people were injured in an attack by unidentified gunmen on a police post in General Teran, Nuevo Leon state.
Military authorities announced the arrests of 18 suspected kidnappers in the municipality of Rioverde, San Luis Potosi state.
Police discovered three bodies hanging from a bridge in the Benito Juarez neighborhood of Acapulco, Guerrero state.
Read more: Mexico Security Memo: Jan. 10, 2011 | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dutch to Bosnians: We will pay you to leave
on: January 11, 2011, 08:21:42 AM
Dutch offer Bosnians monthly repatriation benefits
Bosnia: Dutch offer Bosnians monthly repatriation benefits
ultimo aggiornamento: 05 gennaio, ore 17:46
The Netherlands has offered life benefits to Bosnians who settled in the country in the wake of the 1992-1995 war, if they decide to return home, Bosnian Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees said on Wednesday.
Sarajevo 5 Jan. (AKI) - The Netherlands has offered life benefits to Bosnians who settled in the country in the wake of the 1992-1995 war, if they decide to return home, Bosnian Ministry for Human Rghts and Refugees said on Wednesday.
The ministry said it was informed by Netherlands authorities that the Dutch government would pay travelling expenses to returnees of up to 1,500 euros and life benefits to persons over 45 years of age.
The monthly benefits for individuals would be 470 euros, or 670 euros per married couple, the ministry said.
It is estimated that some 30,000 Bosnians settled in the Netherlands after the war and many have failed to integrate into Dutch society.
The Dutch government said it was a “quality solution for all foreigners who have failed to integrate into Dutch society”.
The participants in the repatriation program would be allowed a one year trial period, after which they would have the right to return to the Netherlands. After that period, they would have to renounce Dutch citizenship and lose residential rights, the government said.
In view of Bosnia’s crippled economy, huge unemployment and average monthly wage below 300 euros, it is generally expected that the repatriation program would yield good results. http://www.adnkronos.com/IGN/Aki/English/Security/Bosnia-Dutch-offer-Bosnians-monthly-repatriation-benefits_311499932413.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The Turkish Role
on: January 11, 2011, 07:52:08 AM
The Turkish Role in Negotiations with Iran
January 11, 2011
By George Friedman
The P5+1 talks with Iran will resume Jan. 21-22. For those not tuned into the obscure jargon of the diplomatic world, these are the talks between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia), plus Germany — hence, P5+1. These six countries will be negotiating with one country, Iran. The meetings will take place in Istanbul under the aegis of yet another country, Turkey. Turkey has said it would only host this meeting, not mediate it. It will be difficult for Turkey to stay in this role.
The Iranians have clearly learned from the North Koreans, who have turned their nuclear program into a framework for entangling five major powers (the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea) into treating North Korea as their diplomatic equal. For North Korea, whose goal since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the absorption of China with international trade has come down to regime survival, being treated as a serious power has been a major diplomatic coup. The mere threat of nuclear weapons development has succeeded in doing that. When you step back and consider that North Korea’s economy is among the most destitute of Third World countries and its nuclear capability is far from proven, getting to be the one being persuaded to talk with five major powers (and frequently refusing and then being coaxed) has been quite an achievement.
Iran Exploits an Opportunity
The Iranians have achieved a similar position. By far the weakest of the negotiators, they have created a dynamic whereby they are not only sitting across the table from the six most powerful countries in the world but are also, like the North Koreans, frequently being coaxed there. With the obvious blessings of the others, a seventh major power, Turkey, has positioned itself to facilitate and perhaps mediate between the two sides: the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany on one side, Iran on the other. This is such an extraordinary line-up that I can’t help repeating it.
No one does anything about North Korea militarily because it is more of a nuisance than a threat, even with its artillery in range of Seoul (fixed artillery positions are perfect targets for U.S. air power). Negotiations and occasional aid solve the problem. Iran’s position is much more significant and goes far beyond potential nuclear weapons. If the United States withdraws from the region, Iran becomes the most powerful conventional power in the Persian Gulf, regardless of whether it has nuclear weapons. Given that the United States is officially bound to leave Iraq by the end of this year, Iran is becoming substantially more powerful.
North Korea’s goal is regime survival. It has no goals beyond that. Iran’s ambitions include regime survival but go well beyond it. Indeed, if there are any threats to the regime, they do not come from outside Iran but from inside Iran, and none of them appears powerful enough to cause regime change. Iran, therefore, is less about preserving its power than it is about enhancing it. It faces a historic opportunity and wants to exploit it without embroiling itself in a ground war.
The drawdown of American forces in Iraq is the first step. As U.S. power declines in Iraq, Iranian power increases. Last week, Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq from Iran. Al-Sadr was the leader of a powerful pro-Iranian, anti-American militia in Iraq, and he left Iraq four years ago under heavy pressure from American forces. His decision to return clearly was not his alone. It was an Iranian decision as well, and the timing was perfect. With a nominally independent government now in place in Iraq under the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki, who is by all accounts pro-Iranian, the reinsertion of al-Sadr while the U.S. withdrawal is under way puts pressure on the government from the Iranians at the same time that resistance from the United States, and the confidence of its allies in Iraq, is decreasing.
The United States now faces a critical choice. If it continues its withdrawal of forces from Iraq, Iraq will be on its way to becoming an Iranian satellite. Certainly, there are anti-Iranian elements even among the Shiites, but the covert capability of Iran and its overt influence, coupled with its military presence on the border, will undermine Iraq’s ability to resist. If Iraq becomes an Iranian ally or satellite, the Iraqi-Saudi and Iraqi-Kuwaiti frontier becomes, effectively, the frontier with Iran. The psychological sense in the region will be that the United States has no appetite for resisting Iran. Having asked the Americans to deal with the Iranians — and having failed to get them to do so, the Saudis will have to reach some accommodation with Iran. In other words, with the most strategically located country in the Middle East — Iraq — Iran now has the ability to become the dominant power in the Middle East and simultaneously reshape the politics of the Arabian Peninsula.
The United States, of course, has the option of not drawing down forces in Iraq or stopping the withdrawal at some smaller number, but we are talking here about war and not symbols. Twenty thousand U.S. troops (as the drawdown continues) deployed in training and support roles and resisting an assertive pro-Iranian militia is a small number. Indeed, the various militias will have no compunction about attacking U.S. troops, diplomats and aid workers dispersed at times in small groups around the country. The United States couldn’t control Iraq with nearly 170,000 troops, and 50,000 troops or fewer is going to result in U.S. casualties should the Iranians choose to follow that path. And these causalities would not be accompanied by hope of a military or political success. Assuming that the United States is not prepared to increase forces in Iraq dramatically, the Iranians now face a historic opportunity.
The nuclear issue is not all that important. The Israelis are now saying that the Iranians are three to five years away from having a nuclear weapon. Whether this is because of computer worms implanted in Iranian centrifuges by the U.S. National Security Agency or some other technical intelligence agency, or because, as we have said before, building a nuclear weapon is really very hard and takes a long time, the Israelis have reduced the pressure publicly. The pressure is coming from the Saudis. As STRATFOR has said and WikiLeaks has confirmed, it is the Saudis who are currently pressing the United States to do something about Iran, not because of nuclear weapons but because of the conventional shift in the balance of power.
While Iran could easily withstand the destruction of weapons that it does not have, its real fear is that the United States will launch a conventional air war designed to cripple Iran’s conventional forces — its naval and armored capability, particularly. The destruction of Iranian naval power is critical, since Iran’s most powerful countermove in a war would be to block the Strait of Hormuz with mines, anti-ship missiles and swarming suicide craft, cutting off the substantial flow of oil that comes out of the strait. Such a cutoff would shatter the global economic recovery. This is Iran’s true “nuclear” option.
The Iranians are also aware that air warfare — unlike counterinsurgency — is America’s strong suit. It does not underestimate the ability of the United States, in an extended air war, to shatter Iran’s conventional capability, and without that conventional capability, Iran becomes quite insignificant. Therefore, Iran comes to the table with two goals. The first is to retain the powerful negotiating hand it has by playing the nuclear card. The second is to avoid an air campaign by the United States against Iran’s conventional capabilities.
At stake in this discussion is nothing less than the future of the Arabian Peninsula. The Iranians would not have to invade militarily to be able to reshape the region. It would be sufficient for there to be the potential for Iran to invade. It would shift the regime survival question away from Iran to Saudi Arabia. U.S. troops in Kuwait would help but would not change the basic equation. The Saudis would understand that having left Iraq, the United States would be quite capable of leaving Kuwait. The pressure on the Saudis to accommodate the Iranians would be terrific, since they would have to hedge their bets on the United States. As for basing troops in Saudi Arabia itself, the risks pyramid, since the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm helped trigger the rise of al Qaeda.
Therefore, the choices appear to be accepting the shift in the regional balance in favor of Iran, reversing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq or attempting to destroy Iran’s conventional forces while preventing the disruption of oil from the Persian Gulf. From the American point of view, none of these choices is appetizing. Living with Iranian power opens the door to future threats. Moving heavily into Iraq may simply not be possible with current forces committed to Afghanistan. In any case, reversing the flow out of Iraq would create a blocking force at best, and one not large enough to impose its will on Iraq or Iran.
There is, of course, the option of maintaining or intensifying sanctions. The problem is that even the Americans have created major loopholes in these sanctions, and the Chinese and Russians — as well as the Europeans — are happy to undermine it at will. The United States could blockade Iran, but much of its imports come in through land routes in the north — including gasoline from Russia — and for the U.S. Navy to impose an effective naval blockade it would have to stop and board Chinese and Russian merchant ships as well as those from other countries. The United States could bomb Iranian refineries, but that would simply open the door for foreign sales of gasoline. I do not have confidence in sanctions in general, and while current sanctions may hurt, they will not force regime change or cause the Iranians to forego the kind of opportunities they currently have. They can solve many of the problems of sanctions by entrenching themselves in Iraq. The Saudis will pay the price they need for the peace they want.
The Europeans are hardly of one mind on any subject save one: They do not want to see a disruption of oil from the Persian Gulf. If the United States could guarantee a successful outcome for an air attack, the Germans and French would privately support it while publicly condemning American unilateralism. The Chinese would be appalled by the risks U.S. actions would impose on them. They need Middle Eastern oil, though China is happy to see the United States bogged down in the Middle East so it doesn’t have to worry too much about U.S. competition elsewhere. And, finally, the Russians would profit from surging energy prices and having the U.S. bogged down in another war. For the Russians, unlike the Europeans and Chinese, an attack would be acceptable.
Therefore, at the table next week will be the Americans, painfully aware that its campaigns look promising at the beginning but frequently fail; the Europeans and Chinese, wanting a low-risk solution to a long-term problem; and the Russians, wanting to appear helpful while hoping the United States steps in it again and ready to live with soaring energy prices. And there are the Iranians, wanting to avoid a conventional war but not wanting to forego the opportunity that it has looked for since before the Islamic Republic — domination of the Persian Gulf.
The Turkish Stake
Then there are the Turks. The Turks opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq because they expected it to fail to establish a viable government in Baghdad and thereby to destroy the balance of power between Iraq and Iran. The Turks have also tried to avoid being drawn into the south beyond dealing with threats from Turkish Kurds operating out of Iraq. At the same time, Turkey has been repositioning itself as both a leading power in the Muslim world and the bridge between the Muslim world and the West, particularly the United States.
Given this, the Turks have assumed the role of managing the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. The United States in particular was upset at Turkey’s last effort, which coincided with the imposition of sanctions by the P5+1. The Turks, along with Brazil, negotiated a transfer of nuclear materials from Iran that was seen as insufficient by the West. The real fact was that the United States was unprepared for the unilateral role Turkey and Brazil played at the time they played it. Since then, the nuclear fears have subsided, the sanctions have had limited success at best, and the United States is a year away from leaving Iraq and already has withdrawn from a combat role. The United States now welcomes the Turkish role. So do the Iranians. The rest don’t matter right now.
Now the Turks must face their dilemma. It is all very good to want to negotiate as a neutral party, but the most important party isn’t at the table: Saudi Arabia. Turkey wants to play a dominant role in the Muslim world without risking too much in terms of military force. The problem for Turkey, therefore, is not so much bringing the United States and Iran closer but bringing the Saudis and Iranians closer, and that is a tremendous challenge not only because of religious issues but also because Iran wants to be what Saudi Arabia opposes most: the dominant power in the region. The Turkish problem is to reconcile the fundamental issue in the region, which is the relationship between Persians and Arabs.
The nuclear issue is easy simply because it is not time-sensitive right now. The future of Iraq is time-sensitive and uncertain. The United States wants to leave, and that creates an Iranian ally. A pro-Iranian Iraq, by merely existing, changes the reality of Saudi Arabia. If Turkey wants to play a constructive role, it must find a formula that satisfies three needs. The first is to facilitate the American withdrawal, since simply staying and taking casualties is not an option and will result in the conventional air war that few want. The second is to limit the degree of control Iran has in Iraq, guaranteeing Iranian interests in Iraq without allowing absolute control. The third is to persuade Saudi Arabia that the degree of control ceded to Iranians will not threaten Saudi interests.
If the United States leaves the region, the only way to provide these guarantees to all parties is for Turkish forces, covert and overt, to play an active role in Iraq counterbalancing Iranian influence. Turkey has been a rising power in the region, and it is now about to encounter the price of power. The Turks could choose simply to side with the Iranians or the Saudis, but neither strategy would enhance Turkish security in the long run.
The Turks do not want an air war in Iran. The do not want chaos in Iraq. They do not want to choose between Persians and Arabs. They do not want an Iranian regional hegemon. There are many things the Turks do not want. The question is: What they do want? And what risks are they prepared to take to get it? The prime risk they must take is in Iraq — to limit, not block, Iranian power and to provide a threat to Iran if it goes too far in the Arabian Peninsula. This can be done, but it is not how the Turks have behaved in the last century or so. Things have changed.
Having regional power is not a concept. It is a complex and unpleasant process of balancing contradictory interests in order to prevent greater threats to a country’s interests emerging in the long run. Having positioned itself as a host for negotiations between the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany on one hand and Iran on the other hand, Turkey has a basic decision to make: It can merely provide a table for the discussion, or it can shape and guarantee the outcome.
As the Americans have learned, no one will thank them for it, and no one will think better of them for doing it. The only reason for a deeper involvement as mediator in the P5+1 talks is that stabilizing the region and maintaining the Persian-Arab balance of power is in Turkey’s national interest. But it will be a wrenching shift to Turkey’s internal political culture. It is also an inevitable shift. If not now, then later.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Prager: Sacred Texts
on: January 11, 2011, 07:31:02 AM
For the Left, There Are No Sacred Texts
A number of well-known spokesmen on the left have voiced reservations not only about the Republican decision to have members of Congress -- both Republicans and Democrats -- read the Constitution aloud at the opening of the latest session of Congress. They have also voiced reservations about the American veneration of the Constitution.
In a recent appearance on MSNBC, Washington Post staff writer Ezra Klein said: "The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person."
Joy Behar asked her guests on CNN's Headline News, "Do you think this Constitution-loving is getting out of hand?"
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., complained that "They are reading it (the Constitution) like a sacred text."
What troubles Klein, Behar and Nadler?
The answer is that for leftism -- though not necessarily for every individual who considers himself a leftist -- there are no sacred texts. The two major examples are the Constitution and the Bible.
One cannot understand the left without understanding this. The demotion of the sacred in general and of sacred texts specifically is at the center of leftist thinking.
The reason is that elevating any standard, any religion, any text to the level of the sacred means that that it is above any individual. Therefore, what any one individual or even society believes is of secondary importance to that which is deemed sacred. If, to cite the most obvious example, the Bible is sacred, then I have to revere it more than I revere my own feelings in assessing what is right and wrong.
But for the left, what is right and wrong is determined by every individual's feelings, not by anything above the individual.
This is a major reason why the left, since Karl Marx, has been so opposed to Judeo-Christian religion. For Judaism and Christianity, God and the Bible are above the self. Indeed, Western civilization was built on the idea that the individual and society are morally accountable to God and to the moral demands of that book. That was the view, incidentally, of every one of the Founders including deists such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
This is entirely unacceptable to the left. As Marx and Engels said, "Man is God, and God is man." Therefore, society must rid itself of the sacred, i.e., God and the Bible. Then each of us (or the society, party or judiciary) takes the place of God and the Bible.
Morality is then no longer a God-given objective fact; it becomes a human-created subjective opinion. And one no longer needs to consult an external source to know right and wrong, only one's heart. We are then no longer accountable to God for transgressions, only to ourselves.
That is why when there is God-talk on the left, it is usually about "the God that is within each of us," not a God external to, let alone above, us, as Judaism and Christianity have always taught.
This explains the belief that is universally held on the left that the Constitution is an "evolving text," meaning that it says what anyone (on the left) wants it to say.
Conservatives, on the other hand, do not share this view. They do not believe the Constitution has something to say about everything they believe in. While the left sees the right to abortion in the Constitution (because the left believes in the right to abortion), those who oppose abortion do not believe that the Constitution prohibits abortion. They believe that the Constitution is silent on the issue. Precisely because the right does believe the Constitution is to be treated as sacred, it does not claim that whatever it supports is in the Constitution or that whatever it opposes is unconstitutional.
There are humble individuals and arrogant individuals on the right and on the left. But there is no arrogance like leftist arrogance. If you hold a Leftist position, you know that you are smarter, wiser and more moral not only than conservatives, but more so than the Bible, more so than the Constitution, indeed often more so than everyone who lived before you.
Same-sex marriage is a perfect example. The fact that neither Moses nor the Hebrew prophets, nor Jesus nor the Buddha nor any great secular humanist thinker ever advocated defining marriage as between members of the same sex does not cause the left to rethink its advocacy of same-sex marriage; it only proves to them how morally superior they are to Moses, Jesus, the prophets and everyone else who lived before them.
That is why we must to treat the Constitution as sacred text. Because the bottom line is this: If it is not regarded as sacred, it is nothing more than what anyone believes about any social issue. Which is precisely what the left wants it to be -- providing, of course, that the "anyone" is a liberal.
For the left, there are no sacred texts. There are only sacred (liberal) feelings.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: January 10, 2011, 04:00:11 PM
I liked that; a shame to have it lost here in this thread , , , maybe somewhere on the S, C, & H forum too?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Membership
on: January 10, 2011, 01:01:39 AM
Around here this is defined as a "Reality stuff". My wife Cindy (a.k.a. "Pretty Kitty") is in charge of Reality and I am in charge of everything else. Email her with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
(I receive these emails too and can chime in whne necessary) Know that she is also very much a mom and sometimes only gets to DBMA business 1-2 days a week.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: El espiritu marcial en la vida diaria
on: January 10, 2011, 12:11:05 AM
Buen comentario Barna.
Yo quisiera anadir que hay varios tipos de agresion: Teritorio, herarquia, reproductivo, y criminal (osea en el sentido de un cazador cazando). La gran mayoria de arte martial, por ejemplo MMA, se dedica a agresion de herarquia-- tipicamente el campo de jovenes macho-- la cual tiene aspectos de rituo.
Eso tiene mucho por recomendarse-- se permite la experiencia de funcionando en condicion de adrenalina-- pero , , , hay mas , , ,
Espero que se pueda entender mi espanol.
La Aventura continua
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty in Israel May 6-7
on: January 09, 2011, 11:10:20 PM
I am going to see if it will be possible to bring my son with me. He has school, but he is a good student so if we can properly work out his assigments with his teachers it may be doable, but his mom thinks it may be close to exam time so it may not work out. We will have to see.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Mullen calls for taking stock
on: January 09, 2011, 03:53:26 PM
January 8, 2011
After Decade of War, Top Officer Directs the Military to Take Stock of Itself
By THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — Adm. Mike Mullen, who will almost certainly be the final chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to have served in the Vietnam War, still carries the scars of how that polarizing era damaged the military and its relationship with the American people.
As he enters his last year as the nation’s top-ranking officer and as the military enters its 10th year of war since the Sept. 11 attacks, Admiral Mullen is openly voicing concerns that professionalism and ethical standards across the armed forces are being severely challenged by the longest period of sustained combat in the nation’s history.
He is responsible for convening a National Defense University conference here on Monday that will open an intensive assessment by the military of its professional behavior.
“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves in the last decade; some of it’s been pretty unpleasant stuff,” Admiral Mullen said in an interview. “I want us to understand what we’ve seen, to a depth that we can ensure that our moral compass stays true, our ethical compass stays true.”
The conference is the first such introspective session into “military ethos” organized specifically at the request of a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It will examine a subtle set of political and social challenges to military integrity, like a potential slide toward partisanship among the officer corps, especially retired generals and admirals acting as television commentators, and whether the behavior of up-and-coming leaders fits with the image the military as an institution wants to exhibit to the nation.
A particularly relevant topic on the agenda is how the next generation’s generals and admirals should express their best, unvarnished military advice to the nation’s civilian leadership, and what to do when they disagree with the eventual policy. Admiral Mullen has said there are just two choices: an officer obeys the policy and follows it with enthusiasm or resigns.
Hovering over that discussion will be memories of the bruising, closed-door debate about shaping a strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that many at the Pentagon and the White House said soured civilian-military relations.
But other issues are expected to include an assessment of the retired generals who openly called for Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, to resign, as well as of retired admirals and generals who endorse political candidates or appear at party conventions.
The discussion is also expected to touch on whether service members have the right to a different persona online, like on Facebook or in a blog, than they do in uniform.
Admiral Mullen, who is scheduled to retire on Oct. 1, acknowledged that his motivations for the conference dated to his service in a war that ended more than three decades ago. “These are Vietnam scars for me,” he said.
And just as the Vietnam War shaped his professional outlook, Admiral Mullen said, the intense combat experiences during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will shape the military for decades to come. “How they lead, how they retain, how they recruit, what they talk about — I want to examine as much of that as we can, in stride, to prepare for the future,” he said.
A conscious decision was made not to focus at this session on the most egregious acts of military misconduct that seized global attention and prompted worldwide outrage, like detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, because such actions are clearly prohibited by long-standing laws of armed conflict and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Admiral Mullen noted that the Army, in particular, was moving ahead with its own effort to evaluate military professionalism, and he cited the work done by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who leads the Army Training and Doctrine Command.
General Dempsey said his efforts had been inspired by two trends since the Sept. 11 attacks: how counterinsurgency warfare and efforts to create more deployable brigade combat teams had placed increasing responsibilities in the hands of junior leaders, and how the Army’s system for generating forces created a deliberate cycle in which combat units were built, trained, deployed — and then brought home to be rebuilt with fresh troops.
“This is very different from an Army that had been relatively stable, relatively hierarchical, relatively centralized,” General Dempsey said in a telephone interview.
General Dempsey, who is Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s candidate to be the next Army chief of staff, said the Army had not paused for an institutional, top-to-bottom review of its professional conduct in two decades.
“This is another one of those times in our history when we want to encourage ourselves to look at ourselves as professionals and ask whether we are living up to our standards — and where our policies for training, education and promotion enhance these standards or rub against them,” General Dempsey said.
To manage the conference, National Defense University turned to Albert C. Pierce, director of the Institute for National Security Ethics and Leadership, which examines and teaches professional behavior in the national security arena.
“Our distinctive concept of operations,” Mr. Pierce said, “comes from the chairman, introspection and reflection by the members of the profession on what its basic principles and touchstones are, and how to apply them to specific issues such as providing professional military advice and handling disagreements over policy.”
He added, “More broadly, we hope our deliberations that day will help define or describe where and how to draw the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior by military professionals, active-duty and retired.”
Admiral Mullen will give the keynote address, and all of the panelists are active-duty or retired military personnel, with one exception; John J. Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary who is president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan policy institute here, will offer perspectives on how senior civilian policy makers view the behavior of military professionals.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: January 09, 2011, 02:25:12 PM
As I have been posting here for a few years now, our strategy for Afpakia is utterly incoherent. Bush left a mess, no doubt! but as best as I can tell at present we simply are posturing so that our Commander in Chief can pretend that he kept his campaign promise to wage this "essential war of national self-defense" before doing what he fully intended to do along anyway-- which is to leave, under the guise of , , , well , , , that is going to be tricky, isn't it? The Democratic left and all sentient political observers understood that-- which is why the left supported him as the "peace" candidate.
As best as I can tell, we will withdraw under dishonorable conditions, Pakistan's underlying hostility will become overt, and its nuke program will become a major player in the proliferation ensuing from Iran's nukes.
Meanwhile, our CiC will cut the military while enslaving our children with deficit entitlements, bluster with China, set the stage for China's takeover of Taiwan not so many years down the road, etc etc etc.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Travel
on: January 09, 2011, 11:17:02 AM
Navigating the Airfare Maze Online Gets Tougher
By MICHELLE HIGGINS
Published: January 7, 2011
With online travel sites battling with some airlines, where does that leave travelers shopping for flights online? The simple answer is that they’re going to have to do more digging. Airlines are pulling their fares from travel Web sites amid a standoff over the fees that carriers pay to list their flights.
American Airlines removed its flight listings from Orbitz.com last month, when the companies could not agree on a new contract, and Delta withdrew its fares from CheapoAir.com, OneTravel.com and Bookit.com. More recently, Expedia.com dropped American flight listings. Delta has also notified Airfare.com, CheapAir.com, Vegas.com, AirGorilla.com and Globester.com that it will no longer allow its fares to be included on their Web sites in the United States and Canada after Friday.
The moves represent a standoff over the fees that airlines must pay to list their flights with online travel agencies. And at least one major fare distributor, Sabre, which runs a computer system that allows travel agents to see flight and fare information, joined the fray on Wednesday, announcing that it would end its distribution deal with American in August — a month before the end of its contract — and, in the meantime, would make American fares harder to see in its displays.
But American and Delta are not the only airlines becoming more selective about where their fares appear online. JetBlue, Virgin America and Spirit have increasingly been offering special fare sales only through their own Web sites. And some low-cost carriers, including Southwest and Allegiant Air, have long refused to list fares at online agencies or fare aggregators like Kayak.com, requiring travelers to visit the airlines’ own Web sites to see their flights.
So what’s the best way to search for fares now? Currently, there is no one-stop shopping site that includes all fares, but it is possible to cover your bases using only a few sites.
Start with ITA Software, which provides the technological backbone for many air fare shopping sites. It offers an easy way to narrow down the cheapest days to fly by allowing anyone to scan an entire month’s worth of fares for the cheapest rate. Click on “search airfares now” in the middle of the home page, then enter your departure date and destination and select “see calendar of lowest fares” to see which travel days yield the lowest rates. Travelers can also narrow searches by the number of stops and length of trip. But to book the actual ticket, users must go to another site, like the airline’s.
Cover your bases by adding a so-called meta-search site like Kayak.com, Fly.com or Farecompare.com, which don’t sell plane tickets but search hundreds of travel sites at once. Doing this will give you an idea of the best rates available from various sites. Each meta-search site configures its technology and accesses fares slightly differently, which can affect results. The sites also tend to differentiate themselves through special partnerships. Kayak.com, for example, receives fares from ITA Software; Amadeus, a global distribution system; and some airlines directly, including American and Delta. FareCompare licenses air fare data from more than 500 airlines via the Airline Tariff Publishing Company, which consolidates and distributes airline fares worldwide.
Before you hit the buy button, check out Airfarewatchdog.com, a site with actual people who manually search for fares and will sometimes uncover cheaper fares than the other sites. It often captures sales from Allegiant and Southwest, as well as special, last-minute fares that airlines often save for their own Web sites, like “JetBlue Cheeps” which are put on sale on Tuesdays via Twitter and listed only at jetblue.com/cheeps.
For trips to Europe, consider Momondo.com, a Danish travel search site that scours the airlines’ own Web sites as well as online agencies that focus on low-cost carriers, like LyddAir, which operates flights from Lydd Airport in Southeast Kent in Britain to Le Touquet in France. It also compares rates with more than 4,000 high-speed train routes across Europe — a valuable service, as trains are often more convenient in Europe than planes. One caveat: Because of the way Momondo pulls fares, it may show expired fares in its results.
To help evaluate prices, consider Bing.com, which offers a Price Predictor that uses algorithms to determine whether a fare is likely to rise or fall in the next seven days; this can help when trying to decide whether to buy now or wait for a better rate. Students can also consult STATravel.com or StudentUniverse.com, which offer special deals for anyone enrolled in college or graduate school.
And for those who care most about the quality of the flight experience, there are a couple of notable mentions. Rather than a long list of fares, Hipmunk.com sorts fares according to an “agony” index that factors in price, length of flight and number of connections. In a similar vein, InsideTrip.com, evaluates flights by 11 criteria, including legroom, aircraft age and on-time performance.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH speaks to this thread
on: January 09, 2011, 11:11:52 AM
Hanging On as the Boundaries ShiftBy ARTHUR S. BRISBANE
Published: January 8, 2011
FOUR months as public editor has given me a working list, perhaps only that, of the challenges The Times faces and the faults readers find in this most important of American newspapers. As a representative of the reader, I’d like to post that list today and invite you to consider it, then add to it as you will.
Earl Wilson/The New York Times
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The blending of opinion with news is a good place to start. Although there is a distinct separation between the Editorial Page operation headed by Andrew Rosenthal and the news operation headed by Bill Keller, the news pages are laced with analytical and opinion pieces that work against the premise that the news is just the news.
The most glaring recent example that drew my eye was the Dec. 15 front-page column by David Leonhardt analyzing the debate over health care reform. The piece, a day-two follow-up to the news that a federal judge in Virginia had overturned the health care law’s central provision, drew complaints from readers like Sheila R. Markin of Sarasota, Fla., who wrote: “The Times does itself no good by putting these articles on the front page. It loses its status as an objective newspaper.”
She added, “I want my newspaper to be known for its unbiased articles on the front page.” Ms. Markin nailed it with this last sentence. I have no problem with Mr. Leonhardt’s analysis; he’s an accomplished economics writer and is entitled to his view. It was The Times’s decision to place it on Page 1 that posed the difficulty, sending the message that The Times’s take on health care is synonymous with Mr. Leonhardt’s, which some see as progressive or liberal.
The issue of opinion versus news in the news pages is, I think, one of boundaries. In my experience, people value boundaries, rely on them and grow uncomfortable when they move.
And here’s another form of boundary-slippage that readers complain about, one that is technology-driven. Once upon a time, the final print edition set a final, definitive version of a story and headline, leaving for posterity an immutable document of record, albeit one gathering dust in the newspaper morgue. No more. Now, appearing online, stories often undergo more frequent updates and headline changes. The same story often appears under distinctly different headlines in print, on the Web and on the other digital devices the Times feeds.
Amy Goldstein, a reader from Princeton, N.J., wrote to me that she found all this versioning problematic. “How does the newspaper of record handle this?” she asked, referring to changing versions of an obituary of the movie director Arthur Penn. “I read something, and now poof, it’s gone without a trace.”
While the requirements of digital publishing sometimes make things go “poof,” in other ways the digital environment commits things to a kind of immortality that itself is sometimes unwelcome.
In one case I wrote about, I argued that the paper had run roughshod in using the names of a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old who were named in a civil suit. But there is no fix for a problem like this after-the-fact. When it comes to the notion of expunging the identities, Times policy is strict: the electronic record is not to be changed. To me, this argues for taking far more care in protecting individuals’ privacy in the first place.
Indeed, taking sufficient care on the front end of reporting and publishing is one of the most difficult challenges for The Times as news consumption shifts rapidly to digital venues like the Web, tablets and cellphones. The newspaper scored a clear victory in this respect with its handling of the WikiLeaks material. With its deep roster of experienced reporters and computer-aided reporting expertise, The Times carefully mounted a responsible assemblage of coverage.
Floyd Abrams, the prominent First Amendment lawyer, gives The Times’s WikiLeaks work very high marks. And he notes that the stakes are huge, given the peril that news organizations face when dealing with secret material — dealings that could potentially subject them to prosecution under the Espionage Act.
“Once the legislature or the judiciary gets the notion that the entities before it are reckless,” Mr. Abrams warns, “the less likely they are to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Unfortunately, though, the pressure at The Times to produce in a high-speed news environment sometimes leads to much less careful work. You could ask Greg Brock, the senior editor who handles corrections for The Times. In 2010, he told me, The Times corrected 3,500 errors, most commonly spellings, dates and historical facts.
“What leads to these type errors?” Mr. Brock said. “Reporters and editors are rushed on deadline; they simply fail to double-check; the reporter misreads her notes. But many of these errors stem from Googling a name and taking the spelling — or historical fact — as gospel.”
Speed has other ill effects. For journalists charged with feeding the digital news flow, life is a barely sustainable cycle of reporting, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and, in some cases, moderating the large volume of readers who comment online. I applaud these journalists for their commitment but worry that the requirements of the digital age are translating into more errors and eventual burnout.
Certainly, as Mr. Brock also notes, the digital age has spawned a growing chorus of bloggers who closely monitor The Times. “A blogger points out an error, challenges something The Times has published and urges its followers to write The Times,” he said. “So they do so by the hundreds — particularly on politically charged issues.”
Looking ahead, the twin demands of digital and print will remain for the foreseeable future (and p.s., it’s not readily foreseeable). The Times will have to maintain deep investments in both domains while the media mix sorts itself out — an expensive proposition that puts pressure on The New York Times Company’s already slim profit margin.
So it seems that, as the New Year dawns, boundaries will continue to shift, the pressures will mount, and much will depend on the success of The Times’s pending launch of its pay model — the pay-to-use system designed to generate revenue for the currently free NYTimes.com.
One thing I know I can count on: The readers will weigh in. Their passionate view — from outside the newspaper’s 52-story bubble on New York’s West Side — provides an essential balance and perspective that helps keep The New York Times on track.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Taseer's son's eulogy for his dad
on: January 09, 2011, 11:05:13 AM
TWENTY-SEVEN. That’s the number of bullets a police guard fired into my father before surrendering himself with a sinister smile to the policemen around him. Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, was assassinated on Tuesday — my brother Shehryar’s 25th birthday — outside a market near our family home in Islamabad.
The guard accused of the killing, Mumtaz Qadri, was assigned that morning to protect my father while he was in the federal capital. According to officials, around 4:15 p.m., as my father was about to step into his car after lunch, Mr. Qadri opened fire.
Mr. Qadri and his supporters may have felled a great oak that day, but they are sadly mistaken if they think they have succeeded in silencing my father’s voice or the voices of millions like him who believe in the secular vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
My father’s life was one of struggle. He was a self-made man, who made and lost and remade his fortune. He was among the first members of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party when it was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the late 1960s. He was an intellectual, a newspaper publisher and a writer; he was jailed and tortured for his belief in democracy and freedom. The vile dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq did not take kindly to his pamphleteering for the restoration of democracy.
One particularly brutal imprisonment was in a dungeon at Lahore Fort, this city’s Mughal-era citadel. My father was held in solitary confinement for months and was slipped a single meal of half a plate of stewed lentils each day. They told my mother, in her early 20s at the time, that he was dead. She never believed that.
Determined, she made friends with the kind man who used to sweep my father’s cell and asked him to pass a note to her husband. My father later told me he swallowed the note, fearing for the sweeper’s life. He scribbled back a reassuring message to my mother: “I’m not made from a wood that burns easily.” That is the kind of man my father was. He could not be broken.
He often quoted verse by his uncle Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of Urdu’s greatest poets. “Even if you’ve got shackles on your feet, go. Be fearless and walk. Stand for your cause even if you are martyred,” wrote Faiz. Especially as governor, my father was the first to speak up and stand beside those who had suffered, from the thousands of people displaced by the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 to the family of two teenage brothers who were lynched by a mob last August in Sialkot after a dispute at a cricket match.
After 86 members of the Ahmadi sect, considered blasphemous by fundamentalists, were murdered in attacks on two of their mosques in Lahore last May, to the great displeasure of the religious right my father visited the survivors in the hospital. When the floods devastated Pakistan last summer, he was on the go, rallying businessmen for aid, consoling the homeless and building shelters.
My father believed that the strict blasphemy laws instituted by General Zia have been frequently misused and ought to be changed. His views were widely misrepresented to give the false impression that he had spoken against Prophet Mohammad. This was untrue, and a criminal abdication of responsibility by his critics, who must now think about what they have caused to happen. According to the authorities, my father’s stand on the blasphemy law was what drove Mr. Qadri to kill him.
There are those who say my father’s death was the final nail in the coffin for a tolerant Pakistan. That Pakistan’s liberal voices will now be silenced. But we buried a heroic man, not the courage he inspired in others. This week two leading conservative politicians — former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan — have taken the same position my father held on the blasphemy laws: they want amendments to prevent misuse.
To say that there was a security lapse on Tuesday is an understatement. My father was brutally gunned down by a man hired to protect him. Juvenal once asked, “Who will guard the guards themselves?” It is a question all Pakistanis should ask themselves today: If the extremists could get to the governor of the largest province, is anyone safe?
It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.
Shehrbano Taseer is a reporter with Newsweek Pakistan.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Gates says US will counter
on: January 09, 2011, 10:54:54 AM
BEIJING — The Pentagon is stepping up investments in a range of weapons, jet fighters and technology in response to the Chinese military buildup in the Pacific, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Saturday on the eve of his visit to Beijing.
Despite billions of dollars in proposed Pentagon budget cuts that Mr. Gates announced this past week, he said that the Chinese development of its first radar-evading fighter jet, as well as an antiship ballistic missile that could hit American aircraft carriers, had persuaded him to make improvements in American weaponry a priority.
“They clearly have potential to put some of our capabilities at risk, and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs,” Mr. Gates said.
At the same time Mr. Gates doused China’s proud rollout this past week of its new stealth fighter jet, the J-20, saying that even though it was a matter for concern, there “is some question about just how stealthy” it is.
Mr. Gates made his comments to reporters before arriving Sunday night in Beijing, where he is on a three-day visit for talks with Chinese generals and President Hu Jintao that are meant to promote a more open and stable relationship between the American and Chinese militaries.
It is unclear what effect Mr. Gates’s comments will have on the talks, which are occurring a week before President Hu is to meet with President Obama in Washington.
The American weapons that Mr. Gates was referring to included investments in a new long-range nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, which the Pentagon had stopped developing in 2009, as well as a new generation of electronic jammers for the Navy that are designed to thwart a missile from finding and hitting a target. At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Mr. Gates said that the jammers would improve the Navy’s ability to “fight and survive” in waters where it is challenged.
Mr. Gates was also referring to continued investment in the Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s newest radar-evading fighter jet.
The Pentagon provided no estimate on Saturday of the total cost of the three programs or others meant to counter the Chinese buildup in the Pacific.
Although Pentagon officials say that China is a generation or more behind the United States in military technology, Mr. Gates said he has been worried about the Chinese buildup in his four years as defense secretary. And acknowledged that the Pentagon and intelligence agencies had underestimated how quickly the Chinese could act.
“We’ve been watching these developments all along,” Mr. Gates said.
“I’ve been concerned about the development of the antiship cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job,” he added. “We knew they were working on a stealth aircraft. I think that what we’ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted.”
Mr. Gates said he hoped his talks with Chinese leaders would reduce the need for more American weaponry in the Pacific. He also said that if Chinese leaders considered the United States a declining power because of the financial crisis, they were wrong.
“I’ve watched this sort of cyclical view of American decline come around two or three times, perhaps most dramatically in the latter half of the 1970s,” Mr. Gates said. “And my general line for those both at home and around the world who think the U.S. is in decline is that history’s dustbins are filled with countries that underestimated the resilience of the United States.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Loose Lips almost sink ship
on: January 09, 2011, 10:50:48 AM
Charleston Harbor, Jan. 9, 1861
Capt. Abner Doubleday rose early and went up to the parapet of Fort Sumter, scanning the surrounding waters with his telescope. He had seen something flashing out there the night before: a pilot boat signaling that a vessel was approaching Charleston Harbor in the darkness.
Since their move into the fortress two weeks before, Doubleday and his comrades in the small Union garrison had been looking out over that harbor in despair, as the besieging Carolinians were joined by volunteer units from across the Deep South. “If we ascended to the parapet,” he later recalled, “we saw nothing but uncouth State flags, representing palmettos, pelicans and other strange devices. No echo seemed to come back from the loyal North to encourage us. Our glasses in vain swept the horizon; the one flag we longed to see was not there.”
Library of CongressThe Star of the West enters Charleston Harbor, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
But now, in the morning sunlight, he suddenly saw that longed-for flag, the familiar Stars and Stripes. It was coming across the harbor, fluttering atop the mast of a large merchant steamer making her way up the channel. Doubleday quickly realized which vessel it was. He and the other officers had learned of this steamship and her top-secret mission to Fort Sumter the day before – from an article in a newspaper.
A week earlier, President James Buchanan, prodded into action by the general-in-chief of the Army, Winfield Scott, had at last decided to send reinforcements and provisions to the beleaguered Sumter garrison. Scott had urged that every possible step be taken to keep news of the expedition from getting out. Instead of using a Navy vessel, he chartered an ordinary steamship, the Star of the West. She was to clear New York Harbor as if bound on a regular voyage to New Orleans. Arms, ammunition and 200 federal troops were loaded by tugboats when the ship was discreetly out of sight of the city’s wharves.
Library of CongressHeadline in the New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1861.But the plan had sprung a leak. Actually, multiple leaks. New York longshoremen and tugboat pilots were not noted for their discretion, and by the evening of the Star’s departure, word had reached the city’s newspaper editors – for whom a scoop easily trumped any mere issues of national security. “SECRET MOVEMENTS OF UNITED STATES TROOPS,” blared a headline in the Herald, above a story describing the expedition down to its last detail. Similar reports appeared in papers from Massachusetts to Georgia (including The New York Times).
By that point, however, the secessionist authorities in South Carolina were already fully informed. Buchanan’s secretary of the interior, Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, had learned of the plan, resigned his post and promptly telegraphed Charleston.
The mission’s intended beneficiaries – the loyal troops at Fort Sumter and their commander, Maj. Robert Anderson – were among the last to learn of it. Washington had no secure telegraph line to the garrison, and so the War Department had mailed Anderson a letter. It traveled more slowly than the Star did. When Sumter’s officers saw a newspaper report of the expedition on Jan. 8, they “could not credit the rumor,” Doubleday wrote. “To publish all the details of an expedition of this kind, which ought to be kept a profound secret, was virtually telling South Carolina to prepare her guns to sink the vessel.”
Now the captain watched in astonishment as that very ship – the supposed journalistic figment – puffed laboriously up the channel. Then the crash of a rebel cannon split the morning air.
Doubleday, without waiting to see where the shot hit, rushed headlong downstairs to alert Anderson, who was still in bed. The major ordered his men to their battle stations. They hurried to load and prime Sumter’s cannons.
The Star was still under fire. Solid shot hurtled toward her from a battery on Morris Island manned by teenage cadets from the Citadel, the local military academy. Luckily, the youths were far from expert artillerists, and their cannonballs mostly splashed harmlessly into the water; one or two struck the steamer but did little damage. The American flag on her foremast dipped and rose again, as if the captain were trying to signal the fort. Clearly he expected Sumter’s guns to open upon the rebels and protect him.
Almost at that moment, more cannon fire boomed out, from a different direction: Fort Moultrie, across the channel. The Carolinians were attacking from two directions now. And still Sumter’s gunners stood watching, immobile, awaiting orders; clutching the lanyards that they might pull at any moment to set their own cannons roaring in reply. The entire scene seemed surreal, almost unbelievable: a citadel that had very recently been their own fortress was now firing upon the American flag. One of the lieutenants – a Union officer who bore the improbable and unfortunate name Jefferson C. Davis – begged Major Anderson to unleash his guns on Moultrie.
Anderson hesitated and seemed about to give the order. But another lieutenant, the Virginian Richard K. Meade, began remonstrating with Anderson, reminding him that the first shot from Sumter would mean civil war. Just then, across the channel, the Star began to swing her bow around into a turn.
“Hold on; do not fire,” Anderson said. “I will wait.”
Across the harbor, from the Charleston waterfront, an anxious Carolinian was watching the drama unfold. He was William Henry Trescot, who until recently had been assistant secretary of state in the Buchanan administration, but had just returned home to cast his lot with the rebellion. Now he stood, shuddering, as he thought of Anderson’s garrison and the fate that would befall them if a full-scale artillery battle began. His summer house was a few hundred yards from their former quarters at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island; the Union soldiers had been his friends – occasionally his dinner guests – in peacetime.
“Almost every summer day after breakfast, I used to light my cigar, walk over to Fort Moultrie, sit down in the piazza, and talk away the long morning,” Trescot wrote soon afterward. “It is mortifying to send a cannonball into bowels which have digested your hospitality gratefully and thoroughly. To kill them is almost as bad as to be killed ourselves.”
But the Star of the West was heading out again toward the open sea. The guns around the harbor fell silent, giving way once more to the cries of seagulls and the muted sigh of the waves. Trescot would have no reason to be mortified. Not yet.
Sources: Abner Doubleday, “Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-’61”; Samuel Wylie Crawford, “The History of the Fall of Fort Sumpter”; New-York Tribune, Jan. 9, 10, and 14, 1861; New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1861; Macon Daily Telegraph, Jan. 7, 1861; Boston Evening Transcript, Jan. 8, 1861; New York Times, Jan. 7 and 10, 1861; Maury Klein, “Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War”; William W. Freehling, “The Road to Disunion, Vol. 2: Secessionists Triumphant.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gov. Brown
on: January 09, 2011, 09:56:56 AM
Gov. Brown is off to an interesting start. Apparently he has dissolved some positions including the office of the First Lady and the Secretary of Education-- sensibly noting that it duplicated the work of the Board of Education. This is good!!! Unfortunately I gather that he has replaced those members of this board in favor of school choice with those opposed. This is very popular with his supporter, the Teachers Union.
Oh yeah, and apparently he wants Prop 13 repealed. This would be a disaster for the Denny household and could well be the straw that breaks our back for staying in CA.
Odysseus-like, Jerry Brown journeys back to his ancestral home.
Sing in me, Muse, and tell the story of the godlike Jerry Brown,
Who became a political wanderer, skilled in the ways of the campaign,
After he forfeited his father's throne
In an ill-fated bid to take the proud halls of the faraway Beltway.
Begin, Muse, with the electoral rout that drove the son of the infrastructure-rich Pat Brown from his home
When the soft-throated San Diego mayor bested him in pitched battle, and
Made Brown eat small potatoes as he snatched the treasure meant for the Golden's State's lord.
The pop-star-dating pol spent years clinging to his Spartan mattress, his trademark blue Plymouth and even Malathion,
While the much-suffering goddess Minerva looked down at the exploits of those who picked up her shield:
The buttoned-down George Deukmejian, who booted the law-bending Rose Bird from her bench,
Pete Wilson, who told his short-haired troops they were eff-ing irrelevant,
Gray Davis, the gleaming-white warrior who declared that Sacramento was worse than Vietnam,
Even though, Zeus-like, he friggin' kept the lights on,
Until Conan, with his broad arms and flashing savage sword, recalled him.
Having been driven from office, the son of Pat Brown set sail for Japan.
When sated with Zen, he voyaged to Kolkata.
He poured libations for the sick and sat at the feet of the gamma-shaped Mother Theresa.
Buffeted by the fickle gods, he railed against the political machine,
Then he lunged to control that wine-dark apparatus in his yearning to take the helm of the state Democratic Party.
After pitched battle, he defeated the fair-haired Steve Westly
And flexed his fundraising prowess among the glittering swells
Who deride Proposition 13 from their super-size homes atop California's steep hills.
Then an old yearning stirred deep inside him one day.
The Jesuit prince looked into the mirror and said, "You must be, by your looks,
The infrastructure-rich Pat Brown's boy."
Thus spake the wheedling siren who lured him back toward presidential politics.
The wily Jerry Brown then proclaimed an "anti-politics gospel"
With an 800 number and $100 donation limit.
Once again, he tasted the bitter dreck of rejection.
He spent days squatting on his haunches, brooding
Until he found comfort in the soft breast of talk radio
With like-minded listeners who lapped up his honeyed words.
He then governed over Oakland Ecopolis, "both far away and very near,"
Only to battle NIMBYs, Birkenstock-shod and goose-loving scolds --
Fools -- who fought his plan to dot downtown with sleek towers
And wield the sword of eminent domain to pummel Revelli Tire into a parking lot.
On a starry night, his lusty spearman Jacques Barzaghi -- no Nestor he --
Dipped his oar poorly toward the realm where lawyers rule
And moaning, Frere Jacques slipped into the wine-dark sea.
Many years passed, and the quake-shaky Bay Bridge remained unfixed.
The squire of Jack London Square turned his gaze toward Sacramento
And found there bountiful photo opportunities -- Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, greedy corporations! --
In the office of the attorney general, a worthy perch for a once and future governor.
As he bided his time, bickering lawmakers assembled in their much-greased halls,
Inhaling the smoke of thighbones burnt as an offering to the gods,
They picked their teeth and spoke aloud their private thoughts:
"My word, how voters take elected officials to task!
All their afflictions come from us, we hear,
And what of their own stupid choices on ballot propositions?"
The much-suffering goddess Minerva looked down at the belching louts --
Casting dice, spanking lobbyists and cursing term limits --
And she longed for the day of the son's return, when she would whisper in his ear that he better replace his red-faced official portrait.
Many years passed, and the quake-shaky Bay Bridge remained unfixed.
The wily Jerry Brown, son of the infrastructure-rich Pat Brown,
Laid out the tools he would need to seize the primary in pitched battle --
His winged words, the fey mention of a certain former squeeze,
And other odd bits he could throw at the doglike media.
Without throwing his spear, he smote the ruby-throated Gavin Newsom,
Felled by his own whether-you-like-it-or not boast on his shining city's steps.
Heeding his own counsel, and that of the clear-thinking Anne Gust,
He withstood the calls of his political suitors to hurl all of his coins, and the wealth of many families
Toward the well-oiled army of political mercenaries -- cretins -- who feasted on the carcass of their own Republican Party,
Slain in the service of the maid-eating queen of eBay, butcher of many sheep.
Using winged words both random and cryptic, he emerged the master of debate,
As Meg Whitman's spearmen, weighed down with plunder and spoils, collapsed, quietly spewing foul oaths.
And so the wily Jerry Brown returned to his ancestral home and sat upon his father's and his own erstwhile throne.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Erickson: Winners do not go on shooting sprees
on: January 09, 2011, 09:13:46 AM
The Media & The Shooter
Posted by Erick Erickson (Profile)
Sunday, January 9th at 6:00AM EST
“The tea party movement won in November. Winners don’t go on shooting sprees.”This morning we pray for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her family, and the other victims of the heinous violence in Arizona.
It should not be, but the media, under the guise of “a full exposition” of the evil in Arizona, is back to subtly and not so subtly pinning the blame for the attempted assassination of the Congresswoman and the related shootings on the tea party movement, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, me, you, and everyone right of center.
Let’s be crystal clear: this is the supposedly objective news media doing this, not the openly, partisan left, though it is fueling the media witch hunt. And from what we now know, it is not just media malpractice, but a lie.
Ironically, by perpetuating the lie — by even treating it as a legitimate topic of consideration to revisit the accusations of violence and hate the media tried to run with prior to the November election — that the right and the tea party incited this evil act, the left and media may very well incite violence against the right.
Today, the Sunday Shows will all be from Arizona. There will, I have no doubt, be many of them wanting to know if “rhetoric” and “tea parties” and “opposition to Barack Obama” did this.
They will also bring up, as they did yesterday, Sarah Palin putting Gabrielle Giffords on her target list for defeat with a rifle scope symbol over her district.
Here is what will either not be brought up, or if brought up, will only be mentioned in passing.
Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, the largest left-wing community online, put Gabrielle Giffords on a target list with a bullseye. Just as Sarah Palin removed her post, Markos has removed his. Another Daily Kos writer, just the other day, penned a post saying Congresswoman Giffords was dead to him.
But then there is the real culprit — the shooter himself. A friend of the shooter’s described the shooter as decidedly “left-wing” as recently as 2007. On YouTube, he flagged as a favorite video one of a person dressed as a terrorist burning the American flag. Only a lunatic or a leftist would do that. His favorite work was not a Glenn Beck book, but a staple of every left-wing bookshelf, the Communist Manifesto. In the Communist Manifesto, there are numerous, frequent calls for violence against the bourgeoisies.
Left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall’s most recent book calls for a violent response from the left against the right. Barack Obama himself told left-wing activists, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”
The point of all of this is not to blame Ted Rall, Mr. Obama, Media Matters, MSNBC, any other particular person or group on the left, or the left in general. It is also not to say in any way, shape, or form that the guy is of the left. If, however, we take the evidence as presented and not as the media and left would have it presented, the shooter very clearly is not of the right.
More precisely, the shooter is neither left-wing nor right-wing. He is crazy and evil — a word not used enough. The guy is very clearly not of the tea party movement, not a Dittohead, not led by Sarah Palin, me, or anyone else on the right.
But the media, at least as of this morning and its accumulated coverage so far on this matter, could not care less. The media is intent on yet again exploring right-wing rhetoric and tea party hate. Left-wingers yesterday were falling all over themselves to blame everyone on the right for the horrific shooting.
The media today, as it begins more expansive reporting, will not let the facts get in the way of making the right, yet again, responsible for violence it neither incited nor enabled. In the process, the media’s credibility will continue to shrink.
By the way, as an exit thought, the tea party movement won in November. Winners don’t go on shooting sprees.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA School Program
on: January 09, 2011, 08:46:39 AM
This being the first time for a DBMA SP seminar it is natural that there is a certain element of leaping into the unknown. That said, I will note that in order to leave time for the host's tournament, there will be fewer hours of teaching by me than the usual two five hour days of a typical Guro Crafty DBMA seminar. Also different will be that in contrast to my usual free-wheeling ways, the curriculum is rather fixed. Do count on this though, there will be opportunity to sweat a bit while swinging sticks with vigor
By all means, make your wife happy!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / BO wants you to have an internet ID
on: January 08, 2011, 04:21:05 PM
President Obama is putting plans in motion to give the Commerce Department authority to create an Internet ID for all Americans, a White House official told CNET.com.
White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt told the website it is "the absolute perfect spot in the U.S. government" to centralize efforts toward creating an "identity ecosystem" for the Internet.
The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace is currently being drafted by the Obama administration and will be released by the president in a few months.
"We are not talking about a national ID card. We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy, and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said at an event Friday at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, according to CNET.com.
Locke added that the Commerce Department will be setting up a national program office to work on this project.
The move has raised eyebrows about privacy issues.
"The government cannot create that identity infrastructure," Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology told the website. "If I tried to, I wouldn't be trusted."
Schmidt stresses that anonymity will remain on the Internet, saying there's no chance that "a centralized database will emerge."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chowchilla going under
on: January 08, 2011, 08:39:04 AM
Chowchilla, Calif. has failed to make its January payment on a bond issued to make expensive renovations to its city hall.
We warned you on Tuesday that city was on the brink and could foreshadow similar cases across the country.
Now Chowchilla has crossed the line.
The 11,000-person town got into this situation through a massive collapse in home prices and bad fiscal management, not least of which was an $8 million city hall project. Earlier this year the city posted a technical default by depleting its bond reserve fund to make a payment. And the outlook isn't good. The next step could be moving city operations into the local police department to save on overhead costs or just disincorporating the city.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/chowchilla-default-2011-1#ixzz1AS76EtIj
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Lunatics now rule the asylum
on: January 08, 2011, 08:36:37 AM
An Indian friend who is an astute observer of these things comments:
The recent murder of the governor of punjab in pakistan marks an important turning point in pakistan's death spiral. The RAPE (Rabid Anglicized Pakistani Elite) class has been effectively silenced. 500 muslim priests refused to perform the last rites of the man. The body guard who shot the governor, did so with apparent agreement of other body guards (I guess the nukes are safe though). The shooter was brought to court and showered with rose petals, lawyers fighting to defend him!. As background the governor was shot for supporting a christian woman who was handed down a death sentence for blasphemy following a verbal altercation with other muslim women, who had refused to accept drinking water from her.
Effectively, the lunatics now rule the asylum....you have been warned.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Morris:
on: January 08, 2011, 08:28:45 AM
Every Republican member of Congress should sign the following pledge, being promulgated by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform:
"I promise not to vote for any expansion of the federal debt limit unless it is preceded or accompanied by significant cuts in federal spending."
We all know that the reason the federal government debt is exploding is the reckless spending policies of the Obama administration. From the time George Washington took the oath of office to the time Barack Obama did, Washington borrowed $9 trillion. Since Obama took office, two years ago, we have borrowed almost $5 trillion more!
Domestic discretionary spending (non-defense) has risen by an astonishing 41 percent in two years!!! Welfare spending, primarily Medicaid, has gone up by 54 percent in two years!!!! We must roll back these increases. (It is not increases in Social Security -- 14 percent -- or Medicare --16 percent that are the problem).
Obama will never allow spending cuts unless they are jammed down his throat, and his need for an expansion of his borrowing authority are the key chance to do so.
House Speaker John Boehner sounded an ominous note of possible capitulation even before the first shot was fired when he said: "We're going to have to deal with it (raising the debt limit) as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations, and we have obligations on our part."
Obligations? Sure. But don't we also have the obligation to stop the crazy spending even as we allow the debt limit to rise to pay for the spending that is already underway? Is this not the perfect time to demand spending restraint?
The American people will strongly support the spending restrictions as a precondition for raising the debt limit. Most don't want the limit raised at all. But almost everyone will see the wisdom of cutting the spending as we raise the debt limit.
Obama will resist and, if he vetoes the spending cuts, he -- not the Republican House -- will bear the onus for the ensuing government default. And he will blink just like he did over extending the George W. Bush tax cuts.
What spending cuts? Nothing complicated. The most important one is to roll back domestic discretionary spending to pre-Obama levels -- 2008 levels -- and freeze it there for three years. This step would cut the deficit by over $100 billion for each of the next three years (and, if we take the step now, for this year, as well). Let the federal agencies figure out what to cut. But force them to make these cuts.
We all lived pretty well in 2008 before the 41 percent hike in domestic discretionary spending (on things like transportation, Congress, EPA, Justice, Education, Energy, etc). Let's go back to those days and erase the legacy of the Obama stimulus package.
And we should also take two other steps:
-- Transform Medicaid into a block grant to the states, giving them the flexibility to spend it as they wish. Roll Medicaid back to 2008 levels, and include a modest annual inflator for increasing costs of about 3 percent.
-- And, we should only increase the debt limit by $500 billion (about three months' worth) so as to keep Obama on a short leash and make him keep coming back for more while we add restrictions and new cuts each time.
Republicans need to be smart to leverage their one-house control into real accomplishments, and there is no better place to start than with the debt limit vote next month.