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23651  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Judge upholds 47 year old man marrying 8 year old girl on: April 12, 2009, 07:36:59 PM
(CNN)
A Saudi judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, a relative of the girl told CNN.

The most recent ruling, in which the judge upheld his original verdict, was handed down Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza, where late last year the same judge rejected a petition from the girl's mother, who was seeking a divorce for her daughter.

The relative said the judge, Sheikh Habib Al-Habib, "stuck by his earlier verdict and insisted that the girl could petition the court for a divorce once she reached puberty." The family member, who requested anonymity, added that the mother will continue to pursue a divorce for her daughter.

The case, which has drawn criticism from local and international rights groups, came to light in December when al-Habib declined to annul the marriage on a legal technicality. The judge ruled the girl's mother -- who is separated from the girl's father -- was not the girl's legal guardian and therefore could not represent her in court, according to Abdullah al-Jutaili, the mother's lawyer.

The girl's father, according to the attorney, arranged the marriage in order to settle his debts with the man, who is "a close friend" of his. At the time of the initial verdict, the judge required the girl's husband to sign a pledge that he would not have sex with her until she reaches puberty, al-Jutaili told CNN. The judge ruled that when the girl reaches puberty, she will have the right to request a divorce by filing a petition with the court, the lawyer said.

Last month, an appeals court in the Saudi capital of Riyadh declined to certify the original ruling, in essence rejecting al-Habib's verdict, and sent the case back to al-Habib for reconsideration.

Under the complicated Saudi legal process, the appeals court ruling meant that the marriage was still in effect, but that a challenge to the marriage was still ongoing. The appeals court in Riyadh will now take up the case again and a hearing is scheduled for next month, according to the relative.

The issue of child marriage has been a hot-button topic in the deeply conservative kingdom recently. While rights groups have been petitioning the government to enact laws that would protect children from this type of marriage, the kingdom's top cleric has said that it's OK for girls as young as 10 to wed.

"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks last January quoted in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."

Al-Sheikh reportedly made the remarks when he was asked during a lecture about parents forcing their underage daughters to marry.

"We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls," he said, according to the newspaper. "We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women."

Sharia law is Islamic law. Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism.

CNN was unable to reach government officials for comment.

Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told CNN in December that his organization has heard of many other cases of child marriages.

"We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger -- especially so when girls are traded off to older men," Wilcke said.

Wilcke explained that while Saudi ministries may make decisions designed to protect children, "It is still the religious establishment that holds sway in the courts, and in many realms beyond the court."

Last December, Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Saudi government-run Human Rights Commission, said his organization is fighting against child marriages.

"The Human Rights Commission opposes child marriages in Saudi Arabia," al-Harithi said. "Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed." He added that his organization has been able to intervene and stop at least one child marriage from taking place.

Wajeha al-Huwaider, co-founder of the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, told CNN that achieving human rights in the kingdom means standing against those who want to "keep us backward and in the dark ages."

She said the marriages cause girls to "lose their sense of security and safety. Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression."
23652  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ "The Veteran" on: April 12, 2009, 04:11:25 PM
By JAMES TARANTO
"What if it was 'Oh, the gay one,' or 'Oh, the Asian kid?' " asks Maggie Kwok, head of the Penn State Veterans Organization in an interview with the Daily Collegian, PSU's student newspaper. She is referring to a "training video," prepared by the university's Counseling and Psychological Services office, depicting "worrisome student behavior."

The office swiftly removed the video when it prompted a kerfuffle, but the PSU College Republicans preserved it on YouTube. It's a fascinating documentation of academic prejudice.

Just shy of five minutes, the video depicts a vignette in two scenes. As it opens, a timorous young female instructor is talking with an older man, perhaps the department chairman. We join the conversation as it is about to wrap up, before she brings up a new and worrisome subject:

Instructor: . . . So, I think that we should talk to everybody about that.
Chairman: Good, let's bring it up at the staff meeting, OK?
Instructor: Actually, I kinda wanted to talk to you about something else? Um, I'm still having problems with that student I mentioned?
Chairman: The Veteran.
Instructor: Yeah. He's having problems with his papers still. His grammar is really poor, and he veers off subject, and he's just not really seeming to understand the assignments.
Sound familiar? "You know, education--if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

The video's salient stereotype, however, is not of veterans as thickheaded but as angry. The instructor reluctantly tells the chairman that the student's "tone is very confrontational, and I feel like he's always on the verge of losing his temper." The chairman asks if he has threatened her or if she is "worried about what he might do." She says no, but "he makes me really uneasy." He gives her some obvious advice, beginning: "If he ever threatens you, you call the police right away."

After this inconclusive chat, the story shifts to the classroom, where The Veteran confronts the instructor, demanding to know why he only got a C-plus on his paper even after rewriting it to her specifications. She says that while there was some improvement after the rewrite, she graded the paper on the merits. He thinks she has it in for him and says, "I don't see why you're doing this":

Instructor: I'm not doing anything, Matthew. This isn't a personal thing against you.
The Veteran: I think it is! You've made it very clear in class how you feel about the war, and you're taking it out on me!
Instructor: My personal beliefs have nothing to do with the way that I treat you. I think that you need to relax and we need to discuss this. Or I could give you the name of someone to talk to if you feel like you want to get some help.
The Veteran: Help? Do you think I'm an idiot? You're the one who's being unreasonable! I just want the grade that I deserve. [Pauses.] You know what? You'll see, you'll be sorry. I'm gonna get you fired.
With this, The Veteran exits stage left. Fade to black as the instructor's jaw goes slack in an expression midway between terror and pensiveness.

"Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the university responded to the veterans' concerns as quickly as possible by removing the video," the Collegian reports:

"We heard them, we responded and there was certainly no intent to suggest that any particular student group was inclined toward worrisome behavior," Powers said. . . .
"Obviously someone has taken our video and has posted it elsewhere," Powers said. "Since it has been posted on the Internet, we have received some e-mails from veterans and friends of veterans who have seen the video out of context."
We watched the other three videos in the series, and we must say we don't see how the "context" ameliorates the veterans' objections to the depiction of The Veteran.

All the videos in the series concern students behaving in ways that are creepy but not necessarily dangerous. In the first, a young woman tells her professor that a young man in her class has an unreciprocated romantic interest in her and has been making her feel uncomfortable. "It's not like he's stalking me or anything," she allows, but then she describes behavior that some may reckon crossed that line.

The second depicts a female student who is behaving erratically for reasons that are unspecified--perhaps trauma, mental illness or drug abuse.

Podcast
James Taranto on the Penn State video kerfuffle.
The third shows a classroom discussion on news coverage of violent crime. When the conversation turns toward school shootings, a black-shirted male student in the back row remarks that such violence "doesn't make sense to me. Why shoot at the other students? Personally, I'd blow up Old Main or shoot up the administration. That's where the real problems are."

The video about The Veteran is similar to the others, in that all depict abnormal behavior by young people who probably are normal, but are immature or temporarily impaired. But the characters in the other videos are all completely generic, with no distinguishing characteristics other than their sex. Only The Veteran is fleshed out enough even to be a stereotype.

The obvious objection to the depiction of The Veteran is that there is no reason to think that veterans are more prone than anyone else to lash out angrily, blaming others for their own failings. If anything, one would think that the rigors of military training and deployment would leave them more mature, at least in this regard.

But The Veteran's status as a veteran is relevant to the video's story, inasmuch as he believes the instructor is treating him unfairly because he is a veteran. This lends another dimension to Maggie Kwok's speculation about the reaction if the character were depicted as a member of an ethnic or sexual minority.

What if the student in the video were black and accused the instructor of racial discrimination? Would this be depicted, as it is in this video, as if the charge was absurd on its face? Would the student's threat to have the (presumably untenured) instructor "fired" come across as an empty one, the way it does in the actual video? And if the department chairman in the opening exchange identified the student by asking, "Oh, the black guy?," would that not be seen--with some justification--as bolstering the charge of discrimination?

In the video, The Veteran behaves inappropriately--but he also accuses the instructor of inappropriately bringing her politics into the classroom at his expense. We are meant to think the accusation is preposterous. But at a university that produces such a video, is it hard to believe that such things actually go on?
23653  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Murder for shooting unarmed thief on: April 12, 2009, 02:19:00 PM
http://www.lasvegasnow.com/global/story.asp?s=10167052

Pawn shop owner shoots unarmed thief, charged with murder
23654  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Navy rescues captain, kills 3 of 4 pirates on: April 12, 2009, 01:36:49 PM
Official: US sea captain freed in swift firefight

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well Done Navy,would love to see the video,if it exists.


MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) - An American ship captain was freed unharmed Sunday in a U.S. Navy operation that killed three of the four Somali pirates who had been holding him for days in a lifeboat off the coast of Africa, a senior U.S. intelligence official said.

One of the pirates was wounded and in custody after a swift firefight, the official said.

Capt. Richard Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, was safely transported to a Navy warship nearby.

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A government official and others in Somali with knowledge of the situation had reported hours earlier that negotiations for Phillips' release had broken down.

The district commissioner of the central Mudug region said talks went on all day Saturday, with clan elders from his area talking by satellite telephone and through a translator with Americans, but collapsed late Saturday night.

"The negotiations between the elders and American officials have broken down. The reason is American officials wanted to arrest the pirates in Puntland and elders refused the arrest of the pirates," said the commissioner, Abdi Aziz Aw Yusuf. He said he organized initial contacts between the elders and the Americans.

Two other Somalis, one involved in the negotiations and another in contact with the pirates, also said the talks collapsed because of the U.S. insistence that the pirates be arrested and brought to justice.

Phillips' crew of 19 American sailors reached safe harbor in Kenya's northeast port of Mombasa on Saturday night under guard of U.S. Navy Seals, exhilarated by their freedom but mourning the absence of Phillips.

Crew members said their ordeal had begun with the Somali pirates hauling themselves up from a small boat bobbing on the surface of the Indian Ocean far below.

As the pirates shot in the air, Phillips told his crew to lock themselves in a cabin and surrendered himself to safeguard his men, crew members said.

Phillips was then held hostage in an enclosed lifeboat that was closely watched by U.S. warships and a helicopter in an increasingly tense standoff.

Talks to free him began Thursday with the captain of the USS Bainbridge talking to the pirates under instruction from FBI hostage negotiators on board the U.S. destroyer.

A statement from Maersk Line, owner of Phillips' ship, the Maersk Alabama, said "the U.S. Navy had sight contact" of Phillips earlier Sunday—apparently when the pirates opened the hatches.

Before Phillips was freed, a pirate who said he was associated with the gang that held Phillips, Ahmed Mohamed Nur, told The Associated Press that the pirates had reported that "helicopters continue to fly over their heads in the daylight and in the night they are under the focus of a spotlight from a warship."

He spoke by satellite phone from Harardhere, a port and pirate stronghold where a fisherman said helicopters flew over the town Sunday morning and a warship was looming on the horizon. The fisherman, Abdi Sheikh Muse, said that could be an indication the lifeboat may be near to shore.

The U.S. Navy had assumed the pirates would try to get their hostage to shore, where they can hide him on Somalia's lawless soil and be in a stronger position to negotiate a ransom.

Three U.S. warships were within easy reach of the lifeboat on Saturday. The pirates had threatened to kill Phillips if attacked.

On Friday, the French navy freed a sailboat seized off Somalia last week by other pirates, but one of the five hostages was killed.

Early Saturday, the pirates holding Phillips in the lifeboat fired a few shots at a small U.S. Navy vessel that had approached, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The official said the U.S. sailors did not return fire, the Navy vessel turned away and no one was hurt. He said the vessel had not been attempting a rescue. The pirates are believed armed with pistols and AK-47 assault rifles.

Phillips jumped out of the lifeboat Friday and tried to swim for his freedom but was recaptured when a pirate fired an automatic weapon at or near him, according to U.S. Defense Department officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the unfolding operations.

"When I spoke to the crew, they won't consider it done when they board a plane and come home," Maersk President John Reinhart said from Norfolk, Virginia before news of Phillips' rescue. "They won't consider it done until the captain is back, nor will we."

In Phillips' hometown, the Rev. Charles Danielson of the St. Thomas Church said before the news broke that the congregation would continue to pray for Phillips and his family, who are members, and he would encourage "people to find hope in the triumph of good over evil."

Reinhart said he spoke with Phillips' wife, Andrea, who is surrounded by family and two company employees who were sent to support her.

"She's a brave woman," Reinhart said. "And she has one favor to ask: 'Do what you have to do to bring Richard home safely.' That means don't make a mistake, folks. We have to be perfect in our execution."
23655  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The French show Prez Panywaist how to man up on: April 12, 2009, 12:13:05 PM
http://www.france24.com/en/200...iation-lemacon-tanit

Freed French hostages due to arrive in Paris
Sunday 12 April 2009

Four ex-hostages, freed from a French yacht seized by Somali pirates, arrive in Paris on Sunday but without their skipper Florent Lemaçon, who was killed during a mission to recue them. On Saturday, Somali pirates seized an Italian tug.

Before :
 

 
Quote:
Handout photo released by the French Navy on 11 April 2009, showing the owners of French 14.5 meters sailboat Tanit, Florent Lemacon (C), his wife Chloe (C), their three years old son Collin, and crew member 'Dodo' (2-L) being held at gun point by armed pirates. Florent and Chloe Lemacon and their three years old son Collin, plus two crew members, were captured and held hostages by pirates on 04 April 2009, not far from the Somalia's cost on the Indian Ocean, as the group was sailing to Kenya, French Special Forces retook the yacht on 10 April after negotiations to secure the release of the hostages fail. Mr. Lemacon and two pirates were killed, and 3 were taken prisoner.


After :
 

 
Quote:
A handout photo released by the French Navy on 11 April 2009, showing Chloe Lemacon (C), owner of French 14.5 meters sailboat Tanit, being helped off the yacht's cockpit by French Special Forces members. French nationals Florent and Chloe Lemacon and their three years old son Collin, plus two crew members, were captured and held hostages by pirates on 04 April 2009, not far from the Somalia's cost on the Indian Ocean, as the group was sailing to Kenya, French Special Forces retook the yacht on 10 April after negotiations to secure the release of the hostages fail. Mr. Lemacon and two pirates were killed, and three were taken prisoner.

RIP Florent Lemaçon
Congrats "La Royale"

12 April 2009
React (4) Print save AFP - Pirates holding a US merchant captain hostage on a lifeboat near Somalia could be preparing to transfer him to another ship Sunday, as an Italian vessel became the latest hijacking prey in the Gulf of Aden.

» Despite warnings, French family sails into pirate hands
Amid reports of ransom demands and shots fired at US sailors trying to reach the pirates, US officials considered how best to free Captain Richard Phillips and FBI agents interviewed his crew after the Maersk Alabama docked safely at Mombasa, Kenya.

In Italy meanwhile, the owners of the tug captured on Saturday by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden gave more details of the 16-strong crew.

"Ten Italians, five Romanians and a Croat are on board," Claudio Bartolotti of Micoperi Marine Contractors told AFP from the company's headquarters in Ravenna, northern Italy.

An earlier report had suggested that the boat was US-owned but operating under an Italian flag.

At around noon (1000 GMT), the company got word that their vessel, the 75-metre (250-foot) Buccaneer, had been captured, said Bartolotti. Fighting Piracy

» Hunting pirates with the French Navy
» Q&A with French Navy captain
» Despite warnings, French family sails into pirates' hands


The news came in an email that had probably been sent by the pirates themselves, he added. He had had no word since then.

It was the latest in a series of brazen raids in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, despite the presence of an international task force there to defend international shipping through the busy passage.

US Navy forces have poured into the region amid the standoff over Phillips, who has been held hostage since Wednesday when the container ship he commanded was attacked.

Four pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama, a freighter carrying 5,000 tonnes of UN aid destined for African refugees.

Its unarmed American crew managed to regain control of the ship, but the pirates bundled Phillips into the lifeboat as they escaped.

At 8:30 pm local time (1730 GMT) the Maersk Alabama docked at Mombasa. Those crew members visible from the dock looked tired but happy.

"The captain is a hero, he saved our lives," said one crew member, before retreating back inside the vessel.

Despite their ordeal, however, the crew was not allowed off the ship and the media was told to stay ashore while US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were on board investigating.

"Because of the pirate attack, the FBI has informed us this ship is a crime scene," Maersk Line president John Reinhart told a press briefing in the US state of Virginia.

Adrift in Indian Ocean and tracked closely by two US warships, the lifeboat carrying Phillips was now roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Somali coastline, according to CNN.

Overnight Thursday to Friday, Phillips tried to swim for the nearby US destroyer the USS Bainbridge, but was recaptured by his abductors.

A small naval party from one of the warships approached the lifeboat Saturday, but was forced back when the pirates opened fire, CNN reported from Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based.

The naval party retreated back to its mother ship without further incident to avoid antagonizing the situation any further, CNN said, citing a US official familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, a pirate commander in the northern Somali town of Eyl told AFP by telephone that Phillips would be moved from the lifeboat where he was being held to another ship off the Somali coast.

Abdi Garad warned against using force to rescue Phillips.

"I'm afraid this matter is likely to create disaster because it's taking too long and we are getting information that the Americans are planning rescue tricks like the French commandos did," Garad said.

A US military spokesman in Washington declined to comment on how the US Navy would react if the pirates holding Phillips managed to transfer him to another vessel.

The pirates have demanded a two-million-dollar ransom and safe passage to Somalia for Phillips' release, New York's Daily News reported, adding that they threatened to kill their hostage if the US Navy attacked.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin defended Friday's marine raid on a yacht in the region that left one hostage and two pirates dead.

The marines moved in six days after the French yacht, the Tanit, was seized in the Gulf of Aden.

Although they freed three adults and a three-year-old boy, a fourth man, Florent Lemacon, the owner of the yacht and the child's father, was killed.

An autopsy and investigation would determine what had happened, said Morin. He could not rule out that the fatal shot had come from the French forces.

But in comments to French radio, he insisted: "We did everything to save the hostages' lives."

The four ex-hostages -- Lemacon's wife Chloe, their three-year-old son Colin and two other adults -- were due in Paris on Sunday aboard a French-chartered plane, Morin told AFP.

Meanwhile, a court in the northern Somali breakaway region of Puntland -- the main hub for piracy in the Gulf of Aden -- on Saturday sentenced 10 people to 20 years in jail each for piracy.
23656  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: April 12, 2009, 10:49:40 AM
What an upstanding family.

Barack Obama's brother banned from Britain over 'sex assault' lie

By Justin Penrose 11/04/2009
THE brother of U.S. President Barack Obama has been barred from Britain after lying to police when accused of a sexual assault.
Samson Obama – known as Abo – gave a false name to officers interviewing him after he was alleged to have tried to sexually assault a teenage girl in this country last November.
It was claimed that he approached a group of teenage girls, tried to sexually assault one of them, and then followed them into a nearby cafe. He was said to have become aggressive and was asked to leave by the owner.

The police were called and Samson was arrested.
He denied the assault and police did not prosecute him, but he accepted a police caution for a public order offence. At the time of his arrest Abo was living illegally at his mother Kezia’s house in Bracknell, Berks, but after the incident returned to his native Kenya.
And last week he had a visa application to return to Britain rejected. Home Office staff ruled that allowing him into Britain was “not conducive to the public good”.
The news will be embarrassing to the US President, who gave half-brother Abo a personal tour of the White House in January when he attended the historic inauguration. Abo, 41, and Barack, 47, are both sons of Barack Snr, a former goatherder from Kenya.
Abo’s mother Kezia was Barack Senior’s first wife in Kenya and the president’s mother is his second wife Ann Denham, a white American from Kansas.

Barack Snr left America in 1965 with his third wife to return to Africa where he rekindled his relationship with Kezia and Abo was born. He was killed in a car crash when the President was 21.
Abo and Barack first met in 1987 when Barack traced his family in Kenya.
Ever since, they have become extremely close, meeting several times and speaking regularly on the phone. Abo’s mother, Kezia, is Barack’s stepmum and takes pride of place at family gatherings following the death of Barack’s mother Ann in 1995.
Immigration officers have discovered that at the time of his arrest Abo had been living illegally with Kezia in Bracknell for the past seven years (seems to be the family way).

He claimed to police that he was a bin man called Henry Aloo – but bizarrely gave them Kezia’s address.
His DNA, fingerprints and photograph were taken.
Abo was given a caution for a public order offence but he denied sexual assault. Detectives did not take any further action on the alleged attack.
Abo left Britain for Kenya and in January applied for a family UK visa to visit his mother Kezia, 67. He had to provide a fingerprint as part of the application and checks matched him with the man accused of the assault. Days later Abo asked for his passport back to get a visa to attend his brother’s inauguration at the White House.
Despite the British authorities knowing Abo’s past, he was allowed to overnight at Heathrow on the way to Washington in January to attend the historic event.
But when he applied again for a family visa in February he was confronted with the allegations at the UK Borders Agency office in Nairobi.
Abo denied that the offences related to him and claimed that his “passport had been stolen”. To support his visa application Abo submitted documents showing that he had a business in Nairobi – but the documents were forged, according to the Kenyan authorities.
The documents were supposed to back up his claim that he would not attempt to claim asylum in the UK, and to deny claims that he had been an illegal immigrant in the UK from 2001 to 2008.
An UK Borders Agency source said: “Nobody could believe that a close member of President Obama’s family was accused of a sex attack, even though he denied it. The fact is that when he was accused he gave another man’s identity to avoid being detected as an illegal immigrant.
“When he applied for a visa to visit his mother again we had little choice but to deny him entry.”
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: “We oppose the entry of all individuals to the UK where we believe their presence is not conducive to the public good.”
In Barack’s 1995 book, Dreams from My Father, he writes of meeting Abo for the first time and how he expressed disappointment that the portable tape recorder Barack brought for him as a gift was not a Sony.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-sto...5875-21272142/
23657  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: April 12, 2009, 05:41:05 AM
Life in a Day
Print this Page

By Tzvi Freeman
A day is more than a passage of time -- it is a passage of life.

Before you were formed in the womb your days were crafted, numbered and set in place. They are chapters of the lessons you came here to learn, facets of the wisdom this world imparts, gateways to the treasures that belong to this lifetime alone.

Each day enters, opens its doors, tells its story, and then returns above, never to visit again. Never -- for no two days in the history of the cosmos will ever be the same.
23658  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pirates sending reinforcements on: April 12, 2009, 05:18:33 AM
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,514039,00.html
23659  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanjay part two on: April 12, 2009, 05:13:48 AM


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

Like first-generation immigrants throughout American history, Mr. Mavinkurve has deep ethnic ties but is quickly assimilating. His wife is no different. But visa rules preclude her from working in the United States unless her husband gets a green card.


That process can take two years. So they live in Toronto, where she recently landed a job in finance.

Mr. Mavinkurve and his wife get little sympathy from Mr. Berry of the Programmers Guild, a nonprofit group with a volunteer staff that lobbies Congress on behalf of American-born high-tech workers.

To Mr. Berry, 50 — who lives in Sacramento, where he was born — it is unfathomable that Google, which receives one million résumés a year, cannot find enough qualified Americans. Further, he says immigrants depress wages.

By law, H-1B workers must be paid prevailing wages, but there are conflicting studies on whether some employers actually pay less when they control the fate of the sponsored workers. Even some of the supporters of allowing in more skilled immigrants say the H-1B system is flawed because it gives employers so much power over employees.

As the recession deepens, many people, including members of Congress, have criticized companies like Microsoft and Intel for laying off Americans while retaining visa holders. Google says it will cut 350 workers this year.

Mr. Berry says his skills and education — a bachelor’s degree in computer science from California State University, Sacramento — are denigrated by an industry that asserts that the best talent comes from overseas, via Ivy League schools. He worries about the employability of his children, who are studying engineering at top colleges, the University of Southern California and California Polytechnic State University.

Mr. Berry, for his part, works at a major technology company he declines to name because his employment agreement precludes him from talking about his employer when in his advocacy role.

He does not believe that skilled immigrants are essential to innovation. In fact, he argues the opposite. “In my experience,” he said, “foreign software programmers are less likely to step out of the box and present alternatives to management.”

His arguments have caught the attention of some on Capitol Hill. “Not all our own people are able to get good jobs right now,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and one of the members of Congress who oppose temporary work visas.

Mr. Sessions favors broad immigration reform that puts even greater emphasis on admitting people with skills. He even wants to ask visa applicants to take a scholastic aptitude test.

But he opposes temporary workers, whom he argues have incentive to work for less and return to their countries to share what they have learned. This puts him at odds with tech companies.

“They need to step up and look at what’s in the national interest,” he said.

Google estimates that it spends about $20 million a year on its immigration efforts — including lobbying, administration and fees to a law firm. Microsoft, while it would not disclose expenses, probably spends more. Its in-house immigration team numbers 20 lawyers and staff members.

On the political front, the tech industry lobbies Congress through an organization called Compete America, which includes titans like Intel, Microsoft, Google and Oracle.

“The next generation of Google engineers are being turned down,” says Pablo Chavez, Google’s senior policy counsel. “If a foreign-born engineer doesn’t come to Google, there is a very good chance that individual will return to India to compete against us.”

At the rooftop pub, Mr. Mavinkurve and his wife both express some anger. He thinks America should embrace him, given his contributions and taxpaying potential. After Google went public, he paid more than $200,000 in federal taxes on his income from salary and, mostly, sales of his shares, just in one year.

He misses interaction with colleagues. It hinders efficiency, slows work. He is physically drained from travel. He is frustrated that he cannot put down roots in America, and maybe start his own company, because he cannot leave Google, his visa sponsor.

He says he feels, on one hand, great gratitude that America gave him extraordinary opportunity. But he says he fulfilled his side of the bargain by striving and succeeding. “Dude, I love this country,” he said.

But he doesn’t feel loved back: “My devotion is unrequited.”

To Stay or to Go

On each of Mr. Mavinkurve’s twice-monthly visits to the United States (he keeps a room not far from Google), he meets with two friends at the Red Mango frozen yogurt shop on University Avenue in the heart of Palo Alto. Over scoops of green tea yogurt, they brainstorm for their next venture.

But he is not sure he can start a company — at least in America. Unless he gets his green card and his wife can work, he would be the only breadwinner, risking his savings, and he says they would be unhappy.

“Quitting Google means saying goodbye to my green card,” he said.

If America will not have him, he might have to stay in Canada. The proof is on the wall of the two-bedroom high-rise apartment he shares with his wife — who is pregnant — and his parents, who have moved in with them. On the living room wall is a Canadian flag.

“Quality stitching,” he said, fingering it.

Mr. Mavinkurve, who once hung American flags in his dorm room and then in Google’s hallway, still loves America. But the Internet-era immigrant, who moves so quickly between worlds, cannot decide where to land.

Where is Sanjay? Even he is not sure where he belongs.

“I’m not sure I want to go back,” he said of the possibility of moving back to the United States. “I’m not sure I can.”
23660  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Where's Sanjay? on: April 12, 2009, 05:12:52 AM
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Where’s Sanjay?

Sanjay Mavinkurve of Google lives in Canada because his wife can't get an American work visa. More Photos >

The question comes from one of dozens of engineers around a crowded conference table at Google. They have gathered to discuss how to build easy-to-use maps that could turn hundreds of millions of mobile phones into digital Sherpas — guiding travelers to businesses, restaurants and landmarks.

“His plane gets in at 9:30,” the group’s manager responds.

Google is based here in Silicon Valley. But Sanjay G. Mavinkurve, one of the key engineers on this project, is not.

Mr. Mavinkurve, a 28-year-old Indian immigrant who helped lay the foundation for Facebook while a student at Harvard, instead works out of a Google sales office in Toronto, a lone engineer among marketers.

He has a visa to work in the United States, but his wife, Samvita Padukone, also born in India, does not. So he moved to Canada.

“Every American I’ve talked to says: ‘Dude, it’s ridiculous that we’re not doing everything we can to keep you in the country. We need people like you!’ ” he said.

“The people of America get it,” he added. “And in a matter of time, I think current lawmakers are going to realize how dumb they’re being.”

Immigrants like Mr. Mavinkurve are the lifeblood of Google and Silicon Valley, where half the engineers were born overseas, up from 10 percent in 1970. Google and other big companies say the Chinese, Indian, Russian and other immigrant technologists have transformed the industry, creating wealth and jobs.

Just over half the companies founded in Silicon Valley from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s had founders born abroad, according to Vivek Wadhwa, an immigration scholar working at Duke and Harvard.

The foreign-born elite dating back even further includes Andrew S. Grove, the Hungarian-born co-founder of Intel; Jerry Yang, the Chinese-born co-founder of Yahoo; Vinod Khosla of India and Andreas von Bechtolsheim of Germany, the co-founders of Sun Microsystems; and Google’s Russian-born co-founder, Sergey Brin.

But technology executives say that byzantine and increasingly restrictive visa and immigration rules have imperiled their ability to hire more of the world’s best engineers.

While it could be said that Mr. Mavinkurve’s case is one of a self-entitled immigrant refusing to live in the United States because his wife would not be able to work, he exemplifies how immigration policies can chase away a potential entrepreneur who aspires to create wealth and jobs here.

His case highlights the technology industry’s argument that the United States will struggle to compete if it cannot more easily hire foreign-born engineers.

“We are watching the decline and fall of the United States as an economic power — not hypothetically, but as we speak,” said Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of Intel.

Mr. Barrett blames a slouching education system that cannot be easily fixed, but he says a stopgap measure would be to let companies hire more foreign engineers.

“With a snap of the fingers, you can say, ‘I’m going to make it such that those smart kids — and as many of them as want to — can stay in the United States.’ They’re here today, they’re graduating today — and they’re going home today.”

He is opposed by staunch foes of liberalized immigration and by advocates for American-born engineers.

“There are probably two billion people in the world who would like to live in California and work, but not everyone in the world can live here,” said Kim Berry, an engineer who operates a nonprofit advocacy group for American-born technologists. “There are plenty of Americans to do these jobs.”

The debate has only sharpened as the country’s economic downturn has deepened. Advocates for American-born workers are criticizing companies that lay off employees even as they retain engineers living here on visas. But the technology industry counters that innovations from highly skilled workers are central to American long-term growth.

It is a debate well known to Google, and it is a deeply personal one to Mr. Mavinkurve.

An Eye on America

Sanjay Mavinkurve (pronounced MAY-vin-kur-VAY) was born in Bombay to working-class parents who soon moved to Saudi Arabia.

He thought everything important in life was American — from Baskin-Robbins and Nike Airs to the Hardees’s and Domino’s in the food court at the shopping mall. When in the car, he and his older brother played a game, naming all the things they could see that came from the United States.

“I know this sounds romantic, but it’s true: I always wanted to come to America,” said Mr. Mavinkurve, lanky, with bushy hair and an easy smile. “I admired everything in the way America portrayed itself — the opportunity, U.S. Constitution, its history, enterprising middle class.”

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



(Page 2 of 4)



When he was 14, he and his brother were accepted at Western Reserve Academy, a private school in Cleveland, and received scholarships. During his senior year, Mr. Mavinkurve finished near the top of his class, ran cross-country and track, and scored 1560 out of 1600 on the SAT.

 Readers are invited to join a conversation with experts about the impact of immigration policy on skilled workers and the industries that rely on them.



Next stop: Harvard. His freshman year, he won the prize for best essay written in French, a comparison of books by Annie Ernaux. His friends described him as social but with a quiet, determined work ethic. He took the toughest classes, and to make money he took a job cleaning toilets in the dorm.
He remained patriotic; on his dorm wall, he hung an American flag his brother had purchased at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written.

But he knew he could lose his immigration status after he graduated and his student visa expired. So he decided to major in computer science, which he understood to be in demand, and entered a four-year program for a master’s degree.

In 2003, his final year, he and three friends decided to build a Web site where college students could connect. Mr. Mavinkurve wrote the computer code. Eventually, the team disbanded, although some of its work evolved into Facebook. He had helped create the foundation for a product that has become a national sensation.

He started at Google in August 2003, as a product manager on the teams that developed Google News and the Google toolbar, then worked on the look and feel of the video search, and on the early versions of Google Maps for cellphones. He developed a reputation for helping design the way the products look, and making them simple to use.

Still, he had ample reason to worry about his visa status, given the limits on how many visas are issued for skilled immigrant labor.

It is a category whose significance has been growing since the 1920s, when politicians and business executives started recognizing the value of skilled immigrants. After World War II, companies began actively recruiting scientists, among them Nobel Prize winners, from around the world.

The emphasis on skilled labor was codified in the Hart-Celler Immigrant Act of 1965, which said that for 20 percent of immigration spots, candidates with certain skills would get preference to stay indefinitely, though that 20 percent also included the family members of those skilled immigrants.

(At the time, 74 percent of visas were given to people to be reunited with family members here, and 6 percent for political refugees from the Eastern Hemisphere.)

Reflecting the growing importance of technology — and responding to industry lobbying — in 1990 Congress set aside 65,000 temporary work visas, known as H-1B visas, for skilled workers. The visas, which are sponsored by companies on behalf of employees, permit three years of work, with an automatic three-year extension.

The limit was raised twice as the technology sector boomed, to 115,000 in 1999 and to 195,000 in 2001. But those temporary increases were not renewed for 2004, and the number of H-1B visas reverted to 65,000. (There are an additional 20,000 H1-B’s for people with graduate degrees from American universities.)

Since 2004, there has been a growing gap between the number of H-1B visas sought and those granted, through a lottery. In 2008, companies made 163,000 applications for the 65,000 slots. Google applied for 300 of them; 90 were denied.

In 2004, Mr. Mavinkurve was one of the lucky ones. “You can be very proud,” said the congratulatory e-mail message he received from an immigration lawyer at Google.

Good fortune followed at Google. In honor of the country that made it possible, on June 14, 2004, Flag Day, Mr. Mavinkurve made a laser print of an American flag and taped it to a white board in a Google hallway. The flag remains.

When Google went public that August, Mr. Mavinkurve was on his way to becoming a multimillionaire.

“I remember quantifying: for each dollar the stock goes up, I make more than my mother and father make together in a whole month at work,” he said.

Indeed, recent immigrants like those at Google have been successful.

“The thing distinctive about this generation, and I think unprecedented, is that they are coming with the highest level of skills in the leading industries,” said AnnaLee Saxenian of the school of information at the University of California, Berkeley.

She added that this was acute in Silicon Valley because of its entrepreneurial culture.

“You don’t see immigrant success at any other place in the U.S. at anywhere near the same scale,” she said.

The Guy With the Answer

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

Page 3 of 4)



The role Mr. Mavinkurve played in Google’s success was on stark display in early 2007, when the company’s map-making team faced a problem that even the best and brightest could not solve. The team met in Winnipeg, one of many conference rooms at Google headquarters named for foreign cities, like Algiers, Tunis and Haifa.

International tributes take other forms; over cubicles in one building hang flags from dozens of countries. The cafeteria, where much of the fare is ethnic, includes Indian and Chinese food stations.

These touches are appropriate. Of Google’s 20,000 workers, 2,000 were born abroad and work on temporary visas, while numerous others (the company would not disclose how many) have become American citizens or been granted permanent residency, the so-called green card status.

The work force is international, and so is the company’s market. With the mobile phone, Google believes it can expand in places where reaching the Internet over computers is difficult, and create advertising-supported versions of maps and other services so consumers can effectively use the services free, exchanging not money, but attention.

But back in late 2006, maps produced by the service were taking too long to download and appear on phones. As customers waited for the maps to form, they racked up huge bills from cellphone providers, which at the time were charging for every minute or every byte of data transferred.

Enter Mr. Mavinkurve, who floated an alternative: cut the number of colors in each map section to 20 or 40 from around 256. The user would not see the difference, but the load times would be reduced 20 percent.

Mr. Mavinkurve used a rare combination of creativity, analysis, engineering and an understanding of graphics to find a solution that had eluded the rest of the team, said Mark Crady, a manager in the maps group.

“He’s one of the best U.I. guys I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Crady said, referring to user interfaces. “Google Maps for mobile reflects Sanjay.”

Many innovators in Silicon Valley come from overseas; 42 percent of engineers with master’s degrees and 60 percent of those with engineering Ph.D.’s in the United States are foreign-born.

Foreigners also spur innovation by broadening understanding of consumers abroad. For instance, on the advice of Chinese-born workers, Google dotted its mobile maps for China with fast-food restaurants, which locals use as navigational landmarks.

When Google cannot get visas for people it wants to hire, it seeks to accommodate them in overseas offices, like the bureaus in Britain and Brazil from which map-team members attend meetings via video conference.

That work-around presents a number of drawbacks, one of which is especially apparent when one worker is in California and a colleague is in India.

“It’s 11 hours to Hyderabad,” Peter Norvig, director of research for Google, says of the time difference. “We do video conferences where we’re up late and they’re up early. Maybe a video conference is as good as a formal meeting, but there are no informal meetings. As a result, we lose the pace of work, and we lose trust.”

The larger risk is employees growing unhappy working at a distance, or foreign companies recruiting them.

For his part, Mr. Mavinkurve, in Toronto, typically talks with colleagues via video conference, e-mail or instant message. But he does fly twice a month to headquarters and once a month to Britain, his life a whirlwind of time zones and virtual interaction.

For Google and Mr. Mavinkurve, working here would be better. The trouble is, he fell in love.

Stuck North of the Border

He sits at a rooftop pub in Toronto, drinking Canadian amber beer. His wife, Ms. Padukone, 27, sips sangria. Evident between them is a respect, and slight emotional distance — understandable given their brief history together.

In 2006, while working for Google in Mountain View, Mr. Mavinkurve saw his future wife’s photo on the cover of a newsletter published by his Indian ethnic community, the Konkani. She was attending college in Singapore. He found her pretty, so he e-mailed her.

“For three months, we sent messages back and forth — but regularly,” she said.

“I hate talking on the phone,” he explained.

They arranged to meet while Mr. Mavinkurve was in Singapore during a flight layover on his way to India. They met for two hours, and connected.

They were engaged in January 2007 in India, their second meeting. They married there in 2008.

=============
23661  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Are we bugging out regardless? on: April 12, 2009, 05:08:02 AM
NYT

BAGHDAD — Members of the Sunni Awakening Councils, the former insurgents who switched sides to help bring calm to Iraq, are increasingly being besieged from all sides.

Thirteen members were killed by a suicide bomber while they gathered to collect their pay south of Baghdad on Saturday, in the latest of a string of attacks against Awakening members in recent weeks. Some of the Sunnis also worry that the Shiite-led government has begun singling out the councils’ leaders for arrest while their chief patron, the American military, slowly abandons them.
One of the most notable cases is that of Sheik Maher Sarhan Abbas, whom the government detained 27 days ago, according to his family and fellow Awakening leaders.

Sheik Maher’s arrest took place in secret and came to light when The New York Times by chance contacted someone who had seen him in jail. It was one of several such cases in recent weeks that have worried not only Awakening members, but also some American diplomats and military officers.

The Sunni leaders have long been targets for Islamist militants and Shiite militias. And there have been other arrests of senior Awakening leaders in the past few weeks.

Some leaders accuse the government of trying to purge them, or at the least of moving too quickly on anonymous accusations against them.

Tensions between the Sunni Awakening groups and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have been present from the start. American efforts to transfer the Awakening security forces from the American payroll to the Iraqi security forces were initially resisted by leaders in Baghdad, who say that many of the Awakening leaders are still actively supporting antigovernment insurgents.

Sheik Maher, however, was an admired local symbol for the Awakening movement, which began two years ago when American officials started courting Sunni tribes, offering money if they turned against insurgent forces.

The sheik’s Shiite neighbors trusted him and his Sunni followers so much that they took them into their own homes when the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was still strong. United States soldiers at a nearby base say they considered him a reliable ally, and still do.

Yet on March 15, just after midnight, heavily armed men flung deafening smoke grenades into his home in Hawr Jab, a small village on Baghdad’s southern outskirts, his family said.

They burst into the bedroom where Sheik Maher and his wife were watching television as their 3-year-old daughter slept in a small bed next to them.

“He thought Al Qaeda had finally come for him,” said Shada Rasheed, 23, his wife, as she cradled their daughter in her arms.

The Times learned of Sheik Maher’s detention from another Awakening leader, Raad Ali, whom the Iraqi government had similarly detained on terrorism charges but had released under pressure from the Americans.

Asked about Sheik Maher’s detention, Mohammed Salman al-Saady, who leads the ministerial office that deals with Awakening groups, said he knew nothing of the case.

But he said: “An Awakening member is forgiven for everything except murder. The right question to ask is, ‘Why was this person arrested?’ ”

Sheik Maher had long known he was wanted by the Sunni militants he had spent much of the past two and half years fighting. But the troops who arrested him told his family members that they had been sent directly by the prime minister’s office.

Accompanying the Iraqis were American forces, the family members said. The captain of the local American unit said the troops were probably from a Special Operations unit, which typically does not inform the local forces of raids.

“When they detained him, we were all shocked,” said Capt. Kip Kowalski, the American commanding officer at the joint security station in Hawr Jab, near Sheik Maher’s home.

Captain Kowalski’s unit apologized to the family but said they were powerless to help; the local Iraqi Army unit forbade Sheik Maher’s Awakening followers from holding a peaceful demonstration to demand his release.

“He’s the local council leader here,” Captain Kowalski said. “We didn’t have anything on him, but as far as helping to get him released, it’s a government of Iraq arrest. If they have a warrant it just has to work its way through the process.”

=========

Page 2 of 2)



Many Awakening officials, and some American officers who work with them, say they believe that arrests of people like Sheik Maher are the result of a new strategy by Sunni extremists to get their most effective enemies off the streets.


Former members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the theory goes, secretly tell the government that the Awakening leader is himself a Qaeda infiltrator and should be arrested for past crimes. Under the Iraqi legal system, if there are two witnesses, the government can issue a warrant, detain a suspect and then investigate.

A second approach is for members of Qaeda families who have lost some of their relatives to violence to sue the Awakening members, who often are responsible for killing Qaeda members during the last two years of fighting, said Captain Kowalski, who says his unit has heard of several similar cases.

Detention can sometimes last months, and people who are detained on terrorism charges have “no visitors, no lawyers, no sun,” Mr. Ali said, describing the conditions during his detention, which lasted a week.

First Lt. Jobie Siemer, of the First Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, who has worked closely with Sheik Maher in Hawr Jab, said, “There are a lot of good people around here who I know killed a bunch of people, but they were defending their land and they were helping us and that was a good thing.

Shiite government officials have long been suspicious of the Sons of Iraq, worried that they could become the armed core of a future insurgency. But for their part, Sunni Awakening leaders say the government may be too quick to accept accusations against them.

“They should do research for three months before they arrest people,” said Mr. Ali, the Awakening leader in Ghaziliya, who saw Sheik Maher in detention.

“This is how the terrorists are trying to come back in. It is one of their plans to remove us, to get us off the street and then they can sneak back in,” he said.

A senior American official in Iraq was also skeptical of the motives for the arrests. “Why is the government doing this?” said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.

“Every time we said to the government, ‘You have to let this guy go,’ they do it, which they wouldn’t if they thought he was really dangerous,” the American said. “I think they have their hand in the sectarian cookie jar.”

The 13 Awakening members who died Saturday were at an Iraqi Army base in Babil Province collecting their meager pay, which had been delayed for three months. Everyone in the room was dressed in the same Awakening uniform, suggesting that the bomber slipped in disguised as one of them.

At least 12 Awakening figures have been killed in Babil this year, the police said.

Saoud Auda, 30, a father of eight, was badly burned in the suicide bomber’s attack, which came just after he had been paid.

“I was looking forward to going home and paying the grocer and buying my little son a toy airplane,” he said. “But my money burned with my body.”
23662  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Related thread on: April 11, 2009, 08:17:55 PM
Woof All:

Pappy put the producers in touch with me.  This thread is an off-shoot.

CD

http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=1837.0
23663  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud (ACORN et al), corruption etc. on: April 11, 2009, 12:59:45 PM
A post from the Warrior Talk forum

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Prior to my current place of employ, I worked for one of the big 3 electronic voting machine companies.

Election fraud is really easy to commit on a small scale by one person, but get many people online to collaborate and it can throw a small election. Massive fraud by one or two people is hard but massive fraud by many can and does happen.

Example 1:
In California an elections official cannot request an ID if you are not a provisional voter. The list of registered voters is posted on the outside of the polling center. Every two hours the list must be updated with who has voted so far and be publicly viewable so candidates can potentially call/contact voters who may or may not vote for them.

So, as someone who would travel from precinct to precint to check on the voting machines, I could have instead walked up to the list, grabbed a name off, quickly memorized the name and address and walked in and voted. We see how the left collaborates with "google-bombing" etc, it is very easy for them to collaborate with this.

Example 2:
Partisan Democrat works in the elections dept (they are almost all democrat)
Paper ballots used for election
Partisan worker makes a few marks on the ballots where republican has been chosen. Adding an additional vote to a "vote for one" contest makes it into an "overvote" and that contest is disqualified from count. The democrat does not have to add more ballots or actually vote for the dems, he or she just needs to overvote some contests here and there to subtract the republican vote.

Example 3
Ballots from republican areas "get lost"

Example 4
Ballots from democratic areas are run through the high-speed counting machines twice - honest mistake -not.

Example 5 -
San Francisco allows illegal aliens to vote in "local elections". In theory they should have a separate ballot that only displays the "local elections" in the precinct specfied, not state or federal. Though the special ballot most likely does exist, when the illegal alien checks in to vote, the poll worker gives him or her a complete ballot instead, either by habit, accident or intentional fraud.
23664  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Redefine "Rich" on: April 11, 2009, 09:32:09 AM
second post of the morning

Has your 401(k) lost half its value? Have you kissed goodbye to the bonus you were hoping to use to pay junior's college tuition? Do you lie awake at night, worrying there's a pink slip with your name on it?

Cheer up. Even in these hard economic times, Democrats across the nation are working on plans that will turn some of you into instant millionaires.

There's only one catch. You're not actually going to be bringing in a million-dollar income. But the tax man is going to treat you just as though you did.

That's the message coming out of Albany, N.Y., where a newly ascendant Democratic majority led by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver forced a deal with the Democratic governor to impose a new "millionaires' tax." The beauty is that to pay this tax, you won't have to make anywhere near a million dollars. If you make even $300,000 a year, the cash-strapped Empire State will consider you a millionaire.

E.J. McMahon of the Albany-based Empire Center for New York State Policy explains the politics. "You get people picturing some greedy Wall Street fat cat whose pockets are stuffed with TARP money, but you end up hitting the guy who owns the local hardware store whose income is also his working capital. By the time everyone realizes what just happened, it's too late to make adjustments without creating an even bigger budget hole -- which, of course, can always be solved with a bigger tax."

It's important to distinguish what New York is doing from the more traditional Democratic approaches to taxing millionaires. In California in 2004, for example, a Democratic assemblyman championed a successful ballot initiative that imposed a 1% surcharge on personal incomes over a million dollars, to pay for mental health programs. This year, another Democratic assemblyman has introduced a bill that would impose another 1% tax on million-dollar incomes, this time to help state colleges from having to raise their tuition and fees.

In a similar way, the Democratic governor of Maryland last year successfully established a new 6.25% tax bracket for million-dollar incomes. Likewise, Connecticut Democrats have just released a plan that would jack up taxes on millionaires by 60%. Say what you will about the merits of these millionaire taxes, they at least have the virtue of applying to people who in fact earn a million dollars a year.

Today such an approach seems positively démodé. The new fashion is to take advantage of hard times to target a class of people that few politicians are willing to defend -- and then expand that class. Like so many doubtful experiments in public finance, this one was pioneered by the People's Republic of New Jersey.

In 2004, then Gov. Jim McGreevey became the first Democrat to get through a millionaires' tax whose reach extended to nonmillionaires. The McGreevey "millionaires' tax" kicked in at $500,000. He justified it, moreover, by saying that any money collected would go toward funding property tax relief for the state's beleaguered homeowners.

Five years later, we can see how that's turning out. Not only is Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine targeting property tax relief for many Garden State citizens, he wants to impose a "temporary" surcharge on the existing McGreevey millionaires' tax. The result is a three-way race between New Jersey, New York and Connecticut to see which of these metropolitan states can impose the highest income taxes on its residents.

Other Democrats are taking note of the new progressivism. In the state of Washington, which has no income tax, Democratic state Sen. Lisa Brown raised the idea in her blog. "The New York Legislature is considering what I think is a fair and stable way of addressing their revenue challenges. Should we do something similar in Washington?" she asked. Not long after, one of her Democratic colleagues introduced a bill proposing a millionaires' tax that would kick in at $500,000.

For the moment, the effort to make new millionaires out of people making a great deal less has been confined to Democratic governors and Democratic state legislators. There appears, however, to be a sense that a much larger change they can believe in is now within grasp. In a recent article for an AOL business and finance Web site, Joseph Lazzaro put it this way:

"In the same way Gov. Al Smith's reform policies in New York State in the 1920s provided a blueprint for FDR's New Deal," he wrote, "hopefully New York State's example will serve as impetus for the U.S. Congress to make a similar tough decision after the economic recovery is in place and raise upper-income federal taxes, as well."

And why not? So long as Democrats are willing to rewrite the tax code, almost anyone can wake up one day to find himself a millionaire.

Write to MainStreet@wsj.com
23665  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: on: April 11, 2009, 09:28:38 AM
By MERRILEE CARLSON
April 9 marked the sixth anniversary of Iraqi Liberation Day. Most of us vividly remember the stirring image of Iraqi citizens tearing down the statue of the man who dominated their lives. While toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein six years ago liberated Iraqis from their fear of his oppressive regime, they still were not free. Eliminating this dictator opened a void which was quickly filled with a mixture of coalition soldiers, insurgents and Iraqi citizens who desired to govern themselves.

In February 2004, my son, Spc. Michael Carlson, arrived in the Diyala province of Iraq. During the next 11 months he and his team searched houses, hunted insurgents, and made a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people. I think about him today because I miss him very much.

He gave his life in an overturned Bradley fighting vehicle in a water-filled canal, one week before the first Iraqi elections in January 2005.

I think about what his service to our country meant to him: defending and protecting us. But it goes further than that because Michael had a vision of his life that few young people have, and amazingly he put that vision on paper while in high school. In May 2000, Michael wrote that he "sometimes dreams of being a soldier in a war." In this war he is " helping liberate people from oppression." He wrote the only way that one could live forever "is to live on in those you have affected." These are prophetic words.

The Iraq we see today was hard won and costly. The Iraqi government has come a long way from the oppression of Hussein's regime. Their military is now being redeveloped, and local communities have come together to work for security. Though there have been pitfalls, this has been a fast transformation with great successes.

In America, we often think that this transformation happened solely by the work of our American heroes. But the Iraqi people have worked very hard to transform their country and to take back control.

I remember meeting Brig. Gen. Ismael Alsodani, the Iraqi defense attaché, when he visited Arlington National Cemetery and Michael's grave last year. He leaned next to my older son, Dan, and said, "I've lost my brother too."

Those five words changed Dan's life. He had been living in a chasm of grief for Mike, and suddenly his perspective opened up. He was able to look beyond his personal grief and recognize all who have fought for freedom in our country, in Iraq, and around the world.

Our military is the most effective military in the world. We give thanks to each and every man and woman who has served and helped to change the world in which we live. They have given hope for the new Iraq and for the future of its people.

Mrs. Carlson is the president of Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission.

23666  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Holbrooke says Pakistan's tribal areas are the problem on: April 11, 2009, 09:25:48 AM
By MATTHEW KAMINSKI
Islamabad, Pakistan

His face tense and unsmiling, a young man from a village in Pakistan's western tribal areas tells his story, mixing English, Pashto and Urdu. He is the only male in his clan to get an education, but can't find a job, and blames a corrupt national government. Americans are bombing his neighbors, he says, tempting him to join the Islamist militants in his area. Across the room, another Pakistani turns toward his hosts at the U.S. Embassy and says, "You are hated."
 
Ismael RoldanThe comments are addressed to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and the new American special representative for the region, Richard Holbrooke. Seated alongside the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, Mr. Holbrooke asks a dozen or so men in the room about the presence of the Taliban in their villages. "We are all Taliban," comes a response. The others nod in accord. All are or were "religious students," or Taliban in Pashto. But the expression of solidarity with the various Pakistani and Afghan insurgents who go by the name is lost on no one.

After the meeting, Mr. Holbrooke looks shaken, out of character for a diplomatic operator who picked up the nickname "bulldozer" a decade ago in the Balkans. As he knows, these men who spoke so directly to him are the "friendly" types from the tribal areas -- literate, ambitious and willing to risk the ire of the Taliban fighters to meet him and Adm. Mullen at the embassy.

Their home regions of North and South Waziristan and the Khyber agency are familiar place names in this long war: as the world's sanctuary to al Qaeda's leadership, as the launching pad for attacks on Western forces across the border in Afghanistan, and as the source of the Islamist challenge to the civilian government atop this rickety nuclear-armed state.

The Obama administration recently unveiled a new strategy to enlarge America's military footprint in Afghanistan and press Pakistan to act against Taliban safe havens. Mr. Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen took the policy on a regional road show this week, and at every stop got a sobering earful. While Afghanistan's troubles are monumental, the nightmare scenarios start and end with Pakistan.

Mr. Holbrooke, who leads the diplomatic charge, acknowledges the hardest work will be here. His airplane reading is Dennis Kux's history of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship titled, "The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies." "Pakistan is at the center of our strategic concerns," he tells me Tuesday night, flying from Islamabad to India's capital, Delhi. "If Afghanistan had the best government on earth, a drug-free culture and no corruption it would still be unstable if the situation in Pakistan remained as today. That is an undisputable fact, and that is the core of the dilemma that the Western nations, the NATO alliance, face today."

Take the dilemma a logical step further, I suggest. The terrorists who threaten America are in Pakistan, but the U.S. fights the Afghan Taliban, who don't. "That's a fair point," says Mr. Holbrooke, "but the reason for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is clear: The Taliban are the frontrunners for al Qaeda. If they succeed in Afghanistan, without any shadow of a doubt, al Qaeda would move back into Afghanistan, set up a larger presence, recruit more people and pursue its objectives against the United States even more aggressively." Public support for the expanded U.S. Afghan mission hinges on making this case stick.

In a Hillary Clinton White House, Mr. Holbrooke would almost certainly be in charge at the State Department. In this administration, he serves Secretary Clinton and brings a familiar mix of enthusiasm and bluster, charming and bullying the world's difficult characters. In the previous decade, Mr. Holbrooke brokered the end of the Bosnian conflict, working then as now closely with the military. He went on to write a memoir titled "To End a War" and become something of a celebrity in the Balkans, even having a bar in Kosovo named after him. The 1995 Dayton peace talks "was 21 days and it was pass or fail," he says. "This is more complicated even than that."

The complications in Afghanistan start with an incubator state and mind-boggling corruption, from top to bottom. The past year saw a sharp spike in Afghan civilian as well as American casualties. A rural insurgency is fed by anger at the government and money from the Gulf states, as well as the booming poppy trade. The administration will send 17,000 additional combat troops to confront the Taliban, initially in the south. Mr. Obama also approved 4,000 military trainers, and plans are in the works to double the target size for the army and the police.

Mr. Holbrooke needs to walk a fine diplomatic line. On the one hand, he assures people who know their history that America won't pull the plug early on this project. At a meeting with Afghan female legislators who have most to fear from a Taliban comeback, he says, "President Obama has made a commitment. We will not abandon you." On the other hand, the U.S. must counter Taliban propaganda that America replaced Russia as the occupying force. With conservative Afghan religious leaders, Mr. Holbrooke shifts his emphasis: "We are not here as occupiers. We are here to help you. We will leave when you no longer need us."

Though Adm. Mullen provides the plane on this trip and holds the senior job, Mr. Holbrooke takes the lead in meetings. He moderates discussions like a big-band leader, improvising as necessary. "Good to have a force of nature on the case," notes a European diplomat watching one performance over dinner in Kabul. "You're reminded that half of diplomacy is theater." Holbrooke detractors tend to put the proportion higher.

America sits in the driver's seat in Afghanistan, but not Pakistan. Here it's far from clear who does.

Flying into Islamabad, Mr. Holbrooke and Adm. Mullen call on the civilian and military rulers to ask for action against the militants in the tribal areas. The Pakistanis press back. At a joint press conference, the foreign minister is prickly, denouncing strikes by unmanned U.S. Predators on Pakistani territory and noting an absence of "trust."

In private, American officials report no better progress. The Pakistanis say their terror problems are Afghanistan's fault. They resent American criticism of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military's intelligence arm that nurtured Islamist groups for decades, and rule out the deployment of any American troops on their territory.

Talking to the Pakistani press, Mr. Holbrooke says, "We face a common threat, a common challenge." Pakistani civilians are concerned by the rising number of suicide bombings, now seen in once tranquil Islamabad and Lahore. Whether the army is as well is the question. The military struck a "peace" deal with the local Taliban in the Swat Valley. President Asif Ali Zardari didn't sign the accord, but the military went ahead to implement it, turning a former tourist destination in the mountains into a Taliban redoubt beyond the reach of the Pakistani state. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan dates back to the previous regime's 2006 truce with the militants in Pakistani border areas.

Among Pakistani politicians, Mr. Zardari speaks most clearly about the threat emanating from the country's west, noting the assassination in late 2007 of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But he is politically weak, and sounds disinclined to push the military to wage war against the Pashtun tribes in the mountains.

"Holbrooke is a friend," Mr. Zardari tells me and a couple other journalists along for the ride on this listening tour. "But it's a long walk. And in that long walk I am losing the people of Pakistan."

Mr. Holbrooke says the Pakistani president "deserves credit for his personal courage" in holding the job. He welcomes the "statesmanlike" resolution of a recent political feud with rival Nawaz Sharif over the reinstatement of a supreme court judge. The fight could have resulted, he says, in "civil war on the one hand or assassinations on the other."

With politics a sideshow, many observers, including in American intelligence, think the Pakistani military and the ISI play a double game. They make the necessary pledges to secure billions in American aid while keeping ties to Islamists. The calculation, a Pakistani analyst notes, is America will leave sooner or later and the military needs to hedge its strategic bets.

"We are well aware of these accusations," says Mr. Holbrooke. "But our experience with [Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani does not support them. We deal with him with respect and with the assumption that he is a serious person doing the best he can under difficult circumstances."

As part of a "long-term commitment to Pakistan," the Obama administration wants to lock in billions in aid for the country. Military officials also say the scope of Predator strikes will be broadened, against Pakistani official objections, and efforts to get the adversarial Pakistani and Afghan intelligence services to cooperate will be intensified. Mr. Holbrooke insists the U.S. will respect Pakistan's "red lines" about American combat troops.

"Some people say to me, particularly after a few drinks, 'Why don't we go in there with our troops and just clean it up?'" he says. "First of all we can't without their permission, and that would not be a good idea. Secondly, cleaning them up in the mountains of Pakistan's tribal areas, as anyone can see from the search for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, is a daunting mission. It's the same kind of mountains. A few weeks ago I flew up through the deepest and remotest valleys imaginable. You could see tiny villages in the crevices in the mountains. You don't want American troops in there. So that option's gone."

Though only Pakistan and Afghanistan appear in his job title, Mr. Holbrooke isn't one to think small. He helped court the Europeans to chip in more troops and aid -- with no more success on the former than the Bush administration. He wants to press the Gulf states to cut the illicit flow of funding to the Taliban, involve India and reach out to the Chinese, who are close to the Pakistani military. Last month, at the donor's conference on Afghanistan at The Hague, he was the first American official to engage an Iranian official since 1979. After Iran downplayed the encounter, so does Mr. Holbrooke. "I'm very much in favor of giving Iran a place at the table if it wants it to discuss the future of Afghanistan," he says. "But they have not indicated whether they wish to participate or not."

Mr. Holbrooke's first posting was in Saigon in the 1960s. As Vietnam analogies for Afghanistan mushroom, particularly from inside his own Democratic Party, he doesn't dismiss them outright. But he makes a case for continued engagement with a view, perhaps, toward firming up support on the Hill and among the public for a war about to enter its eighth year. "There are a lot of structural similarities" with Vietnam, he says. "The sanctuary [in Pakistan]. They even have a parrot's peak in both countries, on the Pakistan-Afghan border just as there was in Cambodia. An issue of governance. The fact that the government was supporting a guerilla war. Counterinsurgency.

"But the fundamental difference is 9/11. The Vietcong and the north Vietnamese never posed a threat to the United States homeland. The people of 9/11 who were in that area still do and are still planning. That is why we're in the region with troops. That's the only justification for what we're doing. If the tribal areas of western Pakistan were not a sanctuary, I believe that Afghanistan could take care of itself within a relatively short period of time."

Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal's editorial board.
23667  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud (ACORN et al), corruption etc. on: April 11, 2009, 09:19:28 AM
CA law forbids asking citizenship?  I would love to have a citation on that as I spread it forward , , ,
23668  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: NY taxes highest in country on: April 11, 2009, 09:18:10 AM
Like the old competition to have the world's tallest building, New York can't resist having the nation's highest taxes. So after California raised its top income tax rate to 10.55% last month, Albany's politicians leapt into action to reclaim high-tax honors. Maybe C-Span can make this tax competition a new reality TV series; Carla Bruni, the first lady of France, could host.

 
Getty ImagesThey can invite politicians from the at least 10 other states that are also considering major tax hikes, including Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington, Arizona and New Jersey. One explicit argument for the $787 billion "stimulus" bill was to help states avoid these tax increases that even Keynesians understand are contractionary. Instead, the state politicians are pocketing the federal cash to maintain spending, and raising taxes anyway. Just another spend-and-tax bait and switch.

In New York, Assembly Speaker (and de facto Governor) Sheldon Silver and other Democrats will impose a two percentage point "millionaire tax" on New Yorkers who earn more than $200,000 a year ($300,000 for couples). This will lift the top state tax rate to 8.97% and the New York City rate to 12.62%. Since capital gains and dividends are taxed as ordinary income, New York will impose the nation's highest taxes on investment income -- at a time when Wall Street is in jeopardy of losing its status as the world's financial capital.

But who and where are all these millionaires to pluck? More than any other state, New York has been hurt by the financial meltdown, and its $132 billion budget is now $17.7 billion in deficit. The days of high-roller Wall Street bonuses that finance 20% of the New York budget are long gone. The richest 1% of New Yorkers already pay almost 40% of the income tax, and the top 0.5% pay 30%.

Mr. Silver thinks he can squeeze more from these folks without any economic harm, arguing that recent income tax hikes didn't hurt New Jersey. (Yes, the pols in New York actually hold up New Jersey, whose economy and budget are also in shambles, as their role model.) The tax hike lobby in Albany points to a paper by Princeton researchers reporting that the number of "half-millionaires," those with incomes above $500,000, increased by 60% from 2003-2006 after New Jersey taxes rose (the top rate is now 8.98%). But this was a boom time for the national economy, especially in the financial industry where many New Jerseyites work, or at least used to work.

The better comparison is how New Jersey compared to the rest of the nation. According to the study's own data, over the same period the U.S. saw an increase of 76% in half-millionaire households. E.J. McMahon, a budget expert at the Manhattan Institute, calculates that New Jersey lost more than 4,000 high-income taxpayers after the tax increase.

Mr. Silver says of the coming tax hikes: "We've done it before. There hasn't been a catastrophe." Oh, really? According to Census Bureau data, over the past decade 1.97 million New Yorkers left the state for greener pastures -- the biggest exodus of any state. New York City has lost more than 75,000 jobs since last August, and many industrial areas upstate are as rundown as Detroit. The American Legislative Exchange Council recently said New York had the worst economic outlook of all 50 states, including Michigan. And that analysis was done before these $4 billion in new taxes. How does Mr. Silver define "catastrophe"?

Oh, and it isn't just high earners who get smacked. The new budget raises another $2 billion or so on top of the $4 billion in income taxes with some 100 new taxes, fees, fines, surcharges and penalties to be paid by all New York residents. There are new charges for cell phone usage, fishing permits, health insurance (the "sick tax"), electric bills, and on bottled water, cigars, beer and wine. A New York Post analysis found that a typical family of four with an income below $100,000 would pay more than $800 a year in higher taxes and fees.

This is advertised as a plan of "shared sacrifice," but the group that is most responsible for New York's budget woes, the all-powerful public employee unions, somehow walk out of this with a 3% pay increase. The state is receiving an estimated $10 billion in federal stimulus money, and Democrats are spending every cent while raising the state budget by 9%. Then they insist with a straight face that taxes are the only way to close the budget deficit.

And so Albany is about to make a gigantic gamble on New York's economic future. The gamble is that the state with the highest cost of doing business can raise taxes on everyone who lives, works, breathes, eats or drinks in the state and not pay a heavy price for it. If they're wrong, New York will enhance its reputation as the Empire in Decline State.
23669  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Stratfor on: April 11, 2009, 08:51:47 AM
La Base Nacional, norteamericana y cubana (CANF) publicó un libro blanco el jueves temprano, llamando para una vuelta en relaciones de EEUU con Cuba. Según el comunicado, CANF ha abandonado su apoyo para políticas separatistas y ahora partidarios que levantan restricciones en la ayuda y el viaje a Cuba, y ayudan abiertamente y activamente los grupos civiles de la sociedad allí. Esto es un cambio importante de un EEUU influyente que presiona el grupo que ha tomado históricamente una postura inflexible el gobierno cubano — Y especialmente hacia Presidente anterior Fidel Castro.

CANF fue fundado por vehementemente exilios de ANTI Castro cubano. Quizás el mejor conocido fue Jorge Mas Canosa, que tomó parte en la Bahía infortunada de Puercos ataca en 1961. Mas Canosa tomó un enfoque abiertamente militante a EEUU-política de Cuba, recomendando y patrocinando correrías armadas en la tierra cubana. ¿En 1978, él dijo al Heraldo de Miami, “Soy yo pacífico? No, soy profesional-violencia. Pienso que Castro debe ser derrocado por una revolución.”

Frustrado en sus tentativas para inspirar una rebelión armada en Cuba, Mas Canosa giró hacia la política de Washington y fundó CANF en 1981. Por financiamiento privado, el público que financia y aliados políticos poderosos, CANF llegó a ser rápidamente una voz poderosa en Washington — Apoyar el más separatista de políticas hacia Cuba. Fue un partidario especialmente fuerte para el Acto de Timones-Burton de 1996, que (entre otras estipulaciones polémicas) requirió que la prohibición de comercio es levantada por un acto de Congreso, en vez de por decreta del presidente. El acto también hizo una transición cubana a la democracia una condición previa para quitar la prohibición.

Después de la caída de la Unión Soviética, la lógica para mantener la prohibición en Cuba fue dictada enteramente por política doméstica de EEUU. Sin el apoyo del poder global con intenciones hostiles hacia Estados Unidos, ha habido muy poco que cualquier gobierno en La Habana podría hacer realmente amenazar Estados Unidos. Aunque la ubicación de Cuba, en la boca del Caribe, teóricamente lo posiciona para intervenir con rutas críticas de comercio, la superioridad de aire y mar de EEUU anula cualquier amenaza que Cuba podría congregar por sí mismo.

La política de EEUU hacia Cuba por lo tanto ha sido determinada por que podría prometer cuál votos, y cuando: El electorado de Florida fue clave para Presidentes Factura Clinton y a George W. Arbusto. Aunque Clinton tomara una postura moderada en Cuba, la preocupación que él perdería apoyo crítico de la comunidad cubano-norteamericano en Florida lo incitó a firmar el Acto de Timones-Burton. El arbusto tomó acción adicional en 2004 con una serie de movimientos para limitar viaje legal a Cuba y restringir remesas.
Pero los tiempos han cambiado.

Las fracturas en CANF (y la comunidad cubano-norteamericano en total) comenzó a surgir en el final de la década del noventa. Llegaba a ser cada vez más evidente por el fin de la década que la prohibición de EEUU no hacía nada terminar la regla de Castro, sin embargo — Y con la muerte de Mas Canosa en 1997, la división entre partidarios de línea dura extremos y modera dentro del grupo comenzó a crecer. Pero la separación no fue suficientemente profunda ni aparente de afectar campaña presidencial de Bush en Florida ni, más tarde, las políticas de su administración hacia Iberoamérica.

Las fracturas entre el Miami cubanos moderado y los partidarios de línea dura han ampliado durante los últimos ocho años, con un número creciente de cubano-norteamericanos que llaman para el cambio. Al mismo tiempo, las llamadas para un cambio de política de EEUU Congreso han crecido más insistente. No sólo eso, pero Barack Obama ganaron Florida — Con facilidad.

Dado el radical de CANF arraiga y la influencia política que lo esgrimió durante los años ochenta y años noventa, el anuncio del jueves es un desarrollo significativo para la política de EEUU. Aunque cubano-norteamericanos con posturas políticas extremistas hacia el Castros todavía se queden fuera del grupo de cabildeo, el cambio de CANF señala una nueva fase en la política doméstica — Uno que permitirá Estados Unidos tratar Cuba como un país normal.

Pero el sendero preciso EEUU-relaciones cubanas tomarán es todavía no vacía. La Habana tiene un interés fuerte a limitar la tasa en que Cuba abre a fuera de influencias, y abriga preocupaciones legítimas acerca de mantener stability. Además, es todavía no obvio qué estrategia Estados Unidos seguirá — Las tentativas para apoyar organizaciones del nivel local dentro de Cuba directamente (como CANF propone) podría ser visto por La Habana como una amenaza directa a la estabilidad del gobierno. Las opciones de Washington ahora han ampliado, pero la administración de Obama todavía quizás necesite para esperar Cuba para tomar pasos hacia la democracia antes que pueda completamente eliminar la prohibición de EEUU.

Hay muchos pasos adelante antes que una reanudación llena de relaciones pueda ocurrir, pero la escritura está en la pared.

23670  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Motor voter law on: April 11, 2009, 08:36:23 AM
The next push to subvert the integrity of the vote is coming.

Reviving the Motor Voter Law
Published: April 10, 2009

In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act, widely known as the motor voter law, to make it easier for eligible voters to register and to increase registration rates of traditionally underrepresented groups, including poor people.

In addition to requiring states to provide voter registration materials to people applying for and renewing driver’s licenses, the law requires states to offer registration forms at offices that administer public assistance such as food stamps and unemployment insurance.

States started out with some enthusiasm, but in recent years compliance has fallen sharply. Project Vote and Demos, public-interest groups that work for voting rights, studied the implementation of the motor voter law nationally from 1995 to 2007. In a 2005 study of 103 people leaving a Department of Jobs and Family Services office in Ohio, only three reported being given voter registration forms. Surveys conducted outside of public assistance offices in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland and other states found similar problems.

Not surprisingly, the motor voter law is proving to be far less effective in registering voters than it should be. According to the report by Project Vote and Demos, the number of people registering from public assistance agencies fell 79 percent between 1995 and 1996 — the first years for which data were collected — and 2005 and 2006, the most recent reporting period.

This week, Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and asked him to sue states that fail to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. For eight years, the Bush Justice Department showed little interest in enforcing the law. The Obama administration needs to do better.

The larger answer to low registration rates is to enact laws requiring universal voter registration, which would put the burden on states to find people — through government lists, including tax records — and register them. But until that happens, the Justice Department should make sure that states follow the motor voter law’s more modest mandates.
23671  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: September 20, 2009 Gathering on: April 11, 2009, 08:32:00 AM
 cool
23672  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mercator Net: Stop the presses? on: April 11, 2009, 08:14:48 AM
Stop the presses?

Well, we just might stop the presses. And John Robson says he won't miss The New York Times when they go.
Stop the presses? Can it be? Compared to the suddenly very possible demise of newspaper titans including the New York Times, the fate of the “unsinkable” Titanic a century ago seems mildly odd, the collapse of General Motors merely a bit strange. It’s going to leave a gap in the American national conversation. But we’ll all survive fairly easily.
It’s weird to see this fate overtake the daily press, an institution that once seemed as much a part of American life as the neighbourhood barber shop. Twentieth century fiction and commentary alike could not imagine urban life without daily mass circulation newspapers, or those newspapers without the authoritative, massive, eternal flagships every reporter and editor envied. Now paper after paper folds up or seeks bankruptcy protection, and even the mighty Times is reduced to swearing it really honestly won’t go bankrupt... next month.

The economic difficulties of newspapers are not all that surprising. It is true that they have not been in a long slow decline like most of the “rust belt” industries that defined American economic might from the turn of the century into the 1960s. Newspapers were not slowly ground down by foreign competitors figuring out mass production while compulsory unionization drove up costs and drove out innovation. Instead, they were suddenly blindsided by the Internet.

It’s not that anyone solved the problem of how to make money giving something away free online. Instead, online searches and email took away newspapers’ ability to do exactly that the old-fashioned way. In their old, apparently unsinkable business model, subscription and newsstand prices never even attempted to cover production costs. Instead, they attracted readers with cheap papers, and then advertisers paid them to deliver their messages to those readers. And unfortunately the Internet made it possible for buyers and sellers to find one another faster and more reliably, and revenue from classified and retail advertising collapsed with catastrophic rapidity.

Thus far newspapers have my sympathy, and not only because they have been a major source of my income for the past dozen years. I didn’t see this terrible problem coming a decade ago either. But the other major problem now afflicting newspapers was entirely self-inflicted and I did see that one coming. It was content: what they covered and, even more, the way they covered it. The newspaper industry as a whole took on a particular tone of smug bias that now prevents it from adapting to changed circumstances in the only way I think is realistic.

There were exceptions, of course, but the typical newspaper and especially the typical elite newspaper deserve exactly the reproach my distinctly unconventional colleague David Warren delivered last May. “In my view... The idea of the news sheet remains essentially sound... People still want something to read that is portable and companionable and requires no technological savvy whatever. But those who can read want something ... intrinsically lively, informative, interesting, and even reliable and trustworthy and aesthetically satisfying.” Instead of which, especially as they came to recruit mostly from journalism schools, newspapers became the preserve of a narrow liberal elite “who think and sound like sociology majors, and express themselves in a jargon stream of pompous, preachy, preening, vaguely leftist and reptilian drivel.”

The only way newspapers can survive in the digital era is to exploit the negative tendency of the Internet to overload us with information of dubious quality. They must become trusted gatekeepers, sites to which you subscribe even for things you could get free elsewhere because they collect it all in one place in an intelligent and fair-minded way and save you hours of precious time for a few dollars a week. And nobody now trusts them to do so but the sorts of liberals who, in William F. Buckley Jr.’s apt jibe, go on endlessly about other points of view but are always amazed to find that there are other points of view. There aren’t enough such people to sustain the industry on reader rather than advertiser revenue.

Take The New York Times ... please. On questions of factual accuracy, and weight with the chattering classes in liberal epochs, it had some real claim to be the American newspaper of record. And it deserves credit for broadening its pages by inventing the Op Ed page (a seemingly timeless feature, it actually began in the “grey lady” in 1970). But the Times took a reliably and offensively biased liberal position from time out of mind without even realizing it.

In the 1920s it assured its readers Hitler had been tamed. In the early 1930s it published Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer-winning lies denying Stalin’s famines. Its crusade against the Vietnam war culminated with the notorious headline “Indochina Without Americans: For Most, A Better Life” from Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 30, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge took the city and began their genocide.

In 1983 the Times sonorously informed its readers that “the stench of failure” hung over the Reagan White House. And on and on. In a master-stroke of clueless pomposity, every four years the editorial board stroked its collective long grey beard before pronouncing that on this occasion they considered the Democratic candidate for president superior... 14 straight times and counting.

I do think the collapse of a national press is bad for a nation. Love them or hate them, a few generally recognized leading publications created a shared framework for a national conversation in which virtually every informed person knew many of the same facts and was reacting to the same thoughtful presentations of those facts.

The development of technology from the dawn of the microchip era was bound to fragment this conversation to some extent. Even cable television reduced the shared cultural experience of audiences in the industrial democracies in the 20th century, hearing the same handful of major radio shows then watching the same handful of entertainment and news programs. You don’t have to think it could have been prevented to see some drawbacks to the shattering of this common focus and the development of a sort of national and international ADD.

The Internet does take Chesterton’s warning about the parochialism of big cities to new heights; with millions of blogs to choose from we can easily avoid information overload by focusing only on those sources that confirm everything we already think in exactly the tone we find most congenial. Newspapers could make money combating that tendency, if they hadn’t long ago succumbed to the temptation to perform it for one elite point of view only.

They will be missed for what they might have done. But not, sadly, for what they chose to do instead while they still had a choice.

John Robson is an Ottawa based writer and broadcaster.
23673  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Class at Inosanto Academy on: April 10, 2009, 10:34:34 PM
Looking forward to tomorrow.
23674  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chinese anti-carrier missile on: April 10, 2009, 08:33:26 PM
New Concerns Over Chinese 'Carrier-Killer'
April 01, 2009
U.S. Naval Institute

With tensions already rising due to the Chinese navy becoming more aggressive in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy seems to have yet another reason to be deeply concerned.

After years of conjecture, details have begun to emerge of a "kill weapon" developed by the Chinese to target and destroy U.S. aircraft carriers.

First posted on a Chinese blog viewed as credible by military analysts and then translated by the naval affairs blog Information Dissemination, a recent report provides a description of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) that can strike carriers and other U.S. vessels at a range of 2000km.

The range of the modified Dong Feng 21 missile is significant in that it covers the areas that are likely hot zones for future confrontations between U.S. and Chinese surface forces.

The size of the missile enables it to carry a warhead big enough to inflict significant damage on a large vessel, providing the Chinese the capability of destroying a U.S. supercarrier in one strike.

Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes.

Supporting the missile is a network of satellites, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles that can locate U.S. ships and then guide the weapon, enabling it to hit moving targets.

While the ASBM has been a topic of discussion within national defense circles for quite some time, the fact that information is now coming from Chinese sources indicates that the weapon system is operational. The Chinese rarely mention weapons projects unless they are well beyond the test stages.

If operational as is believed, the system marks the first time a ballistic missile has been successfully developed to attack vessels at sea. Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.

Along with the Chinese naval build-up, U.S. Navy officials appear to view the development of the anti-ship ballistic missile as a tangible threat.

After spending the last decade placing an emphasis on building a fleet that could operate in shallow waters near coastlines, the U.S. Navy seems to have quickly changed its strategy over the past several months to focus on improving the capabilities of its deep sea fleet and developing anti-ballistic defenses.

As analyst Raymond Pritchett notes in a post on the U.S. Naval Institute blog:

"The Navy's reaction is telling, because it essentially equals a radical change in direction based on information that has created a panic inside the bubble. For a major military service to panic due to a new weapon system, clearly a mission kill weapon system, either suggests the threat is legitimate or the leadership of the Navy is legitimately unqualified. There really aren't many gray spaces in evaluating the reaction by the Navy…the data tends to support the legitimacy of the threat."

In recent years, China has been expanding its navy to presumably better exert itself in disputed maritime regions. A recent show of strength in early March led to a confrontation with an unarmed U.S. ship in international waters.


© Copyright 2009 U.S. Naval Institute. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
23675  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / George Mason: the Militia on: April 10, 2009, 04:10:41 PM
"I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them." -- George Mason, coauthor of the 2nd Amendment.
23676  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson's Monticello on: April 10, 2009, 10:34:47 AM
Jefferson’s Blind Spots and Ideals, in Brick and Mortar


By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN

Published: April 9, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Stand in the garden of Monticello here and look back at the home Thomas Jefferson designed, a view made famous by the United States nickel, and you get some hint of how this founding father thought about the new nation taking shape around him. The building invokes reason, proportion and balance, but you stand on a man-made plateau that seems to hover in space, open to the sweep of clouds and the distant mountains. Veneration for antiquity and revolutionary daring are brought together. The home’s allusions to ancient Greece and Rome and to the Renaissance are poised on the brink of a New World.

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Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, along with remnants of its slave quarters, is opening a new visitors center on Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va. More Photos »

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Les Schofer

A garden pavilion at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. More Photos >

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Les Schofer

The new visitors center at Monticello has 5,200 square feet of exhibitions, many of them interactive. More Photos >

It is a strange sensation. And with a new visitors center just down the slope of this “small hill” (the meaning of “Monticello” in Italian), including the requisite amenities of a cafe and shop along with an education center and 5,200 square feet of exhibitions about Jefferson’s ideas and practices, you can start to put this vista in a larger perspective. It helps too if you combine a Monticello visit (which 450,000 people make every year) with a trip to Lynchburg, Va., once a three-day journey by coach, now a mere hour and a half by car.

That is where, in 1806, as Monticello neared completion, Jefferson began to build Poplar Forest, a more private retreat: a modest octagonal home with a skylight-topped central room shaped in a perfect cube. And let us detour here for a moment. Poplar Forest seeks the same stylistic resonances as Monticello, though in a more intimate context, its geometric core and extravagantly tall windows opening onto rolling fields and hills. “When finished,” Jefferson wrote of this building in 1812, “it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen.”

In recent years, after being rescued from generations of owners and their modifications, Poplar Forest has been straining for attention, welcoming just 20,000 visitors a year. Now celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s first extended stay there, it is displaying an ever-expanding yet refined restoration that began more than 20 years ago. It affords a chance to see Jefferson’s thoughts about space, stripped of all ornament and furnishing. We see bare brick and plaster, the walls’ inner supports for arched windows, the skylights and surrounding panoramic views that in early America must have been a revelation.

Its elegance is as stunning as its impracticalities, its form creating less a place for living than one for contemplation (which is why so many of the home’s owners, over the years, were compelled to make modifications). Restored to original form, the house reflects an ideal, lightly compromised. It seems an echo of Monticello’s larger, more polished expression of that ideal.

These two homes and the four exhibitions inside the $43 million visitors center that opens on Wednesday provide an unusual sense of the tensions within Jefferson’s capacious genius, which embraced agriculture and architecture, political philosophy and engineering. The center’s architects, Ayers/Saint/Gross Architects and Planners, wisely give their subject pride of place and refuse to compete with Monticello itself, instead creating a low-lying quadrangle around a central garden courtyard.

In the exhibitions, Monticello’s chief curator, Susan R. Stein, along with her staff, have shaped a series of thematic explorations that suggest just how often Jefferson seems to have lived at a strange crossroads between the real world and his envisioned ideals. An ideal might be a home that resonates with the glories of antiquity and the beauties of geometric order, or it might be a nation founded on abstract and inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Both might be beyond perfect achievement yet still provide compelling models, requiring compromise but also inspiring transformation and aspiration.

That seems to be the way Jefferson saw it as well. He was never done with either home. And in each, compromises were required. Poplar Forest’s glorious central room — a communal dining room into which a narrow entrance corridor leads — didn’t allow easy access to the kitchens, which had to be reached through a bedroom. The geometry and the extraordinary sense of light and air had a cost.

Monticello, as one exhibition here deftly demonstrates by tracing its evolution and construction, is really Monticello II, a re-envisioning of the entire home, whose main structure was already in place when Jefferson went to Europe in 1784 and had his eyes opened to new possibilities in design. In 1796 he began expanding and reshaping the home. He called Monticello his “essay in architecture,” and you get the sense that he meant “essay” with its French overtones of something attempted, experimented with, transformed. That is the subject of another exhibition here, which explores Jefferson’s use of Monticello as a social and intellectual laboratory, a realm for experimentation in farming and design.

As for national and ethical ideals, here the tension with the real is more intense, as the drubbing Jefferson’s reputation has taken in recent decades shows. After all, Jefferson laid down the foundations of the new country in the Declaration of Independence and codified its vocabulary of equality and liberty, but we know too that just over the edge of Monticello’s plateau was a village of more than 100 enslaved workers, who helped build this house and serve its elaborate meals; one of them — Sally Hemings — probably bore Jefferson’s children. And, as at Poplar Forest, staff archaeologists have uncovered the relics of slave quarters and slave life that even for that modest retreat were extensive.

Such matters were once adduced as proof of Jeffersonian hypocrisy or as an argument about his inflated stature. Now they are part of our understanding, showing the real-world shortcomings against which Jefferson’s ideals sharply jabbed. He may disappoint us, but his vision is so powerful it ends up inspiring anyway. We don’t ignore the contradictions, which were, of course, not his alone; they simply show us how much was required to overcome them.

An important aspect of the new exhibitions here is that the lives of black slaves are inseparable from accounts of Monticello’s domestic life. Jefferson kept such meticulous records, and archaeological finds have been so extensive, that slaves can be described as named individuals with particular responsibilities and family connections; here, as at Poplar Forest, it is clear that some slaves earned money and possessed a small number of precious objects.

In the exhibition about the building of Monticello, we also learn that there were four stonecutters used, two of them “free white workmen” and two enslaved, and that 14 white carpenters were used along with eight black slaves. This attention to enslaved life is not inserted in the exhibition to diminish the nature of Jefferson’s achievements, but to illuminate his world.

At times this theme can have disproportionate emphasis. The imaginative Griffin Discovery Room for children, for example, in which reproductions of objects associated with Jefferson are touchable, too fully divides its attentions between slave life and Jefferson’s life. Elsewhere we miss what used to be taken for granted: a straightforward portrayal of Jefferson’s own life, family and travels. (Much of this narrative has to be pieced together from interactive screen displays.)

And when reaching the core of Jefferson’s ideas and achievements here, there is a tendency to rely too heavily on the latest innovations in museum display (as created by Small Design Firm).

In one gallery, when you step onto an array of thematic ideas on the floor (like religion, government, science or reason), Jefferson’s words relating to the chosen theme playfully assemble themselves on a screen. In another, an ambitious multimedia wall of 21 flat-panel screens with seven touch screens gives a capsule history of Jefferson’s impact on what he called “the boisterous sea of liberty,” with images, quotations and facts cascading into an account of the birth of a nation and the influence of Jefferson’s ideas.

That exhibit overwhelms at first; it takes time to comprehend the sweep of the story without being distracted by the sweep of sensations. The approach also submerges the intellectual power of the narrative; you have to work to piece things together, an unfortunate byproduct of the desire to speak in the video vernacular. But Jefferson’s political ideals are best understood through argument and language rather than image.

Still, if you come to these galleries with the history in mind, their energy can be intoxicating; you sense the scale of Jefferson’s accomplishment and influence even if you don’t always absorb the detail.

At any rate, as Jefferson wrote, “the boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.” Which is another way of saying that there is no ideal without the messiness of the real. But what a great thing it is to imagine that ideal! And then to keep coming so close!

Monticello, 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, Va., is open year-round. More information: monticello.org or (434) 984-9822. Poplar Forest is open April through November. More information: poplarforest.org or (434) 525-1806.

23677  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Promise and Peril ahead on: April 10, 2009, 10:33:07 AM
By KIMBERLY KAGAN and FREDERICK W. KAGAN
During his visit to Iraq this week, President Barack Obama commended U.S. forces for their invaluable work there: "From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement." But the president also cautioned that "now is not the time to lose focus" for the next 18 months will be a "critical period."

He's absolutely right.

Iraq has undergone a quiet transformation since Mr. Obama's first visit to the country as a senator in July 2008. We can no longer speak of Iraqi politics at a standstill, or a lack of political accommodation, or an unwillingness of the Iraqi government to take responsibility. The issues facing the president in Iraq, and his military commanders, are fundamentally different from those of 2007 and 2008.

On a visit to Iraq last month, we had the opportunity to see the transformation firsthand. Iraq is now a fully sovereign country. U.S. Commander Gen. Ray Odierno has insisted on the most rigorous implementation of the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, which gives Iraqi authorities greater responsibility than ever before. U.S. forces now detain Iraqis only after securing arrest warrants from Iraqi judges, and they are releasing or transferring to Iraqi custody all of the detainees they now hold. The U.S. maintains forces and bases only where the Iraqi government wants them. The U.S. has already turned responsibility for the security of the Green Zone over to the Iraqi government, and Iraqi Security Forces have responsibility for an ever-growing proportion of Baghdad well in advance of the agreement's June 30 deadline.

Moreover, Gen. Odierno and the U.S. Embassy have established joint committees with Iraqi military and political leaders at the highest levels both to coordinate operations and to monitor and ensure adherence to the agreement. There is a committee for each article of the agreement that reviews all questions of implementation and investigates all accusations of infringements. Both sides have agreed that the approved minutes of these committees are legally binding.

January's peaceful provincial elections have reinvigorated Iraqi democracy. Iraqis voted in large numbers and, as dissatisfied voters often do, they voted the incumbents out. This was an important step, demonstrating that Iraqis believe that their vote counts and their leaders are held accountable. Iraqi politicians have gotten the message. The losing parties are working to develop platforms to win back their voters in the upcoming national elections. The struggle to form coalitions in the provinces has forced competing parties to compromise with one another at the local level.

Mr. Obama also said that Iraqis must "decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means." Iraqi leaders of many parties are already showing their determination to do precisely this. For some time, rivals (and even allies) of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been concerned about his apparent efforts to concentrate too much power in his own hands through the establishment of extra-constitutional government bodies. The Council of Representatives has used the 2009 budget to clip the prime minister's wings by eliminating all funding for these "illegal" bodies. In other words, Iraqi representatives have discovered the power of the purse. It is a remarkable advance in Iraqi politics that the parliament could act against the prime minister and his party, while nonetheless passing a law that is constructive for the state.

But the country faces three major challenges in coming months: national parliamentary elections, most likely in January 2010; major budget constraints, resulting from the low price of oil; and the threat of growing Arab-Kurd tensions in the north.

The national elections will lead to the first transfer of power in the democratic Iraqi state. This is always a critical moment in the birth of a new democracy. In Iraq it will be especially challenging because of its parliamentary system. Voters must first elect a new Council of Representatives, which must then elect a prime minister and approve a cabinet. The parties must agree not only on a leader but also about how all of the ministries will be parceled out among parties and ethno-sectarian groups. In 2006, this process took five months. U.S. forces will play a critical role in helping the Iraqis secure the elections, but they will also play an important role after the vote supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and deterring dissatisfied groups from resorting to violence.

Meanwhile, the fall in the global price of oil has presented a major problem for Iraq's balance of payments. The current Iraqi budget is based on the assumption that oil would sell for an average of $50 per barrel. Oil prices have been lower than that for most of the year, generating a significant shortfall of revenue so far and forcing the Iraqi government to slash spending and dip into its reserves.

If prices remain low, important programs that maintain Iraq's security and internal stability may be threatened. Revenue shortfalls have already halted the planned expansion of the Iraqi Security Forces and disrupted plans to acquire equipment for them. And since the Iraqi government is the principal employer in the country, any significant reduction in its spending limits its ability to create jobs, including those central to the process of reconciling former insurgents.

The budget crisis, if protracted, can also prevent the newly elected provincial governments and even the central government from providing the services that the population expects, possibly leading to general disillusionment with the political process if not to a resurgence of violence. Tensions between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds, particularly over the status of Kirkuk, are still capable of destabilizing the country rapidly and profoundly. The unexpected success of the Arab al Hadba Party in Ninewah Province shifted the focus of these tensions from Mosul back to Kirkuk. But the friction over Kirkuk's status is not simply one of rival ethnicities. It also involves fundamental constitutional questions about the relationship between the central government, provincial government, and federal regions.

There is little enthusiasm in Kirkuk itself for a violent resolution of the dispute, and the presence of an American brigade near the city has helped keep the peace by helping Kurdish and Iraqi forces to understand each other's positions and actions. But rhetoric and posturing in an election year could inflame this delicate situation, and the presence of U.S. forces there is necessary.

Mr. Obama has stated his objectives in Iraq clearly: The U.S. must "make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally." This is an attainable goal. Iraq has undergone a profound transformation -- it is no longer a predatory, dictatorial state or a maelstrom of sectarian violence. It no longer threatens its neighbors or stability in the region. Indeed, Iraq has become an attractive political and economic partner for states throughout the Middle East.

But Iraqis remain most interested in establishing a strategic partnership with the U.S. and the West. In the long run, this partnership will not be defined by the numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq but by the depth of our economic and political cooperation, diplomatic support, and strategic alliance. As Mr. Obama said in Baghdad, America must be "a stalwart partner" and Iraqis must "know that they have a steady partner with us."

Ms. Kagan is the president of the Institute for the Study of War and the author of "The Surge: A Military History," which will be published this month by Encounter Books. Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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

Our man in Iraq (there to train police) comments:

I think what many Iraqis think.  That once we leave the shit will hit the fan.  Some actually believe al Sadr will rule Baghdad.
 
Back in 2007 when the Iraqi Army attacked Najaf they could not make it happen.  The Americans and Brits had to bail them out.  There were mass desertions.  There was the inability of the Iraqi Army to deal with people (Soldiers of Heaven) who would fight to the death.  I think the huge protests in Sadr City yesterday speak volumes of how many people are not pro-current Iraqi government.
 
Personally I think it still remains very much a coin toss.  But what do I know....

 
23678  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science on: April 10, 2009, 10:30:49 AM
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a man not known for having his head in the stars, announced his strategic Pentagon blueprint this week, saying his proposals "will profoundly reform how this department does business." We hope he informed Congress, home to 535 procurers in chief.

 
AFP/Getty Images
Robert Gates.
The Defense procurement system is a mess, and previous Pentagon reforms have faltered thanks mostly to the micromanagers on Capitol Hill who are often more interested in funneling money to their home states than in spending dollars most effectively. Democrats and Republicans both belly up to this bar, usually while castigating the executive branch for failing to make "tough choices."

So give the Defense Secretary an A for optimistic effort, even if we have our disagreements with some of his strategic choices. In announcing his spending priorities, Mr. Gates said he wants to focus on the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than on the unknown wars of the future. Among his cuts are the Army's Future Combat Systems and a gold-plated new Presidential helicopter that is late and way over budget. Meanwhile, he added money for unmanned aerial vehicles, increased the number of special forces and announced plans to recruit more cyberwarfare experts.

These seem like reasonable judgment calls, and the focus on combating asymmetrical threats will help the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it's worth remembering that the reason our enemies have resorted to terrorism and insurgency is because U.S. conventional forces overwhelmingly dominate on the ground, in the sea and in the air.

That's not an advantage we can take for granted as the Clinton Administration did in the 1990s, when it slashed defense spending to 3% from nearly 5% of GDP. China and Russia are upgrading their conventional forces, and China in particular is aiming to build a navy that can neutralize U.S. forces in the Western Pacific.

Mr. Gates's strategy implies a shrinking Navy with fewer ships and perhaps one fewer carrier group. It's good that he wants to build more Littoral Combat Ships, which are handy for operations such as tracking pirates. Even so, the Navy is left with a fleet of fewer than 300 ships, which strikes us as perilously small. When a U.S.-flagged container ship was briefly taken by pirates off Somalia this week, the Navy's nearest vessel was hours away.

Mr. Gates's decision to kill the stealthy F-22 fighter jet, which outclasses everything in the sky, is also troubling. We already have 183 F-22s -- original plans called for 750 -- and Mr. Gates wants to order just four more before shutting down the production line. His proposal to double the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters the Pentagon buys next year -- to 30 from 14 in 2009 -- is no quid pro quo. The F-35 is a cheaper, more multipurpose plane but it can't begin to compete with the F-22 as a fighter jet.

Pentagon spending is now about 4% of GDP and is expected to decline, which means too little investment against potential threats. In particular, Mr. Gates's budget priorities give no indication of how the Pentagon will ensure that U.S. military dominance extends to the battlefield of the future, outer space. President Obama has said he opposes the "militarization of space," but space is already a crucial area of operations and China is looking for advantages there.

The $1.4 billion in cuts to missile defense are especially worrisome, with losers including the Airborne Laser, designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in the boost phase, and additional interceptors planned for the ground-based system in Alaska. Instead, Mr. Gates favors theater defenses for soldiers on the battlefield with $700 million more in funding, arguing that this will address the near-term threat of short-range missiles. But as North Korea's weekend launch showed, rogue regimes aren't far away from securing long-range missiles that could reach the U.S.

Mr. Gates shrewdly made no budget recommendations on nuclear forces, except to say that he'll defer judgment until after the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review. Perhaps he's counting on being able to change President Obama's mind on the need for updating U.S. strategic weapons and going forward with the Reliable Replacement Warhead for America's aging nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Gates's budget proposals now go to Congress. Since the end of World War II there have been more than 130 studies on procurement reform. Good luck.

23679  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on: April 10, 2009, 10:15:00 AM
 
"It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society."

--James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, 1785
 
23680  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stockton CA on: April 09, 2009, 09:09:05 PM
Citizens Militia Forming In Stockton

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To me this article ties into others posted about the hollowing out and de-legitimizing of the state.

Notice that the reporter actually treats the group seriously, no laughing behind his hand, cheap shots, etc.

Concerned resident aims to form armed militia to patrol Stockton

By David Siders
Record Staff Writer
April 07, 2009 6:00 AM

STOCKTON - A retired truck driver and Vietnam War veteran said Monday that he is forming an armed militia - mostly men with rifles and armbands, four to a car - to patrol Stockton this summer, when at least 43 police officers are to be laid off.

Alan Pettet, 66, said he has recruited 18 men, most of whom are ex-military. He said the militia will train at a firing range and "activate" if the city lays off any officer, as it intends by July 1.

The likelihood of an armed militia materializing is uncertain - there are legal concerns, and posturing to influence City Hall is not uncommon - but for a neighborhood activist even to advance such a proposal was indicative of frustration about Stockton's awful budget forecast. The City Council is expected by July 1, the start of fiscal 2009-10, to order police layoffs and spending reductions citywide to balance a general fund budget that is otherwise expected to be $31million in deficit by June 2010.

Pettet, a midtown neighborhood activist who has a Desert Eagle pistol, said militiamen will detain suspected criminals and call police to arrest them. They will wear armbands and will patrol in a car marked by a magnetic sign, he said.

"It's going to be 'Stockton Armed Militia,'" Pettet said. "'SAM' for short."

Neither the Police Department nor the city administration was impressed.

"We are not at the point that we need to have armed militias patrolling Stockton," Vice Mayor Kathy Miller said.

Mayor Ann Johnston said, "Oh, no no no no, no no no. ... We don't want armed citizens out there who are not trained."

That it is illegal in most circumstances in California to carry a loaded firearm in one's car did not disturb Pettet.

"If you look under the Constitution, a militia can be formed," he said. "Watch and see. Who's going to stop us?"

Attorney and anti-blight activist Ron Stein, who is a friend of Pettet's and has been advising him, said the militia will conform to state law, perhaps by having members seek permits to carry concealed handguns.

"You've got to do what you've got to do," Stein said.

Pettet said the militia will bill the city $350 per hour for its services. City Attorney Ren Nosky said he knew of no legal basis requiring the city to pay such a bill.  Nosky had other reservations, too.

"I just don't know if that's in the best interest of these gentlemen, from a safety perspective," he said. "We have a concern about the level of training that these gentlemen have, if any, especially in light of the firearms that they say they're going to be carrying."

Police encourage people to report crimes and form Neighborhood Watch groups, said Officer Pete Smith, a department spokesman. To form a militia is "taking it to another level," he said.

"It's ill advised," he said.

Stockton's violent crime rate is among the highest in the state. Stein and Pettet are critical of a budget proposal by City Manager Gordon Palmer that would require laying off at least 43 of the city's 403 police officers.

"We've got to protect ourselves," Stein said. "We are in the wild, wild West when you take people who are supposed to protect us off the street."

The telephone number Pettet is using for the militia is that of midtown's Safe Neighborhood Action Group, a group formed in the 1990s.

"You've reached the Safe Neighborhood Action Group," a recording at that number said. "Helping to protect Stockton citizens from their mayor and City Council."

Contact reporter David Siders at (209) 943-8580 or
23681  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US Navy budget on: April 09, 2009, 03:49:10 PM
Part 4: The 2010 U.S. Defense Budget and The Future of the Fleet
Stratfor Today » April 9, 2009 | 1010 GMT
Summary

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled his department’s proposed 2010 defense budget on April 6. His additions and cuts from the budget included a series of decisions on the focus of shipbuilding in the years ahead. Gates has emphasized the U.S. Navy’s long-recognized need to improve its mission and functionality in the littoral regions of the world. As a result, Gates is pushing the acceleration of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program — ships that have a multi-mission functionality and are particularly attractive to the current Pentagon leadership. Overall, the shifts will help define the shape of the future U.S. surface combatant fleet.

Among the proposed changes to the Pentagon’s 2010 budget that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates laid out April 6 was a series of significant decisions that will affect U.S. shipbuilding and the shape of the surface fleet in the years ahead.

If there was a theme to these changes, it was prioritizing the littoral, near-shore environment over the ‘blue water’ — the open ocean — and proven, affordable ship designs over ambitious, new and long-term designs. The shifts include:

Slowing the rate at which an aircraft carrier is built by one year, to five years. This build cycle will ultimately reduce the size of the U.S. carrier fleet from 11 to a still-impressive 10.
Delaying the next-generation guided missile cruiser, a long-range program to replace a mainstay of the blue-water fleet.
Pushing forward with the already-planned truncation of the enormously over budget and delayed DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer, which will be limited to three very expensive hulls or less — effectively making the ships technology demonstrators.
Restarting Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) guided missile destroyer production. Widely considered one of the most capable and successful warship designs in the world today, the last units are still being completed.
Accelerating the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, which consists of two designs (the Pentagon has yet to select one) intended to employ interchangeable “mission modules,” so that one hull can support a variety of missions — from anti-submarine warfare to hunting mines or supporting special forces. These smaller, faster, more agile ships, as their name implies, will often be used closer to shore, freeing larger, more expensive ships designed to operate in the blue water from the potentially treacherous near-shore environment.
The first three are consistent with Gates’ priorities for the Pentagon as a whole. Some of the high-end technology for the next-generation Ford-class aircraft carrier is already creating concerns about the program’s timeline, and though the aircraft carrier continues to be a critical element of U.S. power projection, it is difficult to overstate the extent to which America already has utter dominance in carrier-based aviation.

The DDG-1000 is, in part, now acting as a technology demonstrator for the next-generation cruiser. Both are high-end, expensive warships expanding American naval capability largely in areas where the U.S. already enjoys a considerable lead. Delaying or slowing the next-generation cruiser program does not kill research and development, but it shifts resources and attention to more immediate needs — ones that address the slowly emerging refocus of the U.S. Navy.

The United States remains the undisputed dominant power in the world’s oceans, and while potential regional competitors from China to India to Russia are enhancing their own naval capability and working on systems to counter or at least lessen the U.S. lead, the U.S. Navy still remains the dominant force in the blue-water realm. The department has long recognized the need to push into the littorals and better function there, though many of its initiatives — like LCS and what ultimately became the DDG-1000, faltered.

The proposed defense budget would put the department’s money back into LCS and the Arleigh Burke restart. Not only are the additional Arleigh Burke hulls attractive because they are upgradeable to ballistic missile defense capability capable of addressing the new anti-ship ballistic missile threat from China, but the fabrication process is now highly refined (with some 60 hulls) and the ships have a multi-mission functionality that is particularly attractive to the current Pentagon leadership.


Photo by U.S. Navy courtesy of Lockheed-Martin
The USS Freedom (LCS-1)But the more important shift in terms of the shape of the fleet is the LCS. By accelerating acquisition in 2010, Gates is clearly committing to the program. LCS promises to expand the Navy’s global presence — with more ships in more places — as LCS will be one tool in allowing more dispersed operations. (The LCS program is expected to eventually entail 55 hulls.) Indeed, such lower-tier efforts like expanding international cooperation on maritime security could see further improvements in the overall security of the environment.

The LCS is also one of the first ships designed from the start to integrate unmanned systems into its operations, from unmanned helicopters to unmanned surface and underwater vessels, designed to carry out reconnaissance and assist in operations at sea — providing new types of functionality for the Navy in much the same way that unmanned aerial vehicles have revolutionized intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.





(click image to enlarge)
Overall, the shifts in priorities will hardly endanger U.S. naval dominance in the near-term. But naval dominance is of absolutely fundamental importance for American geographic and geopolitical security. And as STRATFOR has noted in this series, such dominance does not maintain itself. Though they will not be a threat tomorrow, countries like China are seeking to expand their sphere of influence on the high seas, and the world’s oceans are too valuable for too many countries to think that the current American lead — even in blue water — cannot be eroded.

23682  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: April DB Tribal Gathering on: April 09, 2009, 12:45:41 PM
http://gallery.me.com/tenken4001#100029
23683  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Red Alert for Georgia on: April 09, 2009, 09:49:26 AM
April 8, 2009 | 1943 GMT

Georgian opposition politicians making a statement in Tbilisi on March 27Summary
Georgian opposition movements have planned mass protests for April 9, mostly in Tbilisi but also around the country. These protests could spell trouble for President Mikhail Saakashvili. The Western-leaning president has faced protests before, but this time the opposition is more consolidated than in the past. Furthermore, some members of the government are expected to join in the protests, and Russia has stepped up its efforts to oust Saakashvili.

Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 8, 2009

Opposition parties inside Georgia are planning mass protests for April 9, mainly in the capital city of Tbilisi but also across the country. The protests are against President Mikhail Saakashvili and are expected to demand his resignation. This is not the first set of rallies against Saakashvili, who has had a rocky presidency since taking power in the pro-Western “Rose Revolution” of 2003. Anti-government protests have been held constantly over the past six years. But the upcoming rally is different: This is the first time all 17 opposition parties have consolidated enough to organize a mass movement in the country. Furthermore, many members of the government are joining the cause, and foreign powers — namely Russia — are known to be encouraging plans to oust Saakashvili.

The planned protests in Georgia have been scheduled to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Soviet crackdown on independence demonstrators in Tbilisi. The opposition movement claims that more than 100,000 people will take to the streets — an ambitious number, as the protests of the past six years have not drawn more than 15,000 people. But this time around, the Georgian people’s discontent is greatly intensified because of the blame placed on Saakashvili after the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008. Most Georgians believe Saakashvili pushed the country into a war, knowing the repercussions, and into a serious financial crisis in which unemployment has reached nearly 9 percent.

Georgia’s opposition has always been fractured and so has only managed to pull together sporadic rallies rather than a real movement. But the growing discontent in Georgia is allowing the opposition groups to finally overcome their differences and agree that Saakashvili should be removed. Even Saakashvili loyalists like former Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze and former Georgian Ambassador to the United Nations Irakli Alasania have joined the opposition’s cause, targeting Saakashvili personally. The problem now is that opposition members still do not agree on how to remove the president; some are calling for referendums on new elections, and some want to install a replacement government to make sure Saakashvili does not have a chance to return to power. But all 17 parties agreed to start with large-scale demonstrations in the streets and go from there.

If the movement does inspire such a large turnout, it would be equivalent to the number of protesters that hit the streets at the height of the Rose Revolution, which toppled the previous government and brought Saakashvili into power in the first place.

Saakashvili and the remainder of his supporters are prepared, however, with the military on standby outside of Tbilisi in order to counter a large movement. During a demonstration in 2007, Saakashvili deployed the military and successfully — though violently — crushed the protests. But that demonstration consisted of 15,000 protesters; it is unclear if Saakashvili and the military could withstand numbers seven times that.





(click image to enlarge)
There is also concern that protests are planned in the Georgian secessionist region of Adjara, which rose up against and rejected Saakashvili’s government in 2004 after the Rose Revolution. This region was suppressed by Saakashvili once and has held a grudge ever since, looking for the perfect time to rise up again. Tbilisi especially wants to keep Adjara under its control because it is home to the large port of Batumi, and many of Georgia’s transport routes to Turkey run through it. If Adjara rises up, there are rumors in the region that its neighboring secessionist region, Samtskhe-Javakheti, will join in to help destabilize Saakashvili and the government. Georgia already officially lost its two northern secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russian occupation during the August 2008 war and is highly concerned with its southern regions trying to break away.

These southern regions, like the northern ones, have strong support from Russia; thus, Moscow is square in the middle of tomorrow’s activities. Russia has long backed all of Georgia’s secessionist regions, but has had difficulty penetrating the Georgian opposition groups in order to organize them against Saakashvili. Though none of the 17 opposition groups are pro-Russian, STRATFOR sources in Georgia say Russian money has been flowing into the groups in order to nudge them along in organizing the impending protests.

Russia has a vested interest in breaking the Georgian government. Russia and the West have been locked in a struggle over the small Caucasus state. That struggle led to the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war, after which Moscow felt secure in its control over Georgia. Since Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama met April 1 and disagreed over a slew of issues, including U.S. ballistic missile defense installations in Poland and NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia, Russia is not as secure and is seeking to consolidate its power in Georgia. This means first breaking the still vehemently pro-Western Saakashvili. This does not mean Russia thinks it can get a pro-Russian leader in power in Georgia; it just wants one who is not so outspoken against Moscow and so determined to invite Western influence.

The April 9 protests are the point at which all sides will try to gain — and maintain — momentum. The 2003 Rose Revolution took months to build up to, but the upcoming protests are the starting point for both the opposition and Russia — and opposition movements in Georgia have not seen this much support and organization since the 2003 revolution. April 9 will reveal whether or not things are about to get shaken up, if not completely transformed, in Georgia.
=================
   
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 8, 2009
April 8, 2009 | 2035 GMT

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Georgian political youth group at a rally in Tbilisi on April 8Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.

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Red Alert: A Possible Revolution Simmering in Georgia
April 9 may see the first real movement against the Georgian government since it came to power in the 2003 pro-Western “Rose Revolution.” This is not an anti-Western movement to change the regime, but a movement to oust President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has been blamed for getting Georgia into the August 2008 war with Russia. The Georgian opposition — made up of 17 typically fractious parties — wants to have a government in place that can at least work with the Russians, since they currently occupy the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which make up 20 percent of the country).

The 17 opposition parties have organized for the first time and claim that they will have 100,000 people hit the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi — the largest number of demonstrators since the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili is prepared, however; there are reports that the Georgian military has already deployed outside Tbilisi in order to counter the demonstrations. But the Georgian military consists of only approximately 21,000 active soldiers, and most of them are deployed on the borders of the northern Russian-occupied secessionist regions.

There are also rumors of demonstrations spreading across the country, with one possible in the secessionist region of Adjara. Adjara was the scene of an anti-Rose Revolution uprising just after Saakashvili took power, though the new president forcefully brought the region under control. Russia’s influence in the situation is being seen, though Moscow typically has trouble working with the moderately anti-Russian opposition movements. Reports of Russian money flowing in to help organize Thursday’s demonstrations, and Russian support for Georgian secessionist movements, put Russia in the thick if things.

If this is a true revolution against the government, it will take time to build up. The April 9 protests will show whether or not the opposition can gain momentum. Going into this possibly country-breaking event, there are several questions STRATFOR is asking:

Can the opposition actually get 100,000 people on the streets of Tbilisi?
What are the movement’s plans if it does get such large numbers on the streets?
How will the much-smaller military clamp down on the capital to ensure more protesters don’t move into Tbilisi?
Where is the Georgian military deployment pulling from — particularly in the case of the troops on the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia — in order to protect the capital?
Will Saakashvili finally give in to the opposition?
Are the southern secessionist regions of Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti prepared to join in the uprising?
Are the northern secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia planning on taking advantage of the Georgian government and military’s preoccupation?
Is this a ploy for Russia to move back into the country?
Is the West prepared to intervene — either overtly or covertly — to support Saakashvili? 

23684  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / America the patsy on: April 09, 2009, 09:40:02 AM
America The Patsy?
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, April 08, 2009 4:20 PM PT

National Security: Russia tells the U.S. not to worry about a nuclear Iran and not to punish nuclear North Korea. Fidel Castro wants to help the president, Russia's "new comrade." Are we being set up?

Some of the most obvious threats to life and liberty in the historical record were, at the time they were happening, vehemently denied by those in positions of decision-making.

Isolationists and pacifists believed that Hitler's imperialism could be appeased by territorial gains. During the early Cold War, American Soviet spy Alger Hiss' integrity was vouched for by U.S. officials reaching a level as high as future Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.

Those, such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, suggesting that Hiss was only one of a massive group of Communist spies within the U.S. government were targeted (in McCarthy's case literally targeted for elimination by the CIA, as noted in Pulitzer-winning journalist Tim Weiner's book "Legacy of Ashes"), marginalized, even ruined.

M. Stanton Evans' 2007 book "Blacklisted by History" convincingly and meticulously exonerated McCarthy on most counts, but in other such episodes scholarly review has been unnecessary. Three decades of the ugly reality of Islamist revolution in Iran, for instance, have indelibly discredited the belief in 1979 by Andrew Young, the Carter administration's United Nations ambassador, that the Ayatollah Khomeini was "some kind of a saint."

Today, it takes willful blindness not to recognize Iran as the greatest threat to life and freedom in the world. Tehran is apparently now on the verge of announcing that it has mastered the final, most technically challenging stage of nuclear fuel production: the industrial-scale enrichment of uranium, which allows nuclear fuel to be generated in large quantities.

The Islamofascist regime in Iran has denied inspectors from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency access to its Arak heavy water reactor, which could be geared to produce plutonium from spent uranium fuel rods.

Yet we heard soothing words this week from Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak.

"I don't see any threat to the United States coming from Iran anytime soon," he told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — ironically, the organization Hiss was president of when Whittaker Chambers testified in 1948 that he and Hiss committed espionage together.

In a similar vein, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "any threat of sanction" against North Korea in response to its Sunday launch of a multistage rocket over Japan, a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, "would be counterproductive."

More talk for a regime possessing as many as eight nuclear warheads after it sends up a missile reaching twice as far as anything it has launched previously?

Clearly, Russia wants to lull us into complacency regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among hostile regimes. Do Moscow and other adversaries of the free world sense an uncommon opportunity in the year 2009?

With an unprecedented financial crisis battering the West's economic system, and a man of the left in the White House, is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's description of Barack Obama as "my new comrade" more than a clever sound bite?

Ailing Cuban dictator Castro, having granted an audience to members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday, seemed to share Medvedev's sentiment, asking, "How can we help President Obama?"

When longtime foes of the world's lone superpower behave in such fashion, it isn't because they've been converted to the cause of world peace; it is because they see a chance to change the dangerous global power game in their favor — and at our expense.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, always unguarded in expressing himself, claimed this week on a visit to Beijing that "the power of the U.S. empire has collapsed."

"Every day, the new poles of world power are becoming stronger: Beijing, Tokyo, Tehran," he said. "It's moving toward the East and toward the South."

Toward danger and away from security would be a more accurate description.

23685  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO goes for amnesty on: April 09, 2009, 09:38:31 AM
While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.

But with the economy seriously ailing, advocates on different sides of the debate said that immigration could become a polarizing issue for Mr. Obama in a year when he has many other major battles to fight.

Opponents, mainly Republicans, say they will seek to mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs.

Democratic legislative aides said that opening a full-fledged debate this year on immigration, particularly with health care as a looming priority, could weigh down the president’s domestic agenda.

Debate is still under way among administration officials about the precise timing and strategy. For example, it is unclear who will take up the Obama initiative in Congress.

No serious legislative talks on the issue are expected until after some of Mr. Obama’s other priorities have been debated, Congressional aides said.

Just last month, Mr. Obama openly recognized that immigration is a potential minefield.

"I know this is an emotional issue; I know it’s a controversial issue,” he told an audience at a town meeting on March 18 in Costa Mesa, Calif. “I know that the people get real riled up politically about this."

But, he said, immigrants who are long-time residents but lack legal status “have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows.”

The White House is calculating that public support for fixing the immigration system, which is widely acknowledged to be broken, will outweigh opposition from voters who argue that immigrants take jobs from Americans. A groundswell among voters opposed to legal status for illegal immigrants led to the defeat in 2007 of a bipartisan immigration bill that was strongly supported by President George W. Bush.

Administration officials said that Mr. Obama’s plan would not add new workers to the American work force, but that it would recognize millions of illegal immigrants who have already been working here. Despite the deep recession, there is no evidence of any wholesale exodus of illegal immigrant workers, independent studies of census data show.

Opponents of legalization legislation were incredulous at the idea that Mr. Obama would take on immigration when economic pain for Americans is so widespread.

“It just doesn’t seem rational that any political leader would say, let’s give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration. Mr. Beck predicted that Mr. Obama would face “an explosion” if he proceeded this year.

“It’s going to be, ‘You’re letting them keep that job, when I could have that job,’ ” he said.

In broad outlines, officials said, the Obama administration favors legislation that would bring illegal immigrants into the legal system by recognizing that they violated the law, and imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense. The legislation would seek to prevent future illegal immigration by strengthening border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, while creating a national system for verifying the legal immigration status of new workers.

But administration officials emphasized that many details remained to be debated.

Opponents of a legalization effort said that if the Obama administration maintained the enforcement pressure initiated by Mr. Bush, the recession would force many illegal immigrants to return home. Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it would be “politically disastrous” for Mr. Obama to begin an immigration initiative at this time.

Anticipating opposition, Mr. Obama has sought to shift some of the political burden to advocates for immigrants, by encouraging them to build support among voters for when his proposal goes to Congress.

That is why Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Mr. Obama’s hometown, Chicago, has been on the road most weekends since last December, traveling far outside his district to meetings in Hispanic churches, hoping to generate something like a civil rights movement in favor of broad immigration legislation.

Mr. Gutierrez was in Philadelphia on Saturday at the Iglesia Internacional, a big Hispanic evangelical church in a former warehouse, the 17th meeting in a tour that has included cities as far flung as Providence, R.I.; Atlanta; Miami; and San Francisco. Greeted with cheers and amens by a full house of about 350 people, Mr. Gutierrez, shifting fluidly between Spanish and English, called for immigration policies to preserve family unity, the strategic theme of his campaign.

At each meeting, speakers from the community, mainly citizens, tell stories of loved ones who were deported or of delays and setbacks in the immigration system. Illegal immigrants have not been invited to speak.

Mr. Gutierrez’s meetings have all been held in churches, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, with clergy members from various denominations, including in several places Muslim imams. At one meeting in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, officiated.

One speaker on Saturday, Jill Flores, said that her husband, Felix, an immigrant from Mexico who crossed the border illegally, had applied for legal status five years ago but had not been able to gain it even though she is an American citizen, as are their two children. Now, Ms. Flores said, she fears that her husband will have to leave for Mexico and will not be permitted to return for many years.

In an interview, Mr. Gutierrez rejected the idea that the timing is bad for an immigration debate. “There is never a wrong time for us,” he said. “Families are being divided and destroyed, and they need help now.”

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.
23686  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / IBD: Fire and Ice on: April 09, 2009, 09:32:26 AM
Fire And Ice
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, April 08, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Climate Change: An ice shelf in Antarctica begins to break apart, and the global warming hysterics immediately blame human activities for the crackup. Is it possible that there is some other cause?


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Read More: Global Warming


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The Wilkins Ice Shelf, a 25-mile bridge that once covered about 6,000 square miles, has split off from the Antarctic coast. Floating untethered, the Connecticut-size ledge — a mere 0.39% of all Antarctic ice — could eventually melt as it drifts northward toward warmer waters.

Naturally, activists both in and out of the scientific community, the media and political figures on the left blame human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide for warming the Earth, particularly the Antarctic peninsula, where temperatures have increased 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years.

Before we panic, there are a few things we should remember that will help us to put this less-than-catastrophic event in perspective.

First, the melting of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, or any other ice shelf, will not raise ocean levels. Antarctica has lost seven shelves in the last two decades and there have been no disastrous effects. Ice displaces more volume than water because water expands when it freezes. There is no net gain in water when an ice shelf or iceberg melts, or, in other words, contracts.

Second, much of Antarctica, particularly near the South Pole, has been through a recent cooling trend.

According to NASA: "Although Antarctica warmed around the perimeter from 1982 to 2004, where huge icebergs calved and some ice shelves disintegrated, it cooled closer to the pole."

Satellite images show that between 1981 and 2007, there was more warming than cooling in Antarctica. But the warming appears to have been modest.

Third, there's an active volcano beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. A little more than a year ago, the British Antarctic Survey noted, "Heat from the volcano creates melt-water that lubricates the base of the ice sheet and increases the flow toward the sea."
That volcano is on the southernmost edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a chain of volcanoes that continue through the Antarctic Peninsula, which the Wilkins Shelf had been attached to, down the continent's west side.  Maybe the news is the fact that more Antarctic ice hasn't melted, not that a relatively small shelf has torn away from the coast.

The mainstream media has its global warming narrative, though, and it's not going to abandon its commitment to one-sided journalism. Exploring the possibility that climate variations are beyond man's CO2 emissions is not a service they're willing to perform.

23687  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IBD: Israeli BMD on: April 09, 2009, 09:27:58 AM
Israel Steps It Up
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, April 08, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Defense: On the same day a plot to supply Iran with nuclear materials is revealed, Israel conducts a missile defense test. Nothing concentrates the mind quite so wonderfully as the threat of imminent extinction.


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On Tuesday, word came that the Manhattan district attorney's office had smashed a plot to smuggle nuclear weapons materials to Iran through unwitting New York banks. A 118-count indictment accuses Chinese financier Lei Feng Wei of setting up fake companies to hide that he was selling millions of dollars in potential nuclear materials to Tehran.

As the New York Daily News reports, among the materials involved were 33,000 pounds of a specialized aluminum alloy used almost exclusively in long-range missile production, 66,000 pounds of tungsten copper plate used in missile guidance systems, and 53,900 pounds of maraging steel rods, a super-hard metal used in uranium enrichment and to make the casings for nuclear bombs.

We have commented on Iran's cooperation with North Korea on missile technology. The pledge by Iran's mad Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map remains in full force.

Unlike the U.S., Israel is moving full speed ahead on missile defense, and even if Iran's missile threat went away tomorrow, Israel's determination to defend itself would not.

The Israelis aren't waiting for missile defense to be proven "cost-effective." They know the cost of defending themselves against nuclear missile attack pales in comparison to the cost of losing a nation.

As Lei's indictment was announced, the Israeli air force conducted its 17th test, a successful one, of its newly upgraded Arrow 2 missile defense system. It hit a Blue Sparrow missile, modified to mimic an incoming Iranian Shahab-3 missile, fired from an F-15.

The test was conducted jointly by the IAF and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. It was the first Arrow test in conjunction with a high-powered American X-band radar deployed in Israel's Negev desert. X-band was a parting gift to Israel from President Bush.

The Jerusalem Post reports that an Arrow interceptor was launched from the Palmahim air base after the target missile was detected. The target missile carried a multiple warhead with radar-evading capabilities that Iran does not possess.

Iran is working hard to improve its missile capabilities. In November, it successfully test-fired the Sajjil, a solid-fueled high-speed missile with a range of 1,250 miles. It recently showed its global reach with the launching of its Omid satellite.

In January 2007, Germany's Bild magazine reported that Iran had bought 18 BM-25 land-mobile missiles from North Korea. The BM-25 is a variation of the Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile, with a range of 1,800 miles.

According to Uzi Rubin, former head of the Arrow anti-missile program, the BM-25 "is a nuclear missile. . . . There is no other warhead for this other than a nuclear warhead."

The Arrow project is being jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and Chicago-based Boeing, which recently saw its airborne laser missile-defense system put on hold. Several operational Arrow missile batteries have already been deployed.

"This was the most advanced version of the Arrow weapons system in terms of the ability to perform the type of intercept that would be necessary to destroy a ballistic missile target," said Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

Israel has now "deployed a layered defense," he added. This is something the U.S. needs but which recent budget cuts prevent.

Israel is also developing a defense against short-range Katyusha and Qassam rockets called Iron Dome, which uses an early-warning system known as Red Dawn.

While the U.S. dawdles on its own missile defense, Israel isn't waiting until its enemies' missiles are proven and cost-effective.

23688  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Electricity grid penetrated on: April 09, 2009, 09:22:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," said a senior intelligence official. "So have the Russians."

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn't target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official said, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."

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Environment: Will a Smart Grid Repel Attacks?Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet.

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said. He added, "If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on."

Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.

"Over the past several years, we have seen cyberattacks against critical infrastructures abroad, and many of our own infrastructures are as vulnerable as their foreign counterparts," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told lawmakers. "A number of nations, including Russia and China, can disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure."

Officials cautioned that the motivation of the cyberspies wasn't well understood, and they don't see an immediate danger. China, for example, has little incentive to disrupt the U.S. economy because it relies on American consumers and holds U.S. government debt.

But protecting the electrical grid and other infrastructure is a key part of the Obama administration's cybersecurity review, which is to be completed next week. Under the Bush administration, Congress approved $17 billion in secret funds to protect government networks, according to people familiar with the budget. The Obama administration is weighing whether to expand the program to address vulnerabilities in private computer networks, which would cost billions of dollars more. A senior Pentagon official said Tuesday the Pentagon has spent $100 million in the past six months repairing cyber damage.

 U.S. Intelligence Detects Cyber Spies
1:54
WSJ's Intelligence Reporter Siobhan Gorman says that Intelligence officials have found cyber spies lurking in the U.S. electrical infrastructure.
Overseas examples show the potential havoc. In 2000, a disgruntled employee rigged a computerized control system at a water-treatment plant in Australia, releasing more than 200,000 gallons of sewage into parks, rivers and the grounds of a Hyatt hotel.

Last year, a senior Central Intelligence Agency official, Tom Donahue, told a meeting of utility company representatives in New Orleans that a cyberattack had taken out power equipment in multiple regions outside the U.S. The outage was followed with extortion demands, he said.

The U.S. electrical grid comprises three separate electric networks, covering the East, the West and Texas. Each includes many thousands of miles of transmission lines, power plants and substations. The flow of power is controlled by local utilities or regional transmission organizations. The growing reliance of utilities on Internet-based communication has increased the vulnerability of control systems to spies and hackers, according to government reports.

 The sophistication of the U.S. intrusions -- which extend beyond electric to other key infrastructure systems -- suggests that China and Russia are mainly responsible, according to intelligence officials and cybersecurity specialists. While terrorist groups could develop the ability to penetrate U.S. infrastructure, they don't appear to have yet mounted attacks, these officials say.

It is nearly impossible to know whether or not an attack is government-sponsored because of the difficulty in tracking true identities in cyberspace. U.S. officials said investigators have followed electronic trails of stolen data to China and Russia.

Russian and Chinese officials have denied any wrongdoing. "These are pure speculations," said Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman at the Russian Embassy. "Russia has nothing to do with the cyberattacks on the U.S. infrastructure, or on any infrastructure in any other country in the world."

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Wang Baodong, said the Chinese government "resolutely oppose any crime, including hacking, that destroys the Internet or computer network" and has laws barring the practice. China was ready to cooperate with other countries to counter such attacks, he said, and added that "some people overseas with Cold War mentality are indulged in fabricating the sheer lies of the so-called cyberspies in China."

Utilities are reluctant to speak about the dangers. "Much of what we've done, we can't talk about," said Ray Dotter, a spokesman at PJM Interconnection LLC, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia. He said the organization has beefed up its security, in conformance with federal standards.

In January 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved new protection measures that required improvements in the security of computer servers and better plans for handling attacks.

Last week, Senate Democrats introduced a proposal that would require all critical infrastructure companies to meet new cybersecurity standards and grant the president emergency powers over control of the grid systems and other infrastructure.

Specialists at the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit research institute, said attack programs search for openings in a network, much as a thief tests locks on doors. Once inside, these programs and their human controllers can acquire the same access and powers as a systems administrator.

NERC Letter
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation on Tuesday warned its members that not all of them appear to be adhering to cybersecuirty requirements. Read the letter.
The White House review of cybersecurity programs is studying ways to shield the electrical grid from such attacks, said James Lewis, who directed a study for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has met with White House reviewers.

The reliability of the grid is ultimately the responsibility of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., an independent standards-setting organization overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The NERC set standards last year requiring companies to designate "critical cyber assets." Companies, for example, must check the backgrounds of employees and install firewalls to separate administrative networks from those that control electricity flow. The group will begin auditing compliance in July.

—Rebecca Smith contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Gorman at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com

23689  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Naivete invites aggression on: April 09, 2009, 09:18:36 AM
 
By DAVID LEWIS SCHAEFER
In response to North Korea's rocket launch, President Barack Obama has committed the U.S. to reducing our supply of nuclear weapons, urged the passage of a ban on nuclear weapons testing, and through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, proposed scaling back our missile-defense program. In short, Mr. Obama apparently believes that the chief lesson to be learned from Pyongyang's missile launch is the need for more arms-control initiatives.

As a means of reducing the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear war, this makes no sense. Once a country passes a minimal threshold, there is no reason to suppose that increasing its nuclear arsenal heightens the likelihood of its use. The only means of deterring rogue states from using (or more likely, threatening to use) nuclear weapons once they have acquired them are first, the capacity to threaten a much more massive response, and second, an effective program of missile defense.

Reducing our nuclear arsenal only gives outlaw states (including China) the incentive to increase theirs, to try to rival ours. And eliminating nuclear-weapons testing reduces the reliability of our arms and hence their effectiveness as a deterrent.

Mr. Obama's flight to arms control demonstrates the persistence of a dangerous illusion of the 20th century -- the notion that reducing a democratic nation's armaments is a means of mitigating the threat of war. Here's some of the history:

- Beginning in 1906, Britain cut back an ambitious program of naval construction, begun under a previous administration, in the hope of thereby avoiding an "arms race" with Germany. But the change in British policy actually encouraged Germany's Adm. Alfred von Tirpitz to redouble his efforts to build a navy that would rival Britain's. This perception of British weakness may well have buttressed the confidence that led the Germans to launch World War I.

- The Washington Naval Conference of 1922 set limits on battleship construction by the U.S., Japan, Britain, France and Italy. But as a result, Japan instead focused on building other kinds of warships, paving the way for Pearl Harbor.

- Britain's policy of restraint in military production during the 1930s -- combined with the refusal of British and French governments to send forces to turn back Hitler's then weak army when it violated the Versailles Treaty by remilitarizing the Rhineland in 1936 -- did not placate Hitler. It only whetted the dictator's appetite, generating what Winston Churchill called the "unnecessary war," World War II, which might never have occurred had the Western allies maintained their armaments and a firm policy during the years that led up to it.

- The U.S. signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks antiballistic missile treaties with the Soviet Union in 1972, expecting they would produce a "stable" balance and ultimately a reduction in nuclear armaments. Instead the Soviets continued their race for nuclear superiority, as summed up in congressional testimony by Jimmy Carter's Defense Secretary Harold Brown in 1979: "[W]hen we build, they build. When we cut, they build." As President Ronald Reagan observed in a 1985 radio address on the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program the Soviets never accepted the "innocent" American notion "that being mutually vulnerable to attack was in our common interest."

- As soon as the Soviets signed the 1972 convention banning the manufacture of biological weapons, they immediately (secretly) ramped up their production of such weapons.

- The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire were brought about not by arms reductions, but by Reagan's unwillingness to give up work on SDI. Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev recognized the Soviets simply lacked the means to compete.

The likelihood that reducing America's strategic forces is going to elicit reciprocal behavior from our antagonists is nil. Nor will anything short of forceful sanctions (such as the George W. Bush administration applied, but then withdrew, against North Korean financial assets), have any effect in halting their march towards nuclear status.

In the words of the Joan Baez antiwar song from the 1960s: When will they ever learn?

Mr. Schaefer is professor of political science at College of the Holy Cross.
23690  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: DA Morgenthau exposes Iranian efforts on: April 09, 2009, 09:14:33 AM
There's good news, and some really bad news, about Iran's efforts to evade U.S. sanctions and infiltrate the U.S. financial system.

The good news is that Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's indictment this week of the Chinese firm LIMMT and its principal Li Fang Wei exposed some of Iran's illicit transactions. The bad news is that Tehran wasn't seeking U.S. currency simply as a safe haven in a turbulent market. The mullahs wanted dollars to buy critical ingredients in the production of long-range missiles and atomic warheads. And Mr. Morgenthau says they got them.

The veteran prosecutor tells us that the illegal arms trade at the heart of his 118-count indictment has provided Iran with the capability to field a new generation of missiles by the end of this year, accurate at a range of 1,300 miles. He reports that his investigation also shows that Iran has acquired technology for atomic weapons that could be ready soon after that.

Background
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Tehran's Strip Club — 01/12/09
We told you in January about Tehran's use of British banks to conduct "stripping" transactions. Barred from the United States, Iranian banks paid U.K. firms like Lloyds TSB Group to transfer money to correspondent banks in New York while concealing that Iran was the true source of the funds. Lloyds employees had stopped the practice in 2004, though it was not discovered by U.S. law enforcers until 2007. In January, Lloyds agreed to a $350 million fine and promised to cooperate with Mr. Morgenthau's office and the U.S. Justice Department in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement. The bank could otherwise be charged for violating the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act, under which the U.S. has sanctioned Iran.

The big remaining question has been what Tehran was doing with the money it was converting into dollars in U.S. banks. As Mr. Morgenthau continued his investigation, gaining cooperation from banks in the U.S. and around the world, the discovery of the alleged LIMMT transactions showed another pathway into the U.S. banking system apart from the stripping transactions.

And Mr. Morgenthau says his investigation confirmed suspicions that Iran was shopping for missile parts -- such as high-strength aluminum alloys and tungsten copper plates. Many of the items were manufactured in China, none in the U.S. The indictment says LIMMT, which has been under U.S. Treasury sanctions since 2006 for its role in the spread of WMD, set up a series of front companies to sell weapons to subsidiaries of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, with payments routed through U.S. banks.

Given the aggressive U.S. sanctions and the fact that no Americans appear to have been involved in the purchases, one might wonder why the rogues alleged to be on each end of this transaction were determined to do business via U.S. financial institutions. The answer is that while some transactions were conducted in euros, the dollar is still the currency of choice for global arms dealers.

LIMMT might have asked banks in London or Hong Kong to clear a transaction in dollars, but such requests are rare and would have attracted attention. That left New York, where American banks helped spot the allegedly illegal arms trade. In fact, some transactions between LIMMT and the Iranian military were also blocked by overseas banks with no obligation to do so. Seeing that LIMMT was listed on an alert from Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, these unnamed good Samaritans blocked some payments that originated in Iran.

Of course, the cooperation from banks around the world is merely the silver lining in this case. Thanks to Mr. Morgenthau's aggressive prosecution, we see again the lengths Tehran is going to acquire weapons to threaten the world.

 
23691  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Will Islam return BO's respect? on: April 09, 2009, 09:10:35 AM
Today is Holy Thursday for Christians and the start of Passover for Jews. This week was an opportune time for President Barack Obama to visit Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, which has been both a Byzantine church and Islamic mosque. In Turkey he spoke of seeking engagement with Islam based on "mutual respect."

 
The subject of this column is the status of minority faith groups, mostly Christian, living inside Islamic countries. That status is poor. In some cases it verges on extinction, after centuries of coexistence with Islam. So it is useful to review what Mr. Obama said of his goals for living with Islam:

"I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. . . .

"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith. . . . Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them."


Islam must show respect for Christian minorities, says Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger. (April 9)
This is an eloquent description of ecumenical civility. In reality, the experience of Arab Christians living now amid majority Islamic populations is often repression, arrest, imprisonment and death.

Coptic Christians in Egypt have been singled out for discrimination and persecution. Muslim rioters often burn or vandalize their churches and shops.

In Turkey, the Syriac Orthodox Church (its 3,000 members speak Aramaic, the language of Christ) is battling with Turkish authorities over the lands around the Mor Gabriel monastery, built in 397.

Pakistan's recent peace deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley puts at risk the 500 Christians still trying to live there. Many fled after Islamic extremists bombed a girls' school late last year. Pakistan has never let them buy land to build a church.

Podcast
Listen to Daniel Henninger's Wonder Land column, now available in audio format.
In 1995, the Saudis were allowed to build a mosque in Rome near the Vatican, but never reciprocated with a Christian church in their country. Saudi Arabia even forbids private worship at home for some one million Christian migrant workers.

In Iraq, the situation for small religious minorities has become dire. Reports emerge regularly of mortal danger there for groups that date to antiquity -- Chaldean-Assyrians, the Yazidis and Sabean Mandaeans, who revere John the Baptist. Last fall the Chaldean-Assyrian archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped and murdered. Some Iraqi Christians believe the new government won't protect them, and talk of moving into a "homeland" enclave in Nineveh. Penn State Prof. Philip Jenkins, author of "The Lost History of Christianity," calls the Iraq situation "a classic example of a church that is killed over time."

In short, the "respect" Mr. Obama promised to give Islam is going only in one direction. And he knows that.

Candidate Obama last fall sent a letter to Condoleezza Rice expressing "my concern about the safety and well-being of Iraq's Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities." He asked what steps the U.S. was taking to protect "these communities of religious freedom." Candidate Obama said he wanted these groups represented in Iraq's governing institutions. Does President Obama believe these things?

A Bush official who worked on this problem in Iraq told me there is a school of thought that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki understands that these ancient groups are Iraq's "connective tissue," and that weaving them formally into the system could be a basis for binding together his fractured nation. If these harmless peoples can't coexist, who can?

Mr. Obama's designated ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, has been criticized for subordinating human-rights issues with North Korea. That would be a mistake in the Middle East. The willingness of Islamic governments to formally protect these small Christian groups should be a litmus test of their bona fides on larger political issues.

If Islam won't let its leaders give basic rights to a handful of ancient Christians, there is no hope for what Mr. Obama proposed this week in Turkey. What his special envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, wishes to achieve with Israel and its neighbors will also fail, again.

An established network of smart people exists to help Mr. Obama here, starting with the Vatican of Pope Benedict XVI and its diplomatic outreach efforts to senior Islamic clerics. The widely connected Anglican Vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, also happens to be director of the little-known Religious Sectarian project for the U.S. Department of Defense. There are many others.

Mr. Obama should make formalized tolerance of Christian sects in the Middle East the basis for arriving at what he called "common ground" with Islam. As will be noted in churches in the rest of the world this weekend, that "common ground" was first walked in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

Write to henninger@wsj.com
23692  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The next hostage crisis on: April 09, 2009, 09:07:08 AM
President Obama may have dodged a hostage crisis on the high seas yesterday, thanks to the bravery, quick thinking and good fortune of the 20-man American crew of the Maersk Alabama. But unless his Administration moves quickly to show that pirates, rogue states -- and even a few rogue judges -- will pay a fearsome price for taking U.S. citizens hostage, a similar drama can't be far off.

 
APAs we went to press, the crew of the Maersk Alabama had regained control of their U.S.-flagged, 17,000-ton unarmed merchant ship, though its seems Captain Richard Phillips was still being held by Somali pirates. The ship had been bound for Mombasa, Kenya, carrying a cargo of emergency food when it came within 300 miles of Somalia's coastline. It is one of at least 50 ships to have been attacked by Somali-based pirates in the past three months. But it is the first U.S.-flagged vessel to have been hijacked in years, and perhaps decades.

Why has Somalia become the 21st-century version of the 17th-century West Indies? The usual answer is that it's a failed state, unhappily situated near a major shipping lane where all kinds of criminality can thrive.

In fact, piracy is making a comeback because the world has largely allowed it. The owners of captured vessels have been willing to pay multimillion dollar ransoms to recover the ships, 16 of which and 200 crew members are currently in pirate hands. Restrictive or ambiguous rules of engagement -- a bequest of the Law of the Sea Treaty -- create further difficulties for navies trying to prevent piracy. Western states have also been wary of trying captured pirates in their own courts, choosing instead to remand them to Kenya's jurisdiction.

As for the U.S., too often the operative language in dealing with pirates has been "no controlling legal authority," in part because, until now, all of the hijacked ships have operated under foreign flags. The case of the Maersk Alabama was (or would have been) clearly different. Still, the price the civilized world has paid for dispensing with the old Ciceronian wisdom that pirates were hostis humani generis -- enemies of the human race -- can probably now be counted in billions of dollars.

We don't advocate reverting to Roman methods (e.g., crucifixion) for dealing with pirates, though the Administration could apply the Stephen Decatur standard by bombing the Somali pirate city of Eyl. U.S. law is clear that pirates who attack U.S. flag ships deserve at least 10 years in prison. But treating captured pirates as enemy combatants unworthy of Geneva Convention protections would help in cases where pirates attack foreign-flagged ships and international law is now more ambiguous.

A similar attitude might guide the Obama Administration in its dealings with other states that have, or seek, to take Americans captives. North Korea seized two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, last month on the Chinese border and says it intends to put them on trial for "espionage." Iran also uses hostage-taking as an instrument of state policy, including the British sailors seized in Iraqi waters in 2007, American academic Haleh Esfandiari the same year and, most recently, American journalist Roxana Saberi, whom the Iranians also accuse of espionage and who is now being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

Then again, why look so far afield? As we wrote yesterday, a Spanish judge may soon order arrest warrants for six Bush Administration officials on dubious charges under the preposterous theory of "universal jurisdiction." So far, however, the Obama Administration hasn't spoken a word in their defense. If the U.S. government won't protect American citizens from the legal anarchy of postmodern Europe, how can we expect it to protect American sailors from the premodern anarchy of Somalia, much less the tyrannies of Tehran and Pyongyang?
23693  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / VA Bill of Rights on: April 09, 2009, 08:55:41 AM
"[R]eligion, or the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and this is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other."

--Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16, June 12, 1776
23694  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: April DB Tribal Gathering on: April 08, 2009, 05:10:13 PM
Here is the drummer and bass player from our Gathering playing a few years ago:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNkCtQo3Z0c
23695  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Quality care metrics on: April 08, 2009, 05:05:51 PM
The coming clusterfcuk gathers momentum:

By JEROME GROOPMAN and PAMELA HARTZBAND
The Obama administration is working with Congress to mandate that all Medicare payments be tied to "quality metrics." But an analysis of this drive for better health care reveals a fundamental flaw in how quality is defined and metrics applied. In too many cases, the quality measures have been hastily adopted, only to be proven wrong and even potentially dangerous to patients.

 
Martin KozlowskiHealth-policy planners define quality as clinical practice that conforms to consensus guidelines written by experts. The guidelines present specific metrics for physicians to meet, thus "quality metrics." Since 2003, the federal government has piloted Medicare projects at more than 260 hospitals to reward physicians and institutions that meet quality metrics. The program is called "pay-for-performance." Many private insurers are following suit with similar incentive programs.

In Massachusetts, there are not only carrots but also sticks; physicians who fail to comply with quality guidelines from certain state-based insurers are publicly discredited and their patients required to pay up to three times as much out of pocket to see them. Unfortunately, many states are considering the Massachusetts model for their local insurance.

How did we get here? Initially, the quality improvement initiatives focused on patient safety and public-health measures. The hospital was seen as a large factory where systems needed to be standardized to prevent avoidable errors. A shocking degree of sloppiness existed with respect to hand washing, for example, and this largely has been remedied with implementation of standardized protocols. Similarly, the risk of infection when inserting an intravenous catheter has fallen sharply since doctors and nurses now abide by guidelines. Buoyed by these successes, governmental and private insurance regulators now have overreached. They've turned clinical guidelines for complex diseases into iron-clad rules, to deleterious effect.

One key quality measure in the ICU became the level of blood sugar in critically ill patients. Expert panels reviewed data on whether ICU patients should have insulin therapy adjusted to tightly control their blood sugar, keeping it within the normal range, or whether a more flexible approach, allowing some elevation of sugar, was permissible. Expert consensus endorsed tight control, and this approach was embedded in guidelines from the American Diabetes Association. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which generates report cards on hospitals, and governmental and private insurers that pay for care, adopted as a suggested quality metric this tight control of blood sugar.

A colleague who works in an ICU in a medical center in our state told us how his care of the critically ill is closely monitored. If his patients have blood sugars that rise above the metric, he must attend what he calls "re-education sessions" where he is pointedly lectured on the need to adhere to the rule. If he does not strictly comply, his hospital will be downgraded on its quality rating and risks financial loss. His status on the faculty is also at risk should he be seen as delivering low-quality care.

But this coercive approach was turned on its head last month when the New England Journal of Medicine published a randomized study, by the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society Clinical Trials Group and the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group, of more than 6,000 critically ill patients in the ICU. Half of the patients received insulin to tightly maintain their sugar in the normal range, and the other half were on a more flexible protocol, allowing higher sugar levels. More patients died in the tightly regulated group than those cared for with the flexible protocol.

Similarly, maintaining normal blood sugar in ambulatory diabetics with vascular problems has been a key quality metric in assessing physician performance. Yet largely due to two extensive studies published in the June 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, this is now in serious doubt. Indeed, in one study of more than 10,000 ambulatory diabetics with cardiovascular diseases conducted by a group of Canadian and American researchers (the "ACCORD" study) so many diabetics died in the group where sugar was tightly regulated that the researchers discontinued the trial 17 months before its scheduled end.

And just last month, another clinical trial contradicted the expert consensus guidelines that patients with kidney failure on dialysis should be given statin drugs to prevent heart attack and stroke.

These and other recent examples show why rigid and punitive rules to broadly standardize care for all patients often break down. Human beings are not uniform in their biology. A disease with many effects on multiple organs, like diabetes, acts differently in different people. Medicine is an imperfect science, and its study is also imperfect. Information evolves and changes. Rather than rigidity, flexibility is appropriate in applying evidence from clinical trials. To that end, a good doctor exercises sound clinical judgment by consulting expert guidelines and assessing ongoing research, but then decides what is quality care for the individual patient. And what is best sometimes deviates from the norms.

Yet too often quality metrics coerce doctors into rigid and ill-advised procedures. Orwell could have written about how the word "quality" became zealously defined by regulators, and then redefined with each change in consensus guidelines. And Kafka could detail the recent experience of a pediatrician featured in Vital Signs, the member publication of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Out of the blue, according to the article, Dr. Ann T. Nutt received a letter in February from the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission on Clinical Performance Improvement informing her that she was no longer ranked as Tier 1 but had fallen to Tier 3. (Massachusetts and some private insurers use a three-tier ranking system to incentivize high-quality care.) She contacted the regulators and insisted that she be given details to explain her fall in rating.

After much effort, she discovered that in 127 opportunities to comply with quality metrics, she had met the standards 115 times. But the regulators refused to provide the names of patients who allegedly had received low quality care, so she had no way to assess their judgment for herself. The pediatrician fought back and ultimately learned which guidelines she had failed to follow. Despite her cogent rebuttal, the regulator denied the appeal and the doctor is still ranked as Tier 3. She continues to battle the state.

Doubts about the relevance of quality metrics to clinical reality are even emerging from the federal pilot programs launched in 2003. An analysis of Medicare pay-for-performance for hip and knee replacement by orthopedic surgeons at 260 hospitals in 38 states published in the most recent March/April issue of Health Affairs showed that conforming to or deviating from expert quality metrics had no relationship to the actual complications or clinical outcomes of the patients. Similarly, a study led by UCLA researchers of over 5,000 patients at 91 hospitals published in 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the application of most federal quality process measures did not change mortality from heart failure.

State pay-for-performance programs also provide disturbing data on the unintended consequences of coercive regulation. Another report in the most recent Health Affairs evaluating some 35,000 physicians caring for 6.2 million patients in California revealed that doctors dropped noncompliant patients, or refused to treat people with complicated illnesses involving many organs, since their outcomes would make their statistics look bad. And research by the Brigham and Women's Hospital published last month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates that report cards may be pushing Massachusetts cardiologists to deny lifesaving procedures on very sick heart patients out of fear of receiving a low grade if the outcome is poor.

Dr. David Sackett, a pioneer of "evidence-based medicine," where results from clinical trials rather than anecdotes are used to guide physician practice, famously said, "Half of what you'll learn in medical school will be shown to be either dead wrong or out of date within five years of your graduation; the trouble is that nobody can tell you which half -- so the most important thing to learn is how to learn on your own." Science depends upon such a sentiment, and honors the doubter and iconoclast who overturns false paradigms.

Before a surgeon begins an operation, he must stop and call a "time-out" to verify that he has all the correct information and instruments to safely proceed. We need a national time-out in the rush to mandate what policy makers term quality care to prevent doing more harm than good.

Dr. Groopman, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and Dr. Hartzband are on the staff of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.

 
23696  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Donnelly and Schmitt on: April 08, 2009, 05:01:25 PM
Third post of the day:

By THOMAS DONNELLY and GARY SCHMITT
On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a significant reordering of U.S. defense programs. His recommendations should not go unchallenged.

In the 1990s, defense cuts helped pay for increased domestic spending, and that is true today. Though Mr. Gates said that his decisions were "almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books," the broad list of program reductions and terminations suggest otherwise. In fact, he tacitly acknowledged as much by saying the budget plan represented "one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity" -- the "necessity" of course being the administration's decision to reorder the government's spending priorities.

However, warfare is not a human activity that directly awards virtue. Nor is it a perfectly calculable endeavor that permits a delicate "balancing" of risk. More often it rewards those who arrive on the battlefield "the fustest with the mostest," as Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest once put it. If Mr. Gates has his way, U.S. forces will find it increasingly hard to meet the Forrest standard. Consider a few of the details of the Gates proposals:

- The termination of the F-22 Raptor program at just 187 aircraft inevitably will call U.S. air supremacy -- the salient feature, since World War II, of the American way of war -- into question.

The need for these sophisticated, stealthy, radar-evading planes is already apparent. During Russia's invasion of Georgia, U.S. commanders wanted to fly unmanned surveillance aircraft over the region, and requested that F-22s sanitize the skies so that the slow-moving drones would be protected from Russian fighters or air defenses. When the F-22s were not made available, likely for fear of provoking Moscow, the reconnaissance flights were cancelled.

As the air-defense and air-combat capabilities of other nations, most notably China, increase, the demand for F-22s would likewise rise. And the Air Force will have to manage this small fleet of Raptors over 30 years. Compare that number with the 660 F-15s flying today, but which are literally falling apart at the seams from age and use. The F-22 is not merely a replacement for the F-15; it also performs the functions of electronic warfare and other support aircraft. Meanwhile, Mr. Gates is further postponing the already decades-long search for a replacement for the existing handful of B-2 bombers.

- The U.S. Navy will continue to shrink below the fleet size of 313 ships it set only a few years ago. Although Mr. Gates has rightly decided to end the massive and expensive DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer program, there will be additional reductions to the surface fleet. The number of aircraft carriers will drop eventually to 10. The next generation of cruisers will be delayed, and support-ship projects stretched out. Older Arleigh Burke destroyers will be upgraded and modernized, but at less-than-needed rates.

The good news is that Mr. Gates will not to reduce the purchases of the Littoral Combat Ship, which can be configured for missions from antipiracy to antisubmarine warfare. But neither will he buy more than the 55 planned for by the previous Bush administration. And the size and structure of the submarine fleet was studiously not mentioned. The Navy's plan to begin at last to procure two attack submarines per year -- absolutely vital considering the pace at which China is deploying new, quieter subs -- is uncertain, at best.

- Mr. Gates has promised to "restructure" the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, arguing that the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have called into question the need for new ground combat vehicles. The secretary noted that the Army's modernization plan does not take into account the $25 billion investment in the giant Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles. But it's hard to think of a more specialized and less versatile vehicle.

The MRAP was ideal for dealing with the proliferation of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq. But the FCS vehicle -- with a lightweight yet better-protected chassis, greater fuel efficiency and superior off-road capacity -- is far more flexible and useful for irregular warfare. Further, the ability to form battlefield "networks" will make FCS units more effective than the sum of their individual parts. Delaying modernization means that future generations of soldiers will conduct mounted operations in the M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles designed in the 1970s. Finally, Mr. Gates capped the size of the U.S. ground force, ignoring all evidence that it is too small to handle current and future major contingencies.

- The proposed cuts in space and missile defense programs reflect a retreat in emerging environments that are increasingly critical in modern warfare. The termination of the Airborne Laser and Transformational Satellite programs is especially discouraging.

The Airborne Laser is the most promising form of defense against ballistic missiles in the "boost phase," the moments immediately after launch when the missiles are most vulnerable. This project was also the military's first operational foray into directed energy, which will be as revolutionary in the future as "stealth" technology has been in recent decades. The Transformational Satellite program employs laser technology for communications purposes, providing not only enhanced bandwidth -- essential to fulfill the value of all kinds of information networks -- but increased security.

Mr. Gates justifies these cuts as a matter of "hard choices" and "budget discipline," saying that "[E]very defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk . . . is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in." But this calculus is true only because the Obama administration has chosen to cut defense, while increasing domestic entitlements and debt so dramatically.

The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop. But what is true for the wars we're in -- that numbers matter -- is also true for the wars that we aren't yet in, or that we simply wish to deter.

Mr. Donnelly is a resident fellow and Mr. Schmitt is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. They are co-editors of "Of Men and Materiel: the Crisis in Military Resources" (AEI, 2007).
23697  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Was this torture? on: April 08, 2009, 04:55:12 PM
4th Infantry Division gives signed photo of Saddam to South Park creators

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

South Park creators given signed photo of Saddam Hussein

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, were given a signed photo of Saddam Hussein by US marines after the former Iraqi leader was shown their movie in prison.

By Chris Irvine
Last Updated: 10:30PM BST 07 Apr 2009


During his captivity, US marines forced Saddam, who was executed in 2006, to repeatedly watch the move South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut, which shows him as gay, as well as the boyfriend of Satan. He was also regularly depicted in a similar manner during the TV series.

The admission comes with the show's 13th season already running in the US. It will celebrate its 12th anniversary later this year.

The show, which satirises a wide range of topics, including religion, sexuality and mental illness, has won a number of awards including three Emmys for Outstanding Animated Programme.

Recent episodes have seen Barack Obama using his Presidential victory as a way to steal jewels from Washington in an Oceans 11-style heist.

It also recently depicted the United States Treasury as deciding economic measures by cutting the head off a chicken and letting it run on a game show style board, landing on a decision.

Stone, 37, said both he and Parker, 39, were most proud of the signed Saddam photo, given to them by the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.

He said: "We're very proud of our signed Saddam picture and what it means. Its one of our biggest highlights.

"I have it on pretty good information from the marines on detail in Iraq that they showed Saddam the movie.

"Over and over again – which is a pretty funny thought.

"That's really adding insult to injury."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/news...m-Hussein.html
23698  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nevermind LOL on: April 08, 2009, 12:29:25 PM
US crew reportedly takes over ship from pirates

2 mins ago
WASHINGTON – The crew of a U.S.-flag ship seized by pirates off Somalia is believed to have retaken the vessel, the Pentagon said Wednesday, even as a shaken national security establishment confronted troubling questions about the hostage-taking at high sea.

Capt. Joseph Murphy, an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told The Associated Press the Department of Defense that his son Shane, the second in command on the ship, had called him to say the crew had regained control.

"The crew is back in control of the ship," a U.S. official said at midday, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on the record. "It's reported that one pirate is on board under crew control — the other three were trying to flee," the official said. The status of the other pirates was unknown, the official said, but they were reported to "be in the water."

The crew apparently contacted the private shipping that it works for. That company, Maersk, scheduled a noon news conference in Norfolk, Va, defense officials said.

Somali pirates today hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 20 American crew members onboard, hundreds of miles from the nearest American military vessel in some of the most dangerous waters in the world.

The 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama was carrying emergency relief to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was hijacked, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Copenhagen-based container shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk. It was the sixth ship seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates who are operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

The company confirmed that the U.S.-flagged vessel has 20 U.S. nationals onboard.

Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said that it was the first pirate attack "involving U.S. nationals and a U.S.-flagged vessel in recent memory." She did not give an exact timeframe.

When asked how the U.S. Navy plans to deal with the hijacking, Campbell said: "It's fair to say we are closely monitoring the situation, but we will not discuss nor speculate on current and future military operations."

It was not clear whether the pirates knew they were hijacking a ship with American crew.

"It's a very significant foreign policy challenge for the Obama administration," said Graeme Gibbon Brooks, managing director of the British company Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service Ltd. "Their citizens are in the hands of criminals and people are waiting to see what happens."

Brooks and other analysts interviewed by the AP declined to speculate on whether American military forces might attempt a rescue operation. A senior Navy official in Washington said the Obama administration was talking to the shipping company to learn "the who, what, why, where and when" of the hijacking.

The U.S. Navy confirmed that the ship was hijacked early Wednesday about 280 miles (450 kilometers) southeast of Eyl, a town in the northern Puntland region of Somalia.

U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen said the closest U.S. ship at the time of the hijacking was 345 miles (555 kilometers)away.

"The area, the ship was taken in, is not where the focus of our ships has been," Christensen told The Associated Press by phone from the 5th Fleet's Mideast headquarters in Bahrain. "The area we're patrolling is more than a million miles in size. Our ships cannot be everywhere at every time."

Somali pirates are trained fighters who frequently dress in military fatigues and use speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades. Far out to sea, their speedboats operate from larger mother ships.

Most hijackings end with million-dollar payouts. Piracy is considered the biggest moneymaker in Somalia, a country that has had no stable government for decades. Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, said pirates took up to $80 million in ransoms last year.

A NATO official said from Brussels that the alliance's five warships were patrolling the Gulf of Aden at the time of attack.

"That's where most of the shipping goes through and we can provide most of the protection in that vital trade route," said the official who asked not to be identified under standing rules.

The official said the taking of the crude-filled Saudi supertanker Sirius Star also happened in open water far off the Somali coastline. The Sirius Star was released in January,

NATO has five warships that patrol the region alongside three frigates from the European Union. The U.S. Navy normally keeps between five to 10 ships on station off the Somali coast. The navies of India, China, Japan, Russia and other nations also cooperate in the international patrols.

NATO sees piracy as a long-term problem and is planning to deploy a permanent flotilla to the region this summer.

On March 29, a NATO supply ship itself came under attack by Somali pirates who appear to have mistaken it for a merchant ship. The crew quickly overcame the attackers, boarded their boat and captured seven.

This is the second time that Somali pirates have seized a ship belonging to the privately held shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk. In February 2008, the towing vessel Svitzer Korsakov from the A.P. Moller-Maersk company Svitzer was briefly seized by pirates.

Before this latest hijacking, Somali pirates were holding 14 vessels and about 200 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
23699  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on the defense budget on: April 08, 2009, 12:00:07 PM
Second post of the morning.

Part 2: The 2010 U.S. Defense Budget and BMD
Stratfor Today » April 8, 2009 | 1213 GMT
Summary
When U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled his department’s proposed 2010 defense budget on April 6, one of the changes — not unexpected — was a realignment of funding for ballistic missile defense (BMD). Gates wants to focus on more mature BMD technologies that can deal with missile launches from “rogue” countries like Iran and North Korea.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a four-part special report on the U.S. defense budget for 2010.

Among U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ proposed changes to the 2010 U.S. defense budget, announced on April 6, were a series of increases and cuts in ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs. Taken as a whole, these adjustments mark a significant shift in the nature of BMD deployment, including an overall cut of $1.4 billion from the Missile Defense Agency. These cuts are consistent with President Barack Obama’s platform of being committed to “proven, cost-effective” BMD, and are being touted as enabling the programs to focus on the threat of missile launches from “rogue” countries like Iran and North Korea.

BMD is essentially a defensive weapons system designed to intercept ballistic missiles. Ballistic missile interception can theoretically be done at three periods of the missile’s flight: in the terminal phase (as it descends towards the earth), in midcourse, and in the boost phase (right after launch). Current technology permits the interception at the midcourse and terminal phases, but boost-phase interception has proved to be much more difficult, mainly because of the extremely short period of time it allows to detect, acquire and track the missile and plot an intercept before it enters the later phases of flight (more about this below).

In laying out Gates’ funding priorities, the budget favors the more mature technologies of terminal-phase and midcourse interception, which are either already fielded or in the process of being fielded. But this comes at the cost of boost-phase and other more ambitious technological development programs — including space-based assets — which would require longer-term funding and support before tangible results could be achieved.

For Gates, these more long-range programs have been pushed forward too aggressively, before the technology could mature. They are more high-risk by nature and, for Gates, an inefficient and an inappropriate allocation of funds given the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there are technical reasons for these choices, Gates has more in mind than just a sheet of specifications and test results.





(click image to enlarge)
There are four mature BMD systems that are operational or in the process of being made operational: Aegis/Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD).

The Aegis/SM-3 system is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles during parts of the ascent and descent phases. This system has already been deployed on 18 American guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, and two Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces warships and is operationally proven (though as an anti-satellite weapon rather than a BMD interceptor). The Aegis/SM-3 has been one of the most successful BMD programs in the U.S. inventory, and Gates’ proposal would increase funding for the SM-3 program and upgrade an additional six warships with the system (double the three announced earlier this year for the Atlantic fleet).

The THAAD system is mobile (designed to be deployed anywhere in the world) and is capable of intercepting a ballistic missile in its final midcourse descent and in its terminal phase, both inside and outside the atmosphere. The first THAAD battery — Alpha Battery of the 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Fort Bliss in Texas — was activated last year and is in the process of being fully equipped. Meanwhile, testing continues at the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii (a test there in March marked the system’s latest success). After poor test performance in the 1990s, the program restarted testing in 2005 and has shown marked improvement. It is now considered technologically mature.


Lockheed Martin
A THAAD launcherThe Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) system is a terminal-phase intercept system that was operationally deployed and successfully used in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is also currently operational at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is slated for deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic, although deployment of the system is encumbered by the requirement for fixed facilities, including concrete silos.

Gates curtailed funding for additional GMD interceptors in Alaska but made no comment on the much more politically complicated issue of deploying them to Europe. With his 2010 budget, of course, Gates has entered into a domestic battle with Congress over the future shape and orientation of the entire Department of Defense, not just BMD. Although part of that reorientation, the European GMD effort will be decided in the context of larger negotiations with Russia and policy choices made by the Obama Cabinet as a whole.

But taken as a whole (and even without a GMD deployment in Europe), this combination of technologies offers a tiered BMD capability in the later phases of ballistic flight. It is this sort of layered, overlapping combination of capabilities that is considered necessary to provide a truly reliable BMD shield. In addition, for the most part, these are the programs on which other countries like Japan and Israel have been cooperating with the United States.

The impetus for pursuing boost-phase intercept capability is by no means gone, however. Midcourse and terminal phase interceptions are fraught with their own challenges, including the possibility of having to deal with decoys in the latter part of the midcourse phase and multiple independently targetable or maneuverable re-entry vehicles. Additionally, debris from a successful intercept in the terminal phase may still hit the area being targeted by those who launched the missile.

Thus, it remains desirable for the Pentagon to seek technology that will push the intercept point closer to the time and place of launch, if not on the actual territory of the country launching the missile. The boost phase is when the missile is both at its slowest in the trajectory and the most visible, given the unmistakable infrared signature of the engine plume. Also, if the missile is intercepted in this phase, the debris falls far from the intended target.

As alluded to earlier, however, intercepting a missile during its boost phase is extremely difficult. At most, the boost phase lasts only a few minutes, and terrestrial-based interceptors also need time to boost to altitude as well (acceleration is a key design consideration). Additionally, interceptors and sensors must be based relatively close to the area from which the missile is launched, so their positioning is highly dependent on the accessibility of territory or waters nearby.


U.S. Air Force
An artist’s rendering of two Airborne LasersThe problem of reaction speed in the boost phase is so challenging that it has been one of the principal drivers for directed energy weapons — lasers — dating all the way back to the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In its latest incarnation, the Airborne Laser (ABL) has only now — after a quarter century of experimentation — begun to show potential for operational utility. In Gates’ 2010 budget, however, funding for a second ABL airframe was cut and the program was reduced to more of a long-term research and development effort.

These technical challenges will still be explored, but if Gates has his way, operational fielding of a boost-phase interceptor will be delayed — perhaps significantly — and some programs previously under consideration may never see the light of day as a weapons system. After all, if the concern is the current “rogue” threat from North Korea and Iran, then the ballistic missiles targeted would be highly vulnerable to air strikes while still on the launch pad.

In a larger sense, Gates does not see the more advanced challenges of BMD as near-term problems. They are all desirable capabilities in the long run, but Gates has made his tenure about choices and priorities. His funding proposals for BMD reflect choices to field only mature programs while taking $1.4 billion from the Missile Defense Agency budget to put toward the current fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this is a fight that Gates considers not only the current one but also the kind in which American forces will be engaged in the foreseeable future.

Next: The 2010 defense budget and the fighter mix
23700  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science on: April 08, 2009, 11:48:26 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/...35.html?hpid=topnews


Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate

-Leaders Divided on Whether to Focus On Conventional or Irregular Combat

By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 6, 2009; Page A01

A war that ended three years ago and involved not a single U.S. soldier has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon, one that could alter how the U.S. military fights in the future.

When Israel and Hezbollah battled for more than a month in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the result was widely seen as a disaster for the Israeli military. Soon after the fighting ended, some military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.

Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe. "I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico.

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.

"The Lebanon war has become a bellwether," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. "If you are opposed to transforming the military to fight low-intensity wars, it is your bloody sheet. It's discussed in almost coded communication to indicate which side of the argument you are on."

U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns. Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.

"From 2000 to 2006 Hezbollah embraced a new doctrine, transforming itself from a predominantly guerrilla force into a quasi-conventional fighting force," a study by the Army's Combat Studies Institute concluded last year. Another Pentagon report warned that Hezbollah forces were "extremely well trained, especially in the uses of antitank weapons and rockets" and added: "They well understood the vulnerabilities of Israeli armor."

Many top Army officials refer to the short battle almost as a morality play that illustrates the price of focusing too much on counterinsurgency wars at the expense of conventional combat. These officers note that, before the Lebanon war, Israeli forces had been heavily involved in occupation duty in the Palestinian territories.

"The real takeaway is that you have to find the time to train for major combat operations, even if you are fighting counterinsurgency wars," said one senior military analyst who studied the Lebanon war for the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Currently, the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented Army units from conducting such training.

Army generals have also latched on to the Lebanon war to build support for multibillion-dollar weapons programs that are largely irrelevant to low-intensity wars such as those fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 30-page internal Army briefing, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior Pentagon civilians, recently sought to highlight how the $159 billion Future Combat Systems, a network of ground vehicles and sensors, could have been used to dispatch Hezbollah's forces quickly and with few American casualties.

"Hezbollah relies on low visibility and prepared defenses," one slide in the briefing reads. "FCS counters with sensors and robotics to maneuver out of contact."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to stake out a firm position in this debate as soon as today, when he announces the 2010 defense budget. That document is expected to cut or sharply curtail weapons systems designed for conventional wars, and to bolster intelligence and surveillance programs designed to help track down shadowy insurgents.

"This budget moves the needle closer to irregular warfare and counterinsurgency," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "It is not an abandonment of the need to prepare for conventional conflicts. But even moving that needle is a revolutionary thing in this building."

The changes reflect the growing prominence of the military's counterinsurgency camp -- the most prominent member of which is Petraeus -- in the Pentagon. President Obama, whose strategy in Afghanistan is focused on protecting the local population and denying the Islamist radicals a safe haven, has largely backed this group.

The question facing defense leaders is whether they can afford to build a force that can prevail in a counterinsurgency fight, where the focus is on protecting the civilian population and building indigenous army and police forces, as well as a more conventional battle.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's top officer in the Pentagon, has said it is essential that the military be able to do both simultaneously. New Army doctrine, meanwhile, calls for a "full spectrum" service that is as good at rebuilding countries as it is at destroying opposing armies.

But other experts remain skeptical. "The idea that you can do it all is just wrong," said Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. Soldiers, who are home for as little as 12 months between deployments, do not have enough time to prepare adequately for both types of wars, he said.

Biddle and other counterinsurgency advocates argue that the military should focus on winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and only then worry about what the next war will look like.  Some in this camp say that the threat posed by Hezbollah is being inflated by officers who are determined to return the Army to a more familiar past, built around preparing for conventional warfare.

Another question is whether the U.S. military is taking the proper lessons from the Israel-Hezbollah war. Its studies have focused almost exclusively on the battle in southern Lebanon and ignored Hezbollah's ongoing role in Lebanese society as a political party and humanitarian aid group. After the battle, Hezbollah forces moved in quickly with aid and reconstruction assistance.

"Even if the Israelis had done better operationally, I don't think they would have been victorious in the long run," said Andrew Exum, a former Army officer who has studied the battle from southern Lebanon. "For the Israelis, the war lasted for 34 days. We tend to forget that for Hezbollah, it is infinite."
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