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23701  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tax Policy on: January 13, 2009, 09:39:06 AM
WSJ

Mark it down as the first tax increase of the new Democratic era. The Journal reported yesterday that President-elect Obama and Congressional leaders intend to maintain the estate tax rather than let it expire on schedule in 2010.

They will do so even though their economic stimulus plan is supposed to be about creating millions of new jobs in a hurry. The death tax strikes most heavily at small- and medium-sized family-owned businesses that generate the majority of new American jobs. So hitting these family businesses with a multimillion dollar tax bill when the owner dies won't help job creation.

Republicans are partly to blame here for making this easy for Democrats, thanks to their mistakes in the 2001 tax bill. Rather than repeal the tax immediately, Republicans got bamboozled into agreeing to a 10-year phase-out that eliminates the tax only for a single year. Then the rate goes all the way back in 2011 to the confiscatory 55% rate of the Clinton era, with a mere $1 million exclusion. Republicans never did fix the tax revenue estimating process on Capitol Hill, and this is one price for that failure.

Mr. Obama wants to make the current death tax rate of 45% permanent, along with an exclusion of $3.5 million ($7 million for couples). One issue to watch is whether this exclusion is indexed for inflation, or else over time it will hit more and more average earners who build up a small nest egg over a lifetime. Think Alternative Minimum Tax.

The death tax is supposed to be an easy way to extract revenue from the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who support the tax. It won't. The super wealthy have foundations and other tax dodges to shield themselves from much of the tax. A 2006 Joint Economic Committee (JEC) study found that death tax "liabilities depend on the skill of the estate planner, rather than on capacity to pay." So much for tax fairness.

By contrast, "family-run firms and farms particularly feel the pinch of the estate tax, because they are less likely to have the liquid resources needed to meet their estate tax liabilities." The latest JEC estimate is that the death tax has reduced the stock of capital in the economy by about $847 billion. So let's get this straight: We are said to need an economic stimulus plan that will borrow and spend roughly the same amount of money to replace the capital stock that the estate tax has wiped out. Go figure.

This lost capital reinvestment translates into fewer workers on business payrolls. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former Congressional Budget Office director, estimates in a new study that the economy would create roughly 1.3 million more small business jobs with no death tax rather than with a 45% rate. Foreign governments understand this relationship, which is why they have been slashing their estate taxes in recent years. According to the American Council for Capital Formation, the U.S. has the third highest estate tax in the developed world -- 49% if you add the federal rate and average state rate, just below 50% in Japan and South Korea.

Republicans alone won't have much chance to stop this Obama estate-tax plan, so its fate will hang on Senate Democrats. For years many of those Democrats -- especially in swing states like Arkansas and Montana -- campaigned on the promise to lower or eliminate the estate tax. We'll now find out if they meant it.

 
23702  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: January 13, 2009, 09:29:30 AM
These columns have long believed that a President deserves the cabinet members he wants, barring some major dereliction. So if Barack Obama wants to make Hillary and Bill Clinton part of his governing team, that's his business. We can only hope he understands the Clinton family business he's taking on.

 
APTake Mr. Clinton's post-Presidential fund-raising, the scope of which he finally disclosed in late December after years of refusing and under pressure from the Obama transition. Amid the holidays and economic news, this window on the Clinton political method has received less attention than it deserves. Here is the spectacle of a former President circling the globe to raise at least $492 million over 10 years for his foundation -- much of it from assorted rogues, dictators and favor-seekers. We are supposed to believe that none of this -- and none of his future fund-raising -- will have any influence on Mrs. Clinton's conduct as Secretary of State.

The silence over this is itself remarkable. When Henry Kissinger was invited merely to co-chair the 9/11 Commission, the political left went bonkers about his foreign clients. In this case we have a Secretary of State nominee whose husband may have raised more than $60 million from various Middle East grandees, and Washington reacts with a yawn. Maybe someone will even ask about it at her nomination hearing today.


A Senator should ask, because this has the potential to complicate life for the new President. All the more so because under terms of his agreement with Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton will be able to keep raising foreign cash as long as the donors send the checks to a Clinton entity other than the "Clinton Global Initiative." Instead of being immediately disclosed, future donations will only be made public once a year and the exact amounts and dates of previous donations will never be made public.

While Mr. Clinton will submit some donations from foreign governments to Administration scrutiny, he need only do so if the donations are new or are of a significantly larger magnitude from a previous donation. In other words, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman can keep giving millions without U.S. government review even while Mrs. Clinton is America's chief diplomat. These disclosure limitations suggest that the Clintons seriously out-negotiated Team Obama. We hope the President-elect does better with Iran.

As for potential embarrassment, consider the "up to $5 million" in donations to the Clinton foundation from Gilbert Chagoury, known for his ties to Nigeria's former military dictator, General Sani Abacha. The Journal's John Emshwiller recently noted that unfortunately for Mr. Chagoury, after Abacha died in 1998, "Swiss and other European authorities froze a number of bank accounts, including some related to Mr. Chagoury, as part of an investigation by the Nigerian government and others about whether billions of dollars had been improperly taken out of the country during the Abacha regime, according to news reports and a 2001 British court decision in Abacha-related litigation. Mr. Chagoury later agreed to return funds, estimated to be as much as $300 million, to the Nigerian government in exchange for indemnity from possible charges and to unfreeze his accounts, according to the British court decision."

Another notable donor -- also up to $5 million -- is Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former Ukraine president Leonid Kuchma. Mr. Pinchuk was mentioned in a 2005 Journal story headlined, "Haunted By Suspect Deals Of Old Regime." Suspect indeed. The "privatization" of the country's largest steel plant in a sale to a group including Mr. Pinchuk was later overturned after the country held a democratic election.

And only this month, the New York Times reported that New York developer Robert Congel gave $100,000 to the Clinton foundation in November, 2004, one month after the enactment of a law that gave Mr. Congel access to tax-exempt "green bonds" to build a shopping mall in Syracuse. Mrs. Clinton had supported the law, and within a year of the donation she secured $5 million in taxpayer funds for the complex.

It'd be nice to think Mr. Clinton would forswear this money-hustle while his wife is Secretary of State, but that self-sacrifice would belie his entire career. As for Mrs. Clinton, note the scrutiny that Eric Holder, Mr. Obama's Attorney General nominee, is coming under for his role in aiding pardons for 16 unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists in 1999. But keep in mind the timing of those pardons was intended to help Mrs. Clinton win Puerto Rican support in her 2000 Senate campaign. Someone should ask her at today's hearing about the role she played in that pardon.

In signing up the Clintons -- always two for the price of one -- Mr. Obama is no doubt hoping to unite his party and mute Democratic criticism when mistakes happen. He is also hiring someone whose prominence and allies make her impossible to fire, even as she and her husband have a history of cutting ethical corners. Good luck.

 
23703  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations on: January 13, 2009, 09:03:09 AM
GM:

Please forgive me, but I have taken the liberty of renaming the thread.  Of course I have no problem with the point you are making, but my intuitive sense is that the conversation here will be better this way.

TAC,
Marc
23704  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A friend reports on: January 13, 2009, 08:55:48 AM
A friend in Iraq training Iraqi police reports:

 I leave my hootch at about 0515 to walk down the very dark road to the compound gym.  As I turn onto "Edinburgh Blvd." I can hear a  dog barking.  Very agitated like.  And getting louder.  Within a few seconds I see a white dog somewhat running towards me.  That by itself is enough around here to be  concerned about.  They carry 2 step rabies here.  You get bit, you get to take 2 more steps before you drop dead to the ground.  Of course I am exaggerating but you get the drift.
 
Well a moment after I see the dog I notice a light coming down the street.  It looks like a flashlight.  Only it's like head high.  As the  light and I get nearer I realize it's a head lamp.  Like bicyclists and orienteers wear.  By this time the dog sees me and darts bbehind some parked cars and essentially goes out of sight.  A couple of seconds later I realiize the guy comiing towards me wearing a head lamp is carrying a  freakin' rifle.  Well around here, while rifles are not uncommon, guys walking down the street at 0515 in the morning with one and wearing a head lamp is still odd.    I admit to instant ppucker factor thinkking holy mierda.  Who's gonna believe I got whacked like this?  I have never been so happy in my life (when he was just meters away) to hear a voice, a German voice at that say, "good morning sir."  And he just kept going.  Looking for the dog.  But I think the dog took deep cover when he saw me, on top of seeing some guy with a flashlight and a rifle looking for him.  And I nnever heard a  gunshot.
 
I checked my underwear when I got to the gym....
23705  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington on: January 13, 2009, 08:24:07 AM
"For myself the delay [in assuming the office of the President] may be compared with a reprieve; for in confidence I assure you, with the world it would obtain little credit that my movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm."

--George Washington, comment to General Henry Knox, March 1789
23706  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: January 12, 2009, 10:25:26 PM
CNN's Staged Video Update: Norwegian Doctor Works with Hezbollah

Media | Sun, Jan 11, 2009 at 7:46:52 am PST

At Erik Svansbo’s Sweidsh blog, more information about the pro-terrorist agenda of Mads Gilbert, the doctor seen in that staged video from a Gaza hospital.

The doctor’s colleague actually told the Aftonbladet newspaper that spreading pro-Hamas propaganda is more important to them than their medical work—and the Norwegian organization for which they work is a partner with Hezbollah’s “Martyr Foundation.”
In Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, Mads Gilbert’s norwegian colleague Erik Fosse reported about his work in Gaza:
Two Norwegian doctors have worked hard for seven days to save lives in Gaza. But to report to the outside world about what is happening in the war assessing the more important. - “Our witness function and to convey what is actually happening have been more important,” says the doctor Erik Fosse to VG Nett.

In Sweden’s biggest morning newspaper, columnist Lisa Bjurwald stated that NORWAC cooperates with Hezbollah’s Martyr Foundation:
GILBERT AND HIS medical colleague Erik Fosse seconded by the Norwegian aid organization NORWAC, for which Fosse is boss. NORWAC’s partners include Hezbollah’s Martyr Foundation, which collects and distributes money to suicide bomber’s families.

Not a single mainstream media source has reported the outrageous pro-terrorist views and actions of these doctors, but all have broadcast interviews with them.
23707  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 08:35:00 PM
Does he make any points worthy of your consideration?
23708  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 07:46:07 PM
Sent to me by a former Army man (Nuke, Bio, Chem stuff) who has followed this issue closely. 


=========
I might add that this is the interrogator that the US selected to aid in finding Zarqawi in Iraq, so not just any run of the mill interrogator I would imagine.

X.

I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq
 
By Matthew Alexander
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page B01

I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I'm still alarmed about that today.

I'm not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me -- both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn't work.

Violence was at its peak during my five-month tour in Iraq. In February 2006, the month before I arrived, Zarqawi's forces (members of Iraq's Sunni minority) blew up the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq's majority Shiites, and unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed. Reprisal killings became a daily occurrence, and suicide bombings were as common as car accidents. It felt as if the whole country was being blown to bits.

Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi. What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the interrogators' bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules -- and often break them. I don't have to belabor the point; dozens of newspaper articles and books have been written about the misconduct that resulted. These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.

I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.

Perhaps he should have. It turns out that my team was right to think that many disgruntled Sunnis could be peeled away from Zarqawi. A year later, Gen. David Petraeus helped boost the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces, cutting violence in the country dramatically.

Our new interrogation methods led to one of the war's biggest breakthroughs: We convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.

But Zarqawi's death wasn't enough to convince the joint Special Operations task force for which I worked to change its attitude toward interrogations. The old methods continued. I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished. Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.

I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."

Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there's the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

After my return from Iraq, I began to write about my experiences because I felt obliged, as a military officer, not only to point out the broken wheel but to try to fix it. When I submitted the manuscript of my book about my Iraq experiences to the Defense Department for a standard review to ensure that it did not contain classified information, I got a nasty shock. Pentagon officials delayed the review past the first printing date and then redacted an extraordinary amount of unclassified material -- including passages copied verbatim from the Army's unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army's own Web site. I sued, first to get the review completed and later to appeal the redactions. Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don't even want the public to hear them.

My experiences have landed me in the middle of another war -- one even more important than the Iraq conflict. The war after the war is a fight about who we are as Americans. Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can't force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves. One day, when my grandkids sit on my knee and ask me about the war, I'll say to them, "Which one?"

Americans, including officers like myself, must fight to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them. Other interrogators are also speaking out, including some former members of the military, the FBI and the CIA who met last summer to condemn torture and have spoken before Congress -- at considerable personal risk.

We're told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations -- and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.

I'm actually quite optimistic these days, in no small measure because President-elect Barack Obama has promised to outlaw the practice of torture throughout our government. But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We're better than that. We're smarter, too.
 
23709  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / SEAL hell week on: January 12, 2009, 07:02:11 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67L35y77cWQ&feature=related
23710  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The War on Drugs in Afg reconsidered on: January 12, 2009, 06:49:03 PM
Afghanistan's Drug Problem
by Ted Galen Carpenter


Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America (2008). He is also a contributing editor to The National Interest.

Added to cato.org on December 5, 2008

This article appeared in the National Interest (Online) on December 5, 2008

General James Jones, President-elect Obama's choice as national-security adviser, said earlier this week that a more "comprehensive" strategy was needed to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Part of his comprehensive approach would be to intensify the campaign against the illegal drug trade. That would be a disastrous mistake. The opium trade is such a huge part of Afghanistan's economy, that efforts to eradicate it would alienate millions of Afghans and play into the hands of the terrorists.

Under pressure from Washington, President Hamid Karzai has already called on the Afghan people to wage war against narcotics with the same determination and ferocity that they resisted the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Given the economic and social realities in Afghanistan, that is an unrealistic and potentially very dangerous objective.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America (2008). He is also a contributing editor to The National Interest.

Despite the comments of General Jones, there has long been skepticism in U.S. and NATO military circles about the wisdom of pursuing a vigorous war on drugs in Afghanistan. Commanders correctly believe that such an effort complicates their primary mission: eradicating al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.

There is little doubt that al-Qaeda and other anti-government elements profit from the drug trade. What drug warriors refuse to acknowledge is that the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is a direct result of making drugs illegal, thereby creating an enormous black-market premium. Not surprisingly, terrorist groups in Afghanistan and other countries are quick to exploit such a vast source of potential funding. Absent a worldwide prohibitionist policy, the profit margins in drug trafficking would be a tiny fraction of their current levels, and terrorist groups would have to seek other sources of revenue.

In any case, the United States faces a dilemma if it conducts a vigorous drug-eradication campaign in Afghanistan in an effort to dry up the funds flowing to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Those are not the only factions involved in drug trafficking. Evidence has emerged that officials in Karzai's government, perhaps even the president's brother, are also recipients of largesse from the narcotics trade. Even more important, many of Karzai's political allies are warlords who control the drug commerce in their respective regions. They use the resulting revenues to pay the militias that keep them in power in their fiefdoms and give them national political clout. Some of these individuals backed the Taliban when that faction was in power, switching sides only when the United States launched its military offensive in Afghanistan in October 2001. Antidrug campaigns might cause them to change their allegiance yet again.

In addition to the need to placate cooperative warlords, the U.S.-led coalition relies on poppy growers as spies for information on movements of Taliban and al-Qaeda units. Disrupting the opium crop alienates those vital sources of information.

Washington’s pressure on Karzai is myopic.

The drug trade is a crucial part of Afghanistan's economy. Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply, and opium poppies are now grown in most provinces. The trade is roughly one-third of the country's entire gross domestic product. According to the United Nations, some five hundred nine thousand Afghan families are involved in opium poppy cultivation. Even measured on a nuclear-family basis, that translates into about 14 percent of Afghanistan's population. Given the role of extended families and clans in Afghan society, the number of people affected is much greater than that. Indeed, it is likely that at least 35 percent of the population is involved directly or indirectly in the drug trade. For many of those people, opium poppy crops and other aspects of drug commerce are the difference between modest prosperity (by Afghan standards) and destitution. They do not look kindly on efforts to destroy their livelihood.

Despite those daunting economic factors, the Bush administration has put increased pressure on the Karzai government to crack down on the drug trade, and the incoming Obama administration apparently intends to continue that strategy. The Afghan regime is responding cautiously, trying to convince Washington that it is serious about dealing with the problem without launching a full-blown antidrug crusade that will alienate large segments of the population. It has tried to achieve that balance by focusing on high-profile raids against drug-processing labs—mostly those that are not controlled by warlords friendly to the Kabul government. Afghan officials have been especially adamant in opposing the aerial spraying of poppy fields—a strategy that Washington has successfully pushed allied governments in Colombia and other South American drug-source countries to do.

Washington's pressure on Karzai is myopic. The Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies are rapidly regaining strength, especially in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, perhaps not coincidentally the areas of the most vigorous antidrug campaigns. If zealous American drug warriors alienate hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers, the Karzai government's hold on power could become even more precarious. Washington would then face the unpalatable choice of risking the reemergence of chaos in Afghanistan, including the prospect that radical Islamists might regain power, or sending more U.S. troops to stabilize the situation beyond the reinforcements already contemplated for 2009.

U.S. officials need to keep their priorities straight. Our mortal enemy is al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime that made Afghanistan into a sanctuary for that terrorist organization. The drug war is a dangerous distraction in the campaign to destroy those forces. Recognizing that security considerations sometimes trump other objectives would hardly be an unprecedented move by Washington. U.S. agencies quietly ignored drug-trafficking activities of anticommunist factions in Central America during the 1980s when the primary goal was to keep those countries out of the Soviet orbit. In the early 1990s, the United States also eased its pressure on Peru's government regarding the drug-eradication issue when President Alberto Fujimori concluded that a higher priority had to be given to winning coca farmers away from the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla movement.

The Obama administration should adopt a similar pragmatic policy in Afghanistan and look the other way regarding the drug-trafficking activities of friendly warlords. And above all, the U.S. military must not become the enemy of Afghan farmers whose livelihood depends on opium-poppy cultivation. True, some of the funds from the drug trade will find their way into the coffers of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That is an inevitable side effect of a global prohibitionist policy that creates such an enormous profit from illegal drugs. But alienating pro-Western Afghan factions in an effort to disrupt the flow of revenue to the Islamic radicals is too high a price to pay. General Jones should reconsider his views.
23711  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hamas' children on: January 12, 2009, 04:51:36 PM

Hamas' children

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTGbP55HGi8
23712  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kristol on: January 12, 2009, 12:26:36 PM
Continuity We Can Believe In
By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Published: January 11, 2009

Barack Obama made news Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”: The White House dog will likely be a Labradoodle or a Portuguese water dog.

I’ve got to say I’m a little disappointed. These are nice, friendly, generally obedient breeds (or in the case of the Labradoodle, a crossbreed). But what a missed opportunity! Obama could have made a bolder, edgier choice, like a mini-Australian shepherd. I happen to know one well. He’s very smart, a bit neurotic, devoted to his master (if sometimes confused about whether he or the master is the master), and always looking for people to herd. A mini-Aussie would have fit right into a White House populated by Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, Joe Biden et al. Instead, Obama’s going with a no-drama canine alternative.

And he seems to be going for the no-dramatic-change-in-policy-in-the-White-House alternative as well. Consider Obama’s reaction when George Stephanopoulos played a clip of Dick Cheney counseling Obama not to implement his campaign rhetoric until he’s fully briefed on the details of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy.

“I think that was pretty good advice, which is I should know what’s going on before we make judgments and that we shouldn’t be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric. So I’ve got no quibble with that particular quote,” said Obama. Usually, presidents pretend their campaign positions are more than “campaign rhetoric.” Not Obama.

Obama did note that he differs with Cheney on “some things that we know happened,” including waterboarding. And he did reiterate his pledge to close Guantánamo. But he warned that it was “more difficult than I think a lot of people realize,” explaining that while he was committed to the rule of law, he wasn’t interested “in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.”

And at one point he returned, unbidden, to the much-maligned vice president, commenting, “I thought that Dick Cheney’s advice was good.”

Perhaps the president-elect was just being polite. Or perhaps he just enjoys torturing (metaphorically!) some of his previously most ardent supporters who want Dick Cheney tried as a war criminal.

In fact, Stephanopoulos asked about that. He pointed to a popular question on Obama’s Web site about whether he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to investigate “the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.” Obama stipulated that no one should be above the law. But he praised C.I.A. employees, and said he didn’t want them “looking over their shoulders and lawyering.” He took the general view “that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.”

With respect to the Middle East, Obama didn’t even say we’d gotten much wrong in the past. Asked by Stephanopoulos whether his policy would build on Bush’s or would be a clean break, Obama answered, “if you look not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach.” So: No break.

Meanwhile, the Obama transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, was denying a press report that Obama’s advisers were urging him to initiate low-level or clandestine contacts with Hamas as a prelude to change in policy. Anderson told The Jerusalem Post that the story wasn’t accurate, and reminded one and all that Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements.”

On Iran, Obama did say he’d be taking “a new approach,” that “engagement is the place to start” with “a new emphasis on being willing to talk.” But he also reminded Stephanopoulos that the Iranian regime is exporting terrorism through Hamas and Hezbollah and is “pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” He said his willingness to talk would be combined with “clarity about what our bottom lines are” — one of them presumably being, as he’s said before, no Iranian nuclear weapons. And he demonstrated a sense of urgency — “we anticipate that we’re going to have to move swiftly in that area.”

So: After talks with Iran (if they happen) fail to curb Iran’s nuclear program, but (perhaps) impress other nations with our good faith, we’ll presumably get greater international support for sanctions. That will also (unfortunately) fail to deter Iran. “Engagement is the place to start,” Obama said, but it’s not likely to be the place Obama ends. He’ll end up where Bush is — with the choice of using force or acquiescing to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

And he’ll probably be calling Dick Cheney for advice.
23713  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 12:02:47 PM
Ummm, , , because any of them can choose to leave?
23714  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews on: January 12, 2009, 11:58:12 AM
I am INFIDEL DOG OF THE NEVER AGAIN BRIGADES!!!
23715  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 12, 2009, 09:33:52 AM
As usual, GM makes many powerful points and I agree with most of them.  As usual JDN is often , , , imprecise, specious and excessive in making his points (said with love JDN).  That said, I find myself at odds with some of our practices.  Leaving somebody naked and wet in 50 degrees?  What is the point?  Is there a ticking bomb scenario?  My understanding is no there is not, so I find no justification for this sort of practice.  Likewise the extended standing and sleep deprivation leaves me wondering.

The readings I have done (e.g. The Interrogator's War by someone who interrogated in the early days of Afg) persuade me that this sort of methodology simply is not very effective.  Nor does it leave me proud as an American.
23716  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes: Read between the lines: Dems prepare for open borders on: January 12, 2009, 09:00:49 AM
Wonder why there's no talk of putting the Trillion Dollar Stimulus to work here?  angry angry angry

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

LAREDO, Tex. — Inside a courthouse just north of the Rio Grande, federal judges mete out prison sentences to throngs of 40 to 60 illegal immigrants at a time. The accused, mostly from Central America, Brazil and Mexico, wear rough travel clothes that speak of arduous journeys: flannel shirts, sweat suits, jeans and running shoes or work boots.

Barbara LaWall, a county prosecutor in Arizona, said she did know how much longer she would be able to take on federal cases.
The prosecutors make quick work of the immigrants. Under a Justice Department program that relies on plea deals, most are charged with misdemeanors like improper entry.

Federal prosecutions of immigration crimes nearly doubled in the last fiscal year, reaching more than 70,000 immigration cases in the 2008 fiscal year, according to federal data compiled by a Syracuse University research group. The emphasis, many federal judges and prosecutors say, has siphoned resources from other crimes, eroded morale among federal lawyers and overloaded the federal court system. Many of those other crimes, including gun trafficking, organized crime and the increasingly violent drug trade, are now routinely referred to state and county officials, who say they often lack the finances or authority to prosecute them effectively.

Bush administration officials say the government’s focus on immigration crimes is an outgrowth of its counterterrorism strategy and vigorous pursuit of immigrants with criminal records.

Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.

“I have seen a national abdication by the Justice Department,” said Attorney General Terry Goddard of Arizona.

United States attorneys on the Southwest border, who handle the bulk of immigration prosecutions, usually decline to prosecute drug suspects with 500 pounds of marijuana or less — about $500,000 to $800,000 worth. As a result of Washington’s decision to forgo many of those cases, Mr. Goddard said, local agencies are handling many of them and becoming overwhelmed.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that felony prosecutions of immigration crimes had increased 40 percent from 2000 through 2007 but that most other prosecutions had remained steady. But Justice Department statistics Mr. Carr provided to The New York Times did not include tens of thousands of misdemeanor charges and prosecutions conducted before magistrate judges. Data from the Syracuse group, known as the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, included those cases, which are driving the sharp growth in immigration cases.

Prosecutorial priorities are expected to change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office, said Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and policy institute that is closely associated with the transition team. “There will be a reassessment of whether aggressive targeting of criminal aliens through the use of federal criminal statues is an effective use of scarce law enforcement resources,” Mr. Agrast said.

The Bush administration bolstered its enforcement of immigration crimes by increasing the number of Border Patrol agents from 9,500 in 2004 to 15,000 in 2008 and adding several hundred federal prosecutors assigned to immigration crimes.

On heavy days, single courtrooms along the border process illegal immigrants on an industrial scale, sometimes more than 200 in a day. Misdemeanors usually carry a sentence of a few weeks to six months.

At the federal courthouse in Laredo, George P. Kazen, the senior judge, estimated that under Operation Streamline, the Justice Department program relying on plea deals for efficiency, he had sentenced more people to prison than any other active federal judge. But Judge Kazen said he was concerned about recent reports of the smuggling of firearms from Texas into Mexico by violent drug cartels.

“The U.S. attorney isn’t bringing me those cases,” he said. “They’re just catching foot soldiers coming across the border. They bust some stooge truck driver carrying a load of drugs, and you know there’s more behind it. But they will tell you that they don’t have the resources to drive it and develop a conspiracy case.”

“Every time the government puts a lot of resources on one thing, they’re going to take away from another,” he added.
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Mr. Carr of the Justice Department disagreed, saying that other prosecutions had remained steady, and he defended the emphasis on immigration. “The Department has answered the call of Congress and the states along the Southwest border to pursue immigration enforcement aggressively.”

Skip to next paragraph
Multimedia
Graphic The debate over Justice Department priorities is loudest in this region, as local authorities facing dwindling resources are picking up cases federal prosecutors decline, especially the marijuana cases.

“We do reach a saturation point, so we set thresholds as to what type of cases we will work,” said Tim Johnson, acting United States attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “To the extent that we don’t have resources, we will refer them to local agencies.”

Drug traffickers now routinely break up their loads into smaller quantities to avoid stiffer federal penalties, law enforcement authorities say.

Thomas O’Sullivan, the chief criminal deputy county attorney in Santa Cruz County, Ariz., said that county prosecutors had begun to decline federal agents’ case referrals out of necessity.

In neighboring Pima County, which includes Tucson, Barbara LaWall, the county attorney, said she continued to take on federal cases but did know how much longer she would be able to do so.

“We’re prosecuting Border Patrol cases, national park cases, customs cases, D.E.A. cases — any cases in which they have 499 pounds of marijuana or less, because I don’t want the drug dealers to have no consequences whatsoever,” Ms. LaWall said. “But the rock and the hard place is that my jurisdiction, as most others are, is experiencing some real financial downturns.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who is a frequent critic of Justice Department priorities, said that federal agents also complained often to her about delays in wiretap requests, a hallmark of the kind of complex investigations that used to be a mainstay of federal cases.

“They’ve pulled so many U.S. attorneys off drug crimes and organized crime caseloads that federal agents are trying to get help from local district attorneys because they can’t wait six weeks for a wiretap order,” Ms. Lofgren said. “By then it’s too late to catch the bad guys.”

Federal agents requested 457 wiretaps in 2007, a 14-year low. Meanwhile, state and local prosecutors requested 1,751 wiretaps, more than triple the number in 1993.

Some local prosecutors say they are glad to take on the kinds of challenging cases that federal prosecutors used to handle. Ms. LaWall boasted about a racketeering conspiracy she recently prosecuted involving millions of dollars in illegal methamphetamine sales in Arizona. But Damon Mosler, the San Diego district attorney’s narcotic division chief, said financial constraints often limited his office’s ability to do things, like assisting federal agents monitoring drug trafficking organizations.

“That sometimes means I can’t keep supporting those other jurisdictions,” Mr. Mosler said.

Mr. Goddard, the Arizona attorney general, said the impact of the Justice Department’s focus on immigration crime extended beyond the drug war.

“Where they used to be big players in environmental law, antitrust law, and consumer fraud — now the states are the ones taking on these kinds of cases,” Mr. Goddard said. “These used to be uniquely federal in nature because they are going after multistate institutions conducting cross-border schemes.”

Carol C. Lam, a former United States attorney for the Southern California District and now a deputy general counsel for Qualcomm, was ousted in 2007 after Justice Department officials said she did not prosecute enough illegal immigrants. Ms. Lam, who was involved in the corruption case of Randy Cunningham, a former California Republican congressman now serving federal prison time, said her philosophy led her to choose high-impact cases instead of cases that simply “drove the statistics.”

“If two-thirds of a U.S. attorney’s office is handling low-level narcotics and immigration crimes,” she said, “young prosecutors may not have the opportunity to learn how to do a wiretap case, or learn how to deal with the grand jury, or how to use money laundering statutes or flip witnesses or deal with informants and undercover investigations.”

“That’s not good law enforcement,” she said.

A senior federal prosecutor who has worked on a wide variety of cases along the border said that the focus on relatively simple immigration prosecutions was eroding morale at United States attorney offices.

“A lot of the guys I work with did nothing but the most complex cases — taking down multigenerational crime families, international crime, drug trafficking syndicates — you know, big fish,” said the prosecutor, who did not want to be identified as criticizing the department he works for. “Now these folks are dealing with these improper entry and illegal reentry cases.” He added, “It’s demoralizing for them, and us.”


 
23717  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton; Madison; Reagan on: January 12, 2009, 08:54:29 AM
 
"This process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of President will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications."

--Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68, 14 March 1788

"A universal peace, it is to be feared, is in the catalogue of events, which will never exist but in the imaginations of visionary philosophers, or in the breasts of benevolent enthusiasts." --James Madison

"Is there anyone that isn't concerned with the energy problem? Government caused that problem while we all stood by unaware that we were involved. Unnecessary regulations and prices imposed -- price limits -- back in the '50's are the direct cause of today's crisis. Our crisis isn't because of a shortage of fuel; it's a surplus of government. ...[W]hen they tell us about the conservation -- of course we should save. No one should waste a natural resource. But they act as if we've found all the oil and gas there is to be found in this continent, if not the world. Do you know that 57 years ago our government told us we only had enough for 15 years? And 19 years went by and they told us we only had enough left for 13 more years. Now, we've done a lot of driving since then and we'll do a lot more if government would do one simple thing: get out of the way and let the incentives of the marketplace urge the industry out to find the sources of energy this country needs." --Ronald Reagan
 
23718  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bank of the United States on: January 12, 2009, 02:34:19 AM
At first glance, Citigroup's endorsement last week of a Senate plan to allow bankruptcy judges to break mortgage contracts looks like a scene from "Goodfellas."

 
APSince October, the government has invested $52 billion in Citi, while agreeing to eat up to $249 billion in losses on the bank's toxic real estate portfolio. And so it's really hard to say no when those Washington "investors" call for a favor. In the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie, a restaurant owner realizes too late that a partner big enough to protect him is big enough to take everything he has. As Ray Liotta narrates, "Now he's got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with a bill, to Paulie . . . But now he has to pay Paulie."

The problem with Citi's capitulation is that it means that not just Citi will have to pay the Beltway outfit if the bill passes. Other banks, borrowers and taxpayers will also suffer. In fact, this deal is looking more and more like a case of Citi colluding with its new political owners in order to force competing banks to break contracts and take more losses. This kind of politicized banking is precisely why the Bank of the United States was shut down in the 19th century.

After years of resisting, Citi has suddenly signed off on Senator Dick Durbin's plan to allow judges to rewrite mortgage contracts for borrowers in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Under the Illinois Democrat's plan, which is earmarked for inclusion in the pending stimulus bill, judges could reduce the amount of principal, lower the interest rate, and change the length of the mortgage term.

Until Washington embraced the politics of housing panic, even sensible Democrats recognized that allowing such mortgage "cramdowns" was a terrible idea, sure to punish future borrowers with higher rates as lenders calculate the increased risk. The Congressional Budget Office warned in January 2008 that such a change could result in higher interest rates for homeowners and bigger caseloads in bankruptcy courts. In 2007, 16 House Democrats signed a letter opposing similar legislation.

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They realized that the consequences would fall hardest on those hoping to buy a home, if markets logically respond by setting mortgage interest rates closer to those on, for example, auto loans or credit cards. A bankruptcy judge is now free to reduce amounts owed on many types of consumer debt. For mortgages, the iron-clad requirement to pay off the loan or lose the house is precisely to encourage lower rates on a less risky investment.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens described the importance of this principle in 1993 in Nobelman v. American Savings Bank: "At first blush it seems somewhat strange that the Bankruptcy Code should provide less protection to an individual's interest in retaining possession of his or her home than of other assets. The anomaly is, however, explained by the legislative history indicating that favorable treatment of residential mortgages was intended to encourage the flow of capital into the home lending market."

Mr. Durbin argues that borrowers won't be able to enjoy the benefits of a cramdown until they first make an effort to negotiate new terms with their lenders before declaring bankruptcy. Also, to counter the perception that they are harming the mortgage market, Mr. Durbin and Senate colleagues Chris Dodd and Chuck Schumer are proposing that cramdowns only be available for mortgage contracts signed before their bill becomes law. But of course lenders will have every reason to assume that, whenever the going gets tough, Washington will let future borrowers break contracts too.

Mr. Durbin and his allies have tried and failed several times to break the cramdown opposition, and they believe Citi finally gives them the club to prevail. As Mr. Schumer noted in a press release, "Citigroup's support means that the dam has broken across the banking industry. We now have a real chance to pass this legislation quickly." Talking point number one for Democrats is that if giant Citigroup is for this plan, why would anyone oppose it?

In Today's Opinion Journal
 

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Tehran's Strip Club

TODAY'S COLUMNISTS

The Americas: Dictatorship for Dummies
– Mary Anastasia O'GradyInformation Age: How the Music Industry Can Get Digital Satisfaction
– L. Gordon Crovitz

COMMENTARY

Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap
– Joel I. Klein and Al SharptonTake It From McCain's Advisers: The GOP Would Raise Taxes
– Matt MillerWhy Russia Stokes Mideast Mayhem
– Garry KasparovThe U.S. Votes 'Present' at the U.N.
– John R. BoltonIn fact, Citigroup may support this plan precisely because it isn't a big player in the mortgage market. Sure, it has some dodgy mortgage-backed securities on its books, but they've been written down and the feds cover 90% of losses beyond $29 billion in any case. When it comes to making loans, however, Citi originates less than 10% of American mortgages.

Citi is falling further behind J.P. Morgan Chase, which acquired Washington Mutual; Wells Fargo, which acquired Wachovia; and Bank of America, which bought Countrywide. J.P. Morgan's mortgage business is now twice the size of Citi's, while Wells and BofA each originate almost three times as much dollar volume as Citi. So in agreeing to Mr. Durbin's offer, Citi is also volunteering its competitors to write down more mortgages, giving Citi a comparative advantage.

But the unintended consequences could make even Citi rue the day it got in bed with the goodfellas on Capitol Hill. If the possibility of this refinancing-via-bankruptcy encourages more people to declare bankruptcy, that would mean additional losses on Citi's credit cards and auto loans.

Having spent the past year committing taxpayer trillions to support American banks, Washington now seems not to mind at all if its latest bailout drives up bank losses on mortgages, credit cards and other loans. The Senate could soon make Paulie look like a reasonable business partner.
23719  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Kasparov on: January 12, 2009, 02:27:37 AM
By GARRY KASPAROV
Those looking for a bright side in the global economic meltdown are fond of invoking the old line about finding opportunity in a crisis. But also keep in mind that there are those who will incite a new crisis to escape or distract from the current one. This is the scenario looming in Russia as the Kremlin faces increasing pressure on multiple fronts.

 
APRussia and its fellow petrodictatorships are in dire need of a way to ratchet up global tensions to inflate the sagging price of oil. Petrodictators, after all, need petrodollars to stay in power. The war in Gaza and the otherwise inexplicable skirmish with Ukraine over natural gas have helped the Kremlin in this regard, but $50 a barrel isn't going to be nearly enough. It will have to reach at least $100 and it will have to happen soon.

The effects of the financial crisis are rapidly reaching every level of Russian society. With no avenue for political expression left open to us, Russians are ready to take to the streets. Vladimir Putin has reacted true to form, ramming through new "anti-extremism" laws, building up the interior ministry's paramilitary police forces, and increasing the volume of the xenophobic propaganda in state-controlled media.

The natural place for the Kremlin to find its new crisis is the Middle East. Open hostilities between Iran and Israel would lift the price of oil back to a level that would allow Mr. Putin and his gang to keep funding the crackdown. Israel's anxiety over Iran's nuclear-weapon ambitions is the most vulnerable link in a very weak chain.

There persists a very damaging myth in the West, spouted by politicians and the press, that says Russia's assistance is needed with Iran and other rogue states. In fact, the Kremlin has been stirring this pot for years and has a vested interest in further increasing turmoil in the region. The Hamas/Hezbollah rockets, based on the Russian Katyusha and Grad, are not delivered via DHL from Allah. It doesn't require the guile of a KGB man like Mr. Putin to imagine a way to accelerate Iran's nuclear program, which has been aided by Russian technology and protected by the Kremlin from meaningful international action.

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So the question for Western leaders is whether they doubt Mr. Putin would hesitate to provoke a war in the Middle East. If his regime falls, he and his cronies will face the loss of their immense fortunes and criminal prosecution when their looting is exposed. What are thousands of lives in the Middle East to a Kremlin mob that is openly preparing for the day when they will have to open fire on their own citizens to stay in power?

This "mad bear" theory is even more plausible when you consider how tolerant the current cohort of Western leaders has been regarding the destruction of democratic rights around the world. There appears to be no line the world's despots -- and would-be despots -- cannot cross with impunity.

It is time to bury the failed model of dealing with the world's antidemocratic and bloodthirsty regimes. The real change we must effect in 2009 is toward a new global emphasis on the value of human life. Anything less confirms to the enemies of democratic civilization that everything is negotiable. For Mr. Putin that means democracy; for Hamas it means Israel's existence. The Free World must take those chips off the table.

Israel has the capability to annihilate Gaza to secure the safety of its people, but it chooses not to do so because the Israelis value human life. Does anyone doubt for a moment what Hamas would do if it had the power to wipe out every one of the five-and-a-half million Jews in Israel? Hamas should not be considered less a villain simply because it does not as yet possess the means to fulfill its genocidal agenda.

Terror suspects such as the United Kingdom's "liquid-bomb" plotters and the recently convicted group plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at the Fort Dix military base were arrested before they were able to carry out their lethal plans. Those who call Israel's assault on Gaza disproportionate should write down on a piece of paper exactly how many Israelis should die before the Israeli Defense Forces respond.


The leaders of Europe and the U.S. are hoping that the tyrants and autocrats of the world will just disappear. But dinosaurs like Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chávez and Iran's ayatollahs are not going to fade away by natural causes. They survive because the leaders of the Free World are afraid to take a stand.

Years from now, when Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is either dead or deposed, his legacy will lead to another genocide trial in The Hague. Why don't Western powers, many of whom are condemning Israel's action in Gaza, take action now to stop the extermination in Zimbabwe instead of waiting a decade for a trial? Criticizing Israel is easy while rescuing Zimbabwe is hard. Choosing the path of least resistance is moral cowardice. It does not avoid difficult decisions, it only postpones them.

Mr. Putin's Russia has invaded one neighbor and is threatening to freeze much of Europe by shutting down natural gas pipelines that flow through Ukraine. But since confronting Mr. Putin would take courage, Western leaders pretend his help is needed. This policy of self-deception will have disastrous consequences.

The futile pursuit of balance and neutrality by Western leaders and the media has become nothing more than a cover-up for the gravest of crimes. No doubt they would have judiciously considered the "legitimate grievances" of Stalin, Hitler and bin Laden. The time to stand up to such monsters is before they have achieved their horrific goals, not after.

Mr. Kasparov, leader of The Other Russia coalition, is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal.
23720  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Teheran's Strip Club on: January 12, 2009, 02:23:56 AM
The announcement late Friday that Lloyds bank has admitted to illegally transferring Iranian money into the U.S. deserves more public attention. The deferred prosecution agreement is a victory for the Manhattan District Attorney's office despite backroom foot-dragging from the U.S. Treasury. And it's further evidence of how deadly serious Iran is in seeking to buy parts for its missile and nuclear programs.

 
APUnder Lloyds TSB Group's deferred prosecution agreement with District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and the Justice Department, the British bank will pay a $350 million fine and, most important, share all its records on the Iranian transfers. If Lloyds continues to cooperate, neither the bank nor its executives will be criminally prosecuted for violating the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act, under which the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran.

State-owned Iranian banks Saderat and Melli have been barred from the U.S. financial system for their ties to terrorism and nuclear proliferation, respectively, and were specifically cited in the U.N. Security Council's most recent sanctions order against Iran. But for years, Lloyds and other financial firms helped Iran's rogue banks infiltrate the U.S. Why did Iran's banks need American dollars? In some cases they appear to have purchased items within U.S. borders. In others, law enforcement sources believe the banks were channeling billions in cash through U.S. banks to third countries to parties demanding payment in dollars.

Our sources say the money trail often began at the Iranian Central Bank, which sent funds to banks Melli and Saderat, as well as to Bank Sepah, which a U.S. Treasury official has called "the financial linchpin of Iran's missile procurement network." The U.K. branches or subsidiaries of the Iranian banks would send electronic messages via the Swift banking payments system to Lloyds and possibly other financial houses. Employees at Lloyds would then re-key the data into a new Swift message, carefully removing any reference to Iran or its banks. Employees at the British bank called this "stripping." The sophisticated screening software at American banks would have raised red flags if the true source of the funds had been revealed, but coming from a respected British financial institution, they weren't questioned.

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Lloyds admits to stripping for Iran from 2001-2004, though it may have begun in the 1990s and wasn't detected by law enforcement until early 2007. But one reason for deferring prosecution is that Lloyds's employees began to raise questions and convinced the bank's leadership to end the illegal Iranian transfers via London by April of 2004. Lloyds's offices in Dubai and Tokyo continued to facilitate Iranian money transfers into the U.S. until October of that year. Illegal transfers from Sudan, similarly disguised to evade sanctions but at much lower dollar amounts, occurred through 2007.

We're told that records of transfers back to London suggest that the Iranians sometimes used overnight deposits in the U.S. to take advantage of favorable interest rates. But American officials are also now in a race to track down all of the ultimate destinations. Mr. Morgenthau's office, which has led this effort, suspects that some funds may have been used to purchase raw materials for long-range missiles.

In Today's Opinion Journal
 

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Bank of the United States

TODAY'S COLUMNISTS

The Americas: Dictatorship for Dummies
– Mary Anastasia O'GradyInformation Age: How the Music Industry Can Get Digital Satisfaction
– L. Gordon Crovitz

COMMENTARY

Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap
– Joel I. Klein and Al SharptonTake It From McCain's Advisers: The GOP Would Raise Taxes
– Matt MillerWhy Russia Stokes Mideast Mayhem
– Garry KasparovThe U.S. Votes 'Present' at the U.N.
– John R. BoltonWe're also told that nine other banks are being investigated, including another British bank, a Swiss bank and a German bank. But since any illegal activity does not appear to have involved the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms, there is a question of how cooperative the foreign banks will be. The biggest potential payoff from Lloyds's cooperation should be when the bank identifies for U.S. law enforcers all of the wire transfers that originated in Iran, thus helping the CIA and FBI track them to their final destinations.

The size of this financial cover-up shows the lengths Iran has been going to evade sanctions and expand its military arsenal. Mr. Morgenthau has done a service in releasing the details, all the more so given the strange reticence of the U.S. Treasury. Treasury has long pushed for tough financial sanctions on Iran. Yet in this case it fought against criminal sanction, preferring only a civil judgment, and it argued for a lower fine. One possible explanation is that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson didn't want to offend British regulators by coming down too hard on one of their banks. However, it strikes us that helping Iran cover up its weapons-buying is serious enough to deserve the criminal sanction. Treasury officials declined our repeated invitations to comment.

Iran continues to make progress on its nuclear program, and yesterday the New York Times reported that President Bush refused a recent Israeli request for weapons that could help in any military strike against Tehran's nuclear sites. Whether or not that proves to be an historic mistake, it increases the importance of financial pressure on Iran. President-elect Obama has said he wants to toughen sanctions against Iran, and his new Treasury team can help by cooperating more with Mr. Morgenthau's investigation.

 
23721  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / WSJ on: January 12, 2009, 02:21:06 AM
Lo siento que sea en ingles:

Optimists have long theorized that Venezuela's Hugo Chávez would meet his Waterloo with the burst of the petroleum bubble. But with oil prices down some 75% from their highs last year and the jackboot of the regime still firmly planted on the nation's neck, that theory requires revisiting.

 
APIt is true that popular discontent with chavismo has been rising as oil prices have been falling. The disillusionment is even likely to increase in the months ahead as the economy swoons. But having used the boom years to consolidate power and destroy all institutional checks and balances, Mr. Chávez has little incentive to return the country to political pluralism even if most Venezuelans are sick of his tyranny. If anything, he is apt to become more aggressive and dangerous as the bloom comes off his revolutionary rose in 2009 and he feels more threatened.

Certainly "elections" can't be expected to matter much. Mr. Chávez now controls the entire electoral process, from voter rolls to tallying totals after the polls have closed. Under enormous public pressure he accepted defeat in his 2007 bid for constitutional reforms designed to make him president for life. But so what? That loss allowed him to maintain the guise of democracy, and now he has decided that there will be another referendum on the same question in February. Presumably Venezuela will repeat this exercise until the right answer is produced.


Mary Anastasia O'Grady speaks with James Freeman. (Jan. 12)
All police states hold "elections." But they also specialize in combining the state's monopoly use of force with a monopoly in economic power and information control. Together these three weapons easily quash dissent. Venezuela is a prime example.

The Venezuelan government is now a military government. Mr. Chávez purged the armed forces leadership in 2002 and replaced fired officers with those loyal to his socialist cause. Like their counterparts in Cuba, these elevated comandantes are well compensated. Lack of transparency makes it impossible to know just how much they get paid for their loyalty, but it is safe to say that they have not been left out of the oil fiesta that compliant chavistas have enjoyed over the past decade. Even if the resource pool shrinks this year, neither their importance nor their rewards are likely to diminish.

Mr. Chávez has also taken over the Metropolitan Police in Caracas, imported Cuban intelligence agents, and armed his own Bolivarian militias, whose job it is to act as neighborhood enforcers. Should Venezuelans decide that they are tired of one-man rule, chavismo has enough weapons on hand to convince them otherwise.

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Yet the art of dictatorship has been greatly refined since Stalin killed millions of his own people. Modern tyrants understand that there are many ways to manipulate their subjects and most do not require the use of force.

One measure that Mr. Chávez relies on heavily is control of the narrative. In government schools children are indoctrinated in Bolivarian thought. Meanwhile the state has stripped the media of its independence and now dominates all free television in the country. This allows the government to marinate the poor in Mr. Chávez's antimarket dogma. His captive audiences are told repeatedly that hardship of every sort -- including headline inflation of 31% last year -- is the result of profit makers, middlemen and consumerism.


The Orwellian screen is also used to stir up nationalist sentiment against foreign devils, like the U.S., Colombia and Israel. The audience has witnessed violence in Gaza through the lens of Hamas, and last week Mr. Chávez made a show of expelling the Israeli ambassador from Caracas.

Investments in revolution around South America may have to be pared back as revenues drop. But outreach to Iran and Syria is likely to continue since those relations may serve as a source of financing Mr. Chávez's military buildup. In December, the Italian daily La Stampa reported that it has seen evidence of a pact between Caracas and Tehran in which Iran uses Venezuelan aircraft for arms trafficking and Venezuela gets military aid in return. This month Turkish officials intercepted an Iranian shipment bound for Venezuela that reportedly contained materials for making explosives.

Despite all this, the most effective police-state tool remains Mr. Chávez's control over the economy. The state freely expropriates whatever it wants -- a shopping center in Caracas is Mr. Chávez's latest announced taking -- and economic freedom is dead. Moreover, the state has imposed strict capital controls, making saving or trading in hard currency impossible. Analysts are predicting another large devaluation of the bolivar in the not-too-distant future. The private sector has been wiped out, except for those who have thrown in their lot with the tyrant.

The drop in oil revenues may impoverish the state, but the opposition is even poorer. Organizing a rebellion against a less-rich Chávez remains a formidable task.

Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
23722  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 11, 2009, 11:18:47 PM
I just signed up.


  http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk
23723  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 11, 2009, 07:04:53 PM
 cry cry cry
23724  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Food Chain and Food Politics on: January 11, 2009, 06:59:37 PM
I thought the article made a lot of good points.  One I did not agree with was the aversion to animal protein.  Hunting most certainly is an important of the human paradigm.
23725  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Vehicles, driving skills, crime, related issues on: January 10, 2009, 06:28:38 PM


Excellent case study http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-79K6wpbwY

Footage is so perfect one almost wonders if its staged, but , , ,
23726  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Food Chain and Food Politics on: January 10, 2009, 06:15:58 PM
Know that PJ O'Rourke is more libertarian than conservative and is side-splitting funny.   I think you will find him an enjoyable read.
23727  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 5 pirates drown with ransom on: January 10, 2009, 01:41:46 PM
5 Somali Pirates Whom Hijacked Saudi Supertanker Drown With Ransom

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

January 10, 2009

5 Somali Pirates Drown With Ransom

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 11:12 a.m. ET

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Five of the Somali pirates who released a hijacked oil-laden Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a reported $3 million ransom after their small boat capsized, a pirate and a relative of one of the dead men said Saturday.

Pirate Daud Nure said the boat with eight people on board overturned in a storm after dozens of pirates left the Sirius Star following a two-month standoff in the Gulf of Aden that ended Friday.

He said five people died and three people reached shore after swimming for several hours. Daud Nure was not part of the pirate operation but knew those involved.

Abukar Haji, the uncle of one of the dead men, said the deaths were an accident.

''The boat the pirates were traveling in capsized because it was running at high speed because the pirates were afraid of an attack from the warships patrolling around,'' he said.

''There has been human and monetary loss but what makes us feel sad is that we don't still have the dead bodies of our relatives. Four are still missing and one washed up on the shore.''

Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Naimi said Saturday that the crew of the Sirius Star was safe and that the tanker had left Somali territorial waters and was on its way home.

A Saudi Oil Ministry official said the ship was headed for Dammam, on Saudi Arabia's Gulf coast, but gave no estimated time of arrival. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The Liberian-flagged ship is owned by Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of Saudi oil company Aramco. A spokesman for the Dubai-based Vela, Mihir Sapru, would not provide details of the ship's destination or plans once in port.

''We are very relieved to know that all the crew members are safe and I am glad to say that they are all in good health and high spirits,'' said a statement by Saleh K'aki, president and CEO of Vela. ''Throughout this ordeal, our sole objective was the safe and timely release of the crew. That has been achieved today.''

U.S. Navy photos released Friday showed a parachute, carrying what was described as ''an apparent payment,'' floating toward the tanker. The Sirius Star and its 25-member crew had been held since Nov. 15. Its cargo of crude oil was valued at US$100 million at the time.

The capture was seen as a dramatic demonstration of the pirates' ability to strike high-value targets hundreds of miles offshore.

On the same day the Saudi ship was freed, pirates released a captured Iranian-chartered cargo ship, Iran's state television reported Saturday. The ship Delight was carrying 36 tons of wheat when it was attacked in the Gulf of Aden Nov. 18 and seized by pirates. All 25 crew are in good health and the vessel is sailing toward Iran, the TV report said.

The pirate-infested Gulf of Aden is one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

The U.S. Navy announced this week it will head a new anti-piracy task force after more than 100 ships were attacked last year. NATO and the European Union already have warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden and have intervened to prevent several ships from being captured.

More than a dozen ships with about 300 crew members are still being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia, including the weapons-laden Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina, which was seized in September.

The multimillion dollar ransoms are one of the few ways to earn a living in the impoverished, war-ravaged country. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and nearly half of its population depends on aid.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009...y.html?_r=1&hp
23728  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Libel Tourism on: January 10, 2009, 09:50:53 AM
Second post of the morning:

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and BRUCE D. BROWN
The farce of foreigners suing Americans for defamation in overseas forums, where the law does not sufficiently protect free speech, is so well-known that it has a fitting nickname: libel tourism. And London is its hot destination. Particularly since 9/11, foreign nationals have cynically exploited British courts in an attempt to stifle any discussion by American journalists about the dangers of jihadist ideology and terrorist supporters.

At long last, U.S. politicians are waking up to the dangers posed by libel tourism, which threatens both the First Amendment and American national security. The trouble is that their efforts, though well-intentioned, are relatively toothless and constitutionally problematic.

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Early last year, New York State passed the nation's first anti-libel tourism law. The law allows state courts to assert authority over foreign citizens based solely on a libel judgment they have obtained abroad against a New Yorker.

The statute's passage was prompted by libel tourism's most frequent flier, Saudi bigwig Khalid bin Mahfouz. He brought a claim in England against author Rachel Ehrenfeld, who alleged in a 2003 book that the international moneyman also financed terrorism. Although "Funding Evil" was published in the U.S., Mr. Mahfouz relied upon (and the British court accepted) the fact that the book was purchased by a small number of British readers on the Internet as sufficient grounds to sue Ms. Ehrenfeld in England.

Under the New York law, the target of a foreign libel suit does not even have to defend himself overseas. If a judgment is entered against him, he can seek a declaration that the foreign tribunal did not live up to First Amendment standards and therefore its ruling cannot be enforced against his U.S. assets. While emotionally satisfying, it does not protect a libel tourism victim's assets outside the U.S.

Moreover, the New York law takes a constitutionally dubious approach to the acquisition of personal jurisdiction over libel tourists. U.S courts have never before claimed jurisdiction over individuals who have no ties whatsoever to the U.S., other than suing an American in a foreign court.

Rep. Peter King (D., N.Y.) and Sens. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) have been advancing federal libel tourism bills. Unfortunately these bills, which are modeled on New York's, carry the same constitutional risks.

It is a mistake to respond to libel tourism by seeking to catch foreign plaintiffs with no U.S. contacts in our jurisdictional net. This smacks of the same legal one-upmanship that makes libel tourism itself so odious.

It is high time for a strategy that would stop libel tourists dead in their tracks, without sacrificing constitutional values. The answer lies not in stretching claims of personal jurisdiction, but in federal legislation that would enable American publishers to sue for damages, including punitive damages, for the harms they have suffered. A proper federal libel tourism bill would punish conduct that takes place overseas -- in this case, the commencement of sham libel actions in foreign courts -- by utilizing the well-recognized congressional authority to apply U.S. laws extraterritorially when compelling interests demand it. The Alien Tort Statute, for example, gives U.S. courts subject matter jurisdiction over brutal acts that violate the "law of nations" wherever they may occur. More recently, Congress has created civil remedies to enable victims of international terrorism and human trafficking to sue in our courts for money damages.

But in devising a robust, substantive cause of action for damages -- a bludgeon that Messrs. King, Specter and Lieberman appropriately include in their bills -- Congress should not change normal personal jurisdiction rules. In order to sue foreigners under the federal libel tourism bill and remain consistent with due process, these individuals would have to visit or transact business in the U.S. in order for the U.S. courts to acquire jurisdiction over them. (Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader charged with genocide, was famously served with an Alien Tort complaint while leaving a Manhattan hotel restaurant.)

Under such a law, U.S. courts would be asked to evaluate, at the beginning stages of a foreign lawsuit, whether the plaintiffs are seeking to punish speech protected under the First Amendment. This type of early intervention by judges has worked very well in the 26 states that have passed laws to discourage frivolous libel suits here in the U.S.

To give this approach sufficiently sharp teeth, the damages awarded in libel tourism cases would have to be very substantial. While it is somewhat unusual in tort law to set statutory damages, it presents no constitutional problems. Accordingly, an effective federal bill should give courts the authority to impose damages that amount to double any foreign judgment, plus court costs and attorneys' fees (in both proceedings) for good measure. Habitual libel tourists who obviously seek to impair Americans' First Amendment freedoms should face even stiffer fines. Such a robust response would make foreign libel adventures fiscally disadvantageous, and should deter most overseas suits from ever being filed.

For libel tourists our courts can't fairly touch, it is better to leave them alone than to overreach and tread into unconstitutional territory. But they may yet pay a price. Availing themselves the pleasures of American life could one day be costly. As Karadzic learned, if you violate U.S. law, don't dine out in Manhattan.

Messrs. Rivkin and Brown are partners in the Washington, D.C., office of Baker Hostetler LLP.
23729  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: President Gulliver on: January 10, 2009, 09:42:09 AM
Barack Obama's cabinet choices are understandably getting most media attention, but everyone knows policy is also made by the sub-cabinet. So we think more public scrutiny should be drawn to Mr. Obama's choice of Dawn Johnsen to lead one of the executive branch's most important legal offices. Her appointment makes sense for a President Gulliver, but not for a Commander in Chief fighting terrorists.


Ms. Johnsen became famous in the left-wing blogosphere as an especially arch critic of the Bush Administration's war on terror. As an Indiana University law professor, she took to the Web with such lawyerly analysis as "rogue," "lawless," "outrage," and that's the mild stuff. Now she's been nominated to run the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which interprets the law for the entire executive branch.

One of the OLC's main duties is to defend the Presidency against the inevitable encroachment of the judiciary and Congress on Constitutional authority, executive privilege, war powers, and so forth. Ms. Johnsen knows this, or should, having served as acting OLC head in the Clinton Administration between 1997 and 1998. The office has since become all the more central in a war on terror that has been "strangled by law," to quote Jack Goldsmith, a former Bush OLC chief.

Yet Ms. Johnsen seems to think her job isn't to defend the Presidency but to tie it down with even more legal ropes. She has written that "an essential source of constraint is often underappreciated and underestimated: legal advisors within the executive branch." And in touting her qualifications, the Obama transition cited her recent law review articles "What's a President to Do?: Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration's Abuses"; and "Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power."

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In other words, Mr. Obama has nominated as his main executive branch lawyer someone who believes in diminishing the powers of the executive branch. This is akin to naming a conscientious objector as the head of the armed forces, or hiring your wife's divorce lawyer to handle your side of the settlement too.

It's also a radical reinvention of the Framers' view that the three branches of the federal government would vigorously assert their powers to achieve the proper political balance. For this reason, OLC's longstanding jurisprudence -- reaching across Administrations of both parties -- emphasizes an expansive reading of Presidential authority. For example, the office has always filed opinions opposing the 1973 War Powers Act, which sought to limit the chief executive's ability to send military forces abroad. Such opinions covered both Bill Clinton's intervention in Kosovo and George H.W. Bush's in Somalia.

Ms. Johnsen's work ignores all of this in an attempt to assail the entire scope of Bush counterterrorism policy, from surveillance to detention to interrogation. She claims that the OLC "misinterpreted relevant constitutional authorities, particularly when seeking to justify actions otherwise prohibited by law." She pays special attention to John Yoo's August 2002 OLC memorandum that set down the legal limits for interrogation, which she calls "the Torture Opinion."

In Today's Opinion Journal
 

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Muslims Against HamasA Regulator With Promise – Really

Ms. Johnsen accuses Mr. Yoo of "seeking maximum flexibility -- that is, the ability to use the most extreme methods possible without risking criminal liability -- in interrogations of suspected al Qaeda operatives." She means this as a condemnation. But this in fact is the OLC's job -- to explore the legal boundaries of vague statutes and treaties to define where lawful interrogation ends and torture begins. You can debate that Mr. Yoo went too far, as Mr. Goldsmith later did when the Bush Administration withdrew the opinion. But Mr. Yoo was acting in good faith in response to the CIA's request for legal clarity, while leaving the policy choices to the war fighters.

And that's where Ms. Johnsen's premises are most dangerous. "In considering whether a proposed action is lawful," she writes, "the proper OLC inquiry is not simply whether the executive branch can get away with it," in the sense of writing opinions that can "withstand judicial review." She sees the OLC staff not as legal technicians working on behalf of the President but as a policy outfit free to quash Presidential actions with which it happens to disagree.

This is far from an academic exercise, because the OLC's advice is traditionally binding for the executive branch except in rare cases where it is overruled by the President or Attorney General. To the extent that such a mentality seeps across the executive branch, it will begin to make our spies and other war fighters risk-averse and overcautious. This is precisely what happened during the Clinton years after Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick's infamous 1995 memo instructed FBI agents and federal prosecutors to go "beyond what the law requires" in limiting their collaboration against al Qaeda.

Suffocating our terror fighters with excessive legal caution can only impair the difficult task of defending a free society that believes in the rule of law from terrorists who believe in neither freedom nor law. If President Obama matures under the burden and accountability of stopping the next terror attack, he may come to regret having Dawn Johnsen around.
23730  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan on: January 10, 2009, 09:16:20 AM
http://www.michaelyon-online.com/red-flag.htm
23731  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Bush Presidency on: January 09, 2009, 11:55:29 PM
Doug:

Thank you for raising the level of the discussion.
23732  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Stock Market on: January 09, 2009, 08:27:52 PM
That is both funny and scary.  shocked
23733  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Scott Grannis! on: January 09, 2009, 02:05:39 PM
The original is at http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/  so if there is any problem with the formatting here, then go there.

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

Obama's fatal conceit

Obama gave a dire speech today at George Mason University. It sounded impressive, but only if you take it at face value and fail to check the facts or question the logic. He was in full-blown Keynesian mode, arguing that massive government spending is the only thing that can save the day. Here are some key quotes, followed by my rebuttals:

We start 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime - a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks.

As I've been pointing out for some time, the economic and financial fundamentals have actually been improving over the last few weeks.

Manufacturing has hit a twenty-eight year low.
He's evidently referring to the ISM manufacturing index. But that index does not measure manufacturing activity, it only measures the percent of respondents who see things getting worse or better; it's a diffusion index, not a level index. Industrial production, as measured by the Fed, is down only 6% from its all-time high, and is 83% above the level of 28 years ago. This is a gross misrepresentation of reality. Shame on all those intelligent economic advisors who let him get away with such a blatant twisting of the statistics.

Many businesses cannot borrow or make payroll.
The economy is not suffering from a shortage of credit, as I've noted repeatedly. All measures of lending to U.S. businesses show rising trends. Bank lending is at or near all-time highs.

We arrived at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington, DC.

Corporate boardrooms had very little to do with this crisis. The principal causes of the crisis stretch back to the creation by Congress of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, unique for-profit enterprises that were encouraged to take on increasing levels of risk that were ultimately guaranteed by taxpayers. It was not for lack of regulation that everything came tumbling down—there were plenty of rules in place and plenty of regulatory bodies, but they either failed to act or were discouraged from acting by politicians. Congress bears a heavy burden of the responsibility for the crisis, yet Congress is now being put in charge of fixing the mess.

We cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government ... can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy - where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.

The first clause is absolutely correct, but then he suspends disbelief and reverts to flawed Keynesian thinking and contradicts himself. Spending is not the source of economic growth; were it so we could simply spend our way to prosperity. We can only consume what we produce. Recovery efforts should be directed at increasing work, investment, and production, not at trying to stimulate consumer spending
We need to put money in the pockets of the American people, create new jobs, and invest in our future.

Every dollar the government puts in the pockets of the people is a dollar that comes from the pocket of someone else; how can that result in a bigger or stronger economy? How can the government create jobs that are better or more productive than those created by the private sector? How can government decide what investments are going to produce attractive returns for our future?

We will modernize more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.

Is "modernizing" federal buildings going to produce a return on investment superior to what the private sector could get if its money were not appropriated? I doubt it. Is improving the energy efficiency of a small sector of our economy going to make any difference at all to the planet Earth?

To get people spending again, 95% of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut.
The majority of working families pay little or no income tax, so this is not a tax cut he's talking about, it's a handout. This is likely to restrain the economy's ability to grow, since it rewards those who aren't producing a lot and punishes those who are (since they won't receive the handout and will have to foot the bill for it). And besides, we've tried rebates before and the results have been dismal. It's almost as bad as throwing money down the drain.

We'll continue the bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance.
This will only delay the onset of recovery, since it reduces the incentive of the unemployed to find work. We've done this every time the economy slows down, and the main result is to simply increase the ranks of the unemployed. It's a nice humanitarian gesture, but like every government action, it leads in many cases to unintended consequences.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won't just throw money at our problems - we'll invest in what works.

The fatal conceit of politicians is on display here: how in the world are government bureaucrats going to decide "what works?" A handful of people are going to be making multi-billion dollar decisions using taxpayer money. The potential for waste, fraud, and inefficiency is staggering.

I could go on, but for now, 'nuff said.
23734  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Working Pit Bull on: January 09, 2009, 01:56:18 PM
http://www.workingpitbull.com/
23735  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 09, 2009, 01:09:40 PM
I'd love to spread that around.  Is there a URL that goes with it?
23736  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / USMC Capt. Brent Morel on: January 09, 2009, 11:03:22 AM
Profiles of valor: U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Brent Morel
United States Marine Corps Capt. Brent Morel of Martin, Tennessee, was a platoon commander with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division during the first offensive in Fallujah as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On 7 April 2004, Morel's platoon encountered enemy fire from more than 50 insurgents. A rocket-propelled grenade crippled the lead vehicle in the convoy, and the platoon was besieged with mortar and machine gun fire. After ordering the last two vehicles to establish flanking positions for the convoy, Morel left his vehicle to lead an assault across an open field to maneuver into firing positions. His assault eliminated several enemy fighters. But seeing his fellow Marines pinned by enemy fire, he again left the safety of his position in order to counterattack. It was then that he issued his final order: "Cover me. We're assaulting through." Though he took out more enemy fighters, he fell mortally wounded. The Marines rallied and defeated the ambush, killing more than 30 terrorists.

When informed of his son's death, Mike Morel could only ask, "Was he in the front?" Yes, he was. He replied, "I always knew that's where he would be." For his bravery, Capt. Morel was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. A second Navy Cross went to Sgt. Willie L. Copeland III, who fought alongside Morel that day.
23737  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / John Adams on: January 09, 2009, 09:36:11 AM
"Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to standing laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; and to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary. But no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people of this commonwealth are not controllable by any other laws than those to which their constitutional representative body have given their consent."

--John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776
23738  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Agradecimiento de cada dia on: January 09, 2009, 12:00:28 AM
Agradezco tener un buen y capaz amigo quien me va a ayudar con un problema de negocio.
23739  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Update on the cutoff on: January 08, 2009, 11:25:05 PM
Geopolitical Diary: From a Chill to a Freeze in Europe
January 8, 2009
Related Links
Russia, Ukraine: Update on the Natural Gas Cutoff

Russia raised the stakes in the natural gas crisis with Ukraine even higher on Wednesday by shutting off the last of the supplies piping into the country. The standoff has now lasted seven days, with a dozen states in Central, Southern and Eastern Europe seeing their imports shut down 100 percent, and a handful of other countries — like Germany and Italy — seeing the bulk of their supplies disappear.

Russia has changed the game from a simple threat to a possible real crisis. During Russia’s 2006 cutoff of natural gas to Ukraine (and subsequently to Europe), Moscow never cut supplies fully, and it only reduced the flow for two days, so the move had no real impact. It was meant to get Europe’s attention, not to concretely harm the Continent. Russia was letting the West know that it was time for Moscow to get Ukraine back under its umbrella, something that has been shaking out over the past few years.

The current crisis looked as if it were following the same path — until Wednesday, when Russia did not just prolong the cutoff, but expanded it into a full shutdown of supplies through Ukraine. Some European states — Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Bosnia — are shutting down industrial complexes and decreasing access to centralized heating, all while an arctic front moves across the Continent.

So far, the cutoff’s real effects are being felt only in the less-influential European states. Russia’s next step would be to prolong the cutoff, causing industries to close and heating supplies to dwindle in the more influential countries, like Germany. Russia might be just testing out its energy lever on the smaller states to see how long it takes to break them, before threatening (or actually inflicting) the same treatment on the more critical states.

The Russians have the Europeans at break point. Europe can’t bear a Russian natural gas cutoff for much longer. Even with all its energy diversification plans on the table, the fact is that Europe is still heavily dependent on Russian supplies for the next few years. The Europeans have issued ultimatums, held meetings and sent warnings to the Russians, but there is nothing concrete that they can do right now.

Europe’s next practical step would be accommodation. And the main target the Russians want the West to back off on is still Ukraine. A deal on scaling down Western influence in Ukraine won’t be struck within a day, but a more solid and prolonged reversal within Ukraine will be seen — most likely with the end result of a pro-Russian government being installed.

It seems that discussions on this topic already are under way; Stratfor has heard rumors that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held a phone conference during the night. Merkel is struggling to make sure that the trap Russia has laid by freezing the Europeans isn’t sprung on Germany, and, at the moment, the price for such assurance is Ukraine.

But this does not mean Russia won’t ask for more than just Ukraine in the near future. Russia has a long laundry list of things it wants to accomplish before it is countered by a freed-up United States, including locking Germany into a neutral stance, restoring its hegemony in the Caucasus, starting up a crisis in the Baltic states and intimidating Poland. But for now (and only now), Russia will settle for Ukraine.
23740  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: January 08, 2009, 09:50:16 PM
Excellent discussion Doug.

I might add that the nature of the spending matters too.  Maintaining and developing infrastructure (our electrical system is BADLY out of date for example, deep problems loom with water supplies as well) is very different than handing out money to people who pay no income taxes as President BO intends to do with his "tax cuts".
23741  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: January 08, 2009, 05:13:43 PM
My understanding is that the true point is not deficit or not, but governmental burden on the economy.  Taxes might be paying for all spending, but if the overall % of GDP is too high, that is the problem.
23742  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Movie Fights on: January 08, 2009, 03:41:27 PM
http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi128057625/
23743  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD WSJ on: January 08, 2009, 12:44:04 PM
He Can Outsmart Harry Reid, But Can He Outsmart Voters?

Yesterday, Senator-in-waiting Roland Burris made clear to reporters that he hasn't cut any deal with Senate Democrats to refrain from running for election in his own right in exchange for being seated as an appointive Senator. The Illinois Democrat indicates he doesn't intend to be a placeholder and will run for a full six-year term in 2010, when he turns 73.

What kind of a candidate would Mr. Burris be? On the one hand, he has exhibited both craftiness and chutzpah this week that would serve him well in politics. Given the power of incumbency, it would be tough to lose a March 2010 Democratic primary unless a marquee name took him on one-on-one.

The general election may be a different story. Mr. Burris has a weak political team led by Fred Lebed, his partner in a lobbying firm, who managed Mr. Burris's recent failed races for governor. Don Rose, a noted Democratic political consultant, told Politico.com that Mr. Burris is often hurt by his "clownish ways" and is a weak campaigner. He would also still retain the stain of having been appointed by Governor Rod Blagojevich, who will likely be out of office and disgraced by the time of the 2010 election.

For that reason, Republicans are preparing for a rare competitive race in normally Democratic Illinois. Their leading candidate for the Senate is Mark Kirk, a five-term congressman from the northern suburbs of Chicago who has a history of winning Democratic and moderate voters in a swing seat.

Mr. Kirk, who has $5 million in campaign funds in the bank, won't be hurt by his high-profile return last week after serving with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, the first time a U.S. House Member has been deployed to a combat zone since World War II.

Although he has a strong interest in foreign affairs, Mr. Kirk says he knows the real challenge in Illinois is cleaning up the state's corruption problem. "Over the next two years, we are going to take on the State of Illinois, the most corrupt state of the union and clean up the Blagojevich excesses," he told reporters last year. It wasn't said, but he may well view one of those excesses to be Mr. Burris and his likely occupancy of a U.S. Senate seat.

-- John Fund

Harry Reid Is Losing

The good news for Majority Leader Harry Reid is that he has more Democrats than ever in the Senate. The bad news is that some of his Democratic colleagues are wondering about his political skills. Mr. Reid found himself completely outmaneuvered this week by Roland Burris, the man appointed to the Senate by scandal-tarred Governor Rod Blagojevich. Left-wing bloggers openly made fun of him, with Jane Hamsher declaring she would love nothing more than to play poker with Mr. Reid.

Other Democrats are openly acknowledging Mr. Reid was outflanked. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told MSNBC's "Hardball" that he could not help but admire the brilliance of the Blagojevich ploy.

"You gotta hand it to Blagojevich," said Mr. Dean said. "What a maneuver! What a maneuver! When his back was against the wall, he outsmarted a lot of people." Mr. Dean also acknowledged the obvious, that the governor will "probably end up in really bad trouble," but in a final burst of enthusiasm Mr. Dean added, "But he'll have something to tell his grandchildren."

Mr. Reid now finds himself preparing to defend his Senate seat in Nevada. While voters in his state trended Democratic last fall, Mr. Reid isn't popular back home and will be vulnerable to a GOP challenge. Like former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who lost a re-election bid in 2004, Mr. Reid may be further challenged by having to push through high-visibility liberal legislation that will further erode his standing at home.

-- John Fund

Blago Is Winning

With President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid now climbing down from their opposition to seating Roland Burris in the U.S. Senate, one thing is becoming clear: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is winning.

On Dec. 9, when Mr. Blagojevich was led from his home in handcuffs and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald unveiled a criminal complaint detailing allegations that the governor conspired to sell Mr. Obama's Senate seat, it was hard to imagine the Democrat would be able to withstand the intense pressure to resign for long. But Mr. Blagojevich has proven to be an adept political infighter.

He's done three things to turn the tide. The first was to reshape the battleground by asking the people of Illinois to give him the same presumption of innocence provided anyone else accused of wrongdoing. His quoting of Rudyard Kipling at a press conference has been roundly pilloried on late-night TV, but the governor's remarks have appealed to voters' basic sense of fairness. The second was to hire a crack legal team headed up by uberlawyer Ed Genson, who quickly demanded that the state cover the governor's legal bills. This at first seemed a shameless move, but reinforced the argument that the governor was wrongly targeted because of the office he holds (helped by whispers that Prosecutor Fitzgerald himself may have political ambitions).

The third thing the governor did was decide to fight for every inch of ground. The state legislature is moving to impeach him, but the governor is forcing the House first to conduct a mini trial. His lawyers also have criticized House leaders for bowing to Mr. Fitzgerald's wishes in not making some information and witnesses available for public inspection. "We're fighting shadows," Mr. Genson complained to reporters. Likewise, the governor's decision to appoint Mr. Burris was shocking to Washington leaders who might have hoped that Blago would simply pack his bags and disappear. But it forced a public admission at the highest levels of government that Mr. Blagojevich remains the governor of Illinois with full powers of the office.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fitzgerald has yet to indict the governor on a single charge, leading to accusations that he was too quick to unveil his evidence consisting mostly of conversational bluster. If Mr. Fitzgerald fails to bring an indictment, the governor will almost certainly survive in office. And if he fails to win a conviction, the legislature will likely be unable to remove Blago.

-- Brendan Miniter

Quote of the Day

"[F]or the various 'green' politicians who see a nationalized U.S. auto industry as the path toward ubiquitous hybrids, their stridency may well be environmentalism's Vietnam. Whatever the truth about 'global warming,' one sure way to turn voters off when it comes to the theory of climate change will be for our nationalized carmakers to produce green cars that constantly need repairs" -- economist John Tamny, on the poor record of government-owned auto makers, writing at RealClearMarkets.com.

Bair's Reward

"There are some people in the Republican Party who resent the idea of helping others," FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair sniffed recently to the New York Times. Ms. Bair, who has become a discordant Bush administration voice in favor of a taxpayer bailout of underwater homeowners, sounds like nothing so much as a community organizer, which may explain her appeal to President Obama, who reportedly will ask her to stay on in the new administration.

But the President-elect should keep in mind Ms. Bair actually has a serious job to do. According to the FDIC, the mission of her agency is "insuring deposits, examining and supervising financial institutions, and managing receiverships." This job description says nothing about using taxpayer money to subsidize homeowners in an attempt to prevent foreclosures, potentially at a high cost in future default losses judging from the appalling experience so far of modified mortgages.

But the FDIC now directs visitors to a study by Credit Suisse finding that default rates would likely be only 15% under modifications featuring only interest-rate reductions. Not so fast. Even Rod Dubitsky, lead author of the Credit Suisse report, says the 15% rate is "not a really good benchmark" for analyzing the Bair plan, since it applies to borrowers who were current when their loans were modified, not the already delinquent borrowers Ms. Bair would target. Mr. Dubitsky also foresees high failure rates if lenders don't do loan-by-loan analysis when modifying mortgages. Yet Ms. Bair's plan offers a "streamlined" process which skips rigorous evaluation of a borrower's assets and non-mortgage debt.

By keeping on Ms. Bair, Mr. Obama would be all but committing himself to a mortgage bailout. He'll likely find it's not just Republicans who resent having their tax dollars shoveled at a no-win attempt to "help" the mortgage market. The Bush Administration has been unstinting in throwing hundreds of billions at the financial crisis, but recognizes (as do most analysts) that a housing bailout is nearly impossible to design that wouldn't just encourage more homeowners to default.
23744  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Like a virgin on: January 08, 2009, 10:44:07 AM
WSJ
Like a Virgin: The Press Take On Teenage Sex Yes, attitudes do make a difference in behavior.
By WILLIAM MCGURN


The chain reaction was something out of central casting. A medical journal starts it off by announcing a study comparing teens who take a pledge of virginity until marriage with those who don't. Lo and behold, when they crunch the numbers, they find not much difference between pledgers and nonpledgers: most do not make it to the marriage bed as virgins.

Like a pack of randy 15-year-old boys, the press dives right in.

"Virginity Pledges Don't Stop Teen Sex," screams CBS News. "Virginity pledges don't mean much," adds CNN. "Study questions virginity pledges," says the Chicago Tribune. "Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds," heralds the Washington Post. "Virginity Pledges Fail to Trump Teen Lust in Look at Older Data," reports Bloomberg. And on it goes.

In other words, teens will be teens, and moms or dads who believe that concepts such as restraint or morality have any application today are living in a dream world. Typical was the lead for the CBS News story: "Teenagers who take virginity pledges are no less sexually active than other teens, according to a new study."

Here's the rub: It just isn't true.

In fact, the only way the study's author, Janet Elise Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins University, could reach such results was by comparing teens who take a virginity pledge with a very small subset of other teens: those who are just as religious and conservative as the pledge-takers. The study is called "Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers," and it was published in the Jan. 1 edition of Pediatrics.

The first to notice something lost in the translation was Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of both the Red Cross and the National Institutes of Health. Today she serves as health editor for U.S. News & World Report. And in her dispatch on this study, Dr. Healy pointed out that "virginity pledging teens were considerably more conservative in their overall sexual behaviors than teens in general -- a fact that many media reports have missed cold."

What Dr. Healy was getting at is that the pledge itself is not what distinguishes these kids from most other teenagers. The real difference is their more conservative and religious home and social environment. As she notes, when you compare both groups in this study with teens at large, the behavioral differences are striking. Here are just a few:

- These teens generally have less risky sex, i.e., fewer sexual partners.

- These teens are less likely to have a teenage pregnancy, or to have friends who use drugs.

- These teens have less premarital vaginal sex.

- When these teens lose their virginity they tend to do so at age 21 -- compared to 17 for the typical American teen.

- And very much overlooked, one out of four of these teens do in fact keep the pledge to remain chaste -- amid much cheap ridicule and just about zero support outside their homes or churches.

Let's put this another way. The real headline from this study is this: "Religious Teens Differ Little in Sexual Behavior Whether or Not They Take a Pledge."


Now, whatever the shock that might occasion at CBS or the Washington Post, it comes as no surprise to parents. Most parents appreciate that a pledge of virginity -- a one-time event that might be made at an emotional moment in a teen's life -- is not some talisman that will magically shield their sons and daughters from the strong and normal desires that grow as they discover their sexuality. What these parents hope to do is direct these desires in a way that recognizes sex as a great gift, which in the right circumstances fosters genuine intimacy between a man and a woman and at its freest offers the possibility of new life.

This is not the prevailing view, of course. And these parents know it. Far from conformists living in a comfortable world where their beliefs are never challenged, these families live in an environment where most everything that is popular -- television, the movies, the Internet -- encourages children to grow up as quickly as possible while adults remain locked in perpetual adolescence.

Nor do these families believe their children are better than other kids. Unlike the majority of health experts and their supporters in the press, however, they don't believe that the proper use of the condom is the be all and end all. For these parents, the good news here is that the striking behavioral differences between the average American teen and the two teen groups in this study show that homes and families still exert a powerful influence.

That, alas, is not something you're likely to read in the headlines. For when it comes to challenging the conventional wisdom on issues of sexuality, the American media suddenly become as coy as a cloistered virgin.

Write to MainStreet@wsj.com
23745  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: We are fcuked on: January 08, 2009, 10:18:00 AM
Remember when Dick Cheney was pilloried for reportedly saying, earlier this decade, that "deficits don't matter"? We recall reading any number of press releases denouncing the Vice President for supporting tax cuts that contributed to short-term deficits but also helped the economy grow until the deficits shrank nearly away. Yet somehow none of those same voices are objecting now that the government is spending its way into deficits that are so large they dwarf any during peacetime in U.S. history.

The Congressional Budget Office released its latest budget forecast yesterday, and we now really do have red ink as far as the eye can see. Thanks to a 6.6% decline in revenues due to recession, a spending increase of some $500 billion or 19%, and assorted federal bailouts, the U.S. deficit for fiscal 2009 (ending September 30) will nearly triple to $1.19 trillion. That's 8.3% of GDP, which CBO says "will most likely shatter the previous post-World War II record high of 6.0 percent posted in 1983." It certainly blows away any deficit this decade, not to mention the Reagan years when smaller deficits were the media cause celebre.

But there's more. None of that includes the new fiscal "stimulus" that President-elect Obama has promised to introduce upon taking office in two weeks. The details aren't known, but Mr. Obama and Democrats have been talking about at least $800 billion, and probably $1 trillion, in new spending or various tax credits and reductions over two years. Toss that in and add more expected bailout cash, and if the economy stays slow the deficit could reach $1.8 trillion, or a gargantuan 12.5% of GDP. That 2006 Democratic vow to pass "pay as you go" budgets seems like a lifetime ago, which in political terms it was.

We've long argued that deficits per se are not worth losing sleep over, though we do recall when Robert Rubin and Larry Summers claimed that reducing them was itself an economic virtue because it reduced interest rates. With their acquiescence in the magnitude of these deficits, we trust they will now admit to burying Rubinomics as a serious economic philosophy. Democrats are once again all Keynesians now -- at least until they want to use the deficits as an argument to raise taxes in a year or two.

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As an economic matter, it does make sense to run deficits in a recession rather than to raise taxes in a way that would delay any recovery. Borrowing money to finance a war (Reagan's aircraft carriers in the 1980s) or to pay for tax cuts that promote growth (Reagan and Bush's tax cuts) is often money well spent. Had bipartisan Washington passed a big pro-growth tax cut a year ago, rather than settle in February for $165 billion in no-growth rebates and spending, the economy would be stronger and the deficit lower today.

The economically crucial issue for the long term is how much the government spends, because that is what becomes a claim on current or future taxpayers. This is where the CBO forecast gets scary. Including the Obama stimulus spending and assuming the full $700 billion of bailout money for the banks, insurance companies, auto firms and so forth gets fully spent, federal outlays could approach $4 trillion in 2009. That's double the $2 trillion Congress spent only seven years ago.

Federal expenditures are now rapidly outpacing the growth of the economy, which is expected to be negative this year. CBO estimates that even before the stimulus federal spending will climb to an all-time high 24.9% of GDP, up from the previous post-World War II high of 23.5% in 1985. Add the stimulus and bailout cash and we estimate the federal spending share of GDP will climb to 27.5%. All of this is fast pushing the U.S. to European spending levels, and that's before Mr. Obama's new health-care entitlements.

The problem with most of this spending is that it will be hard to stop once it becomes part of the annual CBO baseline. Congress never reduces spending year over year. While much of the $700 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program money will probably be returned to the Treasury as banks redeem the government's preferred shares, Congress will want to turn around and spend that cash on other things unless the Obama Administration says no.

CBO also reports that some $240 billion of the new spending is for the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Congress will also want to keep in business as part of its nationalization of the mortgage market. So that $240 billion may never be repaid, though only last year our Solons and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson were assuring us that Fan and Fred were no threat to taxpayers. Think of this as Congress having stolen from taxpayers as a result of its Fannie scam nearly five times what Bernard Madoff may have stolen from his clients.

Whether or not you think new spending will stimulate the economy, the one undeniable truth is that this money has to come from somewhere, which means that it is borrowed or taxed from the private economy. This spending blowout is all but guaranteeing huge future tax increases, and anyone who thinks only the rich will pay is living an illusion. Taxpayers need some new champions in Washington -- and fast.
23746  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton on: January 08, 2009, 10:12:40 AM
 
"To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients, by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted."

--Alexander Hamilton, Report on Manufactures, December 1791
 
23747  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 08, 2009, 09:50:27 AM
JDN:

Just when I think there's hope for you, you go and post something stupid and vapid like that. rolleyes

Our Founding Fathers taught their children to be suicide killers of women and children? 

"Few want to ask what made Hamas engage in that suicidal rocketing in the first place, namely the the Israeli determination to hobble the Gaza economy, destroy the popularly elected Hamas regime and, as in the West Bank, humiliate its people."

What drivel!  Israel's policies are a response to Hamas actively trying to destroy it!  What is so hard to understand here!?!?


Marc
===============================

By MARVIN HIER
The world-wide protests against Israel's ground incursion into Gaza are so full of hatred that they leave me with the terrible feeling that these protests have little to do with the so-called disproportionality of the Israeli response to Hamas rockets, or the resulting civilian casualties.

My fear is that the rage we see in the protesters marching in the streets is far more profound and dangerous than we would like to believe. There are a great many people in the world who, even after Auschwitz, just can't bear the Jewish state having the same rights they so readily grant to other nations. These voices insist Israel must take risks they would never dare ask of any other nation-state -- risks that threaten its very survival -- because they don't believe Israel should exist in the first place.

Just look at the spate of attacks this week on Jews and Jewish institutions around the world: a car ramming into a synagogue in France; a Chabad menorah and Jewish-owned shops sprayed with swastikas in Belgium; a banner at an Australian rally demanding "clean the earth from dirty Zionists!"; demonstrators in the Netherlands chanting "Gas the Jews"; and in Florida, protestors demanding Jews "Go back to the ovens!"

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How else can we explain the double-standard that is applied to the Gaza conflict, if not for a more insidious bias against the Jewish state?

At the U.N., no surprise, this double-standard is in full force. In response to Israel's attack on Hamas, the Security Council immediately pulled an all-night emergency meeting to consider yet another resolution condemning Israel. Have there been any all-night Security Council sessions held during the seven months when Hamas fired 3,000 rockets at half a million innocent civilians in southern Israel? You can be certain that during those seven months, no midnight oil was burning at the U.N. headquarters over resolutions condemning terrorist organizations like Hamas. But put condemnation of Israel on the agenda and, rain or shine, it's sure to be a full house.

Red Cross officials are all over the Gaza crisis, describing it as a full-blown humanitarian nightmare. Where were they during the seven months when tens of thousands of Israeli families could not sleep for fear of a rocket attack? Where were their trauma experts to decry that humanitarian crisis?

There have been hundreds of articles and reports written from the Erez border crossing falsely accusing Israel of blocking humanitarian supplies from reaching beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza. (In fact, over 520 truck loads of humanitarian aid have been delivered through Israeli crossings since the beginning of the Israeli counterattack.) But how many news articles, NGO reports and special U.N. commissions have investigated Hamas's policy of deliberately placing rocket launchers near schools, mosques and homes in order to use innocent Palestinians as human shields?

Many people ask why there are so few Israeli casualties in comparison with the Palestinian death toll. It's because Israel's first priority is the safety of its citizens, which is why there are shelters and warning systems in Israeli towns. If Hamas can dig tunnels, it can certainly build shelters. Instead, it prefers to use women and children as human shields while its leaders rush into hiding.

And then there are the clarion calls for a cease-fire. These words, which come so easily, have proven to be a recipe for disaster. Hamas uses the cease-fire as a time-out to rearm and smuggle even more deadly weapons so the next time, instead of hitting Sderot and Ashkelon, they can target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The pattern is always the same. Following a cease-fire brought on by international pressure, there will be a call for a massive infusion of funds to help Palestinians recover from the devastation of the Israeli attack. The world will respond eagerly, handing over hundreds of millions of dollars. To whom does this money go? To Hamas, the same terrorist group that brought disaster to the Palestinians in the first place.

The world seems to have forgotten that at the end of World War II, President Harry Truman initiated the Marshall Plan, investing vast sums to rebuild Germany. But he did so only with the clear understanding that the money would build a new kind of Germany -- not a Fourth Reich that would continue the policies of Adolf Hitler. Yet that is precisely what the world will be doing if we once again entrust funds to Hamas terrorists and their Iranian puppet masters.

In less than two weeks, Barack Obama will be sworn in as president of the United States. But there is no "change we can believe in" in the Middle East -- not where Israel is concerned. The double-standard continuously applied to the Jewish state proves that, for much of the world, the real lessons of World War II have yet to be learned.

Mr. Hier, a rabbi, is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.

 
23748  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Bush Presidency on: January 08, 2009, 09:44:22 AM
Virtually no one likes President Bush very much these days.  This thread is for saying why, defending him, informative articles on his record, and the like:

WSJ

By KARL ROVE

Mythmaking is in full swing as the Bush administration prepares to leave town. Among the more prominent is the assertion that the housing meltdown resulted from unbridled capitalism under a president opposed to all regulation.

 
APLike most myths, this is entertaining but fictional. In reality, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were among the principal culprits of the housing crisis, and Mr. Bush wanted to rein them in before things got out of hand.

Rather than a failure of capitalism, the housing meltdown shows what's likely to happen when government grants special privileges to favored private entities that facilitate bad actors and lousy practices.

Fannie and Freddie are "government-sponsored enterprises" (GSEs), chartered by Congress. As such, they had an implicit promise of taxpayer backing and could borrow money at rates well below competitors.

Because of this, the Bush administration warned in the budget it issued in April 2001 that Fannie and Freddie were too large and overleveraged. Their failure "could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity" well beyond housing.

Mr. Bush wanted to limit systemic risk by raising the GSEs' capital requirements, compelling preapproval of new activities, and limiting the size of their portfolios. Why should government regulate banks, credit unions and savings and loans, but not GSEs? Mr. Bush wanted the GSEs to be treated just like their private-sector competitors.

But the GSEs fought back. They didn't want to see the Bush reforms enacted, because that would level the playing field for their competitors. Congress finally did pass the Bush reforms, but in 2008, after Fannie and Freddie collapsed.

The largely unreported story is that to fend off regulation, the GSEs engaged in a lobbying frenzy. They hired high-profile Democrats and Republicans and spent $170 million on lobbying over the past decade. They also constructed an elaborate network of state and local lobbyists to pressure members of Congress.


When Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed for comprehensive GSE reform in 2005, Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut successfully threatened a filibuster. Later, after Fannie and Freddie collapsed, Mr. Dodd asked, "Why weren't we doing more?" He then voted for the Bush reforms that he once called "ill-advised."

But Mr. Dodd wasn't the only Democrat to heap abuse on the Bush reforms. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts defended Fannie and Freddie as "fundamentally sound" and labeled the president's proposals as "inane." He later voted for the reforms. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York dismissed Mr. Bush's "safety and soundness concerns" as "a straw man." "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," was the helpful advice of both Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware and Rep. Maxine Waters of California. Rep. Kendrick Meeks of Florida berated a Bush official at a hearing, saying, "I am just pissed off" at the administration for raising the issue.

Democrats had ready allies among lenders accustomed to GSEs buying their risky mortgages. For example, Angelo Mozilo, CEO of Countrywide Financial, complained that "an overly cumbersome regulatory process" would "reduce, or even eliminate, the incentives for the GSEs and their primary market partners."

It took Fannie and Freddie over three decades to acquire $2 trillion in mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Together, they held $2.1 trillion in 2000. By 2005, the two GSEs held $4 trillion, up 92% in just five years. By 2008, they'd grown another 24%, to nearly $5 trillion. They held almost half of all American mortgages.

The more the president pushed for reform, the more they bought. Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute and Charles Calomiris of the Columbia Business School suggest $1 trillion of this debt was subprime and "liar loans," almost all bought between 2005 and 2007. This bulk-up in risky paper made it possible for banks to lend imprudently on a massive scale.

Some critics blame Mr. Bush because he supported broadening homeownership. But Mr. Bush's goal was for people to own homes they could afford, not ones made accessible by reckless lenders who off-loaded their risk to GSEs.

The housing meltdown is largely a story of greed and irresponsibility made possible by government privilege. If Democrats had granted the Bush administration the regulatory powers it sought, the housing crisis wouldn't be nearly as severe and the economy as a whole would be better off.

That's why some mythmakers are so intent on denying that Mr. Bush worked to rein in the GSEs. But facts are stubborn things, as Ronald Reagan used to say, and in this instance, the facts support Mr. Bush and offer a harsh judgment on key Democrats. Perhaps that explains why so many in the media haven't told the real story.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

 
23749  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: January 08, 2009, 01:33:01 AM
Judge orders 17 Guantanamo detainees released to U.S.

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

Marisa Taylor
- McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — In a dramatic setback for the Bush administration, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government Tuesday to immediately release and transfer to the United States 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained for almost seven years at Guantanamo.

The decision marked the first time a court has ordered the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. and could prompt the release of dozens of other Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release by the military but who can’t leave because the government hasn’t found a country to send them to.

Judge Ricardo Urbina declared the continued detention of the group from the ethnic Uighur minority to be “unlawful” and ordered the government to bring the detainees to the U.S. by Friday.

Reading his decision from the bench, Urbina said the government could no longer detain the Uighurs after conceding they weren’t enemy combatants. The judge also agreed with the Uighurs’ lawyers, who’ve argued the group can’t be returned to China because they could be tortured.

Urbina warned the government not to attempt to circumvent the group’s release by detaining them on immigration holds once they reach the U.S., saying “no one is to bother these people until I see them.”

Administration officials said they intend to file an "emergency motion" Tuesday night with the federal appeals court in Washington to block the ruling.
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"This decision, we believe, is contrary to our laws, including federal immigration statutes passed by Congress," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "The district court’s ruling, if allowed to stand, could be used as precedent for other detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, including sworn enemies of the United States suspected of planning the attacks of 9/11, who may also seek release into our country."

Urbina, who at times during the hearing appeared to scold Justice Department lawyers, noted the government hadn’t charged the detainees with any crime, revealed any evidence justifying their detention and then “stymied” their release by continuing to assert erroneously that they were enemy combatants.

When government lawyers started to raise security concerns, the judge challenged them to specify what they were, chiding them that “you’ve had seven years to study this.”

He described the government’s use of certain legal jargon as “Kafkaesque,” saying it “begs the question of whether they ever were enemy combatants.”

Supporters from the Uighur-American community who attended the hearing reacted to his ruling with loud applause and cheers.

“The American system has given us justice,” said Rebia Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress.

Citing “serious separation-of-power issues,” Justice Department lawyers immediately requested a delay to allow the government time to consider whether to appeal. The judge, however, refused and instead set a hearing to determine the conditions of release.

Despite the prospect of the government’s appeal, Kadeer said: “I believe they will be released.” Kadeer, a leader of the expatriate Uighur community, was once detained for several years in a Chinese prison as a political dissident, but released and sent to the U.S. after the State Department pressured the Chinese government.

Urbina, a Clinton appointee, said the men will be permitted to stay with Uighur families in the Washington area, but will be expected to check in with the court on a regular basis. Next week, the court will consider whether to impose other conditions of their release.

The Uighurs were first shipped to Guantanamo from Afghanistan after their capture by U.S. troops at a weapons training camp. The military accused the group of being members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and said the camp in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains was run by the Taliban. But the Uighurs denied being members of the group and receiving support from the Taliban.

The Uighurs also have insisted that they consider the U.S. to be an ally in their fight for more political freedom in China. Declassified documents turned over to their lawyers showed that as early as 2003 government officials had concluded they were not enemy combatants and had recommended releasing them.

Attorneys representing the group hailed the ruling as landmark and predicted it could lead to other releases.

“The decision is extraordinary,” said Neil McGaraghan, one of the attorneys. “This is finally a step toward justice.”

The decision comes after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned as “invalid” a military tribunal's conclusion that one of the prisoners, Huzaifa Parhat, is an enemy combatant. The court, the same one that could hear the department's appeal, directed the Pentagon either to release or transfer Parhat or to hold a new tribunal hearing “consistent with the court's opinion.”

After the appellate ruling, the government conceded that it no longer considered any of the Uighurs enemy combatants.

However, Justice Department lawyers continued to argue Tuesday that the release of the group into the U.S. could pose a security risk and warned that the decision could harm international relations with China. The judge dismissed both arguments. Justice Department lawyer John O’Quinn said he did not mean to suggest that the government would immediately move to detain the group once they were in the U.S.
23750  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: January 08, 2009, 01:32:04 AM
Marginal tax rates IMHO are a matter of the deepest import.
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