Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: February 08, 2008, 01:05:46 PM
McCain Slays Them in the Green Room
Democrats, and even a few Republicans, have suggested that John McCain may not wear well as a candidate, with many making comparisons to Bob Dole, the former war hero and longtime senator who was the uninspired GOP nominee in 1996 against Bill Clinton.
But Mr. McCain put many of those doubts to rest yesterday with a thundering speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. He couldn't have asked for a better platform -- Mitt Romney had just used the same stage to suspend his candidacy, thus giving Mr. McCain a chance to present himself as the de facto GOP nominee to the party's most enthusiastic activists.
Mr. McCain knew he was addressing a crowd with whom he had many policy disagreements -- from campaign finance reform to global warming. He didn't pretend to paper those over, but instead asked his audience to "examine the totality of my record." He pointed out he has consistently voted for pro-life causes for a quarter century, pledged to appoint judges who would strictly interpret the Constitution and laid into the departed GOP Congress for tarnishing the party's fiscal conservative credentials. "I will not sign a bill with any earmarks in it," he said to thunderous applause. He then roused the crowd again by pointing out that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would set an arbitrary timetable for withdrawing from Iraq.
He clearly won over a lot of skeptical conservatives. I was in the green room where many prominent CPAC speakers had gathered to watch the speech, and where Mr. McCain had mingled prior to mounting the stage. "It was a great speech, with a perfect tonal pitch," said Don Devine, a former Reagan administration official who is normally a dour pessimist when it comes to GOP electoral chances. "I think he could beat Hillary." Ken Blackwell, a former GOP candidate for governor from Ohio, called the speech "the start of a great conversation with conservatives and much better than I expected."
Even Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader who has clashed often with the Arizona senator in the past, grudgingly acknowledged that he might bring himself to vote for Mr. McCain in the fall -- a major concession from someone who has publicly stated that the party's new presumptive nominee has been "the most destructive force against [the GOP] of any elected official I know."
John McCain strode into the toughest imaginable audience of conservatives yesterday. While he didn't exactly conquer them, he left them feeling hopeful that he will run a spirited campaign based on their fundamental principles. "He said all the right things, and if he now delivers, we have a chance to unite the movement," concluded Richard Viguerie, a conservative who spent much of the last few months denouncing most of the GOP field for apostasy.
Even a week ago, I couldn't have imagined John McCain leaving such a positive impression on the hard-bitten conservatives at CPAC. But he did, and he now has a real chance to lead a united party into the fall campaign.
-- John Fund
Who Is No. 2?
At age 71, John McCain certainly needs a running mate, and picking a solid conservative could help him win over some of his skeptics within the GOP. At the top of nearly every list is South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Even Karl Rove mentioned him on Fox News as the Super Tuesday results rolled in.
Mr. Sanford is nearly universally loved by conservatives for good reason. Now serving his second term in South Carolina, he has made himself famous for his unremitting war on pork, even though his own party controls the legislature. A few years ago, he drove the point home by carrying two squealing pigs into the state capitol. Typically he vetoes about 100 bills a years (though his fellow Republican frequently override him). Last year, he vetoed the entire state budget.
Mr. Sanford understands the power of symbolism but also how to work the machinery of government. Sitting on my desk is a copy of an executive budget his office published a few years ago -- the first comprehensive budget a South Carolina governor ever compiled. Previously, governors simply reacted to spending bills as they came along. Mr. Sanford's record also bespeaks a commitment to policy ideas that conservatives hold dear -- expanding school choice, pushing through a broad-based property tax cut and proposing a phase-out the state income tax. One key achievement was enacting a voucher-based state Medicaid reform -- a model for overhauling entitlement programs for the 21st century.
As a member of Congress in the 1990s, Mr. Sanford gave every indication that he wasn't interested in becoming a permanent fixture in Washington. He never bought a house. He slept in his office and commuted home every weekend. He ran on a self-imposed term limit, and unlike some others, actually honored it by returning home to run for governor in 2002. He has consistently reached out to conservatives, making the state capitol in Columbia an important stop for party activists. After supporting Mr. McCain for president in 2000, Mr. Sanford stayed neutral in his state's important primary this year. That's another reason for conservatives to be enthusiastic about the governor of South Carolina. His agreement to sign aboard the McCain ticket would be seen as conferring real comfort about Mr. McCain's conservative bona fides.
-- Brendan Miniter
Barack Obama edged closer to one of the enduring Clinton mysteries, the exact source of their sizeable personal wealth. Asked by the New York Times yesterday about news that Hillary Clinton had written her campaign a $5 million check, he responded: "I'll just say that I've released my tax returns. That's been a policy I've maintained. I think the American people deserve to know where you get your income from."
The Clinton campaign offers only hints, telling reporters that Mrs. Clinton didn't have to sell off any assets to raise the money and that she didn't need to win bank approval or put up collateral. The Times sums up the campaign's explanation: "Advisers said the loan was made on Jan. 28 from Mrs. Clinton's share of her personal funds that she has with Mr. Clinton."
And just like that, the Clintons may have rendered all campaign finance restrictions meaningless. For, if Hillary can dip into funds held jointly with her husband, and her husband is free to travel the world collecting large speaking fees without disclosing how much or from whom, it would seem to create a route for unlimited amounts of cash from anyone in the world to be funneled into the campaign without disclosure.
Meeting with the media yesterday, Mrs. Clinton stressed that "it's my money" and called it an "investment" in her campaign. Those expressions may come back to haunt her. Her campaign says she'll release her tax returns just as soon as she wins her party's nomination and that, anyway, all anyone needs to know about her finances can be found in her Senate financial disclosure statements. Stay tuned. The $5 million loan may yet trigger an avalanche of media attention on the Clinton campaign's finances. The issue, of course, would also be a natural for John McCain in the fall.
-- Brendan Miniter
Quote of the Day
"Obamaphilia has gotten creepy.... What the Cult of Obama doesn't realize is that he's a politician. Not a brave one taking risky positions like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, but a mainstream one. He has not been firing up the Senate with stirring Cross-of-Gold-type speeches to end the war. He's a politician so soft and safe, Oprah likes him" -- Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein.
Rambo for Real
A measure of Sylvester Stallone's "Rambo" franchise is the fact that most people have forgotten the first movie wasn't called "Rambo." It was called "First Blood." Now the fourth installment is out, finally named just "Rambo," and one place the film is gaining serious critical attention is Burma (recently renamed "Myanmar").
Mr. Stallone's Burmese fans apparently are finding hope in John Rambo's latest plotline, in which he seeks to save Christian aid workers who run afoul of Myanmar's nasty military regime while trying to help members of the Karen ethnic minority. "This movie could fuel the sentiment of Myanmar people to invite American troops to help save them from the junta," one local film enthusiast told Reuters.
That seems unlikely without at least an Oscar nomination or two, but pirated DVDs of "Rambo" have indeed become an underground hit in Rangoon (also known as "Yangon"). In turn, the military regime has ordered street hawkers to discontinue stocking the film. Burma's military junta was already on the world's pariah list for its treatment of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Now that it's on Hollywood's list of approved baddies too, apparently the regime is really worried.
For his part, Mr. Stallone has embraced Rambo's newfound status as a symbol of resistance. Last week he challenged the regime to defend its human-rights record by allowing him to tour Burma. Alternatively, he invited a representative to debate him in front of a congressional hearing. "But I doubt that's going to happen," he added. Should the desired confrontation materialize, let's hope the actor and the junta both remember that John Rambo is just a character in a movie.
-- Brian M. Carney
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: February 08, 2008, 11:06:55 AM
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Iranian Nuclear Rewrite
February 8, 2008; Page A16
Give Admiral Michael McConnell credit for trying to walk back the cat. Questioned this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Director of National Intelligence defended the "integrity and the professionalism" of the process that produced last December's stunning National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program. Yet his testimony amounts to a reversal of the previous judgment.
The December NIE made headlines the world over for its "key judgment" that in 2003 "Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programs" -- programs that previously had been conducted in secret and in violation of Iran's Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.
This was a "high confidence" judgment, though the intelligence community had only "moderate confidence" that the program hasn't since been restarted. The NIE also waded into speculative political and policy judgments, such as that "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."
So it was little wonder that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly called the NIE a "declaration of victory" for Iran's nuclear programs. Diplomatic efforts to pass a third round of U.N. economic sanctions ground to a crawl, though another weak draft resolution is currently making the rounds. Russia decided to ship nuclear fuel to the reactor it has built for Iran at Bushehr, a move it had previously postponed for months and which has worrisome proliferation risks.
Elsewhere, the NIE complicated U.S. efforts to deploy an antiballistic-missile shield in Central Europe. The Israelis worried that the report signaled the death of American seriousness on Iran, possibly requiring them to act alone. At home, Democrats used the NIE to accuse the Administration of hyping intelligence. "It's absolutely clear and eerily similar to what we saw with Iraq," said John Edwards.
Now Admiral McConnell is clearly trying to repair the damage, even if he can't say so directly. "I think I would change the way that we described [the] nuclear program," he admitted to Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) during the hearing, adding that weapon design and weaponization were "the least significant portion" of a nuclear weapons program.
He expressed some regret that the authors of the NIE had left it to a footnote to explain that the NIE's definition of "nuclear weapons program" meant only its design and weaponization and excluded its uranium enrichment. And he agreed with Mr. Bayh's statement that it would be "very difficult" for the U.S. to know if Iran had recommenced weaponization work, and that "given their industrial and technological capabilities, they are likely to be successful" in building a bomb.
The Admiral went even further in his written statement. Gone is the NIE's palaver about the cost-benefit approach or the sticks-and-carrots by which the mullahs may be induced to behave. Instead, the new assessment stresses that Iran continues to press ahead on enrichment, "the most difficult challenge in nuclear production." It notes that "Iran's efforts to perfect ballistic missiles that can reach North Africa and Europe also continue" -- a key component of a nuclear weapons capability.
Then there is the other side of WMD: "We assess that Tehran maintains dual-use facilities intended to produce CW [Chemical Warfare] agent in times of need and conducts research that may have offensive applications." Ditto for biological weapons, where "Iran has previously conducted offensive BW agent research and development," and "continues to seek dual-use technologies that could be used for biological warfare."
All this merely confirms what has long been obvious about Iran's intentions. No less importantly, his testimony underscores the extent to which the first NIE was at best a PR fiasco, at worst a revolt by intelligence analysts seeking to undermine current U.S. policy. As we reported at the time, the NIE was largely the work of State Department alumni with track records as "hyperpartisan anti-Bush officials," according to an intelligence source. They did their job too well. As Senator Bayh pointed out at the hearing, the NIE "had unintended consequences that, in my own view, are damaging to the national security interests of our country." Mr. Bayh is not a neocon.
Admiral McConnell's belated damage repair ought to refocus world attention on Iran's very real nuclear threat. Too bad his NIE rewrite won't get anywhere near the media attention that the first draft did.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action
on: February 08, 2008, 10:46:02 AM
Profiles of valor: USMC Corporal Stokes
Sometimes the media do get it right. On Wednesday, both NBC and CBS paid tribute to only the third Marine private ever to be awarded the Silver Star, Corporal Sean Stokes, who was honored posthumously for his heroism in the battle of Fallujah in 2004. Stokes was an athlete who volunteered to serve with the Marines after 9/11, rather than go to college. On 17 November 2004, Stokes took part in Operation Phantom Fury, which aimed to clear Fallujah of jihadis. Serving with the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment, then-Private Stokes was point man for his platoon, meaning he kicked in the doors and entered the houses first. “At each house I said a prayer,” Stokes said. “Please God get me out of this one. When I come out of the house, I’d thank him, light up a cigarette and move on to the next one.” Patrick O’Donnell, an author embedded with Stokes’ unit, said, “He was clearly one of the most courageous Marines in 1st platoon. He killed nine guys single-handedly. He was combat wounded two or three times and he hid his wounds so he wouldn’t be evacuated... so he could stay and fight with his brothers.” Stokes was killed in July 2007, during his third tour in Iraq, when he was once again walking “point” and an IED detonated underneath him. CBS reported that “on what would have been his 25th birthday, Sean was awarded the coveted Silver Star for courage in battle.” His father accepted the medal on his behalf.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 08, 2008, 12:19:13 AM
Romney's concessison speech today.
IMHO if he had given speeches like this when he was running, he might be the nominee.
Governor Mitt Romney Addresses CPAC
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Thursday, Feb 07, 2008
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Washington, D.C. – Today, addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Governor Romney announced that he was suspending his presidential campaign for the sake of Republican unity and the future of our country. In 2008, Republicans must stand united if we are to prevent Senators Clinton and Obama from taking the White House. As a nation at war and facing uncertain economic times, the American people cannot afford the Democrats and their agenda for retreat and economic slowdown. With today's speech, Governor Romney outlined the significance of this election and the need for the Republican Party to remain strong.
Governor Romney's Address To CPAC (As Prepared For Delivery):
"I want to begin by saying thank you. It's great to be with you again. And I look forward to joining with you many more times in the future.
"Last year, CPAC gave me the sendoff I needed. I was in single digits in the polls, and I was facing household Republican names. As of today, more than 4 million people have given me their vote for President, less than Senator McCain's 4.7 million, but quite a statement nonetheless. Eleven states have given me their nod, compared to his 13. Of course, because size does matter, he's doing quite a bit better with his number of delegates.
"To all of you, thank you for caring enough about the future of America to show up, stand up and speak up for conservative principles.
"As I said to you last year, conservative principles are needed now more than ever. We face a new generation of challenges, challenges which threaten our prosperity, our security and our future. I am convinced that unless America changes course, we will become the France of the 21st century – still a great nation, but no longer the leader of the world, no longer the superpower. And to me, that is unthinkable. Simon Peres, in a visit to Boston, was asked what he thought about the war in Iraq. 'First,' he said, 'I must put something in context. America is unique in the history of the world. In the history of the world, whenever there has been conflict, the nation that wins takes land from the nation that loses. One nation in history, and this during the last century, laid down hundreds of thousands of lives and took no land. No land from Germany, no land from Japan, no land from Korea. America is unique in the sacrifice it has made for liberty, for itself and for freedom loving people around the world.' The best ally peace has ever known, and will ever know, is a strong America.
"And that is why we must rise to the occasion, as we have always done before, to confront the challenges ahead. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the attack on the American culture.
"Over the years, my business has taken me to many countries. I have been struck by the enormous differences in the wealth and well-being of people of different nations. I have read a number of scholarly explanations for the disparities. I found the most convincing was that written by David Landes, a professor emeritus from Harvard University. I presume he's a liberal – I guess that's redundant. His work traces the coming and going of great civilizations throughout history. After hundreds of pages of analysis, he concludes with this:
"If we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference.
"What is it about American culture that has led us to become the most powerful nation in the history of the world? We believe in hard work and education. We love opportunity: almost all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who came here for opportunity – opportunity is in our DNA. Americans love God, and those who don't have faith, typically believe in something greater than themselves – a 'Purpose Driven Life.' And we sacrifice everything we have, even our lives, for our families, our freedoms and our country. The values and beliefs of the free American people are the source of our nation's strength and they always will be.
"The threat to our culture comes from within. The 1960's welfare programs created a culture of poverty. Some think we won that battle when we reformed welfare, but the liberals haven't given up. At every turn, they try to substitute government largesse for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and to remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever. Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is a culture-killing drug. We have got to fight it like the poison it is.
"The attack on faith and religion is no less relentless. And tolerance for pornography – even celebration of it – and sexual promiscuity, combined with the twisted incentives of government welfare programs have led to today's grim realities: 68% of African American children are born out-of-wedlock, 45% of Hispanic children, and 25% of White children. How much harder it is for these children to succeed in school and in life. A nation built on the principles of the Founding Fathers cannot long stand when its children are raised without fathers in the home.
"The development of a child is enhanced by having a mother and father. Such a family is the ideal for the future of the child and for the strength of a nation. I wonder how it is that unelected judges, like some in my state of Massachusetts, are so unaware of this reality, so oblivious to the millennia of recorded history. It is time for the people of America to fortify marriage through Constitutional amendment, so that liberal judges cannot continue to attack it.
"Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life and eroded morality. Some reason that culture is merely an accessory to America's vitality; we know that it is the source of our strength. And we are not dissuaded by the snickers and knowing glances when we stand up for family values, and morality, and culture. We will always be honored to stand on principle and to stand for principle.
"The attack on our culture is not our sole challenge. We face economic competition unlike anything we have ever known before. China and Asia are emerging from centuries of poverty. Their people are plentiful, innovative and ambitious. If we do not change course, Asia or China will pass us by as the economic superpower, just as we passed England and France during the last century. The prosperity and security of our children and grandchildren depend on us.
"Our prosperity and security also depend on finally acting to become energy secure. Oil producing states like Russia and Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iran are siphoning over $400 billion per year from our economy – that's almost what we spend annually for defense. It is past time for us to invest in energy technology, nuclear power, clean coal, liquid coal, renewable sources and energy efficiency. America must never be held hostage by the likes of Putin, Chavez, and Ahmadinejad.
"And our economy is also burdened by the inexorable ramping of government spending. Don't focus on the pork alone – even though it is indeed irritating and shameful. Look at the entitlements. They make up 60% of federal spending today. By the end of the next President's second term, they will total 70%. Any conservative plan for the future has to include entitlement reform that solves the problem, not just acknowledges it.
"Most politicians don't seem to understand the connection between our ability to compete and our national wealth, and the wealth of our families. They act as if money just happens – that it's just there. But every dollar represents a good or service produced in the private sector. Depress the private sector and you depress the well-being of Americans.
"That's exactly what happens with high taxes, over-regulation, tort windfalls, mandates, and overfed, over-spending government. Did you see that today, government workers make more money than people who work in the private sector? Can you imagine what happens to an economy where the best opportunities are for bureaucrats?
"It's high time to lower taxes, including corporate taxes, to take a weed-whacker to government regulations, to reform entitlements, and to stand up to the increasingly voracious appetite of the unions in our government.
"And finally, let's consider the greatest challenge facing America – and facing the entire civilized world: the threat of violent, radical Jihad. In one wing of the world of Islam, there is a conviction that all governments should be destroyed and replaced by a religious caliphate. These Jihadists will battle any form of democracy. To them, democracy is blasphemous for it says that citizens, not God shape the law. They find the idea of human equality to be offensive. They hate everything we believe about freedom just as we hate everything they believe about radical Jihad.
"To battle this threat, we have sent the most courageous and brave soldiers in the world. But their numbers have been depleted by the Clinton years when troops were reduced by 500,000, when 80 ships were retired from the Navy, and when our human intelligence was slashed by 25%. We were told that we were getting a peace dividend. We got the dividend, but we didn't get the peace. In the face of evil in radical Jihad and given the inevitable military ambitions of China, we must act to rebuild our military might – raise military spending to 4% of our GDP, purchase the most modern armament, re-shape our fighting forces for the asymmetric demands we now face, and give the veterans the care they deserve.
"Soon, the face of liberalism in America will have a new name. Whether it is Barack or Hillary, the result would be the same if they were to win the Presidency. The opponents of American culture would push the throttle, devising new justifications for judges to depart from the Constitution. Economic neophytes would layer heavier and heavier burdens on employers and families, slowing our economy and opening the way for foreign competition to further erode our lead.
"Even though we face an uphill fight, I know that many in this room are fully behind my campaign. You are with me all the way to the convention. Fight on, just like Ronald Reagan did in 1976. But there is an important difference from 1976: today, we are a nation at war.
"And Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat and declare defeat. And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child's play. About this, I have no doubt.
"I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror. If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.
"This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters – many of you right here in this room – have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.
"I will continue to stand for conservative principles. I will fight alongside you for all the things we believe in. And one of those things is that we cannot allow the next President of the United States to retreat in the face evil extremism.
"It is the common task of each generation – and the burden of liberty – to preserve this country, expand its freedoms and renew its spirit so that its noble past is prologue to its glorious future.
"To this task, accepting this burden, we are all dedicated, and I firmly believe, by the providence of the Almighty, that we will succeed beyond our fondest hope. America must remain, as it has always been, the hope of the Earth.
"Thank you, and God bless America."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / President McCain
on: February 07, 2008, 11:59:04 PM
Geopolitical Diary: The International Implications of a McCain Presidency
February 8, 2008 | 0300 GMT
Mitt Romney withdrew from the U.S. presidential race on Thursday, handing the Republican nomination for the presidency to John McCain in all but fact. The remaining candidates for the nomination simply lack the national appeal to be more than a minor nuisance to a strengthening McCain campaign.
While calling any election months ahead is hardly an exact science, at this point, it appears that McCain is the candidate to beat. This is not a Stratfor endorsement for McCain or a statement of opposition to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (so please do not flood us with hate mail); this is an analysis of the proclivities of the U.S. electorate, the quirks of the U.S. electoral system and its impact abroad.
To be perfectly blunt, the Clinton and Obama campaigns both suffer from eminently exploitable flaws. Clinton, while by far the most intelligent candidate in the field, is not well-liked — even among the left. Obama, despite being the most inspirational candidate, sports the middle name “Hussein.” And the much-discussed Clinton-Obama (or Obama-Clinton, if you prefer) ticket simply would marry these problems.
But even if the Clinton and Obama campaigns were not facing such obstacles, McCain would still be the candidate to beat for one reason: The Democrats are locked into a Clinton-Obama death match for the loyalty of the left, while McCain — who has secured the political right — can begin courting the center and run for the presidency itself (rather than for the nomination).
In the weeks and months ahead, this distinction will allow strategists far beyond the United States to deal with a far simpler matrix of U.S. presidential possibilities, and they increasingly will be forced to consider the possible implications of a “President McCain.” The deepest impact would be felt in Russia and Iran. McCain has become rather famous in Russia for saying that all he saw when he looked into Putin’s eyes were three letters: K, G and B. And Iran is more than a touch nervous about McCain’s assertion that the United States needs to think of its Iraq deployment in a manner similar to that of Germany or South Korea — a decades-long commitment.
The fear of an aggressive United States is not one that will fail to shape Russian and Iranian policies between now and the election. Tehran has been pussy footing around talks with the Bush administration, attempting to get as good of terms as possible on the future of Iraq. If Tehran thought 2009 would bring a more aggressive U.S. presidency, then the logic for reaching a settlement with the Bush administration would increase greatly. Suddenly, the United States could see some dramatic gains in its Middle East policy.
The inverse is true for Russia. The Kremlin already is feeling pressure to secure its interests in the former Soviet Union before the United States can extricate itself from Iraq. McCain’s strength raises the possibility not only of a United States that is led by a man who sees the Kremlin leadership as requiring containment, but also of a United States that is no longer bogged down with Iraq and Iran and therefore is free to focus all of its attention on Moscow
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela
on: February 07, 2008, 07:42:55 PM
Exxon to freeze $12B in Venezuelan assetsHigh Court of England grants
U.S. oil company the right to freeze assets belonging to the
country's recently nationalized oil company.
NEW YORK (Dow Jones/AP) -- ExxonMobil Corp. has secured court orders
to freeze more than $12 billion in worldwide assets of Venezuela's
state-owned oil company, as it prepares to dispute the
nationalization of a multibillion-dollar oil project.
The move limits Petroleos de Venezuela's room to maneuver as it fends
off challenges from major Western oil companies over President Hugo
Chavez's 2007 decision to nationalize four heavy oil projects in the
Orinoco Basin, one of the richest oil deposits in the world.
Exxon (XOM, Fortune 500) and ConocoPhillips (COP, Fortune 500) opted
to walk away from the contracts rather than stay on in a minority
role. Both have filed arbitration proceedings with the World Bank
seeking compensation and Conoco "continues to discuss an amicable
resolution specific to the assets that were expropriated in
Venezuela," Conoco spokesman Bill Tanner said.
ExxonMobil has so far been the most aggressive in fighting back. The
Irving, Texas-based oil major's legal action essentially seeks to
ring-fence Venezuelan assets ahead of any decision by the arbitration
According to documents filed last month in the U.S. District Court in
Manhattan, Exxon Mobil has secured an "order of attachment" on about
$300 million in cash held by PdVSA. A hearing to confirm the order is
scheduled in New York for Feb. 13. Exxon also filed documents with
the New York court showing it had secured a freeze on $12 billion on
PdVSA's worldwide assets from a U.K. court.
"On Jan. 24, the High Court of England and Wales was satisfied that
there is a real risk that PdVSA will dissipate its assets and
accordingly entered a Worldwide Freezing Order ex parte," Exxon said
in the filing to the New York court. The order prohibits PdVSA from
"disposing of its assets worldwide up to a value of $12 billion
whether directly or indirectly held."
Further hearings on the $12 billion freeze are scheduled on Feb. 22,
according to Exxon's filing.
In a statement, Exxon Mobil spokesperson Margaret Ross confirmed the
court filings. She added that the company "has obtained attachment
orders from courts in the Netherlands and Netherlands Antilles
against PdVSA assets in each of these jurisdictions up to $12
billion." Exxon said the orders are subject to further review by the
courts. "We will not comment further on legal proceedings," she said.
In a filing, PdVSA disputed the need for a freeze. In a Jan. 24
response disputing orders of attachment from Dec. 27 and Jan. 8,
PdVSA said Exxon Mobil "has failed to sustain its burden of
establishing that any arbitration award it obtains may be rendered
ineffectual without provisional relief." A PdVSA spokesman declined
Exxon's move signals an aggressive response to the trend of resource-
rich countries flexing their muscle over the large oil majors. Since
oil prices began skyrocketing earlier in the decade, oil-producing
nations have grown bolder in their dealings with publicly traded
companies active on their territories by demanding larger stakes in
existing projects and raising taxes.
Venezuela will pay two European oil companies that were partners in
other Orinoco heavy oil projects less than half the estimated market
value of their stakes, according to a copy of the compensation
agreement reviewed by Dow Jones Newswires.
That agreement offers an inkling of what ExxonMobil and
ConocoPhillips could be expecting as they carry on compensation talks
Exxon shatters profit records
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Prostate Cancer Treatments
on: February 07, 2008, 09:51:17 AM
Second post of the day
No Answers for Men With Prostate Cancer
Last year, 218,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, but nobody can tell them what type of treatment is most likely to save their life.
Those are the findings of a troubling new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which analyzed hundreds of studies in an effort to advise men about the best treatments for prostate cancer. The report compared the effectiveness and risks of eight prostate cancer treatments, ranging from prostate removal to radioactive implants to no treatment at all. None of the studies provided definitive answers. Surprisingly, no treatment emerged as superior to doing nothing at all.
“When it comes to prostate cancer, we have much to learn about which treatments work best,'’ said agency director Carolyn M. Clancy. “Patients should be informed about the benefits and harms of treatment options.”
But the study, published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine, gives men very little guidance. Prostate cancer is typically a slow-growing cancer, and many men can live with it for years, often dying of another cause. But some men have aggressive prostate cancers, and last year 27,050 men died from the disease. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer has nearly doubled to 20 percent since the late 1980s, due mostly to expanded use of the prostate-specific antigen, or P.S.A., blood test. But the risk of dying of prostate cancer remains about 3 percent. “Considerable overdetection and overtreatment may exist,'’ an agency press release stated.
The agency review is based on analysis of 592 published articles of various treatment strategies. The studies looked at treatments that use rapid freezing and thawing (cryotherapy); minimally invasive surgery (laparoscopic or robotic-assisted radical prostatectomy); testicle removal or hormone therapy (androgen deprivation therapy); and high-intensity ultrasound or radiation therapy. The study also evaluated research on “watchful waiting,'’ which means monitoring the cancer and initiating treatment only if it appears the disease is progressing.
No one treatment emerged as the best option for prolonging life. And it was impossible to determine whether one treatment had fewer or less severe side effects.
Many of the treatments now in widespread use have never been evaluated in randomized controlled trials. In the research that is available, the characteristics of the men studied varied widely. And investigators used different definitions and methods, making reliable comparisons across studies impossible.
“Investigators’ definitions of adverse events and criteria to define event severity varied widely,'’ the report notes. “We could not derive precise estimates of specific adverse events for each treatment.'’
The report findings highlighted by the agency include:
All active treatments cause health problems, primarily urinary incontinence, bowel problems and erectile dysfunction. The chances of bowel problems or sexual dysfunction are similar for surgery and external radiation. Leaking of urine is at least six times more likely among surgery patients than those treated by external radiation.
Urinary leakage that occurs daily or more often was more common in men undergoing radical prostatectomy (35 percent) than external-beam radiation therapy (12 percent) or androgen deprivation (11 percent). Those were the findings of the 2003 Prostate Cancer Outcomes Study, a large, nationally representative survey of men with early prostate cancer.
External-beam radiation therapy and androgen deprivation were each associated with a higher frequency of bowel urgency (3 percent) compared with radical prostatectomy (1 percent), according to the 2003 report.
Inability to attain an erection was higher in men undergoing active intervention, especially androgen deprivation (86 percent) or radical prostatectomy (58 percent) than in men receiving watchful waiting (33 percent), according to the 2003 report.
One study showed that men who choose surgery over watchful waiting are less likely to die or have their cancer spread, but another study found no difference in survival between surgery and watchful waiting. The benefit, if any, appears to be limited to men under 65. However, few patients in the study had cancer detected through P.S.A. tests. As a result, it’s not clear if the results are applicable to the majority of men diagnosed with the disease.
Adding hormone therapy prior to prostate removal does not improve survival or decrease recurrence rates, but it does increase the chance of adverse events.
Combining radiation with hormone therapy may decrease mortality. But compared with radiation treatment alone, the combination increases the chances of impotence and abnormal breast development.
The most obvious trend identified in the complicated report is how little quality research exists for prostate cancer, despite the fact that it is the most diagnosed cancer in the country.
Studies comparing brachytherapy, radical prostatectomy, external-beam radiation therapy or cryotherapy were discontinued because of poor recruitment. Two ongoing trials, one in the United States and one in Britain, are evaluating surgery and radiation treatments compared with watchful waiting in men with early cancer. Other studies in progress or development include cryotherapy versus external-beam radiation and a trial evaluating radical prostatectomy versus watchful waiting.
“Successful completion of these studies is needed to provide accurate assessment of the comparative effectiveness and harms of therapies for localized prostate cancers,” the study authors said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Diabetes Study Shocker
on: February 07, 2008, 09:49:27 AM
Diabetes Study Partially Halted After Deaths
By GINA KOLATA
Published: February 7, 2008
For decades, researchers believed that if people with diabetes lowered their blood sugar to normal levels, they would no longer be at high risk of dying from heart disease. But a major federal study of more than 10,000 middle-aged and older people with Type 2 diabetes has found that lowering blood sugar actually increased their risk of death, researchers reported Wednesday.
The researchers announced that they were abruptly halting that part of the study, whose surprising results call into question how the disease, which affects 21 million Americans, should be managed.
The study’s investigators emphasized that patients should still consult with their doctors before considering changing their medications.
Among the study participants who were randomly assigned to get their blood sugar levels to nearly normal, there were 54 more deaths than in the group whose levels were less rigidly controlled. The patients were in the study for an average of four years when investigators called a halt to the intensive blood sugar lowering and put all of them on the less intense regimen.
The results do not mean blood sugar is meaningless. Lowered blood sugar can protect against kidney disease, blindness and amputations, but the findings inject an element of uncertainty into what has been dogma — that the lower the blood sugar the better and that lowering blood sugar levels to normal saves lives.
Medical experts were stunned.
“It’s confusing and disturbing that this happened,” said Dr. James Dove, president of the American College of Cardiology. “For 50 years, we’ve talked about getting blood sugar very low. Everything in the literature would suggest this is the right thing to do,” he added.
Dr. Irl Hirsch, a diabetes researcher at the University of Washington, said the study’s results would be hard to explain to some patients who have spent years and made an enormous effort, through diet and medication, getting and keeping their blood sugar down. They will not want to relax their vigilance, he said.
“It will be similar to what many women felt when they heard the news about estrogen,” Dr. Hirsch said. “Telling these patients to get their blood sugar up will be very difficult.”
Dr. Hirsch added that organizations like the American Diabetes Association would be in a quandary. Its guidelines call for blood sugar targets as close to normal as possible.
And some insurance companies pay doctors extra if their diabetic patients get their levels very low.
The low-blood sugar hypothesis was so entrenched that when the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases proposed the study in the 1990s, they explained that it would be ethical. Even though most people assumed that lower blood sugar was better, no one had rigorously tested the idea. So the study would ask if very low blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes — the form that affects 95 percent of people with the disease — would protect against heart disease and save lives.
Some said that the study, even if ethical, would be impossible. They doubted that participants — whose average age was 62, who had had diabetes for about 10 years, who had higher than average blood sugar levels, and who also had heart disease or had other conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that placed them at additional risk of heart disease — would ever achieve such low blood sugar levels.
Study patients were randomly assigned to one of three types of treatments: one comparing intensity of blood sugar control; another comparing intensity of cholesterol control; and the third comparing intensity of blood pressure control. The cholesterol and blood pressure parts of the study are continuing.
Dr. John Buse, the vice-chairman of the study’s steering committee and the president of medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association, described what was required to get blood sugar levels low, as measured by a protein, hemoglobin A1C, which was supposed to be at 6 percent or less.
“Many were taking four or five shots of insulin a day,” he said. “Some were using insulin pumps. Some were monitoring their blood sugar seven or eight times a day.”
They also took pills to lower their blood sugar, in addition to the pills they took for other medical conditions and to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol. They also came to a medical clinic every two months and had frequent telephone conversations with clinic staff.
Those assigned to the less stringent blood sugar control, an A1C level of 7.0 to 7.9 percent, had an easier time of it. They measured their blood sugar once or twice a day, went to the clinic every four months and took fewer drugs or lower doses.
So it was quite a surprise when the patients who had worked so hard to get their blood sugar low had a significantly higher death rate, the study investigators said.
The researchers asked whether there were any drugs or drug combinations that might have been to blame. They found none, said Dr. Denise G. Simons-Morton, a project officer for the study at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Even the drug Avandia, suspected of increasing the risk of heart attacks in diabetes, did not appear to contribute to the increased death rate.
Nor was there an unusual cause of death in the intensively treated group, Dr. Simons-Morton said. Most of the deaths in both groups were from heart attacks, she added.
For now, the reasons for the higher death rate are up for speculation. Clearly, people without diabetes are different from people who have diabetes and get their blood sugar low.
It might be that patients suffered unintended consequences from taking so many drugs, which might interact in unexpected ways, said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
Or it may be that participants reduced their blood sugar too fast, Dr. Hirsch said. Years ago, researchers discovered that lowering blood sugar very quickly in diabetes could actually worsen blood vessel disease in the eyes, he said. But reducing levels more slowly protected those blood vessels.
And there are troubling questions about what the study means for people who are younger and who do not have cardiovascular disease. Should they forgo the low blood sugar targets?
No one knows.
Other medical experts say that they will be discussing and debating the results for some time.
“It is a great study and very well run,” Dr. Dove said. “And it certainly had the right principles behind it.”
But maybe, he said, “there may be some scientific principles that don’t hold water in a diabetic population.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe
on: February 07, 2008, 09:28:36 AM
The Coming Dhimmitude:
Sharia law in UK is 'unavoidable'
Posted on 02/07/2008 6:03:54 AM PST by Sub-Driver
Sharia law in UK is 'unavoidable' The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says the adoption of Islamic Sharia law in the UK is "unavoidable".
Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4's World at One that the UK has to "face up to the fact" that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.
Dr Williams argues that adopting some aspects of Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion.
For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.
He says Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".
In an exclusive interview with BBC correspondent Christopher Landau, ahead of a lecture to lawyers in London later on Monday, Dr Williams argues this relies on Sharia law being better understood. At the moment, he says "sensational reporting of opinion polls" clouds the issue.
He stresses that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well".
But Dr Williams says the argument that "there's one law for everybody... I think that's a bit of a danger".
"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law." Dr Williams adds: "What we don't want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people's religious consciences."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 07, 2008, 09:23:29 AM
Stealing my wisdom from something I heard Newt say last night
the Super Delegates are simply Super Politicians-- if BO has more support, I suspect most of them will go with BO.
Anyway, here's a piece in support of McCain:
McCain or the Wilderness
February 7, 2008; Page A18
Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham aren't the only conservatives in agony over John McCain. The base is bummed. At the Portofino Hotel in Orlando, Fla., where Rudy Giuliani went down with a graceful valedictory concession, an energetic Rudy guy in dark glasses and slicked black hair -- hours before ebulliently cheering up anyone who would talk to him -- ran up to a reporter waiting for a car. "My wife just heard. Rudy's gonna endorse McCain! S---!!!!"
Wonder Land Columnist Daniel Henninger says it's time conservatives play the hand they've been dealt.
Conservatives can't catch a break. Taxes, judges, the culture -- somewhere a conservative is always getting shafted. The party broke up on the rocks of the 2006 election. Its 2008 presidential nomination has been contested by men claiming the mantle of Ronald Reagan but who in fact are: John McMaverick, a New York City mayor on his third marriage, the moderate governor of liberal Massachusetts, and the funniest governor ever from Hope, Ark.
There are murmurs of heading into the political wilderness. Sit this one out. Rather than sell the party's soul to John McCain, let Hillary have it, or Barack. Go into opposition for four years while the party gets its head together and comes up with an authentic conservative candidate. If this sourness takes hold at the margin, say among GOP anti-immigrant voters, it might happen.
The wilderness is a good place to find yourself, if you're a prophet. There are reasons, though, why a principled political retreat won't make conservative prospects better. The point of a principled retreat would be to rediscover coherence amid doctrinal confusion. The exact opposite is likely to happen.
Conservatives, like everyone else, live in a new political space. It's a 24/7 world of blogs, Web sites and talk shows. It's feisty and maybe even democratic. But consensus? This milieu makes consensus harder than ever.
The Web is an engine of constant complaint, not idea formation. The vaunted, take-no-prisoners style of the left-wing netroots came a cropper with John Edwards plateauing at 18% of the Democratic vote. In four years, conservatives will be more confused, incoherent and madder at each other than they are now.
In this world, ideological cohesion that voters can recognize is going to require a large, stabilizing force, like the office of the presidency. Newt Gingrich as House speaker gave a glimpse of how to use another such institution to organize ideas. The promise of the new technologies as intellectual drivers in politics has proven false. They mainly ensure that a big cost of being out of power will be endless intraparty warfare. Evangelicals especially could suffer.
The planets and vapors of politics have put Mr. McCain in this place. He is not Ronald Reagan, who arrived at his moment with decades of thinking about his beliefs. But the next president will have an opportunity to shape his party in ways rarely given to political figures.
This has become an unusual presidential election. If the gods have willed that Barack Obama should suddenly stir the electorate into a state of grand expectation -- another 1960 or 1980 -- then you shouldn't want to be on the losing side when the winning wave breaks in November. Gerald Ford losing to Jimmy Carter in 1976 was no big deal. This one will be a big deal. The energy exploding out of both parties' primaries, producing record turnout, makes that clear. This isn't just about "change" anymore. It's tectonic. Ask the Clintons. In such a time, many voters' allegiances are on offer. But one has to compete for them.
Conservatives, for whom any glass is always half full, have sold themselves short. Notwithstanding the moderate pedigrees of the three major GOP candidates on entry, all emerged from the debates as Reagan conservatives on what matters: taxes, spending, regulation and national defense. Most of the worrisome moderate positions were in the past.
When Reaganomics appeared in the late 1970s, the Republican establishment mocked it. Voodoo economics, someone said. Today for a Republican presidential candidate, it's gospel.
This is an achievement.
Some will say the debate promises were just politics. As opposed to what? Presumably moving people toward one's position is the point of all this daily political heavy-lifting. To now call a candidate's embrace of your ideas unacceptable is churlish and self-defeating. Conservatives won a decades-long debate in their party. Bank it. The demand now that Sen. McCain repudiate that old vote on the Bush tax cuts is an attempt at public humiliation. Ain't gonna happen. If life doesn't work for you without public penance, join a monastery.
Most of the distrust of the McCain candidacy is rooted in personal ill will. He's a hard case, and activists are often brittle. The fear is that one of the strongest impulses in a McCain presidency will be payback, and that he might sell out conservatives on taxes and the judiciary. That is possible, though by now it would require an act of deep duplicity by Mr. McCain. Here again, the conservatives should show more self-confidence.
The big lesson of the failed Harriet Miers nomination is that a real establishment on judicial nominations exists now in Washington. Throwing another David Souter over the transom and onto the Court is nearly impossible. A participant in this process who has discussed it with Sen. McCain tells me that he says his advisers on major judicial nominations will include Ted Olson, Sam Brownback and Jon Kyl. Miguel Estrada, a victim of the Gang of 14 senators on the judicial filibuster, has endorsed Mr. McCain.
Sen. McCain's capos on economics and taxes are Phil Gramm, the probable Treasury nominee, and Steve Forbes, a GOP Hall of Famer who in the 1996 and 2000 campaigns kept Reaganomics alive. By now, the coming sellout is reaching Himalayan proportions. One may still assume the worst. Conservatives always do, not without reason. It is politically obstinate, though, to ignore the presence of this ballast. (For those who still insist on sitting it out over immigration, global warming or stem cells, there is no hope.)
The idea of a concession on national security by conservatives is especially troubling. After six years of blood and treasure, and with the counterinsurgency working, to consciously turn over Iraq to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama . . . words fail.
This isn't an apologia for the senator. Unlike Reagan, he is too self-preoccupied. There is a danger his presidency would be mainly about legacy, and therefore disorganized. This is a call to play the cards on the table. Conservatives are not in the wilderness. They should get back in the game.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Wages of HillaryCare
on: February 07, 2008, 09:07:34 AM
The Wages of HillaryCare
February 7, 2008
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama agree on most policy issues, but that makes their rare differences all the more revealing. To wit, their running scrap over Mrs. Clinton's "individual mandate" for health care, which Mr. Obama has now had the nerve to expose for its inevitable government coercion.
Mrs. Clinton's proposal requires everyone to buy health insurance, along with more insurance regulation, a government insurance option for everyone and tax hikes. Mr. Obama likes all that but his mandate would only apply to children. He argues that the reason many people aren't insured is because it's too expensive, not because they don't want it. Mrs. Clinton counters that coverage can't be "universal" without a mandate.
But then Mr. Obama had the impudence to defend his views. His campaign distributed a mailer in key primary states that claimed the Clinton plan "forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it." It also featured an image of an anxious couple at a kitchen table. The Clinton apparat went apoplectic, claiming the flyer evokes the famous "Harry and Louise" commercials. A common article of liberal faith is that this "smear campaign" doomed HillaryCare in 1994 -- as opposed to, say, its huge cost and complexities. But never mind.
Yet if Mrs. Clinton's plan is better because it has a mandate, how does it work in the real world, where some people still won't be able to afford insurance, or would decline to acquire it? At a recent debate, the Illinois Senator drove the point home, asking Mrs. Clinton, "You can mandate it but there will still be people who can't afford it. And if they can't afford it, what are you going to fine them? Are you going to garnish their wages?" And in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Mrs. Clinton conceded that "we will have an enforcement mechanism" that might include "you know, going after people's wages."
Well, well. In other words, HillaryCare II isn't all about "choice," but would require financial penalties for people to pay attention, including garnishing wages. To put it more accurately, the individual mandate is really a government mandate that requires brute force plus huge subsidies to get anywhere near its goal of universal coverage.
Mitt Romney's mandate program in Massachusetts is already expected to reach $1.35 billion in annual costs by 2011, up from $158 million today. And that's with only half of the previously uninsured currently enrolled; no less than 20% didn't qualify for subsidies and were granted exemptions because the costs were too much of a hardship.
Most experts calculate that a national mandate with subsidies like Mrs. Clinton's would enroll about half to two-thirds of the uninsured, less for a voluntary plan and subsidies alone. But such guesswork is pointless without the basic enforcement assumptions, which Mrs. Clinton refuses to provide. She's more interested in wielding what she calls "a core Democratic principle" against Mr. Obama. "My opponent will not commit to universal health care," she said Saturday.
The logic of Mr. Obama's approach is that policy makers should target those who are priced out of coverage. The Census Bureau says 38% of the uninsured earned more than $50,000 in 2006, 19% above $75,000. They aren't a major public policy problem -- except that a big reason they lack coverage is because it is more expensive than it needs to be thanks to government market interference. And 29% earn under $25,000, which means they probably qualify for existing subsidy programs like Medicaid or Schip but haven't enrolled.
The news here is that all of this is being exposed now, and by a fellow Democrat. Many Americans are uncomfortable with the coercion of the mandate -- and not all of them are Republicans. The California health-care overhaul was recently done in by liberals concerned about its consequences for the working poor.
The political lesson that Mrs. Clinton learned in 1994 wasn't about compromise or market forces. It was that a government health-care takeover can only be achieved gradually and by stealth. Her individual mandate is an attempt to force everyone to buy into a highly regulated and price-controlled system where government redistributes income and dictates coverage. We assume the McCain campaign is paying attention.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / T. Paine: Tyranny
on: February 07, 2008, 08:55:33 AM
"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this
consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more
glorious the triumph."
-- Thomas Paine (American Crisis, No. 1, 19 December 1776)
Reference: Thomas Paine: Collected Writings , Foner ed., Library
of America (91)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Newt part 2
on: February 06, 2008, 09:00:52 PM
I was so deeply offended by this, it's hard for me to express it without sounding irrational. I'm an Army brat. My dad served 27 years in the infantry. The idea that an American general would come to the American Congress, testify in public that our young men and women are being killed by Iran, and we have done nothing, I find absolutely abhorrent.
So I'm preparing to come and talk today. I got up this morning, and a friend had sent me yesterday's Jerusalem Post editorial, which if you haven't read, I recommend to you. It has, for example, the following quote: "On Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, 'The problem of the content of the document setting out joint principles for peace-making post-Annapolis has not been resolved. One of the more pressing problems is the Zionist regime's insistence on being recognized as a Jewish state. We will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined.' "
What truly bothers me is the shallowness and the sophistry of the Western governments, starting with our own. When a person says to you, "I don't recognize that you exist," you don't start a negotiation. The person says, "I literally do not recognize" and then lies to you. I mean the first thing you say to this guy is "Terrific. Let's go visit Mecca. Since clearly there's no other state except Israel that is based on religion, the fact that I happen to be Christian won't bother anybody." And then he'll say, "Well, that's different."
We tolerate this. We have created our own nightmare because we refuse to tell the truth. We refuse to tell the truth to our politicians. Our State Department refuses to tell the truth to the country. If the president of the United States, and again, we're now so bitterly partisan, we're so committed to red-vs.-blue hostility, that George W. Bush doesn't have the capacity to give an address from the Oval Office that has any meaning for half the country. And the anti-war left is so strong in the Democratic primary that I think it's almost impossible for any Democratic presidential candidate to tell the truth about the situation.
And so the Republicans are isolated and trying to defend incompetence. The
Democrats are isolated and trying to find a way to say, "I'm really for strength as long as I can have peace, but I'd really like to have peace, except I don't want to recognize these people who aren't very peaceful."
I just want to share with you, as a grandfather, as a citizen, as a historian, as somebody who was once speaker of the House, this is a serious national crisis. This is 1935 or 1936, and it's getting worse every year.
None of our enemies are confused. Our enemies don't get up each morning and go, "Oh, gosh, I think I'll have an existential crisis of identity in which I will try to think through whether or not we can be friends while you're killing me." Our enemies get up every morning and say, "We hate the West. We hate freedom." They would not allow a meeting with women in the room.
I was once interviewed by a BBC reporter, a nice young lady who was only about as anti-American as she had to be to keep her job. Since it was a live interview, I
turned to her halfway through the interview and I said, "Do you like your job?" And it was summertime, and she's wearing a short-sleeve dress. And she said, "Well, yes." She was confused because I had just reversed roles. I said, "Well, then you should hope we win." She said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "Well, if the enemy wins, you won't be allowed to be on television."
I don't know how to explain it any simpler than that.
Now what do we need?
We need first of all to recognize this is a real war. Our enemies are peaceful when they're weak, are ruthless when they're strong, demand mercy when they're losing, show no mercy when they're winning. They understand exactly what this is, and anybody who reads Sun Tzu will understand exactly what we're living through. This is a total war. One side is going to win. One side is going to lose. You'll be able to tell who won and who lost by who's still standing. Most of Islam is not in this war, but most of Islam isn't going to stop this war. They're just going to sit to one side and tell you how sorry they are that this happened. We had better design grand strategies that are radically bigger and radically tougher and radically more honest than anything currently going on, and that includes winning the argument in Europe , and it includes winning the argument in the rest of the world. And it includes being very clear, and I'll just give you one simple example because we're now muscle-bound by our own inability to talk honestly.
Iran produces 60 percent of its own gasoline. It produces lots of crude oil but only has one refinery. It imports 40 percent of its gasoline. The entire 60 percent is produced at one huge refinery.
In 1981, Ronald Reagan decided to break the Soviet empire. He was asked what's your vision of the Cold War. He said, "Four words: We win; they lose." He was clearly seen by The New York Times as an out-of-touch, reactionary, right-wing cowboy from California who had no idea what was going on in the world. And 11 years later the Soviet Union disappeared, but obviously that had nothing to do with Reagan because that would have meant he was right. So it's just a random accident the Soviet Union disappeared.
Part of the war we waged on the Soviet Union involved their natural gas supply because we wanted to cut off their hard currency. The Soviets were desperate to get better equipment for their pipeline. We managed to sell them through third parties very, very sophisticated American pipeline equipment, which they were thrilled to buy and thought they had pulled off a huge coup. Now we weren't playing fair. We did not tell them that the equipment was designed to blow up. One day in 1982, there was an explosion in Siberia so large that the initial reflection on the satellites looked like there was a tactical nuclear weapon. One part of the White House was genuinely worried, and the other part of the White House had to calm them down. They said, "No, no, that's our equipment blowing up."
In the 28 years since the Iranians declared war on us, in the six years since 9/11, in the months since Gen. Petraeus publicly said they are killing young Americans, we have not been able to figure out how to take down one refinery. Covertly, quietly, without overt war. And we have not been able to figure out how to use the most powerful navy in the world to simply stop the tankers and say, "Look, you want to kill young Americans, you're going to walk to the battlefield, but you're not going to ride in the car because you're not going to have any gasoline."
We don't have to be stupid. The choice is not cowardice or total war. Reagan unlocked Poland without firing a shot in an alliance with the pope, with the labor unions and with the British. We have every possibility if we're prepared to be honest to shape the world. It'll be a very big project. It's much closer to World War II than it is to anything we've tried recently. It will require real effort, real intensity and real determination. We're either going to do it now, while we're still extraordinarily powerful, or we're going to do it later under much more desperate circumstances after we've lost several cities.
We had better take this seriously because we are not very many mistakes away from a second Holocaust. 'Three nuclear weapons' is a second Holocaust. Our enemies would like to get those weapons as soon as they can, and they promise to use them as soon as they can.
I suggest we defeat our enemies and create a different situation long before they have that power.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: February 06, 2008, 08:59:59 PM
Subject: Sleepwalking Into a Nightmare, by Newt Gingrich
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich delivered the following remarks to a Jewish National Fund meeting Nov. 15 at the Selig Center:
I just want to talk to you from the heart for a few minutes and share with you where I think we are.
I think it is very stark. I don't think it is yet desperate, but it is very stark. And if I had a title for today's talk, it would be sleepwalking into a nightmare. 'Cause that's what I think we're doing.
I gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute Sept. 10 at which I gave an alternative history of the last six years, because the more I thought about how much we're failing, the more I concluded you couldn't just nitpick individual places and talk about individual changes because it didn't capture the scale of the disaster.
And I had been particularly impressed by a new book that came out called Troublesome Young Men, which is a study of the younger Conservatives who opposed appeasement in the 1930's and who took on Chamberlain.
It's a very revealing book and a very powerful book because we tend to look backwards and we tend to overstate Churchill's role in that period. And we tend to understate what a serious and conscientious and thoughtful effort appeasement was and that it was the direct and deliberate policy of very powerful and very willful people. We tend to think of it as a psychological weakness as though Chamberlain was somehow craven. He wasn't craven. Chamberlain had a very clear vision of the world, and he was very ruthless domestically.
And they believed so deeply in avoiding war with Germany that as late as the spring of 1940, when they are six months or seven months into they war, they are dropping leaflets instead of bombs on the Ruhr, and they are urging the British news media not to publish anti-German stories because they don't want to offend the German people. And you read this book, and it makes you want to weep because, interestingly, the younger Tories who were most opposed to appeasement were the combat veterans of World War I, who had lost all of their friends in the war but who understood that the failure of appeasement would result in a worse war and that the longer you lied about reality, the greater the disaster.
And they were severely punished and isolated by Chamberlain and the Conservative machine, and as I read that, I realized that that's really where we are today.
Our current problem is tragic. You have an administration whose policy is inadequate being opposed by a political left whose policy is worse, and you have nobody prepared to talk about the policy we need. Because we are told if you are for a strong America, you should back the Bush policy even if it's inadequate, and so you end up making an argument in favor of something that can't work. So your choice is to defend something which isn't working or to oppose it by being for an even weaker policy. So this is a catastrophe for this country and a catastrophe for freedom around the world. Because we have refused to be honest about the scale of the problem.
Let me work back. I'm going to get to Iran since that's the topic, but I'm going to get to it eventually.
Let me work back from Pakistan. The dictatorship in Pakistan has never had control over Wiziristan. Not for a day. So we've now spent six years since 9/11 with a sanctuary for Al-Qaida and a sanctuary for the Taliban, and every time we pick up people in Great Britain who are terrorists, they were trained in Pakistan.
And our answer is to praise Musharraf because at least he's not as bad as the others. But the truth is Musharraf has not gotten control of terrorism in Pakistan. Musharraf doesn't have full control over his own government. The odds are even money we're going to drift into a disastrous dictatorship at some point in Pakistan. And while we worry about the Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon, the Pakistanis already have 'em, So why would you feel secure in a world where you could presently have an Islamist dictatorship in Pakistan with a hundred-plus nuclear weapons? What's our grand strategy for that?
Then you look at Afghanistan. Here's a country that's small, poor, isolated, and in six years we have not been able to build roads, create economic opportunity, wean people off of growing drugs. A third of the GDP is from drugs. We haven't been able to end the sanctuary for the Taliban in Pakistan. And I know of no case historically where you defeat a guerrilla movement if it has a sanctuary. So the people who rely on the West are out-bribed by the criminals, outgunned by the criminals, and faced with a militant force across the border which practiced earlier defeating the Soviet empire and which has a time horizon of three or four generations. NATO has a time horizon of each quarter or at best a year, facing an opponent whose time horizon is literally three or four generations. It's a total mismatch.
Then you come to the direct threat to the United States, which is Al-Qaida. Which, by the way, we just published polls. One of the sites I commend to you is AmericanSolutions.com. Last Wednesday we posted six national surveys, $428,000 worth of data. We gave it away. I found myself in the unique position of calling Howard Dean to tell him I was giving him $400,000 worth of polling. We have given it away to both Democrats and Republicans.
It is fundamentally different from the national news media. When asked the question "Do we have an obligation to defend the United States and her allies?" the answer is 85 percent yes. When asked a further question "Should we defeat our enemies?" - it's very strong language - the answer is 75 percent yes, 75 to 16.
The complaint about Iraq is a performance complaint, not a values complaint.
When asked whether or not Al-Qaida is a threat, 89 percent of the country says yes. And they think you have to defeat it, you can't negotiate with it. So now let's look at Al-Qaida and the rise of Islamist terrorism.
And let's be honest: What's the primary source of money for Al-Qaida? It's you, recirculated through Saudi Arabia. Because we have no national energy strategy, when clearly if you really cared about liberating the United States from the Middle East and if you really cared about the survival of Israel, one of your highest goals would be to move to a hydrogen economy and to eliminate petroleum as a primary source of energy.
Now that's what a serious national strategy would look like, but that would require real change.
So then you look at Saudi Arabia. The fact that we tolerate a country saying no Christian and no Jew can go to Mecca, and we start with the presumption that that's true while they attack Israel for being a religious state is a sign of our timidity, our confusion, our cowardice that is stunning.
It's not complicated. We're inviting Saudi Arabia to come to Annapolis to talk about rights for Palestinians when nobody is saying, "Let's talk about rights for Christians and Jews in Saudi Arabia. Let's talk about rights for women in Saudi Arabia."
So we accept this totally one-sided definition of the world in which our enemies can cheerfully lie on television every day, and we don't even have the nerve to insist on the truth. We pretend their lies are reasonable. This is a very fundamental problem. And if you look at who some of the largest owners of some of our largest banks are today, they're Saudis.
You keep pumping billions of dollars a year into countries like Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Russia, and you are presently going to have created people who oppose you who have lots of money. And they're then going to come back to your own country and finance, for example , Arab study institutes whose only requirement is that they never tell the truth. So you have all sorts of Ph.D.s who now show up quite cheerfully prepared to say whatever it is that makes their funders happy - in the name, of course, of academic freedom. So why wouldn't Columbia host a genocidal madman? It's just part of political correctness. I mean, Ahmadinejad may say terrible things, he may lock up students, he may kill journalists, he may say, "We should wipe out Israel," he may say, "We should defeat the United States," but after all, what has he done that's inappropriate? What has he done that wouldn't be repeated at a Hollywood cocktail party or a nice gathering in Europe?
And nobody says this is totally, utterly, absolutely unacceptable. Why is it that the No. 1 threat in intelligence movies is the CIA?
I happened the other night to be watching an old movie, To Live and Die in L.A., which is about counterfeiting. But the movie starts with a Secret Service agent who is defending Ronald Reagan in 1985, and the person he is defending Ronald Reagan from is a suicide bomber who is actually, overtly a Muslim fanatic. Now, six years after 9/11, you could not get that scene made in Hollywood today.
Just look at the movies. Why is it that the bad person is either a right-wing crazed billionaire, or the CIA as a government agency. Go look at the Bourne Ultimatum. Or a movie like the one that George Clooney made, which was an absolute lie, in which it implied that if you were a reformist Arab prince, that probably the CIA would kill you. It's a total lie. We actually have SEALs protecting people all over the world. We actually risk American lives protecting reformers all over the world, and yet Hollywood can't bring itself to tell the truth:
(a) because it's ideologically so opposed to the American government and the American military; and,
(b) because it's terrified that if it said something really openly, honestly true about Muslim terrorists, they might show up in Hollywood. And you might have somebody killed as the Dutch producer was killed.
And so we're living a life of cowardice, and in that life of cowardice we're sleepwalking into a nightmare.
And then you come to Iran. There's a terrific book. Mark Bowden is a remarkable writer who wrote Black Hawk Down, has enormous personal courage. He's a Philadelphia newspaper writer, actually got the money out of the Philadelphia newspaper to go to Somalia to interview the Somalian side of Black Hawk Down. It's a remarkable achievement. Tells a great story about getting to Somalia, paying lots of cash, having the local warlord protect him, and after about two weeks the warlord came to him and said, "You know, we've decided that we're very uncomfortable with you being here, and you should leave."
And so he goes to the hotel, where he is the only hard-currency guest, and says, "I've got to check out two weeks early because the warlord has told me that he no longer will protect me." And the hotel owner, who wants to keep his only hard-currency guest, says, "Well, why are you listening to him? He's not the government. There is no government." And Bowden says, "Well, what will I do?" And he says, "You hire a bigger warlord with more guns," which he did. But then he could only stay one week because he ran out of money.
But this is a guy with real courage. I mean, imagine trying to go out and be a journalist in that kind of world, OK? So Bowden came back and wrote Guest of the Ayatollah, which is the Iranian hostage of 1979, which he entitled, "The First Shots in Iran's War Against America." So in the Bowden world view, the current Iranian dictatorship has been at war with the United States since 1979. Violated international law. Every conceivable tenet of international law was violated when they seized the American Embassy and they seized the diplomats. Killed Americans in Lebanon in the early '80s. Killed Americans at Khobar Towers in '95 and had the Clinton administration deliberately avoid revealing the information, as Louis Freeh, the director of the FBI, has said publicly, because they didn't want to have to confront the Iranian complicity.
And so you have an Iranian regime which is cited annually as the leading supporter of state terrorism in the world. Every year the State Department says that. It's an extraordinary act of lucidity on the part of an institution which seeks to avoid it as often as possible.
And you have Gen. Petraeus come to the U.S. Congress and say publicly in an open session, "The Iranians are waging a proxy war against Americans in Iraq."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: February 06, 2008, 02:31:50 PM
What Color Is Your Parachute?
Hillary Clinton's firewall last night was her support among Hispanic voters and, in California, support among both Hispanic and Asian voters.
Barack Obama pulled out all the stops to woo Hispanics, including the last-minute endorsement of Senator Ted Kennedy, who represents a family revered in many Hispanic households. But with the exception of his home state of Illinois, Mr. Obama came up short. In New Mexico, Mr. Obama continues to lead narrowly by carrying Anglo voters but performed less well among the one-third of Democratic voters who were Hispanic.
In California, a much-larger than expected share of the voters were Hispanic or Asian -- some 29% were Hispanic and another 8% were Asian. Mrs. Clinton won a resounding 72% of the Asian vote and two-thirds of the Hispanic vote to put her over the top. Barack Obama carried white voters overall by 49% to 44%. He also won eight out of ten black voters.
The contrast in support was striking in neighborhoods that were practically adjacent to each other. In Los Angeles's 33rd Congressional district represented by black Democrat Diane Watson, Mr. Obama won 61% to 37%. In the nearby 34th district represented by Hispanic Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard, he lost 73% to 23%.
The split between black voters and brown voters that was so evident in California and other states yesterday will be important in some future contests, especially Texas, which votes on March 4.
-- John Fund
Democratic officials are dusting off something they never thought they would have to consult: convention rule books.
That's because there is a real possibility that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will arrive in Denver in late August for the convention roughly tied in their number of delegates elected by primary and caucus voters. If so, then the party's so-called "super-delegates" move front and center -- i.e. Democratic governors, members of Congress and other notables, who make up about one-fifth of the total delegate pool and who are free under current rules to commit themselves to any candidate they choose.
Every convention has the right to change or alter its rules on the floor. If Obama and Clinton forces are close enough, look for rules fights reminiscent of the hard-fought 1976 GOP convention. That contest was won in a whisker by Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan. "Many people will rebel if the party big shots vote differently than the choice of the primary electorate," one leading Democratic parliamentarian tells me. "You could have a fight to force the superdelegates to accept the decision of their home-state voters."
And what if the convention decision comes down to the disputed delegations of Florida and Michigan, neither of whom are currently legally seated because their state parties broke rules against holding early primaries?
"We believe the delegates from Michigan and Florida ought to be seated," says Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson. That's even though Mrs. Clinton was the only name offered primary voters in Michigan and neither Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama campaigned in Florida.
A fight over whether delegations should be seated would remind convention mavens of the 1952 GOP fight at that party's Chicago convention. There, Dwight Eisenhower only clinched the Republican nomination over Robert Taft after winning a contentious floor fight over the seating of key Southern delegations.
In other words, for the first time in decades, convention historians may find their skills in demand if this year's Democratic conclave turns out to be something besides the usual exercise in media relations.
-- John Fund
Huckabee's Ace in the Hole
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee revived his campaign last night by winning five Southern states. It was also a big day for West Virginia Republicans, who deliberately sought to revive their flagging fortunes by scheduling a nominating convention for Super Tuesday. The aim was to pick a convention winner hours before the polls closed elsewhere and thereby influence the national outcome. It worked. By mid-afternoon, the buzz from his West Virginia triumph provided Mr. Huckabee with a fresh storyline that he, not Mitt Romney, was the conservative alternative candidate to John McCain.
Small states with just a handful of delegates need creative ways to draw attention. For West Virginia, a nominating convention succeeded wonderfully. Mr. Romney even dropped by personally to make his case, hoping to score a few hours in the media spotlight on Super Tuesday. His efforts initially appeared to be paying off. He won enthusiastic applause by telling conventioneers: "I'll make sure that the house that Reagan built is the house we live in." Mr. Romney led after the first convention ballots were cast, but no candidate won a majority and during an hour-long intermission, Mr. McCain called and asked his supporters to throw in behind Mr. Huckabee. That was enough to change the dynamics on the second ballot and give Mr. Huckabee his new lease on political life.
Moving forward, Mr. Huckabee will continue to take votes mainly from Mr. Romney, even if he remains largely unsuccessful outside the South. Louisiana voters head to the polls on Saturday, and next Tuesday will feature contests in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. In short, the next few news cycles will be far more friendly to the former Arkansas governor than the former Massachusetts one.
-- Brendan Miniter
Quote of the Day
"California's decades-long isolation from national politics ended Tuesday as voters turned out heavily to vote in two close contests for presidential nominations -- and they could play a critical role again in November. Party identification is weak in California, and both parties have been losing ground in voter registration -- especially the Democrats -- and the rapidly growing ranks of independent voters hold the balance of political power.... Were McCain to win the GOP nomination, therefore, it could put California in play. The Democratic candidate, either Clinton or Obama, would still be favored but could no longer take the state for granted. Without California's 55 electoral votes, Democratic hopes for recapturing the White House are slender, so at the very least, Democrats would have to devote resources to California" -- Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters.
Job Losses for Bureaucrats
Friday's lousy jobs report of negative growth wasn't all that bad -- since one of the new unemployed Americans was John Edwards. But economists assure us that there's another reason not to panic just yet. The 17,000 jobs losses in January overshadowed a revision upward to 82,000 new jobs in December. Job growth has certainly slowed dramatically but private employment growth has still not turned negative.
One piece of overlooked good news in the January report is that the net decline was entirely accounted for by government. The public sector had 18,000 fewer workers on its payrolls last month. Folks, that's not an economic downer, but cause for celebration. We should be thrilled to see many more such pink slips issued in Washington, D.C. and state capitals. Fewer government bureaucrats is one of the best economic stimulants we can possibly think of.
Overall, today's 4.9% unemployment rate is hardly a measure of job scarcity for those searching for work. That number underscores the folly of the Democratic proposal to extend unemployment insurance benefits -- a policy that increases joblessness by giving people an incentive to sit on the sidelines rather than aggressively seeking the private-sector jobs that continue to be created.
-- Stephen Moore
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reagan
on: February 06, 2008, 10:46:40 AM
"And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way. My fondest hope for each one of you — and especially for young people — is that you will love your country, not for her power or wealth, but for her selflessness and her idealism. May each of you have the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute works that will make the world a little better for your having been here. May all of you as Americans never forget your heroic origins, never fail to seek divine guidance, and never lose your natural, God-given optimism. And finally, my fellow Americans, may every dawn be a great new beginning for America and every evening bring us closer to that shining city upon a hill." —Ronald Reagan
“We, the members of the New Republican Party, believe that the preservation and enhancement of the values that strengthen and protect individual freedom, family life, communities and neighborhoods and the liberty of our beloved nation should be at the heart of any legislative or political program presented to the American people.”
“We believe that liberty can be measured by how much freedom Americans have to make their own decisions, even their own mistakes.”
“Families must continue to be the foundation of our nation. Families—not government programs—are the best way to make sure our children are properly nurtured, our elderly are cared for, our cultural and spiritual heritages are perpetuated, our laws are observed and our values are preserved... We fear the government may be powerful enough to destroy our families; we know that it is not powerful enough to replace them.”
“Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business... frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.”
“We must be ever willing to negotiate differences, but equally mindful that there are American ideals that cannot be compromised. Given that there are other nations with potentially hostile design, we recognize that we can reach our goals only while maintaining a superior national defense, second to none.”
“Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people... And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert and reapply America’s spiritual heritage to our national affairs. Then with God’s help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sentenced to death for drinking
on: February 06, 2008, 10:36:49 AM
Man Sentenced to Death for Drinking
An Iranian court has sentenced a 22 year old man to death for violating the Islamic Republic's ban on drinking alchohol several times, a news agency said.
Under Iran's Islamic Sharia law, a person who is caught drinking for a fourth time and confesses faces possible capital punishment, even though legal experts say executions for the offense are very rare.
The man, identified only by his first name, Mohsen, can appeal
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam the religion
on: February 06, 2008, 10:32:07 AM
Lebanon cleric advises 'modern Shiites'
Dalia Khamissy / Associated Press
The cleric Fadlallah has issued edicts that shocked conservative Muslims around the world.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah's liberal fatwas, or edicts, have shocked conservative Muslims around the world.
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 6, 2008
BEIRUT -- The ayatollah has a simple piece of advice for any Muslim woman being abused by her husband: Hit him back.
"A woman can respond to physical violence inflicted on her by a man with counter- violence as a self-defense measure," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's senior-most Shiite cleric, wrote in a fatwa late last year that shocked conservative Muslims around the world.
Fadlallah long has been considered a leader of the most radical faction of Shiite Muslims in Lebanon. He endorsed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution in Iran and was accused of ordering, or at least encouraging, the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks here, a charge he and his supporters have denied. He issued fatwas, or religious edicts, calling on the faithful to resist the United States, and urged Muslims to boycott American products.
But the 72-year-old cleric, who agreed to an interview recently in his South Beirut compound, has toned down his rhetoric in recent years. Instead, he espouses a more modest vision for the faithful than the ambitious agenda set forth by Iran, which considers itself the patron of Shiites worldwide and has been trying to increase its influence throughout the Muslim world.
"I don't see there is a unity in the situation of Shiites in the world," he said.
He leaned forward, his piercing brown eyes becoming animated as he discussed religion, politics and international affairs. "I think the current Iranian president lacks diplomatic skills, and I think he creates problems for Iran," he said of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Fadlallah, whose black turban identifies him as a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, focuses on daily bread-and-butter issues of concern to his followers. Such as parenting.
"One of the general principles in raising children is that parents should not consider their child as part of their possessions," he wrote in a ruling translated and placed on the English section of his website, english.bayynat.org.lb. "Instead, they should consider him God's trust that Allah . . . has put in their hands. This is done by loving the child, listening to him and respecting his mind."
Grand ayatollahs, the highest-ranked clerics in the Shiite hierarchy, have the right to interpret primary religious texts and serve as marja, or source of emulation, for their millions of followers in countries with large Shiite populations such as Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and Bahrain. Most search for a niche. Khomeini espoused a highly politicized version of Islam; Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq advocates piety, modesty and good deeds.
Fadlallah's fatwas and statements seem more like daytime talk show fodder.
"Sistani is very popular in the Shiite world, but he's not involved in the daily lives of Shiites," said Fadlallah's aide, Hani Abdullah. "This is why Fadlallah is more of a reference for modern Shiites."
On gender issues in particular, he takes positions that raise eyebrows among his conservative counterparts, such as questioning the conventional Islamic prohibition on female judges and challenging the traditional view that a woman's place is in the house and the man's in the workplace.
"The belief that it is disgraceful for the man to manage household tasks is derived from the social culture and not from Islam," he says in a statement on his website. "Personally, I think that no woman would be obliged to bring her social life to a standstill just because she is being occupied with her children."
Also from his website: "Knowledge is a merit for man and woman equally, and the importance of acquiring it is identical to both of them."
A statement from Fadlallah's office said he opposed a man "using any sort of violence against a woman, even in the form of insults and harsh words."
He also has addressed issues such as cloning and plastic surgery.
"Mostly his fatwas are on the side of modernity and progress," said Fawwaz Traboulsi, a Lebanese historian and journalist. "He's very influential, and he's got a lot of money."
His most liberal rulings and attempts to distance Lebanese Shiites from Iran's policies have angered some Shiite clerics close to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Fadlallah was once Hezbollah's spiritual leader, but now the two camps compete for donations from wealthy Shiites, who traditionally have given more money to him.
"There's a real rivalry with Nasrallah, who has become both a military and religious leader," Traboulsi said. "Many conservative Hezbollah clerics are reacting against Fadlallah's rulings."
Fadlallah appears to have eased his anti-American stances, even though he and others suspect U.S. operatives were behind an attempt on his life in 1985, apparently as retaliation in the belief that he had ordered the Marine barracks attack. The massive car bomb near his home killed more than 80 people in an apartment block, but he was unhurt.
He is critical of the Bush administration but takes pains to underscore that he's not anti-American. He recently answered a question about astronomy and Ramadan posed by a U.S. Marine, a decision criticized by other clerics. He was among the first religious leaders in the Middle East to condemn the Sept. 11 attacks.
But Fadlallah remains a staunch critic of Israel, once describing the Jewish state as "a conglomerate of people who come from all parts of the world to live in Palestine on the ruins of another people."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 06, 2008, 10:24:29 AM
Canadians need help fighting the resurgent Taliban in Kandahar. A top provincial official says only Americans can do the job.
By Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 6, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- As the most powerful Afghan official in the troubled southern province of Kandahar, Ahmed Wali Karzai says he knows just how to tame the shadowy Taliban campaign of suicide bombs and assassinations that have raised the specter of a country sliding toward anarchy.
He wants more American soldiers on the ground.
"The Canadians are fine, but Americans are Americans -- the mentality is different," said Karzai, chairman of the provincial council in Kandahar where the Canadian-led military mission has struggled to contain the regrouped Taliban.
Amid the recent deluge of discouraging reports citing declining security in swaths of southern Afghanistan, Karzai's is a rare voice of optimism, claiming that U.S. special forces already have begun to turn the tide in Kandahar with targeted strikes against individual commanders of the fundamentalist group, which was ousted from power six years ago.
"These operations are extremely quiet. They cause no civilian casualties and no damage to the villages," said Karzai, whose power derives in part from being the younger brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"The Americans are very professional," he said. "They go in; they get out. It's just like you see in the movies."
Karzai is about to get his wish for a greater American presence. About 3,200 U.S. Marines are set to deploy to Afghanistan in coming weeks, most of them ticketed for a seven-month stay in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's traditional heartland and home of its revived insurgency.
Beleaguered Canadians in Kandahar can't wait for the Americans to arrive either. They acknowledge that their 2,500 troops have not been enough to create much of a footprint across the province. And they say they are not able to undertake regular patrols of the dangerous back roads in the fertile farming region outside the city of Kandahar, with the result that the Taliban now operates with impunity in some villages not far from the provincial capital.
The implications of a Taliban comeback are being felt far beyond Kandahar, placing a major stress on the 41,000-strong international alliance, led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that was supposed to secure and rebuild all of Afghanistan. The jump in insurgent violence over the last two years has led to recriminations within NATO, with the U.S. military leaders questioning whether their partners have the stomach for the fight against the Taliban, and the Canadians, British and Dutch complaining that risks are not being evenly shared across the alliance.
The Canadian government recently warned that it would end its mission in Kandahar by early 2009 unless NATO sends an additional 1,000 soldiers into the fray. The British are also appealing for help containing an equally violent insurgency in neighboring Helmand province.
And the violence has opened up wide disagreements over strategy, mostly over how much force to direct against the Taliban.
In Kandahar, the Canadians are particularly bitter over U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' widely quoted comments last month that some of America's allies "don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations."
His unusually pointed criticism was part of a wider whispering campaign by American officials that accuses Canadian and European forces of being locked in a peacekeeping mind-set, of playing fanciful diplomatic games trying to woo less extreme elements of the Taliban away from the hard core, and of not pushing Afghan soldiers into the forefront of counterinsurgency missions.
"I frankly don't know where Gates gets that," said Brig. Gen. Guy Laroche, who commands the Canadian contingent in Kandahar. Laroche contends that training the Afghan army and police to take over the sharp end of the fighting is actually now the centerpiece of the Canadian approach in Kandahar.
And suggestions that the Canadians might be trying to avoid casualties enrages soldiers who have been taking a pounding from roadside bombs. With 78 soldiers and one diplomat killed since 2002, Canada has the highest casualty percentage among all nations in the NATO forces, and Canadian officers say attacks against troops in Kandahar rose by 50% last year from 2006.
Laroche said there is no friction between Canadian and American troops on the ground. Yet Canadian soldiers and diplomats also say they do not share what some see as an American obsession with tracking down the Taliban.
"We're not hunting Taliban," Laroche said. "We're not going to win by killing every Taliban. We're going to win by getting the Afghan population to say 'enough' to the Taliban."
Canadian troops did initially find themselves engaged in ferocious fighting with the Taliban when they took over command of the NATO forces in the province in 2006. But the Taliban has mostly avoided direct engagements since then, and Laroche says he is happiest avoiding the kinds of clashes that can kill civilians.
Instead, the Canadians say their counterinsurgency strategy is based on securing areas where productive reconstruction and development can occur: supervising the recent completion of a bridge across the Arghandab River north of the city of Kandahar using well-paid local labor, and a road-paving project that will employ 400 Afghans.
Yet the Canadians say their attempt to build trust among the people of Kandahar is undermined by confusion surrounding the future of the mission.
"The Afghans have to make a decision about where to put their loyalties," said one Canadian officer who deals with the people in Kandahar on a regular basis. "They say, 'You're here during the day, a couple of times a week, but the Taliban are here all the time.' I tell them not to worry, that we're staying, that the rest is just politics.
"But they worry that they are going to be stuck with the Taliban."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Father sodomizes stepson in revenge for rape of daughter
on: February 06, 2008, 09:19:46 AM
"Blind rage just consumed everything - all the anger, the fury. When I calmed down, the police were here, and I was in cuffs.”
Former boxer who killed pedophile wins prosecutors’ hearts
30.01.2008 Source: Pravda.Ru
Law-enforcement agencies of St.Petersburg investigate a murder case filed against former boxer Alexander Kuznetsov who murdered a pedophile rapist. The jury will decide the man’s fate in the next several days. It is not ruled out that Kuznetsov can be fully acquitted, Vesti.ru reports.
The former athlete committed the crime in a state of temporary insanity on New Year’s night, January 1, 2008. Alexander Kuznetsov entered the apartment building where he lived with his family and saw an unidentified adult male abusing a little boy. The boy was Kuznetsov’s eight-year-old adopted son.
The defendant said that the boy was unconscious, beaten and stripped. The boy’s step-father, formerly a professional boxer, killed the pedophile with a few blows. The latter was subsequently identified as a 20-year-old native of Uzbekistan (a former republic of the Soviet Union), a student at one of Russian universities.
“I wanted to detain him. I don’t know how it happened. I could not control myself,” Kuznetsov said at court.
There are no eyewitnesses in the case, but all facts testify to Kuznetsov’s honesty. Prosecutors tend to believe the defendant too. The state of affairs will be cleared out completely when investigators are granted a decision to interrogate the boy, the victim of attempted rape. Psychologists do not allow to conduct the procedure at the moment yet not to harm the child.
For the time being, Alexander Kuznetsov has been charged with causing grievous severe bodily harm entailing a lethal outcome. The defendant can be jailed for up to ten years.
Alexander Kuznetsov’s case is reminiscent of that of Alexandra Ivannikova, a female resident of Moscow. The young woman was charged with murder in 2003. Ivannikova, was returning home late at night on 8 December 2003. On her way home, the woman decided to flag down a car. The first driver was able to take the woman home only halfway. Alexandra Ivannikova had to stop another car. Instead of taking the woman to her address, the young driver, named only as Sergei B., stopped the car in a dark side street and asked the woman to perform oral sex on him.
The driver was trying to force the girl to oral sex, but she was fighting. When Alexandra said “Wait” and reached out to her purse, Sergei loosened the grip: the young man apparently thought that the girl wanted to take a condom. The girl pulled out a small kitchen knife and stabbed the man in his leg. The blade went into the femoral artery and caused profuse bleeding. Alexandra opened the door of the car and escaped. Sergei B. died from loss of blood.
Ivannikova was fully acquitted on November 25, 2005.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 06, 2008, 09:12:17 AM
Obama claims delegate lead
By: Mike Allen
Feb 6, 2008 08:24 AM EST
Updated: February 6, 2008 09:47 AM EST
In a surprise twist after a chaotic Super Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) passed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in network tallies of the number of delegates the candidates racked up last night.
The Obama camp projects topping Clinton by nine delegates, 845 to 836.
NBC News, which is projecting delegates based on the Democratic Party's complex formula, figures Obama will wind up with 840 to 849 delegates, versus 829 to 838 for Clinton.
Clinton was portrayed in many news accounts as the night’s big winner, but Obama’s campaign says he wound up with a higher total where it really counts — the delegates who will choose the party’s nominee at this summer’s Democratic convention.
With the delegate count still under way, NBC News said Obama appears to have won around 840 delegates in yesterday’s contests, while Clinton earned about 830 — “give or take a few,” Tim Russert, the network’s Washington bureau chief, said on the “Today” show.
The running totals for the two, which includes previous contests and the party officials known as “superdelegates,” are only about 70 delegates apart, Russert said.
The bottom line is that the two are virtually tied.
Obama won 13 states, some of them smaller, and Clinton won eight.
On Wednesday morning, the battle was on to shape public perceptions about Tuesday.
The Clinton campaign said it was crunching its delegate numbers but was not sure it was correct that Obama got more.
The Obama campaign sent an e-mailed statement titled: “Obama wins Super Tuesday by winning more states and more delegates.”
Campaign Manager David Plouffe said: “By winning a majority of delegates and a majority of the states, Barack Obama won an important Super Tuesday victory over Sen. Clinton in the closest thing we have to a national primary.”
“From Colorado and Utah in the West to Georgia and Alabama in the South to Sen. Clinton’s backyard in Connecticut, Obama showed that he can win the support of Americans of every race, gender and political party in every region of the country,” Plouffe said. “That’s why he’s on track to win Democratic nomination, and that’s why he’s the best candidate to defeat John McCain in November.”
The Obama campaign attached an Excel spreadsheet containing “state-by-state estimates of the pledged delegates we won last night, which total 845 for Obama and 836 for Clinton — bringing the to-date total of delegates to 908 for Obama, 884 for Clinton.” http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0208/8358.html
Dems head for messy nomination process
By: Roger Simon
February 6, 2008 12:54 AM EST
The Democrats may be heading for a fine mess.
Because of party reforms in the past and a close race for delegates this year, a nightmare scenario is building for the Democratic National Convention in August: It is easy to imagine that Barack Obama could get to Denver with more pledged delegates than Hillary Clinton, but that she could get the nomination based on the votes of the superdelegates.
“And that,” a senior Obama aide told me Tuesday night, “would create havoc.”
Pledged delegates are those won in primaries and cacucuses. Superdelegates are party big-shots.
The Associated Press, CNN, CBS and a website called 2008 Democratic Convention Watch all disagree on exactly how the superdelegates are currently split.
But they all agree that Clinton has more of them than Obama, with hundreds still up for grabs.
Being a superdelegate is usually just a way of getting to go to the convention, cast a meaningless vote and have a good time.
But that could change this year.
And that’s because superdelegates make up one-fifth of all the delegates at the convention, and this year they could determine the nominee.
As Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson puts it: “The process is designed really to avoid picking a nominee rather than pick one.”
In other words, by banning winner-take-all contests and by awarding delegates on a proportional basis, the Democrats draw out the process.
They do this to be “fair” and to protect underdog candidates.
Usually it doesn’t matter. But this time it could because the pledged delegate race could be so close.
“We have a 15 pledged delegate lead going into tonight,” David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, said on Super Tuesday evening.
(The number, with California still being counted, would grow to 43 according to the Obama campaign.)
“And with the superdelegates, we have made real progress. Before Iowa, Sen. Clinton had a lead over 100 to 120 and we have whittled that down to 55 by our count. A lot of [superdelegates] who chose Sen. Clinton, chose her last year. We think we will continue to do well.”
The system of superdelegates was invented not just to reward party fatcats, but to make sure “fairness” did not get out of hand.
Superdelegates are designed to protect front-runners and make sure dark horses don’t run away with things. Superdelegates grow in number as the party gets more successful: They include all Democratic members of Congress, members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic governors. They also are the party warhorses and include “all former Democratic presidents, all former Democratic vice presidents, all former Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate, all former Democratic speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic minority leaders, as applicable, and all former chairs of the Democratic National Committee.”
This means that not only Bill Clinton, but Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, are superdelegates. And their votes count just as much as the delegates chosen by actual primary voters.
But what happens if the margin of victory at the convention is the superdelegates. Is that the the way the party really will choose a nominee? By letting the big-shots pick the winner?
Instead, there could be a huge floor flight. The convention can make whatever rules it wants, and I am guessing there would be a fight to bar the superdelegates and accept the votes of only the pledged delegates.
And then there is the problem of Florida and Michigan, whose delegates, both pledged and superdelegates, are currently banned.
The Clinton campaign has announced it wants them to count.
“There is a role for superdelegates as per the rules of our party, and they are not rules that we set,” Wolfson of the Clinton campaign said. “We will play under rules we are given. [But] we believe the delegates from Michigan and Florida ought to be seated.
But how do you really do that? In Michigan, Hillary Clinton was the only name on the Democratic ballot. In Florida, Democratic candidates were banned from campaigning. Are the Democrats really going to seat them if they could make the difference in who wins and who loses?
As I said, a fine mess. Which, quite possibly, could lead to something we are not used to: a convention that is more than just a TV show whose ending we know in advance.http://www.politico.com/rogersimon/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Stimulus Markets
on: February 06, 2008, 08:58:31 AM
The 'Stimulus' Markets
February 6, 2008
President Bush and Congress are marching arm in arm to pass their economic "stimulus," but it's clear that at least one group of observers isn't impressed: investors. They blew right through all the Beltway happy talk yesterday, selling off the major stock indexes by some 3% or so on an ugly day.
Investors were more impressed, or we should say depressed, by the plunge in the Institute for Supply Management's services index for January. The ISM survey took a header to 41.9, down from 54.4 for December, which suggests a decline in the service economy for the first time in nearly five years. Any reading below 50 indicates contraction, so January's reading is another talking point for those who think the economy is heading toward recession.
Heretofore, the recession evidence had been decidedly mixed. Friday's Labor Department jobs report for January was rotten with a decline of 17,000, but a private sector survey that's typically accurate found 130,000 new jobs. Durable goods were strong last week, and the ISM manufacturing survey also showed surprising strength above recession levels. But with services now such a dominant part of the U.S. economy, there's no sugar-coating yesterday's report.
Naturally, the ISM news encouraged predictions that the Federal Reserve will have to cut interest rates even more than it has in the past two weeks. The Fed's Open Market Committee next meets on March 18, but given its recent willingness to respond to Wall Street's demands, look for more voices to encourage another big "emergency" interest rate cut before then.
In case the Fed still cares, however, we'd note that yesterday's ISM report was hardly reassuring on prices. The prices paid index came in at 70.7, down only slightly from December's 71.5, which suggests considerable upward pricing pressure. In the 1970s, the word for this kind of predicament was "stagflation."
And, much like the 1970s, the political class is riding to the fiscal rescue with a "jobs program" designed mostly to preserve its own jobs. The House passed its $146 billion version of tax rebates and tax credits last week, while the Senate wants to raise the bidding to $157 billion. Republicans tried to resist this last week, but yesterday the White House signaled it will roll over again. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson said he'll "work something out" on expanding the tax rebates to include 20 million retirees.
These one-time federal checks will give Americans a little more ready cash in time for Election Day, but they aren't impressing investors worried about recession. Yesterday's selloff came despite the White House concession to the Senate, and perhaps even because of it. The real damage from this exercise in bipartisan self-delusion is the lost opportunity for a serious tax cut that would increase incentives for capital investment and risk-taking.
Meanwhile, Senator John Sununu (R., N.H.) is being attacked by Democrats for voting against the extra Senate "stimulus" last week. As one of the strongest pro-growth voices still left in the Senate, but facing a tough re-election battle, Mr. Sununu's prospects aren't helped by yesterday's White House retreat. Mark that down as another reason investors can be forgiven for looking at Washington, and then selling stocks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interrogation methods
on: February 06, 2008, 08:55:44 AM
Tall Torture Tales
February 6, 2008; Page A18
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri planned the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Abu Zubaydah was the mastermind of the foiled millennium terrorist attacks, which had Los Angeles airport as one of its targets. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed directed the September 11 attacks, and has claimed to have personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl.
All three men were captured by the CIA in 2002 and waterboarded in the course of their interrogations. They are also the only U.S. detainees to have been waterboarded. That fact, publicly confirmed yesterday by CIA Director Michael Hayden, shreds whatever is left to the so-called torture narrative, according to which the Bush Administration has engaged in widespread, needless and systematic torture of detainees.
Instead, we have sworn public testimony that the waterboarding was conducted against the three individuals best positioned to know about impending terrorist atrocities. The interrogations took place when a second major terrorist attack was widely seen as inevitable. And we know that the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah helped lead to the capture of KSM, and to the foiling of an active terrorist plot against the United States.
The waterboarding was conducted by intelligence professionals who understood they were operating not only with the approval of the Justice Department but also the informed consent of key Congressional leaders, including Democrat Jay Rockefeller, then the ranking minority Member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
In his own testimony yesterday, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell refused to rule out the use of waterboarding in the future, though he said it would have to be approved by the President and Attorney General. To the extent that his comments provide a measure of uncertainty to terrorist detainees who might otherwise think they have nothing to fear from their captors, this helps make us safer.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Interesting Stratfor.com Read
on: February 06, 2008, 08:34:15 AM
Foreign Policy and the President's Irrelevance
February 5, 2008 | 2051 GMT
By George Friedman
We are now a year away from the inauguration of a new president, and Super Tuesday has arrived, when it seems likely that the Democratic and Republican nominees will start to become obvious. At the moment, there is a toss-up between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton among the Democrats, while John McCain appears to be moving in front of Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee among the Republicans. It seems an opportune time to ask whether it matters who gets the nomination and who ultimately wins the November election, at least from the standpoint of foreign policy.
The candidates’ discussion of foreign policy has focused on one issue: Iraq. Virtually all other major foreign policy issues, from the future of U.S.-Russian relations to the function of NATO to the structure of the U.S. armed forces in the next generation, have been ignored in the public discussions.
The discussion of Iraq has been shaped and reshaped by events. The apparent improvement in the U.S. position in Iraq has quieted that debate as well. At one extreme, Obama has said he favors a rapid U.S. withdrawal, although he has been vague as to the timing. At the other extreme, McCain has endorsed the Bush administration’s handling of the war. This means that even though he has been quite pro-surge, he does not oppose withdrawal in principle but does insist on not setting a timeline for one. The others’ views are less clear.
The consensus on foreign policy is the most interesting feature of the election, especially regarding Iraq. We don’t mean the posturing or the shouting or the attempt to position one candidate against the others. We mean two things: first, what the candidates are saying after the passion is boiled away, and second, what they are likely to do if they become president.
There is, of course, a great deal of discussion about who supported or opposed what and when. That is not a trivial discussion, but it doesn’t really point to what anyone will do. On a second level, there is the discussion about whether the United States should withdraw from Iraq. Even here, there is actually little that divides the candidates. The real question is when that withdrawal should take place, over what period of time and whether the timeline should be announced.
There is no candidate arguing for the permanent stationing of more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. There are those who believe that political ends can and should be achieved in Iraq, and that the drawdown of forces should be keyed to achieving those ends. That is essentially the Bush policy. Then there are those who believe that the United States not only has failed to achieve its political goals but also, in fact, is not going to achieve them. Under this reasoning, the United States ought to be prepared to withdraw from Iraq on a timetable that is indifferent to the situation on the ground.
This has been Obama’s position to this point, and it distinguishes him from other candidates — including Clinton, who has been much less clear on what her policy going forward would be. But even Obama’s emphasis, if not his outright position, has shifted as a political resolution in Iraq has appeared more achievable. He remains committed to a withdrawal from Iraq, but he is not clear on the timeline. He calls for having all U.S. combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months, but qualifies his statement by saying that if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes against the group. Since al Qaeda is in fact building a base within Iraq, Obama’s commitment to having troops in Iraq is open-ended.
The shift in Obama’s emphasis — and this is the important point — means his position on Iraq is not really different from that of McCain, the most pro-Bush candidate. Events have bypassed the stance that the situation on the ground is hopeless, so even Obama’s position has tacked toward a phased withdrawal based on political evolutions.
It has long been said that presidential candidates make promises but do what they want if elected. In foreign policy, presidential candidates make promises and, if elected, do what they must to get re-elected. Assume that the situation in Iraq does not deteriorate dramatically, which is always a possibility, and assume a president is elected who would simply withdraw troops from Iraq. The withdrawal from Iraq obviously would increase Iranian power and presence in Iraq. That, in turn, would precipitate a crisis between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two powers with substantial differences dividing them. The United States would then face the question of whether to support the Saudis against Iran. Placing forces in Saudi Arabia is the last thing the Americans or the Saudis want. But there is one thing that the Americans want less: Iranian dominance of the Arabian Peninsula.
Any president who simply withdrew forces from Iraq without a political settlement would find himself or herself in an enormously difficult position. Indeed, such a president would find himself or herself in a politically untenable position. The consequences of a withdrawal are as substantial as the consequences of remaining. The decline in violence and the emergence of some semblance of a political process tilts the politics of decision-making toward a phased withdrawal based on improvements on the ground and away from a phased withdrawal based on the premise that the situation on the ground will not improve. Therefore, even assuming Obama wins the nomination and the presidency, the likelihood of a rapid, unilateral withdrawal is minimal. The political cost of the consequences would be too high, and he wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Though Obama is the one outrider from the general consensus on Iraq, we would argue that the relative rhetorical consensus among the candidates extends to a practical consensus. It is not that presidents simply lie. It is that presidents frequently find themselves in situations where the things they want to do and the things they can do — and must do — diverge. We have written previously about situations in which policymakers are not really free to make policy. The consequences of policy choices constrain the policymaker. A president could choose a range of policies. But most have unacceptable outcomes, so geopolitical realities herd presidents in certain directions.
At least at this point in its cycle, Iraq is such a situation. The debate over Iraq thus mostly has focused on whether a candidate supported the war in the beginning. The debate over what is to be done now was more a matter of perception than reality in the past, and it certainly is much more muted today. To the extent they ever existed, the policy choices have evaporated.
The candidates’ consensus is even more intense regarding the rest of the world. The major geopolitical evolutions — such as the re-emergence of an assertive Russia, Chinese power growing beyond the economic realm and the future of the European Union — are simply nonissues.
When you drill down into position papers that are written but not meant to be read — and which certainly are not devised by the candidates — you find some interesting thoughts. But for the most part, the positions are clear. The candidates are concerned about Russia’s growing internal authoritarianism and hope it ends. The candidates are concerned about the impact of China on American jobs but generally are committed to variations on free trade. They are also concerned about growing authoritarianism in China and hope it ends. On the unification of Europe, they have no objections.
This might appear vapid, but we would argue that it really isn’t. In spite of the constitutional power of the U.S. president in foreign policy, in most cases, the president really doesn’t have a choice. Policies have institutionalized themselves over the decades, and shifting those policies has costs that presidents can’t absorb. There is a reason the United States behaves as it does toward Russia, China and Europe, and these reasons usually are powerful. Presidents do not simply make policy. Rather, they align themselves with existing reality. For example, since the American public doesn’t care about European unification, there is no point in debating the subject. There are no decisions to be made on such issues. There is only the illusion of decisions.
There is a deeper reason as well. The United States does not simply decide on policies. It responds to a world that is setting America’s agenda. During the 2000 campaign, the most important issue that would dominate the American presidency regardless of who was elected never was discussed: 9/11. Whatever the presidential candidates thought would or wouldn’t be important, someone else was going to set the agenda.
The issue of policies versus character has been discussed many times. One school of thought holds that the foreign policies advocated by a presidential candidate are the things to look at. In fact, the candidate can advocate whatever he or she wants, but foreign policy is frequently defined by the world and not by the president. In many cases, it is impossible to know what the issue is going to be, meaning the candidates’ positions on various topics are irrelevant. The decisions that are going to matter are going to force the president’s hand, not the other way around.
The most important decisions made by Roosevelt before and during World War II were never anticipated by him or by the voters when he was first elected. Wilson didn’t know he would be judged by Versailles, Truman didn’t know he would be judged by Korea and Bush didn’t know he would be judged by 9/11 and its aftermath. None of them had position papers on these issues because none of them anticipated the events. They couldn’t.
That is why it is not disturbing that the candidates are drifting toward consensus on Iraq and have no clear and divergent positions elsewhere. This is not simply a consequence of the interest or lack of interest of the American public. It has to do with a hidden dimension of presidential power, and indeed, with the limits of power everywhere. History deals up the agenda, and the options in response are severely constrained. If Thomas Dewey had been elected in 1948, do we really believe the Korean War would have played out differently?
Presidents are not to be judged by how they make history. They are to be judged by how gracefully they submit to the rules that history lays down. The consensus or disinterest of candidates is not important. What is important is this: The dominant foreign policy issue facing the candidates is going to hit them out of the blue one day. Their options will be few, and how quickly they recognize what must be done as opposed to what they would like to do is about all they will be judged by.
We know that Johnson made a terrible hash of Vietnam, while Roosevelt did pretty well in World War II. We strongly suspect that if Johnson had been president during World War II he would be respected and admired today, while if Roosevelt had been president during Vietnam he would be reviled. It’s not that presidents don’t matter. It’s that they don’t matter nearly as much as we would like to think and they would have us believe. Mostly, they are trapped in realities not of their own making.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Restatement of NIE assessment ignored by NY Times; AQ stronger than ever
on: February 06, 2008, 08:04:46 AM
WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda is gaining in strength from its refuge in Pakistan and is steadily improving its ability to recruit, train and position operatives capable of carrying out attacks inside the United States, the director of national intelligence told a Senate panel on Tuesday.
Al QaedaThe director, Mike McConnell, told lawmakers that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, remained in control of the terrorist group and had promoted a new generation of lieutenants. He said Al Qaeda was also improving what he called “the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.” — producing militants, including new Western recruits, capable of blending into American society and attacking domestic targets.
A senior intelligence official said Tuesday evening that the testimony was based in part on new evidence that Qaeda operatives in Pakistan were training Westerners, most likely including American citizens, to carry out attacks. The official said there was no indication as yet that Al Qaeda had succeeded in getting operatives into the United States.
The testimony, in an annual assessment of the threats facing the United States, was the latest indication that Al Qaeda appears to have significantly rebuilt a network battered by the American invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.
It follows a National Intelligence Estimate last summer that described a resurgent Al Qaeda, and could add fuel to criticisms from Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates that the White House focus on Iraq since 2002 has diverted attention and resources from the battle against the Qaeda organization’s core.
In recent weeks, fresh concerns about the threat posed by Al Qaeda have prompted senior Bush administration officials to travel to Pakistan to seek approval for more aggressive American military action against militants based in the tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan.
As part of his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, also offered the government’s most extensive public defense for the use of waterboarding, saying that the C.I.A. had used the harsh interrogation technique against three Qaeda operatives in 2002 and 2003 in a belief that another terrorist attack on the United States was imminent. He identified the three as Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
General Hayden said the technique, which induces a feeling of drowning, had not been used since 2003. Mr. McConnell said that a future C.I.A. request to use waterboarding on a detainee would need to be approved both by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and by President Bush.
The C.I.A. is the only agency permitted under law to use interrogation methods more aggressive than those used by the American military. Senate Democrats sought to use the hearing to exploit divisions about those techniques.
Both Robert S. Mueller III, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers that their agencies had successfully obtained valuable intelligence from terrorism suspects without using what Mr. Mueller called the “coercive” methods of the C.I.A.
But General Hayden bristled when asked about Congressional attempts to mandate that C.I.A. interrogators be required to use the more limited set of interrogation methods contained in the Army Field Manual, which is used by military interrogators.
“It would make no more sense to apply the Army’s field manual to C.I.A.,” General Hayden said, “than it would to take the Army Field Manual on grooming and apply it to my agency, or the Army Field Manual on recruiting and apply it to my agency. Or, for that matter, the Army Field Manual on sexual orientation and apply it to my agency.”
During the testimony, Mr. McConnell tried to recalibrate somewhat the intelligence agencies’ view of Iran’s nuclear program, telling senators that the public portion of a National Intelligence Estimate released in December placed too much significance on the fact that Iran had halted secret work on nuclear weapons design in 2003.
Mr. McConnell said that weapons design was “probably the least significant part of the program” and that Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment meant that it still posed a potential nuclear threat.
The fact that Iran was continuing its enrichment efforts was mentioned in that intelligence assessment, but Republican lawmakers and many conservative commentators have criticized the report as misleading.
Intelligence officials have defended the assessment on Iran as an example of the more rigorous analysis that American spy agencies have adopted in response to the prewar intelligence failures on Iraq. But while Mr. McConnell praised the assessment, he said his office had not been clear enough about its conclusions as it hurried to make it public.
“In retrospect, as I mentioned, I would do some things differently,” he said.
Among his litany of worldwide threats, Mr. McConnell also warned the Senate panel about the growing threat of “cyberattacks” by terror groups or homegrown militants. He said President Bush signed a classified directive in January outlining steps to protect American computer networks.
In his testimony on Al Qaeda, Mr. McConnell said Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri were precluded by “security concerns” from the day-to-day running of the organization. But he said both men “regularly pass inspirational messages and specific operational guidance to their followers through public statements.”
Mr. McConnell said the flow of foreign militants into Iraq slowed somewhat during the final months of 2007. At the same time, however, he warned that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group in Iraq that American officials say is led by foreigners, could shift its focus to carrying out attacks outside Iraq.
Based on captured documents, Mr. McConnell said, fewer than 100 militants from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia to date have left Iraq to establish cells in other countries.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blamed the Iraq war for undermining the campaign against Al Qaeda.
“The focus of America’s military forces and intelligence resources were mistakenly shifted,” he said, “from delivering a decisive blow against Al Qaeda, which is the enemy.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / M. Dowd: Darkness and Light
on: February 06, 2008, 07:52:17 AM
Maureen is my idea of , , , well, nevermind. Regardless, although she usually is to be utterly ignored, I find her interesting to read in this moment to see how the other side sees its intramural contest.
Darkness and Light
Hillary Clinton denounced Dick Cheney as Darth Vader, but she did not absorb the ultimate lesson of the destructive vice president:
Don’t become so paranoid that you let yourself be overwhelmed by a dark vision.
I think Hillary truly believes that she and Bill are the only ones tough enough to get to the White House. Jack Nicholson endorsed her as “the best man for the job,” and she told David Letterman that “in my White House, we’ll know who wears the pantsuits.” But her pitch is the color of pitch: Because she has absorbed all the hate and body blows from nasty Republicans over the years, she is the best person to absorb more hate and body blows from nasty Republicans.
Darkness seeking darkness. It’s an exhausting specter, and the reason that Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy, Claire McCaskill and so many other Democrats are dashing for daylight and trying to break away from the pathological Clinton path.
“I think we should never be derisive about somebody who has the ability to inspire,” Senator McCaskill told David Gregory on MSNBC on Tuesday. “You know, we’ve had some dark days in this democracy over the last seven years, and today the sun is out. It is shining brightly. I watch these kids, these old and young, these black and white, 20,000 of them, pour into our dome in St. Louis Saturday night, and they feel good about being an American right now. And I think that’s something that we have to capture.”
Tuesday’s voting showed only that the voters, like moviegoers, don’t want a pat ending. Even though Hillary reasserted her strength, corraling New York, California and Kennedy country Massachusetts, she and Obama will battle on in chiaroscuro. Her argument to the Democratic base has gone from a subtext of “You owe me,” or more precisely, “Bill owes me and you owe him,” to a subtext of “Obambi will fold at the first punch from the right.”
Hillary’s strategist Mark Penn argued last week that because the voters have “very limited information” about Obama, the Republican attack machine would tear him down and he would lose the support of independents. Then Penn tried to point the way to negative information on Obama, just to show that Obama wouldn’t be able to survive Republicans pointing the way to negative information.
As she talked Sunday to George Stephanopoulos, a former director of the formidable Clinton war room, Hillary’s case boiled down to the fact that she can be Trouble, as they say about hard-boiled dames in film noir, when Republicans make trouble.
“I have been through these Republican attacks over and over and over again, and I believe that I’ve demonstrated that much to the dismay of the Republicans, I not only can survive, but thrive,” she said.
And on Tuesday night she told supporters, “Let me be clear: I won’t let anyone Swift-boat this country’s future.”
Better the devil you know than the diffident debutante you don’t. Better to go with the Clintons, with all their dysfunction and chaos — the same kind that fueled the Republican hate machine — than to risk the chance that Obama would be mauled like a chew toy in the general election. Better to blow off all the inspiration and the young voters, the independents and the Republicans that Obama is attracting than to take a chance on something as ephemeral as hope. Now that’s Cheney-level paranoia.
Bill is propelled by Cheneyesque paranoia, as well. His visceral reaction to Obama — from the “fairy tale” line to the inappropriate Jesse Jackson comparison — is rooted less in his need to see his wife elected than in his need to see Obama lose, so that Bill’s legacy is protected. If Obama wins, he’ll be seen as the closest thing to J. F. K. since J. F. K. And J. F. K. is Bill’s hero.
For much of the campaign, when matched against Hillary in debates, the Illinois senator seemed out of his weight class. But he has moved up to heavyweight, even while losing five pounds as he has raced around the country. The big question is: Can he go from laconic to iconic to bionic? Will he have the muscle to take on the opposition, from Billary to the Republican hate machine to the terrorists overseas?
“I try to explain to people, I may be skinny but I’m tough,” he told a crowd of more than 15,000 in Hartford the other night, with the Kennedys looking on. “I’m from Chicago.”
The relentless Hillary has been the reticent Obama’s tutor in the Political School for Scandal. He is learning how to take a punch and give one back. When she presents her mythic narrative, the dragon she has slain is the Republican attack machine. Obama told me he doesn’t think about mythic narratives, and Tuesday night in Chicago he was reaching up for “a hymn that will heal this nation and repair the world.”
But, if he wants to be president, he will still have to slay the dragon. And his dragon is the Clinton attack machine, which emerged Tuesday night, not invincible but breathing fire.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on George Washington
on: February 06, 2008, 06:38:44 AM
"His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible
I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity,
of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision.
He was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good,
and a great man."
-- Thomas Jefferson (on George Washington in a letter to Dr. Walter
Jones, 2 January 1814)
Reference: Jefferson: Writings, Peterson ed., Library of America
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Redneck and the Game Warden
on: February 06, 2008, 12:17:10 AM
A redneck was stopped by a game warden in Tennessee with two ice chests
full of fish. He was leavin' a cove well-known for its fishing.
The game warden asked the man, "Do you have a license to catch those fish?"
"Naw, sir", replied the redneck. "I ain't got none of them there licenses.
You must understand, these here are my pet fish."
"Yeah. Every night, I take these here fish down to the lake and let 'em
swim 'round for awhile. Then, when I whistle, they jump right back into
these here ice chests and I take 'em home."
"That's a bunch of hooey! Fish can't do that."
The redneck looked at the warden for a moment and then said, "It's the
truth Mr. Government Man. I'll show ya. It really works."
"O. K.", said the warden. "I've got to see this!"
The redneck poured the fish into the lake and stood and waited. After
several minutes, the warden says, "Well?"
"Well, what?", says the redneck.
The warden says, "When are you going to call them back?"
"Call who back?"
"The FISH", replied the warden!
"What fish?", replied the redneck.
Moral of the story: We may not be as smart as some city slickers, but we
ain't as dumb as most government employees.
You can say what you want about the South, but you never hear of anyone
retiring and moving north.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin: Divine Providence
on: February 05, 2008, 10:47:25 AM
"All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed
frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To
that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in
peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity.
And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine
that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a
long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs
I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men.
And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice,
is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?""
-- Benjamin Franklin (To Colleagues at the Constitutional
Reference: Quoted by James Madison, Notes of Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company,
1987), pp. 209-
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bolton: Our politicized intel
on: February 05, 2008, 08:37:46 AM
Our Politicized Intelligence Services
By JOHN R. BOLTON
February 5, 2008; Page A17
Today, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee (and Thursday on the House side) to give the intelligence community's annual global threat analysis. These hearings are always significant, but the stakes are especially high now because of the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.
Criticism of the NIE's politicized, policy-oriented "key judgments" has spanned the political spectrum and caused considerable turmoil in Congress. Few seriously doubt that the NIE gravely damaged the Bush administration's diplomatic strategy. With the intelligence community's credibility and impartiality on the line, Mr. McConnell has an excellent opportunity to correct the NIE's manifold flaws, and repair some of the damage done to international efforts to stop Iran from obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons.
There are (at least) three things he should do:
- Explain how the NIE was distorted, and rewrite it objectively to reflect the status of Iran's nuclear programs. The NIE's first key judgment is "we judge with high confidence that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." Most of the world, predictably, never got beyond that opinion. Only inveterate footnote hunters noticed the extraordinary accompanying footnote which redefined Iran's "nuclear weapons program" to mean only its "nuclear weapon design and weaponization work," and undeclared uranium conversion and enrichment activities. Card sharks -- not intelligence professionals -- could be proud of this sleight of hand, which grossly mischaracterizes what Iran actually needs for a weapons program.
The NIE later makes clear that Iran's nuclear efforts and capabilities are continuing and growing, that many activities are "dual use" (i.e., for either civil or military purposes), and that Iran's real intentions are unknown. Substantively, therefore, the NIE is not far different from the 2005 NIE, but its first sentence gives a radically different impression.
Here is the first question for Congress: Was the NIE's opening salvo intended to produce policy consequences congenial to Mr. McConnell's own sentiments? If not, how did he miss the obvious consequences that flowed from the NIE within minutes of its public release?
This was a sin of either commission or omission. If the intelligence community intended the NIE's first judgment to have policy ramifications -- in particular to dissuade the Bush administration from a more forceful policy against Iran -- then it was out of line, a sin of commission.
If, on the other hand, Mr. McConnell and others missed the NIE's explosive nature, then this is at best a sin of omission, and perhaps far worse. Will Mr. McConnell say he saw nothing significant in how the NIE was written? Does he believe in fact that the first sentence is the NIE's single most important point? If not, why was it the first sentence?
Why not start by using the NIE's very last key judgment, "we assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so." Who decided which sentence should be first and which last? This is not an exercise in style, but a matter of critical importance for American national security.
- Commit that NIEs will abjure policy bias. Policy makers and intelligence community analysts agree that assessing hard capabilities is typically easier than judging the murkier world of intentions. The NIE's judgments on Iran's intentions and sensitivities, however, often sound as though they were written by Supreme Leader Khamenei's psychologist, albeit with precious little factual basis.
While acknowledging that the 2003 halt was due to "pressure," the NIE opines that a combination of pressures and "opportunities for Iran" might cause the halt to be extended, but only if those worthy mullahs in Tehran find the "opportunities" to be "credible." One can only guess where that conclusion comes from, but the NIE's next sentence says "it is difficult to specify what such a combination might be," thus rendering the earlier conclusions not only unsupported, but incomprehensible.
One key proof of the NIE's policy-driven nature is the number of dogs that don't bark. The 2003 halt could have been triggered by the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, acts which certainly awakened Moammar Gadhafi and led to Libya renouncing its nuclear-weapons program. But somehow the Iraq war never makes it into the NIE. The 2003 halt is attributed merely to the "exposure of Iran's previously undeclared work." Moreover, the NIE says nothing about Iran's aggressive ballistic missile development program, which bears directly on Iran's intentions: Was it expending large sums only to deliver conventional weapons?
Mr. McConnell should commit the intelligence community to stick to its knitting -- intelligence -- and return its policy enthusiasts to agencies where policy is made.
- Reaffirm the existing policy that NIE key judgments should not be made public. Then, stick to it and enforce discipline against leaks. Press reports say that the White House agreed to make the key judgments public, contrary to a policy adopted only weeks earlier, because the intelligence community warned that the document would otherwise surely leak. Some might see this as blackmail, but at best it represents a failure of both the intelligence community's leadership and rank and file. The only clear victor was Tehran, which might as well have received the NIE via e-mail directly from Mr. McConnell's office.
The intelligence community is not a think tank. It is a clandestine service to advise U.S. decision makers, proud and honorable work that its members once uniformly understood was to remain behind the scenes. This is where it should return.
Whatever the intentions of the drafters of the NIE, it mortally wounded the administration's diplomatic strategy, which was ineffective to begin with. Many applauded the outcome of this internecine bureaucratic warfare, but it is highly risky to allow such outcome-determinative opinions to prevail.
Iran is a critical challenge for the U.S. -- which Mr. McConnell should begin his testimony by stressing -- but the implications of how this NIE was written are also serious. Several members of Congress have suggested an independent analysis of the data underlying the NIE. Mr. McConnell should agree to this, to resolve the disagreements and restore the intelligence community's damaged credibility.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster/Threshold Editions, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / FBI gearing up new biometric database
on: February 05, 2008, 08:11:45 AM
The Next generation of Identification:
I'd expect to see this kind on Alex Jones.
Anyone who is "OK" with this should consider the implications of more weapon bans and domestic spying in tandem with this kind of stuff.
Reads just like "1984".
CLARKSBURG, West Virginia (CNN) -- The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people's physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.
But it's an issue that raises major privacy concerns -- what one civil liberties expert says should concern all Americans.
The bureau is expected to announce in coming days the awarding of a $1 billion, 10-year contract to help create the database that will compile an array of biometric information -- from palm prints to eye scans.
Kimberly Del Greco, the FBI's Biometric Services section chief, said adding to the database is "important to protect the borders to keep the terrorists out, protect our citizens, our neighbors, our children so they can have good jobs, and have a safe country to live in."
But it's unnerving to privacy experts.
"It's the beginning of the surveillance society where you can be tracked anywhere, any time and all your movements, and eventually all your activities will be tracked and noted and correlated," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Project.
The FBI already has 55 million sets of fingerprints on file. In coming years, the bureau wants to compare palm prints, scars and tattoos, iris eye patterns, and facial shapes. The idea is to combine various pieces of biometric information to positively identify a potential suspect.
A lot will depend on how quickly technology is perfected, according to Thomas Bush, the FBI official in charge of the Clarksburg, West Virginia, facility where the FBI houses its current fingerprint database. Watch what the FBI hopes to gain »
"Fingerprints will still be the big player," Bush, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, told CNN.
But he added, "Whatever the biometric that comes down the road, we need to be able to plug that in and play."
First up, he said, are palm prints. The FBI has already begun collecting images and hopes to soon use these as an additional means of making identifications. Countries that are already using such images find 20 percent of their positive matches come from latent palm prints left at crime scenes, the FBI's Bush said.
The FBI has also started collecting mug shots and pictures of scars and tattoos. These images are being stored for now as the technology is fine-tuned. All of the FBI's biometric data is stored on computers 30-feet underground in the Clarksburg facility.
In addition, the FBI could soon start comparing people's eyes -- specifically the iris, or the colored part of an eye -- as part of its new biometrics program called Next Generation Identification.
Nearby, at West Virginia University's Center for Identification Technology Research, researchers are already testing some of these technologies that will ultimately be used by the FBI.
"The best increase in accuracy will come from fusing different biometrics together," said Bojan Cukic, the co-director of the center.
But while law enforcement officials are excited about the possibilities of these new technologies, privacy advocates are upset the FBI will be collecting so much personal information.
"People who don't think mistakes are going to be made I don't think fly enough," said Steinhardt.
He said thousands of mistakes have been made with the use of the so-called no-fly lists at airports -- and that giving law enforcement widespread data collection techniques should cause major privacy alarms.
"There are real consequences to people," Steinhardt said. Watch concerns over more data collection »
You don't have to be a criminal or a terrorist to be checked against the database. More than 55 percent of the checks the FBI runs involve criminal background checks for people applying for sensitive jobs in government or jobs working with vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, according to the FBI.
The FBI says it hasn't been saving the fingerprints for those checks, but that may change. The FBI plans a so-called "rap-back" service in which an employer could ask the FBI to keep the prints for an employee on file and let the employer know if the person ever has a brush with the law. The FBI says it will first have to clear hurdles with state privacy laws, and people would have to sign waivers allowing their information to be kept.
Critics say people are being forced to give up too much personal information. But Lawrence Hornak, the co-director of the research center at West Virginia University, said it could actually enhance people's privacy.
"It allows you to project your identity as being you," said Hornak. "And it allows people to avoid identity theft, things of that nature." Watch Hornak describe why he thinks it's a "privacy enhancer" »
There remains the question of how reliable these new biometric technologies will be. A 2006 German study looking at facial recognition in a crowded train station found successful matches could be made 60 percent of the time during the day. But when lighting conditions worsened at night, the results shrank to a success rate of 10 to 20 percent.
As work on these technologies continues, researchers are quick to admit what's proven to be the most accurate so far. "Iris technology is perceived today, together with fingerprints, to be the most accurate," said Cukic.
But in the future all kinds of methods may be employed. Some researchers are looking at the way people walk as a possible additional means of identification.
The FBI says it will protect all this personal data and only collect information on criminals and those seeking sensitive jobs.
The ACLU's Steinhardt doesn't believe it will stop there.
"This had started out being a program to track or identify criminals," he said. "Now we're talking about large swaths of the population -- workers, volunteers in youth programs. Eventually, it's going to be everybody."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pon Paul on illegal immigration
on: February 05, 2008, 07:52:58 AM
Ron Paul’s Immigration Pledge
February 4th, 2008 by Dan McCarthy Ron Paul has signed the Numbers USA pledge to oppose amnesty for illegal aliens and protect America’s borders. Here’s the text of the pledge:
NUMBERS USA Pledge
I pledge to oppose amnesty or any other special path to citizenship for the millions of foreign nationals unlawfully present in the United States. As President, I will fully implement enforcement measures that, over time, will lead to the attrition of our illegal immigrant population. I also pledge to make security of our borders a top priority of my administration.
Numbers USA includes six points of understanding as to what the pledge means and what it entails:
1. The 12 million illegal aliens now here will have to go home.
2. They will not get any legal status while here that allows them to remain long-term.
3. Once in their home countries, they may apply for re-admittance to the U.S. as immigrants, visitors or temporary workers through normal channels.
4. But they will not receive any special privileges on the basis of their having been in the U.S. illegally, such as being put to the front of a line.
5. There will be no new categories or programs through which they may re-enter.
6. There will not be an expansion of green cards in any existing categories that will speed up their movement to the front of the line.
The talk must stop. We must secure our borders now. A nation without secure borders is no nation at all. It makes no sense to fight terrorists abroad when our own front door is left unlocked. This is my six point plan:
Physically secure our borders and coastlines. We must do whatever it takes to control entry into our country before we undertake complicated immigration reform proposals.
Enforce visa rules. Immigration officials must track visa holders and deport anyone who overstays their visa or otherwise violates U.S. law. This is especially important when we recall that a number of 9/11 terrorists had expired visas.
No amnesty. Estimates suggest that 10 to 20 million people are in our country illegally. That’s a lot of people to reward for breaking our laws.
No welfare for illegal aliens. Americans have welcomed immigrants who seek opportunity, work hard, and play by the rules. But taxpayers should not pay for illegal immigrants who use hospitals, clinics, schools, roads, and social services.
End birthright citizenship. As long as illegal immigrants know their children born here will be citizens, the incentive to enter the U.S. illegally will remain strong.
Pass true immigration reform. The current system is incoherent and unfair. But current reform proposals would allow up to 60 million more immigrants into our country, according to the Heritage Foundation. This is insanity. Legal immigrants from all countries should face the same rules and waiting periods.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 04, 2008, 08:28:30 PM
More BO-- this one on his economics. Its from a liberal website, so linear clarity of thought tends to be fleeting:http://www.salon.com/tech/htww/index.html
The economics of Barack Obama
Writing in the Guardian, Daniel Koffler offers a provocative analysis of the economics of Barack Obama, arguing that the senator and his chief economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, have put together a platform that is "orthogonal to the traditional liberal-conservative axis." (Thanks to Trade Diversion for the link.)
If this approach needs a name, call it left-libertarianism. Advancements in behavioral economics, public and rational choice theory, and game theory provide us with an opportunity to attend to inequality without crippling the economy, enhancing the coercive power of the state, or infringing on personal liberty (at least not to any extent greater than the welfare state already does; and as much as my libertarian friends might wish otherwise, the welfare state isn't going anywhere). The cost -- higher marginal tax rates -- is real, but eminently justified by the benefits.
On healthcare and on trade, argues Koffler, Obama is "moving more and more in the direction of economic freedom, competition and individual choice." This reflects the influence of Goolsbee, "who agrees with the liberal consensus on the need to address concerns such as income inequality, disparate educational opportunities and, of course, disparate access to healthcare, but breaks sharply from liberal orthodoxy on both the causes of these social ills and the optimal strategy for ameliorating them."
Instead of recommending traditional welfare-state liberalism as a solvent for socioeconomic inequalities and dislocations, Goolsbee promotes programs to essentially democratize the market, protecting and where possible expanding freedom of choice, while simultaneously creating rational, self-interested incentives for individuals to participate in solving collective problems.
In a recent forum for candidate economic advisors sponsored by the New American Foundation, Goolsbee offered an example of what he called Obama's "sleek and easy to use iPod version of government." Suppose the goal is to get Americans to save more by diverting some portion of their income into investment accounts. "The research is very clear," said Goolsbee. The way to get people to start doing that is to "default them into automatic enrollment." So, a worker starts a new job, and 3 percent of his or her paycheck is automatically deposited into an investment account. But if the workers wanted to opt out of such a program, said Goolsbee, they could easily do so.
The proposal manages to include elements of the "nanny-state" approach (we'll pass a law that automatically forces citizens to save more) and yet at the same time tells people that they don't have to participate if they don't want to. Technocratic: yes. Inspiring: maybe not.
Buzzwords like "economic freedom" and "individual choice" make it easy for strategists for other campaigns to attempt to portray Obama as Republican-lite, not to mention open up room for attacks from the left such as those relentlessly delivered by Paul Krugman. But when Goolsbee spoke at the NAF forum, he noted that the critical problem at the heart of the American economy is the growing disparity in income distribution between the richest Americans and the poor and middle class. Over the last six years, said Goolsbee, "the typical worker had not seen income grow hardly at all, while the cost of education, health care and energy have all gone up."
It hardly needs stressing that concerns about income inequality do not generally fall into the category "Republican-lite." But it is also true that Obama appears to be pushing a relatively market-friendly agenda that does not map neatly onto liberal Democratic traditions.
Of course, no one on the left ever accused Bill or Hillary Clinton of being raving liberals. It is one of the many peculiarities of this campaign season that Hillary Clinton's campaign strategists have decided that there is an advantage to be gained in attempting to position her as the progressive candidate, in comparison to Obama. Both candidates are much closer to the center than they are to, say, Ralph Nader. So as California and 20-odd other states get ready for, as Keith Olbermann likes to say, the biggest day of primaries in the history of the universe, should the decisive factor in choosing one or the other be the differences in the tactics they espouse, or how one estimates their chances of winning a general election, and getting the opportunity to execute their plans.
-- Andrew Leonard
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politically (In)correct
on: February 04, 2008, 07:33:17 PM
“The truth is, we are supposed to be taking in individuals from other cultures, not other cultures in their wholeness. That is what American openness is supposed to represent. But we are so far gone that the men who lead us... are not even aware of this. But once again we see the continuum between universal values and multiculturalism. Since human beings can’t live without culture, multiculturalism—that is, to be taken over by other cultures—is the fate of any country unwilling to assert its own culture. Some people are wary of talking of an American culture because they associate it with race. This is erroneous. Culture transcends race. It unites people of different backgrounds. Whether it be Louis Armstrong or Aaron Copland, they are both part of American culture.”—Carol Iannone
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Plane vs. Conveyer Belt
on: February 04, 2008, 12:08:54 PM
Plane vs. Conveyer Belt: Hell Yeah the Plane Takes Off
by Higgins - January 31, 2008 - 4:20 PM
Last night the Discovery show Mythbusters settled a longstanding debate: whether an airplane on a conveyer belt (running at the same speed, but in the opposite direction as the plane) can take off. The short answer, as liveblogged by Jason Kottke:
HELL YEAH THE PLANE TAKES OFF
It’s a curious problem. As a thought experiment, it seems (at least to me) like the plane shouldn’t take off, since it’s not gaining takeoff velocity relative to the ground. But according to, you know, SCIENCE, the plane doesn’t need to reach takeoff velocity relative to the ground — it just needs lift an appropriate amount of lift. It’s the velocity of the air relative to the wings that counts, which is generated by the action of the engines.
Despite explanations of this sort of physicists, the issue wasn’t really settled until last night’s Mythbusters episode — they replicated the experiment on a small scale, then with a real airplane (albeit an ultralight), using a huge tarp dragged by a truck as the “conveyer belt.” Even the plane’s pilot thought the plane wouldn’t take off. When Jason Kottke first blogged about the issue last February, his comment thread was hot with controversy. So Kottke tuned in to Mythbusters last night and liveblogged the event, with results visible above. His exuberance over the plane’s liftoff has resulted in a “HELL YEAH THE PLANE TAKES OFF” tee-shirt available starting at $18. Wow.
Watch the Mythbusters clip in question below…. (Note: if this clip is pulled down, I’ll try to dig up another.)
See <http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/11750> for the Mythbusters clip...
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica
on: February 04, 2008, 09:01:09 AM
"Seg�n informes de inteligencia (DEA y Conacuid) los capos eran protegidos por autoridades venezolanas"
Entrevista // Mildred Camero, ex presidenta de la CONACUID
"Jab�n ten�a protecci�n en Venezuela"http://noticias.eluniversal.com/2008/02/03/pol_art_jabon-tenia-protecc_698735.shtml
EL UNIVERSAL, domingo 03-02-08
No se anda con rodeos Mildred Camero a la hora de denunciar que funcionarios del Gobierno han protegido y extorsionado a capos colombianos del narcotr�fico, incluyendo a Wilber Varela, alias Jab�n, asesinado el pasado jueves en M�rida. Considerado como el responsable del env�o a EEUU de 70% de la droga que ingresa a ese pa�s, Varela, advierte la ex presidenta de la Conacuid, viv�a en Venezuela desde hace por lo menos cinco a�os.
-�A qu� y a qui�nes se podr�a atribuir el asesinato, en Venezuela, del capo colombiano del narcotr�fico, Wilber Varela (alias Jab�n)?
-El hecho parece extra�o. Durante muchos a�os se se�al� que Wilber Varela operaba en territorio venezolano, movi�ndose entre Apure, Barinas, Portuguesa y Anzo�tegui. Algunos informes daban cuenta de que ten�a una finca en territorio nacional e incluso lleg� a vincul�rsele con la droga decomisada en el aeropuerto de Porlamar, el a�o pasado.
-�Cu�l es la fuente de esos informes?
-Informes confidenciales de inteligencia se�alaron que estaba siendo protegido por autoridades venezolanas y que se mov�a de un lado para otro. �l fue aliado de las FARC pero luego de un tiempo se separ� de �sas para trabajar con el ELN.
-Esa informaci�n, �la obtuvo usted siendo presidenta de la Conacuid (Comisi�n Nacional contra el Uso Il�cito de las Drogas)?
-S�. Esa informaci�n la obtuvimos gracias a las investigaciones sobre las operaciones del Negro Acacio (Tom�s Medina Caracas, acusado de dirigir las operaciones de narcotr�fico de las FARC, muerto por el Ej�rcito colombiano en septiembre del a�o pasado). Luego las investigaciones nos llevaron hasta Jab�n y a Farid Dom�nguez (narcotraficante que habr�a sido protegido por autoridades venezolanas, ahora preso en Colombia). Nosotros trabaj�bamos con la DEA y con el grupo de inteligencia que formamos en la Conacuid.
-Es decir, el Gobierno venezolano ten�a informaci�n de que esos se�ores estaban operando en Venezuela.
-Yo elaboraba informes mensuales para el presidente y el vicepresidente de la Rep�blica.
-�Por qu� afirma que Jab�n y los otros estaban siendo protegidos por autoridades venezolanas?
-Los informes de inteligencia dan cuenta de que estaban siendo protegidos por autoridades venezolanas y que actuaban con absoluta libertad. Ten�an pasaporte y c�dula de identidad venezolanos, adem�s de reunirse con funcionarios gubernamentales de alto rango.
-�Civiles o militares?
-Civiles y militares. Los informes de inteligencia est�n ah�.
-Esos informes, �son de la DEA?
-De la DEA.
-Volvemos a la pregunta inicial: �qui�n y por qu� matan a Jab�n?
Pareciera que el Gobierno est� interesado en demostrar que est� luchando contra el tr�fico de drogas.
-Pero ninguna autoridad venezolana se ha atribuido el hecho.
-Hay informaciones, no confirmadas, seg�n las cuales esos delincuentes son protegidos y extorsionados por autoridades del pa�s y que posteriormente, cuando ya no les interesan, aparecen muertos o son capturados y entregados a los gobiernos de sus pa�ses de origen, como ocurri� con Farid Dom�nguez, quien fue detenido en una quinta de la urbanizaci�n La Lagunita durante una operaci�n conjunta de las autoridades colombo venezolanas.
-�Qu� otra hip�tesis puede manejarse tomando en cuenta que se trata del jefe del cartel del norte del Valle, solicitado por las autoridades de EEUU, por cuya cabeza ofrec�an una recompensa de 5 millones de d�lares, vinculado, seg�n usted dice, primero a las FARC y luego al ELN?
-Los traficantes, las FARC. Eso debe determinarlo, en todo caso, la investigaci�n.
-�Por qu� se separ� de las FARC?
-Por un problema de drogas.
-Una cosa es proteger a alguien que permanece pasivo y otra proteger a alguien que usa el territorio para exportar droga.
-�l trabajaba con el ELN e incluso, de acuerdo con los informes, habr�a participado en algunos intentos por negociar la liberaci�n de rehenes en manos de esa guerrilla.
-Seg�n lo que usted dice, Jab�n permaneci� en Venezuela por lo menos durante cinco a�os, estando las autoridades venezolanas al tanto de esta situaci�n.
-�l se mov�a entre los dos pa�ses, pero permanec�a m�s tiempo aqu� porque estaba sentenciado por las FARC, que lo quer�an liquidar.
-Mientras todo esto ocurr�a, en Italia es recapturado el venezolano Alex del Nogal. �Hay una relaci�n entre las situaciones y los personajes?
-Alex del Nogal siempre ha estado vinculado al tema de las drogas, lavado de dinero y explosivos. �l ha mantenido relaciones con personajes de la sociedad. Pero no creo que se pueda establecer una conexi�n con lo ocurrido en M�rida. Ahora, Del Nogal tiene un prontuario y estuvo detenido en Pa- nam�.
-�Sus relaciones incluyen funcionarios del Gobierno?
-Personas que est�n en el lavado de dinero, incluso funcionarios del Gobierno, pero esta es una informaci�n que no puedo confirmar.
-Usted denuncia complicidades, omisiones, protecciones, relaciones de funcionarios con narcotraficantes y grupos guerrilleros. Implica eso que el Gobierno...
-No puedo hablar del Gobierno como tal. Es obvio que hay mucha gente que hace todo tipo de negocios il�citos y se aprovecha de esta coyuntura. Pero no incluir�a al presidente Ch�vez ni a muchos funcionarios honestos, tanto militares como policiales, que trabajan con gran esp�ritu de servicio.
-Si el Presidente apoya la producci�n de coca en Bo- livia, si se ordena la salida del pa�s de la DEA, si existen v�nculos de funcionarios del Gobierno con la narcoguerrilla, como usted lo se�ala, �qu� conclusiones podemos extraer de todo esto?
-No quisiera llegar a ninguna conclusi�n, pero s� puedo afirmar que el Presidente tiene una gran confusi�n sobre lo que es la coca, la pasta de coca y la coca�na. Evidentemente no ha sido bien asesorado y por eso afirma que la hoja de coca no s�lo es inofensiva sino que resulta beneficiosa. Quiz�s esto obedezca a la campa�a internacional que adelanta el presidente Evo Morales, bajo el nombre de "Soberan�a y coca". El objetivo es legitimar ese producto para que la ONU lo saque de la lista 1 de estupefacientes. El a�o pasado fracas� en su intento de convencer al se�or Antonio Mar�a Costa, director ejecutivo de la Oficina de Naciones Unidas contra las Drogas y el Delito (Onudd), pero sigue buscando apoyos, como el del presidente Ch�vez, para lograr su prop�sito y �ste ha querido ayudar a su amigo.
-�No consiste ese prop�sito en convertir la coca en materia prima con usos diferentes o hay otros fines?
-La ministra boliviana de Desarrollo Rural anunci� el a�o pasado el decomiso de m�s de tres millones de libras de hoja de coca "ilegal, destinada al tr�fico de drogas". Eso quiere decir que la coca boliviana, sembrada en una extensi�n de 20 mil hect�reas, est� destinada, en m�s de 90%, a su procesamiento para la elaboraci�n de coca�na. La misma ministra lo reconoce al informar que en el a�o 2007 se allanaron 6 laboratorios de refinamiento y cuatro de reciclaje, mientras se detuvo a m�s de 4 mil personas dedicadas a estas actividades y se incautaron grandes cantidades de pasta de coca y sacos de maceraci�n.
-�Pero la coca no puede ser utilizada, tambi�n, con fines m�dicos e incluso alimenticios en otros pa�ses?
-Primero se debe decir que las leyes proh�ben a Bolivia exportar coca, pero Morales se empe�a en su objetivo, aduciendo que se puede procesar harina, t� y otros productos.
-Entonces el anuncio del presidente Ch�vez, de construir una planta para el procesamiento de hoja de coca no es factible.
-No lo es. La coca es la materia prima de la coca�na y resulta insustituible. Sin coca no hay coca�na y la mayor parte de la producci�n de coca se procesa para refinar coca�na. La hoja de coca, en su estado original, se mastica con cal, eso activa los alcaloides que contiene la planta y produce un estado de euforia, al tiempo que alivia el cansancio, mitiga el hambre y la sed. Y hasta ah� porque las dem�s propiedades, como las anest�sicas, ya han sido superadas por otros f�rmacos que, a la postre, resultan m�s eficaces y mucho menos adictivos.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica
on: February 04, 2008, 08:59:30 AM
Recibi' lo siguiente ayer:
These two items seem quite incredible. It seems quite obvious that Colombia and possibly the USA have declared an undeclared war on Hugo Chavez. I find it hard to believee that this kind of information would make it to the press without official sanction...
�SENSACIONAL ARTICULO DE LA REVISTA SEMANA DE COLOMBIA (largo pero muy interesante)
La revista colombiana Semana revela hoy un esc�ndalo que va a sacudir al pa�s en los pr�ximos d�as. El General Hugo Carvajal, Director de la DIM,� a quien el reportaje� de esta revista llama "el Montesinos venezolano", estar�a involucrado en la protecci�n de narcotraficantes y terroristas de las FARC. Tambi�n se le acusa de varios asesinatos, entre ellos el de 2 agentes de inteligencia de Colombia despu�s de torturarlos brutalmente.
Se transcribe a continuaci�n el reportaje en el cual SEMANA revela los nexos del General venezolano Hugo Carvajal con las Farc y los narcos:
La gente que le habla al o�do al presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Ch�vez, se cuenta con los dedos de las manos. Y de ese grupo selecto, uno de los m�s cercanos, leales y a quien m�s confianza le tiene es al general Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios: el cerebro de la inteligencia venezolana. El asunto no tendr�a mayor importancia para Colombia de no ser porque desde hace varios a�os, y especialmente en 2007, el nombre del general Carvajal se ha visto salpicado por casos de extrema gravedad que atentan contra la seguridad nacional de Colombia.
Dos agencias de inteligencia de pa�ses con gran experiencia en materia de espionaje tienen informaci�n que consideran altamente confiable de que Carvajal ha facilitado protecci�n y documentos de identificaci�n a guerrilleros y narcotraficantes de Colombia en territorio venezolano �incluido el reci�n asesinado capo W�lber Varela, 'Jab�n'. Y como si fuera poco, el general est� en la mira de estas agencias por su supuesta participaci�n en la tortura y el asesinato de dos miembros del Ej�rcito colombiano que, seg�n informaci�n de Bogot�, persegu�an a guerrilleros que estaban refugiados en Venezuela.
LLo m�s parad�jico es que Hugo Carvajal es un hombre pr�cticamente desconocido en Colombia, a pesar de ser el jefe de la Direcci�n General de Inteligencia Militar (DGIM), un organismo de car�cter militar que est� a la misma altura del Ministerio de Defensa y del Ministerio del Interior y recibe instrucciones, responde y rinde cuentas s�lo al Presidente de la Rep�blica, Hugo Ch�vez. "Hoy en d�a la DGIM es un monstruo de siete cabezas que tiene un perfil relativamente bajo pero su poder es inmenso. Ser�a como si en Colombia existiera una entidad, bajo el mando de un solo hombre, que manejara la Inteligencia de las Fuerzas Militares, la Polic�a, el DAS y el CTI", dijo a SEMANA un oficial de la DGIM que pidi� el anonimato.
�Por qu� se viene a conocer esto ahora? �Qu� se est� moviendo detr�s de todo esto? SEMANA habl� con cuatro oficiales activos de diferentes organismos de inteligencia y de la fuerza p�blica venezolana y ellos explican que la informaci�n comenz� a filtrarse en la medida en que el general Carvajal, con acciones irregulares, se fue granjeando la animadversi�n de sectores de la Fuerza Armada Nacional (FAN) y otros organismos de seguridad.
Dicen los testigos que aparte de sus relaciones con la guerrilla, Carvajal le ha dado gran importancia a la contra inteligencia y ha cometido excesos que van desde cacer�as de brujas injustificadas hasta torturas de miembros de las propias FAN por simples sospechas de deslealtad. Muchos uniformados en el interior de las Fuerzas Militares inconformes con esta situaci�n han decidido denunciar o entregar informaci�n a cambio de recompensas.
Por eso no es extra�o que diarios como El Pa�s, de Espa�a y The Washington Post de Estados Unidos hayan publicado en los �ltimos meses informes sobre los nexos entre uniformados de Venezuela y guerrilleros de las Farc. Ya en octubre de 2005 SEMANA revel� las relaciones de dos generales de la Guardia Nacional (GN) con la mafia colombiana, publicaci�n que dio lugar a que la Vicepresidencia del vecino pa�s anunciara una investigaci�n formal.
Pero ninguna de las revelaciones hasta ahora conocidas es tan grave y preocupante como la informaci�n a la que tuvo acceso esta revista sobre el general Carvajal. SEMANA intent� infructuosamente tener alguna reacci�n por parte de miembros de la�DIM en Caracas. Tambi�n habl� con el encargado de negocios de la Embajada de Venezuela en Bogot� para conocer alguna reacci�n oficial del gobierno venezolano a las denuncias, pero al cierre de esta edici�n no hab�a sido posible.
Habla con 'Grannobles'
Hugo Carvajal naci� el primero de abril de 1960 en Puerto La Cruz, en el occidente de Venezuela. Desde hace ocho a�os est� vinculado a la Direcci�n General de Inteligencia y en julio de 2004 fue nombrado por Ch�vez como director de esa entidad. Pese a su gran poder, es un hombre de un perfil muy bajo. Conocido con el sobrenombre de "El Pollo" por su apariencia f�sica, algunas de las actividades en las que se ha visto involucrado hablan por s� solas.
Un oficial activo de la Guardia Nacional venezolana, que habl� con SEMANA bajo la condici�n de mantener el anonimato, revel� que a mediados de mayo de 2006 el general Carvajal sostuvo una reuni�n con Germ�n Brice�o Su�rez, alias 'Grannobles', un importante jefe de las Farc y hermano del 'Mono Jojoy'. "La reuni�n tuvo lugar en la finca llamada Corocito, ubicada en San Silvestre, estado Barinas. En el lugar hab�a efectivos de la Guardia, la Disip y la DGIM. Era un grupo de aproximadamente 20 personas, aunque hab�a m�s en la seguridad perimetral a cargo de la GN. De la guerrilla estaba Brice�o ('Grannobles') acompa�ado por un peque�o grupo de cinco a siete irregulares. Despu�s, en dos helic�pteros de las FAN llegaron otros 21 guerrilleros", afirma el oficial que dice haber estado presente en el encuentro.
Seg�n �l, el general Carvajal y el guerrillero Brice�o hablaron sobre estrategias de coordinaci�n pol�tica, militar y econ�mica. Carvajal se habr�a comprometido a suministrar apoyo log�stico y comida a los frentes que act�an a lo largo de la frontera. "Brice�o le pidi� a Carvajal protecci�n por parte de la Disip para un grupo de 21 guerrilleros que llegaron en los helic�pteros, ya que operan en diferentes lugares de Venezuela. Le pidi� al general suministrarles a esas personas documentos de identidad as� como credenciales que los acreditaran como miembros de la Disip o de la Dgim para poder moverse mucho m�s tranquilamente en territorio venezolano", dijo el oficial a SEMANA.
Uno de los guerrilleros que gozan de estos privilegios es Yeison Armando Escobar, alias 'Cocorinche', miembro del frente 45 de las Farc. "En octubre del a�o pasado 'Cocorinche' fue uno de los designados por las Farc para coordinar personalmente con el general Carvajal los temas de seguridad y la log�stica para el desplazamiento de Iv�n M�rquez a Miraflores para el encuentro con el presidente Ch�vez", afirm� a SEMANA el oficial de la GN, quien dice adem�s que el subversivo cuenta con carnet de la Disip y de la DGIM, as� como permiso para porte de armas.
Otro de los oficiales que se destap� con SEMANA, un comisario de la Direcci�n de los Servicios de Inteligencia y Prevenci�n, o Polic�a pol�tica (Disip), a�adi� que tambi�n les dieron ese tipo de documentos oficiales a Didier y a�Yesid R�os. "Desde octubre de 2007 ellos est�n viviendo en Isla Margarita y all� cuentan con seguridad permanente por parte de miembros de la DIM, asignados por el general Carvajal". Conocidos en Colombia como 'el clan de los R�os', Didier y Yesid hacen parte de una familia que trabaj� durante a�os para el comandante del Frente 16 de las Farc, Tom�s Medina Caracas, alias el 'Negro Acacio', en env�o de droga y lavado de activos.
Didier, Yesid y otros seis miembros del clan escaparon hacia Venezuela en 2001 despu�s de la ofensiva que lanz� el Ej�rcito contra el 'Negro Acacio' y que fue conocida como Operaci�n Gato Negro. En noviembre de 2005 el DAS y la Fiscal�a colombiana incautaron propiedades que el 'clan de los R�os' administraba para las Farc valoradas en 30.000 millones de pesos.
No es la primera vez que el nombre del general Carvajal aparece vinculado a la protecci�n y suministro de credenciales oficiales de organismos de inteligencia venezolanos a guerrilleros y narcotraficantes. SEMANA tuvo acceso a los carn�s que le fueron suministrados a Herm�goras Gonz�lez, un narco colombiano solicitado en extradici�n por Estados Unidos, quien desde hace varios a�os se refugi� y trafica en el estado Barinas.
El nombre de este narcotraficante colombiano sali� a la luz p�blica en octubre del a�o pasado en un reportaje de The Washington Post como uno de los mayores exportadores de coca hacia Norteam�rica y Europa. Herm�goras, que es enlace de traficantes colombianos, entre ellos el asesinado Varela, se mueve libremente por Venezuela con dos identificaciones oficiales. Una lo acredita como comisario de la Disip y otra, como agente de inteligencia de la GN. Un informe elaborado por la propia GN, al que tuvo acceso esta revista, relata la irregularidad "La orden de suministrar los documentos oficiales a Herm�goras Gonz�lez as� como a otros narcos y guerrilleros se la dio el general Carvajal a Pedro Lu�s Mart�n, que era el director de inteligencia de la Disip y ahora es uno de los hombres de confianza del general", afirm� el funcionario de la Disip que habl� con SEMANA.
A estos indicios se suma tambi�n una grabaci�n en manos de agencias extranjeras que demostrar�a que el general Carvajal les dio la voz de alerta a narcotraficantes para que evadieran una importante operaci�n antidrogas. "El 5 de septiembre de 2007 se iba a realizar una operaci�n para incautar 2.900 kilos de coca�na que estaban escondidos en un almac�n en la ciudad de Puerto La Cruz y que iban a ser exportados a Europa. La droga pertenec�a a varios narcotraficantes colombianos y un porcentaje del cargamento era del frente 10 de las Farc. Se detect� una llamada del general Carvajal a miembros de la GN y la DGIM que custodiaban el cargamento alertando sobre el inminente operativo. La droga fue cambiada de lugar y la operaci�n se frustr�", dijo a SEMANA un miembro de un servicio de inteligencia extranjero que estaba coordinando la operaci�n.
�Orden de asesinatos?
El nombre del general Carvajal ha estado relacionado con asuntos aun m�s complejos. En julio del a�o pasado, el general fue alertado por uno de sus hombres de confianza de la Disip sobre la efectiva colaboraci�n que ven�a suministrando un informante de apellido Rodr�guez a la DEA, en la cual quedaba muy mal parado por nexos con narcos un importante industrial venezolano cercano al gobierno de Caracas. "En Estados Unidos se estaba adelantando una causa judicial contra el empresario que permitir�a atacar una red de traficantes y lavadores que act�a en Colombia y Venezuela. Rodr�guez era clave en el caso. Despu�s de ser alertado de que �l estaba colabor�ndonos, Carvajal dio la orden a un equipo de hombres del Cuerpo de Investigaciones Cient�ficas, Penales y Criminal�sticas(Cicpc) quienes secuestraron, torturaron y asesinaron a Rodr�guez", dijo a SEMANA un agente de la DEA asignado en Venezuela. El caso es conocido, seg�n �l, por el coronel N�stor Reverol, presidente de la Oficina Nacional Antidrogas de Venezuela (ONA).
Aunque todos los hechos anteriores dejan ver muy graves actuaciones del general Carvajal, quiz�s el se�alamiento m�s grave tiene que ver con el papel que el jefe de la DGIM habr�a jugado en la tortura y el asesinato de dos miembros del Ej�rcito colombiano en territorio venezolano. En abril del a�o pasado SEMANA revel� la historia del homicidio del capit�n Camilo Gonz�lez y del cabo Gregorio Mart�nez. Los uniformados se infiltraron en territorio venezolano para dar con guerrilleros colombianos que actuaban en ese pa�s. Pero fueron descubiertos y brutalmente torturados y asesinados en la sede de la GN localizada en Santa B�rbara, estado Zulia. "Los que descubren a los militares colombianos y se dan cuenta de que est�n haciendo inteligencia son oficiales de la Polic�a de Santa B�rbara. Ellos los capturan y los llevan a la sede del Destacamento de Apoyo A�reo N�mero 1 de la Guardia Nacional. Desde all� se le comunica la captura al general Carvajal, quien env�a a un coronel de la Dim. �l es quien se encarga de torturar a los colombianos durante varios d�as. En algunos de los interrogatorios estuvo presente un guerrillero que nos dijeron era del ELN. Despu�s de sacarles toda la informaci�n, el coronel llam� al general Carvajal para ver qu� hac�a con ellos. Carvajal le da la orden de ejecutarlos. Lo hizo porque sab�a que, como estaban en una actividad de espionaje, el gobierno de Colombia no pod�a protestar y, adem�s, era un claro mensaje a los militares colombianos de lo que les espera a los que descubran ac� (en Venezuela)".
Este escabroso relato fue narrado a SEMANA por un oficial de la GN que prestaba su servicio en la guarnici�n en donde fueron asesinados los militares.
El oficial afirm� que el coronel al que le encargaron la tortura es un hombre de toda la confianza del general Carvajal. "�l (el coronel) trabaj� en San Crist�bal en el a�o 2005 y all� se convirti� en un contacto clave de la�DIM con la guerrilla colombiana", dice el oficial de la GN. "Siempre fue m�s cercano del ELN que de las Farc, tanto que la gente del ELN se refer�a a �l como 'comandante Ra�l'".
El general Carvajal est�, pues, en la mira de las agencias de inteligencia como lo estuvo en su momento Vladimiro Montesinos: el hombre que concentr� todo el poder de la inteligencia en Per� mientras les vend�a armas a las Farc. Sin duda, los se�alamientos contra el general Hugo Carvajal son de tal gravedad, que el gobierno de Venezuela tendr� que aclarar.
(Important links to follow)http://www.noticias24.com/actualidad/?p=6178http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=109168
Tambi�n hoy, en "El Universal", Mildred Camero, ex-Presidenta de CONACUID, efect�a una serie de revelaciones sobre la protecci�n con que narcotraficantes cuentan en Venezuela. Cuenta igualmente como alias "Jab�n" estaba protegido en el pa�s. Puedes leer la entrevista completa pulsando aqu�.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Older Warrior
on: February 04, 2008, 07:02:41 AM
Staying a Step Ahead of Aging
By GINA KOLATA
Published: January 31, 2008
YOU know what is supposed to happen when you grow old. You will slow down, you will grow weak, your steps will become short and mincing, and you will lose your sense of balance. That’s what aging researchers consistently find, and it’s no surprise to most of us.
But it is worth remembering that the people in those studies were sedentary, said Dr. Vonda Wright, a professor of orthopedics at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Wright, a 40-year-old runner, decided to study people who kept training as they got older or began competing in middle age. She wanted to know what happens to them and at what age does performance start to decline.
Their results are surprising, even to many of the researchers themselves. The investigators find that while you will slow down as you age, you may be able to stave off more of the deterioration than you thought. Researchers also report that people can start later in life — one man took up running at 62 and ran his first marathon, a year later, in 3 hours 25 minutes.
It’s a testament to how adaptable the human body is, researchers said, that people can start serious training at an older age and become highly competitive. It also is testament to their findings that some physiological factors needed for a good performance are not much affected by age.
Researchers say that you should be able to maintain your muscles as you age, including the muscle enzymes needed for good athletic performance, and you should be able to maintain your ability to exercise for long periods near your so-called lactic threshold, meaning you are near maximum effort.
But you have to know how to train, doing the right sort of exercise, and you must keep it up.
“Train hard and train often,” said Hirofumi Tanaka, a 41-year-old soccer player and exercise physiologist at the University of Texas.
Dr. Tanaka said he means doing things like regular interval training, repeatedly going all out, easing up, then going all out again. These workouts train your body to increase its oxygen consumption by allowing you to maintain an intense effort.
“One of the major determinants of endurance performance is oxygen consumption,” Dr. Tanaka said. “You have to make training as intense as you can.”
When you have to choose between hard and often, choose hard, said Steven Hawkins, an exercise physiologist at the University of Southern California.
“High performance is really determined more by intensity than volume,” he added. “Sometimes, when you’re older, something has to give. You can’t have both so you have to cut back on the volume. You need more rest days.”
Dr. Hawkins, who says he no longer runs competitively, adds that he tries to put his findings into practice. “I run a couple of times a week and I try to make it as fast as I can,” he said. “I’m not plodding along.”
He also has been amazed by some people who seem to defy the rules of aging, people he describes as “those rare birds who get faster.” Some subjects in Dr. Hawkins’s research study, which followed runners for nearly two decades, actually had better times when they were 60 than when they were 50.
“We really don’t know why,” Dr. Hawkins confessed. “Maybe they were training harder.”
Then there are people like the 62-year-old man who suddenly took up running and began running fast marathons. That man’s inspiration to become a runner, said James Hagberg, an exercise physiologist at the University of Maryland, was watching a lakefront marathon in Milwaukee. “He got all fired up,” Dr. Hagberg recalled.
And there are people like Imme Dyson, a 71-year-old runner who lives in Princeton, N.J. She took up running when she was 48 and loved it, she says, from the moment she put on a pair of running shoes. Her daughter, who had been a college triathlete, told her how to train.
“She said, ‘Mom, if your workout didn’t hurt, you didn’t work hard enough,’ ” Ms. Dyson said.
“Working consistently really is the recipe,” she said. And it has made a difference for her, allowing her to run races, from 5K to marathons, so fast that she is consistently among the best in the nation in her age group. She has run a 15K cross-country race in 1:19:08, a pace of 8:29 a mile. And she ran a 10K race in 51 minutes 50 seconds, a pace of 8:20 a mile.
Not every aging athlete does so well. But Dr. Hagberg found that studies of aging athletes sometimes were distorted because they included people who had cut back on or stopped training. That’s understandable; there is no reason, researchers say, to exhort everyone to maintain an intense effort decade after decade.
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Athletes would tell Dr. Hagberg that they had just lost their motivation. “Some of them would say: ‘Competition just doesn’t motivate me as much at 75. I’ve been doing it for 50 years,’ ” he said. “Others would say, ‘I just can’t keep it up any more.’ ”
But for those who still have the drive, the news that muscle mass and lactic threshold can be maintained is encouraging.
The reason people become slower, though, is that oxygen consumption declines with age.
In large part that is because, as has long been known, the maximum heart rate steadily falls by about seven to eight beats per minute per decade. It happens with or without training, in sedentary and in active people, Dr. Tanaka said, and no one knows why. But as a result, the heart cannot pump as much blood at maximum effort.
Dr. Michael Joyner, a 49-year-old exercise researcher at the Mayo Clinic who also is a competitive swimmer and a runner, added another factor: the lungs of older athletes cannot take in quite as much air.
With a slower heart rate and less oxygen in the lungs, less oxygen-rich blood gets to the muscles. In one study, Dr. Joyner found that highly trained athletes age 55 to 68 had 10 to 20 percent less blood flow to their legs than athletes in their 20s.
The older athletes in his group, though, were edging toward an age that often is a transition time in athletic performances, researchers are finding. For example, Dr. Wright and her colleague Dr. Brett Perricelli found that the performances of track athletes declined almost imperceptibly from year to year until their mid-60s, when the rate of decline picked up. At age 75, though, the athletes’ times fell, on average, by 7 percent.
The study, the results of which will appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, involved track and field athletes age 50 to 85 who were participants in the 2001 Senior Olympics and also examined the times for American record holders in track events.
But older athletes still can have spectacular performances, Dr. Tanaka notes.
For example, the world best marathon time for men 70 or older (2:54:05) was set by a 74-year-old. That is more than four minutes faster than the winning marathon time at the first modern Olympics, the 1896 Games in Athens.
Of course, such statistics are of little comfort to athletes who do not want to slow down at all. Dr. Hawkins said he and Robert A. Wiswell, the senior author on his nearly 20-year study of athletes, used to joke that they needed a sports psychologist rather than a sports physiologist on their study. The athletes, he explained, could not bear to think that they would stop setting personal records.
That’s an issue for Don Truex, a 70-year-old dentist in Santa Barbara, Calif, who can’t understand why he has slowed down in the last year. He just ran a 5K race in 23:45. It was an average pace of 7:38 a mile, 90 seconds slower than he wanted to run.
“I’ve consulted with my doctor and we think I may be overtraining,” Dr. Truex said. He’s going to continue running five days a week but cut back on his five days a week of cycling.
Slower times are even more of a concern for Dr. Truex’s friend Barry Erbsen, a 67-year-old dentist in Los Angeles.
Dr. Erbsen started running seriously around 40. His best time in a 10K race was 38 minutes, a pace of 6 minutes a mile. Next he started running marathons, going faster each time until he had completed several, including the Boston Marathon, in 3:07:00.
Then, Dr. Erbsen started to slow down. He ran a marathon a few years ago in 3:45:00. He completed his next one in 3:58:00.
That nearly four-hour marathon was his last, he said. Instead, Dr. Erbsen took up mountain biking. So far so good, he said. He’s having a lot of fun. And, he added, “I’m not getting too much slower.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela
on: February 04, 2008, 06:30:01 AM
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
February 4, 2008; Page A14
In 1981, Argentine inflation topped 130%, and by the early months of 1982 the situation was rapidly deteriorating. A web of price controls designed to compensate for monetary mischief at the central bank only made things worse. Confidence had collapsed and civil unrest was growing.
The military government's decision to lay claim to Britain's South Georgia Island on March 19, 1982, and later the Falklands, was dictator Leopoldo Galtieri's last-ditch effort to boost the nation's sense of strength, and to distract it from the reality that it was caught in an economic maelstrom.
Fast forward to 2008 and Venezuela, where the parallels cannot be ignored. The military government of President Hugo Chávez is engaging in provocations against a foreign power that would seem to have little purpose other than getting news of the crumbling economy off the front pages and ginning up nationalism.
In a speech before the national assembly last month, Mr. Chávez dropped a bombshell, proclaiming that Venezuela now recognizes the Colombian rebel group known as the FARC as a legitimate political actor. He went on to ask that European and South American governments remove the group from their terrorist lists. A day earlier his special envoy for FARC relations went public with his own fondness for the Colombian rebels, and with the news that the Venezuelan government stands ready to help them.
This was more than Mr. Chávez playing footsie with the FARC, which he has long been doing. This was a statement of official support for a band of outlaws who seek the destruction of the Colombian democracy. The news shook both nations. It suggested that Colombia is not only at war with the rebels, but also with a neighboring state.
Mr. Chávez probably doesn't really want war with the militarily superior Colombia anymore than Galtieri wanted to battle it out with Britain. But by poking his neighbor in the eye, he was undoubtedly hoping for some kind of a reaction, to which Venezuela naturally would be obliged to respond. Amid an escalation of tensions between the two countries, a nationalist outcry to defend Venezuelan honor might dwarf the many troubles at home.
Colombia's president didn't take the bait. Instead of getting in a spitting match with Venezuela, Álavaro Uribe went to Europe shortly after Mr. Chávez's FARC speech to shore up support for his anti-terrorist agenda. He came home with backing from E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and even Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who is notorious for his admiration of Latin American leftists. Mr. Chávez thus suffered yet another humiliation, only six weeks after he lost his bid to rewrite the country's constitution.
Hubris aside, Mr. Chávez had to know that his defense of the FARC was a long shot. But desperate times call for desperate measures. As the deterioration of the Venezuelan economy accelerates, Mr. Chávez is fast becoming a desperado with no better idea of how to get out of his jam than did Galtieri.
Central to his troubling circumstances is inflation. With Venezuelan crude oil around $80 per barrel, the local currency known as the bolivar ought to be strong. But the central bank has lost its independence and now acts as an arm of the Chávez government. As such it has shown little interest in defending the value of the currency.
Instead, it uses the gusher of oil dollars coming into the country as a reason to print up new bolivars to be put into circulation through government spending. This has pushed up demand and sent prices skyrocketing.
Just what Venezuelan inflation is now is anybody's guess. The government figure for 2007 is 22.5% but that number is derived from a basket of goods that includes price-controlled items, which are difficult to actually buy. In real life, when Venezuelans go shopping they have to pay market prices if they want to come home with the goods. This means that the cost of living is higher than the official rate.
Price controls haven't held down inflation but they have produced shortages of the goods they cover. Milk, rice, cooking oil, chicken, beef, pork, sugar, black beans and eggs are all hard to find and Venezuelans say that grocery shopping now requires stops at five or six stores. The most reliable sources of price-controlled items are street vendors, who charge two and three times the legal limit but tend to have stock.
Even Mr. Chávez recognizes that the shortages are real and not about to go away. And despite what appears to be a primitive understanding of economics, he may even have figured out the connection between prices and supply. This would explain why, as dire milk shortages became undeniable in recent months, he finally decreed an increase in the regulated price.
But don't hold your breath for further signs of enlightenment. Control of the oil industry has been the main reason Mr. Chávez has been able to squelch democracy. His own warped logic suggests that he needs to control other key sectors if he wants to keep his grip on power. If he can strangle the private sector, he can starve his adversaries.
This is why he is promoting government-owned food processors and has put a full-court press on private-sector agribusiness. Price controls now apply not only to the retail market but also to business transactions. This is designed to stop, for example, dairy farms from diverting raw milk to the production of cheese and yogurt, which have no price controls. Anyone caught violating price controls or selling products across the border in Colombia risks expropriation.
All of this is being policed by the army. With its monopoly on the use of force, the government can indeed destroy the private sector. But as Galtieri found out, it cannot decree that supply meets demand. As shortages become more acute, don't be surprised to see the Venezuelan desperado picking more fights.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Color of Charity
on: February 04, 2008, 06:26:03 AM
The Color of Charity
February 4, 2008; Page A14
Just when we thought we'd heard everything from the diversity police, here they come trying to prescribe even the color of charity. The California Assembly last week passed a bill sponsored by state Representative Joe Coto to require foundations with assets of more than $250 million to disclose the race, gender and sexual orientation of their trustees, staff, and even grantees. Look for this to arrive in a legislature near you.
A Berkeley-based advocacy group called the Greenlining Institute hatched this idea because, allegedly, racial minorities aren't well enough represented in California policy debates. John Gamboa, Greenlining's executive director, blames foundations for failing to donate enough money to "minority-led" think tanks and community groups and businesses, and he hopes this legislation will "shame" them into giving more. What counts as a minority-led organization? According to Greenlining, the board and staff should both be more than 50% minority.
This certainly takes the spoils system of racial preferences to a whole new level. Heretofore the government has tried to enforce a pigmentation principle in government jobs and contracts, and in private employment through the threat of lawsuits. But this is about telling private citizens how to give their own money away.
Mr. Gamboa says these philanthropies have tax-exempt status, so the public has a right to this information. "Minorities are paying a little more in taxes but are not receiving their fair share of benefits," he says. This seems an odd claim, since so much private charity is targeted explicitly at minorities. But it makes sense once you understand that what he means is that not enough of this cash is channelled through certain minority-run activist groups, such as, well, his own. It's no accident that such ethnic lobbies as the Black Business Association and the Centro Legal de la Raza also love this idea.
There's also the little problem of accountability and donor intent. Private citizens typically establish foundations with specific charitable goals in mind -- such as wetlands conservation, or medical research, or even promoting free market ideas. If donors are suddenly supposed to allocate grants by the color or sexual lifestyle of the grantee, that donor intent will be distorted at the very least. Presumably we want money for cancer research to support the most promising research ideas, not to be based on whether the labs have a rainbow coalition of Ph.Ds. The goal is to cure cancer.
Paul Brest is a former NAACP attorney and president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, California's largest foundation. And in a letter to the state Assembly on Mr. Coto's proposal, he put it this way: "[Our] fundamental operating principle is to direct our resources to organizations that have the promise of making the greatest difference in achieving [our philanthropic] goals. Thus, we do not focus on the racial composition of our grantees, but rather on how to achieve measurable impact in improving the lives of the communities that our grant recipients serve."
Lest you think this idea is too wacky to go anywhere, it is also expected to pass the California Senate and could soon land on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk. The Greenlining staff is already lobbying House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel for Congressional hearings. Foundations and charities that don't want to start apportioning their donations by skin color, or between gays and heterosexuals, had better start describing this idea as the political shakedown it is.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: February 04, 2008, 06:22:48 AM
Equity and Health Care
February 4, 2008; Page A14
Democrats, and even a few Republicans, are in a populist mood, and fair enough. But if they really want the tax code to be more "progressive" -- i.e., from each according to his means -- they ought to forget the Bush tax cuts and address the way the government subsidizes health insurance. On the advice of our doctors, we're not holding our breath.
According to the Democratic consensus, too many people lack health insurance, and the liberal remedy is to protect the status quo while expanding public programs for the uninsured. That's the opposite of a rational health policy: Not only does the current system cause unnecessary problems for the insured, but many of the gaps in coverage owe to the way tax subsidies shortchange the uninsured, particularly working-class and middle-income families.
If such inequality and unfairness existed anywhere other than health care, the Democrats would be raising hell. Instead, they're silent -- which is politically telling.
The core problem is that people who get insurance through their employers pay no income or payroll taxes on the value of the benefit. The Treasury defines this as a "tax expenditure," meaning it's revenue the government forgoes to encourage certain behavior. If these losses were converted to the equivalent of direct spending, the tax exemption would have cost more than $208 billion in 2006. The only federal programs that cost more are Social Security, Medicare and national defense. But all that money props up only employer-provided insurance. Individuals who buy policies don't get any tax breaks and pay with after-tax dollars.
If the purpose of health-care reform is to decrease the ranks of the uninsured, these job-related tax breaks are poorly targeted, even regressive. The more generous the employer health plan, the more the subsidies increase. On average, lower-wage workers have more limited coverage as part of their compensation, usually from small- or medium-sized businesses. Estimates show that the subsidy is worth more than $3,000 for upper-income families (with higher marginal tax rates), and less than $1,000 for those on the lower income rungs.
These aren't new insights, and economists have recommended changing these incentives for decades. What's hard to believe are the convenient blind spots of the Democratic Presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton, queen of the wonks, includes in her health-care proposal an undefined cap on the deduction for "high-income Americans," but all of her emphasis is on larger spending subsidies. Barack Obama doesn't even mention it. Neither did John Edwards.
They're uncharacteristically missing a chance to effectively raise taxes on "the rich." Curbing these subsidies could generate billions for their elaborate "universal" health programs. More to the point, this is a simple matter of equity, usually Democratic terrain. If the government is going to support health insurance, then those subsidies ought to apply regardless of a person's income, where they work, or how they purchase their insurance.
So why the Democratic silence? Perhaps it's because they think such a change would interfere with their main policy goal, which is slow but steady progress toward government control of the health-care market. Or possibly it's because many of the most generous tax-subsidized health plans come from union-negotiated contracts. Or maybe Democrats simply don't want to concede that President Bush has a point.
In his 2007 State of the Union address, Mr. Bush suggested redistributing the government's health subsidies. His proposal would sever the link between insurance and employment, shifting the deduction to individuals and capping it at $15,000 a year for a typical family. About four-fifths of the country would do better than they do now, while the rest currently have the most gold-plated employer coverage and would still have plenty of options.
Not only would this be a relatively cost-effective way to increase coverage. It would also address the major market distortions that the employer-exclusive deduction causes, with individuals essentially prepaying for routine costs through third-party insurance companies. If Republican candidates came to their senses, they'd recognize an opportunity to poach a traditionally Democratic issue -- as well as an opening to address middle-class anxiety without demagoguing business or "the rich." Individual policies would also be portable when workers are between jobs, reducing risk and uncertainty.
But the big questions are for the Democrats, who claim to believe that health-care reform is as much a moral as an economic issue. Whatever their other ambitions, how can they stand by a system that offers the least assistance to the working class and nothing at all to the uninsured?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO
on: February 04, 2008, 06:15:35 AM
Sorry, I don't have a URL for this, but it seems legit.
When residents in Illinois voiced outrage two years ago upon learning that the Exelon Corporation had not disclosed radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants, the state’s freshman senator, Barack Obama, took up their cause.
John W. Rowe, chairman of Exelon and also of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group, has been an Obama donor.
Mr. Obama scolded Exelon and federal regulators for inaction and introduced a bill to require all plant owners to notify state and local authorities immediately of even small leaks. He has boasted of it on the campaign trail, telling a crowd in Iowa in December that it was “the only nuclear legislation that I’ve passed.”
“I just did that last year,” he said, to murmurs of approval.
A close look at the path his legislation took tells a very different story. While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulators. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulators, whom it charged with addressing the issue of unreported leaks.
Those revisions propelled the bill through a crucial committee. But, contrary to Mr. Obama’s comments in Iowa, it ultimately died amid parliamentary wrangling in the full Senate.
“Senator Obama’s staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, and we could see it weakening with each successive draft,” said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Ill., where low-level radioactive runoff had turned up in groundwater. “The teeth were just taken out of it.”
The history of the bill shows Mr. Obama navigating a home-state controversy that pitted two important constituencies against each other and tested his skills as a legislative infighter. On one side were neighbors of several nuclear plants upset that low-level radioactive leaks had gone unreported for years; on the other was Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear plant operator and one of Mr. Obama’s largest sources of campaign money.
Since 2003, executives and employees of Exelon, which is based in Illinois, have contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama’s campaigns for the United States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fund-raisers.
Another Obama donor, John W. Rowe, chairman of Exelon, is also chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry’s lobbying group, based in Washington. Exelon’s support for Mr. Obama far exceeds its support for any other presidential candidate.
In addition, Mr. Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, has worked as a consultant to Exelon. A spokeswoman for Exelon said Mr. Axelrod’s company had helped an Exelon subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison, with communications strategy periodically since 2002, but had no involvement in the leak controversy or other nuclear issues.
The Obama campaign said in written responses to questions that Mr. Obama “never discussed this issue or this bill” with Mr. Axelrod. The campaign acknowledged that Exelon executives had met with Mr. Obama’s staff about the bill, as had concerned residents, environmentalists and regulators. It said the revisions resulted not from any influence by Exelon, but as a necessary response to a legislative roadblock put up by Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time.
“If Senator Obama had listened to industry demands, he wouldn’t have repeatedly criticized Exelon in the press, introduced the bill and then fought for months to get action on it,” the campaign said. “Since he has over a decade of legislative experience, Senator Obama knows that it’s very difficult to pass a perfect bill.”
Asked why Mr. Obama had cited it as an accomplishment while campaigning for president, the campaign noted that after the senator introduced his bill, nuclear plants started making such reports on a voluntary basis. The campaign did not directly address the question of why Mr. Obama had told Iowa voters that the legislation had passed.
Nuclear safety advocates are divided on whether Mr. Obama’s efforts yielded any lasting benefits. David A. Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists agreed that “it took the introduction of the bill in the first place to get a reaction from the industry.”
“But of course because it is all voluntary,” Mr. Lochbaum said, “who’s to say where things will be a few years from now?”
Page 2 of 2)
Others say that turning the whole matter over to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as Mr. Obama’s revised bill would have done, played into the hands of the nuclear power industry, which they say has little to fear from the regulators. Mr. Obama seemed to share those concerns when he told a New Hampshire newspaper last year that the commission “is a moribund agency that needs to be revamped and has become a captive of the industry it regulates.”
Paul Gunter, an activist based in Maryland who assisted neighbors of the Exelon plants, said he was “disappointed in Senator Obama’s lack of follow-through,” which he said weakened the original bill. “The new legislation falls short” by failing to provide for mandatory reporting, said Mr. Gunter, whose group, Beyond Nuclear, opposes nuclear energy.
The episode that prompted Mr. Obama’s legislation began on Dec. 1, 2005, when Exelon issued a news release saying it had discovered tritium, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear power, in monitoring wells at its Braidwood plant, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. A few days later, tritium was detected in a drinking water well at a home near the plant, although the levels did not exceed federal safety standards.
At least as disturbing for local residents was the revelation that Exelon believed the tritium came from millions of gallons of water that had leaked from the plant years earlier but went unreported at the time. Under nuclear commission rules, plants are required to tell state and local authorities only about radioactive discharges that rise to the level of an emergency.
On March 1, Mr. Obama introduced a bill known as the Nuclear Release Notice Act of 2006. It stated flatly that nuclear plants “shall immediately” notify federal, state and local officials of any accidental release of radioactive material that exceeded “allowable limits for normal operation.”
To flag systematic problems, it would also have required reporting of repeated accidental leaks that fell below those limits. Illinois’ senior senator, Richard J. Durbin, a fellow Democrat, was a co-sponsor, and three other senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, later signed on. But Mr. Obama remained its primary champion.
In public statements, Mr. Obama dismissed the nuclear lobby’s arguments that the tritium leaks posed no health threat.
“This legislation is not about whether tritium is safe, or at what concentration or level it poses a threat,” he said. “This legislation is about ensuring that nearby residents know whether they may have been exposed to any level of radiation generated at a nuclear power plant as a result of an unplanned, accidental or unintentional incident.”
Almost immediately, the nuclear power industry and federal regulators raised objections to the bill.
The Nuclear Energy Institute jumped out in front by announcing its voluntary initiative for plant operators to report even small leaks. An Exelon representative told an industry newsletter, Inside N.R.C., that Exelon was “working with Senator Obama’s office to address some technical issues that will allow us to support the legislation.”
Last week, an Exelon spokesman, Craig Nesbit, said the company sought, among other things, new language to specify what types of leaks should be reported, and assurance that enforcement authority remained with the nuclear commission and not state or local governments.
“We were looking for technical clarity,” Mr. Nesbit said.
Meanwhile, the nuclear commission told Mr. Obama’s staff that the bill would have forced the unnecessary disclosure of leaks that were not serious. “Unplanned releases below the level of an emergency present a substantially smaller risk to the public,” the agency said in a memorandum to senators, which ticked off about a half-dozen specific concerns about the bill.
Senate correspondence shows that the environment committee chairman at the time, Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma who is a strong supporter of industry in battles over energy and environmental legislation, agreed with many of those points and held up the bill. Mr. Obama pushed back, at one point temporarily blocking approval of President Bush’s nominee to the nuclear commission, Dale E. Klein, who met with Mr. Obama to discuss the leaks.
But eventually, Mr. Obama agreed to rewrite the bill, and when the environment committee approved it in September 2006, he and his co-sponsors hailed it as a victory.
In interviews over the past two weeks, Obama aides insisted that the revisions did not substantively alter the bill. In fact, it was left drastically different.
In place of the straightforward reporting requirements was new language giving the nuclear commission two years to come up with its own regulations. The bill said that the commission “shall consider” — not require — immediate public notification, and also take into account the findings of a task force it set up to study the tritium leaks.
By then, the task force had already concluded that “existing reporting requirements for abnormal spills and leaks are at a level that is risk-informed and appropriate.”
The rewritten bill also contained the new wording sought by Exelon making it clear that state and local authorities would have no regulatory oversight of nuclear power plants.
In interviews last week, representatives of Exelon and the nuclear commission said they were satisfied with the revised bill. The Nuclear Energy Institute said it no longer opposed it but wanted additional changes.
The revised bill was never taken up in the full Senate, where partisan parliamentary maneuvering resulted in a number of bills being shelved before the 2006 session ended.
Still, the legislation has come in handy on the campaign trail. Last May, in response to questions about his ties to Exelon, Mr. Obama wrote a letter to a Nevada newspaper citing the bill as evidence that he stands up to powerful interests.
“When I learned that radioactive tritium had leaked out of an Exelon nuclear plant in Illinois,” he wrote, “I led an effort in the Senate to require utilities to notify the public of any unplanned release of radioactive substances.”
Last October, Mr. Obama reintroduced the bill, in its rewritten form.