Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: Non-farm productivity; non-mfr index
on: February 03, 2011, 01:23:23 PM
GM: Remember that prediction of yours, made when the DOW was at 6,500 that 6,000 was next?
If I remember correctly, I did not disagree
Non-farm productivity rose at a 2.6% annual rate in Q4 To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Non-farm productivity (output per hour) rose at a 2.6% annual rate in the fourth quarter. Non-farm productivity is up 1.7% versus last year.
Real (inflation-adjusted) compensation per hour in the non-farm sector declined at a 0.6% annual rate in Q4, but is up 0.3% versus last year. Unit labor costs declined at a 0.6% rate in Q4 and are down 0.2% versus a year ago.
In the manufacturing sector, the Q4 growth rate for productivity (5.8%) was much higher than among non-farm businesses as a whole. The faster pace of productivity growth was due to declining hours. Real compensation per hour was up in the manufacturing sector (+0.2%), but, due to rapid productivity growth, unit labor costs declined at a 2.9% annual rate.
Implications: Productivity beat consensus expectations in the fourth quarter, rising at a 2.6% annual rate, equaling the robust average pace of the past ten years. What’s impressive about the fourth quarter is that the gains in productivity came at the same time that the number of hours worked increased at a healthy 1.8% rate. Oftentimes, once a recovery gets to the point where firms are vigorously increasing hours, the pace of productivity growth slows down. Although that happened in the first half of 2010, in the latter half of the year companies found a way to generate efficiencies while still demanding more hours. Not only are hours up but compensation per hour is up as well. Despite this, productivity is pushing down unit labor costs – how much companies have to pay workers per unit of production. In other words, productivity growth has been rapid enough to both generate pay increases and, at the same time, make it worth more for companies to hire. As a result, we expect private sector hiring to accelerate in 2011. In other news this morning, new claims for unemployment insurance declined 42,000 last week to 415,000. Continuing claims for regular state benefits fell 84,000 to 3.93 million. In other recent news on the job market, the ADP Employment index, a measure of private-sector payrolls, increased 187,000 in January. This is consistent with our forecast that the official Labor Department report, released tomorrow morning, will show an increase of 195,000 in private payrolls.
The ISM non-manufacturing composite index increased to 59.4 in January To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
The ISM non-manufacturing composite index increased to 59.4 in January from 57.1 in December, easily beating the consensus expected gain to 57.2. (Levels above 50 signal expansion; levels below 50 signal contraction.)
The key sub-indexes were all higher in January and remain at levels indicating robust economic growth. The new orders index increased to 64.9 from 61.4 and the business activity index rose to 64.6 from 62.9, both multi-year highs. The employment index increased to 54.5 from 52.6 and the supplier deliveries index rose to 53.5 from 51.5.
The prices paid index increased to 72.1 in January, the highest since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, from 69.5 in December.
Implications: The US economy continues to pick up steam and we are now seeing strong economic growth in both the manufacturing and service sectors. Today’s ISM Services report delivered a broad array of data that continued to trace out a V-shaped (possibly a check-mark-shaped) recovery. The overall services index was at 59.4, the highest since 2005. The business activity index, which has an even higher correlation with real GDP growth, hit 64.6, also the highest since 2005. The new orders index was the highest since 2004 and the employment index increased to 54.5, the highest level since 2006. The employment index has been above the key 50 level for five straight months. On the inflation front, the prices paid index increased to 72.1, the highest since the financial panic started in late 2008. The Federal Reserve’s ultra-easy monetary policy is getting increasingly inappropriate. In other recent news, cars and light trucks were sold at a 12.6 million annual rate in January, up 0.6% versus December and up 17.4% versus a year ago. Over the next couple of years, these sales will continue to increase to about a 15-16 million annual rate, the pace that offsets the annual scrappage of autos as well as changes in the driving-age population. The service sector is getting stronger, firms are hiring again, and workers are confident enough about the future to ramp up their purchases of big-ticket items.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Taranto
on: February 03, 2011, 08:55:57 AM
By JAMES TARANTO
"At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled 'The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,' " Judge Roger Vinson observed Monday in his ruling in Florida v. HHS, which did just that.
It would have been a lot harder had ObamaCare enjoyed wide political support. But it did not and does not. Americans never bought the bill of goods that Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and their supporters in the formerly mainstream media tried to sell. A good deal of the credit goes to Sarah Palin, for coining the phrase "death panel" in an August 2009 Facebook post.
Four months later PolitiFact.com, a project of the left-leaning St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, named the phrase "lie of the year":
Her assertion--that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care--spread through newscasts, talk shows, blogs and town hall meetings. Opponents of health care legislation said it revealed the real goals of the Democratic proposals. Advocates for health reform said it showed the depths to which their opponents would sink. Still others scratched their heads and said, "Death panels? Really?"
In truth, PolitiFact was more vulnerable to the charge of lying than Palin was, for its highly literal, out-of-context interpretation of her words was at best extremely tendentious. What she wrote was this:
The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
Palin put the term "death panel" in quotes to indicate that she was using it figuratively. She was not lying but doing just the opposite: conveying a fundamental truth about ObamaCare. Proponents were describing it as a sort of fiscal perpetual-motion machine: We're going to give free insurance to tens of millions of people and reduce the deficit! As a matter of simple arithmetic, the only way to do that is by drastically curtailing medical benefits.
Keep your laws off her baby!
."Health care by definition involves life and death decisions," Palin wrote. ObamaCare necessarily expands the power of federal bureaucrats to make such decisions, and it creates enormous fiscal pressures to err on the side of death. Whether it establishes literal panels for that purpose is a hair-splitting quibble. By naming this "lie of the year," PolitiFact showed itself to be less seeker of truth than servant of power.
President Obama, meanwhile, treated Palin's criticism as a joke. As we noted at the time, he told a New Hampshire town meeting: "The rumor that's been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for 'death panels' that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we've decided that we don't--it's too expensive to let her live anymore." The transcript records that the audience laughed at this callous "joke."
The perpetual-motion claim wasn't the only deception at the heart of the argument for ObamaCare. Consider the individual mandate, whose unconstitutionality was the center of Judge Vinson's ruling. In a footnote, Vinson quotes a critic of the idea as observing, "If a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house." Guess who? CNSNews.com digs up the full context:
"Both of us want to provide health care to all Americans. There's a slight difference, and her plan is a good one. But, she mandates that everybody buy health care. She'd have the government force every individual to buy insurance and I don't have such a mandate because I don't think the problem is that people don't want health insurance, it's that they can't afford it," [then-Sen. Barack] Obama said in a Feb. 28, 2008 appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' television show. "So, I focus more on lowering costs. This is a modest difference. But, it's one that she's tried to elevate, arguing that because I don't force people to buy health care that I'm not insuring everybody. Well, if things were that easy, I could mandate everybody to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness. It doesn't."
Obama ran for office on opposition to the individual mandate, then made it the centerpiece of his signature legislative initiative. Perhaps this should have been "lie of the year." At PolitiFact.com, it wasn't even a runner-up.
And what is the individual mandate, anyway? In September 2009, ABC News host George Stephanopoulos argued in an interview with the president that it is a tax increase. Obama strenuously denied it and indeed accused Stephanopoulos of dishonesty: "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. . . . George, you--you can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase."
By last July, the administration was--well, just making up that language and deciding that that's called a tax increase. As even the New York Times reported:
When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government's "power to lay and collect taxes."
And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.
Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.
Lie of the year? Nope, again not even a PolitiFact.com runner-up. The winner for 2010, announced Dec. 16, was "The Democrats' health care reform law is a 'government takeover of health care.' " This was a "lie," PolitiFact averred, because the government did not formally nationalize the health-insurance industry via the so-called public option.
The same day that PolitiFact was announcing its 2010 "lie of the year," an exchange in Judge Vinson's courtroom was giving the lie to it. As Bloomberg reported:
"We've always exercised the freedom whether we want to buy or not buy a product," Vinson told the Obama administration's lawyer.
[Justice Department lawyer Ian] Gershengorn said health insurance is "a financing mechanism," not a product. "It's not shoes," he said. "It's not cars. It's not broccoli."
As we wrote at the time:
Under the scheme envisioned by ObamaCare, in which insurers would be obliged to cover all comers, a medical policy would no longer be insurance--that is, a contract to indemnify the policyholder against risk. It would instead be, as Gershengorn describes it, a "financing mechanism" for medical services. . . . Because participation would be mandatory, the "premium," and not just the penalty for failure to pay it, would effectively be a tax.
In a famous 2003 video, Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, declared, "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health-care program." That is, Obama wished for a system of outright socialization of health-care costs, in which the government would pay for medical treatment using tax dollars. ObamaCare differs from such a system only in that ostensibly private insurance companies act as the government's middleman, collecting the taxes and paying the benefits.
"Government takeover," like "death panel," is a true description of ObamaCare's essence. These phrases are "inaccurate" only in that they cut through formal distinctions designed to deceive the public. (We wish we could use a barnyard vulgarity in place of the unwieldy clause "formal distinctions designed to deceive the public," but The Wall Street Journal is a family newspaper.)
"Death panel" was especially effective at cutting through the hockey. Lots of people warned about rationing, but, as PolitiFact grudgingly acknowledged, it was Palin's vivid language that "launched the health care debate into overdrive. The term was mentioned in news reports approximately 6,000 times in August and September, according to the Nexis database. By October, it was still being mentioned 150 to 300 times a week."
Many of these media mentions were disparaging, "raising issues," as PolitiFact prissily puts it, about "the bounds of acceptable political discussion." In other words, Palin's statement was widely propagated by journalists who thought it "unacceptable." Americans recognized the essential truth of Palin's words and strongly opposed ObamaCare.
Palin got the truth out with the help of journalists determined to bolster the deceptions at the heart of ObamaCare. She was instrumental in winning the political argument that looks increasingly likely to render ObamaCare's legislative victory a Pyrrhic one. Sarah Palin outsmarted the formerly mainstream media simply by being blunt and honest. That is why they burn with a mindless rage against her
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Baseline Budgeting
on: February 03, 2011, 08:42:23 AM
IMHO this is one of the most important issues there is when it comes to rolling back spending and establishing honest, sound policies; I've mentioned it here before, to little effect-- but until we get this, we our without solution to our dilemas:
Move over, Chris Christie. New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is bidding to join the New Jersey Republican as the national spokesman for fiscal sanity, and he's doing so in a politically clever way that House Republicans could learn from.
The budget that Mr. Cuomo unveiled this week closes a gaping deficit with major budget reductions, calling for spending cuts in state hiring, education, health care, aid to universities and payments to cities. The plan would balance the Empire State's $135 billion budget without a dime of new taxes or borrowing. Remarkably, if his budget passed, the state would spend $3.5 billion less than it did last year.
And remember, we're talking about politically liberal New York, not New Hampshire. If you're surprised by this, you should see long-time Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who looks as though he stuck his finger in the electric socket.
These cuts are impressive on their own, but Mr. Cuomo's real conceptual breakthrough is to expose the rigged-game of "baseline budgeting." This is a gambit by which spending increases automatically each year even before a Governor submits his budget. The "baseline" grows each year due to spending formulas that legislatures build into the law even before they take a single vote.
Mr. Cuomo put it this way in a New York Post op-ed on Tuesday: "When a governor takes office, in many ways the die has already been cast. Unbelievably, this year these rates and formulas in total call for a 13 percent increase in Medicaid and a 13 percent increase in education funding next year."
This means that if Mr. Cuomo proposes a spending increase for Medicaid that is less than 13%, he will be attacked for "cutting" spending. Yet overall Medicaid spending would still increase. As Mr. Cuomo notes, "this process frames the dialogue around the budget and biases the political discourse." That is precisely the goal of government unions and the politicians who follow their orders because it allows them to increase spending even as they cry fiscal havoc.
Mr. Cuomo points out that under the automatic baseline formulas, the New York state budget deficit this year is estimated to be $10 billion. Yet if the state operated like families do, with a new budget for each year starting from a base of what the state spent the year before, the deficit would be closer to $2 billion. Closing a deficit of that size suddenly becomes a lot easier, making it much harder to justify the tax increases that Mr. Silver and his cronies are famous for.
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
.The Governor is proposing a reform that would deflate these baselines with more reasonable and affordable spending projections. For example, his budget would base a spending increase for Medicaid on the rate of medical inflation, which is less than half the 13% increase previously assumed in the budget. He would hold education funding to the rate of personal income growth, about half the growth built into the baseline for school budgets. By fixing this fraudulent convention, Mr. Cuomo's budget reduces spending for years to come without having to fight political battles every year.
There's a vital lesson here for House Republicans because the same baseline games have long prevailed in Washington. The Democrats who wrote the budget rules also built in formulas that increase spending each year before Congress even takes a vote. Those same Democrats are now lying in wait for Republicans to propose their budget, and they will describe even increases in spending as brutal "cuts." The media will dutifully play along.
Republicans ought to follow Mr. Cuomo's savvy lead and blow the whistle on this rigged process early and often. Alas, we fear too many Republicans want to brag about their "cuts" to impress the tea party even if they come from an inflated baseline. This is a recipe for letting Democrats frame the budget debate in ways that will make it harder for Republicans to achieve their budget goals, even as the GOP suffers political damage in the process. They would be smarter to take Mr. Cuomo's cue.
This is not to say Mr. Cuomo's budget is perfect. The Governor reduces education aid by 7.3% and tells schools to get their costs under control, thin bloated payrolls, and do more with less. He would also allow New York City and other cities to lay off thousands of "nonteaching teachers." But he doesn't propose to let cities lay off teachers based on merit, as opposed to seniority—which means that many of the youngest and best teachers will lose their jobs. Mr. Cuomo seems to think this would be too difficult to pass given his other priorities, but such a reform will never pass if it isn't part of his first budget when his political capital is at its peak.
Mr. Cuomo nonetheless deserves credit for breaking Democratic type and following through on his campaign promise to shape up Albany. His fight has only begun, but he's off to a shrewd and useful start.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Rove
on: February 03, 2011, 08:31:01 AM
By KARL ROVE
ObamaCare has recently been dealt three body blows. Speaker John Boehner pushed a bill to repeal it through the House. GOP leader Mitch McConnell will get to put Senate Democrats on record with a vote on repeal as well. And this week, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson declared the law unconstitutional.
The White House's reaction is dismissive. The nation doesn't want to "re-litigate" ObamaCare, we're told. So long as Mr. Obama sits in the Oval Office, repeal is going nowhere. The Supreme Court will uphold the law. And by 2012, health care will be a winning issue for Democrats.
I'm not so sure. Take the question of Granny. In a speech last Friday defending his health-care law's effect on seniors against GOP attacks, Mr. Obama said, "I can report that Granny is safe." She may not feel that way if she's one of the 700,000 seniors whose private Medicare Advantage insurance policy was not renewed last year because her insurance provider quit the business.
There will be more nonrenewals in 2011. This year's funding cuts to Medicare Advantage will be $2 billion; next year's will be $6 billion. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimate that half of those with Medicare Advantage policies—seven million seniors—will lose their coverage eventually. And 60% the doctors surveyed by the nonprofit Physicians Foundation said health-care reform would "compel them to close or significantly restrict" the number of patients in their practices, especially those on Medicare or Medicaid.
Granny's daughter, son and grandchildren are not all that safe, either. Providers such as Guardian Life and the Principal Financial Group are dropping their health-insurance businesses. And companies will be tempted to drop coverage for their employees and dump them onto the government's tab.
No taxpayer is safe, either. Last week Richard Foster, CMS's chief actuary, confirmed to Congress that ObamaCare's Medicare cuts couldn't be used to reduce both Medicare's unfunded liability and to pay for ObamaCare's expense. Since the Obama administration is relying on this double counting to rig the numbers, Mr. Foster's testimony was particularly damaging.
What the country most needs—and what the GOP must now advocate—is a fundamentally new approach to containing health-care costs.
The most promising model for Medicare comes from Clinton Budget Director Alice Rivlin and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.). Under their plan, starting in 2021 those turning 65 and going on Medicare would get a fixed contribution to use to purchase insurance, allowing them in many instances to keep their existing coverage. Consumers will be in charge.
Annual support would grow at the same yearly rate as the economy plus 1%. Medicare payments would be adjusted by income, geography and health risk. Poor seniors would get extra help for out-of-pocket expenses.
This bipartisan model builds on the success of the Medicare prescription drug benefit passed in 2003. This market- and competition-oriented experiment gave seniors a fixed sum they could use to purchase drug insurance coverage. In response, drug companies and insurance providers flooded the market with options that drove prices for consumers down.
Though more seniors signed up for the benefit, signed up quicker and used it more than expected, the program costs much less than estimated (the original Congressional Budget Office estimate was $552 billion for the first 10 years, but the estimated cost is now $385 billion). Competition and consumer choice are far more effective in containing costs than is bureaucratic price-setting.
We're at an unprecedented moment. The huge historic advantage Democrats have enjoyed on the health-care issue has evaporated. ObamaCare is increasingly less popular. Its unpopularity is up nine points in the last month, to 50%, in a Kaiser/Harvard survey. The public is now taking a close look at what the Republican Party might have to offer.
The Rivlin-Ryan alternative plan is bold and not without risk. Past efforts at entitlement reform haven't been successful. Having worked in the Bush White House during the 2005 Social Security battle, I know of what I speak. Still, the Rivlin-Ryan plan is right on substance. And unlike 2005, it may also be the right moment.
Thanks in good measure to Mr. Obama's profligacy, the entitlement crisis is no longer a vague, abstract concern. More and more Americans understand the current course leads to a disaster for the nation's finances. And so the public may be willing to go places and do things that in the past it may not have.
This is an unusual and fluid moment. My hunch is voters are more inclined than ever to reward the political party that addresses entitlement reform—and more inclined than ever to punish the one that fiddles while America's fiscal house burns.
Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: New army rifle?
on: February 03, 2011, 08:27:38 AM
By NATHAN HODGE
For the first time in almost 50 years, the U.S. Army wants to replace the
standard rifle shouldered by hundreds of thousands of frontline troops
around the world.
The service this week advertised its interest in a new weapon that would
incorporate futuristic sights and other advances in rifle design and be able
to handle improved ammunition.
The gun would potentially supplant the M4 carbine, a shorter-barrel version
of the M16, the Army's main infantry weapon for decades.
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A soldier with an XM25 weapon system, an advanced grenade launcher being
tested by the Army.
Operations in Afghanistan—where troops often engage the enemy over long
distances—have rekindled debate over the quality of the Army's
standard-issue rifles and their reliability in dusty, primitive conditions.
An Army report on a 2008 battle in Wanat, Afghanistan, cited soldier
complaints about jamming and overheating M4s, in particular. Nine servicemen
died in that fight.
Critics have also raised concerns about the range and lethality of the 5.56
mm cartridge of the M16/M4.
Col. Doug Tamilio, the service's project manager for soldier weapons, said
in a statement the Army sought to find "the most effective, accurate, and
reliable" weapon for its soldiers. "We're challenging industry to develop
the next-generation carbine and we're looking forward to the results."
An "industry day" for small-arms manufacturers is planned for March 30. The
Army said it would pick a winner after two years of rigorous evaluation.
Gerald Dinkel, the president and CEO of Colt Defense LLC, said the Army has
"held out the M4 as a high standard, and somebody is going have to come out
and really beat it."
The M16, made by both Colt and FN Manufacturing LLC, a unit of FN Herstal SA
of Belgium, along with the M4, have long enjoyed the loyalty of Army leaders
who say the weapons are "combat proven." The M4 has slightly less range than
the M16, but is easier to handle, particularly in urban combat.
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The M1 Garand entered service in the 1930s. The .30-calibre rifle weighed
about 10 pounds and had a range of around 500 meters.
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The M16 Rifle entered service in the 1960s. The 5.56-mm rifle weighed about
8.8 pounds and had a range of approximately 550-800 meters.
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The M4 Carbine entered service in the 1990s. The 5.56-mm rifle weighs about
7.5 pounds and has a range of 500-600 meters.
But Army commanders have also long faced questions about the rifles' design:
Both are built around a gas-operated system that cuts down on moving parts,
but requires consistent cleaning.
Experts have often noted that the M16/M4 also fares poorly in terms of
ruggedness and reliability compared with Soviet-designed Kalashnikov assault
rifles, which are a favorite weapon of insurgents around the world.
In 2007, the M4 fared worse than three other weapons—the Heckler & Koch
HK416, the FN Herstal Mk16 Special Operations Combat Assault Rifle and the
Heckler & Koch XM8—in comparative reliability testing conducted by the Army.
The current M16 and M4 in many respects bear little resemblance to
Vietnam-era antecedents: They are usually have advanced optics, and can be
fitted with accessories such as flashlights. But critics on Capitol Hill,
including Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), have in the past questioned why the
service chose to stick with upgrades instead of seeking a replacement.
In Afghanistan, the Army has introduced the M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle, an
upgraded version of the M14 rifle, which is chambered for a full-power rifle
round that has a longer effective range than the M4 or M16. The Army is also
experimenting with more futuristic infantry weapons in Afghanistan.
In parallel with the contest for a new rifles, the Army is considering
additional improvements to the M4, including ambidextrous controls. The Army
may also study alternatives to the rifle's gas operating system, according
to an official fact sheet.
Last year, the service began field trials of the XM25 Counter Defilade
Target Engagement System, an advanced grenade launcher equipped with a laser
range finder and onboard computer.
It fires a programmable 25mm round that is designed to go off just above—or
just behind — its target. The concept is to create a lethal weapon that can
hit enemies behind cover.
James Carafano, a retired Army officer who is a senior fellow at the
Heritage Foundation, predicted in a recent interview that more of these
weapons would soon be in the hands of the individual soldier.
"Precision weaponry is going to get really personal," Mr. Carafano said.
"You're eventually going to see an individual soldier dropping a round down
Write to Nathan Hodge at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Hernando de Soto
on: February 03, 2011, 08:25:06 AM
Hernando de Soto is someone I hold in high regard. He has done superb work in South America (Peru especially IIRC).
By HERNANDO DE SOTO
The headline that appeared on Al Jazeera on Jan. 14, a week before Egyptians took to the streets, affirmed that "[t]he real terror eating away at the Arab world is socio-economic marginalization."
The Egyptian government has long been concerned about the consequences of this marginalization. In 1997, with the financial support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government hired my organization, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy. It wanted to get the numbers on how many Egyptians were marginalized and how much of the economy operated "extralegally"—that is, without the protections of property rights or access to normal business tools, such as credit, that allow businesses to expand and prosper. The objective was to remove the legal impediments holding back people and their businesses.
After years of fieldwork and analysis—involving over 120 Egyptian and Peruvian technicians with the participation of 300 local leaders and interviews with thousands of ordinary people—we presented a 1,000-page report and a 20-point action plan to the 11-member economic cabinet in 2004. The report was championed by Minister of Finance Muhammad Medhat Hassanein, and the cabinet approved its policy recommendations.
Egypt's major newspaper, Al Ahram, declared that the reforms "would open the doors of history for Egypt." Then, as a result of a cabinet shakeup, Mr. Hassanein was ousted. Hidden forces of the status quo blocked crucial elements of the reforms.
Today, when the streets are filled with so many Egyptians calling for change, it is worth noting some of the key facts uncovered by our investigation and reported in 2004:
• Egypt's underground economy was the nation's biggest employer. The legal private sector employed 6.8 million people and the public sector employed 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people worked in the extralegal sector.
• As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.
• We estimated the value of all these extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban, to be $248 billion—30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (Those same extralegal assets would be worth more than $400 billion in today's dollars.)
The entrepreneurs who operate outside the legal system are held back. They do not have access to the business organizational forms (partnerships, joint stock companies, corporations, etc.) that would enable them to grow the way legal enterprises do. Because such enterprises are not tied to standard contractual and enforcement rules, outsiders cannot trust that their owners can be held to their promises or contracts. This makes it difficult or impossible to employ the best technicians and professional managers—and the owners of these businesses cannot issue bonds or IOUs to obtain credit.
Nor can such enterprises benefit from the economies of scale available to those who can operate in the entire Egyptian market. The owners of extralegal enterprises are limited to employing their kin to produce for confined circles of customers.
Without clear legal title to their assets and real estate, in short, these entrepreneurs own what I have called "dead capital"—property that cannot be leveraged as collateral for loans, to obtain investment capital, or as security for long-term contractual deals. And so the majority of these Egyptian enterprises remain small and relatively poor. The only thing that can emancipate them is legal reform. And only the political leadership of Egypt can pull this off. Too many technocrats have been trained not to expand the rule of law, but to defend it as they find it. Emancipating people from bad law and devising strategies to overcome the inertia of the status quo is a political job.
The key question to be asked is why most Egyptians choose to remain outside the legal economy? The answer is that, as in most developing countries, Egypt's legal institutions fail the majority of the people. Due to burdensome, discriminatory and just plain bad laws, it is impossible for most people to legalize their property and businesses, no matter how well intentioned they might be.
The examples are legion. To open a small bakery, our investigators found, would take more than 500 days. To get legal title to a vacant piece of land would take more than 10 years of dealing with red tape. To do business in Egypt, an aspiring poor entrepreneur would have to deal with 56 government agencies and repetitive government inspections.
All this helps explain who so many ordinary Egyptians have been "smoldering" for decades. Despite hard work and savings, they can do little to improve their lives.
Bringing the majority of Egypt's people into an open legal system is what will break Egypt's economic apartheid. Empowering the poor begins with the legal system awarding clear property rights to the $400 billion-plus of assets that we found they had created. This would unlock an amount of capital hundreds of times greater than foreign direct investment and what Egypt receives in foreign aid.
Leaders and governments may change and more democracy might come to Egypt. But unless its existing legal institutions are reformed to allow economic growth from the bottom up, the aspirations for a better life that are motivating so many demonstrating in the streets will remain unfulfilled.
Mr. de Soto, author of "The Mystery of Capital" (Basic Books, 2000) and "The Other Path" (Harper and Row, 1989), is president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy based in Lima, Peru.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ:
on: February 03, 2011, 07:54:03 AM
By JANET HOOK
House Republicans are debating whether to propose new limits on the growth of Medicare and other entitlement programs, weighing a gamble that voters are more concerned about trimming the federal deficit than holding on to promised benefits.
Some Republicans are warning that the party faces a backlash if it fails to produce a budget that limits entitlement growth, given the anger at federal debt that drove the party's mid-term election gains.
"I believe strongly that we have to act on entitlement reform, and we have to do it sooner rather than later," said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), a member of the committee that oversees Medicare and Social Security. "The longer we wait, the worse it gets."
Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said: "You'd look ridiculous after the 2010 campaign to go mum on 60% of the budget.'' The magazine has urged Republicans to propose an entitlement overhaul in this year's budget process.
Efforts to curb entitlement spending have long been an element of the budget debate—often discussed, but rarely acted on because of their political sensitivity. Rather than aim immediately at entitlements, leaders of the new House Republican majority have focused on fulfilling their promise to cut domestic discretionary spending to 2008 levels, which would require about $100 billion in cuts.
But even cuts of that magnitude would only nick a federal deficit projected to reach $1.5 trillion this year. Discretionary spending accounts for about 33% of the federal budget. Entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up more than 60% of the budget.
"You still cannot have a long-term budget fix without doing entitlement reform," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that annual outlays will grow an average of 5.4% for Social Security and 6.8% for Medicare through the end of the decade, compared with a 1% increase in discretionary spending.
Talk of trying to revamp entitlements is also taking on prominence because one of the GOP's boldest advocates of such a change, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has become chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Lawmakers in both parties have long believed that it would be politically foolhardy to propose changes in Medicare or Social Security without bipartisan backing in Congress and support from the president.
When Republicans last tried to slow the growth of Medicare, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, the plan became embroiled in a budget stand-off with President Bill Clinton that was widely viewed as a lasting political liability for the GOP.
Some recent polling underscores the political dangers. In a January survey for the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, 68% of respondents said the country's budgetary problems can be addressed without reductions in Medicare, while 28% said reductions to the program should be on the table.
But some lawmakers sense growing public support for slowing the growth of entitlement spending, and a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey in August found broad acceptance for some possible changes.
Asked about various options for dealing with the federal deficit, 74% of respondents said it would be acceptable to make Medicare more needs-based, so that low-income seniors received larger subsidies than higher-income seniors. Some 64% approved of capping payment increases to doctors and hospitals.
In the Senate, where Republicans are in the minority, GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said that no entitlement changes will be made without Mr. Obama taking the lead. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) is an advocate of entitlement curbs but has called for a bipartisan summit to get the ball rolling.
In the House, the larger fiscal battles will be fought in the Budget Committee when Republicans draft a blueprint setting spending and revenue targets for 2012. Mr. Ryan's allies say he will try to incorporate key elements of his "Roadmap for America's Future"—a deficit reduction plan that calls for, among other things, converting Medicare from a guaranteed-benefit insurance program into a voucher system for people who now are 55 or younger.
Mr. Ryan himself has tried to tamp down those expectations, saying he has to write a budget that can win broad support among Republican lawmakers.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Indonesia
on: February 03, 2011, 07:46:14 AM
By ERIC BELLMAN
JAKARTA—One of Indonesia's pop stars was sentenced to prison Monday for making sex tapes that triggered a national outcry and a public debate about morals when they were leaked onto the Internet last year.
One of Indonesia's pop stars is sentenced to prison for making sex tapes that triggered a national outcry and a public debate about morals when they were leaked on the Internet last year.
The 29-year-old Nazril Irham—lead singer of a popular band called Peterpan and known to his fans and friends by the nickname "Ariel"—was sentenced to 3½ years in jail and fined $28,000 for two blurry, homemade sex videos seen by Internet users across Indonesia, the world's most-populous Muslim-majority nation. One video shows him and his current girlfriend, a well-known actress. The other shows him with a former girlfriend, also an actress.
A court in Bandung, the capital of West Java, where Mr. Irham resides, said the trial proved it was Mr. Irham in the videos. It rejected the argument that the videos had been stolen and released without Mr. Irham's permission, saying he hadn't done enough to stop their distribution—violating the strict anti-pornography law that went into effect three years ago.
A lawyer for Mr. Irham said he would appeal the ruling, local media reported.
The case became a sensation in Indonesia and underscored the continuing tension between its many moderate Muslim residents and an influential core of conservative residents who feel the country is becoming too secular, especially with the spread of the Internet.
Hundreds of Islamic hard-liners protested near the court on Monday, saying the sentence wasn't harsh enough. Other Indonesians, though, including human-rights activists, called the sentence heavy-handed and said it showed how courts can be bullied by a radical minority.
"The whole legal process began with public pressure in the name of religion and morality," said Hendardi, the chairman of the Setara Institute, a human-rights organization in Jakarta. "The legal system bowed to public pressure, even though the public opinion it was responding to does not really represent the majority" of Indonesians, said Mr. Hendardi, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
While Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country, the Southeast Asian nation of 240 million has long been seen as moderate and largely secular. A small but vocal—and sometimes violent—minority has at times sought to impose its will, serving as a sort of moral police for the country.
Islamist terrorists, meanwhile, have launched attacks on Western targets, including the popular beach resort of Bali and five-star hotels in the capital city of Jakarta.
The frequent public demonstrations of some conservative Muslims against what they see as Western influences in Indonesia, and their support of new laws—such as the pornography prohibition and various local government initiatives to restrict gambling, the use of alcohol and other activities frowned upon by more religious residents—have brought them occasional victories with local governments and in courts, parliament and other public offices.
Indonesia's Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, a member of the country's Islamic PKS party, threatened to shut down Indonesia's BlackBerry services if the Canadian company behind the telephone, email and instant-messaging device, Research In Motion Ltd., failed to block pornographic sites. Research In Motion agreed to oblige earlier this month.
In 2010, the editor in chief of Playboy Indonesia started a two-year prison term for publishing pictures of scantily clad women.
Many analysts have argued that the influence of conservative Islamic groups has waned in recent years under the leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has emphasized the country's emergence as a rising economic power and its desire to attract more foreign investment. But the continued debates over whether to limit some Internet searches and otherwise restrict behavior linked to looser morals indicates that conservative factions are still powerful, they say.
—Yayu Yuniar contributed to this article.
Write to Eric Bellman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt
on: February 03, 2011, 07:37:51 AM
Well, Stratfor agrees with you GM:
The Egyptian Transition in a Quandary
Egypt’s beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak in his second address to the nation within four days announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in the presidential polls slated for September, but would oversee the transition of power to a more democratic system until then — a move that was immediately rejected by his opponents. Shortly thereafter, U.S. President Barack Obama called for an orderly transition that would include people from across the Egyptian political spectrum. The two leaders had talked earlier in the day.
Washington and Cairo (meaning its military establishment) realize that the Egyptian political system, which has been in place for six decades, cannot avoid change. The issue is how to manage the process of change. For those who have supported the Mubarak presidency since 1981, the goal is how to avoid regime change. For the Obama administration, which is already having a difficult time dealing with Iran and the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation, the goal is to ensure that a post-Mubarak Egypt doesn’t alter its behavior, especially on the foreign policy front.
“Washington and Cairo realize that the Egyptian political system, which has been in place for six decades, cannot avoid change.”
Both rely on the country’s military and its ability to oversee the transition. By all accounts, all sides — the military, the various opposition forces and the United States — appear to be in consensus that the way forward entails moving toward a democratic dispensation. Should that be the case, it is reasonable to assume that the country’s single largest and most organized political group, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), would emerge as a key stakeholder in a future regime.
In other words, the two key stakeholders would be the military and the Islamist movement. Of course, there are many other secular opposition forces, but none of them appear to be able to rival the prowess of the MB. Ironically, the only secular group that comes close is the ruling National Democratic Party, whose political future is in doubt.
That said, the military would likely try to encourage the creation of a broad-based alliance of secular forces to counter the MB. The goal would be to have a coalition government to make sure that there are sufficient arrestors in the path of the Islamist movement. The hope is that once the country can move beyond the current impasse, the opposition forces that are united in their desire to see the Mubarak regime fall from power will turn against one another, preferably along ideological lines.
Indeed, STRATFOR is told that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who is also the country’s defense minister and emerged as deputy premier in the Egyptian government’s new Cabinet announced on Saturday, is looking at the Algerian model as a way to influence future politics in Cairo. The Algerian military in the 1990s was able to guide the formation of a new multi-party democratic political system, one in which all forces (centrists, Islamists and leftists) were accommodated. But the Algerian model was only made possible after a decadelong bloody Islamist insurgency, which was triggered by the army annulling elections in which the country’s then-largest Islamist movement was headed toward a landslide victory in the 1990 parliamentary elections, then the army engaging in a massive crackdown on the Islamists.
Clearly, the Egyptian army would want to avoid that scenario, especially given the state of unrest developing throughout the region. The other thing is that imposing martial law doesn’t appear to be a viable option. Not that such an outcome is inevitable, but the key question is how would the military react to a situation in which the MB would win in a free and fair election.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stratfor: Social Media
on: February 03, 2011, 07:29:18 AM
Social Media as a Tool for Protest
February 3, 2011
By Marko Papic and Sean Noonan
Internet services were reportedly restored in Egypt on Feb. 2 after being completely shut down for two days. Egyptian authorities unplugged the last Internet service provider (ISP) still operating Jan. 31 amidst ongoing protests across the country. The other four providers in Egypt — Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr — were shut down as the crisis boiled over on Jan. 27. Commentators immediately assumed this was a response to the organizational capabilities of social media websites that Cairo could not completely block from public access.
The role of social media in protests and revolutions has garnered considerable media attention in recent years. Current conventional wisdom has it that social networks have made regime change easier to organize and execute. An underlying assumption is that social media is making it more difficult to sustain an authoritarian regime — even for hardened autocracies like Iran and Myanmar — which could usher in a new wave of democratization around the globe. In a Jan. 27 YouTube interview, U.S. President Barack Obama went as far as to compare social networking to universal liberties such as freedom of speech.
Social media alone, however, do not instigate revolutions. They are no more responsible for the recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt than cassette-tape recordings of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini speeches were responsible for the 1979 revolution in Iran. Social media are tools that allow revolutionary groups to lower the costs of participation, organization, recruitment and training. But like any tool, social media have inherent weaknesses and strengths, and their effectiveness depends on how effectively leaders use them and how accessible they are to people who know how to use them.
How to Use Social Media
The situations in Tunisia and Egypt have both seen an increased use of social networking media such as Facebook and Twitter to help organize, communicate and ultimately initiate civil-disobedience campaigns and street actions. The Iranian “Green Revolution” in 2009 was closely followed by the Western media via YouTube and Twitter, and the latter even gave Moldova’s 2009 revolution its moniker, the “Twitter Revolution.”
Foreign observers — and particularly the media — are mesmerized by the ability to track events and cover diverse locations, perspectives and demographics in real time. But a revolution is far more than what we see and hear on the Internet — it requires organization, funding and mass appeal. Social media no doubt offer advantages in disseminating messages quickly and broadly, but they also are vulnerable to government counter-protest tactics (more on these below). And while the effectiveness of the tool depends on the quality of a movement’s leadership, a dependence on social media can actually prevent good leadership from developing.
The key for any protest movement is to inspire and motivate individuals to go from the comfort of their homes to the chaos of the streets and face off against the government. Social media allow organizers to involve like-minded people in a movement at a very low cost, but they do not necessarily make these people move. Instead of attending meetings, workshops and rallies, un-committed individuals can join a Facebook group or follow a Twitter feed at home, which gives them some measure of anonymity (though authorities can easily track IP addresses) but does not necessarily motivate them to physically hit the streets and provide fuel for a revolution. At the end of the day, for a social media-driven protest movement to be successful, it has to translate social media membership into street action.
The Internet allows a revolutionary core to widely spread not just its ideological message but also its training program and operational plan. This can be done by e-mail, but social media broaden the exposure and increase its speed increases, with networks of friends and associates sharing the information instantly. YouTube videos explaining a movement’s core principles and tactics allow cadres to transmit important information to dispersed followers without having to travel. (This is safer and more cost effective for a movement struggling to find funding and stay under the radar, but the level of training it can provide is limited. Some things are difficult to learn by video, which presents the same problems for protest organizers as those confronted by grassroots jihadists, who must rely largely on the Internet for communication.) Social media can also allow a movement to be far more nimble about choosing its day of action and, when that day comes, to spread the action order like wildfire. Instead of organizing campaigns around fixed dates, protest movements can reach hundreds of thousands of adherents with a single Facebook post or Twitter feed, launching a massive call to action in seconds.
With lower organizational and communications costs, a movement can depend less on outside funding, which also allows it to create the perception of being a purely indigenous movement (without foreign supporters) and one with wide appeal. According to the event’s Facebook page, the April 6 Movement in Egypt had some 89,250 people claiming attendance at a Jan. 28 protest when, in fact, a much smaller number of protestors were actually there according to STRATFOR’s estimates. The April 6 Movement is made up of the minority of Egyptians who have Internet access, which the OpenNet Initiative estimated in August 2009 to be 15.4 percent of the population. While this is ahead of most African countries, it is behind most Middle Eastern countries. Internet penetration rates in countries like Iran and Qatar are around 35 percent, still a minority of the population. Eventually, a successful revolutionary movement has to appeal to the middle class, the working class, retirees and rural segments of the population, groups that are unlikely to have Internet access in most developing countries. Otherwise, a movement could quickly find itself unable to control the revolutionary forces it unleashed or being accused by the regime of being an unrepresentative fringe movement. This may have been the same problem that Iranian protestors experienced in 2009.
Not only must protest organizers expand their base beyond Internet users, they must also be able to work around government disruption. Following the Internet shutdown in Egypt, protesters were able to distribute hard-copy tactical pamphlets and use faxes and landline telephones for communications. Ingenuity and leadership quickly become more important than social media when the government begins to use counter-protest tactics, which are well developed even in the most closed countries.
Countering Social Media
Like any other tool, social media have their drawbacks. Lowering the costs of communication also diminishes operational security. Facebook messages can be open for all to see, and even private messages can be viewed by authorities through search warrants in more open countries or pressure on the Internet social media firms in more closed ones. Indeed, social media can quickly turn into a valuable intelligence-collection tool. A reliance on social media can also be exploited by a regime willing to cut the country off from Internet or domestic text messaging networks altogether, as has been the case in Egypt.
The capability of governments to monitor and counteract social media developed alongside the capability of their intelligence services. In order to obtain an operating license in any country, social networking websites have to come to some sort of agreement with the government. In many countries, this involves getting access to user data, locations and network information. Facebook profiles, for example, can be a boon for government intelligence collectors, who can use updates and photos to pinpoint movement locations and activities and identify connections among various individuals, some of whom may be suspect for various activities. (Facebook has received funding from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm, and many Western intelligence services have start-up budgets to develop Internet technologies that will enable even deeper mining of Internet-user data.)
In using social media, the tradeoff for protest leaders is that they must expose themselves to disseminate their message to the masses (although there are ways to mask IP addresses and avoid government monitoring, such as by using proxy servers). Keeping track of every individual who visits a protest organization’s website page may be beyond the capabilities of many security services, depending on a site’s popularity, but a medium designed to reach the masses is open to everyone. In Egypt, almost 40 leaders of the April 6 Movement were arrested early on in the protests, and this may have been possible by identifying and locating them through their Internet activities, particularly through their various Facebook pages.
Indeed, one of the first organizers of the April 6 Movement became known in Egypt as “Facebook Girl” following her arrest in Cairo on April 6, 2008. The movement was originally organized to support a labor protest that day in Mahalla, and organizer Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid found Facebook a convenient way to organize demonstrations from the safety of her home. Her release from prison was an emotional event broadcast on Egyptian TV, which depicted her and her mother crying and hugging. Rashid was then expelled from the group and no longer knows the password for accessing the April 6 Facebook page. One fellow organizer called her “chicken” for saying she would not have organized the protest if she had thought she would be arrested. Rashid’s story is a good example of the challenges posed by using social media as a tool for mobilizing a protest. It is easy to “like” something or someone on Facebook, but it is much harder to organize a protest on the street where some participants will likely be arrested, injured or killed.
Beyond monitoring movement websites, governments can also shut them down. This has been common in Iran and China during times of social unrest. But blocking access to a particular website cannot stop tech-savvy Internet users employing virtual private networks or other technologies to access unbanned IP addresses outside the country in order to access banned sites. In response to this problem, China shut down Internet access to all of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the location of ethnic Uighur riots in July 2009. More recently, Egypt followed the same tactic for the entire country. Like many countries, Egypt has contracts with Internet service providers that allow the government to turn the Internet off or, when service providers are state-owned, to make life difficult for Internet-based organizers.
Regimes can also use social media for their own purposes. One counter-protest tactic is to spread disinformation, whether it is to scare away protestors or lure them all to one location where anti-riot police lie in wait. We have not yet witnessed such a government “ambush” tactic, but its use is inevitable in the age of Internet anonymity. Government agents in many countries have become quite proficient at trolling the Internet in search of pedophiles and wannabe terrorists. (Of course, such tactics can be used by both sides. During the Iranian protests in 2009, many foreign-based Green Movement supporters spread disinformation over Twitter to mislead foreign observers.)
The most effective way for the government to use social media is to monitor what protest organizers are telling their adherents either directly over the Internet or by inserting an informant into the group, counteracting the protestors wherever and whenever they assemble. Authorities monitoring protests at World Trade Organization and G-8 meetings as well as the Republican and Democratic national conventions in the United States have used this successfully. Over the past two years in Egypt, the April 6 Movement has found the police ready and waiting at every protest location. Only in recent weeks has popular support grown to the point where the movement has presented a serious challenge to the security services.
One of the biggest challenges for security services is to keep up with the rapidly changing Internet. In Iran, the regime quickly shut down Facebook but not Twitter, not realizing the latter’s capabilities. If social media are presenting a demonstrable threat to governments, it could become vital for security services to continually refine and update plans for disrupting new Internet technology.
Quality of Leadership vs. Cost of Participation
There is no denying that social media represent an important tool for protest movements to effectively mobilize their adherents and communicate their message. As noted above, however, the effectiveness of the tool depends on its user, and an overreliance can become a serious detriment.
One way it can hurt a movement is in the evolution of its leadership. To lead a protest movement effectively, an organization’s leadership has to venture outside of cyberspace. It has to learn what it means to face off against a regime’s counterintelligence capabilities in more than just the virtual world. By holding workshops and mingling among the populace, the core leadership of a movement learns the different strategies that work best with different social strata and how to appeal to a broad audience. Essentially, leaders of a movement that exploits the use of social media must take the same risks as those of groups that lack such networking capability. The convenience and partial anonymity of social media can decrease the motivation of a leader to get outside and make things happen.
Moreover, a leadership grounded in physical reality is one that constructs and sticks to a concerted plan of action. The problem with social media is that they subvert the leadership of a movement while opening it to a broader membership. This means that a call for action may spread like wildfire before a movement is sufficiently prepared, which can put its survival in danger. In many ways, the Iranian Green Revolution is a perfect example of this. The call for action brought a self-selected group of largely educated urban youth to protest in the streets, where the regime cracked down harshly on a movement it believed was not broad enough to constitute a real threat.
A leadership too reliant on social media can also become isolated from alternative political movements with which it may share the common goal of regime change. This is especially the case when other movements are not “youth movements” and therefore are not as tech savvy. This can create serious problems once the revolution is successful and an interim government needs to be created. The Serbian Otpor (Resistance) movement was successful in the 2000 Serbian democratic revolution precisely because it managed to bring together a disparate opposition of pro-Western and nationalist forces. But to facilitate such coalition building, leaders have to step away from computers and cell phones and into factories, rice paddies and watering holes they normally would never want to enter. This is difficult to do during a revolution, when things are in flux and public suspicion is high, especially of those who claim to be leading a revolution.
Even when a media-savvy leader has a clear plan, he or she may not be successful. For instance, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand and telecommunications magnate, has used his skills to hold video conference calls with stadiums full of supporters, and launched two massive waves of protests involving some 100,000 supporters against the Thai government in April 2009 and April and May 2010, yet he still has not succeeded in taking power. He remains a disembodied voice, capable of rocking the boat but incapable of taking its helm.
Simply a Convenience
Shutting down the Internet did not reduce the numbers of Egyptian protesters in the streets. In fact, the protests only grew bigger as websites were shut down and the Internet was turned off. If the right conditions exist a revolution can occur, and social media do not seem to change that. Just because an Internet-based group exists does not make it popular or a threat. There are Facebook groups, YouTube videos and Twitter posts about everything, but that does not make them popular. A neo-Nazi skinhead posting from his mother’s basement in Illinois is not going to start a revolution in the United States, no matter how many Internet posts he makes or what he says. The climate must be ripe for revolution, due to problems like inflation, deflation, food shortages, corruption and oppression, and the population must be motivated to mobilize. Representing a new medium with dangers as well as benefits, social media do not create protest movements; they only allow members of such movements to communicate more easily.
Other technologies like short-wave radio, which can also be used to communicate and mobilize, have been available to protestors and revolutionaries for a long time. In reality, so has the Internet, which is the fundamental technological development that allows for quick and widespread communications. The popularity of social media, one of many outgrowths of the Internet, may actually be isolated to international media observation from afar. We can now watch protest developments in real time, instead of after all the reports have been filed and printed in the next day’s newspaper or broadcast on the nightly news. Western perceptions are often easily swayed by English-speaking, media-savvy protestors who may be only a small fraction of a country’s population. This is further magnified in authoritarian countries where Western media have no choice but to turn to Twitter and YouTube to report on the crisis, thus increasing the perceived importance of social media.
In the Middle East, where Internet penetration is below 35 percent (with the exception of Israel), if a movement grows large enough to effect change it will have been joined through word of mouth, not through social networking. Still, the expansion of Internet connectivity does create new challenges for domestic leaders who have proved more than capable of controlling older forms of communication. This is not an insurmountable challenge, as China has shown, but even in China’s case there is growing anxiety about the ability of Internet users to evade controls and spread forbidden information.
Social media represent only one tool among many for an opposition group to employ. Protest movements are rarely successful if led from somebody’s basement in a virtual arena. Their leaders must have charisma and street smarts, just like leaders of any organization. A revolutionary group cannot rely on its most tech-savvy leaders to ultimately launch a successful revolution any more than a business can depend on the IT department to sell its product. It is part of the overall strategy, but it cannot be the sole strategy.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Krabi Krabong dvd
on: February 03, 2011, 07:25:09 AM
Bjung (a.k.a. Porn Star Dog) has very good KK, better than mine. I would add only to his sound advice the image that works for me, given to me by a teacher: Think of a triangle formed by your two hands (roughly, near your hips) and the tips of the stick.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Egypt's Bumbling Brotherhood
on: February 03, 2011, 07:20:00 AM
FWIW here's this from the op-ed page of Pravda on the Hudson-- is there any merit here?
Egypt’s Bumbling Brotherhood
By SCOTT ATRAN
Published: February 2, 2011
AS Egyptians clash over the future of their government, Americans and Europeans have repeatedly expressed fears of the Muslim Brotherhood. “You don’t just have a government and a movement for democracy,” Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, said of Egypt on Monday. “You also have others, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, who would take this in a different direction.”
The previous day, the House speaker, John Boehner, expressed hope that Hosni Mubarak would stay on as president of Egypt while instituting reforms to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists from grabbing power.
But here’s the real deal, at least as many Egyptians see it. Ever since its founding in 1928 as a rival to Western-inspired nationalist movements that had failed to free Egypt from foreign powers, the Muslim Brotherhood has tried to revive Islamic power. Yet in 83 years it has botched every opportunity. In Egypt today, the Brotherhood counts perhaps some 100,000 adherents out of a population of over 80 million. And its failure to support the initial uprising in Cairo on Jan. 25 has made it marginal to the spirit of revolt now spreading through the Arab world.
This error was compounded when the Brotherhood threw in its lot with Mohamed ElBaradei, the former diplomat and Nobel Prize winner. A Brotherhood spokesman, Dr. Essam el-Erian, told Al Jazeera, “Political groups support ElBaradei to negotiate with the regime.” But when Mr. ElBaradei strode into Tahrir Square, many ignored him and few rallied to his side despite the enormous publicity he was receiving in the Western press. The Brotherhood realized that in addition to being late, it might be backing the wrong horse. On Tuesday, Dr. Erian told me, “It’s too early to even discuss whether ElBaradei should lead a transitional government or whether we will join him.” This kind of flip-flopping makes many Egyptians scoff.
When the army allowed hundreds of Mubarak supporters and plainclothes policemen through barricades on Wednesday to muscle out protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood may have gained an opportunity. It might be able to recover lost leverage by showing its organizational tenacity in resisting the attempts to repress the demonstrators.
Nonetheless, the Brotherhood did not arrive at this historical moment with the advantage of wide public favor. Such support as it does have among Egyptians — an often cited figure is 20 percent to 30 percent — is less a matter of true attachment than an accident of circumstance: the many decades of suppression of secular opposition groups that might have countered it. The British, King Farouk, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat all faced the same problem that Hisham Kaseem, a newspaper editor and human rights activist, described playing out under Mr. Mubarak. “If people met in a cafe and talked about things the regime didn’t like, he would just shut down the cafe and arrest us,” Mr. Kaseem said. “But you can’t close mosques, so the Brotherhood survived.”
If Egyptians are given political breathing space, Mr. Kaseem told me, the Brotherhood’s importance will rapidly fade. “In this uprising the Brotherhood is almost invisible,” Mr. Kaseem said, “but not in America and Europe, which fear them as the bogeyman.”
Many people outside Egypt believe that the Brotherhood gains political influence by providing health clinics and charity for the poor. But the very poor in Egypt are not very politically active. And according to Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, the group has only six clinics in Cairo, a city of 18 million. Many of the other clinics are Islamic in orientation simply because most Egyptians are Islamic. The wealthier businessmen who often sponsor them tend to shun the Brotherhood, if only to protect their businesses from government disapproval.
Although originally the Brotherhood was organized into paramilitary cells, today it forswears violence in political struggle. This has made it a target of Al Qaeda’s venom. In January 2006, Ayman al-Zawahri, the former leader of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda’s leading strategist, blasted the Brotherhood’s willingness to participate in parliamentary elections and reject nuclear arms. You “falsely affiliated with Islam,” he said in vilifying the group. “You forget about the rule of Shariah, welcome the Crusaders’ bases in your countries and acknowledge the existence of the Jews who are fully armed with nuclear weapons, from which you are banned to possess.”
People in the West frequently conflate the Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. And although their means are very different, even many Egyptians suspect that they share a common end that is alien to democracy. When I asked Dr. Erian about this, he retorted that the United States and Mr. Mubarak had conspired after Sept. 11 to “brainwash” people into thinking of all Muslim activists as terrorists, adding that “the street” knew the truth.
The street, however, manifests little support for the Brotherhood. Only a small minority of the protesters in Tahrir Square joined its members in prayers there (estimates range from 5 percent to 10 percent), and few Islamic slogans or chants were heard.
Obviously the Brotherhood wants power and its positions, notably its stance against Israel, are problematic for American interests. “Israel must know that it is not welcome by the people in this region,” Dr. Erian said. Moreover, the Brotherhood will probably have representatives in any freely elected government. But it is because democracies tolerate disparate political groups that they generally don’t have civil wars, or wars with other democracies. And because the Brotherhood itself is not monolithic — it has many factions — it could well succumb to internal division if there really were a political opening for other groups in Egypt.
What we are seeing in Egypt is a revolt led by digitally informed young people and joined by families from all rungs of society. Though in one sense it happened overnight, many of its young proponents have long been working behind the scenes, independent of the Brotherhood or any old guard opposition. Egyptians are a pretty savvy lot. Hardly anyone I talked to believes that democracy can be established overnight.
The Brotherhood leadership talks of a year or two of transition, although that may reflect a vain hope of using that time to broaden its popular support enough to reach a controlling plurality. The more common assessment even among democracy advocates is that the military will retain control — Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief and new vice president, will be acceptable to Egyptians if the army gets rid of Mr. Mubarak now — and over the next decade real democratic reforms will be instituted.
“Egypt is missing instruments essential to any functioning democracy and these must be established in the transition period — an independent judiciary, a representative Parliament, an open press,” Mr. Kaseem said. “If you try to push democracy tomorrow we’ll end up like Mauritania or Sudan,” both of which in recent decades have had coups on the heels of democratic elections.
A military in control behind the scenes — for a while — is probably the best hope for a peaceful transition. “Let the U.S.A. stay away,” urged Mr. Kaseem, who insisted that he is pro-American and abhors the Brotherhood. “They are only bungling things with calls for immediate reforms and against the Brotherhood. We are handling this beautifully. Even a military leader with an I.Q. of 30 wouldn’t go down the same path as Mubarak because he would understand that the people of Egypt who are out in the streets are no longer apathetic, their interests are mostly secular, they are connected and they will get power in the end.”
If America’s already teetering standing among Egyptians and across the Arab and Muslim world is not to topple altogether, the United States must now publicly hold Mr. Mubarak responsible for the violence and privately inform the Egyptian Army that it cannot support any institution that is complicit.
But there is little reason for the United States to fear a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood. If Egypt is allowed to find its own way, as it so promisingly began to do over the past week, the problems of violent extremism and waves of emigration that America and Europe most fear from this unhappy region could well fade as its disaffected youth at last find hope at home.
Scott Atran, an anthropologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Michigan and John Jay College, is the author of “Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood and the (Un)making of Terrorists.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters
on: February 02, 2011, 10:15:32 AM
That Brit hit piece on Beck is so utterly devoid of merit that I too wonder at its presence here. Has the man ever even watched the show? Certainly he never caught the episodes of GB discussing Father Coughlin!
GM: I watched last night's show; very interesting. I would note that he was careful to say the scenario he was outlining was a worst case scenario.
I understand that the world can be a dark, dangerous place sometimes and that sometimes we need to deal with bad people, but this brings with it its own costs.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: MB strategy
on: February 01, 2011, 07:56:28 PM
Dispatch: The Muslim Brotherhood's Strategies in Egypt and Jordan
February 1, 2011 | 2108 GMT
Click on image below to watch video:
Analyst Reva Bhalla examines the different political strategies pursued by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan.
Editor’s Note:Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Today, Jordanian King Abdullah II decided to dissolve the government, and asked for a new Cabinet to be formed. Now obviously the timing of the events in Jordan are critical, as the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan is watching events play out in Egypt. This isn’t necessarily a sign of a domino effect taking place in the region and in fact there are very important factors to keep in mind when comparing the situation in Egypt versus Jordan.
Jordan deals with its opposition very differently than the Egyptian government has, for example, the Jordanian government has more of an accommadationist approach with its opposition. The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front is recognized as a legitimate political entity in Jordan even though it is still struggling to adequately represent itself in the parliament. Tensions in Jordan have really been simmering since the parliamentary elections that were held in November last year. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm hotly opposed those elections, particularly an electoral law that they argued favored pro-monarchy areas in rural parts of Jordan. Since then, the group has been demanding a lowering of prices in food and fuel, they’ve been demanding a change to the electoral law and they’ve been organizing these mass demonstrations and sit-ins that have been peaceful.
Now one thing to note is that they are not demanding regime change, unlike the situation in Egypt. The political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood sees an opportunity right now and they’re basically just trying to take advantage of the current situation to push their own political demands. The Jordanian government has already announced a $452 million subsidy plan to bring down the price of food, to bring down the price of fuel, to increase pension, and things of the sort to basically accommodate the opposition. In other words this is not so much a crisis point like we’re seeing in Tunisia and Egypt, this is more of government trying to maintain the upper hand in trying to rush toward accommodation in preventing a larger conflagration.
The image that Jordan is portraying right now in conceding to these demands could carry significant repercussions beyond Jordan’s borders, particularly if the events in Jordan are perceived as an Islamist organization being successful and forcing a regime like the Hashemite monarchy to bend to their demands. This could not only inspire other fledgling opposition groups in other countries to attempt the same, but it could also further embolden the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is playing a very careful game right now. I think the Brotherhood is very well aware that the romanticism of the revolution in the streets could wear off the longer the people go without a regular supply of food, without security, and most important without results. It’s become clear so far that Mubarak does not have any intention of leaving anytime soon. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood needs to sustain the momentum in the streets right now. What they want to avoid is having people think that “Look, I waited three decades to get rid of Mubarak, I can wait another eight months until September elections for him to be deposed.” At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood is very conscious of the negative connotations associated with its Islamist branding and for that reason it’s trying to reach out to certain secularist leaders for example, Mohamed ElBaradei, who may lack credibility but at least he’s a secular leader that a lot of people can at least look to for some sort of leadership while the Muslim Brotherhood works on creating this political opening that they’ve been waiting for for decades.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Mubarak declines to run again
on: February 01, 2011, 07:52:48 PM
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Feb. 1 he would not seek another term as president in elections slated for September but that he will complete his current term. In a televised national address, his second since the Egyptian unrest began the previous week, Mubarak said he would use the remainder of his term to oversee the transition of power. He also called on the parliament to amend the Egyptian Constitution’s Article 76 (which narrows the pool of potential presidential candidates) and Article 77 (which allows for unlimited presidential terms). It is currently unclear whether these measures will be considered.
The opposition immediately rejected the pronouncement. Each political concession offered during this crisis by the Egyptian political establishment — which until this point had ruled with absolute authority since the 1950s — has only emboldened the opposition. Unrest is thus likely to continue, which means the Egyptian military likely will attempt to force Mubarak to step down before the elections. However, even this will not likely resolve matters, as the need to create a neutral caretaker government until elections can be held will be the basis for further struggles between the regime and the opposition.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 01, 2011, 07:46:25 PM
A most pertinent question!
I was greatly intrigued by a different Indian POV piece you shared with me a year or so ago which I think I shared here which argued for the dismemberment of Pakistan.
Your post of the 27th is quite lengthy--though it looks quite worthy of the time to read it, the fact is that I don't have the time. May I ask for your synopsis thereof?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: ISM Manufacturing Index 2/1/11
on: February 01, 2011, 01:36:26 PM
Interesting. FWIW here's Wesbury coming to very different conclusions:
The ISM Manufacturing index increased to 60.8 in January To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
The ISM Manufacturing index increased to 60.8 in January from 58.5 in December. The consensus expected a decline to 58.0, First Trust forecast an increase to 58.8. (Levels higher than 50 signal expansion; levels below 50 signal contraction.)
All of the major measures of activity were up in January and all remain well above well above 50.0, signaling continued growth. The new orders index increased to 67.8 from 62.0 and the production index increased to 63.5 from 63.0. The supplier deliveries index rose to 58.6 from 56.7 and the employment index also rose to 61.7 from 58.9.
The prices paid index increased to 81.5 in January from 72.5 in December.
Implications: The manufacturing sector is absolutely booming. Today’s ISM report blew away the consensus (which expected a decline), increasing to 60.8. This is the highest level since May 2004, more than six years ago. The sub-indicies of the report show robust growth in manufacturing, and many of them reached multi-year highs as well. The new orders index rose to 67.8, also the highest level since 2004, and the production index rose to 63.5. The employment index rose to 61.7, the highest level for the index since 1972, suggesting that Friday’s manufacturing payroll number might surprise to the upside. The only bad news in today’s report was on the inflation front, where the prices paid index rose to 81.5 from an already elevated 72.5 in December. The index is quickly approaching levels seen during the summer of 2008, when energy prices spiked. The Fed’s loose monetary policy continues to become more and more inappropriate as the recovery continues. In other news this morning, construction declined 2.5% in December versus a consensus expected gain of 0.1%. Including slight downward revisions to prior months, construction was down 2.8%. The decline in December was led by home building (primarily home improvements) and government construction (primarily schools, roads, and federal office buildings).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Pakistan's growing arsenal
on: February 01, 2011, 10:24:33 AM
Pakistani Nuclear Arms Pose Challenge to U.S. Policy
By DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT
Published: January 31, 2011
WASHINGTON — New American intelligence assessments have concluded that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since President Obama came to office, and that it is building the capability to surge ahead in the production of nuclear-weapons material, putting it on a path to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapons power.
For the Obama administration, the assessment poses a direct challenge to a central element of the president’s national security strategy, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world. Pakistan’s determination to add considerably to its arsenal — mostly to deter India — has also become yet another irritant in its often testy relationship with Washington, particularly as Pakistan seeks to block Mr. Obama’s renewed efforts to negotiate a global treaty that would ban the production of new nuclear material.
The United States keeps its estimates of foreign nuclear weapons stockpiles secret, and Pakistan goes to great lengths to hide both the number and location of its weapons. It is particularly wary of the United States, which Pakistan’s military fears has plans to seize the arsenal if it was judged to be at risk of falling into the hands of extremists. Such secrecy makes accurate estimates difficult.
But the most recent estimates, according to officials and outsiders familiar with the American assessments, suggest that the number of deployed weapons now ranges from the mid-90s to more than 110. When Mr. Obama came to office, his aides were told that the arsenal “was in the mid-to-high 70s,” according to one official who had been briefed at the time, though estimates ranged from 60 to 90.
“We’ve seen a consistent, constant buildup in their inventory, but it hasn’t been a sudden rapid rise,” a senior American military official said. “We’re very, very well aware of what they’re doing.”
White House officials share the assessment that the increase in actual weapons has been what one termed “slow and steady.”
But the bigger worry is the production of nuclear materials. Based on the latest estimates of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, an outside group that estimates worldwide nuclear production, experts say Pakistan has now produced enough material for 40 to 100 additional weapons, including a new class of plutonium bombs. If those estimates are correct — and some government officials regard them as high — it would put Pakistan on a par with long-established nuclear powers.
“If not now, Pakistan will soon have the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world, surpassing the United Kingdom,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer and the author of “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad.”
“And judging by the new nuclear reactors that are coming online and the pace of production, Pakistan is on a course to be the fourth largest nuclear weapons state in the world, ahead of France,” he said. The United States, Russia and China are the three largest nuclear weapons states.
Mr. Riedel conducted the first review of Pakistan and Afghanistan policy for President Obama in early 2009.
Pakistan’s arsenal of deployed weapons is considered secure, a point the White House reiterated last week while declining to answer questions about its new estimates. The United States has spent more than $100 million helping the country build fences, install sensor systems and train personnel to handle the weapons. But senior officials remain deeply concerned that weapons-usable fuel, which is kept in laboratories and storage centers, is more vulnerable and could be diverted by insiders in Pakistan’s vast nuclear complex.
In State Department cables released by WikiLeaks late last year, Anne Patterson, then the American ambassador to Pakistan, wrote of concerns that nuclear material in Pakistan’s laboratories was vulnerable to slow theft from insiders. The cables also revealed an American effort to deny its ally technology that it could use to upgrade its arsenal to plutonium weapons.
“The biggest concern of major production, to my mind, is theft from the places where the material is being handled in bulk — the plants that produce it, convert it to metal, fabricate it into bomb parts, and so on,” said Matthew Bunn, a Harvard scholar who compiles an annual report called “Securing the Bomb” for the group Nuclear Threat Initiative. “All but one of the real thefts” of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, he said, “were insider thefts from bulk-handling facilities — that’s where you can squirrel a little bit away without the loss being detected.”
On Monday, The Washington Post, citing nongovernment analysts, said Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal now numbered more than 100 deployed weapons. In interviews over the past three weeks, government officials from several countries, including India, which has an interest in raising the alarm about Pakistani capability, provided glimpses of their own estimates.
Almost all, however, said their real concern was not the weapons, but the increase in the production of material, especially plutonium. Pakistan is completing work on a large new plutonium production reactor, which will greatly increase its ability to produce a powerful new generation of weapons, but also defies Mr. Obama’s initiative to halt the production of weapons-grade material.
Nuclear projects are managed by the Pakistani military, but the country’s top civilian leaders are, on paper, part of the nuclear chain of command. Last year, Pakistan’s prime minister visited the new plutonium reactor at Kushab, suggesting at least some level of knowledge about the program. “We think the civilians are fully in the loop,” one senior Obama administration official said.
Still, it is unclear how Pakistan is financing the new weapons production, at a time of extraordinary financial stress in the country. “What does Pakistan need with that many nuclear weapons, especially given the state of the country’s economy?” said one foreign official who is familiar with the country’s plans, but agreed to discuss the classified program if granted anonymity.
“The country already has more than enough weapons for an effective deterrent against India,” the official said. “This is just for the generals to say they have more than India.”
American officials have been careful not to discuss Pakistan’s arsenal in public, for fear of further inflaming tensions and fueling Pakistani fears that the United States was figuring how to secure the weapons in an emergency, or a government collapse. But in November Mr. Obama’s top nuclear adviser, Gary Samore, criticized Pakistan for seeking to block talks on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which, if negotiated and adopted, could threaten Pakistan’s program.
In interviews last year, senior Pakistani officials said that they were infuriated by the deal Washington struck to provide civilian nuclear fuel to India, charging it had freed up India’s homemade fuel to produce new weapons. As a result, they said, they had no choice but to boost their own production and oppose any treaty that would cut into their ability to match India’s arsenal.
In a statement in December, the Pakistan’s National Command Authority, which overseas the arsenal, said that it “rejects any effort to undermine its strategic deterrence,” adding, “Pakistan will not be a party to any approach that is prejudicial to its legitimate national security interests.”
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Friday that Mr. Obama remained “confident” about the security of Pakistani weapons, and said he “continues to encourage all nations to support the commencement of negotiations on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.” Other officials say efforts are now under way to find a way to start negotiations in new forums, away from Pakistani influence.
A senior Pakistani military officer declined Monday to confirm the size of his country’s nuclear arsenal or the describe rates of production, saying that information was classified.
“People are getting unduly concerned about the size of our stockpile,” said the officer, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “What we have is a credible, minimum nuclear deterrent. It’s a bare minimum.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: So the expectation goes , , ,
on: February 01, 2011, 08:41:46 AM
GM: Are you saying that the US has the ability to choose the outcome here?
Expectations and Reality in Egypt
Tuesday is expected to be another day of mass protests calling for the immediate resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. What makes the crisis in Egypt so concerning for Egyptians and outside observers alike is the sheer opacity of the situation. From Mubarak to the military, to the United States and Israel, and the demonstrators on the streets, everyone is building their own wall of expectations of how this crisis will play out. But in reviewing those expectations, it is equally important to keep in mind the outlying factors that can break those walls down.
Mubarak, who shows no sign of going anywhere just yet, has the expectation that, in spite of him being the target of ire in these demonstrations, he has what it takes to ride this crisis out. More specifically, he is betting that the opposition will remain weak, disunited and unable to cohere into a meaningful threat. Now entering the eighth day of protests, Egyptians are growing weary of going days without working, getting a regular supply of food, having the trash picked up and most of all, living in fear of their homes, shops and banks getting robbed in the absence of police. Mubarak expects that by showing a willingness to negotiate with some of the opposition and holding out an elusive promise of elections, the majority of protesters will come to the conclusion that if they waited 30 years to get rid of Mubarak, they can wait another eight months if it means preventing the country from descending into anarchy. Those protesters that remain on the street will pare down rapidly and can be handled the old-fashioned way in a heavy-handed security crackdown.
Or so the expectation goes.
“Mubarak may be a good motivator to get people out on the streets, but hunger leads to desperation, and desperation can quickly spiral into anarchy.”
Watching from the sidelines, the United States, Israel and many other observers vested in Egypt’s fate are holding onto the expectation that the military, the traditional guarantor of stability in the country, will be able to manage the transition and prevent undesirable political forces from sweeping into power. The military has to gamble that the demonstrators, who largely perceive the military as their path to a post-Mubarak Egypt, will continue to support them in the interest of stability. The military is also trying to keep tabs on itself in watching for any potential coup murmurings arising from the lower ranks of the army, where an Islamist streak, albeit long repressed, remains. As long as the demonstrations can be contained and the military is able to assert its political authority regardless of what Mubarak does, the republic will be saved.
Or so the expectation goes.
Then we have the opposition, united against Mubarak and divided on pretty much everything else. The opposition expects that ire against Mubarak will sustain the demonstrations, force the president out and lead to legitimate elections, providing them with the political space and voice they’ve been demanding for decades. The expectation of ambitious groups like the April 6 Movement, driven mostly by Egyptian youths, is that a general strike called for Jan. 30 will be observed, and that the calls for mass demonstrations on the streets will soon reach the ears of even the small shopkeepers and peasants across the country, which will force the regime to bend to their demands. In other words, the opposition will be able to graduate from a motley crew of ideologies, religious orientations and political interests into a national protest movement before the regime develops the motivation and ability to attempt another major crackdown.
Or so the expectation goes.
The expectations of each of these stakeholders and the reality that waits may be a bridge too far. But there is one factor, less discussed, that could throw off all these expectations entirely: the price of bread. Though the government appears to have about a month of stable wheat supply and no major obstacles to importing more, the ongoing security crisis is causing problems as Egyptians line up outside bakeries in the hope of hording as much bread as possible. With a strain on supply and speculation increasing, the price of bread is climbing, with some reporters claiming the price has quadrupled in Cairo over the past few days. The last time Egypt had a bread crisis was in 2008, when the military took control over bread production and ensured distribution to prevent mass riots. Now, the military is stretched extremely thin, from trying to deal with Mubarak, govern the country, contain the demonstrations, deal with Egypt’s allies and patrol the streets. Mubarak may be a good motivator to get people out on the streets, but as singer-songwriter Bob Marley stated, a hungry mob is an angry mob. Hunger can lead to desperation, and desperation can quickly spiral into anarchy. The regime will look to the military to help enforce price controls on wheat, distribute bread and keep the most destitute Egyptians from joining the demonstrations.
Or so the expectation goes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: December data 1/31/11
on: January 31, 2011, 10:44:09 PM
Personal income increased 0.4% in December while personal consumption increased 0.7% To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Personal income increased 0.4% in December, exactly as the consensus expected. Personal consumption increased 0.7%, beating the consensus expected gain of 0.5%. In the past six months, personal income is up at a 3.7% annual rate while spending is up at a 5.8% rate.
Disposable personal income (income after taxes) was up 0.4% in December and is up at a 3.0% annual rate in the past six months. The rise in December was led by private-sector wages and salaries, interest, and dividends.
The overall PCE deflator (consumer inflation) increased 0.3% in December and is up 1.2% versus a year ago. The “core” PCE deflator, which excludes food and energy, was unchanged in December and is up 0.7% since last year.
After adjusting for inflation, “real” consumption was up 0.4% in December, is up at a 3.7% annual rate in the past six months, and at a 4.6% annual rate in the past three months.
Implications: Watch out above! Consumer spending accelerated into the end of 2010. “Real” (inflation-adjusted) consumer spending increased 0.4% in December and was up at a 4.6% annual rate in the last three months of the year. Why are consumers spending more? First, their incomes are rising. In the past year, real private-sector wages and salaries plus small business incomes are up 3.2%. Second, although consumers are still paying down debt, they’re doing so at a slower pace. Notice that this means spending can grow faster than income, not slower. Third, consumers’ financial obligations – their debt-related monthly payments plus other recurring charges like rent, car leases, and homeowners’ insurance – is now the lowest share of after-tax income since 1995. On the inflation front, consumption prices are up only 1.2% versus a year ago but seem to be accelerating, with prices up at a 2.0% annual rate in the past six months and a 2.4% rate in the past three months. Meanwhile, “core” inflation, which excludes food and energy, remains very subdued, up only 0.7% in the past year. Low core inflation is the excuse the Federal Reserve is using for quantitative easing. We think the Fed needs to focus more on overall inflation, not just the core. So do the Egyptians.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt
on: January 31, 2011, 09:26:54 PM
SNAFU: Cluelessness and hypocrisy abound.
Sorry, I'm not buying this "Who lost Egypt?" analysis. Mubarak is 82 and is dying of prostate cancer. Transitions are often tricky in the absence of democracy.
There may not be much we can do at this moment. STFU has its merits sometimes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor
on: January 31, 2011, 12:39:44 PM
The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context: A Special Report
January 30, 2011 | 2253 GMT
It is not at all clear what will happen in the Egyptian revolution. It is not a surprise that this is happening. Hosni Mubarak has been president for more than a quarter of a century, ever since the assassination of Anwar Sadat. He is old and has been ill. No one expected him to live much longer, and his apparent plan, which was that he would be replaced by his son Gamal, was not going to happen even though it was a possibility a year ago. There was no one, save his closest business associates, who wanted to see Mubarak’s succession plans happen. As his father weakened, Gamal’s succession became even less likely. Mubarak’s failure to design a credible succession plan guaranteed instability on his death. Since everyone knew that there would be instability on his death, there were obviously those who saw little advantage to acting before he died. Who these people were and what they wanted is the issue.
Let’s begin by considering the regime. In 1952, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser staged a military coup that displaced the Egyptian monarchy, civilian officers in the military, and British influence in Egypt. Nasser created a government based on military power as the major stabilizing and progressive force in Egypt. His revolution was secular and socialist. In short, it was a statist regime dominated by the military. On Nasser’s death, Anwar Sadat replaced him. On Sadat’s assassination, Hosni Mubarak replaced him. Both of these men came from the military as Nasser did. However their foreign policy might have differed from Nasser’s, the regime remained intact.
The demands for Mubarak’s resignation come from many quarters, including from members of the regime — particularly the military — who regard Mubarak’s unwillingness to permit them to dictate the succession as endangering the regime. For some of them, the demonstrations represent both a threat and opportunity. Obviously, the demonstrations might get out of hand and destroy the regime. On the other hand, the demonstrations might be enough to force Mubarak to resign, allow a replacement — for example, Omar Suleiman, the head of intelligence who Mubarak recently appointed vice president — and thereby save the regime. This is not to say that they fomented the demonstrations, but some must have seen the demonstrations as an opportunity.
This is particularly the case in the sense that the demonstrators are deeply divided among themselves and thus far do not appear to have been able to generate the type of mass movement that toppled the Shah of Iran’s regime in 1979. More important, the demonstrators are clearly united in opposing Mubarak as an individual, and to a large extent united in opposing the regime. Beyond that, there is a deep divide in the opposition.
Western media has read the uprising as a demand for Western-style liberal democracy. Many certainly are demanding that. What is not clear is that this is moving Egypt’s peasants, workers and merchant class to rise en masse. Their interests have far more to do with the state of the Egyptian economy than with the principles of liberal democracy. As in Iran in 2009, the democratic revolution, if focused on democrats, cannot triumph unless it generates broader support.
The other element in this uprising is the Muslim Brotherhood. The consensus of most observers is that the Muslim Brotherhood at this point is no longer a radical movement and is too weak to influence the revolution. This may be possible, but it is not obvious. The Muslim Brotherhood has many strands, many of which have been quiet under Mubarak’s repression. It is not clear who will emerge if Mubarak falls. It is certainly not clear that they are weaker than the democratic demonstrators. It is a mistake to confuse the Muslim Brotherhood’s caution with weakness. Another way to look at them is that they have bided their time and toned down their real views, waiting for the kind of moment provided by Mubarak’s succession. I would suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood has more potential influence among the Egyptian masses than the Western-oriented demonstrators or Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is emerging as their leader.
There is, of course, the usual discussion of what U.S. President Barack Obama’s view is, or what the Europeans think, or what the Iranians are up to. All of them undoubtedly have thoughts and even plans. In my view, trying to shape the political dynamics of a country like Egypt from Iran or the United States is futile, and believing that what is happening in Egypt is the result of their conspiracies is nonsense. A lot of people care what is happening there, and a lot of people are saying all sorts of things and even spending money on spies and Twitter. Egypt’s regime can be influenced in this way, but a revolution really doesn’t depend on what the European Union or Tehran says.
There are four outcomes possible. First, the regime might survive. Mubarak might stabilize the situation, or more likely, another senior military official would replace him after a decent interval. Another possibility under the scenario of the regime’s survival is that there may be a coup of the colonels, as we discussed yesterday. A second possibility is that the demonstrators might force elections in which ElBaradei or someone like him could be elected and Egypt might overthrow the statist model built by Nasser and proceed on the path of democracy. The third possibility is that the demonstrators force elections, which the Muslim Brotherhood could win and move forward with an Islamist-oriented agenda. The fourth possibility is that Egypt will sink into political chaos. The most likely path to this would be elections that result in political gridlock in which a viable candidate cannot be elected. If I were forced to choose, I would bet on the regime stabilizing itself and Mubarak leaving because of the relative weakness and division of the demonstrators. But that’s a guess and not a forecast.
Whatever happens matters a great deal to Egyptians. But only some of these outcomes are significant to the world. Among radical Islamists, the prospect of a radicalized Egypt represents a new lease on life. For Iran, such an outcome would be less pleasing. Iran is now the emerging center of radical Islamism; it would not welcome competition from Egypt, though it may be content with an Islamist Egypt that acts as an Iranian ally (something that would not be easy to ensure).
For the United States, an Islamist Egypt would be a strategic catastrophe. Egypt is the center of gravity in the Arab world. This would not only change the dynamic of the Arab world, it would reverse U.S. strategy since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Sadat’s decision to reverse his alliance with the Soviets and form an alliance with the United States undermined the Soviet position in the Mediterranean and in the Arab world and strengthened the United States immeasurably. The support of Egyptian intelligence after 9/11 was critical in blocking and undermining al Qaeda. Were Egypt to stop that cooperation or become hostile, the U.S. strategy would be severely undermined.
The great loser would be Israel. Israel’s national security has rested on its treaty with Egypt, signed by Menachem Begin with much criticism by the Israeli right. The demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula not only protected Israel’s southern front, it meant that the survival of Israel was no longer at stake. Israel fought three wars (1948, 1967 and 1973) where its very existence was at issue. The threat was always from Egypt, and without Egypt in the mix, no coalition of powers could threaten Israel (excluding the now-distant possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons). In all of the wars Israel fought after its treaty with Egypt (the 1982 and 2006 wars in Lebanon) Israeli interests, but not survival, were at stake.
If Egypt were to abrogate the Camp David Accords and over time reconstruct its military into an effective force, the existential threat to Israel that existed before the treaty was signed would re-emerge. This would not happen quickly, but Israel would have to deal with two realities. The first is that the Israeli military is not nearly large enough or strong enough to occupy and control Egypt. The second is that the development of Egypt’s military would impose substantial costs on Israel and limit its room for maneuver.
There is thus a scenario that would potentially strengthen the radical Islamists while putting the United States, Israel, and potentially even Iran at a disadvantage, all for different reasons. That scenario emerges only if two things happen. First, the Muslim Brotherhood must become a dominant political force in Egypt. Second, they must turn out to be more radical than most observers currently believe they are — or they must, with power, evolve into something more radical.
If the advocates for democracy win, and if they elect someone like ElBaradei, it is unlikely that this scenario would take place. The pro-Western democratic faction is primarily concerned with domestic issues, are themselves secular and would not want to return to the wartime state prior to Camp David, because that would simply strengthen the military. If they win power, the geopolitical arrangements would remain unchanged.
Similarly, the geopolitical arrangements would remain in place if the military regime retained power — save for one scenario. If it was decided that the regime’s unpopularity could be mitigated by assuming a more anti-Western and anti-Israeli policy — in other words, if the regime decided to play the Islamist card, the situation could evolve as a Muslim Brotherhood government would. Indeed, as hard as it is to imagine, there could be an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood designed to stabilize the regime. Stranger things have happened.
When we look at the political dynamic of Egypt, and try to imagine its connection to the international system, we can see that there are several scenarios under which certain political outcomes would have profound effects on the way the world works. That should not be surprising. When Egypt was a pro-Soviet Nasserite state, the world was a very different place than it had been before Nasser. When Sadat changed his foreign policy the world changed with it. If the Sadat foreign policy changes, the world changes again. Egypt is one of those countries whose internal politics matter to more than its own citizens.
Most of the outcomes I envision leave Egypt pretty much where it is. But not all. The situation is, as they say, in doubt, and the outcome is not trivial.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / California wet dreaming
on: January 31, 2011, 12:30:51 PM
Californians are accustomed to earthquakes, and are resigned to the possibility of another Big One in coming decades. But scientists now say the state also faces the very real possibility of a catastrophic rainstorm so massive that it could do more damage than any earthquake, submerging one in four California homes under floodwaters and causing $300 billion in damage.
Using improved satellite imagery, scientists have identified “atmospheric rivers”—moisture-laden air currents 200 miles wide and 2,000 miles long—flowing from tropical Pacific waters to the West Coast. Periodically, these rivers can conspire to create monsoon-like rainstorms over California in which 10 feet of rain could fall over just a few weeks. Tree-ring data shows evidence of vast floods in California’s past, and in the winter of 1861–62, enough rain fell to create “an inland sea” 300 miles long and 20 miles wide, from north of Sacramento all the way to Los Angeles.
“We think this event happens once every 100 or 200 years or so, which puts it in the same category as our big San Andreas earthquakes,” Lucy Jones, chief scientist of the United States Geological Survey’s multi-hazards initiative, tells Science Daily. Though experts can’t forecast when the next “superstorm” will hit, Jones says, it could well be within current lifetimes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTB: Your Rx or your privacy
on: January 31, 2011, 11:49:49 AM
Your Rx or your privacy
The Supreme Court will decide whether states can bar the buying and selling of prescription data.
IMS Health Inc. operates in the shadows of the healthcare industry, gathering data that drug makers can use to sell medications more effectively. The data, however, are taken from the prescriptions that doctors write for their patients. That information is at the heart of a dispute over how far states can go to protect privacy — a dispute that has reached the Supreme Court, and one that could broaden the reach of the 1st Amendment in troubling ways.
IMS and a handful of market research competitors pay pharmacists for the details contained in prescriptions, including the name of the doctor and the patient, the drug prescribed and the dosage. They compile that information into databases that track individual doctors' prescribing habits, replacing patients' names with "de-identified" numbers. Such databases can be valuable to the public, potentially helping to enforce drug laws, find patterns in the spread of disease and spot variations in how medications are used. But the main use — and the one that pays for the databases — is to help pharmaceutical companies persuade physicians to prescribe more of their products.
That's one of the reasons states across the country have proposed or enacted regulations governing prescription data mining. Drug makers hire legions of sales representatives to pitch physicians in person about new products and new applications for older medications. They pay market researchers millions of dollars for information on individual doctors' prescriptions because it helps them find sick people (chronically sick people in particular) who could be treated with their drugs or who are taking their competitors' medications.
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Some doctors object to the disclosure of such arguably private information to drug company sales forces. And some consumer advocates argue persuasively that the marketing inevitably leads physicians to prescribe drugs too frequently, and to prescribe the newer and more expensive drugs that pharmaceutical companies hawk most aggressively. These drugs may have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily the best choice for the patient; the FDA doesn't compare the effectiveness of new drugs against existing therapies.
In light of these concerns, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont each adopted laws restricting the release of information on individual physicians' prescriptions. IMS, other market researchers and drug manufacturers challenged those laws in federal court, claiming that their 1st Amendment rights were violated. The plaintiffs contended that the information provided by market researchers to drug companies and from drug companies to physicians was a form of "speech" that the states could regulate only if there was a compelling state interest and only if they used the least restrictive means to do so. There was no evidence that drug marketing harmed physicians or patients, they argued, so there was no compelling state interest in limiting speech.
The U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the strictures in New Hampshire (and later, Maine) but the 2nd Circuit overturned the law in Vermont. The divergent rulings reflected a split between the courts over whether regulating the sale of such data amounted to a restraint on speech. The 1st Circuit held that New Hampshire's law restricted market research companies' conduct — namely, their ability to aggregate and transfer information for drug-marketing purposes — not their speech. The 2nd Circuit held that Vermont restricted speech by data miners and pharmaceutical companies, but did so without demonstrating a compelling state interest.
This month the Supreme Court agreed to consider Vermont's appeal, and we hope the justices will be guided by the dissent written by 2nd Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston. As Livingston noted, pharmacies obtain sensitive information about doctors and prescriptions only because the state orders them to gather it for law enforcement reasons. Otherwise, doctors and patients might insist that the data be kept confidential. That information is every bit as sensitive as a hospital chart or a doctor's notes, and should be subject to equally effective protection.
Just because IMS doesn't supply patients' names to drug companies, that doesn't mean they can't be tracked individually. According to Meredith Jacob of the American University Washington College of Law, the databases assign unique numbers to pharmacies' customers that can be used to follow their prescriptions over time, helping drug makers spot the patients most likely to be customers for their new drugs and market those medicines to their physicians.
What's worse, the data about prescriptions could conceivably be combined with other records to reveal some patients' names. That's because "de-identified" data may provide clues that enable it to be matched against names in other databases. In one example of this technique cited in a brief by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a researcher was able to use public records to name more than a third of the supposedly anonymized victims in Chicago's homicide database.
Drug makers should be able to market their products, but their 1st Amendment rights shouldn't guarantee them access to sensitive data that wouldn't exist but for the government's requirement that doctors and patients disclose it. Many of the public health and safety benefits cited by defenders of prescription data mining can be obtained without revealing prescribers' names to drug company sales reps. If states want to give doctors and their patients more protection against marketers gaining access to that information, they should be able to do so.
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty in Vancouver January 29-30
on: January 31, 2011, 11:46:10 AM
A wonderful time with Tricky Dog and friends this weekend. Greatly adding to it all was the presence of several instructors from various systems. The Vancouver FMA community is one little troubled by the usual soap opera of "As the stick twirls" so common elsewhere.
*Applied Single Stick (Variation 5, Salt & Pepper as an example of Occupying Strikes, Outside Sweep-Inside Diamond) and more
--Stick Clinch-- the Rico Variations ("give the dog a bone" and others)
--Fang choke: from kesagatame (sp?)
--Side control counters
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: January 31, 2011, 11:40:32 AM
Those of us who espouse spouting bastards because they are our bastards (apologies to John Foster Dulles's quote about Somaza of Nicaragua) need to acknowledge that the day comes when difficult questions are presented. This happened in Iran where the US played a pivotal role in putting the Shah in power, and then, under Kissinger-Nixon, in building him up. Yes, Carter and his crew were profoundly clueless, but it must be acknowledged they faced a truly difficult situation.
The same can be said here, including the part about Baraq being clueless (tangent: Where does this meme about Hillary doing a good job, which seems to pop up from time to time, come from? Not from any evidence of which I am aware
In my humble opinion, when things get this far, it may well be too late already.
The time for the Dems to have been concerned about democracy in the Arab world, and the US's respect, was when the Surge was in play and was working. Instead, for transient personal political advantage Baraq, Hillary, et al through it away. Naturally the various Iraqi players read the writing on the wall , , , just as the various Afpakia players are doing now.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB: A Mosque divided
on: January 31, 2011, 11:24:01 AM
The court battle for control of the mosque has turned ugly, with each side using inflammatory rhetoric, claiming to be more assimilated and alleging that it has been threatened or assaulted.
By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times
January 31, 2011
On a Friday afternoon in October, men in black security T-shirts and matching cargo pants roamed the parking lot and perimeter of the Islamic Center of Northridge as worshipers arrived for weekly prayers.
Several Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars were parked nearby as officers kept a watchful eye on a demonstration out front. About 30 men yelled and held up signs. One waved a small American flag as another denounced the mosque's religious leader as a devil.
Worshipers, looking uncomfortable, hurried past and into the building.
, , , In a scene reminiscent of others across the country where new and existing mosques have faced heated opposition in recent months. But the protests at the Islamic Center's main mosque in Granada Hills are different, not demonstrations by anti-Islamic groups but a struggle between rival Muslim groups over control of the institution.
The two sides, each made up mainly of Pakistani and Afghan immigrants, are battling in court over leadership elections and greater openness at the Granada Hills mosque and an older satellite center in Northridge. The dispute has taken on an ugly, ethnically charged tone, including heated rhetoric about which group is more American in dress, accent and behavior.
The parties have traded accusations of radicalism as each side tries to discredit the other, sometimes using comparisons and accusations that American Muslims are more accustomed to hearing from critics outside their communities.
In one lawsuit, a dissident group accuses the mosque leaders of methods that "resemble Taliban-style tactics one might presume to exist only outside the boundaries of the United States."
The suit also quotes a threatening, profane voicemail message it says was left for one of the plaintiffs, in which the caller allegedly said, "Don't … with us. We are Pashtuns. We will kill you."
Mitchell Young, formerly an attorney for the mosque's leaders, said the quarrel seems "tribal" at times. "The underpinnings of this conflict are very different than the particulars of the lawsuit," he said.
Such jockeying over who is more American is not uncommon in immigrant communities, said Kamal Sadiq, a UC Irvine political science professor who studies South Asian communities. Proving who is more assimilated is a way of establishing who has a bigger claim on the mosque, he said.
The legal case centers on specifics of California law governing nonprofit corporations, including board elections, open membership and financial transparency.
The plaintiffs, including former board members and their supporters, say some have been barred from membership at the mosque. A spokesman would not say how many members it has.
At a pre-trial hearing in Los Angeles this month, Superior Court Judge Michelle Rosenblatt ordered court-supervised elections for the mosque's board, a victory for those challenging the current leadership. A trial is set for Feb. 7.
The defendants in the case are the Islamic Center's two imams, Qazi Fazlullah and Qari Yousuf, along with board members and supporters, many of whom emigrated from Afghanistan or Pakistan's Pashtun region. The plaintiffs are mainly from Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, and from the country's Punjab region.
Manzar Qureshi, a former board member at the mosque who is acting as a spokesman for the plaintiffs, said many Pakistanis tend to blame those from the Pashtun region, which abuts Afghanistan, for the terrorism-related problems in Pakistan. Qureshi, a native of Karachi, acknowledged that the regional tensions have contributed to the dispute.
Fazlullah, a former member of Pakistan's parliament, has led the San Fernando Valley mosque since 1997. A spokesman said the imam would not comment on the dispute.
The struggle has divided the area's Muslim community and led some who feel uncomfortable with such vitriol at a religious institution to cut back their attendance or seek services elsewhere. The plaintiffs said some of their supporters were prevented from praying at the mosque during a recent religious holiday. They now hold their own services in a rented room at the nearby Granada Hills Masonic Center.
Mosque spokesman Mahmood Payind denied that attendance, which numbers in the hundreds, has dipped because of the dispute. But at two recent Friday prayer services, the parking lot seemed less crowded than it was last fall.
Payind, who is from Afghanistan, said the accusatory language used by the plaintiffs is geared toward gaining support for their case, especially in an American courtroom.
It's easy to say someone "looks like so and so with the beard," the spokesman said, referring to Osama bin Laden. "They're trying to poison the well because of Islamophobia. They are like the Bill O'Reilly of this community."
Indeed, much of the rhetoric appears aimed at swaying public opinion in a case that could go before a jury. After a judge denied emergency motions filed by the plaintiffs to gain control of the mosque's finances, insurance policy and keys, one plaintiff suggested that the center's leaders were sending money overseas — an allegation Young, the former attorney, said was equivalent to an accusation of supporting terrorism.
"If you put us in a room, you can compare who has more of an accent," mosque spokesman Payind said. "We play basketball, we go to the movies, we play soccer. I myself am married to an American woman, so where is my Taliban style? Why they are playing that is because it is inflammatory words or because they can use that card: Muslim terrorist."
But the plaintiffs say the language they use is a result of the violent behavior of the defendants in trying to silence dissent.
"Unfortunately the defendants … are engaged in a series of patterns of conduct which is not very befitting in America," the plaintiffs' attorney Omar Siddiqui said. "It just seems like a lot of these people have brought their Third World ideas into the Valley."
Qureshi says he was once threatened in the mosque parking lot and another time was locked in its office while his two young sons waited outside. In a related lawsuit, another plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted and wrongfully imprisoned by the mosque's security guards in an August incident after Friday prayers. The defendants deny the allegations.
Since the conflict escalated about a year ago, police have been called several times to each of the mosque's locations. The officers took reports on accusations of battery, witness intimidation, trespassing, verbal threats and disturbing the peace, but the city attorney's office has declined to file charges, saying nothing has risen to a criminal act, said Lt. Tom Murrell, formerly of the LAPD's Devonshire division.
Each side also has made accusations to the department's counterterrorism division, Deputy Chief Michael Downing confirmed, but he said the conflict was being handled locally by the Devonshire division. Complaints have also been made to the FBI, the plaintiffs said. A spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether the bureau was investigating.
Murrell, the former commander of Devonshire's detective division who is now in the LAPD's Information Technology Division, said detectives had hoped that the case would be referred to a city attorney hearing, equivalent to dispute resolution.
"But in this case there are some cultural, religious things which are beyond what the civil commissioners can grasp," he said.
Each side in the case claims to have the support of the Valley's Muslim community. But many clearly feel torn.
One man who has attended the mosque since 2002, and who did not want to be identified for fear of being seen as taking sides, said he has cut back his attendance because of the controversy. "I don't feel comfortable going into the mosque and seeing cops around and the security guards," he said.
The man, who lives in nearby Sylmar, said he is inclined to believe the plaintiffs but hasn't spoken to Fazlullah to hear his views. He said, though, that a religious scholar like Fazlullah should be treated with more respect.
"I still would like a mosque that doesn't have this propaganda," he said. "I just listen and try to pray for both sides, because it makes us look bad in front of the [American] community."email@example.com
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt
on: January 30, 2011, 01:05:20 AM
I've been busy teaching all day and have just returned from a pleasant group dinner, so I have seen very little info today, but I would toss into the mix here a reminder that in the Bush era the much derided neo-cons sought to enable the US to avoid the sort of dilema in which in finds itself today with Egypt; indeed as GM's most recent post notes, the democracy activist was being helped in a Bush program. This notion was also a core idea behind the second Iraq War albeit one viciously derided by the loyal and less than loyal opposition in the Democratic Party.
Where would we be now if candidate Obama, candidate Clinton, former Prez candidates Kerry and Gore, Senator Majority Leader Harry "We've already lost" Reid, second in line to the Presidency Nancy Pelosi et al had not advocated cut and run as the Surge was succeeding? What if instead of calling General Petraeus General Betray-us, the Dems had not undercut our efforts?
It seems reasonable to me to think that many Iraqi politicians would not have been preparing for our exit. It seems reasonable to me to think that we would still be welcome in Iraq and Iraq much sturdier in its democracy and the US in much higher repute in the Arab world for having fought for democracy.
Wouldn't that be a good thing in this moment?
Just same ramblings before going to bed , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Al Jazeera
on: January 29, 2011, 01:51:09 PM
President Obama, say the 'D-Word'
US appears to shy away from talk about democracy in Middle East, despite
historic anti-government rallies in ally Egypt.
Mark LeVine Last Modified: 28 Jan 2011 12:36 GMT
*Obama has 'sought to equate Egypt's protesters and government as equally
pitted parties in the growing conflict' [AFP]***
It's incredible, really. The president of the United States can't bring
himself to talk about democracy in the Middle East. He can dance around it,
use euphemisms, throw out words like "freedom" and "tolerance" and
"non-violent" and especially "reform," but he can't say the one word that
really matters: democracy.
How did this happen? After all, in his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the
spoke the word loudly and clearly - at least once.
"The fourth issue that I will address is democracy," he declared, before
explaining that while the United States won't impose its own system, it was
committed to governments that "reflect the will of the people... I do have
an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability
to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the
rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is
transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you
choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that
is why we will support them everywhere."
"No matter where it takes hold," the president concluded, "government of the
people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power."
Of course, this was just
however lofty, reflecting a moment when no one was rebelling against the
undemocratic governments of our allies - at least not openly and in a manner
that demanded international media coverage.
Now it's for real.
And "democracy" is scarcely to be heard on the lips of the
his most senior officials.
In fact, newly released WikiLeaks cables show that from the moment it
assumed power, the Obama administration specifically toned down public
criticism of Mubarak. The US ambassador to Egypt advised secretary of state
Hillary Clinton to avoid even the mention of former presidential candidate
Ayman Nour, jailed and abused for years after running against Mubarak in
part on America's encouragement.
Not surprisingly, when the protests began, Clinton declared that Egypt was
"stable" and an important US ally, sending a strong signal that the US would
not support the protesters if they tried to topple the regime. Indeed,
Clinton has repeatedly described Mubarak as a family friend. Perhaps Ms
Clinton should choose her friends more wisely.
Similarly, president Obama has refused to take a strong stand in support of
the burgeoning pro-democracy movement and has been no more discriminating in
his public characterisation of American support for its Egyptian "ally".
Mubarak continued through yesterday to be praised as a crucial partner of
the US. Most important, there has been absolutely no call for real
Rather, only "reform" has been suggested to the Egyptian government so that,
in Obama's words, "people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate
"I've always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on
reform - political reform, economic reform - is absolutely critical for the
long-term well-being of Egypt," advised the president, although
vice-president Joe Biden has refused to refer to Mubarak as a dictator,
leading one to wonder how bad a leader must be to deserve the title.
Even worse, the president and his senior aides have repeatedly sought to
equate the protesters and the government as somehow equally pitted parties
in the growing conflict, urging both sides to "show restraint". This
equation has been repeated many times by other American officials.
This trick, tried and tested in the US discourse surrounding the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is equally nonsensical here. These are not two
movements in a contest for political power. Rather, it is a huge state, with
a massive security and police apparatus that is supported by the world's
major superpower to the tune of billions of dollars a year, against a
largely young, disenfranchised and politically powerless population which
has suffered brutally at its hands for decades.
The focus on reform is also a highly coded reference, as across the
developing world when Western leaders have urged "reform" it has usually
signified the liberalisation of economies to allow for greater penetration
by Western corporations, control of local resources, and concentration of
wealth, rather than the kind of political democratisation and redistribution
of wealth that are key demands of protesters across the region.
*Al Jazeera interview says it all*
An Al Jazeera English
Thursday with US state department spokesman PJ Crowley perfectly summed up
the sustainability of the Obama administration's position. In some of the
most direct and unrelenting questioning of a US official I have ever
witnessed, News Hour anchor Shihab al-Rattansi repeatedly pushed Crowley to
own up to the hypocrisy and absurdity of the administration's position of
offering mild criticism of Mubarak while continuing to ply him with billions
of dollars in aid and political support.
When pressed about how the US-backed security services are beating and
torturing and even killing protesters, and whether it wasn't time for the US
to consider discontinuing aid, Crowley responded that "we don't see this as
an either or [a minute later, he said "zero sum"] proposition. Egypt is a
friend of the US, is an anchor of stability and helping us pursue peace in
the Middle East".
Each part of this statement is manifestly false; the fact that in the midst
of intensifying protests senior officials feel they can spin the events away
from openly calling for a real democratic transition now reveals either
incredible ignorance, arrogance, or both.
Yet this is precisely an either/or moment. Much as former US president Bush
declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we can either be "with or against"
the Egyptian people. Refusing to take sides is in fact taking sides -the
Moreover, Crowley, like his superiors, refused to use the word democracy,
responding to its use by anchor al-Rattansi with the word "reform" while
arguing that it was unproductive to tie events in Egypt to the protests in
other countries such as Tunis or Jordan because each has its own
"indigenous" forces and reasons for discontent.
That is a very convenient singularisation of the democracy movements, which
ignores the large number of similarities in the demands of protests across
the region, the tactics and strategies of protest, and their broader
distaste and distrust of the US in view of its untrammelled support for
dictatorships across the region.
Ensconced in a system built upon the lack of democracy - not just abroad,
but as we've seen in the last decade, increasingly in the US as well -
perhaps president Obama doesn't feel he has the luxury of pushing too hard
for democracy when its arrival would threaten so many policies pursued by
Instead, "stability" and "reform" are left to fill the void, even though
both have little to do with democracy in an real sense.
Perhaps Obama wants to say the D-word. Maybe in his heart he hopes Mubarak
just leaves and allows democracy to flourish. By all accounts, the president
is no ideologue like his predecessor. He does not come from the
political-economic-strategic elites as did Bush, and has no innate desire to
serve or protect their interests.
Feeling trapped by a system outside his control or power to change, maybe
president Obama hopes that the young people of the Arab world will lead the
way, and will be satisfied by congratulations by his administration after
But even if accurate, such a scenario will likely never come to pass. With
Egyptians preparing to die in the streets, standing on the sidelines is no
longer an option.
*A gift that won't be offered again*
The most depressing and even frightening part of the tepid US response to
the protests across the region is the lack of appreciation of what kind of
gift the US, and West more broadly, are being handed by these movements.
Their very existence is bringing unprecedented levels of hope and productive
activism to a region and as such constitutes a direct rebuttal to the power
and prestige of al-Qaeda.
Instead of embracing the push for real democratic change, however, surface
reforms that would preserve the system intact are all that's recommended.
Instead of declaring loud and clear a support for a real democracy agenda,
the president speaks only of "disrupting plots and securing our cities and
skies" and "tak[ing] the fight to al-Qaeda and their allies", as he declared
in his State of the Union address.
Obama doesn't seem to understand that the US doesn't need to "take the
fight" to al-Qaeda, or even fire a single shot, to score its greatest
victory in the "war on terror". Supporting real democratisation will do more
to downgrade al-Qaeda's capabilities than any number of military attacks. He
had better gain this understanding quickly because in the next hours or days
the Egypt's revolution will likely face its moment of truth. And right
behind Egypt are Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and who knows what other countries,
all looking to free themselves of governments that the US and its European
allies have uncritically supported for decades.
If president Obama has the courage to support genuine democracy, even at the
expense of immediate American policy interests, he could well go down in
history as one of the heroes of the Middle East's Jasmine winter. If he
chooses platitudes and the status quo, the harm to America's standing in the
region will likely take decades to repair.
Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting
researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in
Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and
Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).*
*The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.*
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Medicaid cuts
on: January 29, 2011, 12:12:53 PM
Hamstrung by federal prohibitions against lowering Medicaid eligibility, governors from both parties are exercising their remaining options in proposing bone-deep cuts to the program during the fourth consecutive year of brutal economic conditions.
Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a Democrat, proposes cutting Medicaid by $1.7 billion.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is expected to propose at least $2 billion in cuts in his budget.
Because states confront budget gaps estimated at $125 billion, few essential services — schools, roads, parks — are likely to escape the ax. But the election of tough-minded governors, the evaporation of federal aid, the relentless growth of Medicaid rolls and the exhaustion of alternatives have made the program, which primarily covers low-income children and disabled adults, an outsize target.
In Arizona, which last year ended Medicaid payments for some organ transplants, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, is asking the Obama administration to waive a provision of the new health care law so that the state can remove 280,000 adults from the program’s rolls. In California, the newly elected governor, Jerry Brown, a Democrat, proposes cutting Medicaid by $1.7 billion, in part by limiting the beneficiaries to 10 doctor visits a year and six prescriptions a month.
In the budget he will unveil on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York is expected to propose cutting even more — at least $2 billion from projected state spending on Medicaid, which totaled about $14 billion this year.
And Gov. Nathan Deal, the new Republican leader of Georgia, proposed this month to end Medicaid coverage of dental, vision and podiatry treatments for adults. South Carolina is considering going a step further by also eliminating hospice care.
The governors are taking little joy in their proposals. And many of them, particularly the Republicans, are complaining about provisions of last year’s health care overhaul, and of the stimulus package before it, that require the states to maintain eligibility levels in order to keep their federal Medicaid dollars.
“Please know that I understand fully the impacts of this rollback, and it is with a heavy heart that I make this request,” Ms. Brewer wrote this week in seeking a waiver, the first of its kind, from Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. “However, I am left with no other viable alternative.”
The shrinking of Medicaid programs, if approved by the state legislatures, would come at a tenuous moment for the Obama administration. Starting in 2014, the health care law calls for an enormous expansion of Medicaid eligibility that is expected to add 16 million beneficiaries by 2019.
Some states are now cutting benefits like prescription drugs and mental health treatment that will be required then. The federal government will cover the entire cost of the expansion through 2016, when states must gradually pick up a share, peaking at 10 percent in 2020 and remaining there.
Governors have known that this precipice was near for close to two years.
Medicaid, which covered 48.5 million people in 2009, up 8 percent in a year, is a joint state and federal program. The federal government provides the lion’s share of the money and sets minimum standards for eligibility and benefits that states may exceed if they wish.
In 2009, Congress provided about $90 billion for states in the stimulus package to offset the cost of surging Medicaid rolls. Last August, it extended the aid at a reduced level, adding $15 billion over six months. The relief raised the federal share to between 65 percent and 82 percent, depending on the state, up from between 50 percent and 75 percent.
While that money is widely credited with staving off catastrophe, deficits were so deep that 39 states cut Medicaid payments to providers in 2010, and 20 states pared benefits, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
On July 1, the enhanced federal aid will disappear, causing an overnight increase of between one-fourth and one-third in each state’s share of Medicaid’s costs. But because of the federal eligibility restrictions, the options for states are largely limited to cutting benefits that are not federally required; reducing payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes; and raising taxes on those providers.
“States have already cut payments to health care providers and scaled back benefits over the last few years, so these new proposed cuts are much more painful,” said Edwin Park, a health expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning research group.
A number of states, Texas and California among them, are considering further reductions of as much as 10 percent in payments to providers. Medicaid reimbursement is already so low that many physicians refuse to accept the coverage.
Several states also plan to raise co-payments for beneficiaries. And a number of governors, notably Rick Scott in Florida, are considering vast expansions of managed care plans in an attempt to control costs.
Mr. Brown’s proposed cap on doctors’ visits in California would affect only 10 percent of Medicaid recipients, said Toby Douglas, the state’s Medicaid director. But many of them would be among the sickest beneficiaries. Mr. Brown also has suggested eliminating an adult day care program that serves 27,000 people who might otherwise end up in nursing homes.
“We are having to make proposals that are not the best choices for our most vulnerable beneficiaries,” Mr. Douglas said. “But given our limited resources, they are the best choices for the State of California.”
Lawmakers in a few states have discussed withdrawing from Medicaid, although Texas officials recently concluded that the loss of federal matching dollars would make it impractical. In at least one state, Minnesota, officials are expanding Medicaid eligibility to some childless adults before 2014, largely to win federal dollars for coverage that was being provided by the state.
Arizona’s waiver request will be a test of the new health care law’s flexibility, and of the White House’s disposition. Other states are watching. Twenty-nine Republican governors wrote Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders this month to urge repeal of the prohibition, which they called “unconscionable.”
Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency would not comment on Arizona’s pending request or the administration’s approach to waivers. “We want to continue our close partnership with the states and our nation’s governors,” she said.
Arizona is asking to remove 250,000 childless adults and 30,000 parents from Medicaid. They were granted eligibility by a 2000 referendum that made Arizona one of the few states to cover low-income childless adults.
The expansion was financed with proceeds from cigarette taxes and a tobacco lawsuit, but that money became insufficient in 2004. The state’s general fund has been making up the difference ever since. Eliminating the coverage would save $541 million, closing nearly half of the budget gap for the coming year.
In her letter to Ms. Sebelius, Ms. Brewer noted that Medicaid consumed 30 percent of her state’s general fund, up from 17 percent in 2007. And she emphasized that Arizona’s coverage was more generous than that in most states, a pointed reference to Kansas, where Ms. Sebelius was governor until two years ago.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sent by a not always reliable internet friend
on: January 29, 2011, 12:01:02 PM
I am clueless in these things. Any comments from the more cyber-literate amongst us?
Does your government have an Internet kill-switch? Read our guide to
Guerrilla Networking and be prepared for when the lines get cut.
By Patrick Miller, David Daw
Jan 28, 2011 3:50 PM
These days, no popular movement goes without an Internet presence of
some kind, whether it's organizing on Facebook or spreading the word
through Twitter. And as we've seen in Egypt
</article/218052/egypt_expands_communications_blackout.html>, that means
that your Internet connection can be the first to go. Whether you're
trying to check in with your family, contact your friends, or simply
spread the word, here are a few ways to build some basic network
connectivity when you can't rely on your cellular or landline Internet
Do-It-Yourself Internet With Ad-Hoc Wi-Fi
Even if you've managed to find an Internet connection for yourself, it
won't be that helpful in reaching out to your fellow locals if they
can't get online to find you. If you're trying to coordinate a group of
people in your area and can't rely on an Internet connection, cell
phones, or SMS, your best bet could be a wireless mesh network
sorts--essentially, a distributed network of wireless networking devices
that can all find each other and communicate with each other. Even if
none of those devices have a working Internet connection, they can still
find each other, which, if your network covers the city you're in, might
be all you need. At the moment, wireless mesh networking isn't really
anywhere close to market-ready, though we have seen an implementation of
the 802.11s draft standard, which extends the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard to
include wireless mesh networking, in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO
However, a prepared guerrilla networker with a handful of PCs could make
good use of Daihinia <http://daihinia.com/> ($25, 30-day free trial), an
app that piggybacks on your Wi-Fi adapter driver to turn your normal
ad-hoc Wi-Fi network into a multihop ad-hoc network (disclaimer: we
haven't tried this ourselves yet), meaning that instead of requiring
each device on the network to be within range of the original access
point, you simply need to be within range of a device on the network
that has Daihinia installed, effectively allowing you to add a wireless
mesh layer to your ad-hoc network.
Advanced freedom fighters can set up a portal Web page on their network
that explains the way the setup works, with Daihinia instructions and a
local download link so they can spread the network even further. Lastly,
just add a Bonjour-compatible chat client like Pidgin
<http://pidgin.im/> or iChat, and you'll be able to talk to your
neighbors across the city without needing an Internet connection.
Back to Basics
Remember when you stashed your old modems in the closet because you
thought you might need them some day? In the event of a total
communications blackout--as we're seeing in Egypt, for example--you'll
be glad you did. Older and simpler tools, like dial-up Internet or even
ham radio, could still work, since these "abandoned" tech avenues aren't
being policed nearly as hard.
In order to get around the total shutdown of all of the ISPs within
Egypt, several international ISPs are offering dial-up access to the
Internet to get protesters online, since phone service is still
operational. It's slow, but it still works--the hard part is getting the
access numbers without an Internet connection to find them.
Unfortunately, such dial-up numbers can also be fairly easily shut down
by the Egyptian government, so you could also try returning to FidoNet
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FidoNet>--a distributed networking system
for BBSes that was popular in the 1980s. FidoNet is limited to sending
only simple text messages, and it's slow, but it has two virtues: Users
connect asynchronously, so the network traffic is harder to track, and
any user can act as the server, which means that even if the government
shuts down one number in the network, another one can quickly pop up to
take its place.
You could also take inspiration from groups that are working to create
an ad-hoc communications network into and out of Egypt using Ham Radio
<http://werebuild.eu/wiki/Egypt/Main_Page#Hamradio>, since the signals
are rarely tracked and extremely hard to shut down or block. Most of
these efforts are still getting off the ground, but hackers are already
cobbling together ways to make it a viable form of communication into
and out of the country.
Always Be Prepared
In the land of no Internet connection, the man with dial-up is king.
Here are a few gadgets that you could use to prepare for the day they
cut the lines.
Given enough time and preparation, your ham radio networks could even be
adapted into your own ad-hoc network using Packet Radio
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packet_radio>, a radio communications
protocol that you can use to create simple long-distance wireless
networks to transfer text and other messages between computers. Packet
Radio is rather slow and not particularly popular (don't try to stream
any videos with this, now), but it's exactly the kind of networking
device that would fly under the radar.
In response to the crisis in Egypt, nerds everywhere have risen to call
for new and exciting tools for use in the next government-mandated
shutdown. Bre Pettis, founder of the hackerspace NYC Resistor
<http://www.nycresistor.com/> and creator of the Makerbot
<http://www.makerbot.com/> 3D printer, has called for "Apps for the
a quick and easy way to set up chats on a local network so you can talk
with your friends and neighbors in an emergency even without access to
the Internet. If his comments are any indication, Appocalypse apps may
be headed your way soon.
Tons of cool tech are also just waiting to be retrofitted for these
purposes. David Dart's Pirate Box <http://wiki.daviddarts.com/PirateBox>
is a one-step local network in a box originally conceived for file
sharing and local P2P purposes, but it wouldn't take much work to adapt
the Pirate Box as a local networking tool able to communicate with other
pirate boxes to form a compact, mobile set of local networks in the
event of an Internet shutdown.
Whether you're in Egypt or Eagle Rock, you rely on your Internet access
to stay in touch with friends and family, get your news, and find
information you need. (And read PCWorld, of course.) Hopefully with
these apps, tools, and techniques, you won't have to worry about
anyone--even your government--keeping you from doing just that.
/Patrick Miller hopes he isn't first against the wall when the
revolution comes. Find him on Twitter
have a working Internet connection, anyway. /
/David Daw is an accidental expert in ad-hoc networks since his
apartment gets no cell reception. Find him on Twitter
<http://twitter.com/#%21/DavidHDaw/> or send him a ham radio signal. /http://www.pcworld.com/printable/article/id,218155/printable.html
We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once. --
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Egypt
on: January 29, 2011, 11:54:02 AM
Egypt gets its own thread for obvious reasons.
I begin by noting how utterly vapid most of the coverage we are seeing is. An internet friend is recommendinghttp://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/
I have no idea whether he has lost his fg mind and am in Vancouver for a seminar at the moment, but perhaps one of us can take a look and report back whether it is worth the time.
RED ALERT: MUBARAK NAMES FORMER AIR FORCE CHIEF AS NEW EGYPTIAN PM
Egypt's former air force chief and minister for civil aviation, Ahmed Shafiq, has
been designated the new prime minister by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and
tasked to form the next Cabinet, Al Jazeera reported Jan. 29. The announcement comes
shortly after Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was appointed vice
president, a position that has been vacant for the past 30 years.
Mubarak is essentially accelerating a succession plan that has been in the works for
some time. STRATFOR noted in December 2010 that a conflict was building between the
president on one side and the old guard in the army and the ruling party on the
other over Mubarak's attempt to create a path for his son Gamal to eventually
succeed him. The interim plan Mubarak had proposed was for Suleiman to become vice
president, succeed Mubarak and then pass the reins to Gamal after some time. The
stalwart members of the old guard, however, refused this plan. Though they approved
of Suleiman, they knew his tenure would be short-lived given his advanced age.
Instead, they demanded that Shafiq, who comes from the air force -- the most
privileged branch of the military from which Mubarak himself also came -- be
designated the successor. Shafiq is close to Mubarak and worked under his command in
the air force. Shafiq also has the benefit of having held a civilian role as
minister of civil aviation since 2002, making him more palatable to the public.
Mubarak may be nominally dissolving the Cabinet, ordering an army curfew and now
asking Shafiq to form the next government, but the embattled president is not the
one in charge. Instead, the military appears to be managing Mubarak's exit, taking
care not to engage in a confrontation with the demonstrators while the political
details are being sorted out.
Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
RED ALERT: HAMAS AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
The following is a report from a STRATFOR source in Hamas. Hamas, which formed in
Gaza as an outgrowth of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), has an interest in
exaggerating its role and coordination with the MB in this crisis. The following
information has not been confirmed. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of concern
building in Israel and the United States in particular over the role of the MB in
the demonstrations and whether a political opening will be made for the Islamist
organization in Egypt.
The Egyptian police are no longer patrolling the Rafah border crossing into Gaza.
Hamas armed men are entering into Egypt and are closely collaborating with the MB.
The MB has fully engaged itself in the demonstrations, and they are unsatisfied with
the dismissal of the Cabinet. They are insisting on a new Cabinet that does not
include members of the ruling National Democratic Party.
Security forces in plainclothes are engaged in destroying public property in order
to give the impression that many protesters represent a public menace. The MB is
meanwhile forming people's committees to protect public property and also to
coordinate demonstrators' activities, including supplying them with food, beverages
and first aid.
Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: Q4 GDP first estimate
on: January 28, 2011, 12:28:52 PM
The first estimate for Q4 real GDP growth is 3.2% at an annual rate To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
The first estimate for Q4 real GDP growth is 3.2% at an annual rate, slightly lower than the consensus expected.
The largest positive contributions to the real GDP growth rate were net exports, which added 3.4 points to the real GDP growth rate, and personal consumption, which increased at a 4.4% annual rate.
The weakest component of real GDP, by far, was inventories, which alone reduced the real GDP growth rate by 3.7 points.
The GDP price index increased at a 0.3% annual rate in Q4. Nominal GDP – real GDP plus inflation – rose at a 3.4% rate in Q4 and is now up 4.2% versus a year ago.
Implications: Real GDP grew at a 3.2% annual rate in Q4. This was slightly lower than the consensus (3.5%), but significantly lower than our much publicized forecast of 5.4%, which was the highest forecast in the consensus survey. But don’t throw us out as being those crazy optimists just yet. Our forecast was largely based on a key insight about how the government (mis)measures oil prices, so we predicted net exports would add 3.3 points to the GDP growth rate, much higher than anyone else. And guess what? Net exports added 3.4 points to the GDP growth rate! And because we were so bullish on trade, we predicted real final sales (real GDP excluding inventories) would grow at a 7.1% annual rate, the fastest pace since 1984. And, guess what? Real final sales came in at exactly that 7.1% growth rate! Where we were off, was with government spending (much weaker than we had expected), personal consumption and home building (stronger than we expected) and inventories (substantially below both our forecast and the consensus). Inventories alone subtracted 3.7 points from real GDP growth. In other words, manufacturers and retailers underestimated consumer demand and ran down inventories dramatically in the fourth quarter. Anecdotal reports suggest that low inventory levels are having a cost in the form of lost sales. Moreover, prices are not likely to be slashed to reduce excess inventories after the holidays. What this means is that there is more room for production increases in 2011 and inflation will continue to move higher. Our original forecast of 4% real GDP growth this year is probably too low. Real consumer spending grew at a 4.4% annual rate in Q4, the fastest in almost five years, while business investment continued to advance and home building increased without any assistance from homebuyer tax-credits.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Lebanon
on: January 28, 2011, 09:05:31 AM
Looks like it may be a busy day on this thread!
Plenty of POTH commentary mingled in this piece-- Marc
ALMOST exactly six years after the Cedar Revolution led to a rapid withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the United States’ dream that it could use this fragile country as a launching pad for a New Middle East — one with a decidedly pro-American bent — has seemingly collapsed.
One could argue that it crumpled at exactly 11:58 a.m. on Tuesday, when a Christian member of the Lebanese Parliament from the Bekaa Valley named Nicola Fattoush strode into the presidential palace and cast his ballot against Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Mr. Hariri is the son of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister whose assassination in February 2005 is the basis for soon-to-be-expected indictments by the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Although the new prime minister, Najib Mikati, didn’t need Mr. Fattoush’s support to defeat Saad Hariri — the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah and the Parliament’s largest single bloc of Christians, headed by Gen. Michel Aoun, along with some Sunni Muslim and Druze members, provided the numerical edge — Mr. Fattoush’s vote held particular significance. Not only had he been an ally of Saad Hariri’s, but he had just days before received a widely publicized visit from the United States ambassador, Maura Connelly, in his home district.
That a small-time figure known for his political horse-trading would spurn a superpower’s attempt to retain his vote for its man provides an exclamation point on just how poorly Washington’s policy of “maximalism” — applying sporadic bouts of pressure on its allies while refusing to sincerely negotiate with its adversaries — has fared in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole. The Obama administration is going to need a very different approach when it comes to dealing with the “new” Lebanon.
Unfortunately, though, such a change will be far more difficult today than it would have been just six years ago, when Hezbollah had its political back against the wall, lacking support outside its Shiite base and the insurance of Syrian troops in the country.
In April of that year, Hezbollah went so far as to send one of its affiliated politicians, Trade Hamade, to meet with State Department officials to work out a modus vivendi. He left Washington empty-handed: the Bush administration believed that American influence was on the rise in Lebanon and that Hezbollah could be cornered into agreeing to disarmament before any substantive negotiations.
Instead of undermining Hezbollah’s political support by broadening alliances with pro-American figures in Lebanon and addressing the concerns held by many Lebanese — the sentiment that Israel still occupied Lebanese territory in the south, that there were Lebanese in Israeli jails and that the country needed a stronger national defense — the Bush administration cultivated a narrow set of local allies and pursued a “with us or against us” strategy aimed at eliminating Hezbollah. Sadly, it took this policy less than a year to result in a botched Israeli invasion that killed and wounded thousands of Lebanese citizens and gave Hezbollah unprecedented popularity in the region.
(MARC: At the time I posted here of the grave historical error that IMO Israel was committing by pulling up short.)
Today, Syria has regained much of its hegemony in the country — this time without the cost of stationing troops — and is again at the center of regional politics. Hezbollah’s military capacity, by all accounts, has soared, and many of its leaders seem to harbor the dangerous belief that they can decisively win a “final” confrontation with Israel. The Party of God has also deftly maintained and even expanded its political alliances — including one with about half the Christians in the country — that gave it the power to change the government this week by constitutional means.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Hezbollah has largely succeeded in undermining the legitimacy of the United Nations tribunal in the Arab and Islamic worlds. In this effort it had unintentional American help. As a recent report from the International Crisis Group put it, the manner in which the investigation was established, “pushed by two Western powers with clear strategic objectives” — the United States and France — “contaminated” the process.
So, what can the United States do to reverse Hezbollah’s new momentum? Its options are limited. Given the change of government, Congress may well try to cut off all aid to Lebanon and the Lebanese Army. The Obama administration will likely reiterate its support for the tribunal and push for any indictments of Hezbollah figures. But neither step would have much of an impact on Hezbollah’s core calculations or desires.
Hezbollah will continue to increase its military power, edging ever closer to what Israeli officials have called a “redline” of capabilities that would prompt Israel to mount a major “pre-emptive” attack. Such a move would, as it was in 2006, be devastating for Lebanon, probably for Israel and certainly for United States interests in the region, not least because Hezbollah would likely survive and even gain new adherents among those affected by Israeli strikes on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian areas.
Still, there is a way for Washington to stake out a reasonable, nonviolent alternative: by pushing for the immediate revival of peace talks between Syria and Israel. Eleven years ago, a peace agreement between the two countries that would have included the disarmament of Hezbollah fell apart, largely because the Israeli prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, found it too politically difficult to hand over to Syria the last few hundred yards of shoreline around the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee bordering the Golan Heights.
Although a new deal on the Golan would not lead to the end of Hezbollah in the immediate term, it would contain the movement’s ability and desire to use violence, as Syria would need to commit to cutting off the supply routes by which Iranian (and Syrian) weapons are now smuggled into Lebanon. Militarily weakened, and without Syrian or much domestic political backing to continue in its mission to liberate Jerusalem, Hezbollah would find it extremely difficult to threaten Israel’s northern border.
Certainly some Israelis see the benefits of such a deal. Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and national security adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told an interviewer recently that on his first day on the job, he recommended that Mr. Olmert make a deal with Syria because it would “change the security situation in the Middle East.” He said he still believed that.
When asked if a pullout might create a threat to Israel along the Golan, Mr. Mizrahi answered: “Our chief of staff doesn’t think so. Our head of intelligence, military intelligence, doesn’t think so ... the best Israeli generals are saying we can negotiate it, so I believe them.”
Would pressuring Israel into a full withdrawal from the Golan be politically difficult for President Obama? Surely — as it would be for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But given the alternatives for Lebanon, Israel and the United States, anything less would be merely setting up temporary roadblocks to an impending regional disaster.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Another one from POTH
on: January 28, 2011, 08:35:24 AM
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Demonstrators in Egypt have protested against rising prices and stagnant incomes, for greater freedom and against police brutality. But religion, so often a powerful mobilizing force here, has so far played little role.
That may be about to change.
With organizers calling for demonstrations after Friday prayer, the political movement will literally be taken to the doorsteps of the nation’s mosques. And as the Egyptian government and security services brace for the expected wave of mass demonstrations, Islamic groups seem poised to emerge as wildcards in the growing political movement.
Reporters in Egypt said on Friday that, after rumors swept Cairo late Thursday that the authorities planned to throttle the protesters' communications among themselves, access to the Internet, text messaging services and Twitter was not possible on Friday morning in Cairo, Alexandria and possibly other cities.
Heightening the tension, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organized opposition group in the country, announced Thursday that it would take part in the protest. The support of the Brotherhood could well change the calculus on the streets, tipping the numbers in favor of the protesters and away from the police, lending new strength to the demonstrations and further imperiling President Hosni Mubarak’s reign of nearly three decades.
“Tomorrow is going to be the day of the intifada,” said a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood here in Egypt’s second largest city, who declined to give his name because he said he would be arrested if he did. The spokesman said that the group was encouraging members of its youth organization — roughly those 15 to 30 years old — to take part in protests.
But Islam is hardly homogeneous, and many religious leaders here said Thursday that they would not support the protests, for reasons including scriptural prohibitions on defying rulers and a belief that democratic change would not benefit them. “We Salafists are not going to participate in any of the demonstrations tomorrow,” said Sheik Yasir Burhami, a leading figure among the fundamentalist Salafists in Alexandria.
While the largest demonstrations have taken place in the capital, Cairo, and the most chaos Thursday was to be found in Suez, Alexandria has been a focal point for past protests. The beating death of a young businessman named Khaled Said last year led to weeks of demonstrations against police brutality and calls to overhaul the security services.
The city on the Mediterranean, long Egypt’s gateway to the outside world, has mirrored the country’s steady erosion over decades of authoritarian rule. It has gone from being a cosmopolitan showcase to a poor, struggling city that evokes barely a vestige of its former grandeur. The New Year’s bombing of a Coptic church here was a reminder of the direction of the city, identified by European intelligence services as a hub for radicalizing students who come to study Arabic. Many of the most radical Salafists — those who would support the use of violence — were arrested by the government after the bombing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sheik Gaber Kassem, leader of the mystic Sufi community here, said the Sufis were discouraging their followers from taking part in the demonstrations, which the government has deemed illegal.
“We are going to be in the mosque and we’re going to be in front of the mosque, but we are not going to march in the streets,” said Mr. Kassem, adding that they were in favor of freedom of expression and had taken part in legal protests Tuesday, but that they were against the violence and chaos that were likely on Friday.
Relative calm prevailed here on Thursday, as activists said they were preparing for Friday’s demonstrations. With riot police and plainclothes security personnel watching, dozens of lawyers protested in front of the courthouse, calling for two of their colleagues who had been arrested at Tuesday’s demonstration to be set free and shouting, “People, people, take to the streets.”
Hamid Said, 29, who founded the Nasar Center for Human Rights in Alexandria, said that to date the protests here had not been led by Muslim groups, as the government claimed. “You did not have the Muslim Brotherhood protesting here, you had normal people protesting against their problems,” said Mr. Said, a lawyer who said he had been arrested five times since 2008, but never detained for more than a few days.
Mr. Said cited political oppression and police brutality as the leading causes of frustration among the people. He said that he had once applied for a position for which he was well qualified, but that he lost out to the son of a government minister.
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, a Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar, said that many conservative Muslims would not support a secular politician like Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “ElBaradei and the others, they have no connection to religion. If Hosni Mubarak goes, they will replace him with someone else like him,” said Abu Omar, who came to prominence after it was disclosed that he had been kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency from Milan in 2003.
Religious leaders like Mr. Kassem said they could not rule out that many of their followers would join the protests.
The spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria said that efforts by the government to hinder groups from gathering, like blocking access to social networking sites, would no longer be effective.
“It’s already clear that we will go out tomorrow. The message is already out,” he said. “Tomorrow all the Egyptians are going to be on the streets.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wikileaks
on: January 28, 2011, 08:31:43 AM
Agreed that the risks of "One man, one vote, one time" are considerable. So too are the risks of being married to bastards when the day comes , , ,
Anyway, FWIW here's POTH excerpts from Wikileaks:
WASHINGTON — It was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first meeting as secretary of state with President Hosni Mubarak, in March 2009, and the Egyptians had an odd request: Mrs. Clinton should not thank Mr. Mubarak for releasing an opposition leader from prison because he was ill.
In fact, a confidential diplomatic cable signed by the American ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, advised Mrs. Clinton to avoid even mentioning the name of the man, Ayman Nour, even though his imprisonment in 2005 had been condemned worldwide, not least by the Bush administration.
The cable is among a trove of dispatches made public by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks that paint a vivid picture of the delicate dealings between the United States and Egypt, its staunchest Arab ally. They show in detail how diplomats repeatedly raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers, and kept tabs on reports of torture by the police.
But they also reveal that relations with Mr. Mubarak warmed up because President Obama played down the public “name and shame” approach of the Bush administration. A cable prepared for a visit by Gen. David H. Petraeus in 2009 said the United States, while blunt in private, now avoided “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years.”
This balancing of private pressure with strong public support for Mr. Mubarak has become increasingly tenuous in recent days. Throngs of angry Egyptians have taken to the streets and the White House, worried about being identified with a reviled regime, has challenged the president publicly.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Mubarak as a partner but said he needed to undertake political and economic reforms. In an interview posted on YouTube, Mr. Obama said neither the police nor the protesters should resort to violence. “It is very important,” he added, “that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances.”
It is not known what Mrs. Clinton said to Mr. Mubarak in their first meeting, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. But she set the public tone afterward, when she was asked by an Arab television journalist about a State Department report critical of Egypt’s human rights record.
“We hope that it will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered, that we all have room for improvement,” Mrs. Clinton said, adding that Mr. Mubarak and his wife, Suzanne, were friends of her family, and that it was up to the Egyptian people to decide the president’s future.
The cables, which cover the first year of the Obama presidency, leave little doubt about how valuable an ally Mr. Mubarak has been, detailing how he backed the United States in its confrontation with Iran, played mediator between Israel and the Palestinians and supported Iraq’s fledgling government, despite his opposition to the American-led war.
Privately, Ambassador Scobey pressed Egypt’s interior minister to free three bloggers, as well as a Coptic priest who performed a wedding for a Christian convert, according to one of her cables to Washington. She also asked that three American pro-democracy groups be granted formal permission to operate in the country, a request the Egyptians rejected.
However effusive the Americans were about Mr. Mubarak in public, the cables offered a less flattering picture of Egypt’s first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. During a visit to the Sinai, one reported, she commandeered a bus that had been bought with money from the United States Agency for International Development and that had been meant to carry children to school.
Egyptian state security was concerned enough about American activities in Sinai, according to another cable, that it surreptitiously recorded a meeting between diplomats and members of a local council.
Yet many more of the cables describe collaboration between the United States and Egypt. In her 2009 visit, Mrs. Clinton was trying to revive the moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Mubarak was central to this: the cables detail his efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israelis and the militant group Hamas in Gaza, as well as American pressure on him to curb the smuggling of weapons to Hamas from Egypt through tunnels.
Mrs. Clinton was also laying out Mr. Obama’s rationale for engaging Iran — an overture, the cables report, that Mr. Mubarak predicted would fail. A May 2009 cable before Mr. Mubarak’s first visit to the Obama White House noted that Egyptian officials told a visiting American diplomat, Dennis B. Ross, that “we should prepare for confrontation through isolation.”
Like other Arab leaders, Mr. Mubarak is depicted in the cables as obsessed with Iran, which he told American diplomats was extending its tentacles from “the Gulf to Morocco” through proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. He views these groups — particularly Hamas, a “brother” of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood — as a direct threat to his own rule.
In a meeting with General Petraeus on June 29, 2009, Mr. Mubarak said the Iranian government wanted to establish “pockets” of influence inside Egypt, according to a cable. General Petraeus told him the United States was responding to similar fears among Persian Gulf states by deploying more Patriot missiles and upgrading its F-16 fighter jets stationed in the region.
Despite obvious American sympathy for Mr. Mubarak’s security concerns, there is little evidence that the diplomats believed the president, now 82, was at risk of losing his grip on power. The May 2009 cable noted that riots over bread prices had broken out in Egypt in 2008 for the first time since 1977. And it said the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood had prompted the government to resort to “heavy-handed tactics against individuals and groups.”
But the cable, again signed by Ambassador Scobey, portrayed Mr. Mubarak as the ultimate survivor, a “tried and true realist” who would rather “let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole.”
“During his 28-year rule,” the cable said, “he survived at least three assassination attempts, maintained peace with Israel, weathered two wars in Iraq and post-2003 regional instability, intermittent economic downturns, and a manageable but chronic internal terrorist threat.”
Another cable, dated March 2009, offered a pessimistic analysis of the prospects for the “April 6 Movement,” a Facebook-based group of mostly young Egyptians that has received wide attention for its lively political debate and helped mobilize the protests that have swept Egypt in the last two days. Leaders of the group had been jailed and tortured by the police. There were also signs of internal divisions between secular and Islamist factions, it said.
The United States has defended bloggers with little success. When Ambassador Scobey raised several arrests with the interior minister, he replied that Egypt did not infringe on freedom of the press, but that it must respond when “people are offended by blogs.” An aide to the minister told the ambassador that The New York Times, which has reported on the treatment of bloggers in Egypt, was “exaggerating the blogger issue,” according to the cable.
American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.
Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.” They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.
To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.
Still, Mr. Mubarak generally views broader reforms as an invitation to extremism. “We have heard him lament the results of earlier U.S. efforts to encourage reform in the Islamic world,” said a cable, noting that he often invoked the shah of Iran — a secular leader who came under pressure from Washington, only to be replaced by an even more repressive, hostile government.
Even the private encounters with Mr. Mubarak have layers of sensitivity. While Mrs. Clinton was advised to steer clear of mentioning Ayman Nour, the cable signed by Ambassador Scobey suggested she might broach the topic of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American author and critic of Mr. Mubarak who fled Egypt after being found guilty of defaming the country.
“If you have any one-on-one opportunity with President Mubarak,” the ambassador wrote, “you may wish to suggest that annulling these cases and allowing him to return to Egypt would also be well received by the new administration.”
It is not clear whether Mrs. Clinton did so.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / One Gurkhas and one Kukri vs. 40 Train robber-rapists
on: January 28, 2011, 08:01:28 AM
Lone Nepali Gorkha who subdued 40 train robbers-bishnu-shrestha
Written by Hamrosite
Friday, 14 January 2011 19:58
Lone Nepali Gorkha who subdued 40 train robbers
POKHARA, Jan 13: Gorkha soldiers have long been known the world over for their valor and these khukuri-wielding warriors winning the British many a battle have become folklore.
A retired Indian Gorkha soldier recently revisited those glory days when he thwarted 40 robbers, killing three of them and injuring eight others, with his khukuri during a train journey. He is in line to receive three gallantry awards from the Indian government.
Slave girl Morgiana in the Arabian Nights used her cunning to finish off Ali Baba´s 40 thieves, but Bishnu Shrestha of Baidam, Pokhara-6 did not have time to plot against the 40 train robbers. He, however, made good use of his khukuri to save the chastity of a girl and hundreds of thousands in loot.
Shrestha, who was in the Maurya Express to Gorakhpur from Ranchi on September 2 while returning home following voluntary retirement from the Indian army--saved the girl who was going to be raped by the robbers in front of her helpless parents, and in doing so won plaudits from everybody.
The government of Nepal decided to provide special honor to the Indian Gorkha soldier who fought as many as 40 bandits in a train with nothing but a khukuri, and thwarted them from robbing passengers and raping a minor.
“He will be provided a special honor for doing Nepal proud at international stage,” Finance Minister Surendra Raj Pandey said after the cabinet meeting on Thursday. The government, however, has yet to declare what the honor would comprise of and when will it be given.
The Indian government is to decorate Shrestha with its Sourya Chakra, Bravery Award and Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Medal and the 35-year-old is leaving for India Saturday to receive the first of the awards on the occasion of India´s Republic Day on January 26.
“The formal announcement of the awards will be made on Republic Day and on Independence Day on August 15,” said Shrestha, whose father Gopal Babu also retired from the same 7/8 Platoon of the Gorkha Regiment around 29 years ago.
His regiment has already given him a cash award of Indian rupees 50,000, and decided to terminate his voluntary retirement. He will get the customary promotion after receiving the medals. The Indian government will also announce a cash bounty for him and special discounts on international air tickets and domestic train tickets.
The band of about 40 robbers, some of whom were travelling as passengers, stopped the train in the Chittaranjan jungles in West Bengal around midnight. Shrestha-- who had boarded the train at Ranchi in Jharkhand, the place of his posting--was in seat no. 47 in coach AC3.
“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers,” Shrestha recalled. The soldier had somehow remained a silent spectator amidst the melee, but not for long. He had had enough when the robbers stripped an 18-year-old girl sitting next to him and tried to rape her right in front of her parents. He then took out his khukuri and took on the robbers.
“The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister´,” Shrestha recalled. “I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister,” he added. He took one of the robbers under control and then started to attack the others. He said the rest of the robbers fled after he killed three of them with his khukuri and injured eight others.
During the scuffle he received serious blade injury to his left hand while the girl also had a minor cut on her neck. “They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn´t open fire,” he surmised.
The train resumed its journey after some 20 minutes and a horde of media persons and police were present when it reached Chittaranja station. Police arrested the eight injured dacoits and recovered around 400,000 Indian rupees in cash, 40 gold necklaces, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops and other items that the fleeing robbers dropped in the train.
Police escorted Shrestha to the Railways Hospital after the rescued girl told them about his heroic deed. Mainstream Indian media carried the story. The parents of the girl, who was going for her MBBS studies, also announced a cash award of Indian rupees 300,000 for him but he has not met them since.
“Even the veins and arteries in my left hand were slit but the injury has now healed after two months of neurological treatment at the Command Hospital in Kolkata,” he said showing the scar. “Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier; taking on the dacoits in the train was my duty as a human being,” said the Indian army nayak, who has been given two guards during his month-long holidays in Nepal.
“I am proud to be able to prove that a Gorkha soldier with a khukuri is really a handful. I would have been a meek spectator had I not carried that khukuri,” he said.
He still finds it hard to believe that he took on 40 armed robbers alone. “They may have feared that more of my army friends were traveling with me and fled after fighting me for around 20 minutes,” he explained.
Meanwhile Shrestha is finding it difficult to reach out to all those who intend to honor him for his courageous act. He has already been honored by around a dozen private firms, mothers´ groups, local political leaders and schools, while many are preparing to honor him. Some firms from Kathmandu have also invited him for felicitation.
“My son is finding it difficult to manage time to accept all the honors,” said Shrestha´s elated father Gopal Babu who had also retired around 29 years ago from the same 7/8 Platoon of the Gorkha Regiment, that his son served. “We had never thought that he would be honored at this scale,” Gopal Babu expressed his happiness.
Agni Air, Rastriya Paropakar Mahasangh, Shantipatan Tole Sudhar Samiti, Miteri Mothers´ Group, ward committees of the Nepali Congress and Communist Part of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, Tal Barahi Higher Secondary School and others have already honored him. “He could not travel to Kathmandu due to lack of time,” his father said.
On most occasions he was felicitated with shawl (khada), vermillion, dhaka topi and given certificates. Agni Air has given him an honorary life membership and announced a limetime free air travel. “Some of my friends from India even called me to congratulate for his bravery. Everybody should honor such brave persons,” said Sushil Basnet of Agni Air.
The soldier was happy about all the appreciation he has received from different quarters and thanked the media for covering the news. “The Indian media brought the incident to light and the Nepali media too gave it due importance. I may have even been sent to jail on the charge of robbery had the girl and the Indian media not come forward to my support,” Shrestha said. “I was hardly recognized even in Baidam. Now the whole country knows me.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Low Tigris water levels= no electricity
on: January 28, 2011, 07:56:42 AM
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Record low water levels at Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam have ground turbines there to a halt, amplifying a power shortage that led to riots last summer, a top official said on Thursday.
Adel Mahdi, advisor to the electricity minister, said water levels at the Mosul dam on the Tigris River had fallen to 298 metres (977 feet) above sea level.
"It is the first time since 1984 when the dam was built that water levels have fallen this low," Mahdi told AFP.
"The installed power generation capacity of Mosul's hydroelectric plant is 1,175 megawatts, but the current production is zero, because the turbines need a minimum water level of 307 metres (1,007 feet) to operate," he added.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Egypt
on: January 27, 2011, 11:58:24 PM
A 'Day of Rage' Turns All Eyes to the Egyptian Military
With tensions running high in Egypt ahead of the planned Jan. 28 “Day of Rage,” a street agitation campaign organized by the multi-faceted opposition, speculation is rising in the country and internationally over the regime’s next moves. The regime faces a very basic dilemma. After three decades of emergency rule in which Cairo’s iron fist was sufficiently feared to keep dissent contained, the wall of fear is crumbling. The task at hand for the ruling National Democratic Party, the military and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is to rebuild that wall as quickly as possible and to spread enough fear among those Egyptians who are gathering the courage to come out into the streets in protest.
Preparations to rebuild the wall of fear have begun. Internet access and cell networks are cutting out in major cities while the more technologically savvy Egyptian youth are advising each other on how to circumvent the state censures and remain online. Anonymous, 26-page glossy documents are also being distributed in Cairo containing a basic how-to guide for the Friday protestors. Pre-emptive round-ups were reportedly underway on Thursday night in an attempt to take some of the wind out of Friday’s demonstrations. So far, the security forces deployed consist of uniformed local police, plainclothes police and Central Security Forces (black-clad paramilitaries equipped with riot gear). Though these security forces have been working long hours over the past three days, Egypt still appears to have plenty of police resources to throw at this crisis.
“If the Egyptian security apparatus does not succeed in transforming the Day of Rage into a Day of Fear, the trigger for army intervention will not be far off.”
While the streets are being readied downtown, heavy discussions are taking place just a few miles away in the presidential palace and the central military high command in greater Cairo. STRATFOR sees two key trends developing so far. One in which the Mubarak name is being gradually de-linked from the core of regime and another where the military is gaining a much larger say in the governance of the state.
Among the more revealing statements made by the NDP coming out of the Jan. 27 meeting, which also included security officials, was the following: “The NDP is not the executive, just a party, and itself reviews the performance of the executive.” A report from the Egyptian daily, Al Mesryoon, also claimed that during a Jan. 25 Cabinet meeting, an unnamed minister called for Mubarak to appoint a vice president from the military, resign as president of the NDP and cancel all plans to have his son, Gamal, succeed him as president.
This report has not been verified, but it fits into a trend that STRATFOR has been tracking over the past several months in which the military and old guard of the ruling party have been heavily pressuring the elder Mubarak to give up on his plans to have his son succeed him, arguing that ‘one of their own’ from the military needed to take the helm to lead the country through this precarious period of Egyptian history. STRATFOR also cannot help but wonder why both Mubarak and his son have been mysteriously quiet and absent from the public eye throughout the crisis, especially as rumors have run abound on Gamal allegedly fleeing the country, gold being smuggled out of the country and funds being transferred to overseas banks.
Over the next 24 hours, the military’s moves are critical to watch. Cairo is obviously the center of activity, but our eyes will also be on the city of Suez. Suez has been the scene of intense protests over the past three days, with police and fire stations being raided and firebombed by demonstrators and three demonstrators killed in protests. This is the only city we know of thus far where STRATFOR sources have reported that the military is deploying alongside the police in an effort to restore calm. Civil-military relations are traditionally the strongest in Suez, the historic scene of battle for Egypt, where soldiers are still viewed by many as unsung heroes. If the military succumbs to the protestors in Suez, control of Cairo then comes into serious question.
This is still an exercise in scenario building. Even the most hardcore opposition protestors on the street will admit that the reality of the situation is that the army remains in control. Amid all the unknowns, one thing is near certain: If the Egyptian security apparatus does not succeed in transforming the Day of Rage into a Day of Fear, the trigger for army intervention will not be far off.
The Strategic Implications of Instability in Egypt
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Egyptian government on Wednesday to engage in political, economic and social reforms as part of an effort to heed to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people. Clinton’s statement came a day after the Middle East’s largest Arab state experienced its most extensive protest demonstrations in 34 years. Unlike the unrest in 1977, these protests were not about the price of bread; rather the agitators are seeking the ouster of the Egyptian government — at a time when the regime is already in a state of transition, given that President Hosni Mubarak is at an advanced age and is ailing.
For three decades, the Mubarak government has sustained Egypt’s status as an ally of the United States and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty — a position that was realized during the days of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat. It was under Sadat that Cairo moved away from its opposition to Washington, which was the hallmark of the regime presided over by Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was also the founder of the modern Egyptian republic. The key American concern is that when all is said and done, Cairo will remain pro-Western and at peace with Israel.
“The problem with democratic reforms is that they can potentially bring to power political forces that at the very least do not define their country’s national interest in line with U.S. strategic interests in the region.”
It is not certain that a post-Mubarak Egypt will necessarily become hostile to the United States and Israel. But it is also not certain that status quo will be sustained in a post-transition Egypt. What exactly will happen will be based on the ability (or the lack thereof) of the Egyptian military to ensure that there are no fundamental changes in policy — regardless of whether or not the current ruling National Democratic Party is in power.
Washington realizes that the public discontent within Egypt and the region creates for a very tricky situation that the Egyptian military may or may not be able to manage. The United States cannot come out and openly oppose the drive toward democratic governance, mainly for public relations purposes. But Washington doesn’t want to be caught in a situation akin to a 1979 Iran when the Shah fell, bringing to power a regime that has emerged as the biggest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the region.
The options for the Egyptian government are to work with the military while trying to manage reforms to placate the masses. The problem with democratic reforms is that they can potentially bring to power political forces that at the very least do not define their country’s national interest in line with U.S. strategic interests in the region. As it is, the United States is struggling to deal with an Iran empowered because of the collapse of the Baathist regime in Iraq.
At a time when Iran is projecting power across Mesopotamia and into the Levant, a less than stable Egypt will massively amplify the United States’ Middle East problems. Regime change in Egypt also has implications for the stability in other major countries in the region such as Israel, Syria, Jordan and Yemen. It is this gravity of the situation that would explain why Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Wednesday issued a very odd statement in which he expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of the Egyptian state to handle the public uprising.
The United States and much of the rest of the world will be watching how the Egyptian government manages the protests, the military and the succession question. Thus, everything depends on whether or not there will be regime change in Egypt.