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23701  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: ACORN on: October 30, 2008, 07:19:15 AM
An interesting idea SB.

Here's more on ACORN and BO:

WSJ

Acorn, the liberal "community organizing" group that claims it will deploy 15,000 get-out-the-vote workers on Election Day, can't stay out of the news.

The FBI is investigating its voter registration efforts in several states, amid allegations that almost a third of the 1.3 million cards it turned in are invalid. And yesterday, a former employee of Acorn testified in a Pennsylvania state court that the group's quality-control efforts were "minimal or nonexistent" and largely window dressing. Anita MonCrief also says that Acorn was given lists of potential donors by several Democratic presidential campaigns, including that of Barack Obama, to troll for contributions.

The Obama campaign denies it "has any ties" to Acorn, but Mr. Obama's ties are extensive. In 1992 he headed a registration effort for Project Vote, an Acorn partner at the time. He did so well that he was made a top trainer for Acorn's Chicago conferences. In 1995, he represented Acorn in a key case upholding the constitutionality of the new Motor Voter Act -- the first law passed by the Clinton administration -- which created the mandated, nationwide postcard voter registration system that Acorn workers are using to flood election offices with bogus registrations.

Ms. MonCrief testified that in November 2007 Project Vote development director Karyn Gillette told her she had direct contact with the Obama campaign and had obtained their donor lists. Ms. MonCrief also testified she was given a spreadsheet to use in cultivating Obama donors who had maxed out on donations to the candidate, but who could contribute to voter registration efforts. Project Vote calls the allegation "absolutely false."

She says that when she had trouble with what appeared to be duplicate names on the list, Ms. Gillette told her she would talk with the Obama campaign and get a better version. Ms. MonCrief has given me copies of the donor lists she says were obtained from other Democratic campaigns, as well as the 2004 DNC donor lists.

In her testimony, Ms. MonCrief says she was upset by Acorn's "Muscle for Money" program, which she said intimidated businesses Acorn opposed into paying "protection" money in the form of grants. Acorn's Brian Kettering says the group only wants to change corporate behavior: "Acorn is proud of its corporate campaigns to stop abuses of working families."

Ms. MonCrief, 29, never expected to testify in a case brought by the state's Republican Party seeking the local Acorn affiliate's voter registration lists. An idealistic graduate of the University of Alabama, she joined Project Vote in 2005 because she thought it was empowering poor people. A strategic consultant for Acorn and a development associate with its Project Vote voter registration affiliate, Ms. MonCrief sat in on policy-making meetings with the national staff. She was fired early this year over personal expenses she had put on the group's credit card.

She says she became disillusioned because she saw that Acorn was run as the personal fiefdom of Wade Rathke, who founded the group in 1970 and ran it until he stepped down to take over its international operations this summer. Mr. Rathke's departure as head of Acorn came after revelations he'd employed his brother Dale for a decade while keeping from almost all of Acorn's board members the fact that Dale had embezzled over $1 million from the group a decade ago. (The embezzlement was confirmed to me by an Acorn official.)

"Anyone who questioned what was going on was viewed as the enemy," Ms. MonCrief told me. "Just like the mob, no one leaves Acorn happily." She believes the organization does some good but hopes its current leadership is replaced. She may not be alone.

Last August two of Acorn's eight dissident board members, Marcel Reed and Karen Inman, filed suit demanding access to financial records of Citizens Consulting Inc., the umbrella group through which most of Acorn's money flows. Ms. Inman told a news conference this month Mr. Rathke still exercises power over CCI and Acorn against the board's wishes. Bertha Lewis, the interim head of Acorn, told me Mr. Rathke has no ties to Acorn and that the dissident board members were "obsessed" and "confused."

According to public records, the IRS filed three tax liens totaling almost $1 million against Acorn this spring. Also this spring, CCI was paid $832,000 by the Obama campaign for get-out-the-vote efforts in key primary states. In filings with the Federal Election Commission, the Obama campaign listed the payments as "staging, sound, lighting," only correcting the filings after the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review revealed their true nature.

"Acorn needs a full forensic audit," Ms. MonCrief says, though she doesn't think that's likely. "Everyone wants to paper things over until later," she says. "But it may be too late to reform Acorn then." She strongly supports Barack Obama and hopes his allies can be helpful in cleaning up the group "after the heat of the election is gone."

Acorn's Mr. Kettering says the GOP lawsuit "is designed to suppress legitimate voters," and he says Ms. MonCrief isn't credible, given that she was fired for cause. Ms. MonCrief admits that she left after she began paying back some $3,000 in personal expenses she charged on an Acorn credit card. "I was very sorry, and I was paying it back," she says, but "suddenly Acorn decided that . . . I had to go. Since then I have gotten warnings to 'back off' from people at Acorn."

Acorn insists it operates with strict quality controls, turning in, as required by law, all registration forms "even if the name on them was Donald Duck," as Wade Rathke told me two years ago. Acorn whistleblowers tell a different story.

"There's no quality control on purpose, no checks and balances," says Nate Toler, who worked until 2006 as the head organizer of an Acorn campaign against Wal-Mart in California. And Ms. MonCrief says it is longstanding practice to blame bogus registrations on lower-level employees who then often face criminal charges, a practice she says Acorn internally calls "throwing folks under the bus."

Gregory Hall, a former Acorn employee, says he was told on his very first day in 2006 to engage in deceptive fund-raising tactics. Mr. Hall has founded a group called Speaking Truth to Power to push for a full airing of Acorn's problems "so the group can heal itself from within."

To date, Mr. Obama has declined to criticize Acorn, telling reporters this month he is happy with his own get-out-the-vote efforts and that "we don't need Acorn's help." That may be true. But there is no denying his ties with Acorn helped turbocharge his political career.

Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.
23702  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science on: October 30, 2008, 07:10:35 AM
Washington

For years, the military has been roiled by a heated internal debate over what kind of wars it should prepare to fight.

One faction, led by a host of senior officers, favors buying state-of-the-art weapons systems that would be useful in a traditional conflict with a nation like Russia or China. The other side, which includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates, believes the military should prepare for grinding insurgencies that closely resemble the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Getty Images
SFC Thomas Wright scans the hills for signs of Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan.
The dispute has long been largely academic, since the soaring defense budgets in the years since the September 2001 terror attacks left plenty of money for each side's main priorities.

That is beginning to change, a casualty of the widening global financial crisis. With the economy slowing and the tab for the government's bailout of the private sector spiraling higher, Democratic lawmakers are signaling that Pentagon officials will soon have to choose which programs to keep and which to cut. In the long and unresolved debate about the military's future, a clearer vision of how best to defend America will emerge -- but not without one side ceding hard-fought ground.

"The services are used to the old approach, with everyone getting everything. But there's not enough money," says Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the Hawaii Democrat who heads the Air and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. "The due bill is finally coming in."

The two competing schools of thought each warn that making the wrong decisions now could imperil U.S. national security down the road. The military officials who favor buying advanced weapons believe that failing to invest in those systems today could leave U.S. forces ill-equipped to fight a modernized Russian or Chinese military in the future. Conversely, advocates of expanding the size of the ground forces argue that the military will be unable to meet the troop demands of the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to say nothing of conflicts elsewhere in the world, unless the Army and Marines recruit tens of thousands of additional troops.

The final decision will ultimately fall to the next administration, which will have to prioritize how to divvy up what may be a significantly smaller defense budget. Neither the Obama nor the McCain campaign has tipped its hand on whether to focus on asymmetric conflicts like Iraq or possible large-scale conventional wars.

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Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor during flight tests
In Congress, however, the wheels are already in motion. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who controls the congressional purse strings for defense issues, startled Pentagon officials recently when he said that longstanding plans to recruit more soldiers and Marines would need to be scaled back or canceled.

Mr. Abercrombie, meanwhile, has fought to cut funding from the Army's flagship weapons program, the $160 billion Future Combat Systems initiative, and says he hopes to pare it back next year, even after the program recently received full funding.

"I think we should focus on the troops who are in the field today, not on some Star Wars technology that may never work," he says.

U.S. policy makers have generally preferred to buy advanced weapons, believing that the American technological edge contributed to the U.S. victory in the Cold War and to the speedy defeat of Saddam Hussein's military in the first and second Iraq wars. The approach continues to attract enthusiastic adherents, particularly within the ranks of the various armed services themselves.

Despite terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and insurgency warfare abroad, supporters argue that it is far too soon to conclude that U.S. forces will never fight a conventional war again. They note that China, which has been dramatically expanding its military, still could target Taiwan, a close U.S. ally, if the island declares independence. They also note that Russia's recent invasion of Georgia showed that the U.S. might one day have to fight Moscow on behalf of American allies like Poland and Ukraine.

"Should we simply wish away China's increasing muscle, or a resurgent Russia's plans for a fifth-generation fighter that would surpass our top-of-the-line jet, the F-22 stealth fighter?" Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap wrote in an op-ed piece this year.

The other side in the debate argues that the enthusiasm for advanced weapons systems is misplaced. This faction, which includes Mr. Gates and many lawmakers, argues that a battery of expensive weapons are useless in counterinsurgency conflicts like Iraq, which pit U.S. forces against lightly armed but dogged foes. They say history is replete with examples of powerful militaries that were ultimately defeated by guerrilla fighters.

"The Chinese, Vietnamese, Sandinistas, Hezbollah, Palestinians and Chechnyans all triumphed over forces with superior military power," retired Marine officer Thomas X. Hammes wrote in "The Sling and the Stone," a 2006 book widely read in military circles. "The superior technology of the losers did not prove to be a magic solution."

The two sides have traded muffled potshots at each other for months. In a speech in May, Mr. Gates accused some military officials of "next-war-itis," which shortchanges current needs in favor of advanced weapons that might never be needed. The comment prompted some in the defense community, especially in the Air Force, to quietly chide Mr. Gates for "this-war-itis," a short-sighted focus on the present that could leave the armed forces dangerously unprepared down the road.

For the most part, soaring defense budgets have long kept Pentagon officials from having to settle the debate. For 2009, the Pentagon's base budget is $512 billion, which is up almost 7% from 2008 and at a historic level. Last year, supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan added more than $100 billion to the Pentagon's coffers.

With lawmakers talking openly of cutting back the defense budget, however, policy makers may soon have to make some difficult trade-offs.

"A lot of the key problems and questions that were already there had been kicked down the road, and they can't be kicked down the road any further," said Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

One of the thorniest issues is how many ground forces the U.S. military should have. Mr. Gates said last year that he wants to add 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines by 2012. President George W. Bush has endorsed the idea and regularly champions it in public remarks about the military.

But the idea is running into growing resistance on Capitol Hill. Mr. Murtha says the Pentagon won't be able to afford more soldiers and Marines, and needs to take better care of the troops it has.

"This is not academic anymore," he says. "This is the direction the budget is going to have to go."

Mr. Murtha believes that the military needs to focus instead on getting U.S. ground forces back in fighting shape for possible future operations against strategic threats like China and Russia.

"If you want to deter a war, you've got to be prepared," he says.

Replacing the weapons and vehicles that have been worn down after years of service in Iraq and Afghanistan will be expensive. Mr. Murtha, a supporter of some of the military's most advanced weapons, estimates the "reset" cost for the armed forces at $100 billion or more.

Mr. Gates, for his part, believes that curtailing the growth of the ground forces would be a "mistake," according to Pentagon spokesman Greg Morrell.

"Secretary Gates firmly believes that growing the Army and Marine Corps is essential to our national security," Mr. Morrell says. He adds that defense officials acknowledge that the Pentagon has "probably hit our high-water mark" in terms of defense spending, and that some cutbacks are inevitable.

One X-factor is the fate of Mr. Gates himself, who is being actively courted by advisers to both presidential candidates. Mr. Gates, who has a stopwatch in his suitcase ticking down to the end of the Bush administration's tenure, has said he is unlikely to stay on. But the defense chief is always careful to leave himself some wriggle room.

"Well, let me just say that I'm getting a lot more career advice and counseling than I might have anticipated," he told reporters earlier this month, laughing. "I think I'll leave it at that."

If Mr. Gates remains in his job for at least a year, that would leave him in a position to help settle, once and for all, the military's internal debate about its priorities.

Write to August Cole at august.cole@dowjones.com and Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen@wsj.com

23703  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / T. Paine: Bless of freedom on: October 30, 2008, 06:38:22 AM
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men,
undergo the fatigues of supporting it."

-- Thomas Paine (The Crisis, no. 4, 11 September 1777)

Reference: resp. quoted
23704  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Evil of Two Lessers on: October 30, 2008, 01:55:02 AM
The Markets Are Weak Because the Candidates Are Lousy
The good news is that an Obama victory is already priced in.By GEORGE NEWMANArticle
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A lot has been said about the causes of the drastic drops -- and extreme volatility -- in stock prices and the impending recession. Blame has been heaped on low interest rates and dubious mortgage practices, and on the subsequent collapse of real-estate prices and the freeze in financial markets. But one other major factor has largely escaped attention.

To state the obvious: The valuation of an individual stock reflects the collective expectation of investors about a company's future profits, dividends and appreciation, and the same is true of the market as a whole. These profits, in turn, are greatly influenced by government policy on taxes, spending, subsidies, environmental and other regulations, labor laws, and the corporate legal climate. Investors have heard enough from both candidates in the last month or two to conclude that prospects for a flourishing, competitive, growing and reasonably free economy in a McCain administration are bad, and in an Obama administration far worse. (In fact, the market's bearish behavior over the last couple of months pretty closely tracks Barack Obama's gains.)

If you don't believe me, please answer a few questions:

- Have you thought of what a gradual doubling (and indexation) of the minimum wage, sailing through a veto-proof and filibuster-proof Congress, would do to inflation, unemployment and corporate profits? The market now has.

- Have you thought of how easily a Labor Department headed by a militant union boss would push through a "Transparency in Labor Relations" law that does away with secret ballots in strike votes, and what this would do to industrial peace? The market now has.

- Have you thought of how a Treasury Secretary George Soros would engineer the double taxation of the multinationals' world-wide profits, and what this would mean for investors (to say nothing of full-scale industrial flight from the U.S.)? The market now has.

- Have you thought of how an Attorney General Charles J. Ogletree would champion a trillion-dollar reparations-for-slavery project (whittled down, to be fair, to a mere $800-billion, over-10-years compromise), and what this would do to the economy? The market now has.

- Have you thought of what the virtual outlawing of arbitration -- exposing all industries to the fate of asbestos producers -- would do to corporate liability and legal bills? The market now has.

- Have you thought of how a Health and Human Services Secretary Hillary Clinton would fix drug prices (generously allowing 10% over the cost of raw materials), and what this would do to the financial health of the pharmaceutical industry (not to mention the nondiscovery of lifesaving drugs)? The market now has.

- Have you thought of a Secretary of the newly established Department of Equal Opportunity for Women mandating "comparable worth" pay practices for every company doing any business with government at any level -- where any residual gap between the average pay of men and women is an eo ipso violation? Have you thought about what this would do to administrative and legal costs, hiring practices, productivity and wage bills? The market now has.

- Have you thought of what confiscatory "windfall profits" taxes on oil companies would do to exploration, supply and prices? The market now has.

- Have you thought of how the nationalization of health insurance, the mandated coverage of ever more -- and more exotic -- risks, the forced reimbursement for excluded events, and the diminished freedom to match premium to risk would affect the insurance industry? The market now has.

- Have you thought of Energy Czar Al Gore's five million new green jobs -- high-paying, unionized and subsidized -- to replace, at five times the cost, what we are now producing without those five million workers, and what this will do to our productivity, deficit and competitiveness? The market now has.

I could go on, but you get the point. Nothing reveals Mr. Obama's visceral hostility to business more than the constant urging of our best and brightest to desert the productive private sector ("greed") and go into public service like politics or community organizing (i.e., organizing people to press government for more handouts). Who in his ideal world would bake our bread, make our shoes and computers, and pilot our airplanes is not clear.

And if you think all this comes from an ardent John McCain fan, you couldn't be more wrong. The Arizona Senator has made some terrible mistakes, one of them trying to out-demagogue Mr. Obama to the economic illiterates. This kind of pandering never works. Such populists and other economic illiterates will always go for the genuine article.

Mr. McCain should have asked some simple questions -- pertinent, educational and easily understood by ordinary voters. Such as:

- If the rise in the price of oil from $70 to $140 was due to "greed" (the all-purpose explanation of the other side for every economic problem), was the fall from $140 to $70 due to a sudden outbreak of altruism?

- If a bank is guilty both for rejecting a mortgage ("redlining") and for approving it ("greed" -- see above), how might a bank president keep his business out of trouble with the law?

- If the financial turmoil of the last year or so was caused by inadequate regulation, which party has controlled both Houses of Congress and all of its financial committees and subcommittees (where such regulation would originate) in the last two years?

- If we bemoan the sending of $750 billion a year to our enemies for imported oil, which party has prevented domestic drilling for decades that would have made us more self-sufficient?

- You were unhappy with Congress, and in 2006 you cast your lot with those who, like Mr. Obama now, promised "change." Are you happy with the changes that have taken place in the last two years?

None of these questions have been asked loudly or often enough, while the other message -- everything is bad, it's all Bush's fault, and McCain=Bush -- has sunk in. So given his own penchant for business bashing, a McCain win would merely count as damage control.

The market is forward looking. If it is unhappy with a president, it does not wait almost eight years before the numbers reflect it. If it really anticipated good times under Mr. Obama, the market would have gained 40% in anticipation of the transition. By losing that much, it seems to be saying the opposite.

The silver lining in all this is that the market has already "discounted" an Obama win, so if that happens you won't wake up on Nov. 5 to find your remaining savings down the drain. If the unexpected happens, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

Mr. Newman is an economist and retired business executive.

23705  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: October 30, 2008, 01:36:35 AM
Grateful to begin my Adventure in Argentina tomorrow.
23706  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Libertarian Issues on: October 30, 2008, 01:35:32 AM
Thank you for these reports-- what do you make of them GM?
23707  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: October 30, 2008, 12:02:44 AM
Leaving tomorroa AM for 6 day trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina:

November 1 - 2, 2008
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Contact: Nicolás Wachsmann
Phone: 54 11 4741 1864
Email: dbma.argentina@gmail.com
Website: www.dogbrothers.com.ar
23708  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Argentina on: October 30, 2008, 12:01:25 AM
November 1 - 2, 2008
Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Contact: Nicolás Wachsmann
Phone: 54 11 4741 1864
Email: dbma.argentina@gmail.com
Website: www.dogbrothers.com.ar
23709  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Argentina on: October 29, 2008, 03:04:14 PM
Guau a todos:

Manana en la manana salgo en un viaje de 17 horas por la primera vez a Buenos Aires, Argentina para presentar un seminario para Nicolas.

Cuando yo vivia en Mexico, yo conocia a una Argentina muy graciosa y linda, con un acento lindisimo , , , una buena memoria  smiley

La Aventura continua!
Marc/Crafty Dog

23710  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: El Dolar on: October 29, 2008, 02:53:49 PM
Interesante el tema que planteas Blanca y de profunda importancia.  Lamento no tener tiempo en este momento para conversar el tema, pero hoy me estoy preparando por un viaje de 17 horas a Buenos Aires para presentar un seminario para Nicolas.
23711  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / T. Friedman on: October 29, 2008, 11:26:18 AM
I don't think as much of T. Friedman as he does, but this piece does make some fair points.
====================

Sleepless in Tehran
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: October 28, 2008
NYT

I’ve always been dubious about Barack Obama’s offer to negotiate with Iran — not because I didn’t believe that it was the right strategy, but because I didn’t believe we had enough leverage to succeed. And negotiating in the Middle East without leverage is like playing baseball without a bat.

Well, if Obama does win the presidency, my gut tells me that he’s going to get a chance to negotiate with the Iranians — with a bat in his hand.

Have you seen the reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is suffering from exhaustion? It’s probably because he is not sleeping at night. I know why. Watching oil prices fall from $147 a barrel to $57 is not like counting sheep. It’s the kind of thing that gives an Iranian autocrat bad dreams.

After all, it was the collapse of global oil prices in the early 1990s that brought down the Soviet Union. And Iran today is looking very Soviet to me.

As Vladimir Mau, president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy, pointed out to me, it was the long period of high oil prices followed by sharply lower oil prices that killed the Soviet Union. The spike in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ‘80s helped bring down that overextended empire.

(Incidentally, this was exactly what happened to the shah of Iran: 1) Sudden surge in oil prices. 2) Delusions of grandeur. 3) Sudden contraction of oil prices. 4) Dramatic downfall. 5) You’re toast.)

Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s mullahs have gone on a domestic subsidy binge — using oil money to cushion the prices of food, gasoline, mortgages and to create jobs — to buy off the Iranian people. But the one thing Ahmadinejad couldn’t buy was real economic growth. Iran today has 30 percent inflation, 11 percent unemployment and huge underemployment with thousands of young college grads, engineers and architects selling pizzas and driving taxis. And now with oil prices falling, Iran — just like the Soviet Union — is going to have to pull back spending across the board. Fasten your seat belts.

The U.N. has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005 because of Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment. But high oil prices minimized those sanctions; collapsing oil prices will now magnify those sanctions. If prices stay low, there is a good chance Iran will be open to negotiating over its nuclear program with the next U.S. president.

That is a good thing because Iran also funds Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the anti-U.S. Shiites in Iraq. If America wants to get out of Iraq and leave behind a decent outcome, plus break the deadlocks in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, it needs to end the cold war with Iran. Possible? I don’t know, but the collapse of oil prices should give us a shot.

But let’s use our leverage smartly and not exaggerate Iran’s strength. Just as I believe that we should drop the reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden — from $50 million to one penny, plus an autographed picture of Dick Cheney — we need to deflate the Iranian mullahs as well. Let them chase us.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, compares it to bargaining for a Persian carpet in Tehran. “When you go inside the carpet shop, the first thing you are supposed to do is feign disinterest,” he explains. “The last thing you want to suggest is ‘We are not leaving without that carpet.’ ‘Well,’ the dealer will say, ‘if you feel so strongly about it ...’ ”

The other lesson from the carpet bazaar, says Sadjadpour, “is that there is never a price tag on any carpet. The dealer is not looking for a fixed price, but the highest price he can get — and the Iran price is constantly fluctuating depending on the price of oil.” Let’s now use that to our advantage.

Barack Hussein Obama would present another challenge for Iran’s mullahs. Their whole rationale for being is that they are resisting a hegemonic American power that wants to keep everyone down. Suddenly, next week, Iranians may look up and see that the country their leaders call “The Great Satan” has just elected “a guy whose middle name is the central figure in Shiite Islam — Hussein — and whose last name — Obama — when transliterated into Farsi, means ‘He is with us,’ ” said Sadjadpour.

Iran is ripe for deflating. Its power was inflated by the price of oil and the popularity of its leader, who was cheered simply because he was willing to poke America with a stick. But as a real nation-building enterprise, the Islamic Revolution in Iran has been an abject failure.

“When you ask young Arabs which leaders in the region they most admire,” said Sadjadpour, they will usually answer the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. “When you ask them where in the Middle East would you most like to live,” he added, “the answer is usually socially open places like Dubai or Beirut. The Islamic Republic of Iran is never in the top 10.”

23712  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Gates: Deterrence theory on: October 29, 2008, 10:37:13 AM
Caveat lector, its the NYT.
========================

Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence

By THOM SHANKER
NYTimes
Published: October 28, 2008
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that the United States would hold “fully accountable” any country or group that helped terrorists to acquire or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates took questions after speaking Tuesday in Washington.
The statement was the Bush administration’s most expansive yet in trying to articulate a vision of deterrence for the post-Sept. 11 world. It went beyond the cold war notion that a president could respond with overwhelming force against a country that directly attacked the United States or its allies with unconventional weapons.

“Today we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group or other nonstate actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction — whether by facilitating, financing or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts,” Mr. Gates said.

The comments came in an address in which he said it was important to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal as a hedge against what he described as “rising and resurgent powers” like Russia or China, as well as “rogue nations” like Iran or North Korea and international terrorists.

By declaring that those who facilitated a terrorist attack would be held “fully accountable,” Mr. Gates left the door open to diplomatic and economic responses as well as military ones. And, to be sure, the United States has acted forcefully before against those who sheltered terrorists, with the invasion of Afghanistan to oust Al Qaeda and its Taliban government supporters after the attacks of Sept. 11.

His speech here before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was the latest signal that the administration was moving in its closing months to embrace more far-reaching notions of deterrence and self-defense.

On Monday, senior officials justified a weekend attack against a suspected Iraqi insurgent leader in Syria by saying the administration was operating under an expansive new definition of self-defense. The policy, officials said, provided a rationale for conventional strikes on militant targets in a sovereign nation without its consent — if that nation were unable or unwilling to halt the threat on its own.

By law, the new president must conduct a review of the nation’s nuclear posture, and Mr. Gates’s address could be viewed as advocating a specific agenda for the next occupant of the White House.

The first public indication that the administration was expanding the traditional view of nuclear deterrence came in a statement by President Bush in October 2006 that followed a test detonation of a nuclear device by North Korea. Mr. Bush said North Korea would be held “fully accountable” for the transfer of nuclear weapons or materials to any nation or terrorist organization.

The president was not as explicit then as Mr. Gates was on Tuesday in saying that the administration would extend the threat of reprisals for the transfer of nuclear weapons or materials to all countries, not just North Korea. Mr. Gates also expanded the threat to nations or groups that provide a broader range of support to terrorists.

Early this year, in a little-noticed speech at Stanford University, Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, also spoke of how the president had approved an expanded deterrence policy.

In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Gates argued for modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal because “as long as other states have or seek nuclear weapons — and potentially can threaten us, our allies and friends — then we must have a deterrent capacity.”

Although Mr. Gates earlier this year fired the Air Force secretary and chief of staff after the discovery of shortcomings in the service’s stewardship of nuclear weapons and components, he stressed that the nuclear arsenal was “safe, secure and reliable.”

“The problem is the long-term prognosis — which I would characterize as bleak,” he said.

Veteran weapons designers and technicians are retiring, and Congress has not voted for the money to build replacement warheads for an aging arsenal that can be produced without abandoning the nation’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, he said.

To that end, he endorsed a comprehensive test ban treaty if adequate verification measures could be negotiated.

Mr. Gates praised efforts to reduce the number of warheads, and predicted that the United States and Russia would at some point conclude another agreement limiting their arsenals.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
23713  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 29, 2008, 10:23:35 AM
Bit of a tangent here:

I notice that this quote:
 
""You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." - God" 

is a bit longer than the usual "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods".    Why is that?  What you quote here resonates to me as being more what the original Hebrew would have said.
23714  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Closer than the MSM says? on: October 29, 2008, 10:19:07 AM
“Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama has been measuring for his White House curtains for months. Now, big plans have been made public for his $2 million election night victory party in Chicago. Sen. Obama is even talking quite candidly about his transition plans. And why not? After all, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll has Obama leading Republican nominee John McCain by 13 percentage points among both registered and likely voters. Of course, Obama’s largest cheering section—Big Media—long has been in the tank for the junior senator of Illinois. Even the liberal Pew Research Center finds that Obama’s ratio of favorable stories to overall stories was more than 2 1/2 times as large as Sen. McCain’s. But you might be surprised to learn that not every poll considers Obama’s coronation a fait accompli. An Associated Press poll has the race in a statistical dead heat. And the IBD/TIPP poll, considered to have been the most accurate in the 2004 presidential race, has Obama with a mere 1.1 percentage point lead, 44.8 percent to 43.7 percent with 11.6 percent undecided. Thus, the race for president is far closer than the media masses have led you to believe. And how delicious it would be if the media’s ‘election’ of Barack Obama suppresses his numbers and leads to an Electoral College landslide for John McCain. Talk about being hoisted by your own petard.” —Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
23715  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Libertarian Issues on: October 29, 2008, 10:15:38 AM
"This is a little glimpse into a very dark future, in which the power of the government is used against private citizens who dare to criticize the anointed One."

Exactly so.

Thank you for these two articles GM.
23716  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: A republic; Hamilton on: October 29, 2008, 10:12:06 AM
"The republican is the only form of government which is not
eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind."

-- Thomas Jefferson (Letter to William Hunter, 11 March 1790)

Reference: Bartlett's; check LOA edition
=============
“It is an unquestionable truth, that the body of the people in every country desire sincerely its prosperity. But it is equally unquestionable that they do not possess the discernment and stability necessary for systematic government. To deny that they are frequently led into the grossest of errors, by misinformation and passion, would be a flattery which their own good sense must despise.” —Alexander Hamilton
23717  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Clusterfcuk on: October 28, 2008, 09:53:26 PM

Comments Obama's First 100 Days
by  Patrick J. Buchanan

10/28/2008

Undeniably, a powerful tide is running for the Democratic Party, with one
week left to Election Day.

Bush's approval rating is 27 percent, just above Richard Nixon's Watergate
nadir and almost down to Carter-Truman lows. After each of those presidents
reached their floors -- in 1952, 1974, 1980 -- the opposition party captured
the White House.

Moreover, 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans think the nation is on the
wrong course, and since mid-September, when McCain was still slightly ahead,
the Dow has lost 4,000 points -- $5 trillion to $6 trillion in value.

Leading now by eight points in an average of national polls, Barack Obama
has other advantages.

Not a single blue state is regarded as imperiled or even a toss-up, while
Obama leads in six crucial red states: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia,
Ohio, Missouri and Colorado. Should McCain lose one of the six, he would
have to win Pennsylvania to compensate for the lost electoral votes. But the
latest Pennsylvania polls show Barack with a double-digit lead.

Lately moving into the toss-up category are Nevada, North Dakota, Montana
and Indiana. All voted twice for George W. Bush.

Not only is Obama ahead in the state and national polls, he has more money,
is running far more ads, has a superior organization on the ground, attracts
larger crowds, and has greater enthusiasm and more media in camp. And new
voter registrations heavily favor the Democrats.

Though Congress is regarded by Americans with a disdain bordering on
disgust -- five of six Americans think it has done a poor job -- Democratic
majorities are certain to grow. Indeed, with Democrats favored by 10 points
over Republicans, Nancy Pelosi's majority could grow by 25 seats and Harry
Reid could find himself with a filibuster-proof majority of 60 senators.

Democrats already have 49, plus two independents: Socialist Bernie Sanders
and Independent Joe Lieberman. Their challengers are now ahead in New
Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Minnesota, Oregon and
Colorado, with a chance of picking up Georgia, Alaska, Kentucky and
Mississippi.

We may be looking at a reverse of 1980, when Reagan won a 10-point victory
over Jimmy Carter, and Republicans took the Senate and, working with Boll
Weevil Democrats, effective control of the House.

With his tax cuts, defense buildup and rollback policy against the "Evil
Empire," Reagan gave us some of the best years of our lives, culminating in
America's epochal victory in the Cold War.

What does the triumvirate of Obama-Pelosi-Reid offer?

Rep. Barney Frank is calling for new tax hikes on the most successful and a
25 percent across-the-board slash in national defense. Sen. John Kerry is
talking up new and massive federal spending, a la FDR's New Deal.
Specifically, we can almost surely expect:

-- Swift amnesty for 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens and a drive to
make them citizens and register them, as in the Bill Clinton years. This
will mean that Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona will soon move out
of reach for GOP presidential candidates, as has California.

-- Border security will go on the backburner, and America will have a
virtual open border with a Mexico of 110 million.

-- Taxes will be raised on the top 5 percent of wage-earners, who now carry
60 percent of the U.S. income tax burden, and tens of millions of checks
will be sent out to the 40 percent of wage-earners who pay no federal income
tax. Like the man said, redistribute the wealth, spread it around.

-- Social Security taxes will be raised on the most successful among us, and
capital gains taxes will be raised from 15 percent to 20 percent. The Bush
tax cuts will be repealed, and death taxes reimposed.

-- Two or three more liberal activists of the Ruth Bader Ginsberg-John Paul
Stevens stripe will be named to the Supreme Court. U.S. district and
appellate courts will be stacked with "progressives."

-- Special protections for homosexuals will be written into all civil rights
laws, and gays and lesbians in the military will be invited to come out of
the closet. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dead.

-- The homosexual marriages that state judges have forced California,
Massachusetts and Connecticut to recognize, an Obama Congress or Obama court
will require all 50 states to recognize.

-- A "Freedom of Choice Act" nullifying all state restrictions on abortions
will be enacted. America will become the most pro-abortion nation on earth.

-- Affirmative action -- hiring and promotions based on race, sex and sexual
orientation until specified quotas are reached -- will be rigorously
enforced throughout the U.S. government and private sector.

-- Universal health insurance will be enacted, covering legal and illegal
immigrants, providing another powerful magnet for the world to come to
America, if necessary by breaching her borders.

-- A federal bailout of states and municipalities to keep state and local
governments spending up could come in December or early next year.

-- The first trillion-dollar deficit will be run in the first year of an
Obama presidency. It will be the first of many.

Welcome to Obamaland!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill,
Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West
Lost the World, "The Death of the West,", "The Great Betrayal," "A Republic,
Not an Empire" and "Where the Right Went Wrong."
23718  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / StratforThe financial crisis in Russia on: October 28, 2008, 02:33:18 PM
The Financial Crisis in Russia
Stratfor Today » October 28, 2008 | 1012 GMT
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on the geopolitics of the global financial crisis. Here, we examine how the global financial crisis will impact a resurgent Russia.

Standard & Poor’s rating service lowered Russian long-term sovereign credit rating outlook to negative Oct. 23 because of projections that Moscow will need to inject more credit into the faltering Russian banking sector. A credit rating indicates the agency’s estimation of a state’s ability to maintain debt payments, so in this case S&P believes that ongoing efforts to address the financial crisis could overtax the Russian government. The cut in debt rating comes as the yield on Russian government 20-year bonds has increased eight basis points (a 0.08 percent rise in yield) to 10.94 percent, indicating that the foreign appetite for Russian bonds is quickly dropping as credit becomes scarce and investors seek investments they feel are more secure. The bond yield of Russia’s largest company, natural gas behemoth Gazprom — which is also the single greatest source of Russian total external debt — has thus skyrocketed, and it now stands at almost 700 basis points above emerging sovereign debt. Meanwhile, the Russian stock exchange closed below 550 on Oct. 24, wrapping up a precipitous fall that has destroyed 80 percent of its value since May.

International Economic Crisis
The Financial Crisis in the United States
The Financial Crisis in Europe
Hungary: Hints of a Wider European Crisis
The Financial Crisis in Japan and China
Methodology by George Friedman
The International Economic Crisis and Stratfor’s Methodology
Related Link
The Geopolitics of Russia: Permanent Struggle
A comprehensive flight of investor capital is occurring in Russia for a number of reasons. This situation is placing great pressure on the Kremlin to use its capital reserves — the third largest in the world — to prop up the Russian banking sector and the main engines of the Russian economy: the energy and mineral sectors. In the short run, Moscow’s massive capital reserves will allow it to weather the global liquidity crisis and increase government control over all sectors of the economy. In the long run, however, Russia might face a dearth of capital as it drains its coffers trying to pump cash into the system, putting vital capital expenditure projects (such as improving infrastructure, improving oil and natural gas field development, and military spending) on hold to the detriment of its ability to face off with the West. The result will be an economy that has far more in common with the Soviet Union than with post-Soviet Russia — even post-Soviet Russia under Vladimir Putin. And that will affect Russia’s bid to reassert itself globally.

The Russian Golden Goose and the Liquidity Crisis
Russian state coffers contain roughly $650 billion. The money is actually divided into three different funds, with the international capital reserves accounting for the bulk ($515.7 billion as of Oct. 17) and the rest split between the National Welfare Fund and the Reserve Fund, Moscow’s long-term security blankets. The coffers have been filled with the profits from steadily rising commodity prices over the last five years, allowing Russia to amass a $50 billion budget surplus at the end of 2007 and pay off the majority of its externally held government debt.

The $650 billion figure, however, is down from $750 billion as recently as 3 months ago. This is due to the cost of the August intervention in Georgia (which cost $16.1 billion) combined with the huge number of liquidity injections (to the tune of roughly $90 billion) the state has had to make since the Sept. 16 and Oct. 6 Russian stock market crashes and in response to concerns about the stability of Russian banks.

Liquidity injections into the stock market and Russian banks were necessary because nearly $63 billion in foreign investment was pulled out of Russia immediately following the August intervention in Georgia. Foreign investors also withdrew because of a previous loss of confidence due to Russian disregard for investor rights, and because of a loss of confidence in Russian company and government bonds as the global liquidity crisis took root.

While embarrassing, the flight of foreign money from the stock market is not the Kremlin’s primary concern. The bigger problem is the collapse of confidence in Russian bonds and borrowers, the premier sources of foreign capital for funding the expensive projects of Russian energy and mineral giants.

Russian companies, as well as foreign investors looking to invest into Russia, prefer to raise capital through bonds because it does not mean taking input from foreigners on how to run their business. It also allows them to keep everything about their firms, from ownership and management structures to profits and managerial techniques, out of the public eye. Foreign bond holders only want a return at an agreed-upon date. With political risk created by the Georgian war combined with the global liquidity crisis, however, foreign investors have abandoned Russian bonds for safer investments, such as U.S. Treasury bills, elsewhere. This has left Russian companies without the ability to raise crucial capital.

Kremlin Tools to Combat the Liquidity Crisis
To inject liquidity into the system, the Kremlin first turned to the oligarchs, forcing them to inject between 10 percent and 30 percent of their total wealth into the markets and banks to shore up the financial system immediately after the Sept. 16 stock market crash. At an all-night mandatory meeting held in the Kremlin following the crash, oligarchs were ordered to plunge cash into their own faltering stocks, buy collapsing financial institutions directly, or simply fork over the cash and/or shares. Using oligarch money has the positive effect, at least from the Kremlin’s perspective, of further consolidating control over the oligarchs’ assets and decision making.

This move quickly drained the oligarchs of much of their on-hand cash, however. In the weeks since, they have largely seen their cash reserves exhausted by the combination of appeasing Kremlin demands and suffering losses from various margin calls. (In essence, they have been forced to immediately repay loans taken out to buy stock.) The only way for the oligarchs to repay these loans is to sell assets at cut-rate prices or stocks at depressed prices. So while the oligarchs are still rich in assets, they are now poor in cash, and are being forced to liquidate parts of their empires to remain liquid.

RUSAL kingpin Oleg Deripaska has been forced to ditch his Canadian auto parts venture, while Norilsk Nickel’s Vladimir Potantin is shopping around for buyers for his platinum mine in the U.S. state of Montana. Both have had to divest themselves of massive amounts of stock. In total, the 20 richest Russian oligarchs have lost personally or through their companies a combined $188.4 billion — and that figure comes only from publicly available information. While the oligarchs are still extremely wealthy, they have now been forced to give up or have lost sizable chunks of their fortunes, particularly in assets abroad. This renders them, as a tool for shoring up liquidity, a spent force for the purposes of stabilizing Russia.

This means that the Kremlin now has to pick up the slack with its own resources — namely, its $650 billion cash reserves — and that the worst of the liquidity problems are yet to come. In particular, Moscow will have to figure out how to isolate itself from the foreign liabilities accrued by its banks, both government and private, and by its energy and mineral companies.

Total Russian external debt as of June stood at $527.1 billion, of which banks — whether private or government owned — owed a whopping $228.9 billion. Domestic credit in Russia, which lacks a good system for circulation and accumulation, has always been scarce. This means Russian banks rely upon access to foreign capital to fund everything from car loans, mortgages and personal loans to Russian energy and mineral companies’ capital expenditures.

The problem with such a sizable debt is that while the ruble depreciates against the rising U.S. dollar because of Russian economic instability, capital flight and decreasing commodity prices (which act upon both the ruble and dollar simultaneously, increasing the dollar and decreasing the ruble), foreign debts made out in dollars begin to appreciate in value. Since the crisis began, the ruble has already dropped by a quarter, increasing the cost of servicing dollar-denominated debt by a like amount. The Kremlin will have to act fast to cover the debts of the banking sector, or else the debt might become unserviceable for the banks, which take in most of their revenue in rubles.

This of course assumes that the Russian consumers who took out the mortgages, car loans and personal loans will continue to service their debts, and that there will not be any significant bank run — far from a certainty given the notoriously bank-skeptical Russian populace. If the ruble continues to depreciate, Russian consumers might be unable to service their debts. This applies particularly to loans originally denominated in foreign currencies. The problem is widespread in Central Europe and the Balkans, and especially in Hungary, where foreign banks used the Swiss franc for consumer lending.

The other issue is the debt of the 14 largest Russian energy and mineral companies, which account for $142.1 billion of $185.4 billion non-bank privately held external debt. Particularly notable are the debts of Gazprom ($55 billion), Rosneft ($23 billion), RUSAL ($11.2 billion), TNK-BP ($7.5 billion), Evraz ($6.4 billion), Norilsk ($6.3 billion) and LUKoil ($6 billion). These debts are held in various dollar-, euro- and yen-denominated loans, and bonds, which are usually dollar-denominated. Unlike domestic Russian banks, which receive revenue in rubles, the energy and mineral giants will not have to contend with the problem of the appreciating dollar, because they receive their commodity-driven revenue in dollars. (All of world’s commodities are priced in dollars.) But these firms will have to contend with ever-decreasing revenue from which to service their loans as oil and minerals/metals decline in price. Oil and nickel are already down 55 percent and nearly 80 percent, respectively, from their peaks.

The Kremlin’s Choice
The Kremlin thus faces a choice between not spending its cash and risking countrywide private defaults by its banks and major companies, which would in turn trigger a complete collapse of the Russian financial system, or spending its reserves to shore up the system and severing nearly all links between Russia and the wider world. This really is not much of a choice, as the threat of further dollar appreciation against the ruble is nearly inevitable. Therefore, the Kremlin will most likely spend approximately $400 billion to buy up all of Russia’s foreign-held debt — $230 billion in bank debt and another $180 billion in various companies’ debts. (Russia lacks the option of printing currency, since the ruble is not worth much to begin with.)

Such a step would obviously drain Russia’s coffers, taking the maximum total reserves down to $250 billion. But this will have an upside. In addition to ending all outstanding foreign funding vulnerabilities, this move would make the entire Russian economy and financial system owe nearly all of its debt directly to the Kremlin. In one stroke, Russia will have recreated the financial system of the Soviet era, with all the political control that implies. (Ironically, by repaying the nearly $400 billion of its companies’ and banks’ foreign loans, the Kremlin will inadvertently also inject much-needed liquidity into Western and Japanese banks. The end result will go a long way toward recapitalizing the global banking system.)

But not all would be smooth sailing under this scenario. Russia needs massive amounts of capital to keep its long-term energy production and export industries healthy, and with energy prices weak, it simply cannot even attempt to generate the necessary funds itself. As foreign capital dries up and commodity prices fall, Russian energy companies will have no choice but to forgo capital expenditure projects that are vital for revamping Russia’s Soviet-era transportation infrastructure and increasing dwindling production in maturing oil and natural gas fields.

Russia has an excellent tool for addressing part of this problem. Unlike oil, natural gas prices do not respond to market change; fixed pipeline infrastructure combined with the difficulty of transporting the stuff gives the supplier much more pricing power. As the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and Europe’s largest supplier, Russia already has plans in the works to increase its prices to more than $500 per 1,000 cubic meters as of Jan. 1, 2009. Russia is not only certain to stick to this planned price hike despite falling global energy prices, but it also could increase the price further to buy itself some more time and income.

Despite the direness of its situation, Russia is not about to collapse. In reality, all this means is that Russia’s experience in grafting some elements of Western capitalism to the Russian political system is over. (Moscow’s bid to adopt Western economics wholesale died years ago.) Having a system where Russian firms cannot tap foreign capital markets and are instead dependent on the state is precisely how the Soviet state maintained operational and political control. It might not be central planning per se, but it is not too far off. For a number of reasons, such an economic system makes sense for a country as large and difficult to invest in privately as Russia.

But while Russia might hold together domestically, the Kremlin will need to rethink some of its broader international objectives. Increased international influence is a pricey affair, whether it means buying Ukrainian elections; shoring up Moscow’s presence in Georgia; pressuring the Baltic states; cozying up to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; restoring its influence in the Middle East; fostering anti-ballistic missile defense social activism in the Czech Republic; or just generally increasing its intelligence activities abroad and updating its military capacity.

Ultimately, Russian stability in the post-Yeltsin era has depended on having free cash to direct where needed, when needed and in almost limitless quantities. For that, reduced access to international capital and a mere $250 billion reserve fund in an era of falling income might prove insufficient. Russia might be on the brink of a massive political consolidation into a stronger core state, but the liquidity crunch cannot help but limit its wider options. Simply put, Russia might be able to speak with a clearer voice, but its ability to project that voice has just been constrained.

23719  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 28, 2008, 02:29:02 PM
Running Against Reid, Pelosi and What's-His-Name.

Senator John McCain's snake-bit campaign may finally have hit on a theme that could resonate with independent voters in the runup to next Tuesday's election.

He has begun raising the specter of what a complete Democratic takeover of Washington would mean. He told a crowd in New Mexico last weekend that if Mr. Obama were elected, the public would have no effective brake on the liberal agenda of Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Senator Obama's tax increase would put even more people out of work," Mr. McCain said. "But that is exactly what's going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington. We can't let that happen. Are you ready for Obama, Pelosi and Reid?"

Other Republicans are raising the dire prospect of one-party government. Senator Liddy Dole of North Carolina is running an ad warning voters not to hand Democrats "a blank check."

All of this harkens back to one of the most successful GOP rescue operations in recent political history. As Bob Dole fell behind the charismatic Bill Clinton in 1996, Republicans boldly appealed to independents to vote in favor of divided government. They put out ads featuring a fortune-teller gazing into a crystal ball showing over-the-top scenes of Biblical devastation, plague and conflict. An announcer warned: "Remember the last time Democrats ran everything? The largest tax increase in history. Government-run health care. More wasteful spending. Who wants that again? Don't let the media stop you from voting. And don't hand Bill Clinton a blank check."

It worked. Republicans kept control of Congress. Haley Barbour, then GOP national chairman and now governor of Mississippi, said at the time voters had responded to the idea of an insurance policy against one-party rule. With time running out, the GOP is resurrecting this golden oldie in hopes that independent voters may not like the idea of having the government completely controlled by the trio of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

-- John Fund

The Disarming Mr. Obama

There's at least one government program Democrats are planning to cut deeply next year. Rep. Barney Frank last week told the editorial board of his home district's South Coast Standard-Times that defense spending will be slashed by 25% in the next Congress. He said such dramatic cuts would likely force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and a rollback in Pentagon plans for high-tech weaponry. "We don't need all these fancy new weapons," the Massachusetts liberal told the paper's editors.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has made similar comments on the campaign trail. In a video circulating on the Web (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnTaWTfwsFU&feature=related), he says he intends to cut "tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending" at the Pentagon. "I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our investments in future combat systems." He also would institute a new oversight panel to monitor the DoD's existing planning panel to make sure "it is not used to justify unnecessary spending."

On his campaign Web site, Mr. Obama says he also wants to increase the size of Army by 65,000 and the Marine Corps by 27,000, while expanding health care, special ops, civil affairs and other specialties and introducing a "Military Families Advisory Board." The Pentagon has worked in recent years to reduce overhead and increase what it calls "the tooth to tail ratio." Mr. Obama's clear agenda is to invest in more military tail, less tooth.

-- Brendan Miniter

Ted Stevens Joins the Pantheon

We now know that the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" championed by Alaska GOP Senator Ted Stevens did indeed lead somewhere: to the end of his career.

The senator was convicted yesterday on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts from the Alaskan oil-services company Veco on his financial disclosure forms.

Make no mistake. The fall of Ted Stevens was tied directly to his endless quest for earmarks -- pork barrel projects -- he could drag home to Alaska. While the federal indictment did not allege a clear quid-pro-quo, Veco CEO Bill Allen was demonstrably seeking earmarks from Mr. Stevens when he helped renovate the senator's house in suburban Anchorage while forgetting to send the senator most of the bills.

I vividly recall a conversation with Mr. Stevens about the earmark process back in 2006, when the testy senator was chairmonster of the Appropriations Committee. Our talk was surreal as he claimed "discretionary federal spending isn't out of whack," despite all evidence to the contrary.

But he also had moments of blinding candor. He acknowledged that a lot of the spending earmarks wouldn't have passed Constitutional muster before the Great Society. "Back when I was a lawyer in the Interior Department under Eisenhower, we wouldn't have dreamed much of this was anything but a state and local responsibility," he said. "But now that these are the rule, there is no one more tenacious in seeing my state is taken care of."

Sadly, Mr. Stevens also took care of himself, accepting gifts "on loan" for his house that ranged from a used La-Z-Boy recliner to an awful fish sculpture that he never reported on his financial disclosure forms.

There hasn't been a more sordid end to a Congressional career since former House Speaker Jim Wright resigned over bulk sales of a vanity press book or former House Ways and Means Chairman Daniel Rostenkowski went to prison for pilfering postage stamps and office furniture from the House.

-- John Fund

Quote of the Day

"[A]ccording to The Huffington Post, Obama's lack of experience is immune from criticism because he attended Ivy League schools, ‘was a serious and successful student,’ is a well-traveled, published author, and has a diverse background. Heck, he's me! Yet, in every one of my encounters with America's rural communities, the diversity of my privileged experience was eclipsed by the depth of theirs. I had rhetoric; they had well-measured speech, punctuated by forbearing silences. I had easy answers; they knew there was no such thing. It is not that the Republican base is anti-intellectual, as David Broder claims; they are anti-elitist. An Ivy League education is hardly a universal signal of competence in anything other than the liberal cultural canon " -- Joan Chevalier, a New York City speechwriter and essayist, writing in the Boston Globe.

From Joe the Plumber to Joe the Non-Taxpayer

Under Barack Obama's tax plan, millions of Americans who have zero federal income tax liability would nonetheless receive tax rebate checks from the government. Liberals claim these handouts are not really handouts, but would partially offset what recipients pay in FICA taxes for Social Security and Medicare. That's how Mr. Obama can claim 95% of Americans would receive a "tax cut" under his plan.

How big is the bill for Mr. Obama's rebate program? A new study from the Heritage Foundation counts a prospective 10 million net new recipients of federal dollars, who would receive an average of more than $2,000 each year. That adds up to a massive $20 billion-a-year new welfare program. The left-leaning Tax Policy Center similarly forecasts a massive increase in spending on Obama's "refundable tax credits."

Now we know where a President Obama would spend some of the money he takes from Joe the Plumber. With Washington staring at a near-trillion-dollar deficit next year, his interest in "spreading the wealth" clearly isn't a sideshow. It's a central priority even amid the country's unprecedented economic troubles.

23720  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: October 28, 2008, 01:10:52 PM
I'm born and raised Jewish in a liberal New York home. 

Look at me now  cheesy
23721  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Attorney General's office infiltrated on: October 28, 2008, 06:55:27 AM
second post of the morning
=========
MEXICO CITY -- In what could be one of Mexico's worst cases of drug-related
corruption in a decade, Mexican officials alleged that a drug cartel
infiltrated the highest levels of Mexico's attorney general's office, paying
people there as much as $450,000 a month to get sensitive information about
antidrug activities.

The Sinaloa cartel, based in Mexico's western Sinaloa state, may even have
placed a mole inside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City who fed the drug lords
information from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a
copy of an arrest warrant reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and reported
earlier by Mexican newspaper El Universal.

View Full Image


Agency France-Presse/Getty Images
Mexican police with alleged members of a drug cartel arrested in Mexico City
this month.



"We are currently investigating this issue along with our Mexican
counterparts," a DEA spokesman said.

Two senior Mexican antidrug officials were arrested in recent weeks in
connection with the scandal and charged with crimes related to drug
trafficking, officials said on Monday. At the time of his arrest in early
October, one of the men, Fernando Rivera, was deputy director general of
intelligence at the attorney general's organized-crime unit. Officials said
Mr. Rivera was the main liaison between the attorney general's office and
the Mexican army in coordinating antidrug efforts. The other person arrested
was Miguel Colorado, the technical coordinator of the antidrug unit. His
duties included assigning federal agents to various raids against drug
cartels.

Lawyers for the men couldn't immediately be identified; in Mexico, most
court trials are closed to the public until a verdict is issued, making
contact with defendants and identifying their lawyers difficult.

Many federal agents have died during raids in the past few years, and others
have been murdered by cartel hit men, officials say.

In total, some 35 officials from the organized crime unit have been arrested
and are being investigated, officials said. Officials said they had dubbed
the continuing investigation "Operation Clean-Up."

The scandal reflects the difficulty of President Felipe Calderón's efforts
to crack down on Mexico's drug cartels. Mexico is the main trans-shipment
point for cocaine entering the U.S., U.S. and Mexican officials say, and is
widely seen as having overtaken Colombia's drug war in importance. So far
this year, an estimated 3,700 people have died in violence from the drug
war, most of them involved in the drug trade, according to counts kept by
Mexican news organizations.

Since taking office in November 2006, Mr. Calderón has deployed tens of
thousands of soldiers to different parts of Mexico to wrest back control of
areas under the cartels' sway. But since the crackdown, the number of deaths
related to drug violence has increased, according to the Mexican government.

The emerging scandal may be one of the most serious instances of drug
corruption to emerge since 1997 when Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo was
arrested shortly after being named head of Mexico's antidrug agency. Gen.
Gutiérrez was convicted of being in the pay of drug lord Amado Carrillo
Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies," who later died while undergoing
plastic surgery.

The scandal is likely to be a setback for deepening cooperation between
Washington and Mexico City in the war on drugs, observers say. Under the
"Merida Initiative," the U.S. government will provide Mexico with $400
million in equipment and training a year for the next three years. Both
sides have said cooperation is much better nowadays than in the past -- 
especially in the wake of the 1997 scandal.

Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said the scandal would lead to an
overhaul of how his agency recruits, trains, and checks on its employees.
Mr. Medina Mora suggested that the investigations could yet implicate more
high-ranking officials.

"The investigation continues and we do not rule out that there are other
people who could have taken part in crimes that will be called to account,"
Mr. Medina Mora said. An adviser to Mr. Medina Mora said he hoped with the
arrests, officials had cut out "70% of the cancer" in the institution.

The investigation started as far back as December, according to a Mexican
government official, when the names of some Mexican officials began
surfacing in documents seized during raids of drug gangs.

In late June and early July, a Mexican former U.S. Embassy employee in
Mexico City was arrested and later testified that he had passed along
critical information to the Beltrán Leyva gang, a key part of the Sinaloa
cartel, in exchange for money. The witness, code-named "Felipe," also
accused several high-ranking Mexican officials, including Mr. Rivera.

"Felipe" said in his testimony that on one occasion, he was paid $30,000
from a man code-named "19" who worked with the Beltrán Leyva gang in
exchange for providing information about coming arrests of cartel members.

Deputy Attorney General Marisela Morales said Monday that higher-ranking
officials got much more money than "Felipe." She accused Messrs. Rivera and
Colorado of receiving "payments from $150,000 to $450,000 a month" for
information that would enable the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel to avoid
"searches, investigations, and arrest warrants" as well as obtain
information about rival drug gangs.

Write to David Luhnow at david.luhnow@wsj.com
23722  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mexican cartels dominate the Americas on: October 28, 2008, 06:53:34 AM

Mexican cartels dominate the Americas

As the most powerful drug trafficking force in the region, Mexican organized crime has spread far beyond the country in search of supplies for drugs to meet US demand, Sam Logan writes for ISN Security Watch.

By Sam Logan for ISN Security Watch


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


Assassinations related to drug trafficking in Mexico are on pace to pass 4,000 this year. By any count, violence in Mexico is at historical highs, and it is bad for business. Since the end of 2007, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon increased government pressure on organized crime, both the Sinaloa and the Gulf cartels have reached beyond Mexican boundaries to source supplies, secure trafficking routes and kill rivals.

Heavy pressure on Colombian drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) opened the door for Mexicans to control a greater share of the cocaine supply chain. They now control cocaine routes out of Colombia from Andean ports to wholesale points well inside the United States. But pressure on supply routes and other areas of operation inside Mexico has forced these DTOs abroad. Guatemala, Peru and Argentina are a natural fit - corruption thrives and there is little to no government presence on borders and in many pockets of the country.

As Mexican criminals reach beyond their country to expand control over various drug-trafficking routes in the Americas, they bring a decades old violent brand of business - money or a bullet. Honor and pride push them further to kill anyone who cheats or betrays. Beyond the blood is a trail of dirty money that further corrupts, where Mexican DTOs have been linked to the electoral campaign of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.

"Mexican drug traffickers go into locations where there are no laws or regulations," Michael Sanders, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington DC, told ISN Security Watch.

With billions of dollars to spend, little serious competition and a de facto presence in a number of countries, it is not a far stretch to consider that Central and South America have already become their domain.

The release valve

Pressure in Mexico has forced DTOs there into Guatemala, a neighboring Central American country that serves as a release valve, where they operate alternative supply routes with little trouble from the local government.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom publicly claimed on 5 September that his office and residential space was bugged by at least seven listening devices. Days later, few were surprised to learn one of his top intelligence officers, Gustavo Solano, was behind the espionage. Colom blamed the breech in security on the powerful influence of organized crime. Analysts believe the information gathered from the listening devices was sold to members of Los Zetas operating in Guatemala.

At least 300 members of Los Zetas operate in eight of Guatemala's 22 departments, according to Guatemalan news reports and a 17 October article in Mexican daily El Universal. The Guatemalan National Police believe there is a concentration of Mexican organized crime along the Guatemalan-Mexico border in the Peten department, on the country's stunted Caribbean coast, and placed in strategic locations on the borders with Honduras and El Salvador.

A 25 March shoot-out in the Guatemalan department of Zacapa left 11 dead, most of them Guatemalan criminals. Authorities believe the Zetas, formerly the military arm of the Gulf Cartel, consolidated power in the Central American country on that day, taking control over an old Gulf Cartel supply route that since at least 2004 has taken advantage of low altitude air space between two mountain ranges with no radar coverage to bring in planes. Most of this activity today is concentrated in the Sayaxche municipality of Peten, conveniently located on the border with Mexico and just miles away from a well-paved Mexican highway that leads north into the Mexican state of Chiapas, another area closely controlled by Los Zetas.

The other focus of Calderon's government offensive, the Sinaloa Cartel, has taken heavy losses due to the presence of thousands of soldiers in the states of Michoacan, Sinaloa and Sonora, the DTO's primary areas of operation.

Members of this cartel - once considered run solely by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman - in the past few years have branched into the methamphetamine business. The Sinaloa Cartel and other, smaller Mexican DTOs, now supply at least 80 percent of all methamphetamines consumed in the US according to the DEA's Sanders.

To launder proceeds from the sale of cocaine and meth (also known as "crystal" or "ice"), members of the Sinaloa Cartel have worked through front companies in Panama to move money back into Colombia where they are constantly pushing for more control up the supply chain.

"The Mexicans are in Colombia to purchase cocaine directly from coca labs to lower their costs," Roman Ortiz, director of Security and Post-Conflict Studies with Bogota-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), told ISN Security Watch in a recent phone interview.

Mexican DTOs, likely members of the Sinaloa Cartel, are active in Peru for the same reason, as recent violence in Peru suggests Mexican organized crime has joined with what the Peruvian government calls the Shining Path to spur coca leaf and poppy production in the country's highlands.

Backup in the Andes

By 15 October, a number of alleged Shining Path attacks left 17 people dead, 15 of them soldiers. Analysts in Peru believe these attacks may be related to the presence of Mexican DTOs who have hired back country militants to protect their supply routes out of the mountains, especially in the Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica and Junin provinces of Peru - provinces where the Shining Path has caused trouble in the past.

Peru is considered South America's number two source for cocaine and poppy, the raw material source for heroin. Poppy fields, grown at high altitudes in Peru for opium collection, have been considered an illicit cash crop since 2005, when the Peruvian National Police announced the presence of some 5,000 acres of poppy flowers cultivated at over 15,000 feet in the country's southern highlands.

Between January and October 2008 the National Police registered seizures of 103 kilograms of opium paste, indicating the continued presence of poppy cultivation. Over roughly the same period, Peruvian police seized some 20 tonnes of cocaine, worth over US$2 billion according to Reuters and local reports.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime concluded in its 2007 Andean coca survey that production in Peru is up by four percent in Peru, compared to five percent in Bolivia and 27 percent in Colombia.

In early September, Peruvian police seized three tonnes of cocaine hidden in 200 separate bumpers used by boats to prevent damage when docking. At the time of the seizure, a concurrent operation in eight separate points in Lima netted 30 men (some of them Mexican) and Peruvian police believe were working directly for the Sinaloa Cartel, according to a 6 September article in Peruvian daily El Comercio.

South American ephedrine supply

When the Mexican government passed a law on 2 July making all cold medicines that use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine illegal, methamphetamine traffickers, in need of the same precursor chemicals to cook their drugs, were forced to look south.

Not weeks after the Mexican law came into effect, Argentine police arrested on 18 July nine Mexicans and one Argentine who had rented a luxury residence in the Buenos Aires suburbs to cook methamphetamines. A month later, authorities discovered a warehouse where tanks of ephedrine were stored. The meth lab and ephedrine storage tanks were directly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.

At the top of the Argentine methamphetamine racket was Jesus Martinez Espinoza, an operator with the Sinaloa Cartel who traveled to Argentina to secure a source of ephedrine for methamphetamine production locally in Argentina and abroad in Mexico. He relied on three Argentine men, including Sebastian Forza, who had deep connections in the pharmaceutical industry, as his principal suppliers of ephedrine.

"Argentina can legally import 37 tonnes of ephedrine," the DEA's Sanders told ISN Security Watch, adding, "in 2006 Argentina imported 5 tonnes of ephedrine, and in 2007 Argentina imported 26 tonnes." Still 11 tonnes under the legal limit.

When Martinez's scheme began to unravel in mid July, his local connections had to go. All three Argentine businessmen disappeared on 7 August. Their bodies were found six days later in a ditch outside of Buenos Aires. Forza and the other two were handcuffed and sprayed with bullets. The triple homicide shocked Argentines, who are not accustomed to such assassination-style murders. The news catalyzed a massive investigation that led to Martinez's arrest in Asuncion, Paraguay, just hours before he was to board a flight to Mexico.

Investigations into Forza's past found a long line of bounced checks and deep debt. One of his former associates killed himself. And along with one of the other men allegedly killed by Martinez's men, Forza contributed as much as US$118,000 to the electoral campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Taking over

Over the course of 2008, Mexican organized crime has been tied not only to the triple-homicide in Buenos Aires and the bugging of the office and bedroom of the Guatemalan president, but also to the deaths of five Mexican men, found with their throats slit in Birmingham, Alabama; the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy in Las Vegas, Nevada; and possibly violence in the Peruvian high country.

Between the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels, Mexican organized crime has proven ties with local operators in a list of countries from the US south through Central and South America, including Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Argentina.

"When considering methamphetamines, Mexican organized crime is the strongest in the region," Sanders said, pointing out that the countries in Latin America with relaxed chemical import regulations will likely become targets for Mexican DTOs in the future.

"South America has become increasingly part of [Mexico's] hunting grounds, and Guatemala is already deeply involved," Bruce Bagley, chairman of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami, told ISN Security Watch adding, "these guys are not deterred by borders."

The only other criminal organization that has had this breadth of reach and disregard for national sovereignty was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Billions more in profits, and potentially thousands more operatives with no political ideology, poise Mexican drug traffickers to become the region's next major security challenge.

Today these criminal groups represent the number one threat to national security in Mexico. Tomorrow, other countries such as Guatemala, Peru and Argentina may make the same claim.
 
23723  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Staph on: October 28, 2008, 06:25:44 AM
Staph Germs Are Getting More Difficult to Treat, Studies Say
Associated Press
 
WASHINGTON -- Drug-resistant staph bacteria picked up in ordinary community settings are increasingly acquiring "superbug" powers and causing far more serious illnesses than they have in the past, doctors reported Monday.

These widespread germs used to be easier to treat than the dangerous forms of staph found in hospitals and nursing homes.

"Until recently we rarely thought of it as a problem among healthy people in the community," said Rachel Gorwitz of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, the germs causing outbreaks in schools, on sports teams and in other social situations are posing a growing threat. A CDC study found that at least 10% of cases involving the most common community strain were able to evade the antibiotics typically used to treat them.

"They're becoming more resistant and they're coming into the hospitals," where they swap gene components with other bacteria and grow even more dangerous, said Keith Klugman, an infectious disease expert at Emory University. "It's really a major epidemic."

The germ is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. People can carry it on their skin or in their noses with no symptoms and still infect others -- the reason many hospitals isolate and test new patients to see if they harbor the bug.

MRSA mostly causes skin infections. Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow was just hospitalized for a staph infection, his second in recent years, and the team reportedly has had at least six cases in the past three years.

But the germ can be life-threatening if it gets into the bloodstream, lungs or organs. Pneumonia, sinus infections and even "flesh-eating" wounds due to MRSA are on the rise, doctors reported Monday at an infectious diseases conference in Washington.

About 95,000 serious infections and 20,000 deaths due to drug-resistant staph bacteria occur in the United States each year.

To treat them, "we've had to dust off antibiotics so old that they've lost their patent," said Robert Daum, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago.

The CDC used a network of hospitals in nine cities and states to test samples of the most common community MRSA strain, USA300, over the last few years.

MRSA usually is resistant only to penicillin-type drugs. But 10% of the 824 samples checked also could evade clindamycin, tetracycline, Bactrim or other antibiotics.

"The drugs that doctors have typically used to treat staph infections are not effective against MRSA," and family doctors increasingly are seeing a problem only hospital infection specialists once did, Dr. Gorwitz said.

Even more worrisome: many of these community strains had features allowing them to easily swap genes and become even hardier.

Also at the conference:

-Doctors from Spain reported the first hospital outbreak of MRSA resistant to linezolid, a last-resort drug sold by Pfizer Inc. as Zyvox in the U.S. and Zyvoxid in Europe. A dozen intensive care patients got pneumonia and bloodstream infections last spring and the outbreak was controlled after use of the antibiotic was severely curbed, said Dr. Miguel Sanchez of Hospital Clinico San Carlos in Madrid.

-Georgetown University saw a spike in sinus infections due to MRSA. The germ accounted for 69% of the staph-caused cases in the hospital between 2004 and 2006 compared with 30% from 2001 to 2003.

-Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that more than half of staph-caused pneumonia cases from 2005 through 2007 were due to MRSA.

-Doctors from Case Western Reserve University and the VA Medical Center in Cleveland found that by the time hospitals isolated and tested new patients to see if they harbored MRSA, many had already contaminated their skin and surroundings. Within about a day of being admitted, roughly a third had already started to spread the germ.

Hospital screening is controversial, and has had mixed success, said M. Lindsay Grayson, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The nation's Veterans Affairs hospitals began universal MRSA testing in 2007. Illinois and some other states have adopted or are considering laws requiring hospitals to test high-risk and intensive-care patients for MRSA.

The conference is a joint meeting of the American Society for Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press\
=========================
Experts Say Staph Is Common Problem for Athletes
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By KATIE THOMAS
Published: October 24, 2008
The news in football this week often seemed ripped from the pages of a journal on infectious disease.

Skip to next paragraph
 
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The Browns’ Kellen Winslow had his second staph infection in three years.



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First there was Kellen Winslow, who received a one-game suspension after accusing the Browns of concealing his staph infection. Then there was the news that Peyton Manning had developed a similar condition in his left knee earlier this year. Finally, there was Tom Brady, whose rehabilitation from knee surgery has reportedly been delayed because of an unidentified infection, also in his left knee.

Despite the outbreak of headlines, several experts in sports medicine and epidemiology said the news only served to highlight how prevalent infections — especially staph infections — are among professional athletes and in the community at large.

“It seems like most of these are single-case episodes,” said Jeff Hageman, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What we know is that staph is one of the most common causes of skin infection in the community,” he said, accounting for between 12 million to 14 million doctor visits a year.

Like athletes in other contact sports, football players are prone to staph infections because of their sport’s skin-on-skin contact, the frequency of cuts and the warm, moist conditions in locker rooms, which encourage the growth of bacteria. Because they are regulars in surgery wards, athletes are susceptible to infections there, too.

Garden-variety versions of the staphylococcus bacteria are easily treated and have lurked in locker rooms for years, but the problem has received heightened attention in recent years because of the emergence of a strain known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is resistant to some types of antibiotics. Serious cases of MRSA have derailed the careers of a handful of N.F.L. players, including Brandon Noble, a former defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, and Jeff Novak, a guard for the Jacksonville Jaguars who later sued the team doctor for malpractice.

“These things are here, they’re very serious,” said Noble, who had two bouts of MRSA in 2005 and is now the defensive line coach at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. With high-profile players in the news, he said, “maybe it’ll wake some people up and get the ball rolling.”

Winslow has not said whether his staph infection — his second in three years — was MRSA, but Manning’s infection was not, according to a statement the Colts released Friday. Brady, who contracted his infection after surgery, has not categorized it.

Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the National Football League, said the teams’ trainers and doctors met annually to discuss infections and other health concerns. “It’s an issue across the country,” he said. “It’s not an N.F.L. or a football player issue.”

A 2005 survey by the N.F.L. Team Physicians Society found that of the 30 teams that responded, 13 said a player had contracted a MRSA infection in recent years, for a total of 60 infections across the league. Andrew Tucker, the president of the society and the team doctor for the Ravens, said teams had access to information about staph infections through an internal injury reporting database, but the N.F.L. declined to release the data.

Football teams increased their efforts to battle staph after 2003, when a MRSA outbreak among the Rams resulted in eight infections. The Rams invited the C.D.C. to investigate their facility, and a 2005 study revealed some nose-wrinkling results — towels were being shared by as many as three players on the field, trainers did not always wash their hands when treating wounds, and players did not take showers before entering whirlpools. Football players were also taking antimicrobial drugs at 10 times the rate of the general public.

Jim Anderson, the Rams’ head trainer, said he was surprised when MRSA even turned up on ultrasound equipment and in the cold pools. Since then, the Rams have been more diligent about disinfecting surfaces in the locker rooms and other facilities. Like other teams, they speak to players before each season about sanitary practices, imparting common-sense advice like washing one’s hands, treating open cuts, and not sharing drinks.

“The biggest thing was making them aware of it,” Anderson said. Since then, although a handful of Rams players have developed staph, none have been MRSA.

After Winslow criticized the Browns for concealing his illness from teammates — a claim the team denies and that led to his suspension, which he is appealing — several news media reports noted that the Browns have had six cases of staph infections since 2005. Bill Bonsiewicz, a Browns spokesman, said in an e-mail message that Browns players have contracted seven cases of staph since 1999, including two MRSA cases separated by a few years. “Both players were aggressively treated and each returned to the field within a few weeks,” Bonsiewicz said. He declined to name the players, citing privacy reasons.

Tucker and Hageman said the frequency of staph infections among Browns players — spread over so many years — did not appear to be out of the ordinary. “You’re talking about one or two per year,” Tucker said. “That’s not a lot.”

Noble said that although teams were making an effort to prevent MRSA, eradicating the bacteria was nearly impossible. Locker rooms, after all, are filthy places. “There’s mud, there’s blood, there’s sweat, there’s spit,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of big, gross guys in a room together.”


23724  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena on: October 28, 2008, 06:09:25 AM
Barney Frank will not soon be named secretary of defense or, insha'Allah, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. So there's really no reason to fear that his recent call to cut defense spending by 25% is a harbinger of what to expect in an Obama administration.

 
APThen again, maybe there is.

When it comes to defense, there are two Barack Obamas in this race. There is the candidate who insists, as he did last year in an article in Foreign Affairs, that "a strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace"; pledges to increase the size of our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines while providing them with "first-rate equipment, armor, incentives and training"; and seems to be as gung-ho for a surge in Afghanistan as he was opposed to the one in Iraq.

And then there is the candidate who early this year recorded an ad for Caucus for Priorities, a far-left outfit that wants to cut 15% of the Pentagon's budget in favor of "education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger [and] deficit reduction."

"Thanks so much for the Caucus for Priorities for the great work you've been doing," says Mr. Obama in the ad, before promising to "cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending . . . slow our development of future combat systems . . . not develop new nuclear weapons."

Joe Biden also cut an ad for the group that was even more emphatic: "I'll tell you what we cannot afford . . . a trillion-dollar commitment to 'Star Wars,' new nuclear weapons, a thousand-ship Navy, the F-22 Raptor."

Mr. Biden is right that we can't afford a thousand-ship Navy, not that anyone has proposed it. Current levels of funding don't quite suffice to operate 300 ships, or about half the number the U.S. had at the end of the Reagan arms buildup. The Navy would be satisfied with 313.

Current funding is also just adequate to purchase about 65 new planes for the Air Force each year, even as the average age of each plane creeps upward to nearly 24 years. Last year, the entire fleet of F-15Cs -- the Air Force's mainstay fighter -- was grounded after one of the planes came apart in midair. Spending on maintenance alone is up more than 80% from a decade ago. Is that another defense item Mr. Biden thinks we can't afford?

(As for nuclear weapons, the U.S. hasn't built a new warhead in decades. Its mainstay, the W76, is widely suspected of being unreliable, yet Congress has resisted funding the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead.)

Maybe it seems odd that the Pentagon, whose budget for 2009 runs to well over $500 billion -- not including the supplemental $165 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan -- should struggle to afford the equipment it needs.

But it's not odd. We've been fighting two wars, straining people and equipment. Weapons have generally become more complex and expensive. President Clinton's "procurement holiday" punted the modernization problems to the present. And even after the Bush buildup, defense spending amounts to just 4% of gross domestic product. By contrast, at the nadir of Cold War defense spending under Jimmy Carter, the figure was 4.7%.

All this should argue for at least a modest recapitalization effort by an Obama administration, assuming it really believes a strong military is "necessary to sustain peace." A study by the Heritage Foundation makes the case that defense spending should rise to close to $800 billion over the next four years in order to stick to the 4% GDP benchmark. That's unrealistic in light of the financial crisis. But holding the line at current levels is doable -- and necessary.

But what if a President Obama doesn't actually believe in the importance of a strong military to keep the peace? Or has an attenuated idea of what qualifies as a "strong" military? Or considers military strength a luxury at a moment of financial crisis? Or thinks now is the moment to smash the Pentagon piggy bank to fund a second Great Society?

Does anyone really know where Mr. Obama's instincts lie? During the third debate, he cited former Marine Gen. James Jones as a member of his wise man's circle -- which was reassuring but odd, given that the general made a point of appearing at a McCain campaign event simply to distance himself from the Democratic candidate.

The Obama campaign has also produced a lengthy defense blueprint on its Web site. It reads more like a social manifesto, promising to "improve transition services," "make mental health a priority," and end "don't-ask, don't-tell." All very well, except the document is notably vague on naming the kinds of weapons systems Mr. Obama would actually support.

And so the question remains: If elected, which Obama do we get? The nuanced centrist or the man from Ben and Jerry's?

Some voters may like answers sometime before next Tuesday. Alternatively, they can click the button called "I'm Feeling Lucky."

Write to bstephens@wsj.com
23725  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Should have hit Syria a long time ago on: October 28, 2008, 06:02:44 AM
After five years and six months during which Syria has been an active accomplice to the insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. has finally struck back. Historians will be left to ponder how the course of the Iraq war might have changed if President Bush had acted sooner.

U.S. military sources are confirming that on Sunday U.S. special forces raided a location in eastern Syria that was being used by a network of Syrian military officials and al Qaeda-connected groups to smuggle foreign jihadists into Iraq. The Syrians, predictably, denounced the raid as "an outrageous crime" and an "unprovoked" attack on a "sovereign country."

The Syrians have an interesting definition of unprovoked and a curious notion of sovereignty. Even before U.S. troops took Baghdad, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explicitly warned that Syria was shipping military equipment to help Saddam Hussein, including night-vision goggles and antitank weapons. Only days after Baghdad fell, Mr. Bush warned Damascus against becoming a safe haven for top Iraqi Baathist officials. "We expect cooperation," he said, "and I'm hopeful we'll receive cooperation." Siding with Secretary of State Colin Powell over Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush dispatched Mr. Powell to Damascus in a show of postinvasion diplomatic goodwill.

President Bashar al Assad did not reciprocate, and Damascus soon became the capital in exile from which the Sunni insurgency was financed, organized and directed. In late 2003, Cofer Black, the State Department's Counterterrorism Coordinator, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Syria "needs to do a lot more" to stop terrorist infiltration, but added that he "remained optimistic that continued engagement with Syria will one day lead to a change in Syrian behavior."

It didn't. The following May, Mr. Bush ordered the minimum possible sanctions on Damascus under the Syria Accountability Act of 2003. Though Damascus offered some token intelligence cooperation, it also turned Damascus International Airport into the central hub through which jihadists from Morocco to Saudi Arabia could reach Iraq. Insurgent leaders were brazen enough to hold meetings, in Damascus hotels, that were known both to Syrian and U.S. intelligence.

Administration hawks urged more forceful action, including Predator missile strikes against terrorist hideouts in Syria. But the CIA and others valued ties to Syrian intelligence, and in January 2005 Mr. Bush decided instead to send then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Damascus to read Mr. Assad the riot act. Mr. Armitage succeeded in getting the Syrians to turn over Saddam's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan, a ringleader of the insurgency. This token cooperation, along with episodic Syrian efforts to police their border with Iraq, served mainly to disguise their ongoing support for the insurgency.

By the time the insurgency reached its height in 2006, more than 100 jihadists were coming into Iraq from Syria every month. According to U.S. military estimates, they accounted for between 80% and 90% of the suicide attacks, mainly against Iraqi civilians. Thanks to a combination of the surge, the Sunni Awakening and better internal monitoring by the Saudis and others of just who was boarding planes to Damascus, that flow has now slowed to about 20 a month.

Yet the Syrians continue to show little interest in aiding the U.S., despite recent efforts by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to court her Syrian counterpart, Walid Al-Moallem. Those efforts include inviting Syria to last year's Annapolis conference on Arab-Israeli peace and face-to-face meetings in Egypt and, just last month, New York.

Little wonder, then, that even the Iraqi government, which has sought good relations with its neighbor, has lost patience. "This area was a staging ground for activities by terrorist organizations hostile to Iraq," said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, in reference to the American raid. "The presence in Syria of groups that are hostile to Iraq and who contribute to terrorist activity against Iraqis hinders the progress of our relationship."

We wonder how differently the war in Iraq might have gone had the U.S. conducted this kind of raid as often as necessary in 2003 and 2004, or if it had put Mr. Assad on notice that his survival in power was at risk if he continued to support the insurgency. Our guess is that the war would have been shorter, far less bloody for American and Iraqi troops, and less politically costly to Mr. Bush.

There's a lesson in these Bush Administration mistakes for the next President, particularly if he is Barack Obama. The Syrians interpreted diplomatic accommodation in the face of their anti-American acts as a sign of weakness to exploit. Mr. Obama has promised he'll engage Syria diplomatically as part of an overall effort to end the conflict in Iraq. If he really wants to end the war faster, he'll pick up on Syria where the Bush Administration has now ended.

Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
23726  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYAT: Mosul on: October 28, 2008, 05:36:06 AM
Its the NY Times, so caveat lector:
=================================

MOSUL, Iraq — A new Iraqi military offensive is under way in this still violent northern city, but the worry is not only the insurgents who remain strong here. American commanders are increasingly concerned that Mosul could degenerate into a larger battleground over the fragile Iraqi state itself.

The problems are old but risk spilling out violently here and now. The central government in Baghdad has sent troops to quell the insurgency here, while also aiming at what it sees as a central obstacle to both nationhood and its own power: the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north and the Kurds’ larger ambitions to expand areas under their control.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is squeezing out Kurdish units of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, sending the national police and army from Baghdad and trying to forge alliances with Sunni Arab hard-liners in the province, who have deep-seated feuds with the Kurdistan Regional Government led by Massoud Barzani.

The Kurds are resisting, underscoring yet again the depth of ethnic and sectarian divisions here and the difficulty of creating a united Iraq even when overall violence is down. Tension has risen to the point that last week American commanders held a series of emergency meetings with the Iraqi government and Kurdish officials, seeking to head off violence essentially between factions of the Iraqi government.

“It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region.

Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”

The competing agendas of the Kurds and central government have nearly provoked violence before, but each side eventually grasped the risks. That may be the case now. At the moment, the Americans are hoping to refocus each side on fighting the insurgency rather than each other.

But the tensions underline that achieving basic security is only the first step toward deeper progress in Iraq — and that much remains, bitterly, unresolved.

Mosul falls outside the borders of the Kurdish region, but Mr. Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party came to control the provincial government after Sunni Arabs boycotted the provincial elections in 2005. The Kurds say, however, that they will not abandon the city until they reclaim five areas in Nineveh Province, putting them on a political collision course with the central government.

Tense personal relations between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Barzani worsened, officials on all sides say, after a standoff in September between the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish security forces, the pesh merga, in eastern Diyala Province. American forces helped contain that confrontation.

More broadly, the two men do not see eye to eye on issues as fundamental as the sharing of oil resources, the resolution of disputed internal borders and the shape of the Iraqi nation. The Kurds want a loose federation, while Mr. Maliki, playing on nationalist sentiments, is increasingly pushing for a strong central government.

Relations have deteriorated to the point that the Kurdish leadership has described Mr. Maliki as a new Saddam Hussein, recalling how Mr. Hussein ruthlessly crushed the Kurds in the 1980s. The borders of Iraqi Kurdistan were established as an internationally enforced security zone in 1991.

Testing Loyalties

In this latest offensive against insurgents, Mr. Maliki has been pushing to lessen Kurdish military influence here, and that is testing loyalties at a delicate time.

Mr. Maliki sent nearly 3,000 national policemen from Baghdad to Mosul to prop up the local force. The officers, almost all Shiites and Sunni Arabs, will be in charge of the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab west side of the city.

Predominantly Kurdish units of the army stationed in Nineveh are slowly being replaced by the mainly Sunni Arab and Shiite contingents.

The Defense Ministry also recently appointed Maj. Gen. Abdullah Abdul-Karim, Mr. Maliki’s brother-in-law, as the new commander of the Second Division on Mosul’s east side. Mr. Barzani, sensing a plot to purge the Iraqi Army in the north of its Kurdish leadership, personally intervened recently to freeze a ministerial order to transfer 34 Kurdish officers, said Col. Hajji Abdullah, a battalion commander in the Second Division.

“If the Arabs do not change now, things will get worse and I see confrontation,” Colonel Abdullah said.

In the turmoil, he and another officer in the division, Brig. Gen. Nadheer Issam, say their loyalties are first and foremost to Kurdistan.

======

Page 2 of 3)



“If I were made to choose, I would not even think for a second — I would leave the army,” General Issam said. “We have sacrificed too much fighting the Baathists,” he added, referring to Mr. Hussein’s political party.

 The United States has relied on Kurds from the very beginning in Mosul. Ignoring longtime enmities between the city and Mr. Barzani’s party, American Special Forces units accompanied pesh merga fighters beholden to the party when they took Mosul in April 2003. The United States drafted more pesh merga units into the city in 2004 and 2005 when the whole provincial government and the police force collapsed at the hands of insurgents.

Although many of the pesh merga units in Nineveh were merged into the national army, an estimated 5,000 men remained from an elite Kurdistan corps in the province’s north. All these actions have stoked anger in Mosul toward Americans and Kurds.

Karam Qusay, who works in the Zuhoor neighborhood of Mosul, said he wanted the city to be free of the Kurdish military presence, both in the army and outside of it.

“We wish they would leave,” he said. “We despise them.”

Mosul’s allegiance to Mr. Hussein was so staunch that the city was known as the “regime’s pillow.” Now Mr. Maliki appears to be trying to win over the city by playing on grievances toward the Kurds.

“The government wants to extend its authority, and this clashes with the will and ambitions of the Kurds,” said Maj. Ali Naji, a Sunni Arab in one of the army units sent recently from Baghdad. “I predict fighting between Iraqi forces and the pesh merga.”

Sami al-Askari, one of Mr. Maliki’s senior advisers, said he hoped that talks between his boss and Mr. Barzani would head off any such confrontation.

But he made the government’s position clear: that the presence of Kurdish forces outside of the national army and beyond the borders of Kurdistan was “unlawful.” And he said the refusal of Kurdish officers in the Iraqi Army to obey their transfer orders from Nineveh was a “mutiny that must be severely punished.”

The repercussions of a face-off between Baghdad and the Kurds in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, would be far more serious than the recent tensions in eastern Diyala.

Tenuous Security

Nineveh, wedged between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria and close to Turkey, remains a focal point for a number of Sunni insurgent groups linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown terrorist group that American officials say is led by foreigners, and to the Baath Party. Both are fighting the Americans, Mr. Maliki’s government and the Kurds.

Despite numerous offensives by American and Iraqi forces since the start of the year, security remains tenuous at best. This was underscored this month when 2,270 Christian families, according to the Human Rights Ministry, fled Mosul after a number of killings and other attacks against Christians.

The overall level of violence has dropped in Mosul to 9 or 10 attacks a day from an average of 40 a day a year ago.

Yet killings continue, and fear is palpable. Judges are so intimidated or corrupt that the Iraqi government has flown in judges from Baghdad. Their main job is to issue arrest warrants for wanted suspects.

People other than Christians are also being attacked. A senior provincial official was killed as he left a mosque last month. Even a man who makes tea in the provincial building was recently killed in what is probably the most secure part of the city, said an American official working with local authorities.

In his push to subdue Mosul and marginalize the Kurds, Mr. Maliki is trying to curry favor with disaffected Sunnis. Last week he sent his deputy, Rafie al-Issawi, a Sunni, here with promises of a reconstruction and investment initiative that would be coordinated this time by respected Sunnis from Mosul.

More significant, Mr. Maliki is courting former army officers and tribal leaders like Sheik Abdullah al-Humaidi, who leads the powerful Shammar tribe in western Nineveh. All are strong nationalists who believe that Kurds must be confined to the borders of Kurdistan drawn after the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

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

(Page 3 of 3)



General Thomas said Mr. Maliki was promoting Riad al-Chakerji, a Sunni Arab who is a former army general, as the next governor of Nineveh. Mr. Chakerji acts as an adviser to a committee set up to carry out the central government’s new economic initiatives for Mosul.


 “The central government must be very strong, especially now,” Mr. Chakerji said.

Mr. Chakerji, Sheik Humaidi and people like Hassan al-Luhaibi, a former Iraqi Army commander who led the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, have all joined a new political coalition known as Al Hadba, which will run in the coming provincial elections.

The coalition is led by Atheel al-Nujaifi, a prominent businessman who owns a ranch in Mosul that once supplied purebred Arabian horses to Mr. Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay.

A Call to Keep a Promise

Mr. Nujaifi said the United States military ignored the province’s enmity toward Mr. Barzani and turned itself into a party to the conflict when it relied on pesh merga forces upon arriving in Mosul.

He said that for Mr. Maliki to assert his authority in Mosul he must first make good on his promise to drive out Kurdish forces.

“Many insurgent groups will become law-abiding after that,” Mr. Nujaifi said.

Mr. Nujaifi and his brother Osama, a member of Parliament in Baghdad, blame the Kurds for instigating a campaign against the Christians in Mosul to deflect the central government’s pressure.

One Kurdish leader called the accusations “ludicrous,” and the United States military said it was most likely the work of militants linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

But a group of Christian leaders who met with General Thomas last week in the town of Qosh, outside Mosul, blamed the struggle between the central government and Kurdistan for the plight of their people. Sweeping out both sides, they said, may be the only way to restore calm and trust.

“You have done a great job removing Saddam’s regime,” the Rev. Bashar Warda told the general. “Continue with removing this regime, and start over again.”

23727  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Story on: October 28, 2008, 05:15:18 AM
"A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the
objects of the government; secondly, a knowledge of the means,
by which those objects can be best attained."

-- Joseph Story (Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833)

Reference: Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 206
23728  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 27, 2008, 05:57:45 PM
AND centrism gives us the economically incoherent McCain.  A major disaster in American political culture is being imprinted right now--aided and abetted by McC's pandering populism about greed on Wall Street being the cause-- NONE OF THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED BUT FOR THE GOVERNMENT/FED PRINTING TOO MUCH MONEY. GOLD FROM $250 TO $900?!?  BASKET OF COMMODITIES EXPLODING PRICES?!? OIL?!?  NEGATIVE INTEREST RATES?!? DOLLAR COLLAPSING?!?  ITS NOT LIKE THERE WEREN'T SOME REAL IN PLAIN SITE CLUES!!!

SERVING AS A MULTIPLIER WERE THE FMs, THE CRA, mark to market rules, etc.

THE WORLD-WIDE NATURE OF THE MELTDOWN PHENOMENON SHOWS THAT BY INFLATING AND DEVALUING THE WORLD's DOMINANT CURRECNY, THE FED HAS EXPORTED A LIQUIDITY FLOOD THROUGHOUT THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM. 

Instead we get buffoonery from McC about Wall Street Greed and he's going to go after Wall Street even more than BO.  Barf.

OF COURSE, there was outrageous and unprincipled greed on Wall Street that greatly accelerated the process.  DUH.  Its Wall Street!  Its what they do!  AND THAT IS WHY YOU STICK TO YOUR F^&*(^(&G JOB OF KEEPING THE CURRENCY STABLE.
23729  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: October 27, 2008, 05:45:40 PM
Even though I support his efforts on a monthly basis, its been too long since I checked in with Michael Yon. 

There are several fine entries at http://www.michaelyon-online.com/


23730  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Ladros de Crafty Dog on: October 27, 2008, 11:11:19 AM
Hola a todos:

La vida de este foro depende de la participacion de Uds.  Este manana veo que el post de Mauricio tiene casi 60 "reads" (leidos?) pero todavia nadie ha respondido para continuar la platica.

Si' quieren un foro vibrante, dependara' en Uds.

La Aventura continua,
Marc/Crafty Dog
23731  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO health plan on: October 27, 2008, 11:06:53 AM
Its the NY Times so caveat lector:
===========================

Businesses Wary of Details in Obama Health Plan
By KEVIN SACK
Published: October 26, 2008
AGAWAM, Mass. — Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City, is pretty sure he is about to get “whacked” by the new state law that requires employers to contribute to health care benefits for their workers or pay a $295-per-employee penalty. In order to avoid thousands of dollars in fines, Mr. Ratner is considering not adding part-time workers at his four pet supply stores in Western Massachusetts.

But the penalty in Massachusetts is picayune compared with what some health experts believe Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, might impose as part of his plan to provide affordable coverage for the uninsured. Though Mr. Obama has not released details, economists believe he might require large and medium companies to contribute as much as 6 percent of their payrolls.

That, Mr. Ratner said, would be catastrophic to a low-margin business like his, which has 90 employees, 29 of them full-time workers who are offered health benefits.

“To all of a sudden whack 6 to 7 percent of payroll costs, forget it,” he said. “If they do that, prices go up and employment goes down because nobody can absorb that.”

Writ large, that is one of the significant concerns about Mr. Obama’s health plan, which like this state’s landmark 2006 law would subsidize coverage for the uninsured by taxing employers who do not cover their workers. And it is a primary reason that so-called play-or-pay proposals have had an unsteady history for nearly two decades.

With Mr. Obama’s plan, business leaders say, the devil will be in the unknown details.

Mr. Obama would prohibit insurers from rejecting applicants because of medical conditions, require health insurance for children and create a new federal health plan to provide comprehensive coverage to the uninsured. Those beneath certain income levels would be granted tax credits to make premiums affordable, and small businesses would be offered tax credits to provide benefits.

The tax credits are projected to cost at least $110 billion. Mr. Obama has said he would pay for it primarily by raising income taxes on those making more than $250,000 and by reducing health spending. But when he announced the plan in May 2007, he emphasized that employers would share in the cost.

“We will ask all but the smallest businesses who don’t make a meaningful contribution today to the health coverage of their employees to do so by supporting this new plan,” he said.

Left undefined has been what size firms would be exempted, what constitutes a “meaningful contribution,” and how much noncompliant businesses would be required to pay. Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, badgered Mr. Obama in two of their debates to define the penalty, but Mr. Obama did not rise to the bait.

“We made a decision even before the plan was rolled out not to decide,” said David M. Cutler, a Harvard economist who speaks for the campaign on health care. “It’s not that there’s a decision out there that we’re not telling. It’s literally that we’ve decided not to decide.”

That may be smart politics. But it makes business groups nervous that Mr. Obama might impose an unmanageable burden. They also worry that any time his health plan faces a shortfall, businesses will be asked to up their ante, as has happened in Massachusetts.

“Play-or-pay can become a blank check to an already overcapitalized health care system,” said Helen B. Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents 300 companies.

Business groups also have concerns that Mr. McCain’s plan to change the tax treatment of health benefits would erode employer-sponsored insurance.

Mr. Cutler said the Obama campaign regarded play-or-pay less “as a revenue raiser” than as a way of “leveling the playing field.” It would hold accountable those employers whose uninsured workers might seek treatment in emergency rooms or enroll in government insurance plans, with costs subsidized by others through higher premiums and taxes. Mr. Cutler said the expense to businesses would be offset by savings from Mr. Obama’s proposals to reduce health spending, though that is an uncertain prospect.

Several econometric models have assumed that Mr. Obama would have to set his penalty near 6 percent of payroll (Mercer, a benefits consulting firm says that large employers typically pay 15 percent). Recent play-or-pay proposals in California and Pennsylvania put the figure at 3 or 4 percent, and both failed in part because of business opposition.

=======

Page 2 of 2)



Hawaii is the only state that requires employers to provide health benefits, while Vermont, like Massachusetts, gently fines those who do not. Several other states have enacted similar laws over the last two decades, but they have been repealed, rejected by voters or challenged in court.

Economists believe the cost of health benefits is ultimately shifted to employees through lower wages. When wages cannot be lowered, layoffs may result. Katherine Baicker of Harvard and Helen G. Levy of the University of Michigan have projected that play-or-pay might push 224,000 workers into that category.
When negotiating their health plan, Massachusetts lawmakers rejected a payroll tax and instead set a “fair share contribution” that was low enough to appease businesses. The amount also was kept low to steer clear of the 1974 federal law prohibiting states from regulating multistate group insurance plans. Companies with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees were exempted.

State officials hoped the penalty would generate a little revenue, but recognized it was not likely to prompt employers to start offering coverage. It raised only $7.7 million in its first year, well under projections. So when a substantial budget gap opened in the $869 million health plan this year, Gov. Deval Patrick asked businesses to help fill the hole.

He compromised on a revised formula that is projected to bring in $30 million by increasing the number and average size of firms that will be penalized. The state expects 1,100 businesses to be fined, up from 855, or about 3 percent of eligible companies.

The deal left business leaders satisfied for the moment. They recognize that the $295 penalty is a fraction of the $4,000 that Massachusetts employers spend to insure an individual worker.

But businesses worry the state will raise their obligation each year. They argue they have already absorbed costs of insuring 159,000 workers with group coverage since the state began mandating insurance (a total of 439,000 have enrolled, giving the state the country’s highest insurance rate).

“You want the system to work,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “You just want to make sure there isn’t more cost-shifting to businesses because they are paying their fair share.”

State officials are gratified that — contrary to national trends — the share of employers offering health benefits has increased slightly. One fear about play-or-pay is that if the penalty is too low employers will stop offering coverage and pay the fines instead, shifting workers to government insurance programs.

But leaders here also are sensitive to the possibility that further increases in the penalty might stymie wage and job growth.

“In this day and age,” said Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, the state secretary of health and human services, “it wouldn’t take much of a change in policy to push some entities over the brink.”
23732  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: October 27, 2008, 10:46:32 AM
AFGHAN DRUG KINGPIN CHARGED WITH FINANCING
TALIBAN TERRORIST INSURGENCY


(Washington, DC)-MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and MICHELE M. LEONHART, Acting Administrator of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today the arrest of HAJI JUMA KHAN, a/k/a “Abdullah,” a/k/a “Haji Juma Khan Mohammadhasni,” an Afghan drug trafficker charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics with intent to support a terrorist organization. KHAN is among the first defendants to be prosecuted under the 2006 federal narco-terrorism statute.

 

According to the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Since at least 1999, KHAN led an international opium, morphine and heroin trafficking organization (the “Khan Organization”) based principally in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of southern Afghanistan. The Khan Organization arranged to sell morphine base, an opium derivative that can be processed into heroin, in quantities as large as 40 tons – enough to supply the entire United States heroin market for more than
two years. According to the Indictment, the Khan Organization also operated labs in Afghanistan that produced refined heroin and sold the drug in quantities of as much as 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, and more.



KHAN has been closely aligned with the Taliban, which was designated by the President of the United States as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group in 2002. The Taliban’s totalitarian government controlled Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until 2001, when it was removed from power by the United States and allied military forces. Since the United States’ military intervention, the Taliban has operated an insurgency aimed at re-establishing its control of Afghanistan and forcibly expelling the United States and its allies through terrorist tactics such as suicide bombings, improvised explosive
devices, shootings and kidnappings, which target American soldiers, Afghan political leaders, security contractors and civilians. The Taliban has publicly claimed credit for terrorist attacks, including a January 14, 2008 attack on civilians and employees at the Serena Hotel in Kabul, in which an American citizen was murdered.



The Taliban’s terrorist insurgency has been funded in part by drug traffickers who provide financing to the Taliban in exchange for protection for their drug routes, production labs, and opium poppy fields. KHAN has supported the Taliban’s efforts to forcibly remove the United States and its allies from Afghanistan by providing financial support in the form of drug proceeds.



 “Proceeds from HAJI JUMA KHAN's global drug trafficking organization funded the terrorist activities of the Taliban,” said DEA Acting Administrator MICHELE M. LEONHART. “His arrest disrupts a significant line of credit to the Taliban and will shake the foundation of his drug network that has moved massive quantities of heroin to worldwide drug markets.”

 

 Mr. GARCIA said: “The arrest of HAJI JUMA KHAN is another significant step in the continuing effort to combat terrorism by stopping the flow of narcotics proceeds that help fund the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.”

Mr. GARCIA praised the investigative work of the DEA, with the assistance of the British Serious Organised Crime Agency, and thanked the Turkish National Police and the Turkish Jandarma for their role in the case. He also thanked United States and international INTERPOL authorities for their support.



KHAN will be presented this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge RONALD L. ELLIS for initial appearance and arraignment. United States District Judge NAOMI REICE BUCHWALD will preside over future proceedings in this case; a conference is scheduled before Judge BUCHWALD for October 28, 2008, at 2:30 p.m.



If convicted, KHAN, 54, faces a maximum sentence of life and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics Trafficking Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys MARSHALL A. CAMP and EUGENE INGOGLIA are in charge of the prosecution.
23733  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / James Wilson: Marriage on: October 27, 2008, 09:43:25 AM
"The most important consequence of marriage is, that the husband
and the wife become in law only one person...  Upon this principle
of union, almost all the other legal consequences of marriage
depend.  This principle, sublime and refined, deserves to be
viewed and examined on every side."

-- James Wilson (Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1792)

Reference: The Works of James Wilson, Andrews, ed., vol. 1 (324)
23734  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Palin phenomenon on: October 26, 2008, 11:57:02 PM
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1008/14929.html

Quote:
Palin allies report rising campaign tension
By: Ben Smith
October 25, 2008 02:32 PM EST
Even as John McCain and Sarah Palin scramble to close the gap in the final days of the 2008 election, stirrings of a Palin insurgency are complicating the campaign's already-tense internal dynamics.

Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline.

"She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane," said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to "go rogue" in some of her public pronouncements and decisions.

"I think she'd like to go more rogue," he said.

The emergence of a Palin faction comes as Republicans gird for a battle over the future of their party: Some see her as a charismatic, hawkish conservative leader with the potential, still unrealized, to cross over to attract moderate voters. Anger among Republicans who see Palin as a star and as a potential future leader has boiled over because, they say, they see other senior McCain aides preparing to blame her in the event he is defeated.

"These people are going to try and shred her after the campaign to divert blame from themselves," a McCain insider said, referring to McCain's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, and to Nicolle Wallace, a former Bush aide who has taken a lead role in Palin's campaign. Palin's partisans blame Wallace, in particular, for Palin's avoiding of the media for days and then giving a high-stakes interview to CBS News' Katie Couric, the sometimes painful content of which the campaign allowed to be parceled out over a week.

"A number of Gov. Palin's staff have not had her best interests at heart, and they have not had the campaign's best interests at heart," the McCain insider fumed, noting that Wallace left an executive job at CBS to join the campaign.

Wallace declined to engage publicly in the finger-pointing that has consumed the campaign in the final weeks.

"I am in awe of [Palin's] strength under constant fire by the media," she said in an e-mail. "If someone wants to throw me under the bus, my personal belief is that the most graceful thing to do is to lie there."

But other McCain aides, defending Wallace, dismissed the notion that Palin was mishandled. The Alaska governor was, they argue, simply unready — "green," sloppy and incomprehensibly willing to criticize McCain for, for instance, not attacking Sen. Barack Obama for his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Palin has in fact performed fairly well in the moments thought to be key for a vice presidential nominee: She made a good impression in her surprise rollout in Ohio and her speech to the Republican National Convention went better than the campaign could have imagined. She turned in an adequate performance at a debate against the Democratic Party's foremost debater.

But other elements of her image-making went catastrophically awry. Her dodging of the press and her nervous reliance on tight scripts in her first interview, with ABC News, became a national joke — driven home to devastating effect by "Saturday Night Live" comic Tina Fey. The Couric interview — her only unstaged appearance for a week — was "water torture," as one internal ally put it.

Some McCain aides say they had little choice with a candidate who simply wasn't ready for the national stage, and that Palin didn't forcefully object. Moments that Palin's allies see as triumphs of instinct and authenticity — the Wright suggestion, her objection to the campaign's pulling out of Michigan — they dismiss as Palin's "slips and miscommunications," that is, her own incompetence and evidence of the need for tight scripting.

But Palin partisans say she chafed at the handling.

"The campaign as a whole bought completely into what the Washington media said — that she's completely inexperienced," said a close Palin ally outside the campaign who speaks regularly to the candidate.

"Her strategy was to be trustworthy and a team player during the convention and thereafter, but she felt completely mismanaged and mishandled and ill advised," the person said. "Recently, she's gone from relying on McCain advisers who were assigned to her to relying on her own instincts."

Palin's loyalists say she's grown particularly disenchanted with the veterans of the Bush reelection campaign, including Schmidt and Wallace, and that despite her anti-intellectual rhetoric, her closest ally among her new traveling aides is a policy adviser, former National Security Council official Steve Biegun. She's also said to be close with McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who prepared her for the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate.

When a McCain aide, speaking anonymously Friday to The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, suggested that Palin's charge that Obama was "palling around with terrorists" had "escaped HQ's vetting," it was Scheunemann who fired off an angry response that the speech was "fully vetted" and that to attack Palin for it was "bullshit."

Palin's "instincts," on display in recent days, have had her opening up to the media, including a round of interviews on talk radio, cable and broadcast outlets, as well as chats with her traveling press and local reporters.

Reporters really began to notice the change last Sunday, when Palin strolled over to a local television crew in Colorado Springs.

"Get Tracey," a staffer called out, according to The New York Times, summoning spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt, who reportedly "tried several times to cut it off with a terse 'Thank you!' in between questions, to no avail." The moment may have caused ulcers in some precincts of the McCain campaign, but it was an account Palin's admirers in Washington cheered.

Palin had also sought to give meatier policy speeches, in particular on energy policy and on policy for children with disabilities; she finally gave the latter speech Friday, but had wanted to deliver it much earlier.

She's also begun to make her own ad hoc calls about the campaign's direction and the ticket's policy. McCain, for instance, has remained silent on Democrats' calls for a stimulus package of new spending, a move many conservatives oppose but that could be broadly popular. But in an interview with the conservative radio host Glenn Beck earlier this week, Palin went "off the reservation" to make the campaign policy, one aide said.

"I say, you know, when is enough enough of taxpayer dollars being thrown into this bill out there?" she asked. "This next one of the Democrats being proposed should be very, very concerning to all Americans because to me it sends a message that $700 billion bailout, maybe that was just the tip of the iceberg. No, you know, we were told when we've got to be believing if we have enough elected officials who are going to be standing strong on fiscal conservative principles and free enterprise and we have to believe that there are enough of those elected officials to say, 'No, OK, that's enough.'"

(A McCain spokeswoman said Palin's statement was "a good sentiment.")

But few imagine that Palin will be able to repair her image — and bad poll numbers — in the eleven days before the campaign ends. And the final straw for Palin and her allies was the news that the campaign had reported spending $150,000 on her clothes, turning her, again, into the butt of late-night humor.

"She never even set foot in these stores," the senior Republican said, noting Palin hadn't realized the cost when the clothes were brought to her in her Minnesota hotel room.

"It's completely out-of-control operatives," said the close ally outside the campaign. "She has no responsibility for that. It's incredibly frustrating for us and for her."

Between Palin's internal detractors and her allies, there's a middle ground: Some aides say that she's a flawed candidate whose handling exaggerated her weak spots.

"She was completely mishandled in the beginning. No one took the time to look at what her personal strengths and weaknesses are and developed a plan that made sense based on who she is as a candidate," the aide said. "Any concerns she or those close to her have about that are totally valid."

But the aide said that Palin's inexperience led her to her own mistakes:

"How she was handled allowed her weaknesses to hang out in full display."

If McCain loses, Palin's allies say that the national Republican Party hasn't seen the last of her. Politicians are sometimes formed by a signal defeat — as Bill Clinton was when he was tossed out of the Arkansas governor's mansion after his first term — and Palin would return to a state that had made her America's most popular governor and where her image as a reformer who swept aside her own party's insiders rings true, if not in the cartoon version the McCain campaign presented.

"There are people in this campaign who feel a real sense of loyalty to her and are really pleased with her performance and think she did a great job," said the McCain insider. "She has a real future in this party."
23735  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US SF hit AQ in Syria on: October 26, 2008, 11:50:17 PM
October 26, 2008

US Special Forces Launch Rare Attack Inside Syria

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:06 p.m. ET

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as ''serious aggression.''

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.

''We are taking matters into our own hands,'' the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an ''uncontrolled'' gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Another witness said four helicopters were used in the attack.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 370-mile Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of militants, or warplanes violated Syria's airspace. But Sunday's raid was the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale. In May 2005, Syria said American fire killed a border guard.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the U.S. and Iraqi charges d'affaires to protest against the strike.

''Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria,'' the government statement said.

Syrian state television late Sunday aired footage that showed blood stains on the floor of a site under construction, with wooden beams used to mold concrete strewn on the ground. Akram Hameed, one of the injured, told the television he was fishing in the Euphrates and saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.

''One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked,'' the man in his 40s said. ''The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 meters (yards) away,'' he said.

The injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, told Syria TV that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.

''I ran to bring my child who was going to his father and I was hit,'' she said. The TV did not identify her by name.

The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.

Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Qaim Mayor Farhan al-Mahalawi.

The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.

He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the ''rat lines'' in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.

''The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria,'' the official said.

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a ''different story.''

''The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,'' Kelly said. ''We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement.''

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

''There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years,'' Kelly said.

The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.

The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.

Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.

Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.

Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.

Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.

The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/worl...=1&oref=slogin
23736  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War on: October 26, 2008, 11:47:59 PM
October 26, 2008

US Special Forces Launch Rare Attack Inside Syria

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:06 p.m. ET

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as ''serious aggression.''

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.

''We are taking matters into our own hands,'' the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an ''uncontrolled'' gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Another witness said four helicopters were used in the attack.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 370-mile Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of militants, or warplanes violated Syria's airspace. But Sunday's raid was the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale. In May 2005, Syria said American fire killed a border guard.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the U.S. and Iraqi charges d'affaires to protest against the strike.

''Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria,'' the government statement said.

Syrian state television late Sunday aired footage that showed blood stains on the floor of a site under construction, with wooden beams used to mold concrete strewn on the ground. Akram Hameed, one of the injured, told the television he was fishing in the Euphrates and saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.

''One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked,'' the man in his 40s said. ''The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 meters (yards) away,'' he said.

The injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, told Syria TV that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.

''I ran to bring my child who was going to his father and I was hit,'' she said. The TV did not identify her by name.

The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.

Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Qaim Mayor Farhan al-Mahalawi.

The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.

He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the ''rat lines'' in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.

''The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria,'' the official said.

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a ''different story.''

''The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,'' Kelly said. ''We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement.''

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

''There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years,'' Kelly said.

The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.

The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.

Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.

Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.

Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.

Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.

The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/worl...=1&oref=slogin
23737  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: October 26, 2008, 09:40:21 PM
For a wonderful weekend of Cub Scout camping with my family.
23738  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: October 26, 2008, 07:53:23 PM
Which is why it would be helpful to precede posts of articles with a sentence or three description of why you are posting the article  smiley
23739  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 26, 2008, 04:21:22 PM
Anyone want to converse with CCP about the point(s) he raises?
23740  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Christians in Pakistan on: October 26, 2008, 04:17:47 PM
Pakistani Christians told to convert or die


Source: http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?id=16554&t=Pakistani+Christians+told+t o+convert+or+die

Christians of south Punjab have received letters threatening death if they do not convert to Islam. In Jun3 2008, Islamic militants abducted Christians during worship. Pakistani police appear impotent.


About after a year, once again Christians of Shantinagar, a Christian village in south Punjab, Pakistan, received threatening letters by post, in which they were asked to convert to Islam or be ready to die or leave the area. Nine Christian religious and political leaders received the menacing mail on Sept. 3. Like previous mail, there is no dead line for the threat.

The letters say that, "Don't think we have forgotten you. We are after you and we will teach you a lesson if you do not obey our advice." The letters have no names of the senders but the message is almost the same. "Although each letter is a little different from others, the message are for conversion," Kaleem Dutt, one of the recipients of the letters told Minorities Concern of Pakistan (MCP) by phone. About fifteen days before these letters, few Christian families who live outside the village on their agricultural lands were attacked at night by some miscreants. They tortured them, beat them, insulted them and looted them. They also told the Christians to leave the area otherwise they will again and again be treated like this.

This is not the first time that Christians of this area received these sorts of letters. Last year, 10 Christians of the same village twice received the same type of correspondence with the same messages. That time the dead-line to convert to Islam was mentioned in the letters which was ten days. "Thanks God nothing happened after those ten days, so people feel relaxed," Saleem Dutt, a villager form Shantinagar told MCP. The new mail once again threatened Christians and they are so scared. They had informed the police officers of the special branch and arranged a security system around the village.

Last year, during the months of May, June and August, along with people of Shantinagar, religious minorities of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), especially Christians of Charsada and Peshawar, capital of NWFP, also received threatening letters from the unknown militants. The letters' message was to change their religions and convert to Islam. On June 21, 2008, Islamic militants kidnapped 16 Christians in a raid around 8pm while they were worshipping in the house of Salamat Masih, a Christian, in Peshawar. They were taken to the Khyber Agency, near the boarder with Afghanistan.

However, after couple of hours they were released after government's negotiation with the militants. Last year when Christians of Shantinagar received the intimidating letters, they immediately informed the police authorities about the letters and also gave the phone numbers of the threatening phone calls "but police did nothing," Christians complained. There are many militants groups active in the country especially in the tribal region of NWFP, but it is still not clear which militant group is behind these intimidating messages.

The Christians of Shantinagar are living under constant threat of attack by the militants. The apprehension of people of Shantinagar is genuine because on Feb. 6, 1997 this village was attacked by a mob of about 2000 people when the whole village was burnt and destroyed despite the presence of around 300 policemen outside the village. Christians were allegedly accused of insulting the Holy Quran. So, within hours, about 80 percent village was annihilated. Almost 800 houses were destroyed and 2500 people were affected. In the attack, about 2000 Bibles were burnt also. A judicial inquiry was held but still the findings of the inquiry are not made public. Moreover, police arrested 97 persons in this connection but nobody has been convicted so far.

The recent letters are a visible example of an attempt to force conversion of religious minorities in the country. In many cases, Christian, Hindu and Sikh women, have been kidnapped and forcibly married to Muslim men after conversion. Minority rights groups estimate that around 600 people a year are forcibly converted to Islam.
23741  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Libertarian Issues on: October 26, 2008, 04:11:12 PM
Well, looky, looky, look what we have here:

Government computers used to find information on Joe the Plumber
Investigators trying to determine whether access was illegal
Friday, October 24, 2008 8:57 PM
By Randy Ludlow


The Columbus Dispatch
"State and local officials are investigating if state and law-enforcement computer systems were illegally accessed when they were tapped for personal information about "Joe the Plumber."
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher became part of the national political lexicon Oct. 15 when Republican presidential candidate John McCain mentioned him frequently during his final debate with Democrat Barack Obama.
The 34-year-old from the Toledo suburb of Holland is held out by McCain as an example of an American who would be harmed by Obama's tax proposals.
Public records requested by The Dispatch disclose that information on Wurzelbacher's driver's license or his sport-utility vehicle was pulled from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database three times shortly after the debate.
Information on Wurzelbacher was accessed by accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department.
It has not been determined who checked on Wurzelbacher, or why. Direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information from BMV computers is restricted to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
Paul Lindsay, Ohio spokesman for the McCain campaign, attempted to portray the inquiries as politically motivated. "It's outrageous to see how quickly Barack Obama's allies would abuse government power in an attempt to smear a private citizen who dared to ask a legitimate question," he said.
Isaac Baker, Obama's Ohio spokesman, denounced Lindsay's statement as charges of desperation from a campaign running out of time. "Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully," he said.
The attorney general's office is investigating if the access of Wuzelbacher's BMV information through the office's Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway computer system was unauthorized, said spokeswoman Jennifer Brindisi.
"We're trying to pinpoint where it came from," she said. The investigation could become "criminal in nature," she said. Brindisi would not identify the account that pulled the information on Oct. 16.
Records show it was a "test account" assigned to the information technology section of the attorney general's office, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Thomas Hunter.
Brindisi later said investigators have confirmed that Wurzelbacher's information was not accessed within the attorney general's office. She declined to provide details. The office's test accounts are shared with and used by other law enforcement-related agencies, she said.
On Oct. 17, BMV information on Wurzelbacher was obtained through an account used by the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency in Cleveland, records show.
Mary Denihan, spokeswoman for the county agency, said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services contacted the agency today and requested an investigation of the access to Wurzelbacher's information. Cuyahoga County court records do not show any child-support cases involving Wurzelbacher.
The State Highway Patrol, which administers the Law Enforcement Automated Data System in Ohio, asked Toledo police to explain why it pulled BMV information on Wurzelbacher within 48 hours of the debate, Hunter said.
The LEADS system also can be used to check for warrants and criminal histories, but such checks would not be reflected on the records obtained by The Dispatch.
Sgt. Tim Campbell, a Toledo police spokesman, said he could not provide any information because the department only had learned of the State Highway Patrol inquiry today.
__________________
23742  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread on: October 26, 2008, 01:53:42 AM
I'd have voted for Margaret Thatcher for President of the United States in a flash.
23743  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 26, 2008, 01:46:42 AM
CCP:

I found that interesting and will think about it.

Thank you,
Marc
23744  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: October 25, 2008, 01:28:17 PM
No shame in losing to BJ.  Is that his only post hormonal fight?  The insecurity that leads a fighter to take steroids to begin with can often prey upon his mind after he is off the steroids , , ,
23745  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Class at Inosanto Academy on: October 25, 2008, 01:23:57 PM
Misadventures at our end.  My sincere apologies.  No embarassed class today.  Class WILL be held next week.
23746  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: October 25, 2008, 02:26:57 AM
Woof:

The "Great Moderator in the Sky" is in the back of the van in the dark on a laptop wireless connection.  Without reading them all, my snap impression is that each article is designed to address particular points of the article by the Harvard woman Muslim seriatim.  As is his wont, GM facilitates the misunderstanding by not including a one or two sentence description of the article e.g. The author mentions this Muslim Congressman.  Let's take a look at who he really is in this article." or something that would clue the read in as to why the article is there.

Anyway, I'm to bed soon.  You two will have to hash this out on your own. evil cheesy

TAC,
Marc
23747  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 24, 2008, 05:51:36 PM
I'm on my way out the door so no time to give that a proper read.

I do note though that the Dems screamed concentraiton when the Reagan tax cuts took effect.  Turns out the reason was that the rick were allowing their wealth to be taxed at the lower rates under Reagan.  This proved hard for the Dems to comprehend , , ,  rolleyes
23748  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: October 24, 2008, 03:56:44 PM
Woof All:

I will be leaving in a couple of hours to take the family for a weekend of Cub Scout camping and probably will not have internet access until Sunday night.

The Adventure continues,
Marc
23749  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: October 24, 2008, 03:54:52 PM
Thank you.

A lot of Sherk's rep was built during his  , , , hormonal phase.  How has he been since then?
23750  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Fire Hydrant: Howls from Crafty Dog, Rules of the Road, etc on: October 24, 2008, 03:42:59 PM
Woof All:

I leave in a couple of hours for a weekend of Cub Scout camping with the family and may not have internet access until our return on Sunday evening.

TAC,
CD
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