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23701  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: March 12, 2009, 12:29:33 PM
"The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virture to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust."

--Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, Federalist No. 57, 19 February 1788
23702  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Afghan Army on: March 12, 2009, 11:43:16 AM

http://www.michaelyon-online.com:80/afghan-national-army.htm
Afghan Army
  Next > 

12 March 2009

There is dispute whether the testimony to the British House of Commons regarding the Afghan National Army is correct.

Part of that testimony was published on my site yesterday.

Colonel Bill Hix emailed to me from Afghanistan with an on-the-ground view.  It is important to note that Colonel Hix is a veteran of Iraq, with much experience in the tough parts of Afghanistan.  I was out with his soldiers in late 2008.  Colonel Hix is highly respected among combat soldiers who don't hand out respect easily.  His views on Afghanistan are highly-informed, cautious and realistic, but definitely more optimistic than are mine.  I greatly respect his highly informed opinion and so it's important to make sure Colonel Hix's counterpoints get wide distribution.  Please link to this dispatch.  (Note to journalists seeking truth on Afghanistan: Colonel Hix is at KAF and is an important source regarding conditions in southern Afghanistan.)

This from Colonel Bill Hix regarding the testimony:

The assertions on ANA unit independence are incorrect.  As well, the ANA is larger than stated in the article, but was only recently authorized by the Bonn Accord constituted Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board to grow beyond 80,000 to 122,000 in structure and 134,000 in end strength.  Even with that increase, neither the ANA nor the ANP are adequate in size, fully equipped, or have enough advisor teams.  However, while far from perfect, they fight, are capable and can operate effectively. 

Some examples from those ANA and ANP forces in the south of Afghanistan:

-75% of the brigade headquarters and 50% of the infantry battalions in the south of Afghanistan are capable of independent action within their organic capabilities.  The combat support and service support battalions are lagging for a variety of reasons, including an absence of branch schools [much of their training comes from the advisor teams embedded with them, on the job training, and mobile training and regional training teams] and the propensity of commanders to use them as infantry due in part to over tasking and inadequate numbers mentioned above.

-In November 2008, the brigade in Zabul province mounted an independent, multi-battalion operation into an enemy sanctuary with almost no Coalition support.  What little support they did receive was limited to one day of ISR support, occasional attack helicopter support, and an EOD team to reduce IEDs found by Afghan engineers [ANA EOD capabilities are still in development] who successfully cleared a two day route of march of without injury or loss of equipment. 

-In October 2008, the Afghans planned and executed the relief of Lashkar Gah [capital of Helmand province -- under the UK Task Force], deploying over 2300 Army and Police into the city and surrounding area from as far as Kabul in less than 2 days, launching operations within 2 days of those forces closing, and sustaining those operations for nearly two weeks.  The operation was planned by the ANA brigade commander and jointly executed by the ANA and ANP under the direction of the ANA brigade commander and in partnership with the ANP provincial Chief of Police.  Except for advisor teams, coalition support and participation was generally limited to ISR and fire support.  This operation was undertaken in response to a threat Afghans government, Army and Police leaders had been highlighting to the Coalition, to little avail, over the preceding two months.  Afghan concerns at one point were dismissed as ‘chasing ghosts.’ To their credit, 3 Commando Brigade, having only recently assumed the TF Helmand mission, focused on enabling this operation which contributed to its success.

-With the exception of one very tough district, every district where the Police have undergone the Focused District Development reform program has seen dramatic drops in civilian casualties and significant drops in police casualties.  Moreover, despite our constant recriminations and obvious shortcomings, including continued corruption, the police poll very highly with the Afghan people and they do fight to protect their people, suffering 3 times the casualties seen by either the ANA or ISAF.

-ANA and ANP units routinely conduct joint cordon and search operations around Kandahar City independent of support from the Coalition.

-Similarly, ANA companies in remote district outposts with their advisers do conduct operations daily.  For example, a series of night ambush operations killed a number of Taliban leaders who threatened locals with death if they came to the local market, and broke the intimidation of the population and restored security and local commerce in the area.

None of this to suggest they are perfect, but they are far better and capable than most of our Coalition partners will admit or allow.

Not sure what you meant by AOG, but if you mean Afghan Opposition Groups, the AOGs suffer significant casualties when fighting the Coalition and, absent IED attacks, most often when fighting the ANSF, especially the ANA.

23703  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Davy Crockett on: March 12, 2009, 01:52:30 AM
"We have rights, as individuals, to give as much of our own money as we please to charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of public money." --American hunter, frontiersman, soldier and politician Davy Crockett (1786-1836)
23704  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 12, 2009, 01:47:26 AM
Wow, just wow.  cry
23705  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers.....The Stick....and The Fox on: March 12, 2009, 01:21:41 AM
I supplied the footage to OP.  That particular fight appears in  , , , I think it was our DVD "Los Triques".
23706  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: April 2009 US Gathering on: March 12, 2009, 01:15:49 AM
My brother's place is confirmed.

Woof All:

A word of explanation here for those who missed the discussion in a different thread.  The way we do it now, the April Gathering is for DB Tribe only and the Sept Gathering is the Open Gathering.

"Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact" (c)
Crafty Dog
GF
23707  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Grandfathers Speak Vol. 2: Sonny Umpad on: March 12, 2009, 01:14:26 AM
"On a personal note, your visit to film Maestro Sonny gave me the opportunity to connect with you and the community of DBMA which has been awesome, and I hope to continue exchanging ideas and learning new things in the spirit of walking like a warrior through all my days." 

Whoops!  I missed this until just now embarassed

I too look forward to continuing to exchange ideas.  When next shalll we get together?  Shoot me an email and let me know.
23708  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Agradecimiento de cada dia on: March 11, 2009, 09:57:21 PM
Em momentos asi si' se sabe el valor verdadera de las cosas.
23709  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: March 11, 2009, 09:56:22 PM
Acabo de re-leer ese post.

La verdad es que no tengo ni el menor idea.  No he visto hamas otro referencia al caso, el post no tiene URL ni otra referencia que me permite saber si es digna de fe o si vale el tiempo de investigar.

Si' se que a veces hay desacuerdo sobre si algo se define segun le internacional como "isla" o "small rock that sticks out of water at low tide" la cual no rinde derechos del usufructo del territoria maritima etc.    Supongo que como parte del proceso de llegar a un acuerdo, que se hablaba de eso-- si la piedra/isla todavia existiera.
23710  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers.....The Stick....and The Fox on: March 11, 2009, 09:36:23 PM
Allen Bridgeman.  The last time I spoke with him was a few years back and he said he was headed off to China to study.    I tried contacting him recently about the TV show but my contact info was not current.
23711  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Sityondong vs. Forrester on: March 11, 2009, 09:33:58 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlKe1gJf17s&feature=related

Impressive Sityondong including one of the slickest spinning elbows I've seen.
23712  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: March 11, 2009, 09:32:44 PM
I hope the discussion about referees will keep going.

Changing subjects for the moment, how did the Jackson-Jardine fight go?  The other fights?
23713  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China on: March 11, 2009, 09:13:20 PM
Saw this on another forum-- I have no idea as the the validity of the source, but find the question about the likely dramatic decline of Chinese exports and the domestic consequences thereof to be an interesting one.

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



In this Global Guerrillas post John Robb talks about the effect a global depression might have on China.

I've included the comments as well.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009
JOURNAL: Will China Survive a Depression? Don't bet on it...

The surge in China’s exports could prove to be as unsustainable as the rise in US (and some European) home prices. They might end up being mirror images … as Americans and Europeans could only import so much from China so long as they could borrow against rising home prices. Brad Setser, CFR blog.

China's exports cratered in February, a drop of 25.7%, in line with the drops in exports experienced by other mercantilist countries (Japan, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan). However, unlike those countries, China doesn't have an organic source of legitimacy except for its ability to deliver economic growth. As I have said earlier, the real threat from China isn't that is a potential peer competitor (a device used to sell big weapon systems), its that it could collapse:

So, what happens when China's high performance, globally connected capitalist economy which is flying at dangerously high speeds hits the inevitable speed bump? The answer is: it will derail (hollow out and fragment). The chaos it will produce in SE Asia is the real threat we have to deal with. Predicting the black swan that kicks off the death spiral is impossible, but as we have seen in other export-oriented Asian economies the shock will likely be economic. At that point, the dream of upward ascent and rising expectations, reinforced by global media, will be seen as a lie.

In anticipation of this, the Chinese government is following the lead of many other nations by radically improving the capabilities of its paramilitary force for domestic security (to the tune of one million men). However, this many not be enough. Global guerrilla theory indicates that the endemic corruption will combine with the same forces of anti-state guerrilla action we have seen in other places in an attempt to disconnect portions of China from the central government... (it will work).

Posted by John Robb on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 01:09 PM | Permalink
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23714  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Wakhan Corridor on: March 11, 2009, 12:11:31 PM
Afghanistan: The Difficulties of the Wakhan Corridor
STRATFOR Today » March 10, 2009 | 2104 GMT

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Afghan children in a makeshift classroom in a village in the Wakhan CorridorSummary
The Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of land connecting Afghanistan directly to China, appears on a map to be an attractive alternative supply route for U.S. and NATO military efforts in Afghanistan. However, the corridor is problematic from both a geographic and an infrastructural standpoint, and China has qualms about getting involved in the Afghan conflict there.

Analysis
Related Links
The Geopolitics of China: A Great Power Enclosed
U.S., Afghanistan: Challenges to a Troop Surge
Afghanistan, Pakistan: The Battlespace of the Border
Afghanistan: Hurry Up and Wait
The United States and NATO reportedly have been discussing logistical alternatives for the Afghan campaign with China in yet another effort to secure alternative and supplemental supply routes because of the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. Washington and its NATO allies have been working on similar arrangements with the Russians and Central Asian states and are even discussing such a route with the Iranians. Though conceptually attractive, the Chinese proposition for an alternate route is particularly problematic.

The United States has been searching for alternative and supplemental supply routes to support the Afghan campaign since the true depth of Pakistan’s crisis began to become clear. This led Washington straight into Russian territory — an area where the White House already has enough problems. Thus, a supplemental Chinese route is attractive, as it theoretically could take away some of Moscow’s leverage at the negotiating table.





(click image to enlarge)
The Wakhan Corridor looks attractive on a map because it slips cleanly between the Pakistani problem and the Russian problem. Demarcated by the British at the end of the 19th century, the river valley that runs the length of the corridor supposedly was once a trade route for caravans carrying trade goods between East and Central Asia.

Shaped a bit like an arched finger, the Wakhan Corridor is an extension of Afghanistan’s Tajik-dominated Badakhshan province. The corridor’s main borders touch Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Northern Areas to the south. The corridor has a tiny frontier that runs along China’s Muslim province of Xinjiang to the east.

The Taliban — even in their heyday prior to 9/11 — did not get that far north because of the heavily Tajik-populated area that stood between their forces and the Wakhan Corridor. Furthermore, the Pakistani regions of Chitral and Gilgit serve as buffers between Wakhan and the Pakistani Talibanized areas in the tribal belt and the NWFP, which might help insulate the route from fighting in Pakistan to some degree. Though the terrain is well-suited to guerrilla fighting and the long route would be vulnerable to ambushes from the mountains, the ethnic Tajik makeup of the region significantly undercuts the likelihood of ambushes. In fact, the locals would be happy to have NATO sending supplies through their territory, because it would help contain their Taliban enemies.

But the mountains surrounding Wakhan are some of the highest and most rugged in the world; the territory makes the rest of Afghanistan look easily accessible by comparison. The route is closed nearly half the year due to weather, and the roads in the valley are rough, unimproved and usually single-lane dirt roads. Though a few bridges exist, it is not clear whether they can bear heavy loads, and the area is isolated from Afghanistan’s road network — as notoriously poor as it is — which is not accessible until Eshkashem. It is some 30 miles from the border to more established Chinese roads, and China’s rail and road infrastructure does not even connect directly with the narrow border. However, any other route through the corridor would require U.S. and NATO supplies to travel through Central Asian territory, which is heavily influenced by Moscow — thus negating the benefits of the Chinese alternative.

Basically, a massive and time-consuming infrastructure investment would be necessary on both sides of the border to make the Wakhan Corridor serve as a meaningful logistical link to Afghanistan for the shipment of supplies for the U.S. and NATO efforts there. Even if the Chinese could be convinced to acquiesce, the endeavor would take years to complete and have a high cost — exactly what logistics officers seek to avoid. And then there is the remainder of the long, tortuous route between China’s coastal seaports and its far west to consider.

But the Afghan campaign is popular with neither the Chinese public nor the central government. This sentiment has more to do with Beijing’s discomfort with a U.S. invasion of any other country and with China’s sensitivity about geographic security than with any detail of the Afghan campaign itself. Although Beijing is looking to get more actively involved in international efforts, the Afghan campaign is particularly problematic, as it could unnecessarily aggravate the Muslim minority population in northwestern China. Also, any infrastructural improvements might ease the transit of Islamist fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan into Chinese territory — and China already has its hands full with internal security concerns. Finally, given the recent rise in tensions on the high seas in East Asia, movement on the logistical issue is looking even more problematic.

Though discussions clearly are taking place, it is not surprising that China has politely rebuffed the logistical feelers so far. They hardly need to offer any other justification, but since they have been asked, the Chinese have brought broader and longer-term issues to the table — suggesting, for instance, that far more significant concessions (like on the current Western ban on arms sales to China) will be necessary for any meaningful movement on the issue. But while there are areas where China might be willing to cooperate, the bottom line on the logistical issue is geographic reality — a reality that only a significant investment in infrastructure and time can change.
23715  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: March 11, 2009, 10:04:29 AM
He has withdrawn his nomination;

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?p...RFXf8&refer=us
23716  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / a site on: March 11, 2009, 08:47:14 AM
Perhaps of interest

http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/1090-lower-back-spams.htm
23717  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Some justices willing to hear BO' on: March 11, 2009, 08:30:51 AM
World Net Daily is not a particularly reliable source, and in the opinion of some, this is a crank subject-- but if we stay with logic alone, I do not see why the proof of BO's qualifications should not be seen by everyone.
================

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Lawyer confronts justice about prez's qualifications



By Bob Unruh


WorldNetDaily

A lawyer lobbying the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court for a review of Barack Obama's qualifications to be president says a key conservative justice has hinted that another conservative justice has been voting against hearing the dispute.

According to Orly Taitz, a California attorney working through her Defend Our Freedoms Foundation on several cases challenging Obama, said she was presented with an opportunity to ask a question of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia yesterday.

The issue of Obama's eligibility has been raised before the Supreme Court at least four times already but has yet to be given a single hearing. Cases have been brought by Taitz, Philip Berg, Cort Wrotnowski and Leo Donofrio.

While the requests have been heard "in conference" by the justices, no hearings have resulted on the evidence. WND previously has reported that cases brought to individual justices on an emergency basis can be discussed in such conferences, but they need the affirmative vote from four justices before a hearing on the merits can be scheduled.

The Supreme Court today is considered to have mainly a 4-4 conservative-liberal split, with one swing vote on most issues. On the conservative side generally are Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony Kennedy often is the swing vote.  The liberal side frequently includes Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.

No explanations on the court's response to the Obama citizenship issue have been offered until now.

Taitz reported she attended a reception for Scalia and stood "right by the mic, just to make sure I have an opportunity to ask a question. Only four lawyers out of about 300 in the audience got to ask their questions and I was lucky to be one of them."

She said, "I told Scalia that I was an attorney that filed Lightfoot v. Bowen that Chief Justice Roberts distributed for conference on Jan. 23 and now I represent nine state reps and 120 military officers, many of them high ranked, and I want to know if they will hear Quo Warranto and if they would hear it on original jurisdiction, if I bring Hawaii as an additional defendant to unseal the records and ascertain Obama's legitimacy for presidency."

Taitz said she had some worries asking the question.

"I have to say that I prepared myself to a lot of boo-ing, knowing that Los Angeles trial lawyers and entertainment elite are Obama's stronghold, however there was no boo-ing, no negative remarks," she said. "I actually could see a lot of approving nods, smiles, many gasped and listened intensely. I could tell, that even Obama's strongest supporters wanted to know the answer.

"Scalia stated that it would be heard if I can get four people to hear it. He repeated, you need four for the argument. I got a feeling that he was saying that one of these four that call themselves constitutionalists went to the other side," Taitz said.

"He did not say that it is a political question, he did not say that it is for the legislature to decide. For example, right after me another attorney has asked him about his case of taxing some Internet commerce and right away Scalia told him that he should address it with the legislature. He did not say it to me. He did not say that Quo Warranto is antiquated or not appropriate. No, just get four," she said.

She then bought Scalia's book and waited in line to get it autographed.

"I gave him the books to sign and asked, 'Tell me what to do, what can I do, those soldiers [her plaintiffs] can be court-martialed for asking a legitimate question, who is the president, is he legitimate.' He said, 'Bring the case, I'll hear it, I don't know about others.'"

Taitz' latest effort is a case of Quo Warranto submitted to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The legal phrase essentially means an explanation is being demanded for what authority Obama is using to act as president. An online constitutional resource says Quo Warranto "affords the only judicial remedy for violations of the Constitution by public officials and agents."

The plaintiffs allege Obama failed to submit prima facie evidence of his qualifications before Jan. 20, 2009.

"Election officers failed to challenge, validate or evaluate his qualifications. Relators submit that as president elect, Respondent Obama failed [tO] qualify per U.S. CONST. Amend. XX [paragraph] 3," the document said.

John Eidsmoe, an expert on the U.S. Constitution working with the Foundation on Moral Law, said the demand is a legitimate course of action.

"She basically is asking, 'By what authority' is Obama president," he told WND. "In other words, 'I want you to tell me by what authority. I don't really think you should hold the office.'"

Taitz said Americans should flood Holder's office with calls, e-mails and faxes, urging him to take action on the case.

WND has reported on dozens of legal challenges to Obama's status as a "natural born citizen." The Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, states, "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President."

Some of the lawsuits question whether he was actually born in Hawaii, as he insists. If he was born out of the country, Obama's American mother, the suits contend, was too young at the time of his birth to confer American citizenship to her son under the law at the time.

Other challenges have focused on Obama's citizenship through his father, a Kenyan subject to the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom at the time of his birth, thus making him a dual citizen. The cases contend the framers of the Constitution excluded dual citizens from qualifying as natural born.

Where's the proof Barack Obama was born in the U.S. or that he fulfills the "natural-born American" clause in the Constitution? If you still want to see it, join more than 300,000 others and sign up now!

Although Obama officials have told WND all such allegations are "garbage," here is a partial listing and status update for some of the cases over Obama's eligibility:

New Jersey attorney Mario Apuzzo has filed a case on behalf of Charles Kerchner and others alleging Congress didn't properly ascertain that Obama is qualified to hold the office of president.

Pennsylvania Democrat Philip Berg has three cases pending, including Berg vs. Obama in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a separate Berg vs. Obama which is under seal at the U.S. District Court level and Hollister vs. Soetoro a/k/a Obama, (now dismissed) brought on behalf of a retired military member who could be facing recall to active duty by Obama.


Leo Donofrio of New Jersey filed a lawsuit claiming Obama's dual citizenship disqualified him from serving as president. His case was considered in conference by the U.S. Supreme Court but denied a full hearing.

Cort Wrotnowski filed suit against Connecticut's secretary of state, making a similar argument to Donofrio. His case was considered in conference by the U.S. Supreme Court, but was denied a full hearing.

Former presidential candidate Alan Keyes headlines a list of people filing a suit in California, in a case handled by the United States Justice Foundation, that asks the secretary of state to refuse to allow the state's 55 Electoral College votes to be cast in the 2008 presidential election until Obama verifies his eligibility to hold the office. The case is pending, and lawyers are seeking the public's support.

Chicago attorney Andy Martin sought legal action requiring Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle to release Obama's vital statistics record. The case was dismissed by Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Bert Ayabe.


Lt. Col. Donald Sullivan sought a temporary restraining order to stop the Electoral College vote in North Carolina until Barack Obama's eligibility could be confirmed, alleging doubt about Obama's citizenship. His case was denied.


In Ohio, David M. Neal sued to force the secretary of state to request documents from the Federal Elections Commission, the Democratic National Committee, the Ohio Democratic Party and Obama to show the presidential candidate was born in Hawaii. The case was denied.


Also in Ohio, there was the Greenberg v. Brunner case which ended when the judge threatened to assess all case costs against the plaintiff.


In Washington state, Steven Marquis sued the secretary of state seeking a determination on Obama's citizenship. The case was denied.


In Georgia, Rev. Tom Terry asked the state Supreme Court to authenticate Obama's birth certificate. His request for an injunction against Georgia's secretary of state was denied by Georgia Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter.

California attorney Orly Taitz has brought a case, Lightfoot vs. Bowen, on behalf of Gail Lightfoot, the vice presidential candidate on the ballot with Ron Paul, four electors and two registered voters.
In addition, other cases cited on the RightSideofLife blog as raising questions about Obama's eligibility include:

In Texas, Darrel Hunter vs. Obama later was dismissed.


In Ohio, Gordon Stamper vs. U.S. later was dismissed.


In Texas, Brockhausen vs. Andrade.


In Washington, L. Charles Cohen vs. Obama.


In Hawaii, Keyes vs. Lingle, dismissed.

23718  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on: March 11, 2009, 08:25:37 AM
"If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150 lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, & talk by the hour? That 150 lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected."

--Thomas Jefferson, autobiography, 1821
23719  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Talented foreigners; H1B visas on: March 11, 2009, 08:01:17 AM
Bank of America, citing a provision of the stimulus package that became law last month, is rescinding job offers to foreign-born students graduating from U.S. business schools this summer. Protectionists will applaud, no doubt. But denying companies access to talented workers born outside the U.S. will neither jump-start the economy nor serve the nation's long-term interests.

The stated purpose of the amendment, which was sponsored by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, is "to prohibit any recipient of TARP funding from hiring H-1B visa holders." Press reports have suggested that these visa holders are displacing U.S. workers.

Mr. Sanders cited an especially misleading Associated Press story, which said that the major banks requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers over the past six years. "Even as the economy collapsed last year and many financial workers found themselves unemployed," said AP, "the dozen U.S. banks now receiving the biggest rescue packages requested visas for tens of thousand of foreign workers to fill high-paying jobs."

What the story left out is that companies file multiple applications for each available slot to comply with Department of Labor wage rules for H-1B hires. By focusing on how many applications were filed rather than how many foreign workers were hired, the story exaggerates actual visa use. In fact, H-1B visa holders have been a negligible percentage of financial industry hires in recent years. In 2007, for instance, Citigroup hired 185 H-1B workers, which represented .04% of its 387,000 employees. Bank of America hired 66 H-1B workers, which represented .03% of its 210,000 employees.

The reality is that cumbersome labor regulations and fees make foreign professionals more expensive to hire than Americans, which undercuts the argument that the banks were looking for cheap labor and explains why H-1B applications tend to fall during economic downturns. But far from displacing U.S. workers, H-1B hires have been associated with an increase in total employment.

A 2008 study of the tech industry by the National Foundation for American Policy found that for every H-1B position requested, U.S. technology companies in the S&P 500 increase their employment by five workers. America must compete in a global economy, and if U.S. companies can't hire these skilled workers -- many of whom graduate from U.S. universities, by the way -- you can bet foreign competitors will.
23720  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: LOST aspect to this on: March 11, 2009, 07:58:44 AM
second post:

So once again we are reminded of why Ronald Reagan sank the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Thanks of a sort here go to China, which last week sent several ships to shadow and harass the USNS Impeccable, an unarmed U.S. Navy surveillance ship, as it was operating in international waters about 70 miles south of Hainan Island. The harassment culminated Sunday when the Chinese boats "maneuvered in dangerously close proximity" to the Impeccable, according to the Pentagon, forcing the American crew to turn fire hoses on the Chinese. Undeterred, two of the Chinese ships positioned themselves directly in front of the Impeccable after it had radioed its intention to leave and requested safe passage. A collision was barely averted.

The Chinese have a knack for welcoming incoming U.S. Administrations with these sorts of provocations. In April 2001, a hotdogging Chinese fighter pilot collided with a slow-moving U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft, forcing the American plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan, where its 24-member crew remained for 11 days. They were released only after the U.S. issued a letter saying it was "sorry" for the incident without quite apologizing for it.

Thereafter, the Chinese kept their distance from U.S. surveillance planes, and Beijing's relations with the Bush Administration were generally positive. But the Chinese military remains strategically committed to dominating the South China Sea, and it has recently built a large submarine base on Hainan. China also makes a contentious claim to the oil-rich Spratly and Parcel Islands -- an endless source of friction with the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, which also have their claims. Following Sunday's incident, the Chinese accused the U.S. of violating Chinese and international law.

Which brings us to the U.N.'s Law of the Sea Treaty -- which the Gipper sent to the bottom of the ocean, but the Chinese have signed and which the Obama Administration intends to ratify, with the broad support of the U.S. Navy. The supposed virtue of the treaty is that it codifies the customary laws that have long guaranteed freedom of the seas and creates a legal framework for navigational rights.

The problem is that, as with any document that contains 320 articles and nine annexes, the treaty creates as many ambiguities as it resolves. In this case, the dispute involves the so-called "Exclusive Economic Zones," which give coastal states a patchwork of sovereign and jurisdictional rights over the economic resources of seas to a distance of 200 miles beyond their territorial waters.

Thus, the U.S. contends that the right of its ships to transit through or operate in the EEZs (and of planes to overfly them) is no different than their rights on the high seas, including intelligence gathering, and can point to various articles in the treaty that seem to say as much. But a number of signatories to the treaty, including Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan and China, take the view that the treaty forbids military and intelligence-gathering work by foreign countries in an EEZ. Matters are further complicated by the claims China made for itself over its EEZ when it ratified the Law of the Sea in the 1990s.

We don't have a view on the legal niceties here, which amounts to a theological dispute in a religion to which we don't subscribe. But the incident with the Impeccable is another reminder that China's ambitions for regional dominance, and for diminishing U.S. influence, remain unchanged despite a new American Administration; and that the Law of the Sea Treaty, far from curbing ambitions or resolving differences, has served only to sharpen both.

Next time the Impeccable sails these waters -- and for the sake of responding to China's provocation it should be soon -- President Obama ought to dispatch a destroyer or two as escorts.

 
23721  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: Can we increase our intelligence? on: March 11, 2009, 07:53:19 AM
Guest Column: Can We Increase Our Intelligence?

Many thanks to Steve Quake for four stimulating articles on some of the dilemmas facing scientists today. He now hands off to Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, two neuroscientists famous for their award-winning book, “Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life.” Sandra and Sam will be writing their articles together; please welcome them.


By Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt

It’s an honor to be invited to fill in for Olivia. We’ll be writing about slow and fast forces that shape the brain: natural selection, operating relatively slowly over many generations; and environmental influences, whose effects are visible across a few generations or even within one individual’s lifetime.

We’re often asked whether the human brain is still evolving. Taken at face value, it sounds like a silly question. People are animals, so selection pressure would presumably continue to apply across generations.

But the questioners are really concerned about a larger issue: how our brains are changing over time — and whether we have any control over these developments. This week we discuss intelligence and the “Flynn effect,” a phenomenon that is too rapid to be explained by natural selection.

It used to be believed that people had a level of general intelligence with which they were born that was unaffected by environment and stayed the same, more or less, throughout life. But now it’s known that environmental influences are large enough to have considerable effects on intelligence, perhaps even during your own lifetime.

A key contribution to this subject comes from James Flynn, a moral philosopher who has turned to social science and statistical analysis to explore his ideas about humane ideals. Flynn’s work usually pops up in the news in the context of race issues, especially public debates about the causes of racial differences in performance on intelligence tests. We won’t spend time on the topic of race, but the psychologist Dick Nisbett has written an excellent article on the subject.

Flynn first noted that standardized intelligence quotient (I.Q.) scores were rising by three points per decade in many countries, and even faster in some countries like the Netherlands and Israel. For instance, in verbal and performance I.Q., an average Dutch 14-year-old in 1982 scored 20 points higher than the average person of the same age in his parents’ generation in 1952. These I.Q. increases over a single generation suggest that the environmental conditions for developing brains have become more favorable in some way.

What might be changing? One strong candidate is working memory, defined as the ability to hold information in mind while manipulating it to achieve a cognitive goal. Examples include remembering a clause while figuring out how it relates the rest of a sentence, or keeping track of the solutions you’ve already tried while solving a puzzle. Flynn has pointed out that modern times have increasingly rewarded complex and abstract reasoning. Differences in working memory capacity account for 50 to 70 percent of individual differences in fluid intelligence (abstract reasoning ability) in various meta-analyses, suggesting that it is one of the major building blocks of I.Q. (Ackerman et al; Kane et al; Süss et al.) This idea is intriguing because working memory can be improved by training.


Felix Sockwell
 
A common way to measure working memory is called the “n-back” task. Presented with a sequential series of items, the person taking the test has to report when the current item is identical to the item that was presented a certain number (n) of items ago in the series. For example, the test taker might see a sequence of letters like

L K L R K H H N T T N X

presented one at a time. If the test is an easy 1-back task, she should press a button when she sees the second H and the second T. For a 3-back task, the right answers are K and N, since they are identical to items three places before them in the list. Most people find the 3-back condition to be challenging.

A recent paper reported that training on a particularly fiendish version of the n-back task improves I.Q. scores. Instead of seeing a single series of items like the one above, test-takers saw two different sequences, one of single letters and one of spatial locations. They had to report n-back repetitions of both letters and locations, a task that required them to simultaneously keep track of both sequences. As the trainees got better, n was increased to make the task harder. If their performance dropped, the task was made easier until they recovered.

Each day, test-takers trained for 25 minutes. On the first day, the average participant could handle the 3-back condition. By the 19th day, average performance reached the 5-back level, and participants showed a four-point gain in their I.Q. scores.

The I.Q. improvement was larger in people who’d had more days of practice, suggesting that the effect was a direct result of training. People benefited across the board, regardless of their starting levels of working memory or I.Q. scores (though the results hint that those with lower I.Q.s may have shown larger gains). Simply practicing an I.Q. test can lead to some improvement on the test, but control subjects who took the same two I.Q. tests without training improved only slightly. Also, increasing I.Q. scores by practice doesn’t necessarily increase other measures of reasoning ability (Ackerman, 1987).

Since the gains accumulated over a period of weeks, training is likely to have drawn upon brain mechanisms for learning that can potentially outlast the training. But this is not certain. If continual practice is necessary to maintain I.Q. gains, then this finding looks like a laboratory curiosity. But if the gains last for months (or longer), working memory training may become as popular as — and more effective than — games like sudoku among people who worry about maintaining their cognitive abilities.

Now, some caveats. The results, though tantalizing, are not perfect. It would have been better to give the control group some other training not related to working memory, to show that the hard work of training did not simply motivate the experimental group to try harder on the second I.Q. test. The researchers did not test whether working memory training improved problem-solving tasks of the type that might occur in real life. Finally, they did not explore how much improvement would be seen with further training.

Research on working memory training, as well as Flynn’s original observations, raise the possibility that the fast-paced modern world, despite its annoyances (or even because of them) may be improving our reasoning ability. Maybe even multitasking — not the most efficient way to work — is good for your brain because of the mental challenge. Something to think about when you’re contemplating retirement on a deserted island.

**********

NOTES:

C. Jarrold and J.N. Towse (2006) Individual differences in working memory. Neuroscience 139 (2006) 39–50.

P.L. Ackerman, M.E. Beier, and M.O. Boyle (2005) Working memory and intelligence: the same or different constructs? Psychological Bulletin 131:30–60.

M.J. Kane, D.Z. Hambrick, and A.R.A. Conway (2005) Working memory capacity and fluid intelligence are strongly related constructs: comment on Ackerman, Beier, and Boyle (2005). Psychological Bulletin 131:66–71.

H.-M. Süss, K. Oberauer, W.W. Wittmann, O. Wilhelm, and R. Schulze (2002) Working-memory capacity explains reasoning ability—and a little bit more. Intelligence 30:261–288.

S.M. Jaeggi, M. Buschkuehl, J. Jonides, and W.J. Perrig (2008) Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105:6829-6833. [full text]

D.A. Bors, F. Vigneau (2003) The effect of practice on Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices. Learning and Individual Differences 13:291–312.

P.L. Ackerman (1987) Individual differences in skill learning: An integration of psychometric and information processing perspectives. Psychological Bulletin 102:3–27.
23722  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Looking for fighters for stickfighting TV series on: March 11, 2009, 01:57:32 AM
The resumes/demo reels are really starting to come in  cool
23723  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan on: March 11, 2009, 01:30:25 AM
The Pathetic Afghan Army
&
Will Obama Fumble Iraq?

11 March 2009

The disconnect between reporting and reality on Iraq was dramatic during 2005.  Media stories about the incompetence and hopelessness of the Iraqi army and police were like the soup of the day, every day.  Yet month by month, before my eyes, Iraqi security forces were improving.  Reporting this truth earned the label of “stooge,” because the soup of the day was Failure.  Millions of Americans and Europeans apparently wanted Iraqis to suffer because those same Americans and Europeans seemed to hate George Bush.

Today Iraq is succeeding, but as Generals Petraeus or Odierno might say, the situation remains fragile and reversible.

Whereas the Bush-war ended in a new if messy democracy, this year we could see an Obama-war begin; the new President has sent a clear signal that we intend to mostly abandon Iraq during this crucial transition period.  Today, the progress is obvious.  But if Iraq descends back into chaos, the Obama-war, a newborn war, will not be a result of U.S. aggression, but of limp leadership intent on fulfilling campaign promises that were misinformed to begin with.

Back in 2003, it was understandable that many people would detest what they believed was an illegal war – despite that Hussein refused to abide by U.N. resolutions – but it was telling to see that many people apparently wished cruelty upon the Iraqis out of malice for the United States or George Bush.  Those wishes were coming from cold, cruel hearts, pretending to care.  Among these people were the cruel souls who would later stand outside military hospitals, mocking young men and women who had suffered amputations and other grievous injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today there remain people who wish to precipitously disjoin from the growing success in Iraq, and who apparently ultimately wish to see Iraq fail out of sheer malice not toward Iraq, but toward certain politicians and governments.  If President Obama fumbles the evacuation of combat forces, they may get their wish.

But while millions of people wished to see Iraq fail, courageous Iraqi volunteers lined up to join the army and police.  They were frequently blown to pieces while they waited.  Nevertheless, the Iraqi army and police grew like bamboo.  Every day the body counts rose, satisfying the pernicious souls parading as peace lovers who seemed to relish the mounting losses.  I once reported that apparently more people had been killed on an annual basis under the wars and genocides of Saddam Hussein, than were dying in the current war.  This observation was made without narration or opinion, but it unleashed a special venom that strikes only at the ankles of inconvenient truths.   Should we have expected otherwise, after our government had behaved so arrogantly and deceptively?

Today the Iraqi army and police are on their feet and the government and economy are improving, though still in need of years of assistance, and at this time of mounting success, we are leaving.  The enemies seem to be biding their time.

Going into Iraq was a decision made by many.  Pulling out so quickly is a decision made by one man.

Yet the Afghanistan situation was nearly opposite.  Most westerners seem to want to see Afghanistan succeed, and they veritably chant about poverty and women’s rights, though few people actually are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to achieve dreamy visions.  Whatever the case, the public and the media gave a free pass to dozens of nations in Afghanistan, and today about 40 nations are directly involved.  Some of the military bases look like a carnival of uniforms, and the soldiers behave under a carnival of rules.  By the time you add in all the contractors, aid workers, “friendly” spies and deadly enemies, it’s likely that people from a hundred countries are inside Afghanistan at this moment.  Despite the broad representation, until recently we called it “The Forgotten War.”

Today we have an American President and Secretary of Defense who have essentially kicked, prodded and begged our allies to get more serious about Afghanistan, but mostly to no avail.  And so 17,000 more American troops are kissing their loved ones goodbye, many of them for the last time in their lives, and heading into Afghanistan.  Per capita combat deaths probably will be higher in Afghanistan this year than for any year in Iraq.  The situation is very serious for the relatively few soldiers fighting there.  Some are in combat every day and night.

The AfPak war began more than seven years ago.  It is fair to ask why are we sending more U.S. troops today.   After all, we’ve had plenty of time to build an army and police.  If drive-by journalists listen to some of the commanders on the ground, they might come back with reports that all is okay, and that the Afghan army is coming along nicely, and that certain writers are exaggerating.  I’ve had those same briefings from commanders.  Just as in 2004 Iraq, I believe that Americans and Europeans have been deceived by their governments.

I’ve asked many key officers why we are not using our Special Forces (specifically Green Berets) in a more robust fashion to train Afghan forces.  The stock answers coming from the Green Beret world – from ranking officers anyway – is that they are taking a serious role in training Afghan forces.  But the words are inconsistent with my observations.  The reality is that the Green Berets – the only outfit in the U.S. military who are so excellently suited to put the Afghan army into hyperdrive – are mostly operating with small groups of Afghans doing what appears to be Colorado mule deer hunts in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Special Forces A-teams are particularly well suited to train large numbers of people, but are not doing so.

Command will dispute my words, and privately have been doing so.  But they cannot point to a map of Afghanistan and show where they are training significant numbers of Afghans.  This information would not be secret or even confidential.  Our troops who are partnered up with Afghans are often not the right choice for that particular job.

Nevertheless, some officers are already privately disputing my claims about the Afghan Army, and so I present these words from the British government:

HOUSE OF COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

GLOBAL SECURITY: AFGHANISTAN
WEDNESDAY 25 FEBRUARY 2009
PROFESSOR THEO FARRELL and COLONEL CHRISTOPHER LANGTON
PROFESSOR SHAUN GREGORY and SEAN LANGAN

….Q<28> <Sir John Stanley:> To clarify, I am asking you to set out, as best you can, how you think we can achieve an Afghanistan where the insurgency has ceased-ideally totally or to the greatest possible extent-and where there is a stable Government in place, who hopefully are democratically elected and respect basic human rights and in particular the rights of women.

<Professor Farrell:> That is a very challenging question. I will say two things on the centre of gravity-the key thing that will unlock success in the campaign. Currently, the centre of gravity is building the capacity of the Afghan security forces. There are 85 battalions in the Afghan national army. It is very small with only 68,000 troops. We must double that force size. More battalions must be able to operate independently. Of the 85 battalions, one can operate independently at battalion level and only 26 can operate with ISAF [international security assistance force] support at battalion level. We need to increase the training and capability. We must increase the Afghan air force, which is pathetically small.

The key to getting out of Afghanistan is to build the Afghan forces. British practice on that has been very good over the last year. They have increased the co-embedding of Afghan and British battalions. An Afghan battalion is partnered with every British battle group in the Helmand area of operations. However, more could be done. For example, the operational mentor and liaison teams are 40% under strength. We must put more resources into building the Afghan air force and national army. That will give us success.

<Colonel Langton:> I agree with that, but in order to do it the international forces must have a unified strategy, which they do not. They must have a unified command structure, which they do not.

This is not necessarily about NATO. NATO happens to be leading the international security assistance force, but it has been led by other bodies. NATO is not essential to this function. We could revert to Turkish command, which is how it all started. However, there must be more unity of strategy. I have heard Afghan Ministers complain that individual countries are delivering their individual strategies through their embassies. I have struggled to find another example of where that has happened.

This testimony, that only a single battalion out of 85 can operate independently, and only 26 can operate even with support, sharply diverges from what high commanders will tell journalists in Afghanistan.  Our Special Forces (Green Berets) in particular have taken only a passing role in the training.  Some can argue otherwise, but as we roll into 2009, we have been at war in Afghanistan for more than seven years.  More than 2,500 days.  How much is it costing us per day?  $100 million?  $200 million?  We have little to show for the lost limbs and lives.  According to the British testimony, only a single battalion can fight without a real army holding its hand.  The police are in far worse condition.

We are not busy teaching Afghans to fish; we are busy fishing for them, and they are slowly but surely getting tired of us.
23724  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 2 on: March 11, 2009, 01:25:45 AM


The Taliban

Obama told the New York Times in a March 6 interview that the United States is not winning the war in Afghanistan, and that in addition to sending more troops, his strategy for the war might include approaching elements of the Afghan Taliban. While he acknowledged that the situation in Afghanistan is more complex, he related the idea to the successful U.S. strategy of reaching out to Iraqi Sunni nationalists to undercut the al Qaeda presence in Iraq.

The idea of negotiating with the Taliban to split the insurgency has been thrown around for some time now, but just talking about talking to the Taliban raises a number of issues. First, the United States is fighting a war of perception as much as it is fighting battles against die-hard jihadists. So far, Obama has approved 17,000 additional U.S. troops to be deployed to Afghanistan, but even double that number is unlikely to convince Taliban insurgents that the United States is willing or even capable of fighting this war in the long run. The Taliban and their allies in al Qaeda and various other radical Islamist groups are pursuing a strategy of exhaustion where success is not measured in the number of battles won, but rather the ability to outlast the occupier. Considering that Afghanistan’s mountainous, barren terrain, sparse population centers and lack of governance have historically denied every outside occupier success in pacifying the country, the prospects for the United States are not good in this war.

Talk of reconciliation with the Taliban from a U.S. position of weakness raises the question of how the United States can actually parse out those Taliban members who can be reconciled. It also raises the question of whether those members will be willing to put their personal security on the line by accepting an offer to start talks when the United States itself is admitting it is on the losing side of the war. Most important, it is unclear to us what the United States can actually offer these Taliban elements, especially as Washington simultaneously attempts to negotiate with the Iranians and the Russians, neither of which want to live next door to a revived Taliban and both of which must cooperate with the United States if Washington is to be able to fight the war in the first place.

Syria

After exchanging a few words with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem in Egypt on March 2, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dispatched two emissaries in what was the highest-level U.S. delegation to Syria in four years. The March 7 visit came on the heels of a British announcement that London will be resuming talks with Hezbollah’s political wing — a move likely made in close coordination with the Americans.

The Americans want Syria to end its support for militant proxies like Hezbollah and stop interfering in Lebanese affairs. But Syrian dominance over Lebanon is non-negotiable from the Syrian point of view. Lebanon historically has been Syria’s economic, political and military outlet to the Mediterranean basin, allowing Syria to play a prominent role in the region. If Damascus is not in control of Lebanon, then Syria is poor and isolated. Even though the Americans and the Syrians are holding talks again, it is still unclear that Washington is willing to accept Syrian demands regarding Lebanon. And unless the United States is, these talks are guaranteed to remain in limbo.

That said, there may be more to these talks then meets the eye. Instead of rushing to cater to Syrian demands over Lebanon, the United States is probably more interested in using the Syrian talks (largely a Turkish-backed initiative) to send a positive signal to Turkey — a resurgent regional power with the ability to influence matters in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Balkans. Turkey is beginning to throw its weight in the region around again, and will have a major say in how the United States interacts with states that Ankara perceives are in the Turkish sphere of influence (Syria and Iraq, for example). The United States will need Turkish cooperation in the months and years ahead, particularly as it reduces its military presence in Iraq and attempts to deal with another resurgent power, Russia. It comes as little surprise, then, that one of Obama’s first major trips abroad will be to Ankara. Rather than revealing any true U.S. interest to accommodate the Syrians, the U.S. diplomatic opening to Syria is more likely a gesture to the Turks, whose agenda for the Middle East includes reshaping Damascus’s behavior through negotiations with the United States and Israel and containing Iran’s regional ambitions.

Back to Reality

Obama has put into motion a global diplomatic offensive fueled by a dizzying array of special envoys designed to change the dynamic of its relations with key allies like the Europeans and adversaries like the Russians, the Taliban, the Iranians and the Syrians. This diplomatic blitzkrieg may spin the press into a frenzy. But once we look beyond the handshakes, press conferences and newspaper headlines and drill down into the core, unadulterated demands of each player in question, it becomes clear that such a diplomatic offensive actually could end up yielding very little of substance if it fails to address the real issues.

This is not a fault of the administration, but the reality of geopolitics. The ability of any political leader to effect change is not principally determined by his or her own desires, but by external factors. In dealing with any one of these adversaries individually, the administration is bound to hit walls. In trying to balance the interests between adversaries and allies, the walls only become reinforced. Add to that additional constraints in dealing with Congress and the need to maintain approval ratings — not to mention trying to manage a global recession — and the space to maneuver becomes much tighter. We must also remember that this is an administration that has not even been in power for two months. Formulating policy on issues of this scale takes several months at the least, and more likely years before the United States actually figures out what it wants and what it can actually do. No amount of power delegation to special envoys will change that. In fact, it could even confuse matters when bureaucratic rivalries kick in and the chain of command begins to blur.

Whether the policymakers are sitting in an Afghan cave or in the Kremlin, they will not find this surprising. As is widely known, presidential transitions take time, and diplomatic engagements to feel out various positions are a natural part of the process. Tacit offers can be made, bits of negotiations will be leaked, but as long as each player questions the ability of Washington to follow through in any sort of “grand bargain,” these talks are unlikely to result in any major breakthroughs. So far, Obama has demonstrated that he can talk the diplomatic talk. The real question is whether he can walk the geopolitical walk.

Tell STRATFOR What You Think
23725  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / His Glibness's strategy on: March 11, 2009, 01:25:02 AM
Obama's Diplomatic Offensive and the Reality of Geopolitics
March 10, 2009
By Reva Bhalla

Special Series: Obama’s Foreign Policy Landscape

The Obama administration is only one and a half months into the job, but between pressing “reset buttons” with the Russians, reaching out to the Europeans, talking about reconciling with the Taliban, extending invitations to the Iranians and rubbing elbows with the Syrians, this is already one of the most diplomatically active U.S. administrations in quite some time.

During the campaign, now-President Barack Obama made the controversial statement that he was prepared to speak to adversaries, including countries like Iran. This position was part of a general critique by Obama of the Bush administration, which Obama said enclosed itself diplomatically, refusing to engage either adversaries or allies critical of the United States. Now, Obama is sending emissaries across the globe to restart dialogue everywhere from Europe to the Middle East to South Asia to Russia. For Obama, these conversations are the prelude to significant movement in the international arena.

From a geopolitical perspective, that people are talking is far less important than what they are saying, which in turn matters far less than what each side is demanding and willing to concede. Engagement can be a prelude to accommodation, or an alternative to serious bargaining. At the moment, it is far too early to tell which the present U.S. diplomatic flurry will turn out to be. And of course, some of the diplomatic initiatives might succeed while others fail.

Nevertheless, as the global diplomatic offensive takes place, we must consider whether Obama is prepared to make substantive shifts in U.S. policy or whether he will expect concessions in exchange for a different diplomatic atmosphere alone. Since Obama and his foreign policy team are too sophisticated to expect the latter, we must examine the details of the various conversations. In this case more than others, the devil is very much in the details.

Russia

The Obama administration has made clear to Russia its desire to reset its relations with Russia, with Clinton even presenting a red “reset button” as a gift to her counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on March 6 at a NATO summit in Geneva. But the Russians want to clarify how far the Americans really intend to rewind the tape. The 2004 Orange Revolution and NATO’s reach to the Baltics crystallized Moscow’s fears that the United States intends to encircle and destabilize Russia in its former Soviet periphery through NATO expansion and support for the color revolutions. Since then, Russia has been resurgent. Moscow has worked aggressively to reclaim and consolidate its influence in the Russian near abroad for its long-term security while the United States remains preoccupied in its war with the jihadists.

The Russians are pushing for a grand deal that guarantees a rollback of NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine, scraps plans for U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD), maintains some semblance of Russian nuclear parity in post-Cold War treaties, and ensures Western noninterference in a region that runs from the Baltics down through Eastern Europe and across the Caucasus and Central Asia — what Russia views as its rightful sphere of influence. Only then can Russia feel secure from the West, and confident it will remain a major player in Eurasia in the long run. In return, the Russians theoretically could make life easier for the Americans by cooperating with Washington against Iran and increasing support for U.S. operations in Afghanistan through the expansion of an alternate supply route — two key issues that address the most pressing threats to U.S. national security interests in the near term, but which may not be entirely worth the strategic concessions Moscow is demanding of Washington.

So far, the Obama administration has responded to Russia’s demands by restarting talks on the START I nuclear armaments treaty in exchange for Moscow allowing U.S. nonmilitary goods bound for Afghanistan to transit Russia and Central Asia. The Russians responded by permitting some supplies bound for Afghanistan to pass through the former Soviet Union as an opening toward broader talks. The United States then privately offered to roll back its plans for BMD in Central Europe if Russia would pressure Iran into making concessions on Tehran’s nuclear program. But the Russians have signaled already that such piecemeal diplomacy will not cut it, and that the United States will need to make broader concessions that more adequately address Moscow’s core national security interests before the Russians can be expected to sacrifice a relationship with a strategic Middle East ally.

At the Geneva NATO summit, Clinton upped the offer to the Russians when she signaled that the United States might even be willing to throw in a halt to NATO expansion, thereby putting at risk a number of U.S. allies in the former Soviet Union that rely on the United States to protect them from a resurgent Russia. This gesture will set the stage for Obama’s upcoming trip to Russia to meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, but the Russians will be watching closely to see if such gestures are being made for the sake of public diplomacy or if the United States really intends to get down to business.

Europe

In Europe, Obama is dealing with allies rather than adversaries, but even here his administration’s work does not get any easier. The willingness of Obama to talk with the Europeans far more than his predecessor is less important than what Obama intends to demand of NATO, and what those NATO members are capable of delivering.

A prime example is how Washington is requesting the Europeans to commit more NATO forces to the war in Afghanistan now that the United States feels ready to shift gears from Iraq. Despite their enthusiasm for Obama, the Europeans are not on the same page as the Americans on NATO, especially when it comes to Afghanistan. The U.S. argument for strengthening NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan is that failure to do so would recreate the conditions necessary for al Qaeda to rebuild its ability to carry out transcontinental attacks against the West, putting both European and American cities at risk. But the Europeans (for the most part) view a long-term war effort in Afghanistan without a clear strategy or realistic objectives as a futile drain on resources. After all, the British — who currently have the largest European contingent in Afghanistan — remember well their own ugly and drawn-out efforts to pacify the region in three brutal wars in the 19th and early 20th centuries, each won by Afghan tribesmen.

This disagreement goes beyond the question of Afghanistan to a long-standing debate over NATO’s intended security mission. NATO was formed during the Cold War as a U.S.-dominated security alliance designed to protect the European continent from internal and external Soviet aggression. Since the end of the Cold War, however, NATO’s scope has widened, with only limited agreement among members over whether the alliance should even be dealing with the broader 21st century challenges of counterterrorism, cyberattacks, climate change and energy security. More important, NATO has pushed up against Russia’s borders with its expansion to the Baltics and talk of integrating Georgia and Ukraine, worrying some states that they may need to bear the burden of Washington’s hardball tactics against the Russians. Germany, which is dependent on Russians for energy, has no interest in restarting another Cold War. The French have more room to maneuver than the Germans in dealing with a powerful player like Russia. But the French can only work effectively with the Russians as long as Paris avoids getting (permanently) on Moscow’s bad side, something U.S.-dominated policy of trying to resurrect NATO as a major military force could bring about.

Before taking any further steps in Afghanistan, the Europeans, including those Central and Eastern Europeans who mostly take a hard-line stance against Moscow, first want to know how Obama intends to deal with the Russians. Even with the Poles going one way in trying to boost NATO security and the Germans going the other in trying to bargain with Russia, none of the European states can really move until U.S. policy toward Russia comes into focus. The last thing the Poles would want to do is to take an unflinching stance against Moscow only to have the United States cancel BMD plans, for example. Conversely, the United States is unable to formulate a firm policy on Afghanistan or Russia until it knows where the Europeans will end up standing on NATO, their commitment to Afghanistan and their relationship with Russia. Add to this classic chicken-and-egg dilemma a financial crisis that has left Europe much worse off than the United States, and the gap between U.S. and European interests starts to look as wide as the Atlantic itself.

Iran

Talking to Iran was a major theme of Obama’s campaign, and the first big step in following through with this pledge was made March 5 when Clinton extended an invitation to Iran to participate in a multilateral conference on Afghanistan, thereby recognizing Iran’s influential role in the region. There is also an expectation that after Iran gets through elections in June, the United States could move beyond the multilateral setting to engage the Iranians bilaterally.

The idea of the United States talking to Iran is not a new concept. In fact, the United States and Iran were talking a great deal behind the scenes in 2001 in the lead-up to the war in Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban and in 2003 during the precursor to the war in Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein. In both of these cases, core mutual interests brought the two rivals to the negotiating table. Iran, facing hostile Sunni powers to its west and east, had a golden opportunity to address its historical security dilemma in one fell swoop and then use the emerging political structures in Iraq and Afghanistan to spread Persian power in the wider region. The United States, knocked off balance by 9/11, needed Iranian cooperation to facilitate the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions to uproot al Qaeda and intimidate al Qaeda state-sponsors into working with Washington.

U.S.-Iranian relations have been rocky (to say the least), but have reached a point where it is now politically acceptable for both openly to discuss U.S.-Iranian cooperation on issues related to Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Iranians hold influence and where the United States is still engaged militarily.

Iran knows that even with the United States drawing down from Iraq, Washington will still maintain a strategic agreement with Baghdad that could be used as a launchpad for U.S. designs in the region as it works to protect Sunni Arabs from Iranian expansionist goals. At the same time, Washington has come to realize that its influence in Baghdad will have to be shared with the Iranians given their geographic proximity and clout among large segments of the Iraqi Shia.

Though U.S. and Iranian interests overlap enough to the point that the two cannot avoid working with each other, negotiating a power-sharing agreement has not come easily. In Iraq, Tehran needs to consolidate Shiite influence, contain Sunni power and prevent the country from posing a future security threat to Iran’s western frontier. In addition, the Iranians are looking for the United States to recognize its regional sphere of influence and accept the existence of an Iranian nuclear program. The United States, on the other hand, needs to defend the interests of Israel and its Sunni allies and wants Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions (or at least place real curbs on its nuclear program) and end its support for militant proxies. Though Washington and Tehran have made some progress in their diplomatic dialogue, the demands of each remain just as intractable. As a result, the U.S.-Iranian negotiations start and stop in spurts without any real willingness on either side to follow through in addressing the other’s respective core demands.

In reaching out to Iran over Afghanistan, the Obama administration is now trying to inject more confidence into the larger negotiations by recognizing Iran as a player in Kabul in return for intelligence sharing and potential logistical cooperation in supporting the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. But as much as Iran enjoys the recognition and shares an interest in preventing jihadist spillover into its territory, the Iranian regime is not about to offer its full cooperation on an issue as big as Afghanistan as long as the United States avoids addressing issues that the Iranians deem more central to their national security interests (e.g., Iraq.) Complicating matters further at this juncture is Iranian displeasure over U.S. talk of speaking to the Taliban, a long-time enemy of Tehran that the Iranians will fight to keep contained, but with which the United States needs to engage if it has any hope of settling Afghanistan.
23726  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The naval incident on: March 11, 2009, 12:37:33 AM
China, U.S.: A Naval Incident and Wider Maritime Competition
STRATFOR Today » March 10, 2009 | 1041 GMT

Military Sealift Command
The USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS 23)Summary
Chinese vessels appear to be acting with increasing aggression toward a pair of U.S. ocean surveillance ships in the Yellow and South China seas. Though such aggression is not unprecedented, it is a departure from China’s behavior of recent years, and it could indicate rising maritime tensions among many of the region’s naval powers.

Analysis
Chinese sailing vessels have behaved with increasing aggression toward two U.S. ocean surveillance ships operating in the Yellow and South China seas. Though this recent behavior is not unprecedented, the U.S. 7th Fleet is characterizing it as a departure from normal interactions and the most aggressive behavior the fleet has seen from China in a long time. These aggressive moves might herald things to come as the maritime environment around China becomes increasingly active — and crowded.

Related Special Topic Page
China’s Military
Related Links
South Korea: Changing Priorities in the Dokdo Dispute
China: More Submarine Activity
U.S.: Naval Dominance and the Importance of Oceans
Amphibious Warships: The Real East Asian Arms Race
China: Molding Perceptions of Military Prowess
China: The Deceptive Logic for a Carrier Fleet
On March 4, the USNS Victorious (T-AGOS 19) had an encounter at night with a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries patrol vessel in the Yellow Sea. The USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS 23) was approached more aggressively in the South China Sea the next day, when a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) frigate reportedly crossed the Impeccable’s bow at a range of about 100 yards, and the Impeccable was buzzed nearly a dozen times at low altitude by a Y-12, a Chinese-made twin-engine turbo prop. Reportedly, the ship was threatened verbally over bridge-to-bridge radio on March 7 as well.

But it was the March 8 incident with the Impeccable that garnered the most attention. According to reports, a PLAN intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries patrol vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers were all involved in what the U.S. Navy has characterized as coordinated harassment of the Impeccable. Some of the ships were within 25 feet of the Impeccable at one point and stopped in front of the U.S. ship so close that the crew executed an emergency all stop to avoid a collision.





(click image to enlarge)
The Impeccable is an ocean surveillance ship, part of the Military Sealift Command, and is operated by a mixed crew of civilian and military personnel. Capable of deploying towed acoustic arrays, the U.S. ship was operating within 75 miles of Hainan Island, where a number of sensitive PLAN and other military activities are conducted (reportedly including the deployment of the PLAN’s next-generation nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines). China would at least be concerned about the United States refining its knowledge of the submarine operating environment, and likely felt compelled to assume that the Impeccable was conducting other surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities.

This is not a new dynamic. It is the same basic dynamic that gave rise to the EP-3 Ares II incident in 2001, in which a Chinese aircraft collided with a U.S. signals intelligence aircraft, forcing the EP-3 to land at Hainan Island. Normally, these activities are routine, and both sides abide by internationally accepted or even unspoken sets of rules. But when one side chooses to escalate the situation, matters can quickly spiral out of control.

Part of this is simply a matter of increased PLAN activity, characteristic of a larger shift in how Beijing employs its navy. But with the PLAN’s 60th anniversary approaching in April (a formal announcement about its plans for an aircraft carrier fleet is anticipated), and the impending return of its first squadron deployed to the coast of Somalia, the Chinese navy is undoubtedly feeling rather confident and accomplished these days.

But internal tensions may also be at play. With the financial crisis in full swing, the PLAN may also be attempting to drum up incidents for budgetary purposes, to forestall major fiscal cuts to its accounts.

More importantly, the March 8 incident is emblematic of broader maritime tensions in the East Asian sphere — and not just between China and the United States. Over the past several months, tensions over long-standing maritime territorial disputes have once again risen across the region. North Korea has once again declared that it does not abide by the Northern Limit Line, the maritime extension of the Demilitarized Zone in the West/Yellow Sea, warning that a clash with South Korean naval vessels patrolling the area could occur. Japan, meanwhile, has launched a 10-year seabed mapping and underwater resource prospecting program, triggering warnings from Seoul and Beijing not to use the operations to lay claim to the disputed Tokdo/Takeshima and Senkaku/Daiyoutai islands respectively. And China’s competing claims over islands in the South China Sea are also resurfacing, provoking counterclaims from the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

In short, the waters around China are becoming more crowded and the mood increasingly contentious. The March 8 incident could herald increased volatility in the maritime environment — across the region — for years to come.
23727  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Science vs. God on: March 11, 2009, 12:25:40 AM
Good article.  Nice to see someone think and write with intellectual integrity.
23728  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Georgia left to on: March 11, 2009, 12:24:13 AM
Georgia: Left to Russia's Mercy?
STRATFOR Today » March 10, 2009 | 1041 GMT

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili Summary
The United States and the European Union have let Georgia know that the West cannot protect the small Caucasus country from Russia, even though Georgia is pro-Western and an ally of NATO. Russia knows that Georgia on its own cannot threaten Moscow, but grows concerned when outside powers reach out to support the anti-Russian government in Tbilisi.

Analysis
Related Special Topic Page
The Russian Resurgence
The United States and the European Union have both informed Georgia that the West cannot really protect the small Caucasus state from its larger neighbor, Russia, even though NATO considers Tbilisi an ally. Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri was informed of this shift in position March 5 at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. First, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Gilauri to explain that the United States valued healing relations with the Russians over its commitment to the Georgians. After that, Gilauri went to the Europeans for clarification on their relationship with Georgia. According to STRATFOR sources, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner not only reiterated the U.S. position, she also advised Georgia to re-establish a working relationship with its former master, Russia.

Both the Americans and the Europeans understand that Russia has drawn a line in the sand around Georgia and most of its other former Soviet territories. And if the West wants Russia’s help on any issue — from strong energy ties to Afghanistan to Iran — it must change its relationship with Georgia.

Since the 2003 Rose Revolution brought a vehemently pro-Western and anti-Russian government to Tbilisi, Georgia has sought to solidify its relationship with the West by joining two Western institutions: NATO and the European Union. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States has sought to bring Georgia into NATO in hopes of expanding Western influence into the former Soviet sphere in an area other than Europe.

But Moscow sees Georgia as one of the cornerstones of Russia’s buffer and protection against the West and the other regional powers that touch the Caucasus, like Turkey and Iran. Russia knows that because of its geographic position and layout, Georgia is inherently weak, fractured and chaotic to the point that it cannot stand, let alone consolidate into a threat against Russia, without a benefactor. This has allowed Russia to overlook Georgia’s rebellious nature and anti-Russian sentiments. However, whenever another power begins to flirt with Georgia, Russia steps in to ensure that the country, which Moscow considers its turf, remains true to the Russian objective of keeping other powers at bay.

Geography
Georgia is destined to be a buffer state — and an unstable one at that. It is located in the Caucasus region along the dividing line between Europe and Asia, and it borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Georgia can be characterized by its river valley, mountain ranges and secessionist regions that split the country into countless pieces.





(click image to enlarge)
First, the only real core of the country exists around the Mtkvari River Valley, which runs like a horseshoe up through the center of the country. Many successful states are based around river valleys, but the Mtkvari flows the wrong way — into the landlocked Caspian, a sea with low coastal populations and thus low trade — to be of any benefit to Georgia. There is another river, the Rioni, that flows down from Georgia’s northern border and into the Black Sea at the port of Poti; however, this river is so shallow that trade is virtually impossible to the bustling Black Sea (or the connecting Mediterranean Sea). But the two rivers split the country into two major regions: one oriented toward Poti and the Black Sea, and the other toward the capital of Tbilisi and the Caspian Sea.

Neither of these cores is large or strong enough to overcome the isolation created by the mountain ranges that slice across most parts of Georgia. The mountains do have some benefits; the northern ranges protect the mainly Orthodox Christian country from Russia’s Muslim Caucasus belt and its myriad militant groups, and they provide limited protection from Russia itself. However, these mountains have created countless pockets of populations that see themselves as independent from Georgia. This has led to the rise of four main secessionist or separatist regions in Georgia, which account for approximately 30 percent of the country’s area and more than 20 percent of its population.





(click image to enlarge)
Abkhazia and South Ossetia
The breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are located on Georgia’s northern border with Russia. Their location and their ethnic links across the Russian border have made them fervently pro-Russian areas. Both have seen some intense wars with Georgia (especially the 1992-1993 Abkhazian War) in their bids for independence. The two regions were known around the world after the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia — through these two regions — which ended in Moscow recognizing the secessionist areas’ independence from Tbilisi. Only one other country — and an unimportant one at that — has also recognized the two regions’ independence, though the regions now have a permanent and decisive Russian military presence (3,600 soldiers in each region) to prevent Georgia from retaking the territory. Abkhazia and South Ossetia control the only two easily traversable routes north into Russia, leaving Georgia virtually cut off from any possibility of trade with its northern neighbor. Furthermore, Georgia’s largest and most-developed port, Sukhumi, is located in Abkhazia and is kept from Georgian use.

Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti
On Georgia’s southern border are the Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions. Georgia considers Adjara, which borders Turkey, an autonomous republic (like Abkhazia and South Ossetia). Georgia has fought to keep a hold on this region because it is the country’s most prosperous and is home to Georgia’s second-largest port, Batumi. The region attempted a major uprising in 2004, but without a major international backer — like Abkhazia and South Ossetia had — it failed to break free from Tbilisi.

Samtskhe-Javakheti differs from Adjara in that its majority population is ethnically Armenian, not Georgian. The region is closely tied to Yerevan, through which Russia pushes its influence. Tbilisi is also desperate to keep control over this area, because Georgia’s two major international pipelines — the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus natural gas pipeline — run from Azerbaijan to Turkey through the region. Samtskhe-Javakheti has called for autonomy like Georgia’s other three secessionist regions, though it is not yet organized enough to fight for such independence.

Economy
Because of Georgia’s geographically fractured and isolated condition, it has no real or substantial economy. Georgia’s main economic sector is agriculture, which only brings in less than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) but accounts for more than 55 percent of the workforce.

The problem with Georgia counting on agriculture is that all the good farmland is in the country’s west, far from the capital. (The rest of the country is too mountainous for agriculture.) The country cannot transport its agricultural goods easily or cheaply. Because of their location, size and direction, Georgia’s rivers cannot really transport goods, so Georgia is forced to use roads and some rail, which absorb every scrap of money the country has. These transport problems mean that vast amounts of crops spoil in Georgia’s fields, and the cost of domestic goods is higher than that of goods imported from Turkey or Russia.

The country’s next two economic sectors are heavy industry, which cannot run without supplies imported from Russia, and tourism, which has dropped off exponentially since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Georgia has thus had to rely on foreign cash to make up for its gap in revenues. In 2007, the country received $5.2 billion — approximately 55 percent of its GDP — in foreign direct investment, though most of that came from the pipelines crossing Georgia from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

Politics
Despite Georgia’s splintered geography, population and economy, the country is politically consolidated. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power after the Rose Revolution, which was Western-funded and organized. Since then, he and his party have kept a tight grip on Tbilisi, winning the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections with more than 95 percent of the vote. Any opposition is split among dozens of minuscule groups that have yet to show any signs of unifying. Also, Saakashvili has thus far befriended, crushed or booted out of the country any viable opposition candidates.

Saakashvili and his group are firmly anti-Russian, but they understand that political power is not enough to challenge Russian influence in the country. This is why Georgia has had to rely on foreign backers — mainly Europe and the United States — to give any sort of protection to the small, structurally troubled state. There is a regional power Georgia could turn to in Turkey. However, Ankara understands that Russia has marked the state as its turf, and Turkey has decided that Georgia is not worth the messy fight in order to gain influence in the Caucasus.

And Europe and the United States do not have the advantage of being geographically close to Georgia in order to keep their influence present. It would be easy for Europe and/or the United States to project power into Georgia via its seaports, but in order to get across and hold Georgia, troops would have to take multiple routes, as the Russians did in 2008. That would not be a simple process for powers that do not border Georgia.

The Russian View
Russia does not really care if Georgia is friendly to it, nor does it care if Tbilisi is pro-Western. Georgia simply cannot threaten Russia, and Moscow has too many ways to destabilize the small state. Because of its geographic makeup and infrastructure, Georgia is easy to destabilize and easily opened to Russian power projection, as messy as that process is.

However, Moscow does feel threatened about Georgia’s ability to swipe at Russia’s underbelly with the assistance of a powerful foreign backer. Russia views Georgia much like the United States views Cuba: The small country cannot do much damage acting out on its own, but if a foreign power begins to flirt with the state, then Russia must immediately and forcefully pull it back into its sphere.
23729  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: March 11, 2009, 12:18:15 AM
Well, she may not have bent over for Bill, but she'll have the US doing it for Hamas.  cry
23730  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 75 year old woman to be lashed in SA on: March 10, 2009, 09:19:47 AM
Saudi court sentences 75-year-old woman to lashes

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

The religion of peace and joy shows it's true self again.

CAIRO (AP) - A 75-year-old widow in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in jail for mingling with two young men who are not close relatives, drawing new criticism for the kingdom's ultraconservative religious police and judiciary.
The woman's lawyer told The Associated Press on Monday that he would appeal the verdict against Khamisa Sawadi, who is Syrian but was married to a Saudi. The attorney, Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, said the verdict issued March 3 also demands that Sawadi be deported after serving her sentence.

He said his client, who is not serving her sentence yet, was not speaking with the media, and he declined to provide more details about the case.

The newspaper Al-Watan said the woman met with the two 24-year-old men last April after she asked them to bring her five loaves of bread at her home in al-Chamil, a city north of the capital, Riyadh.

Al-Watan identified one man as Fahd al-Anzi, the nephew of Sawadi's late husband, and the other as his friend and business partner Hadiyan bin Zein. It said they were arrested by the religious police after delivering the bread. The men also were convicted and sentenced to lashes and prison.

The court said it based its ruling on "citizen information" and testimony from al-Anzi's father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. "Because she said she doesn't have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed," the court verdict read.

Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling. It also bars women from driving, and the playing of music, dancing and many movies also are a concern for hard-liners who believe they violate religious and moral values.

Complaints from Saudis have been growing that the religious police and courts are overstepping their broad mandate and interfering in people's lives, and critics lambasted the handling of Sawadi's case.

"How can a verdict be issued based on suspicion?" Laila Ahmed al-Ahdab, a physician who also is a columnist for Al-Watan, wrote Monday. "A group of people are misusing religion to serve their own interests." Sawadi told the court she considered al-Anzi as her son, because she breast-fed him when he was a baby. But the court denied her claim, saying she didn't provide evidence.

In Islamic tradition, breast-feeding establishes a degree of maternal relation, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers. Sawadi commonly asked her neighbors for help after her husband died, said journalist Bandar al-Ammar, who reported the story for Al-Watan. In a recent article, he wrote that he felt the need to report the case "so everybody knows to what degree we have reached."

The woman's conviction came a few weeks after King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast "immoral content." The move was seen as part of an effort to weaken the hard-line Sunni Muslim establishment.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. By MAGGIE MICHAEL
23731  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Freeman at NIC is profoundly scary. WHY THE SILENCE? on: March 10, 2009, 01:30:50 AM
WSJ

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published a letter from 17 U.S. ambassadors defending the appointment of Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. The same day, the leaders of the 1989 protests that led to the massacre at Beijing's Tiananmen Square wrote Barack Obama "to convey our intense dismay at your selection" of Mr. Freeman.

If moral weight could be measured on a zero to 100 scale, the signatories of the latter letter, some of whom spent years in Chinese jails, would probably find themselves in the upper 90s. Where Mr. Freeman and his defenders stand on this scale is something readers can decide for themselves.

So what do Chinese democracy activists have against Mr. Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia? As it turns out, they are all, apparently, part-and-parcel of the Israel Lobby.

In a recent article about Mr. Freeman's nomination in the Huffington Post, M.J. Rosenberg of the left-wing Israel Policy Forum writes that "Everyone involved in the anti-Freeman effort are staunch allies of the lobby." Of course: Only the most fervid Likudnik mandarins could object to Mr. Freeman's 2006 characterization of Mao Zedong as a man who, for all his flaws, had a "brilliance of . . . personality [that] illuminated the farthest corners of his country and inspired many would-be revolutionaries and romantics beyond it." It also takes a Shanghai Zionist to demur from Mr. Freeman's characterization of the Chinese leadership's response to the "mob scene" at Tiananmen as "a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership."

Mr. Freeman knows China well: He served as a translator during Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to Beijing. More recently, Mr. Freeman served on the advisory board of CNOOC, the Chinese state-owned oil giant. Is this also a qualification to lead the NIC?

But the Far East is by no means Mr. Freeman's only area of expertise. For many years he has led the Middle East Policy Council, generously funded by Saudi money. It's a generosity Mr. Freeman has amply repaid.

Thus, recalling Mr. Freeman's special pleading on behalf of Riyadh during his stint as ambassador in the early '90s, former Secretary of State James Baker called it "a classic case of clientitis from one of our best diplomats." Mr. Freeman has also been quoted as saying "It is widely charged in the United States that Saudi Arabian education teaches hateful and evil things. I do not think this is the case." Yet according to a 2006 report in the Washington Post, an eighth grade Saudi textbook contains the line, "They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied." Maybe Mr. Freeman was unaware of this. Or maybe he doesn't consider it particularly evil and hateful.

Whatever the case, Mr. Freeman has been among the Kingdom's most devoted fans, going so far as to suggest that King Abdullah "is very rapidly becoming Abdullah the Great." No sycophancy there.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Freeman was a ferocious critic of the war on terror. Not surprising, either, was his opinion about what started it: "We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel's approach to managing its relations with the Arabs," he said in 2006. "Five years ago we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home."

This is not a particularly original argument, although in Mr. Freeman's case it becomes a kind of monomania, in which Israel is always the warmonger, always slapping away Arab hands extended in peace. Say what you will about this depiction of reality, there's also a peculiar psychology at work.

Then again, as Middle East scholar Martin Kramer points out, Mr. Freeman's recent views on the causes of 9/11 contradict his view from 1998, when he insisted that al Qaeda's "campaign of violence against the United States has nothing to do with Israel." What changed? Mr. Kramer thinks Mr. Freeman was merely following the lead of his benefactor, Citibank shareholder Prince Al-Waleed, who opined that 9/11 was all about U.S. support for Israel, not what the Kingdom teaches about the infidels.

Is Mr. Freeman merely a shill? That seems unfair, even if it's hard to square his remorseless "realism" in matters Chinese with the touching solicitude he feels for Israel's victims (who, by his count, must be numbered in the tens of millions). James Fallows of the Atlantic has argued that Mr. Freeman's "contrarian inclination" would serve him well in the NIC post. But the line between contrarian and crackpot is a thin one, and knowing the difference between the two is a main task of intelligence.

Adm. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence who asked Mr. Freeman to serve, is testifying today in Congress. Somebody should ask him if any of Mr. Freeman's views quoted above meet the definition of "crackpot," and, if not, why?
23732  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China on: March 09, 2009, 04:07:47 PM
In that light, there's this:

U.S.: Chinese ships harass Navy
Obama administration officials cite days of 'increasingly aggressive' acts
The Associated Press
updated 8:22 a.m. PT, Mon., March. 9, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Defense Department charged Monday that five Chinese ships shadowed and maneuvered dangerously close to a U.S. Navy vessel in an apparent attempt to harass the American crew.

Obama administration defense officials said the incident Sunday followed several days of "increasingly aggressive" acts by Chinese ships in the region.

U.S. officials said a protest was to be delivered to Beijing's military attache at a Pentagon meeting Monday.

The USNS Impeccable sprayed one ship with water from fire hoses to force it away. Despite the force of the water, Chinese crew members stripped to their underwear and continued closing within 25 feet, the department said.

"On March 8, 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters," the Pentagon statement said.

The Chinese ships included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, officials said.

"The Chinese vessels surrounded USNS Impeccable, two of them closing to within 50 feet, waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area," defense officials said in the statement.

"Because the vessels' intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself," the Defense statement said. "The Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet."

Emergency stop

Impeccable crew radioed to tell the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and requested a safe path to navigate, the Pentagon said.

But shortly afterward, two of the Chinese ships stopped directly ahead of the Impeccable, forcing it to an emergency stop in order to avoid collision because the Chinese had dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of Impeccable's path, the Pentagon said.

Defense officials said the incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

"The unprofessional maneuvers by Chinese vessels violated the requirement under international law to operate with due regard for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the ocean," said Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

"We expect Chinese ships to act responsibly and refrain from provocative activities that could lead to miscalculation or a collision at sea, endangering vessels and the lives of U.S. and Chinese mariners," Upton added.

Military-to-military consultations resumed

The incident came just a week after China and the U.S. resumed military-to-military consultations following a five-month suspension over American arms sales to Taiwan. It also comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is due in Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials. And it brings to mind the first foreign policy crisis that former President George Bush suffered with Beijing shortly after he took office — China's forced landing of a spy plane and seizure of the crew in April of 2001.

The Pentagon said the incident came after several other incidents involving the Impeccable and another U.S. vessel Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

It described those as the following:

On Wednesday, a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries Patrol vessel used a high-intensity spotlight to illuminate the entire length of the ocean surveillance ship USNS Victorious several times as it was operating in the Yellow Sea, about 125 nautical miles from China's coast, the Pentagon said, adding that the Chinese ship Victorious' bow at a range of about 1400 yards in darkness without notice or warning. The next day, a Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft conducted 12 fly-bys of Victorious at an altitude of about 400 feet and a range of 500 yards.

On Thursday, a Chinese frigate approached USNS Impeccable without warning and crossed its bow at a range of approximately 100 yards, the Pentagon said. This was followed less than two hours later by a Chinese Y-12 aircraft conducting 11 fly-bys of Impeccable at an altitude of 600 feet and a range from 100-300 feet. The frigate then crossed Impeccable's bow yet again, this time at a range of approximately 400-500 yards without rendering courtesy or notice of her intentions.

On Saturday, a Chinese intelligence collection ship challenged USNS Impeccable over bridge-to-bridge radio, calling her operations illegal and directing Impeccable to leave the area or "suffer the consequences."
23733  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Day by Day on: March 09, 2009, 01:12:56 PM
Can't you see that they are helping us?

http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/2009/02/16/
23734  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: March 09, 2009, 01:10:56 PM
One of my favorite strips, on twitter:

http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/2009/02/15/
23735  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Oh, really? answer the Chinese on: March 09, 2009, 12:45:23 PM
Chinese political advisors propose making yuan an int'l currency
www.chinaview.cn  2009-03-07 20:18:22  Print


NPC, CPPCC Annual Sessions 2009
Special Report: Global Financial Crisis

BEIJING, March 7 (Xinhua) -- China should speed up reforming its financial system to make the yuan an international currency, said political advisors Saturday.

"A significant inspiration to draw from the global financial crisis is that we must play an active role in the reconstruction of the international financial order," said Peter Kwong Ching Woo, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Wharf (Holdings) Limited.

The key to financial reform is to make the yuan an international currency, said Woo in a speech to the Second Session of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body.
That means using the Chinese currency to settle international trade payments, allowing the yuan freely convertible on the capital account and making it an international reserve currency, he said.

China's yuan, or Renminbi, can be freely convertible on the current account but not on the capital account, preventing it from being a reserve currency or a choice in international trade settlement. China has announced trial programs to settle trade in the yuan, a move analysts say will facilitate foreign trade as Chinese exporters might face losses if they continue to be paid in the U.S. dollar. The dollar's exchange rate has become more volatile since the global financial crisis. Economists say the move will increase the acceptance of the currency in Asia, which will help it become an international currency in the long run.

The status of the yuan as an international currency will benefit China by giving it a bigger say in world financial issues and reducing the reliance of its huge foreign reserves on the U.S. dollar, some analysts say.

Other analysts argue a fully convertible yuan will hurt China as it would allow massive capital outflow during a financial crisis.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities remain cautious.

It's possible that the global financial crisis will facilitate the process of making the yuan internationally accepted, but there's no need to push for that, Yi Gang, vice central bank governor, told Xinhua earlier this month. That process should be conducive to all sides, he said.

Xu Shanda, former vice director of the State Administration of Taxation and a CPPCC National Committee member, urged for faster paces in making the yuan an international currency as a way of increasing national wealth. He said the United States and the European Union have obtained hefty royalties from the international use of their currencies while China has become the biggest source of that income.

A royalty, or seignior age, results from the difference between the cost of printing currency and the face value of the money.
"China's loss due to royalty payment has far exceeded the benefit of not making the yuan an international currency," he said in a speech to the annual session of the CPPCC National Committee, without elaborating. China's State Council, or Cabinet, said last December it would allow the yuan to be used for settlement between the country's two economic powerhouses -- Guangdong Province and the Yangtze River Delta -- and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao. Meanwhile, exporters in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province will be allowed to use Renminbi to settle trade payments with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members.
23736  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mark to market a big mistake on: March 09, 2009, 12:37:27 PM
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123630304198047321.html
23737  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: March 09, 2009, 11:32:32 AM
ditor’s Note: This is the sixth piece in a series that explores how key countries in various regions have interacted with the United States in the past, and how their relationships with Washington will likely be defined during the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

South Asia is the initial foreign policy focal point of Barack Obama’s presidency. From an intractable and war-torn Afghanistan to a deeply conflicted Pakistan to a self-enclosed and mistrustful India, this is not a region in which the United States is comfortable operating. Nevertheless, South Asia in many ways will determine the success or failure of Obama’s foreign policy record.

An ‘Unwinnable’ War?
The most critical test will take place in Afghanistan, where an already-raging jihadist insurgency — consisting of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and various other radical Islamist groups — is intensifying. These jihadist fighters have used the time that the United States has spent absorbed in the war in Iraq to hone their skills on the battlefield and develop a more centralized command structure that has enabled them to hold large swaths of territory and launch complex and coordinated attacks against primarily Afghan and coalition targets.

Senior U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan, who have been watching the security situation degrade by the day, have requested that Obama approve an initial counterinsurgency plan to pour more troops into Afghanistan. The idea would be to get more boots on the ground in and around Kabul, push back the Taliban and devote more resources to nation-building operations. But while this surge strategy seems to have worked in Iraq, it is fundamentally flawed when applied in a country as large, complex and insular as Afghanistan.





Click map to enlarge
Landlocked by Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan, Afghanistan is destined to be poor and insulated. As a largely arid, resource-deficient no-man’s-land, the country lacks strategic value in and of itself and historically has served as a thoroughfare for invaders descending from the Central Asian steppes in search of the Indian subcontinent. Afghanistan stands out among the world’s countries in that it has no core region that defines itself as the Indus River Valley does for Pakistan or as the Zagros Mountains do for Iran. The region’s central mountain knot keeps most of its various ethnicities perched on the edges of the knot where water is available, but there are no meaningful barriers that separate them from each other. The result is a hodgepodge of ethnic groups and tribes constantly competing for dominance, endlessly able to dislodge their neighbors and yet lacking the natural barriers that could give them real security in the long run. Any outsider, therefore, will find Afghanistan easy to conquer — as did the Russians in 1979 and the Americans in 2001 — but impossible to hold. Representing a battered mix of ethnicities, the Afghan people have been hardened by wars of their own making and those brought to them by outsiders. Territory changes hands often, and the people pledge their loyalties accordingly.

Afghanistan’s geographic features essentially deny the United States a successful military strategy. When the United States fights wars in Eurasia, it already expects to deal with critical disadvantages, such as having its forces far outnumbered and having to maintain long and vulnerable supply lines. From almost its very beginning, the United States has conducted expeditionary military operations overseas; since World War II, it has come to rely on its global maritime dominance and technological edge to impose its influence far beyond U.S. coastlines. In the present case of Afghanistan, however, all the strengths that the United States typically brings to a military operation are more or less nullified. With no real power base, the United States is fighting a stateless entity in a landlocked country with a scattered population. Such a dynamic prevents the United States from utilizing its naval prowess and complicates the use of advanced weapons systems, particularly when used against a guerrilla enemy dispersed throughout the countryside. The only way to fight in Afghanistan is to use brute force and significant numbers of boots on the ground in a war of occupation — precisely the sort of war that lies outside the U.S. comfort zone.





Click map to enlarge
In other words, Afghanistan’s geography in many ways denies the United States any good policy options. Afghanistan historically has been a country exceedingly difficult for an outside power to pacify. At the very best, the United States can hope for a loose and shifting confederation of Afghan tribes and ethnic groups to try and govern the country and prevent transnational jihadist forces from taking root again. But for that strategy to work, the United States would first need to devote an immense amount of time and resources to long-term counterinsurgency and nation-building in a region extremely resistant to the sort of stability required for nation-building. Without the 9/11 connection, Afghanistan would continue to sit very low on the totem pole of U.S. strategic interests.

The Neighborhood Powder Keg
Compounding matters is the situation next door in Pakistan. Pakistan has reached a point where it has become both a facilitator and a victim of the jihadist insurgency that has seeped across the Afghan border and broken Islamabad’s writ over the country’s northwestern region. The root of this contradiction is steeped in Pakistan’s geopolitical dilemma.

The Pakistani core lies along the Indus River Valley in Punjab and Sindh provinces, where the agricultural heartland, political epicenter and military corps commands are dominated by the country’s Punjabi majority. The relatively narrow width of the Indus River Valley core denies Pakistan any real strategic depth against external threats, making it a geopolitical imperative for Pakistan to incorporate the ethnically disparate borderlands to the Baloch-dominated west and Pashtun-dominated northwest as strategic buffers. The mountainous Pashtun corridor to the north is inhabited by conservative tribal peoples who have more in common with their Pashtun brethren across the Afghan border than with the Indic peoples of the Pakistani core. The only way for Pakistan to maintain territorial integrity is to maintain an overwhelmingly powerful military that can impose its writ on the Pakistani periphery.

The military has long used the Islamic religious identity of the majority of the country and the ideology of Islamism as a state tool to assimilate the northwest Pashtun and as a foreign policy tool to spread influence into Afghanistan (thereby extending the Pakistani buffer) and to contain India, its rival to the east, through the use of Islamist militant proxies. The strategy worked for decades until a jihadist movement took root among the Pashtuns and Islamabad’s militant proxies broke free of Islamabad’s grip.

The situation has now deteriorated to the point where even the Pakistanis are acknowledging their dilemma. They have little choice but to take action against rogue Islamists within both the military-intelligence apparatus and the insurgent camp in order to fend off external pressure and hold onto their northwestern buffer.

But Pakistan continues to search for a middle ground. Unwilling to see the domestic backlash that would result from cutting ties to its former militant proxies, Islamabad wants to reach an understanding with certain Islamist militants and sympathizers within the military and among the Pakistani Taliban and Kashmiri Islamists to halt attacks at least inside Pakistan. The Pakistanis are also pursuing a complex strategy to sow divisions within Pakistan’s northwest tribal network in an attempt to corner tribes that harbor al Qaeda and other foreign militants. The problem with these middle-ground strategies is that making deals with the Pakistani Taliban and the tribes that support them only emboldens the militants and usually entails a private understanding to redirect the insurgent focus across the border into Afghanistan, where it becomes Kabul’s and Washington’s problem.

This is where Pakistan becomes a royal headache for the United States. Pakistan is a supply chain not only for the jihadists, but also for U.S. and NATO troops fighting the war in Afghanistan. The United States is tied to Pakistan in two fundamental ways: While U.S. and NATO forces must rely on increasingly unreliable Pakistani supply routes to fight the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan — fearful that the United States and India will establish a long-term strategic partnership — has the incentive to keep the jihadist insurgency boiling (preferably in Afghanistan) in order to keep the Americans committed to an alliance with Islamabad, however complex that alliance might be.

Moving forward, U.S. strategy for Pakistan will be aimed toward cutting those links, beginning with the supply-route issue. The United States is trying to develop alternate routes through Central Asia (which would come at a high political and logistical price) to supply the war in Afghanistan from the north. Less reliance on Pakistan means less leverage for Islamabad over Washington when the United States applies more pressure on Pakistan to take risks and “do more” at home in battling the insurgency. That said, Washington will not be able to ignore the fact that Pakistan is currently in a very fragile state — politically, economically and militarily. This makes any U.S. action in Pakistan, including airstrikes against high-value targets, all the more precarious as Islamabad tries to hold the country together.

The more destabilized Pakistan becomes, the more nervous India will become; the November 2008 Mumbai attacks illustrated the extent to which Islamabad’s grip had loosened over its militant proxies. India took no retaliatory military action in response to the attacks for fear of destabilizing Pakistan further and giving the Islamist militant forces already operating in Pakistan an excuse to redirect their focus on India. But India also has to contend with the reality that a number of jihadist forces in Pakistan have a strong interest in forcing Pakistan and India into conflict, which would divert Pakistani military attention to the east and give the Taliban and al Qaeda more breathing room.

It follows, then, that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks would at least attempt follow-on attacks in India to push the South Asian rivals into conflict. If and when a large-scale attack occurs, Indian military restraint cannot be assured, especially in the event that a more hard-line Hindu nationalist government comes to power in upcoming Indian elections. In such a scenario, the United States will have to once again devote its efforts toward preventing India and Pakistan from coming to blows and from detracting even further from U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan.

A Lack of Good Policy Options
The enormous complexity surrounding the war in Afghanistan does not allow for many good U.S. policy options, but there are essentially four proposals, not all mutually exclusive and each with its pros and cons, sitting before the president.

First, do not attempt nation-building in Afghanistan, where there are little to no strategic resources or institutions to build from. Instead of bringing a large number of combat troops into the country, which would absorb much of the U.S. military’s capabilities, rely primarily on U.S. intelligence capabilities to narrow the warfighting focus just to al Qaeda, in an effort to prevent the country from redeveloping into a jihadist base of operations capable of launching transcontinental attacks against the West. In other words, return to the original objectives and methods of the war.

Narrowing the U.S. effort to fighting al Qaeda would free up the U.S. military for other pressing issues, particularly a resurgent Russia. On the other hand, eliminating the nation-building component would leave Afghanistan in the same hazardous condition that allowed the development of al Qaeda in the first place.

Second, instead of nation-building, focus on rebuilding the traditional, decentralized tribal structures that historically have ruled Afghanistan and have been strained by years of civil war. Put the onus on the Afghans to battle radicalization and to make the country inhospitable to foreign jihadist fighters.

Relying on local tribal structures to strengthen law and order in the country is far more attainable than attempting to implement an alien democratic structure at the center in a country like Afghanistan. However, this policy still has to contend with the fact that many tribal structures have broken down from years of civil war and rule by the Taliban, that Islamist radicalization has spread far and wide throughout the country and that, in some cases, the Taliban have done better in providing for the population than the largely corrupt Afghan government. Any “success” using this strategy would generate a “solution” as transitory as any Afghan “government” to date.

Third, do not attempt nation-building, but instead try to defang radical groups by reconciling with more moderate Taliban who can be integrated into the political process.

Politically co-opting segments of the Taliban could well divide the insurgency, much as the United States did with Sunni nationalists in Iraq, who turned their backs to al Qaeda after a major troop surge. However, the United States must first regain the upper hand in the fight and commit enough resources to the war to make it worthwhile for those who are reconcilable who can actually be identified to risk their safety in switching sides. The idea of reconciliation is critical in any counterinsurgency campaign but is often doomed to failure if approached too early in the process.

Fourth, subscribe to the belief that any policy that abandons some notion of nation-building will allow for the re-establishment of an al Qaeda base to threaten Western interests. Commit to Afghanistan for the medium to long term, and devote enough time and resources to build a strong enough state structure at the center that would be capable of providing for the Afghan people and of containing irreconcilable jihadist forces.

A long-term commitment to Afghanistan may have the best chance of making the country inhospitable to jihadist forces, but given the number of competing high-priority issues threatening U.S. security right now, the United States likely will not be able to devote the amount of resources needed to pull off such a strategy — especially in a country that has never been pacified by a foreign occupier.

The Power of Perception … and Exhaustion
While there are options on the table for Obama to consider in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan, he does not have a lot of time to mull over those options. This is a war where the power of perception will play a key role if the United States hopes to divide the insurgency in any meaningful way. Thus far, the United States has not demonstrated that it is willing or even able to devote enough resources to decisively win the war. Senior U.S. military commanders have requested up to 32,000 additional U.S. troops (which would bring total U.S. and NATO force strength to more than 100,000) to help beef up their force structure in Kabul and to push back into Taliban-held territory. But with competing interests in Iraq, where senior U.S. military commanders want to consolidate the security gains made there by avoiding too hasty a withdrawal, only 17,000 additional troops have been approved for deployment to Afghanistan thus far. That troop surge of 17,000 will be spread out over the next six months, allowing the Taliban to consolidate their power in the spring and summer — the traditional fighting season — while the United States tries to get a relatively small number of additional troops into theater.

In Iraq, where the ground realities are vastly different from those in Afghanistan, the United States was able to add more muscle to the counterinsurgency effort, lock down security and — just as importantly — deliver a psychological message to Iraqi Sunni insurgents that the United States would be their security guarantor against Iranian and Iraqi Shiite rivals and an al Qaeda force that had alienated the local population. In Afghanistan, a troop surge of 17,000 or even 32,000 troops will likely lack the psychological impact to convince the Taliban that the United States can still fight this war and win. The Taliban see a resumption of political power as a strategic goal, but they do not face a significant internal threat that would compel them to deal with the United States. STRATFOR sources have said that the Taliban leadership often tells its fighters that their job is not necessarily to win battles, but to make it as painful as possible for Western forces to stay any longer. The insurgent strategy is simple yet effective: Outlast the enemy through the power of exhaustion. This strategy has been successfully applied before in a war against the United States (witness Vietnam), and it can be successfully applied again, given the U.S. penchant for concerted military power and quick victories.

The United States can try to battle the Taliban for some time, but insurgencies have long lives and a military stalemate in Afghanistan is a far more likely outcome. When that realization is reached, the United States may have to settle on a strategy that focuses much less on troop strength than on special operations against al Qaeda. This was the strategy that the United States embarked upon in Afghanistan in October 2001, and it is likely the strategy to which it eventually will have to return.

A little more than a year ago, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee, “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.” That statement describes a clear gap in priorities for the United States in fighting these two wars. Now, with the spotlight on Afghanistan, the Obama administration will have to decide just how much it is willing to commit to a war in a country that has a historical record of outlasting foreign occupiers. Afghanistan may be a pressing issue for the United States, but it is also competing with a larger and arguably more strategic threat that will impact U.S. national security beyond the life of the U.S.-jihadist war — the Russian resurgence.
23738  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 09, 2009, 10:47:53 AM
Good points, though may I suggest the post might better belong in the "Future of the Rep party etc" thread?
23739  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / De Toquevelle and Ledeen on: March 09, 2009, 10:45:23 AM
second post of the day

"That [tyrannical government] power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?" --French historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

 
Are we the lobsters?
LIBERTY
"Most of us imagine the transformation of a free society to a tyrannical state in Hollywood terms, as a melodramatic act of violence like a military coup or an armed insurrection. [Alexis de] Tocqueville knows better. He foresees a slow death of freedom. The power of the centralized government will gradually expand, meddling in every area of our lives until, like a lobster in a slowly heated pot, we are cooked without ever realizing what has happened. The ultimate horror of Tocqueville's vision is that we will welcome it, and even convince ourselves that we control it. There is no single dramatic event in Tocqueville's scenario, no storming of the Bastille, no assault on the Winter Palace, no March on Rome, no Kristallnacht. We are to be immobilized, Gulliver-like, by myriad rules and regulations, annoying little restrictions that become more and more binding until they eventually paralyze us. ... Permitting the central government to assume our proper responsibilities is not merely a transfer of power from us to them; it does grave damage to our spirit. It subverts our national character. In Tocqueville's elegant construction, it 'renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself.' Once we go over the edge toward the pursuit of material wealth, our energies uncoil, and we become meek, quiescent and flaccid in the defense of freedom." --author Michael Ledeen
23740  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why on: March 09, 2009, 08:58:29 AM
I am sad for our country to say that I fear that you are entirely correct.
23741  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson; Reagan; Paine on: March 09, 2009, 08:56:04 AM
 
"On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already?"

--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 12, 1782

"Government can do something for the people only in proportion as it can do something to the people." -- Thomas Jefferson
 
"This is the real task before us: to reassert our commitment as a nation to a law higher than our own, to renew our spiritual strength. Only by building a wall of such spiritual resolve can we, as a free people, hope to protect our own heritage and make it someday the birthright of all men." --Ronald Reagan


Thomas Paine, (December 19, 1776): "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."
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http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/2009/03/01/

23742  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: March 09, 2009, 12:31:50 AM
Grateful for the interesting times in which we live-- times of great adventure!
23743  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Whither the dither? on: March 09, 2009, 12:14:15 AM
By JAMES TARANTO
We never thought we'd say this, but former Enron adviser Paul Krugman has a pretty good column in today's New York Times. It's a tough criticism of the Obama administration but, unlike Krugman's hundreds of anti-Bush columns, it is not a rant. Krugman is concerned that President Obama is not treating the crisis in America's financial institutions with sufficient urgency:

Among people I talk to there's a growing sense of frustration, even panic, over Mr. Obama's failure to match his words with deeds. The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. Policy is stuck in a holding pattern. . . .
Why do officials keep offering plans that nobody else finds credible? Because somehow, top officials in the Obama administration and at the Federal Reserve have convinced themselves that troubled assets, often referred to these days as "toxic waste," are really worth much more than anyone is actually willing to pay for them--and that if these assets were properly priced, all our troubles would go away.
Krugman argues, somewhat counterintuitively, that the administration is inhibited by free-market ideology:

Officials still aren't willing to face the facts. They don't want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it's very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable.
Krugman has a Nobel Prize in Economics, so we will leave it to others of comparable expertise to evaluate his diagnosis of and prescription for the problem. Politically, however, it strikes us that he is missing the bigger picture.

Podcast
James Taranto discusses Obama's skewed priorities.
Obama is a popular new president with a mandate for "change" and big partisan majorities in both houses of Congress. The public, quite understandably, is terribly nervous about the economy. If Obama had a clear plan for dealing with the current crisis--whether Krugman's or something along different lines--surely he would have little problem generating political support for it.

The problem is that the president's priorities lie elsewhere. Charles Krauthammer makes the point in his column today:

With our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing-in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.
What's going on? "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," said chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before."
And as Reuters reports from Brussels, Emanuel isn't the only one saying it:

[Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton told young Europeans at the European Parliament that global economic turmoil provided a fresh opening. "Never waste a good crisis . . . Don't waste it when it can have a very positive impact on climate change and energy security," she said.
Blogress Ann Althouse, an Obama supporter, remarks: "What if George Bush or Dick Cheney had said something like that openly? It's the kind of line that people used to imagine Bush people saying in secret."

Obama is brazenly doing what the left accused Bush of: cynically using the first major crisis of his presidency as an excuse to pursue his own ideological agenda. But as evidenced by the lack of major terror attacks on U.S. territory since 2001, Bush at least did what was necessary to answer the immediate crisis. Even Paul Krugman acknowledges Obama has fallen short on that score.
23744  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ Challenge to Islamic Scholarship on: March 09, 2009, 12:09:53 AM
By TAWFIK HAMID
The film "Fitna" by Dutch parliament member Geert Wilders has created an uproar around the world because it links violence committed by Islamists to Islam.

Many commentators and politicians -- including the British government, which denied him entry to the country last month -- reflexively accused Mr. Wilders of inciting hatred. The question, however, is whether the blame is with Mr. Wilders, who simply exposed Islamic radicalism, or with those who promote and engage in this religious extremism. In other words, shall we fault Mr. Wilders for raising issues like the stoning of women, or shall we fault those who actually promote and practice this crime?

Many Muslims seem to believe that it is acceptable to teach hatred and violence in the name of their religion -- while at the same time expecting the world to respect Islam as a religion of peace, love and harmony.

Scholars in the most prestigious Islamic institutes and universities continue to teach things like Jews are "pigs and monkeys," that women and men must be stoned to death for adultery, or that Muslims must fight the world to spread their religion. Isn't, then, Mr. Wilders's criticism appropriate? Instead of blaming him, we must blame the leading Islamic scholars for having failed to produce an authoritative book on Islamic jurisprudence that is accepted in the Islamic world and unambiguously rejects these violent teachings.

While many religious texts preach violence, the interpretation, modern usage and implementation of these teachings make all the difference. For example, the stoning of women exists in both the Old Testament and in the Islamic tradition, or "Sunna" -- the recorded deeds and manners of the prophet Muhammad. The difference, though, is that leading Jewish scholars agreed to discontinue these practices centuries ago, while Muslim scholars have yet to do so. Hence we do not see the stoning of women practiced or promoted in Israel, the "Jewish" state, but we see it practiced and promoted in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the "Islamic" states.

When the British government banned Geert Wilders from entering the country to present his film in the House of Lords, it made two egregious errors. The first was to suppress free speech, a canon of the civilized Western world. The second mistake was to blame the messenger -- punishing, so to speak, the witness who exposed the crime instead of punishing the criminal. Mr. Wilders did not produce the content of the violent Islamic message he showed in his film -- the Islamic world did that. Until the Islamic clerical establishment takes concrete steps to reject violence in the name of their religion, Mr. Wilders's criticism is not only permissible as "controversial" free speech but justified.

So, Islamic scholars and clerics, it is up to you to produce a Shariah book that will be accepted in the Islamic world and that teaches that Jews are not pigs and monkeys, that declaring war to spread Islam is unacceptable, and that killing apostates is a crime. Such a book would prove that Islam is a religion of peace.

Mr. Hamid, a former member of an Egyptian Islamist terrorist group, is an Islamic reformer and senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
23745  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Espionage Act on: March 09, 2009, 12:04:26 AM
There was good news for the First Amendment late last month, when a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee can use evidence from classified documents in their defense at trial on espionage charges. The ruling provides a golden opportunity for President Obama's Justice Department to drop this misbegotten case.

The prosecution should never have been brought in the first place, for reasons of law and damage to free speech. In 2005, American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were accused of divulging information they learned from Administration officials to journalists as well as officials in the Israeli government.

The Espionage Act of 1917 was intended to apply to government leakers, but in this case Justice (and original Bush-era prosecutor Paul McNulty) has been attempting to apply it to two men who merely heard such information and passed it on. This is of course precisely what journalists often do, albeit to larger audiences than Messrs. Rosen and Weissman reached. A success in this case would make any journalist who reports classified information, no matter how benign, a potential target of government prosecution.

The U.S. doesn't have a United Kingdom-style Official Secrets Act, and Justice shouldn't be allowed to impose one via the backdoor by reinterpreting an old and rarely invoked statute. The good news is that the ruling will make it difficult to marshal enough evidence to convict Messrs. Rosen and Weissman. The case is one of the Bush Justice Department's misfires, and Attorney General Eric Holder can do the country a favor by dropping it.
23746  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: March 08, 2009, 08:52:18 PM
I'm confused.  What is the Iranian birth rate?
23747  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO adopts Bush's position on: March 08, 2009, 08:41:53 PM
The Obama Administration this week released its predecessor's post-9/11 legal memoranda in the name of "transparency," producing another round of feel-good Bush criticism. Anyone interested in President Obama's actual executive-power policies, however, should look at his position on warrantless wiretapping. Dick Cheney must be smiling.

 
APIn a federal lawsuit, the Obama legal team is arguing that judges lack the authority to enforce their own rulings in classified matters of national security. The standoff concerns the Oregon chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi Arabian charity that was shut down in 2004 on evidence that it was financing al Qaeda. Al-Haramain sued the Bush Administration in 2005, claiming it had been illegally wiretapped.

At the heart of Al-Haramain's case is a classified document that it says proves that the alleged eavesdropping was not authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. That record was inadvertently disclosed after Al-Haramain was designated as a terrorist organization; the Bush Administration declared such documents state secrets after their existence became known.

In July, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the President's right to do so, which should have ended the matter. But the San Francisco panel also returned the case to the presiding district court judge, Vaughn Walker, ordering him to decide if FISA pre-empts the state secrets privilege. If he does, Al-Haramain would be allowed to use the document to establish the standing to litigate.

The Obama Justice Department has adopted a legal stance identical to, if not more aggressive than, the Bush version. It argues that the court-forced disclosure of the surveillance programs would cause "exceptional harm to national security" by exposing intelligence sources and methods. Last Friday the Ninth Circuit denied the latest emergency motion to dismiss, again kicking matters back to Judge Walker.

In court documents filed hours later, Justice argues that the decision to release classified information "is committed to the discretion of the Executive Branch, and is not subject to judicial review. Moreover, the Court does not have independent power . . . to order the Government to grant counsel access to classified information when the Executive Branch has denied them such access." The brief continues that federal judges are "ill-equipped to second-guess the Executive Branch."

That's about as pure an assertion of Presidential power as they come, and we're beginning to wonder if the White House has put David Addington, Mr. Cheney's chief legal aide, on retainer. The practical effect is to prevent the courts from reviewing the legality of the warrantless wiretapping program that Mr. Obama repeatedly claimed to find so heinous -- at least before taking office. Justice, by the way, is making the same state secrets argument in a separate lawsuit involving rendition and a Boeing subsidiary.

Hide the children, but we agree with Mr. Obama that the President has inherent Article II Constitutional powers that neither the judiciary nor statutes like FISA can impinge upon. The FISA appeals court said as much in a decision released in January, as did Attorney General Eric Holder during his confirmation hearings. It's reassuring to know the Administration is refusing to compromise core executive-branch prerogatives, especially on war powers.

Then again, we are relearning that the "Imperial Presidency" is only imperial when the President is a Republican. Democrats who spent years denouncing George Bush for "spying on Americans" and "illegal wiretaps" are now conspicuously silent. Yet these same liberals are going ballistic about the Bush-era legal memos released this week. Cognitive dissonance is the polite explanation, and we wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Holder released them precisely to distract liberal attention from the Al-Haramain case.

By the way, those Bush documents are Office of Legal Counsel memos, not policy directives. They were written in the immediate aftermath of a major terrorist attack, when more seemed possible, and it would have been irresponsible not to explore the outer limits of Presidential war powers in the event of a worst-case scenario. Based on what we are learning so far about Mr. Obama's policies, his Administration would do the same.

 

23748  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: March 07, 2009, 07:27:41 AM
Grateful for this day that I will be taking my son Cub Scout camping.
23749  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Julian Austin Rodriguez: a student of Surf Dog on: March 07, 2009, 07:26:55 AM
Surf Dog tells me he was swarmed by a large group.

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ESCONDIDO ---- A 17-year-old died Sunday after being stabbed during a fight at a house party on Felicita Road, officials said.

Julian Austin Rodriguez of San Jacinto was pronounced dead at the scene, the medical examiner's office said.

Escondido police Lt. Bob Benton said police were called to break up the fight in the 2000 block of Felicita shortly before midnight.

Officers found Rodriguez on the ground near the party, suffering from a stab wound, Benton said.

Police and paramedics were unable to save the boy's life, he said.

On Sunday afternoon, police were still interviewing people who were at the party, Benton said.

They did not yet have an estimate of the number of witnesses to the stabbing because they believe many people fled when police arrived, he said.

Benton said it remained unclear what started the fight. No information was available about possible suspects.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department at (760) 839-4722, or call the department's anonymous Tip Line at (760) 743-TIPS (8477).
23750  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: March 07, 2009, 05:44:29 AM
I must be getting even older and more out of date.

"Sloopier"?  huh
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