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23851  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pay up or else! on: November 20, 2008, 10:52:19 AM
PS:  Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told energy company Gazprom to collect Ukraine’s $2.4 billion natural gas debt “either voluntarily or compulsory in line with current laws and within the framework of bilateral relations,” Interfax reported Nov. 20.

23852  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Alternate Afg routes; deeper into Pak on: November 20, 2008, 10:51:16 AM
Afghanistan: The Search for Safer Supply Routes
Stratfor Today » November 19, 2008 | 2324 GMT

TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers leading supplies for NATO and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan at the Pakistani border town of JamrudSummary
The United States is considering Central Asia as an alternate route for ferrying supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan. However, considerable logistical and geopolitical issues require the United States to continue depending on Pakistan despite the deteriorating conditions in that country.

Analysis
An uptick in attacks by Pakistani Taliban fighters on convoys ferrying supplies through Pakistan to U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan has forced the United States to explore alternative routes from Central Asia into landlocked Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported Nov 19. According to the report, which cites an Oct. 31 Pentagon document, Washington has already begun negotiations with countries along what the Pentagon has called a new northern route. An agreement with Georgia has been reached, and talks are ongoing with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The U.S. Transportation Command, however, said it does not expect transit agreements with Uzbekistan or Iran, and is seeking contractors that could handle as many as 50,000 rail containers per year through a Europe-Caucasus route and/or through Central Asia.

Though the deteriorating political, economic and security situation in Pakistan is making it harder for the United States and its NATO allies to move food, ammunition, fuel and other supplies through the country, the alternatives are no less problematic. Thus, for the foreseeable future, Pakistan will remain the land corridor through which Western forces will continue receiving their supplies, and Washington will pressure Pakistan to improve the security of these shipments.

Related Links
Afghanistan: The Russian Monkey Wrench
Afghanistan, Pakistan: The Battlespace of the Border
There are good reasons why some three-quarters of U.S./NATO supplies goes through Pakistan. It is the shortest overland route to places like Kabul and Kandahar; supplies are shipped from U.S. and European ports to Karachi, then transported via road through two routes — one going through the southwestern Pakistani border town of Chaman into the Kandahar region, and the other going through Torkham in northwestern Pakistan and over the Khyber Pass. In using Pakistan as a supply route, Washington has the ease of dealing with a single government with whom it has had a working (albeit troubled) relationship since the mission in Afghanistan began in late 2001.

Additionally, refineries in Pakistan provide the vast majority of fuels for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Two other refineries (one in Baku, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and one in Turkmenistan) provide most of the rest. It could be difficult to move away from the Pakistani refineries, and especially so to find spare capacity elsewhere; the U.S. and NATO forces consume on the order of 75 million gallons of various fuels annually — most of it aviation fuel refined in Pakistan.

For the longest time, there were hardly any security issues threatening the logistical supply chain running through Pakistan. The military regime headed by former President Pervez Musharraf was firmly entrenched in Islamabad and extended considerable facilities to Washington and NATO. More importantly, there was no Pakistani Taliban insurgency. (It did not appear until late 2006 or early 2007.)

Musharraf’s complex relationship with Washington on one hand and the Taliban on the other, however, weakened his hold on power. Even before he was forced out of office, Pakistan had come under the grip of a fierce jihadist insurgency. While the focus of this insurgency has been Pakistani security targets, there have been many attacks on trucks carrying shipments meant for U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan, which is why the U.S. Defense Department is looking into northerly routes in order to decrease dependency on Pakistan as a transit state.





(click map to enlarge)
But the option under consideration has its own set of problems in that it is a much longer, more expensive and politically complex route. Goods would have to be shipped from U.S. and European ports through the Black Sea to Georgia. From there, the containers would have to be put on rail to Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea ports, where they would have to be loaded onto ships to Turkmenistan and then travel by road either directly to Afghanistan or via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Even if the United States and its NATO allies were willing to incur the physical hassle of shipping supplies through the above route — which would add one ship reloading and two countries, at minimum, to the supply chain — there is the huge issue of dependency on Russia. This is the Kremlin’s near abroad, and Moscow will want to exact a significant price to guarantee the route’s security. At a time when Russia is trying to re-emerge as the United States’ main global rival, this becomes a huge issue for Washington.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of its military intervention in Georgia, Russia made some subtle insinuations about threatening NATO supply lines going to Afghanistan. The Uzbek and Turkmen governments also are very wary of the threat of U.S.-engineered color revolutions.

The “best” alternative, logistically speaking, would be using Iran as a transit state. Given what is happening in terms of Iraq and both the current and incoming U.S. administrations’ efforts to engage Iran diplomatically, this is not beyond the pale if the political issues can be sorted out. Supplies could be offloaded from ships docking at the Chahbahar port in the Persian Gulf and then sent by road to the southwestern Afghan town of Zaranj, which is connected to the main Afghan highway by a road recently completed by the Indian army’s engineer corps.

The Iranians, given their massive interests in Afghanistan, would be more than willing to provide this assistance. Iran has a long border with Afghanistan and has deep ethnic, linguistic and sectarian ties to the country. Furthermore, after securing Iraq, Tehran does not want its regional archrival, Saudi Arabia, to use Afghanistan as a tool against it.

But this depends on how fast the United States and Iran can put three decades of hostility behind them. Given that the two sides cooperated significantly in the move to oust the Taliban from power following the 9/11 attacks, this is quite feasible. However, like the Russians, the Iranians would want to exact a price for providing security for the convoys. More importantly, it would take time to build the trust for such an option to be pursued. The U.S. military is not about to link its operational capabilities to the goodwill of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, even if the two sides were to find a way to bury the hatchet. Also, the United States would be concerned that Iran could use the supply line as leverage in future talks.

Between the huge actual and political costs associated with the Central Asian route and the political hurdles of using Iran as a transit state, the United States and NATO will likely continue to work with Pakistan, despite its problems. But the fact that the United States was willing to take a concerted look at alternative routes raises questions about how bad the Pentagon feels the Pakistani routes have become — and how bad they are expected to get.
=======
United States: Pushing Deeper into Pakistan
Stratfor Today » November 19, 2008 | 2310 GMT

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
A U.S. Air Force UAV in August 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.Summary
A U.S. missile strike in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Nov. 19 killed five al Qaeda members, including Abdullah Azzam al-Saudi, thought to have been a high-ranking member of the group. Until now, all reported missile strikes by U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles in Pakistan had been in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Hitting targets in NWFP will test the boundaries on how far the United States will go in its war against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Analysis
In the early hours of Nov. 19, two missiles suspected to have been launched from a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) hit a house in the Pakistani village of Hindi Khel, about 8 miles west of Bannu city in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). In the house was Abdullah Azzam al-Saudi, a high-ranking al Qaeda leader who, according to U.S. security officials, was closely linked to deputy al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and acted as a liaison to the Taliban. Al-Saudi was killed in the strike, along with four or five other foreign militants. Seven civilians in the vicinity were injured.

UAV-launched missile strikes have become quite common in Pakistan along the Afghan border. Strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), especially in North and South Waziristan, have been occurring once or twice a week since September and have become so routine that Stratfor no longer issues situation reports when they occur. That this strike hit some 3 miles over the FATA and NWFP border border in NWFP — an area that had been immune from U.S. strikes — suggests the United States is pushing the envelope in its hunt for al Qaeda prime and in its effort to undermine the Taliban’s war-making capabilities in Afghanistan.

Pakistani opposition to U.S. attacks in the FATA has been vocal, with politicians in Islamabad demanding an end to airstrikes on their territory. But there has been no serious retaliation by the Pakistanis and the strikes continue. There has also been a certain logic to the FATA focus. The United States contends that the tribal areas actually are not part of sovereign Pakistan since they are partially autonomous and ruled by local governments; moreover, by cutting deals with militants, Islamabad has relinquished its writ over the area. Furthermore, al Qaeda and the Taliban use the FATA as a launchpad for attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, giving the United States all the more reason to carry out strikes there. There are even reports of an understanding between Washington and Islamabad in which the latter has agreed to U.S. strikes in Pakistan’s tribal badlands.

But the NWFP is another story. It is a full-fledged province of Pakistan where the governing party (the Awami National Party, or ANP) has cooperated in opposing Islamist militants. However, the NWFP (not the FATA) is where the primary leaders of al Qaeda are most likely hiding. Hard by the border, the FATA is too close to Afghanistan and al Qaeda’s U.S. and NATO enemies for it to be such a sanctuary, while the NWFP is farther away and somewhat buffered by the FATA. The death of al-Saudi, who was an important link between al Qaeda and the Taliban, further suggests that the apex leadership of al Qaeda is likely hiding in NWFP.

The U.S. strategy may be to slowly creep closer and closer to al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries until UAV airstrikes in NWFP’s target-rich environment seem just as routine as those in the FATA. Meanwhile, the United States will have a good chance to weigh the range of responses from its allies on this latest escalation during a meeting of NATO defense chiefs that began Nov. 19 in Brussels. Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kayani will be in attendance.

We are also likely to see additional attacks in NWFP districts located along the north-south expanse of the FATA. These districts have seen considerable Taliban activity over the past year or so while Islamabad’s writ in the area has diminished. Indeed, this “Talibanization” has spread further east into settled areas such as Peshawar, the NWFP capital. A more aggressive U.S. campaign in these areas will incite increasing public outrage and make Islamabad’s job of maintaining stability that much more difficult. Ultimately, the United States is much more capable of going after Islamist militants in Pakistan’s border region than the Pakistani army is — a fact not lost on Islamabad.

The United States is currently in political flux as President George W. Bush closes out his administration and President-elect Barack Obama readies his. Unable to craft and implement a comprehensive strategy to play out the end game against al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Bush administration has used an interim strategy of increased UAV strikes while a conclusive strategy awaits an Obama administration.

23853  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iranian bond proposal on: November 20, 2008, 10:45:41 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Iran's Bond Announcement and High Hopes For Talks
November 20, 2008 | 0104 GMT

Iran’s deputy central bank governor, Hossein Qazavi, said Nov. 19 that Iran is considering issuing a $1 billion international bond “to attract international investment,” seven months after it repaid its last bond. The issuance would be Iran’s first since 2002, and only its third since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Through a bond market, countries look to “sell” their debts to international investors by parceling them into portions that can be bought individually. Raising money through the bond market is often easier than getting a loan from one or several banks; because the debt is divided into portions that investors of nearly any size can afford, banks and/or individuals with less capital on hand can come to the table. By getting more players involved, the country that needs its debt serviced can increase competition over the bond and thus decrease the price it has to pay for it. Of course, for this to work, someone actually has to want to buy the bond. Unlike a loan that is negotiated with one or several financial institutions, a bond market works on the principle of a market. It rewards credit-worthy countries whose debts are highly sought after (due to the state’s perceived financial strength and, therefore, its ability to repay the “loan” plus interest), and punishes countries that are not credit-worthy. In those terms, forays into the bond market are risky, as they potentially expose states to investor scrutiny.

The current conditions in global credit markets make investment in Iranian bonds highly unlikely, as very few sovereign or private investors have any money on hand, particularly to buy risky bonds. But leaving this aside, Qazavi’s announcement leads one to wonder about the overall health of the Islamic Republic.

With oil prices poised to sink below $50 per barrel any day now, Iran is scrambling to cover its budgetary costs, with potential social unrest looming if various government subsidies — particularly those for gasoline, which refinery-poor and gasoline-guzzling Iran must import — have to be cut. Tehran is staring social unrest in the face, and desperate times might call for such desperate measures as begging cash-strapped foreign investors for $1 billion.

Another problem with the bond issuance in the current geopolitical climate is that it is unclear whether any European or Asian bank would dare to finance the bond. Since 2002, when Iran’s last bond was issued, the United States has specifically targeted Iranian banks, cajoling the European Union to stop doing business with certain Iranian banks and getting more than 40 international banks to agree to halt business with Tehran. In October 2007, Washington also designated several Iranian banks as supporters of terrorism.

Furthermore, the United States’ Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), currently in place until 2011, strongly discourages foreign companies from investing in Iran’s energy sector and pledges retaliatory sanctions against those who do. In his announcement, Qazavi noted that the bond issuance would let investors “safely invest and take part in various projects including petrochemicals” — investments in which the ISA specifically tries to discourage the participation of non-U.S. entities. It’s unclear whether the ISA would give Washington the authority to put Iranian bond purchasers under sanctions, but the possibility clearly exists, and it will be enough to deter already bearish global investors.

On the flip side, Qazavi’s comments might be evidence that the latest round of negotiations between the Americans and Iranians are progressing well, and that they might even be nearing a conclusion. Washington’s ultimate goal in the negotiations is to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq, while Tehran wants to limit the United States’ ability to roll forces eastward from Baghdad. Negotiations began as early as months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but ultimately stalled on the most important issues, as an emboldened United States rejected Iran’s offers for a comprehensive deal on Iraq. Iran responded to the rebuff by restarting its nuclear program, and by supporting Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006, as well as backing Shiite groups in a flare-up of violence in Iraq in November of that year. The two sides went back to the negotiating table after the 2007 U.S. troop surge.

With the United States and Iraq inking a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that will lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in three years, it appears that Washington and Tehran also are now close to a deal. Iran’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, confirmed as much on Nov. 18, when he said the Iraqi government had done “very well” in approving the SOFA. It was the first time Tehran had voiced any sort of approval of the agreement. The United States of course hopes that the Baghdad of 2011 will be able to resist Tehran’s influence, and that the troop withdrawal will therefore be possible.

Qazavi’s comments on the $1 billion bond, put in the context of ongoing negotiations, suggest that Tehran might be betting that talks with the Americans are near an end. A U.S. rapprochement with Iran would certainly place a stamp of approval on foreign investment in Iran. Without such a stamp, any bond issuance would make little sense. Therefore, Iran either must be desperate for capital due to serious economic problems, or preparing for a positive announcement on the negotiating front.
23854  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hand to hand! on: November 20, 2008, 10:42:35 AM
http://www.armytimes.com/legacy/new/0-ARMYPAPER-2329490.php
Training at hand
Fighting in Iraq, one soldier decides he isn?t going to die lying down

By Staff Sgt. Paul McCully


The following story was told by infantryman Staff Sgt. Paul McCully, 24,
during a post-action interview for the Army Combatives School.


On June 1, 2005, at about 2 a.m., my platoon was staged by the main gate of
Forward Operating Base Courage in Mosul, Iraq, as the quick-reaction force
for our battalion.

We received a call that Iraqi commandos were conducting a raid on a
suspected insurgent safe house. When the commandos entered the house they
found one male, one nude female and next to them was a bomb.

They immediately left the house because of the bomb and sat outside in the
middle of the street and wherever they could while they waited for us to
come and secure the objective. There were guys sleeping, smoking cigarettes
and just hanging around. There were at least 100 of these commandos.

When we showed up, it was a blind hit. All the Iraqi commandos told us was
that they had taken fire from that building earlier. They left out that it
was a safe house for bad guys and that the people who had been there had
jumped the roof to the next house.

At the home of the bomb couple, my team was the second in to secure the
first floor and establish a foothold. Once we cleared the house, my platoon
sergeant stepped on what seemed to be a loose tile in the kitchen floor.

When we removed it we found a large cache of rocket-propelled grenades,
ammo, U.S. government-issued C4 explosive, two-way radios and multiple
weapons systems, but no people.

Since the roof was connected to the roof of the house behind the one we were
in, the call was made to move around and clear that house, too. Once my team
moved into position to breach the second house, we were given the word to
move and secure it.

Immediately upon entry, we were confronted by about 20 men, women and
children, who were all awake and seemed scared. The fact that they were
bunched together like that was a red flag that something was not right.

Once we secured the first floor, my team moved in to secure the group of
people so we could move up to the next floor and to the roof entrance.

The door was barricaded from the inside with a bed frame to keep people from
coming in. Once we managed to move the barricade, we stacked on the door and
proceeded to clear the roof.

I was the second man in the stack, and Sgt. Joshua Owens was first.

We were spread thin, so we mixed our teams to keep the forward momentum.

Owens went out and turned right. I followed him and went left, but there was
a wall, so I fanned right to cover Owens.

We were only a couple of steps outside the door; I was just to the left of
Owens, and about two seconds had passed by, when a bright flash lit us up.

I wasn?t sure what had happened, I just knew I was laid out on my stomach,
and I couldn?t feel my hands or legs. I could hear Owens screaming, and I
was checking myself to see if I was physically intact when another explosion
went off, a hand grenade, but it wasn?t as loud as the first one.

I felt the shrapnel impact my helmet but was still in a daze and confused as
to what was going on.

Then I felt something that seemed to be tapping my helmet and everything
sounded muffled.

My initial thought was that it was my guys pulling me out of there, but when
I looked up, everything came back to me ? sound, reality, cleared vision.

There was a bad guy standing over me.

I was looking up at him and expecting him to unload his AK47 on me, but he
was screaming and butt-stroking me in the head.

The second I realized that it wasn?t my guys, I got up as fast as I could
and grabbed his AK muzzle with my right hand and his shirt on his right
shoulder with my left hand.

I don?t even remember placing my hands on the ground to push myself up; it
just seemed like I floated up ? that?s how fast it happened.

After I grabbed him and his weapon, I was jerking it in an outward motion
but making sure to keep the muzzle away from me.

After what seemed to be two or three seconds, I got the AK out of his hands
and on the ground to the right of me a couple of feet. I had finally jerked
it free, and it went flying.

He tried to dive for the AK, but I grabbed him and went to the clinch with
him to control him. A clinch is when you control a person?s upper body by
placing both your hands around his neck. Our bodies were close together; I
had his hair in my right hand, pushing his head down, and my left hand was
controlling his left shoulder.

I immediately started throwing right uppercuts and knees to [mess] him up.

I did that because I thought that there were more of my own guys behind me,
but it turns out that Owens and I were the only ones to make it outside
before the initial explosion. The No. 3 and No. 4 men got blown back into
the building.

After I threw the blows, I held on to him with the shirt and hair and
extended my arms to allow the guys who I thought were behind me to have a
clear shot. But that never happened. It seemed like I was alone, and nobody
was there to help me.

He was screaming stuff about Allah as I continued to hit him as he was
struggling to get to his weapon. Owens came running up to me with his pistol
drawn. He had lost his M4 rifle in the blast also, so he pulled his M9
pistol.

He came up to my right side, right next to me so he wouldn?t shoot me in the
struggle. Right as he fired one shot into the enemy?s stomach, the enemy had
reached up and grabbed Owen?s pistol.

At that moment I let go and took a step back and secured my M4. Owens had
swung him around to the left, which put him right in front of me.

With Owens and the bad guy fighting for Owens? M9, I put the barrel of my
rifle in the bad guy?s right side, point-blank, right underneath his armpit,
and fired a single shot.

The bad guy squealed like a pig and hit the ground like a sack, landing on
his back. I immediately placed the barrel of my rifle in his face and fired
ten shots to finish him. All of this happened within a matter of about 20
seconds, but seemed like forever.

As far as my kit goes, I didn?t have a knife on me at that time. I was
wearing a Tactical Taylor plate carrier with 7.62 x 61mm armor-piercing
incendiary-proof plates, hatch operator gloves, ballistic eye-pro and knee
pads.

After I shot him in the face, I took a knee and was trying to comprehend
everything that had just happened. It was just kind of, I was like, ?Holy
shit, did this just happen?? It was kind of like a weird euphoria thing
going on.

My platoon leader came out and asked if we were hit, and I told him nothing
hurt, but my leg felt different. They pulled me and Owens into the building
for the medic. Since we had blood and charred flesh and hair all over us, it
was hard for the medic to tell what was ours and what wasn?t.

So Spc. Danny Pech, our platoon medic, and Spc. Joshua Curley, my rifleman,
with the help of Spc. Jay Banuelos, carried us down to the designated
casualty collection point and started stripping us down so they could
administer aid.

My wound was first reported as a gunshot wound to my right thigh, and Owens
had a bullet graze on his right shin and shrapnel to the arms and legs.

Once we were medevaced to the main combat support hospital on Forward
Operating Base Diamondback in Mosul, we were given morphine and sent for
X-rays to see what was inside us.

My wound was actually shrapnel, which split into three pieces when it
impacted my leg, stopping just short of my femoral artery. Owens had
shrapnel in his arm and leg and a bullet graze on his right shin.

I?ve always been a pretty aggressive person, but having some stuff to back
you up, the Army combatives training, is great. Knowledge and experience is
always good to have.

When I looked up and saw [the enemy] standing over me, all I really thought
about was, ?This guy?s going to blast me.? I was thinking about how I was
going to let my kids down, and I just said, ?Screw it, I?m not going to die
lying down like this.? I just jumped up and expected him to pull the
trigger, but he never got the chance.

The writer is assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, in
Vilseck, Germany. At the time of the events, he was a member of B Company,
3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division,
Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of Fort Lewis, Wash.

23855  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Ukraine on: November 20, 2008, 10:27:46 AM
Part 3: Outside Intervention
Stratfor Today » November 20, 2008 | 1201 GMT
Summary
Because Ukraine is vital to Russia’s defense and survival as any kind of world power, it has become the cornerstone of the geopolitical battle between Russia and the West. Russia has many levers it could use to influence the course of Ukraine’s future, though the West is not without its tools. The eventual outcome of the battle for Ukraine is uncertain.

Analysis
Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a series on Ukraine.

Since Ukraine is essentially too internally shattered to make sweeping changes or reforms, its future is at the whim of foreign powers. Because of this — and because of Ukraine’s geographic location — the country is now the chief arena for the struggle between Russia and the West.

Related Links
Countries in Crisis
Part 1: Instability in a Crucial Country
Part 2: Domestic Forces and Capabilities
The Cornerstone
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West (particularly under the guises of the European Union and NATO) has pushed eastward, making its way toward Russia’s doorstep. As the West tries to continue its advance and as Russia tries to stave it off, Ukraine has become paramount to both sides — not just as a potentially lucrative territory, but because Ukraine is the key to Russia’s defense and survival as any sort of power.





(click image to enlarge)
Although Ukraine hosts the largest Russian community in the world outside of Russia, the battle for Ukraine is about far more than ethnic kin. Even before the Soviet era, Ukraine was integrated into Russia’s industrial and agricultural heartland, and eastern Ukraine remains integral to the Russian heartland to this day. Furthermore, Ukraine is the transit point for Russian natural gas to Europe and a connecting point for nearly all meaningful infrastructures running between Russia and the West — whether pipeline, road, power or rail.

Without Ukraine, Russia could not project political or military power into the Northern Caucasus, the Black Sea or Eastern Europe, and Russia would be nearly entirely cut off from the rest of Europe. Ukraine also goes deep into former Soviet territory, with borders a mere 300 miles from either Volgograd or Moscow, and the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea has long been the Russian military’s only deep, warm-water port.

To put it simply, as long as Ukraine is in its orbit, Russia can maintain strategic coherence and continue on its path of resurging in an attempt to resume its superpower status. Without Ukraine, Russia would face a much smaller set of possibilities.

This is why the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought in Ukraine’s first pro-Western government was Russia’s deepest nightmare. Russia knows that the Orange Revolution was a U.S.-backed project, supported by U.S. allies such as Poland. Since that color revolution, Moscow has been content with simply destabilizing Ukraine in order to ensure it does not fully fall into the West’s sphere.

Russia’s Levers
Russia has a slew of levers inside Ukraine to keep the country unstable. It also has quite a few tools it could use to either pull the country back into Moscow’s fold or break the country apart.

Politics: Russia is the very public sponsor of Viktor Yanukovich and his Party of Regions; though in the past three months, Moscow has also started granting its favor to Yulia Timoshenko — breaking the Orange Coalition and isolating President Viktor Yushchenko and his party. The topic of how to respond to a strengthening Russia has been a constant point of contention in Ukraine’s different coalitions and governments.

Energy: Since Russia supplies 80 percent of Ukraine’s natural gas, energy is one of Moscow’s favorite levers to use against Kiev. Moscow has proven in the past that it is not afraid of turning off the heat at the height of winter in Ukraine to not only hurt the country but also to push Kiev into the heart of a firestorm as European countries’ supplies get cut off when Russia cuts supplies to Ukraine. The price Russia charges Ukraine for natural gas is also constantly being renegotiated, with Kiev racking up billions of dollars in debt to Moscow every few months.

Economics: Russia controls a large portion of Ukraine’s metals industry, owning factories across the eastern part of the country, where most of Ukraine’s wealth is held. Russia also controls much of Ukraine’s ports in the south.

Oligarchs: Quite a few of Ukraine’s oligarchs pledge allegiance to Russia because of relationships from the Soviet era, because of assets held in Russia or because Moscow bought or supported certain oligarchs during their rise. Rinat Akhmetov is the most notable pro-Russian oligarch; not only does he do the Kremlin’s bidding inside Ukraine, but he is also rumored to have recently helped the Kremlin during Russia’s financial crisis. Moscow controls many other notable Ukrainian oligarchs, such as Viktor Pinchuk, Igor Kolomoisky, Sergei Taruta and Dmitri Firtash. This has allowed the Kremlin to shape much in these oligarchs’ business ventures and have a say in how these oligarchs support certain politicians.

Ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet during the celebration of the fleet’s 225th anniversaryMilitary: Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is headquartered and based in Ukraine’s Crimea region, in Sevastopol. Compared to Kiev’s small fleet, Russian naval power in the Black Sea is overwhelming. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet also contributes to the majority of the Crimea region’s economy. Though imposing a military reality on Ukraine would be another thing entirely from imposing a military reality on South Ossetia and Georgia, there is little doubt that Russia — and the ethnic Russian majority in the Crimea — is committed to retaining the decisive hand in the fate of the Crimea, even if the Russian Fleet withdraws in 2017, when its lease expires.

Intelligence: Ukraine’s intelligence services were essentially born from Russia’s heavy KGB presence in the country before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Security Service of Ukraine originated in Moscow’s KGB presence in Ukraine, and the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine sprung forth from Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. Many of the senior officials in both agencies were actually KGB trained and worked for them during the early days of their careers. Russia’s current spy agency, the Federal Security Service (a descendant of the KGB), has a heavy presence within Ukraine’s intelligence agencies. This gives the Russians a big opening they can use to serve their own interests in Ukraine.

Organized crime: Russian organized crime is the parent of Ukrainian organized crime and is still deeply entrenched in the current system (even among the oligarchs). Russia has been especially successful in setting up shop in the Ukraine involving shady natural gas deals, the arms trade, the drug trade and other illicit business arrangements. Population: Ukraine is dramatically split between a population that identifies with Russia and a population that identifies with the West. It has a complex and multifaceted demography: A large Russian minority comprises 17.3 percent of the total population, more than 30 percent of all Ukrainians speak Russian as their native language and more than half of the country belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarch. Geographically speaking, Ukrainians living east of the Dnieper River tend to identify more with Russia than with the West, and those in Crimea consider themselves much more Russian than Ukrainian. This divide is something Russia can use not only to keep the country in chaos, but to split the country in half should the need arise.

The West’s Levers and Concerns

The West, on the other hand, is split over what exactly to do with Ukraine. In 2004, during the Orange Revolution, it was the United States’ time to push up against Russia; but other Western heavyweights such as Germany have never really liked or trusted any government in Kiev. Berlin would love to see a pro-Western government in Kiev to work with, but the Germans know that meddling in Ukraine costs them something, unlike the Americans. This was seen in 2006, when Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, which led to the lights going out in quite a few European countries as well. So the Europeans see the upheaval of Ukraine as yet another mess the Americans have gotten them into.

Since the Orange Revolution, the West has used two main levers — cash and protection — to try to keep Kiev on a pro-Western path. It has thrown cash at Ukraine, but there are two problems with this move. First, whoever has been in charge in Kiev has squandered and mismanaged any cash given to Ukraine rather than working to alleviate the economic, financial, institutional and systematic problems the country is facing. For example, the West is offering Ukraine an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of $16.5 billion with only a few strings — banking reform and an end to government squabbling — attached, but Kiev cannot manage these changes, and now the IMF is considering withdrawing its offer. Second, as the West faces its own financial crisis, it is not in any position currently to offer Kiev any more help.

The West’s other move — again championed by Washington — is to pull Ukraine into NATO. Ukraine is ill-qualified as a potential member of the Atlantic alliance, but the move would permanently break Russia’s hold over Ukraine.

Years of concerted, focused and well-funded military reform could move Kiev meaningfully toward eligibility, but there appears to be no firm consensus — especially with Germany and France against it — on pushing for Ukrainian admittance into the membership action plan. Also, NATO’s members have neither troops available to be stationed in the country nor the defense dollars to support such an expensive modernization and reform program.

The battle for the soul of Ukraine is on. The country is shattered internally in nearly every possible way: politically, financially, institutionally, economically, militarily and socially. The global financial crisis is simply showing the problems that have long existed in the country. In the near future, there is no conceivable or apparent way for any force within the country to stabilize it and begin the reforms needed. It will take an outside power to step in — which leads to the larger tussle between the West and Russia over control of one of the most geopolitically critical regions between the two. Russia has far more tools to use to keep Ukraine under its control, but the West has laid a lot of groundwork in order to undermine Moscow, leaving the future of Ukraine completely uncertain.

23856  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy on: November 20, 2008, 09:41:02 AM
Russia to build nuclear reactor for Chávez

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev expected to sign a nuclear agreement next week

Rory Carroll in Caracas
Luke Harding in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday November 18 2008 20.55 GMT


Russia's deepening strategic partnership with Venezuela took a dramatic step forward today when it emerged that Moscow has agreed to build Venezuela's first ever nuclear reactor.

President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, during a visit to Latin America next week, part of a determined Russian push into the region.

The reactor is to be named after Humberto Fernandez Moran, a late Venezuelan research scientist and former science minister, Chávez has announced. It is one of many accords he hopes to sign while hosting Medvedev in Caracas next week.

The prospect of a nuclear deal between Moscow and Caracas, following a surge in Russian economic, military, political and intelligence activity in Latin America, is likely to alarm the US and present an early challenge to the Obama administration.

"Hugo Chávez joins the nuclear club," Russian's Vedomosti newspaper trumpeted today.

Venezuela's socialist leader said the reactor may be based in the eastern state of Zulia. He stressed that the project would be for peaceful purposes. As if to underline that point, four Japanese survivors from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs visited Venezuela this week at the government's invitation.

The energy ministry, which is scouting locations, said the project was at a very early stage. A report which mooted a nuclear reactor long before Chávez came to power has been dusted off.

Despite abundant oil reserves, Venezuela's energy infrastructure is creaking and prone to blackouts. A nuclear reactor would enable the country to utilise its rich uranium deposits and allay criticism that the government has neglected energy investment.

More importantly for Moscow and Caracas, a nuclear deal will showcase a partnership which advocates creating new "poles" of power to check American hegemony.

Nick Day, a Latin American specialist, said the nuclear deal was deliberately timed to pile pressure on the US administration during a moment of transition and weakness.

"Russia is manoeuvring hard in the time between Obama's election and his inauguration. What the Russians are trying to do is to set up a chessboard that gives them greater mobility in negotiations when he [Obama] comes to power," Day said.

He added: "Russia's message is: 'We can exert influence in your backyard if you continue to exert influence in our backyard. If you don't take your missiles out of Poland and end Nato expansion we're going to increase our influence in Latin America and do things to provoke you.'"

According to Sergei Novikov, spokesman for Russia's federal nuclear agency, no reactor can be built until both countries have signed a preliminary agreement on nuclear cooperation. This will be signed next week, Novikov told Vedomosti.

Both presidents are also expected to firm up details of a Russian-Venezuelan energy consortium to jointly produce and sell oil and gas.

Russian companies which are already exploring oilfields in Venezuela could then extend their reach to fields in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Venezuela has bought $4bn of Russian arms, including Sukhoi fighter jets, making it one of Moscow's best clients. Chávez has spoken of also buying Project 636 diesel submarines, Mi-28 combat helicopters, T72 tanks and air-defence systems.

Despite the spending spree, Venezuela's military has not tipped the regional balance of power.

Chávez's armed forces lag behind that of Brazil, Chile and Colombia and analysts question Venezuelan effectiveness.

For Russia's president, however, Caracas is a valuable springboard into Latin America. In addition to Venezuela, Medvedev will visit Peru, Brazil and Cuba — the first trip by a Russian leader to Havana in eight years.

Moscow has spoken of reviving Soviet-era intelligence cooperation with the communist island and in a sign of dramatically improved ties, President Raul Castro last month attended the opening of a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Havana.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008...ssia-venezuela
23857  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tax Policy on: November 20, 2008, 03:09:57 AM
WSJ

Let's Have a Real Middle-Class Tax Cut
Obama's tax credits won't stimulate the economy.By NEWT GINGRICH and PETER FERRARAArticle
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President-elect Barack Obama is right: America needs a real and meaningful middle-class tax cut. Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, that is not what his proposals offer.

 
AP
Newt Gingrich
Mr. Obama's tax plan includes creating or expanding nine or more federal income tax credits mostly focused on low- and moderate-income earners, with an estimated cost of $1.3 trillion over 10 years. These tax credits are provided for certain social purposes, such as child care, health care, education, housing and retirement. Buried amid these is Mr. Obama's purported tax cut for the middle class.

For the bottom 40% of income earners, who pay no federal income taxes on net today, these refundable income tax credits will not reduce tax liability but instead result in new checks from the federal government for the targeted social purposes. That's not a tax cut. It's welfare.

These tax credits will do little or nothing to promote economic growth because they do not reduce marginal tax rates -- the rate on the next dollar of income -- to provide powerful, meaningful incentives for productive activities such as investment, entrepreneurship and work. A tax credit is effectively a cash grant that can only affect incentives up to the amount of the grant. Indeed, such tax credits would likely reduce economic growth because the credits are phased out as income rises, and so effectively impose higher marginal tax rates over those income levels.

For a real middle-class tax cut, we should cut the 25% income tax rate that now applies to single workers earning $32,550 to $78,850, and married couples earning $65,100 to $131,450. We should reduce that rate down to the 15% rate paid by workers below these income levels. That would, in effect, establish a flat-rate tax of 15% for close to 90% of American workers.

Marginal tax rates for middle-income families in the 25% tax bracket are too high. Add in effective payroll tax rates of 15% and state income taxes, and these workers are laboring under marginal tax rates of close to 50%. No wonder middle-income wage growth has slowed sharply. Reducing the marginal tax rates for these middle-income earners would lead to income increases for middle-income workers, just as reducing excessive marginal tax rates for higher-income workers did, going all the way back to the Kennedy tax cuts of the 1960s.

This 40% cut in middle-class income tax rates would provide a powerful boost to the economy, greatly expanding incentives for savings, investment and work. This would be much more effective than Mr. Obama's tax plan with it's $1.3 trillion in redistributive tax credits, as well as yet another so-called stimulus package based on another $300 billion or more in increased government spending.


Taxing or borrowing from the economy and then spending hundreds of billions more through government bureaucracies will have zero effect in promoting economic growth, as did the failed stimulus package adopted by the Bush administration this year.

We could add to this alternative tax proposal an increase in the personal exemption from $3,500 to $7,000. The package would then cut taxes for all taxpayers, including those in the lower tax brackets. Of course, reducing the top income tax rates of 28%, 33% and 35%, capital gains tax rates, and the excessive 35% corporate tax rate, would boost the economy even more. But these are the "hate" rates imposed on those who liberals think are too productive, work too hard, and earn too much. Liberals deride these taxpayers as corporate fat cats and "the rich."

Fine. Leave those rates for a future initiative. For now we should focus on the middle-income tax rates that are attractive to cut in the current political climate. This would continue the tax cuts for low- and moderate-income workers Republicans have been adopting for 30 years now.

Because of the highly beneficial effect of these middle-class rate reductions on our economy, and the freedom they would give workers to spend, save or invest their money as they choose, this proposal would likely enjoy broad public support and present a viable alternative to the liberal social purposes of President-elect Obama's tax credits.

Mr. Gingrich is the former speaker of the House. Mr. Ferrara is director of entitlement and budget policy for the Institute for Policy Innovation.
23858  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Fcuk it on: November 20, 2008, 03:05:14 AM
Ignore the Stock Market Until February
The current volatility is less about fundamentals than forced selling.By ANDY KESSLERArticle
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Down in the morning, up in the afternoon. Or is it the other way around? The topsy-turvy stock market is tough to read.

In the last year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has briefly been over 13,000 and below 8,000. The past month has felt like the Cyclone roller coaster on Brooklyn's Coney Island -- lots of ups and downs, the whole rickety thing feeling like it's going to crash at any minute.

 
David KleinGreat investors are taught to listen to the market. Each tick of the tape has something to say about expectations for growth, inflation, policy changes and looming recessions. The stock market is like a giant mass of pulsing plasma doing price discovery and a game of hot potato, getting stocks into the correct hands with the right risk profile. It's way too big for any one person to manipulate, let alone touch directly. Instead, millions of us provide input with our buying and selling decisions.

When it's at its most efficient, with buyers and sellers neatly matched up at the right price, it's a pretty good predictor. The Crash of 1929 announced a recession, and the wake-up call unheeded might have caused many of the bad policies leading to the Great Depression. The Crash of 1987? Not so much.

You see, the market is a great manipulator. In September, the Dow dropped 700 points intraday after the House of Representatives voted down the Treasury's TARP bank-rescue bill. Spooked, the House passed the bill the next week. Or how about this? The Dow was up 300 points on Election Day applauding an Obama victory and then down 1,600 points since.

The market can also be a bold-faced liar. On Jan. 22, the Fed announced an emergency 75-basis-point rate cut in response to huge drops in European markets. A few days later, it came out that a rogue trader at Société Générale lost them $7 billion and the bank was unwinding his positions. Oops.

So which is it now: an efficient mechanism or a manipulating liar? Should you listen to it warning of doom or anticipating renewal? I'd say stick wax in your ears and don't listen to the market until February.

Don't get me wrong. The freezing of the credit markets is wreaking havoc on the world economy. Corporate profits are dropping. Central banks are fighting off deflation and may not turn off the spigots fast enough -- which could ignite runaway inflation. But because of the credit mess, I am convinced the stock market is at its least efficient today. Don't read too much into any move. Here are the five biggest dislocations taking place:

- Tax-loss selling: Whenever you have a loss in a stock -- and who doesn't -- it's always tax smart to sell it, take a tax loss and either buy something similar or wait 30 days and buy the original one back. December can be an ugly month of indiscriminate selling. The December effect will be huge this year.

- Mutual-fund redemptions: Mutual funds are also dumped for tax losses. When the stock market is down in the morning, it's usually because of mutual-fund redemptions.

Fidelity's giant Magellan fund, down 56%, is one of many in the $6 trillion stock-fund business having an awful year. As investors call or click to get out of these funds, Fidelity and the others have to unload shares the next morning to raise cash. This forced-selling overwhelms the system. New York Stock Exchange specialists, who are supposed to maintain an orderly market, stop buying and back away. You get huge drops, which can unnerve even more investors and cause them to redeem.

- Mutual fund cap-gain distributions: To make matters worse, in December mutual funds do capital-gains distributions. In a down year like 2008, you would think there are no taxes to pay. Think again. Legg Mason's Value Trust, run by Bill Miller, outperformed the market for 15 years by buying many "unvalue" names like Amazon. As investors redeem, he is forced to sell many of these stocks originally purchased at very low prices, triggering huge capital gains in a year his fund is down 62%. You can almost guarantee investors also will sell more of these funds to pay their unexpected tax bill.

- Hedge-fund redemptions: Instead of overnight selling like mutual funds, hedge funds typically require 45 days' notice for investors to get out of a fund. They've been furiously selling since September to raise cash to pay investors. This usually shows up as a set of stocks that just go down and down and down with no obvious explanation.

Rubbing salt in hedge-fund wounds is the fact that Lehman Brothers was a prime broker to many hedge funds, holding their shares. While Lehman's bankruptcy was not a problem in the U.S., in England the policy is to freeze accounts until the mess can be sorted out. There are billions in assets locked in this bankruptcy, and hedge funds are forced to sell positions in the U.S. and elsewhere to raise cash, exacerbating the downside here.

Today in Opinion Journal
REVIEW & OUTLOOK

The Obama Health Plan EmergesA Capital MessageThe Politics of Entitlement

TODAY'S COLUMNISTS

Wonder Land: Mad Max and the Meltdown
– Daniel HenningerNow Obama Has to Govern
– Karl Rove

COMMENTARY

Ignore the Stock Market Until February
– Andy KesslerLet's Have a Real Middle-Class Tax Cut
– Newt Gingrich and Peter FerraraObama Should Look Into Putin's Record, Not His Eyes
– Garry KasparovAn Auto Bailout Would Be Terrible for Free Trade
– Matthew J. SlaughterBy the way, when hedge funds are down for the year, they work practically for free until they make up the loss. We'll see hedge funds close and stocks liquidated as -- no surprise -- hedge-fund managers like to get paid.

- Margin calls: Whenever stocks go down sharply, you quickly find who owns them with debt. We have seen spectacular margin calls, a requirement for more capital to cover share losses. Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon unloaded 33 million shares to cover losses. Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone had a forced sale of $400 million in Viacom and CBS shares because of a margin call on other stocks. You can bet many not-so-public margin calls are behind many huge price drops. These usually take place in the last 30 minutes of trading.

So won't January be alright once these dislocations weighing on the market are lifted? The January effect is supposed to be positive.

Well, often money managers are fired at the end of disastrous years. A new manager comes in, looks at the existing positions and dumps them all and remakes the portfolio with new stocks that he likes, thus generating more selling. My favorite Wall Street adage suggests that the stock market trades to inflict the maximum amount of pain. Remember, you can only ignore the stock market for so long. Once everyone thinks it can only go down . . . it might go up.

Mr. Kessler, a former hedge-fund manager, is the author of "How We Got Here" (Collins, 2005).
23859  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: November 20, 2008, 02:57:55 AM
The Obama Health Plan Emerges Article
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"Universal" government-run health care proved too ambitious even for FDR, who stripped it out of the Social Security Act of 1935. Lyndon Johnson settled for Medicare and Medicaid. Now liberals think the political moment has finally arrived to achieve what has eluded every other Democratic President from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.

 
APOne signal is yesterday's news that Barack Obama has selected Tom Daschle, the very liberal former Senate warhorse, to head the Health and Human Services Department. But a even clearer sign was last week's release by Montana Senator Max Baucus of a policy blueprint that closely resembles the one Mr. Obama campaigned on for 17 months. The plan is significant not only because its author is Chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, which oversees taxes and about half of all government spending. Mr. Baucus is also one of the more moderate, and cautious, senior Democrats.

If the Obama White House decides that reorganizing the 17.1% of the economy that the U.S. is likely to spend on health care in 2010 is a first-year priority, then Mr. Baucus's bill will be the place they start. Americans need to learn what they'd be paying for.

First, Democrats want the government to create a national insurance exchange, or marketplace, in which all comers could buy into a range of heavily regulated private policies at group rates. These private plans would then "compete" with a new public insurance option, i.e., a program managed by the government and modeled after Medicare. Lower-income earners would get subsidies to make coverage "affordable." Businesses that didn't cover their employees would pay a tax on some portion of their payroll.

The last cog is the "individual mandate." This requirement that everyone buy coverage has grabbed most media scrutiny of the Baucus plan, because Mr. Obama opposed it during the campaign. But the many moving parts don't work together unless the young and healthy foot the bill for care of the older and sicker -- one reason Hillary Clinton kept nagging Mr. Obama about the individual mandate during the primaries.

The irony is that the public option -- not the mandate -- is far and away the most radical part of the plan. Green eyeshade objections are obviously out of favor in modern Washington, but the reality is that the Baucus-Obama plan would be extraordinarily expensive as it slowly but relentlessly grew the government's share of health spending. The draft doesn't include an exact cost, though casually notes the ballpark "investment" could run as high as $150 billion a year.

Even those huge outlays are likely conservative, considering that subsidies would go to families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level. According to the Census Bureau, that would apply to 61.5% of the American population, or about 184 million people -- less those already on Medicare and Medicaid.

Some financing will come from the "pay or play" tax on businesses, but because Mr. Baucus is no more omniscient than anyone else, the tax rate is left undefined. If it is too low, companies will have every incentive to "cash out" their employee liabilities and pay the tax instead. Then workers will flood the public option.

The Baucus plan expects to make up more of the money with nips like better health technology and tucks such as "a national focus on wellness." But those don't come close to adding up to $150 billion -- or the health system would have made them already. As for the claim that centralizing health spending will lead to more "efficiency" . . . well, that is the triumph of hope over evidence.

 Over the past 40 years, per capita health spending has grown an average of 2.1 percentage points faster than the economy. The dominant U.S. insurer -- Medicare -- has had no success in mitigating this climb, despite valiant attempts. Since the 1980s, Medicare has actually controlled the prices that physicians and hospitals are paid for thousands of billable services. In 2007, the program spent some $425 billion according to these arbitrary guesses. Because of its huge purchasing power, and because many private plans adopt its reimbursement rates, Medicare significantly shapes all health-care financing and delivery.

Now the Democrats want to double down with the public option, apparently on the theory that the bureaucracies fail only when they're too small. Even without the new program, Medicare and Medicaid costs are rising substantially both as a share of the economy and the federal budget. The nearby chart tracks the historical behavior of government health spending and the Congressional Budget Office's post-2007 fiscal scenario in the absence of reform. Today, health entitlements account for 4% of GDP but will rise to 7% in 2025 and about 15% in 2062.

Not that the current level of benefits will ever be paid. According to the Medicare trustees, the program's excess costs over the next 75 years -- that is, the difference between expected outlays and revenues -- is more than $36 trillion, which even they acknowledge is several trillion too low given current trends. Even if Congress doubled all individual and corporate tax rates, it still wouldn't raise enough revenue to pay for Medicare and Medicaid.

The Obama-Baucus solution to this slow-motion catastrophe is to add tens of millions more people to the federal balance sheet. Because the public option will enjoy taxpayer sponsorship, it will offer generous packages to consumers that no private company could ever afford or justify. And because federal officials will run not only the new plan but also the "market" in which it "competes" with private programs -- like playing both umpire and one of the teams on the field -- they will crowd out private alternatives and gradually assume a health-care monopoly.

Many proponents of plans similar to Mr. Baucus's openly cite this as one of their goals. Eventually, the public option will import Medicare's price controls into the private sector as it tries to manage the inevitable cost overruns. When that doesn't work, Congress will deal with the problem by capping overall spending and rationing care through politics (instead of prices) -- like Canada does today.

Either Senator Baucus and President-elect Obama are making promises that can't possibly be kept. Or they're not being honest about their plans for U.S. health care.

 
23860  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology on: November 20, 2008, 02:46:00 AM
Duh embarassed
23861  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Another parting gift from Bush on: November 20, 2008, 02:43:57 AM
BUSH’S LEGACY: EUROPEAN SOCIALISM
By Dick Morris
11.19.2008
Published on TheHill.com on November 18, 2008.

The results of the G-20 economic summit amount to nothing less than the seamless integration of the United States into the European economy. In one month of legislation and one diplomatic meeting, the United States has unilaterally abdicated all the gains for the concept of free markets won by the Reagan administration and surrendered, in toto, to the Western European model of socialism, stagnation and excessive government regulation. Sovereignty is out the window. Without a vote, we are suddenly members of the European Union. Given the dismal record of those nations at creating jobs and sustaining growth, merger with the Europeans is like a partnership with death.


At the G-20 meeting, Bush agreed to subject the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and our other regulatory agencies to the supervision of a global entity that would critique its regulatory standards and demand changes if it felt they were necessary. Bush agreed to create a College of Supervisors.

According to The Washington Post, it would “examine the books of major financial institutions that operate across national borders so regulators could begin to have a more complete picture of banks’ operations.”

Their scrutiny would extend to hedge funds and to various “exotic” financial instruments. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), a European-dominated operation, would conduct “regular vigorous reviews” of American financial institutions and practices. The European-dominated College of Supervisors would also weigh in on issues like executive compensation and investment practices.

There is nothing wrong with the substance of this regulation. Experience is showing it is needed. But it is very wrong to delegate these powers to unelected, international institutions with no political accountability.

We have a Securities and Exchange Commission appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, both of whom are elected by the American people. It is with the SEC, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve that financial accountability must take place.

The European Union achieved this massive subrogation of American sovereignty the way it usually does, by negotiation, gradual bureaucratic encroachment, and without asking the voters if they approve. What’s more, Bush appears to have gone down without a fight, saving his debating time for arguing against the protectionism that France’s Nicolas Sarkozy was pushing. By giving Bush a seeming victory on a moratorium against protectionism for one year, Sarkozy was able to slip over his massive scheme for taking over the supervision of the U.S. economy.

All kinds of political agendas are advancing under the cover of response to the global financial crisis. Where Franklin Roosevelt saved capitalism by regulating it, Bush, to say nothing of Obama, has given the government control over our major financial and insurance institutions. And it isn’t even our government! The power has now been transferred to the international community, led by the socialists in the European Union.

Will Obama govern from the left? He doesn’t have to. George W. Bush has done all the heavy lifting for him. It was under Bush that the government basically took over as the chief stockholder of our financial institutions and under Bush that we ceded our financial controls to the European Union. In doing so, he has done nothing to preserve what differentiates the vibrant American economy from those dying economies in Europe. Why have 80 percent of the jobs that have been created since 1980 in the industrialized world been created in the United States? How has America managed to retain its leading 24 percent share of global manufacturing even in the face of the Chinese surge? How has the U.S. GDP risen so high that it essentially equals that of the European Union, which has 50 percent more population? It has done so by an absence of stifling regulation, a liberation of capital to flow to innovative businesses, low taxes, and by a low level of unionization that has given business the flexibility to grow and prosper. Europe, stagnated by taxation and regulation, has grown by a pittance while we have roared ahead. But now Bush — not Obama — Bush has given that all up and caved in to European socialists.

The Bush legacy? European socialism. Who needs enemies with friends like Bush?
23862  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DLO 3 on: November 19, 2008, 08:40:20 PM
Ruff edit of the Ohio footage of DLO 3 came in today.
23863  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, et al, cf Yemen) on: November 19, 2008, 08:28:25 PM
Certainly on point with regard to piracy, as well as , , , other matters. wink  Note the date.
=======
http://www.house.gov/paul/congrec/congrec2001/cr101001.htm

AIR PIRACY REPRISAL AND CAPTURE ACT OF 2001 -- HON. RON PAUL (Extensions of Remarks - October 10, 2001)



HON. RON PAUL
OF TEXAS
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce the Air Piracy Reprisal and Capture Act of 2001 and the September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001. The Air Piracy Reprisal and Capture Act of 2001 updates the federal definition of ``piracy'' to include acts committed in the skies. The September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001 provides Congressional authorization for the President to issue letters of marque and reprisal to appropriate parties to seize the person and property of Osama bin Laden and any other individual responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11. Authority to grant letters of marque and reprisal are provided for in the Constitution as a means of allowing Congress to deal with aggressive actions where a formal declaration of war against a foreign power is problematic, Originally intended to deal with piracy, letters of marque and reprisal represent an appropriate response to the piracy of the twentieth century: hijacking terrorism.

All of America stood horrified at the brutal attacks of September 11 and all of us stand united in our determination to exact just retribution on the perpetrators of this evil deed. This is why I supported giving the President broad authority to use military power to respond to these attacks. When Congress authorized the use of force to respond to the attacks of September 11 we recognized these attacks were not merely criminal acts but an ``unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security.''

Congress must use every means available to fight the terrorists behind this attack if we are to fulfill our constitutional obligations to provide for the common defense of our sovereign nation. Issuance of letters of marque and reprisal are a valuable tool in the struggle to exact just retribution on the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In fact, they may be among the most effective response available to Congress.

Since the bombing there has been much discussion of how to respond to warlike acts carried out by private parties. The drafters of the Constitution also had to wrestle with the problem of how to respond to sporadic attacks on American soil and citizens organized by groups not formally affiliated with a government. In order to deal with this situation, the Constitution authorized Congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal. In the early days of the Republic, marque and reprisal were usually used against pirates who, while they may have enjoyed the protection and partnership of governments, where not official representatives of a government.

Although modern America does not face the threat of piracy on the high seas, we do face the threat of international terrorism, Terrorism has much in common with the piracy of days gone by. Like the pirates of old, today's terrorists are private groups operating to assault the United States government as well as threaten the lives, liberty and property of United States citizens. The only difference is that while pirates sought financial gains, terrorists seek to advance ideological and political agendas through terroristic violence.

Like the pirates who once terrorized the high seas, terrorists today are also difficult to punish using military means. While bombs and missiles may be sufficient to knock out the military capability and the economic and technological infrastructure of an enemy nation that harbors those who committed the September 11 attacks, traditional military force may not be suitable to destroy the lawless terrorists who are operating in the nations targeted for military force. Instead, those terrorists may simply move to another base before our troops can locate them. It is for these reasons that I believe that, were the drafters of the Constitution with us today, they would counsel in favor of issuing letters of marque and reprisal against the terrorists responsible for this outrageous act.

Specifically, my legislation authorizes the President to issue letters of marque and reprisal to all appropriate parties to capture Osama bin Laden and other members of al Qaeda or any other persons involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks. The President is also authorized to use part of the $40 billion appropriated by this Congress to respond to the attack, to establish a bounty for the capture of Osama bin Laden. My legislation singles out Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda because the information available to Congress and the American people indicates bin Laden and his organization were responsible for this action. By vesting authority in the President to issue the letters, my legislation ensures that letters of marque and reprisal can be coordinated with the administration's overall strategy to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice.

Letters of marque and reprisal resolve one of the most vexing problems facing the country: how do we obtain retribution against the perpetrators of the attacks without inflicting massive damage on the Middle East which could drive moderate Arabs into an allegiance with bin Laden and other terrorists. This is because using letters of marque and reprisal shows the people of the region that we are serious when we say our quarrel is not with them but with Osama bin Laden and all others who would dare commit terrorist acts against the United States.

Mr, Speaker, I ask that my colleagues join with me in providing the additional ``necessary weapon of war'' and to help defend our fellow citizens, our sovereign nation, and our liberty by cosponsoring the September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001 and the Air Piracy Reprisal and Capture Act of 2001.



****************************************************************************************************************************
Text of H.R. 3076 [107th]: September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h107-3076
23864  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / There's no kissing in MMA! on: November 19, 2008, 08:21:16 PM
With apologies to Tom Hanks's character in "League of their own" cheesy

More seriously now, what is with all the kissing I see with the fighters at the end of a fight?  I could swear there was even a kiss on the lips this past UFC!  tongue

WTF?!? tongue tongue tongue


23865  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology on: November 19, 2008, 07:47:59 PM
What an extraordinary world we live in!

What does "proboscidean" mean?
23866  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: November 19, 2008, 07:43:43 PM
 cheesy cheesy cheesy
23867  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Barrio Azteca (en ingles) on: November 19, 2008, 07:38:49 PM
   
The Barrio Azteca Trial and the Prison Gang-Cartel Interface
November 19, 2008




By Fred Burton and Ben West

Related Links
Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
On Nov. 3, a U.S. District Court in El Paso, Texas, began hearing a case concerning members of a criminal enterprise that calls itself Barrio Azteca (BA). The group members face charges including drug trafficking and distribution, extortion, money laundering and murder. The six defendants include the organization’s three bosses, Benjamin Alvarez, Manuel Cardoza and Carlos Perea; a sergeant in the group, Said Francisco Herrera; a lieutenant, Eugene Mona; and an associate, Arturo Enriquez.

The proceedings represent the first major trial involving BA, which operates in El Paso and West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The testimony is revealing much about how this El Paso-based prison gang operates, and how it interfaces with Mexican drug cartel allies that supply its drugs.

Mexico’s cartels are in the business of selling drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin in the United States. Large amounts of narcotics flow north while large amounts of cash and weapons flow south. Managing these transactions requires that the cartels have a physical presence in the United States, something a cartel alliance with a U.S. gang can provide.

Of course, BA is not the only prison gang operating in the United States with ties to Mexico. Prison gangs can also be called street gangs — they recruit both in prisons and on the street. Within the United States, there are at least nine well-established prison gangs with connections to Mexican drug cartels; Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate are just a few such groups. Prison gangs like BA are very territorial and usually cover only a specific region, so one Mexican cartel might work with three to four prison or street gangs in the United States. Like BA, most of the U.S. gangs allied with Mexican cartels largely are composed of Mexican immigrants or Mexican-Americans. Nevertheless, white supremacist groups, mixed-race motorcycle gangs and African-American street gangs also have formed extensive alliances with Mexican cartels.

Certainly, not all U.S. gangs the Mexican cartels have allied with are the same. But examining how BA operates offers insights into how other gangs — like the Latin Kings, the Texas Syndicate, the Sureños, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and transnational street gangs like MS-13 — operate in alliance with the cartels.

Barrio Azteca Up Close
Spanish for “Aztec Neighborhood,” BA originated in a Texas state penitentiary in 1986, when five inmates from El Paso organized the group as a means of protection in the face of the often-brutal ethnic tensions within prisons. By the 1990s, BA had spread to other prisons and had established a strong presence on the streets of El Paso as its founding members served their terms and were released. Reports indicate that in the late 1990s, BA had begun working with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa Federation drug trafficking organization, which at the time controlled drug shipments to Ciudad Juarez, El Paso’s sister city across the Rio Grande.

According to testimony from several different witnesses on both sides of the current trial, BA now works only with the Juarez cartel of Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes, which has long controlled much of Mexico’s Chihuahua state and Ciudad Juarez, and broke with the Sinaloa Federation earlier in 2008. BA took sides with the Juarez cartel, with which it is jointly running drugs across the border at the Juarez plaza.

BA provides the foot soldiers to carry out hits at the behest of Juarez cartel leaders. On Nov. 3, 10 alleged BA members in Ciudad Juarez were arrested in connection with 12 murders. The suspects were armed with four AK-47s, pistols and radio communication equipment — all hallmarks of a team of hit men ready to carry out a mission.

According to testimony from the ongoing federal case, which is being brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, drugs are taken at discount from the supplier on the Mexico side and then distributed to dealers on the street. These distributors must then pay “taxes” to BA collectors to continue plying their trade. According to testimony from Josue Aguirre, a former BA member turned FBI informant, BA collects taxes from 47 different street-level narcotics operations in El Paso alone. Failure to pay these taxes results in death. One of the murder charges in the current RICO case involves the death of an El Paso dealer who failed to pay up when the collectors arrived to collect on a debt.

Once collected, the money goes in several different directions. First, BA lieutenants and captains, the midlevel members, receive $50 and $200 per month respectively for compensation. The bulk of BA’s profit is then transferred using money orders to accounts belonging to the head bosses (like Alvarez, Cardoza and Perea) in prison. Cash is also brought back to Ciudad Juarez to pay the Juarez cartel, which provided the drugs in the first place.

BA receives discounts on drugs from the Juarez cartel by providing tactical help to its associates south of the border. Leaders of Carrillo Fuentes’ organization in Juarez can go into hiding in El Paso under BA protection if their lives are in danger in Juarez. They can also order BA to track down cartel enemies hiding in El Paso. Former BA member Gustavo Gallardo testified in 2005 that he was sent to pick up a man in downtown El Paso who had cheated the Juarez cartel of money. Once Gallardo dropped him off at a safe house in El Paso, another team took the man — who was bound with rope and duct tape — to Ciudad Juarez, where Gallardo assumes he was killed.

BA and the World of Prison Gangs
Prison gangs are endemic to prison systems, where safety for inmates comes in numbers. Tensions (usually along racial lines) among dangerous individuals regularly erupt into deadly conflict. Prison gang membership affords a certain amount of protection against rival groups and offers fertile recruiting ground.

Once a prison gang grows its membership (along with its prestige) and establishes a clear hierarchy, its leader can wield an impressive amount of power. Some even wind up taking over prisons, like the antecedents of Russian organized crime did.

It might seem strange that members on the outside send money and answer to bosses in prison, since the bosses are locked up. But these bosses wield a great deal of influence over gang members in and out of prison. Disobedience is punishable by death, and regardless of whether a boss is in prison, he can order a hit on a member who has crossed him. Prison gang members also know that if they end up in prison again — a likely outcome — they will once again be dependent on the help of the boss to stay alive, and can perhaps even earn some money while doing time.

BA’s illegal activities mean its members constantly cycle in and out of prison. Many BA members were involved in smaller, local El Paso street gangs before they were imprisoned. Once in prison, they joined BA with the sponsorship of a “godfather” who walks the recruit through the process. BA then performs a kind of background check on new recruits by circulating their name throughout the organization. BA is particularly interested in any evidence that prospective members have cooperated with the police.

Prison authorities are certainly aware of the spread of BA, and they try to keep Mexican nationals separated from known BA members, who are mostly Mexican-American, to prevent the spread of the gang’s influence. BA has organizations in virtually every penitentiary in Texas, meaning that no matter where a BA member is imprisoned, he will have a protection network in place. BA members with truly extensive prison records might personally know the leader of every prison chapter, thus increasing the member’s prestige. Thus, the constant cycling of members from the outside world into prison does not inhibit BA, but makes its members more cohesive, as it allows the prison system to increase bonds among gang members.

Communication challenges certainly arise, as exchanges between prisoners and those on the outside are closely monitored. But BA seems to have overcome this challenge. Former BA member Edward Ruiz testified during the trial that from 2003 to 2007, he acted as a clearinghouse for jailed members’ letters and packages, which he then distributed to members on the outside. This tactic ensured that all prison communications would be traceable to just one address, thus not revealing the location of other members.

BA also allegedly used Sandy Valles New, who worked in the investigations section of the Office of the Federal Public Defender in El Paso from 1996 to 2002, to pass communications between gang members inside and outside prison. She exploited the access to — and the ability to engage in confidential communications with — inmates that attorneys enjoy, transmitting information back and forth between BA members inside and outside prison. Taped conversations reveal New talking to one of the bosses and lead defendants, Carlos Perea, about her fear of losing her job and thus not being able to continue transmitting information in this way. She also talked of crossing over to Ciudad Juarez to communicate with BA members in Mexico.

While BA had inside sources like New assisting it, the FBI was able to infiltrate BA in return. Josue Aguirre and Johnny Michelleti have informed on BA activities to the FBI since 2003 and 2005, respectively. Edward Ruiz, the mailman, also handed over stacks of letters to the FBI.

BA and the Mexican Cartels
As indicated, BA is only one of dozens of prison gangs operating along the U.S.-Mexican border that help Mexican drug trafficking organizations smuggle narcotics across the border and then distribute them for the cartels. Mexican drug trafficking organizations need groups that will do their bidding on the U.S. side of the border, as the border is the tightest choke point in the narcotics supply chain.

Getting large amounts of drugs across the border on a daily basis requires local connections to bribe border guards or border town policemen. Gangs on the U.S. side of the border also have contacts who sell drugs on the retail level, where markups bring in large profits. The current trial has revealed that the partnership goes beyond narcotics to include violence as well. In light of the high levels of violence raging in Mexico related to narcotics trafficking, there is a genuine worry that this violence (and corruption) could spread inside the United States.

One of the roles that BA and other border gangs fill for Mexican drug-trafficking organizations is that of enforcer. Prison gangs wield tight control over illegal activity in a specific territory. They keep tabs on people to make sure they are paying their taxes to the gang and not affiliating with rival gangs. To draw an analogy, they are like the local police who know the situation on the ground and can enforce specific rules handed down by a governmental body — or a Mexican cartel.

Details emerging from the ongoing trial indicate that BA works closely with the Juarez cartel and has contributed to drug-related violence inside the United States. While the killing of a street dealer by a gang for failure to pay up on time is common enough nationwide and hardly unique to Mexican drug traffickers, apprehending offenders in El Paso and driving them to Ciudad Juarez to be held or killed does represent a very clear link between violence in Mexico and the United States.

BA’s ability to strike within the United States has been proven. According to a Stratfor source, BA is connected to Los Zetas — the U.S.-trained Mexican military members who deserted to traffic drugs — through a mutual alliance with the Juarez cartel. The Zetas possess a high level of tactical skill that could be passed along to BA, thus increasing its effectiveness.

The Potential for Cross-Border Violence
The prospect for enhanced cross-border violence is frightening, but the violence itself is not new. So far, Mexican cartels and their U.S. allies have focused on those directly involved in the drug trade. Whether this restraint will continue is unclear. Either way, collateral damage is always a possibility.

Previous incidents, like one that targeted a drug dealer in arrears in Phoenix and others that involved kidnappings and attacks against U.S. Border Patrol agents, indicate that violence has already begun creeping over from Mexico. So far, violence related to drug trafficking has not caused the deaths of U.S. law enforcement officials and/or civilians, though it has come close to doing so.

Another potential incubator of cross-border violence exists in BA’s obligation to offer refuge to Juarez cartel members seeking safety in the United States. Such members most likely would have bounties on their heads. The more violent Mexico (and particularly Ciudad Juarez) becomes, the greater the risk Juarez cartel leaders face — and the more pressure they will feel to seek refuge in the United States. As more Juarez cartel leaders cross over and hide with BA help, the cartel’s enemies will become increasingly tempted to follow them and kill them in the United States. Other border gangs in California, Arizona and New Mexico probably are following this same trajectory.

Two primary reasons explain why Mexican cartel violence for the most part has stopped short of crossing the U.S. border. First, the prospect of provoking U.S. law enforcement does not appeal to Mexican drug-trafficking organizations operating along the border. They do not want to provoke a coordinated response from a highly capable federal U.S. police force like the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or FBI. By keeping violence at relatively low levels and primarily aimed at other gang members and drug dealers, the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations can lessen their profile in the eyes of these U.S. agencies. Conversely, any increase in violence and/or the killing of U.S. police or civilians would dramatically increase federal scrutiny and retaliation.

The second reason violence has not crossed the border wholesale is that gangs like BA are in place to enforce the drug-trafficking organizations’ rules. The need to send cartel members into the United States to kill a disobedient drug dealer is reduced by having a tight alliance with a border gang that keeps drugs and money moving smoothly and carries out the occasional killing to maintain order.

But the continued integrity of BA and its ability to carry out the writ of larger drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico might not be so certain. The Nov. 3 trial will undermine BA activity in the crucial trafficking corridor of El Paso/Ciudad Juarez.

The indictment and possible incarceration of the six alleged BA members would not damage the gang so badly — after all, BA is accustomed to operating out of prison, and there must certainly be members on the outside ready to fill in for their incarcerated comrades. But making BA’s activities and modus operandi public should increase scrutiny on the gang and could very well lead to many more arrests.

In light of the presence of at least two FBI informants in the gang, BA leaders have probably moved into damage control mode, isolating members jeopardized by the informants. This will disrupt BA’s day-to-day operations, making it at least temporarily less effective. Stratfor sources say BA members on both sides of the border have been ordered to lie low until the trial is over and the damage can be fully assessed. This is a dangerous period for gangs like BA, as their influence over their territory and ability to operate is being reduced.

Weakening BA by extension weakens the Juarez cartel’s hand in El Paso. While BA no doubt will survive the investigations the trial probably will spawn, given the high stakes across the border in Mexico, the Juarez cartel might be forced to reduce its reliance on BA. This could prompt the Juarez cartel to rely on its own members in Ciudad Juarez to carry out hits in the United States and to provide its own security to leaders seeking refuge in the United States. It could also prompt it to turn to a new gang facing less police scrutiny. Under either scenario, BA’s territory would be encroached upon. And considering the importance of controlling territory to prison gangs — and the fact that BA probably still will be largely intact — this could lead to increased rivalries and violence.

The Juarez cartel-BA dynamic could well apply to alliances between U.S. gangs and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations, such as Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos in Houston, the Texas Syndicate and Tango Blast operating in the Rio Grande Valley and their allies in the Gulf cartel; the Mexican Mafia in California and Texas and its allies in the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels; and other gangs operating in the United States with ties to Mexican cartels like Mexikanemi, Norteños and the Sureños.

Ultimately, just because BA or any other street gang working with Mexican cartels is weakened does not mean that the need to enforce cartel rules and supply chains disappears. This could put Mexican drug-trafficking organizations on a collision course with U.S. law enforcement if they feel they must step in themselves to take up the slack. As their enforcers stateside face more legal pressure, the cartels’ response therefore bears watching.

Tell Stratfor What You Think

 
23868  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Queerly Beloved on: November 19, 2008, 07:32:51 PM
World Net Daily is not my idea of a very reliable site, but it seems hard to imagine how they could have gotten the essence of this piece wrong.  What this article reports strikes me as profoundly wrong.

(Trivia:  James Dobson once sat next to me on a transcontinental flight)
===========================================================

QUEERLY BELOVED
eHarmony.com to match 'gays'
Dating site promoted by James Dobson bows to lawsuit, creates special service

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Posted: November 19, 2008
3:30 pm Eastern
By Chelsea Schilling
© 2008 WorldNetDaily


Internet dating service eHarmony has officially agreed to begin matching homosexual couples, beginning next year.


The popular California-based service has been known for focusing on long-term relationships, especially marriage, which has been said to align with founder Clark Warren's early work with Focus on the Family's evangelical Christian base and perspective.

Warren, a psychologist with a divinity degree, has had three of his 10 books on love and dating published by Focus on the Family. It was an appearance on James Dobson's radio program, in 2001, that triggered a response of 90,000 new referrals to the website, starting a climb of registered participants on the site from 4,000 to today's 20 million clients.

As WND reported, the company originally said it was " based on the Christian principles of Focus on the Family author Dr. Neil Clark Warren." It stood firm on its decision to reject homosexuals from its profiling and matching services. Its entire compatibility system is based on research of married heterosexual couples.

In 2005, Warren told USA Today the company's goal is marriage and that same-sex marriage is illegal in most states.

"We don't really want to participate in something that's illegal," he said.

But now the company has been compelled to changed its nationwide policy as part of a New Jersey lawsuit settlement.

On March 14, 2005, Eric McKinley filed a lawsuit against eHarmony, claiming the company discriminated against him when it refused to accept his advertisement for a "gay" partner.

McKinley's complaint triggered a state investigation into the dating service.

(Story continues below)

     


Last week, eHarmony agreed to begin providing an eHarmony-affiliated "Compatible Partners" service to gays and lesbians, with listings labeled "male seeking male" and "female seeking female" by March 31, 2009.

For complying, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has dismissed the complaint against eHarmony, and Warren is considered "absolved of liability." Also, the dating site has been ordered to pay the division $50,000 for investigation-related administrative costs and give McKinley $5,000. It has agreed to provide a free one-year membership to its "gay" service to McKinley, plus free six-month memberships to "the first 10,000 users registering for same-sex matching within one year of the initiation on the same-sex matching service," according to the settlement.

A new release by New Jersey's Office of the Attorney General reveals that eHarmony has also agreed to the following terms:

eHarmony, Inc. will post photos of same-sex couples in the "Diversity" section of its website as successful relationships are created using the company's same-sex matching service. In addition, eHarmony, Inc. will include photos of same-sex couples, as well as individual same-sex users, in advertising materials used to promote its same-sex matching services

eHarmony, Inc. will revise anti-discrimination statements placed on company websites, in company handbooks and other company publications to make plain that it does not discriminate on the basis of "sexual orientation"

The company has committed to advertising and public relations/ marketing dedicated to its same-sex matching service and will retain a media consultant experienced in promoting the "fair, accurate and inclusive" representation of gay and lesbian people in the media to determine the most effective way of reaching the gay and lesbian communities.

eHarmony's new logo for homosexual dating service
 


In addition to McKinley's complaint, a California lesbian also filed a lawsuit against the company in May 2007.

Linda Carlson submitted her complaint to Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation. Lawyers have attempted to turn it into a class-action lawsuit on behalf of homosexuals who wanted to use eHarmony's services.

Carlson's lawyer told Reuters the complaint was "about changing the landscape and making a statement out there that gay people, just like heterosexuals, have the right and desire to meet other people with whom they can fall in love."

Antone Johnson, vice president of legal affairs at eHarmony, said the new settlement could compel California complainants to drop their lawsuit.

"We believe that this case is now essentially moot, and we're confident that we will prove that in court," Johnson said. "Now that we're entering the same-sex matching market, we fail to see what the Carlson plaintiffs could achieve through further litigation."

Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, outside counsel to the company, said, "Even though we believed that the complaint resulted from an unfair characterization of our business, we ultimately decided it was best to settle this case with the Attorney General since litigation outcomes can be unpredictable. eHarmony looks forward to moving beyond this legal dispute, which has been a burden for the company, and continuing to advance its business model of serving individuals by helping them find successful, long-term relationships."

An attorney for eHarmony told WND legal battles required a great deal of effort and resources from the dating organization.

"The company spent three years defending against this proceeding," he said. "It was a burden in terms of the high costs of litigation and the time and resources management devoted to it."
23869  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Barrio Azteca on: November 19, 2008, 07:23:54 PM
   
The Barrio Azteca Trial and the Prison Gang-Cartel Interface
November 19, 2008
By Fred Burton and Ben West

Related Links
Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels

On Nov. 3, a U.S. District Court in El Paso, Texas, began hearing a case concerning members of a criminal enterprise that calls itself Barrio Azteca (BA). The group members face charges including drug trafficking and distribution, extortion, money laundering and murder. The six defendants include the organization’s three bosses, Benjamin Alvarez, Manuel Cardoza and Carlos Perea; a sergeant in the group, Said Francisco Herrera; a lieutenant, Eugene Mona; and an associate, Arturo Enriquez.

The proceedings represent the first major trial involving BA, which operates in El Paso and West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The testimony is revealing much about how this El Paso-based prison gang operates, and how it interfaces with Mexican drug cartel allies that supply its drugs.

Mexico’s cartels are in the business of selling drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin in the United States. Large amounts of narcotics flow north while large amounts of cash and weapons flow south. Managing these transactions requires that the cartels have a physical presence in the United States, something a cartel alliance with a U.S. gang can provide.

Of course, BA is not the only prison gang operating in the United States with ties to Mexico. Prison gangs can also be called street gangs — they recruit both in prisons and on the street. Within the United States, there are at least nine well-established prison gangs with connections to Mexican drug cartels; Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate are just a few such groups. Prison gangs like BA are very territorial and usually cover only a specific region, so one Mexican cartel might work with three to four prison or street gangs in the United States. Like BA, most of the U.S. gangs allied with Mexican cartels largely are composed of Mexican immigrants or Mexican-Americans. Nevertheless, white supremacist groups, mixed-race motorcycle gangs and African-American street gangs also have formed extensive alliances with Mexican cartels.

Certainly, not all U.S. gangs the Mexican cartels have allied with are the same. But examining how BA operates offers insights into how other gangs — like the Latin Kings, the Texas Syndicate, the Sureños, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and transnational street gangs like MS-13 — operate in alliance with the cartels.

Barrio Azteca Up Close
Spanish for “Aztec Neighborhood,” BA originated in a Texas state penitentiary in 1986, when five inmates from El Paso organized the group as a means of protection in the face of the often-brutal ethnic tensions within prisons. By the 1990s, BA had spread to other prisons and had established a strong presence on the streets of El Paso as its founding members served their terms and were released. Reports indicate that in the late 1990s, BA had begun working with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa Federation drug trafficking organization, which at the time controlled drug shipments to Ciudad Juarez, El Paso’s sister city across the Rio Grande.

According to testimony from several different witnesses on both sides of the current trial, BA now works only with the Juarez cartel of Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes, which has long controlled much of Mexico’s Chihuahua state and Ciudad Juarez, and broke with the Sinaloa Federation earlier in 2008. BA took sides with the Juarez cartel, with which it is jointly running drugs across the border at the Juarez plaza.

BA provides the foot soldiers to carry out hits at the behest of Juarez cartel leaders. On Nov. 3, 10 alleged BA members in Ciudad Juarez were arrested in connection with 12 murders. The suspects were armed with four AK-47s, pistols and radio communication equipment — all hallmarks of a team of hit men ready to carry out a mission.

According to testimony from the ongoing federal case, which is being brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, drugs are taken at discount from the supplier on the Mexico side and then distributed to dealers on the street. These distributors must then pay “taxes” to BA collectors to continue plying their trade. According to testimony from Josue Aguirre, a former BA member turned FBI informant, BA collects taxes from 47 different street-level narcotics operations in El Paso alone. Failure to pay these taxes results in death. One of the murder charges in the current RICO case involves the death of an El Paso dealer who failed to pay up when the collectors arrived to collect on a debt.

Once collected, the money goes in several different directions. First, BA lieutenants and captains, the midlevel members, receive $50 and $200 per month respectively for compensation. The bulk of BA’s profit is then transferred using money orders to accounts belonging to the head bosses (like Alvarez, Cardoza and Perea) in prison. Cash is also brought back to Ciudad Juarez to pay the Juarez cartel, which provided the drugs in the first place.

BA receives discounts on drugs from the Juarez cartel by providing tactical help to its associates south of the border. Leaders of Carrillo Fuentes’ organization in Juarez can go into hiding in El Paso under BA protection if their lives are in danger in Juarez. They can also order BA to track down cartel enemies hiding in El Paso. Former BA member Gustavo Gallardo testified in 2005 that he was sent to pick up a man in downtown El Paso who had cheated the Juarez cartel of money. Once Gallardo dropped him off at a safe house in El Paso, another team took the man — who was bound with rope and duct tape — to Ciudad Juarez, where Gallardo assumes he was killed.

BA and the World of Prison Gangs
Prison gangs are endemic to prison systems, where safety for inmates comes in numbers. Tensions (usually along racial lines) among dangerous individuals regularly erupt into deadly conflict. Prison gang membership affords a certain amount of protection against rival groups and offers fertile recruiting ground.

Once a prison gang grows its membership (along with its prestige) and establishes a clear hierarchy, its leader can wield an impressive amount of power. Some even wind up taking over prisons, like the antecedents of Russian organized crime did.

It might seem strange that members on the outside send money and answer to bosses in prison, since the bosses are locked up. But these bosses wield a great deal of influence over gang members in and out of prison. Disobedience is punishable by death, and regardless of whether a boss is in prison, he can order a hit on a member who has crossed him. Prison gang members also know that if they end up in prison again — a likely outcome — they will once again be dependent on the help of the boss to stay alive, and can perhaps even earn some money while doing time.

BA’s illegal activities mean its members constantly cycle in and out of prison. Many BA members were involved in smaller, local El Paso street gangs before they were imprisoned. Once in prison, they joined BA with the sponsorship of a “godfather” who walks the recruit through the process. BA then performs a kind of background check on new recruits by circulating their name throughout the organization. BA is particularly interested in any evidence that prospective members have cooperated with the police.

Prison authorities are certainly aware of the spread of BA, and they try to keep Mexican nationals separated from known BA members, who are mostly Mexican-American, to prevent the spread of the gang’s influence. BA has organizations in virtually every penitentiary in Texas, meaning that no matter where a BA member is imprisoned, he will have a protection network in place. BA members with truly extensive prison records might personally know the leader of every prison chapter, thus increasing the member’s prestige. Thus, the constant cycling of members from the outside world into prison does not inhibit BA, but makes its members more cohesive, as it allows the prison system to increase bonds among gang members.

Communication challenges certainly arise, as exchanges between prisoners and those on the outside are closely monitored. But BA seems to have overcome this challenge. Former BA member Edward Ruiz testified during the trial that from 2003 to 2007, he acted as a clearinghouse for jailed members’ letters and packages, which he then distributed to members on the outside. This tactic ensured that all prison communications would be traceable to just one address, thus not revealing the location of other members.

BA also allegedly used Sandy Valles New, who worked in the investigations section of the Office of the Federal Public Defender in El Paso from 1996 to 2002, to pass communications between gang members inside and outside prison. She exploited the access to — and the ability to engage in confidential communications with — inmates that attorneys enjoy, transmitting information back and forth between BA members inside and outside prison. Taped conversations reveal New talking to one of the bosses and lead defendants, Carlos Perea, about her fear of losing her job and thus not being able to continue transmitting information in this way. She also talked of crossing over to Ciudad Juarez to communicate with BA members in Mexico.

While BA had inside sources like New assisting it, the FBI was able to infiltrate BA in return. Josue Aguirre and Johnny Michelleti have informed on BA activities to the FBI since 2003 and 2005, respectively. Edward Ruiz, the mailman, also handed over stacks of letters to the FBI.

BA and the Mexican Cartels
As indicated, BA is only one of dozens of prison gangs operating along the U.S.-Mexican border that help Mexican drug trafficking organizations smuggle narcotics across the border and then distribute them for the cartels. Mexican drug trafficking organizations need groups that will do their bidding on the U.S. side of the border, as the border is the tightest choke point in the narcotics supply chain.

Getting large amounts of drugs across the border on a daily basis requires local connections to bribe border guards or border town policemen. Gangs on the U.S. side of the border also have contacts who sell drugs on the retail level, where markups bring in large profits. The current trial has revealed that the partnership goes beyond narcotics to include violence as well. In light of the high levels of violence raging in Mexico related to narcotics trafficking, there is a genuine worry that this violence (and corruption) could spread inside the United States.

One of the roles that BA and other border gangs fill for Mexican drug-trafficking organizations is that of enforcer. Prison gangs wield tight control over illegal activity in a specific territory. They keep tabs on people to make sure they are paying their taxes to the gang and not affiliating with rival gangs. To draw an analogy, they are like the local police who know the situation on the ground and can enforce specific rules handed down by a governmental body — or a Mexican cartel.

Details emerging from the ongoing trial indicate that BA works closely with the Juarez cartel and has contributed to drug-related violence inside the United States. While the killing of a street dealer by a gang for failure to pay up on time is common enough nationwide and hardly unique to Mexican drug traffickers, apprehending offenders in El Paso and driving them to Ciudad Juarez to be held or killed does represent a very clear link between violence in Mexico and the United States.

BA’s ability to strike within the United States has been proven. According to a Stratfor source, BA is connected to Los Zetas — the U.S.-trained Mexican military members who deserted to traffic drugs — through a mutual alliance with the Juarez cartel. The Zetas possess a high level of tactical skill that could be passed along to BA, thus increasing its effectiveness.

The Potential for Cross-Border Violence
The prospect for enhanced cross-border violence is frightening, but the violence itself is not new. So far, Mexican cartels and their U.S. allies have focused on those directly involved in the drug trade. Whether this restraint will continue is unclear. Either way, collateral damage is always a possibility.

Previous incidents, like one that targeted a drug dealer in arrears in Phoenix and others that involved kidnappings and attacks against U.S. Border Patrol agents, indicate that violence has already begun creeping over from Mexico. So far, violence related to drug trafficking has not caused the deaths of U.S. law enforcement officials and/or civilians, though it has come close to doing so.

Another potential incubator of cross-border violence exists in BA’s obligation to offer refuge to Juarez cartel members seeking safety in the United States. Such members most likely would have bounties on their heads. The more violent Mexico (and particularly Ciudad Juarez) becomes, the greater the risk Juarez cartel leaders face — and the more pressure they will feel to seek refuge in the United States. As more Juarez cartel leaders cross over and hide with BA help, the cartel’s enemies will become increasingly tempted to follow them and kill them in the United States. Other border gangs in California, Arizona and New Mexico probably are following this same trajectory.

Two primary reasons explain why Mexican cartel violence for the most part has stopped short of crossing the U.S. border. First, the prospect of provoking U.S. law enforcement does not appeal to Mexican drug-trafficking organizations operating along the border. They do not want to provoke a coordinated response from a highly capable federal U.S. police force like the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or FBI. By keeping violence at relatively low levels and primarily aimed at other gang members and drug dealers, the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations can lessen their profile in the eyes of these U.S. agencies. Conversely, any increase in violence and/or the killing of U.S. police or civilians would dramatically increase federal scrutiny and retaliation.

The second reason violence has not crossed the border wholesale is that gangs like BA are in place to enforce the drug-trafficking organizations’ rules. The need to send cartel members into the United States to kill a disobedient drug dealer is reduced by having a tight alliance with a border gang that keeps drugs and money moving smoothly and carries out the occasional killing to maintain order.

But the continued integrity of BA and its ability to carry out the writ of larger drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico might not be so certain. The Nov. 3 trial will undermine BA activity in the crucial trafficking corridor of El Paso/Ciudad Juarez.

The indictment and possible incarceration of the six alleged BA members would not damage the gang so badly — after all, BA is accustomed to operating out of prison, and there must certainly be members on the outside ready to fill in for their incarcerated comrades. But making BA’s activities and modus operandi public should increase scrutiny on the gang and could very well lead to many more arrests.

In light of the presence of at least two FBI informants in the gang, BA leaders have probably moved into damage control mode, isolating members jeopardized by the informants. This will disrupt BA’s day-to-day operations, making it at least temporarily less effective. Stratfor sources say BA members on both sides of the border have been ordered to lie low until the trial is over and the damage can be fully assessed. This is a dangerous period for gangs like BA, as their influence over their territory and ability to operate is being reduced.

Weakening BA by extension weakens the Juarez cartel’s hand in El Paso. While BA no doubt will survive the investigations the trial probably will spawn, given the high stakes across the border in Mexico, the Juarez cartel might be forced to reduce its reliance on BA. This could prompt the Juarez cartel to rely on its own members in Ciudad Juarez to carry out hits in the United States and to provide its own security to leaders seeking refuge in the United States. It could also prompt it to turn to a new gang facing less police scrutiny. Under either scenario, BA’s territory would be encroached upon. And considering the importance of controlling territory to prison gangs — and the fact that BA probably still will be largely intact — this could lead to increased rivalries and violence.

The Juarez cartel-BA dynamic could well apply to alliances between U.S. gangs and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations, such as Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos in Houston, the Texas Syndicate and Tango Blast operating in the Rio Grande Valley and their allies in the Gulf cartel; the Mexican Mafia in California and Texas and its allies in the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels; and other gangs operating in the United States with ties to Mexican cartels like Mexikanemi, Norteños and the Sureños.

Ultimately, just because BA or any other street gang working with Mexican cartels is weakened does not mean that the need to enforce cartel rules and supply chains disappears. This could put Mexican drug-trafficking organizations on a collision course with U.S. law enforcement if they feel they must step in themselves to take up the slack. As their enforcers stateside face more legal pressure, the cartels’ response therefore bears watching.



 
23870  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: November 19, 2008, 12:16:43 PM
Closely related to debt is the matter of interest rates.  The Fed/Govt has been pushing interest rates to artificially low levels for quite some time now-- to the point where interest rates are actually negative!!!  shocked

Who on earth wants to save when in constant dollars after inflation and taxes you lose money?

Who doesn't want to borrow at no money down with negative interest rates?
23871  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / From Micheal Yon on: November 19, 2008, 12:12:44 PM
Published: 19 November 2008

Email Address

Happy Ending

Between 2007 and 2008, I got to know a man in South Baghdad whose codename was “Bishop.”  This is the short story of his life.

His parents were Kurdish Sunnis.  They moved to Baghdad 34 years ago – recently married and excited to make a new life for themselves and create a family.  Bishop’s real name was Bashar Akram Ameen; the name given to him when he was born on October 6, 1978 in the Abu Ghraib apartments in Baghdad.  Bashar had three sisters and one brother.  His schooling included graduating from a Baghdad high school in the class of ’96 and attending the Agriculture College of Baghdad University from 1997 until 2002 when he graduated.  America had just set its sights on toppling Saddam.
 
Shortly after graduating, Bashar began service in the Iraqi Army Reserve, but that lasted only three months, because the U.S. crushed a great part of the Iraqi Army and then officially dissolved the rest.  For three months, Bashar was one of those unemployed young men we worried about.  He got a job in October of 2003 as a bodyguard for an Iraqi judge.  His first job didn’t last long because insurgents assassinated the judge.  Feeling lost and a bit frightened, Bashar decided to look for a “safer” job, and began interpreting for, as he called it, “the Sally Port Security Company” in al-Mansour, Baghdad.  Insurgents in his neighborhood figured out that he was working for an American company, and on February 21, 2006, as he left his job at 6:00 pm, they started shooting at him in his car, “…but I miraculously survived,” Bashar  explained to me, “and that was the reason to leave my job at that company.”

His own safety, and therefore that of his loved ones, was in jeopardy, and so, as Bashar recalled, “I quit visiting my family for over four months.”  Though he had used caution, his family was forced to flee in order to avoid imminent suffering or death from the insurgents. Bashar explained, “They had killed our neighbor’s son, so their father gave the key of his house to my father to keep the house safe until maybe the situation getting better.  Then, on the next day, the same killers of our neighbors came to my father and asked him about the key, so he refused to give it away and he said that he don’t have it and he don’t know anything about it.”  The insurgents warned Bashar’s father that they would check the validity of his information, and if it was untrue, “they will teach my father and us a lesson.” His family, doing what they must to survive, reluctantly left their home.  Bashar wrote to me, “My father packed some basic stuff and moved from our own house in Ameriya, Baghdad; Iraq.”

By now, the civil war was raging in Baghdad.
 
Not everything was so bleak.  Even at the height of the civil war, life went on.  Bashar met a woman named Alyaa, who worked in legal administration at the “Sally Port Security Company.”  They courted for a year, and got married on September 14, 2006 –  all the while, sectarian violence raged around Iraq.  A year later their first son, Mustafa, was born. Around that time, however, the local Shia militia (called Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM) figured out that Bashar, who is Sunni, had worked for the Americans at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon (where he got the codename “Bishop”). “They began coming around to bother my wife while I was at work,” he recalls. “So we moved again to live in al-Mansour, Baghdad. And since then, I stopped making any type of relationships with the neighbors just because you can’t trust anybody.  In al-Mansour, we had very quiet time….”
 
And so Bashar began working for the American Army as an interpreter, for various units, at the time of peak fighting.  I first met Bishop when he worked for 1-4 Cav in South Baghdad.  The 1-4 Cav soldiers kept Bishop busy, working him hard, and he became one of the team.  As the months rolled by and I came back to 1-4 on several occasions, their area had become quieter and quieter until, really, there was nothing going on except progress.  The younger infantrymen were proud of the progress, but wanted to get up to Mosul or out to Afghanistan, where the fighting was.  But not Bishop.  He’d seen the worst of it and did not want to see any more war.  He was old beyond his years and wanted peace.
 

Bishop with General Petraeus (center) and LTC Crider (right)



The two most dangerous jobs for Iraqis were probably journalist and interpreter.  Bishop wanted to come to the United States.  As a result, 1-4 Cav Commander, LTC James Crider, and some of the soldiers Bishop had worked with helped with the paperwork.
 
Just a small aside: LTC Crider and his battalion were serious contributors to success in Iraq.  I got e-mails from LTC Crider about his struggles with Iraqi bureaucracy on behalf of Bishop, even after he went home to America.  I’d seen this LTC Crider go to bat for Iraqis over and over again in Iraq.  In just one example, Crider and his staff waded for months through the Iraqi legal labyrinth to try to free a man who had been wrongfully detained for a bombing he could not have committed; the bombing had never occurred.  Crider and his battalion were welcome fixtures in that neighborhood, because he and his men had brought peace and serenity to a place that had previously been one of the most perilous places in Iraq.  The last time I was there, I walked around with no body armor or helmet, and bought popcorn on the street.  (I was just there again on about November 15; the progress continues without violence.)

I heard that many Iraqis cried when 1-4 redeployed to America.  One captain had even been offered a home if he would come back to live in the neighborhood.  The captain knew how to get things done, while still making the time to learn the names of every kid there.  And he knew their mothers and fathers, too.  But that was it; 1-4 went home and Bishop was left behind, with his family scattered by the war.
 
His father died in July 2007, his mother and two sisters still live in Baghdad, his brother in Kirkuk, and another sister in Syria.
 
LTC Crider and others struggled…and struggled…and finally succeeded.  On November 6, 2008, Bishop emigrated to America, landing in Nolensville, Tennessee along with his wife, Alyaa (who is carrying their second child), and their son, Mustafa.  And the amazing 1-4 Cav keeps winning battles, without firing a shot, long after leaving the war.

So now, Bashar is no longer “Bishop,” and he has begun an American life, with the many ups and downs we all have to face.  His next fight is to find a job in our troubled economy and overcome a high-voltage dose of culture shock.  He will come to understand that our culture is just as complicated as the one he left behind – but without the violence, threats and scars of war.

Many people have welcomed him to America.  I think Bashar can be of particular value to America at this time, simply by getting on the radio stations and talking to reporters and telling his story – the story of Iraq –  and showing people how it really is over here.  (I write this from Iraq.)  Perhaps he can explain why many of us think that it was all worth it.  I asked Bashar if I could publish his e-mail address, and he agreed.

This is not just a happy ending, but a happy beginning.  Please welcome this new family to America and pass this story to your local papers and radio stations.  Ask them to talk with a real Iraqi who just got here.  People need to know what happened in Iraq.   

Bashar can be reached at: bash.amen@yahoo.com
23872  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War on: November 19, 2008, 10:41:31 AM
November 19, 2008 | 0258 GMT

Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, head of military intelligence in Israel, said that he would not regard a dialogue between Washington and Iran as necessarily negative. In a public speech, Yadlin said, “Dialogue is not appeasement.” Even if the talks failed, Yadlin said, they could lead to a strengthening of sanctions and might lead to some success as well. He said, “Iran will do anything not to be cornered in the position of Iraq or North Korea,” adding that “Iran is also very susceptible to international pressure because of the (financial) crisis.”

This is a shift in Israeli thinking. While the future of Israel’s government is unclear, to say the least, Yadlin is certainly expressing more than his private views. He is certainly speaking for the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces and in all probability for the Israeli intelligence community. Over the past months, there has been a shift in the way Israelis have presented the imminence of the threat from Iran, indicating that the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is neither as immutable nor as near as previously thought. Yadlin’s statement brings Israel one step further in this direction.

The change in tone tracks with the change in Iranian-U.S. relations. While hardly warm, there are signs of some thawing, as we have discussed. U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration appears to be moving toward more extensive, open discussions with Iran, and President-elect Barack Obama has indicated a commitment to exploring dialogue with Iran. Under those circumstances, Israel is not going to simply oppose talks. Israel cannot stray too far from the American position, and given that the Bush and Obama positions are converging, Israel cannot attempt to play off political disagreements in Washington.

Yadlin’s statement was far from an enthusiastic endorsement of diplomatic dialogue, since he recognized that a failure in talks between Washington and Tehran would open the door to harsher sanctions against Iran. He did point out that Israel recognizes two weaknesses in the Iranian position. First, Iran does not want to be a pariah state like North Korea or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Second, Iran — whose economy was already fragile — is under heavy pressure because of the global financial crisis. Given Iran’s long-term fear of isolation and attack, and its immediate financial problems, Yadlin seemed to be saying that if there are going to be talks with Iran, now is the time to have them.

The Israelis have been shifting positions on a number of issues in the past few months. Israel shifted its position on Georgia even before the war with Russia began, and then reached out to the Russians in the hope of preventing arms sales to Syria. Now Israel is shifting its views on talks with Iran. A great deal of this redefinition undoubtedly has to do with Obama’s election, but some of it has to do with a recognition that the dynamics of the world are changing and Israel’s posture was not aligned with new realities. Russia is becoming a more important player that Israel cannot take for granted, and talks with Iran are inevitable.

There is one deeper level here. The Israelis always wanted a balance of power between Iraq and Iran. They saw Iran as a block to Arab aspirations. Whatever the internal ideology of Iran, the tension between Iran and the Arabs benefits Israel. Many Israelis were less than thrilled by the U.S. invasion of Iraq because it collapsed that balance. A permanent presence of American forces in Iraq would of course have compensated, but the new Status of Forces Agreement means that U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq — and perhaps leaving it stronger than when they arrived. If there is going to be a strong Iraq, Israel will want a strong Iran. Now we are far from a strong Iraq, but we are also far from a glowing endorsement of U.S.-Iranian dialogue. What Yadlin has done is open the door to the idea that talking to Iran would not mean catastrophe for Israel. For the moment, that is quite enough.
23873  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Ukraine on: November 19, 2008, 10:39:04 AM
November 19, 2008 | 1204 GMT
Summary
Within Ukraine there are several forces that, in theory, could steer the country in one direction or another. However, the political forces have been locked in a battle for control for the past four years. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s oligarchs and other forces with both economic and political clout are too distracted by the current global financial crisis to take action. Thus, Ukraine has been left with no ability to handle its own crisis or determine its own future.

Analysis
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series on Ukraine.

Ukraine’s government is simply far too shattered and chaotic to handle the country’s current financial and economic problems or make any of the reforms needed in its defunct financial, economic, military and energy sectors. Kiev has been a confused and chaotic mass of shifting coalitions and governments since the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was supposed to herald a new era in which Ukraine would be part of the West rather than a Russian satellite.

From the Orange Revolution through today, Ukraine’s political scene has been dominated by three main parties (though there are myriad smaller parties):

Our Ukraine: The vehemently pro-Western party under current Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko

Bloc Yulia Timoshenko: A coalition of parties under current Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko that can flip to either the pro-Western or pro-Russian side; and

Party of Regions: The vehemently pro-Russian party led by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.
Our Ukraine and Timoshenko’s bloc were the parties behind the Orange Revolution, though all three major parties have flip-flopped into different coalitions half a dozen times in the past four years. Most of the breaks and alliances among the three groups have not necessarily come about because of changes in ideology; rather, they are driven by the personalities and egos of Yushchenko, Timoshenko and Yanukovich. Typically, with each turnover in the government and coalitions, the laws and reforms passed by the former ruling group are either undone or ignored. This has seriously retarded any restructuring or improvement in almost any sector or institution in the country.


Furthermore, each political group generally controls a certain region of the country, so the parties look out for those industries, oligarchs and regional economics that pertain to their regions. This means that if a political party is booted from power, any restructuring or deals in place for its favorite region, industry or business can be overturned. The result is a business environment as chaotic and confusing as the political environment.

Ukraine is still suffering from political chaos. There has been one small internal shift: So many political figures outside of the big three personalities are so worn down from the constant bickering that they have started a wave of new political parties and groups. Parliamentary elections could be held in December of January, with a presidential election in late 2009 or early 2010. And with 72 percent of Ukrainians saying they are tired of the political infighting, these new smaller parties could end up changing the political landscape and making Ukraine’s political future even more unpredictable.

The Oligarchs

As in neighboring Russia, Ukraine also has the political and economic force of the oligarchs — those who swooped in after the Soviet era to snatch up certain enterprises and businesses, making themselves incredibly wealthy and powerful very quickly. The oligarchs are very politically active. Some started out in politics and then seized wealth and position to become oligarchs; others began by securing wealth and position to use as leverage in politics. Just as in Russia, Ukraine’s oligarchs either back certain political forces — paying for campaigns and receiving kickbacks once their chosen players are in power (such as the oligarchs backing Yushchenko and Yanukovich) — or they establish their own political parties as a means to influence distribution of resources and advantageous business deals (as with Timoshenko). This has helped fuel the constant government chaos and sustained a level of distrust in Ukrainian businesses and those who run them.

But at the moment, the oligarchs are unable to shape the political or economic landscape in Ukraine because they are being crushed by the economic crisis. According to some records, Ukrainian oligarchs’ assets have lost some 90 percent of their value in the past few months. For example, Viktor Pinchuk (a Timoshenko backer), who controls Ukraine’s leading steel company Interpipe, has lost $2 billion. Sergei Taruta (a Yanukovich backer), who controls another metallurgical giant ISD, has lost $4.8 billion.

While Ukraine’s oligarchs are scrambling to keep their businesses and wealth intact, they are too preoccupied to be as politically active as usual. With two critical elections looming, there could be a shift in that the oligarchs will not be able to dole out cash as easily as in the past. For example, Timoshenko has already heard from one of her financial backers — Konstantin Zhevago, who owns Financial and Credit Group and iron producer Poltavsky — that he will not be dishing out his usual funding because he recently lost most of his wealth. The crisis among the oligarchs has led both Timoshenko and Yanukovich to try to postpone elections, knowing they do not heave enough cash to run full campaigns.

Rinat Akhmetov

The one Ukrainian oligarch who is not absent from the political scene is the wealthiest in the country — Rinat Akhmetov, who owns assets in energy, steel, coal, banking, hotels, telecommunications, media and soccer. Most Ukrainian oligarchs are worth only a fraction of what Akhmetov is worth. Much of his wealth was not in the hard-hit equity markets, and so he has only lost a reported $7 billion of his $36 billion in the economic slowdowns; thus, he still has quite a bit of influence to wield in politics and economics.

Akhmetov is looking to take advantage of others’ economic misfortune and wants to expand his reach over more assets (especially in coal and electricity) not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia, Poland, Romania and Hungary. He has long been the puppet master behind the Party of Regions and Yanukovich; Stratfor has learned from sources that he also holds a great deal of leverage over Yushchenko and Timoshenko. Long kept in the shadows, Akhmetov is considering running for the presidency, knowing he has the financial capabilities, political backing from his leash holder (Russia) and enough clout against the big three political leaders to possibly really shake things up.

Other Forces

The only other forces in Ukraine that can affect the political or economic landscapes are the military, intelligence services and organized crime. As stated earlier, Ukraine’s military — much like its stockpile of Soviet weaponry — is seriously deteriorating without the political or economic backing needed to push for and coordinate modernization and reforms.

Ukraine’s intelligence and security apparatus — mainly the Security Service of Ukraine — is currently tangled in an identity crisis stemming from its break with its former master, the Soviet KGB, and the constant restructuring and leadership changes. Ukraine’s intelligence and security services consist of seven agencies and institutes that are responsible for identifying threats to Ukraine both at home and abroad, collecting intelligence and analyzing data. All agency heads are appointed by and report to the president, but the parliament must approve the appointments — which means the intelligence and security services are another casualty of the political chaos as the president and prime minister fight for control.

Organized crime is another major political and economic force in Ukraine, having proliferated since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukrainian organized crime started off as a function of physical security for the oligarchs who controlled Ukraine’s resources and backed favored politicians, but expanded because the country’s weak central government was unable to effectively police criminals. Organized crime became a pillar of the state through the political-criminal nexus in which politicians, businessmen and criminals provided each other with services and favors. It has branched out considerably, with Ukrainian organized crime groups forming partnerships or acting alone in countries throughout Eastern and Central Europe — and because Ukraine remains essentially a weak state dependent on outside patronage, foreign organized criminal elements have found a market there for illicit goods and human trafficking. But organized crime, just like other businesses, is suffering during the economic and financial crisis as criminal groups lose funds in foreign banks and customers have less cash to spend on services and goods.

23874  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO's giant sucking sound on: November 19, 2008, 08:53:28 AM
His friends advise Barack Obama to launch a "New" New Deal. Maybe that's because the old New Deal is sinking fast.

Mr. Obama's one deeply false note during the campaign was his harping on "deregulation" as if that were the source of current troubles. His real problem is the crack-up of the world FDR built.

 
AP
Barack Obama gets taken for a ride by the UAW.
Fannie Mae was a New Deal creation, subsidizing the securitization of mortgage debt. FDR's successors piled on the subsidies for housing debt and incentives directed at low-income borrowers. Kaboom.

Then there's the UAW, born in 1935. For decades the UAW steadily traded away domestic auto market-share to imports and transplants to keep its aging membership toiling away toward their golden pensions and collecting wages and benefits twice those of their competitors. It worked for a while . . .

Mr. Obama must be looking around and beginning to suspect he will be pouring his political capital, along with considerable taxpayer capital, down bottomless holes for the next four years. He won't be building a legacy as the new FDR, but cleaning up after the last one.

Fannie and its twin, Freddie Mac, have already come back for a second helping of taxpayer money as their once-profitable business model devolves into a politically directed subsidy machine for propping up home prices and delaying foreclosures. Their next meltdown, in government hands, is all but written in the cards.

AIG, an otherwise healthy insurance company that went bust betting on housing debt, has already consumed taxpayer loans and capital injections nearly as big as AIG's $200 billion market cap when it was one of the world's most admired firms. AIG still has a valuable insurance business, but ignoramuses in Congress and the press are busy destroying it. The company sells many of its products through busy independent agents. It uses lush "seminars" to encourage them to sit still for pitches about why AIG should still be trusted despite AIG's purgatory in the headlines. But these seminars only produce more outraged grandstanding from the political commentariat.

It will take years for the government to get AIG off its hands, and there likely won't be much value left for taxpayers when it finally does.

But the really giant sucking sound is the auto sector, getting ready to gobble up whatever hopes Mr. Obama might have had for an ambitious, forward-looking presidency.

He and Nancy Pelosi naturally insist that any "bailout" must hit multiple bogies. They want UAW jobs to be preserved. They want the shibboleth of energy independence advanced. They want "green" cars to please the Tom Friedmans of the world. They want to tell taxpayers they're getting more for their money than just a bailout of Detroit.

All this makes sense to a politician, but not to any practical person, who knows that multiple bogies are bound to be conflicting bogies. You could just barely envision a bailout that wouldn't necessarily be a disastrous waste of money, one that would help Detroit create a competitive cost structure in pursuit of building products that are competitive in the marketplace. But this is just the opposite of what Mr. Obama and his Democrats have in mind.

Prepare to witness, then, the awesome capacity of an unreformed Detroit to consume taxpayer billions with nothing to show for it.

That Mr. Obama had been sent by history to assuage the insecurities of the middle class with a "New" New Deal was always a tad detached from reality anyway. The reason is those giant legacies of existing New Dealism known as Social Security and Medicare, about which he was careful to say nothing intelligible during the campaign. These programs worked for a while too, but now their expected revenues are (in present value) about $99.2 trillion short of the expected outlays required to assure present and future workers their promised comfort in retirement.

Then again, Mr. Obama did say something in his campaign about tax rebates for all these payroll taxpayers. He also said something about government matching contributions to incentivize today's low- and middle-income workers to save for their own retirement.

Voilà, personal accounts funded by payroll-tax givebacks -- strangely similar to the solution our current president promoted to help workers escape the impending insolvency of the government retirement programs. Mr. Obama envisioned himself extending FDR's work. He may end up finishing George Bush's.
23875  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: November 19, 2008, 08:46:21 AM
On Saturday, off the coast of East Africa, pirates seized their largest catch ever: a giant Saudi-owned oil tanker called the Sirius Star. The brazen attack came on the heels of the capture of a Ukrainian vessel (loaded with armaments destined for Kenya) by Somali pirates in September. Humanitarian food shipments into Somalia have had naval escort for nearly a year -- evidence of how much the security of sea-lanes has eroded. Media reports suggest that Somali pirates have already attacked more than 80 ships in 2008.

 
Chad CroweThese are unprecedented and dangerous developments. Suppressing piracy and the slave trade, accomplished by the last quarter of the 19th century, were among mankind's great civilizing achievements. These were brought about by major maritime powers such as Great Britain and the United States. Indeed, in the American republic's earliest days, President Jefferson dispatched the infant U.S. Navy to confront the Barbary pirates, both on shore and at sea.

By the 1970s, as a part of a growing chaos in parts of Africa and Asia, incidents of piracy began to pick up. But it was not until the 21st century that piracy has experienced a meteoric rise, with the number of attacks increasing by double-digit rates per year. Last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, 263 actual and attempted pirate attacks took place. Large maritime areas have now become known as pirate heavens, where mariners can expect to be routinely molested. The Victorian self-confidence that drove pirates from the seas is gone.

Twenty-first century economics being what they are, the pirates have been more interested in the payment of ransom by anxious owners and insurers than in the vessels or their cargoes. Piracy is nonetheless a vicious and violent activity that exposes the world's merchant mariners to additional risk of death or injury. Even more fundamentally, the dramatic surge in piracy is, like terrorism, part of a broad challenge to civilization and international order.

Experience -- especially that of colonial America -- suggests that a few sporadic antipirate efforts will not be enough to solve the problem. Only a dedicated naval campaign, along with a determined effort to close the pirates' safe havens, will succeed in sending piracy back to the history books.

There has been some progress on this front. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has dispatched a formidable multinational force -- including British, Italian and Greek ships -- to join the American, French, Canadian and Danish vessels already cruising off Somalia's vast coastline. France has also aggressively pursued pirates, freeing captured vessels and hostages.

Capturing pirates is not the critical problem. Rather, the issue is how to handle those in captivity. Traditionally, pirates fell within that category of illegitimate hostiles that once included slave traders, brigands on the roads and, in wartime, unprivileged or "unlawful" enemy combatants. As Judge Nicholas Trott, presiding over a pirate trial, explained in 1718: "It is lawful for any one that takes them, if they cannot with safety to themselves bring them under some government to be tried, to put them to death." This law, of course, has changed since the 18th century. Pirates, brigands and unlawful combatants must now be tried before they can be punished.

One solution would be for the capturing state to press charges based on the much misunderstood and abused principle of "universal" jurisdiction. This is the notion that any state may criminalize and punish conduct that violates certain accepted international-law norms. Although its application in most circumstances is dubious -- there is very little actual state practice supporting the right of one state to punish the nationals of a second for offenses against the citizens of a third -- piracy is one area where a strong case for universal jurisdiction can be made (if only because piratical activities often take place on the high seas, beyond any state's territorial jurisdiction).

Moreover, given the nature of naval operations, discerning who is a pirate is usually a much easier task than separating Taliban and al Qaeda members from innocent bystanders. This fact, all things being equal, should make the task of prosecuting captured pirates an easier process, both from a legal and public-relations perspective.

key problem is that America's NATO allies have effectively abandoned the historical legal rules permitting irregular fighters to be tried in special military courts (or, in the case of pirates, admiralty courts) in favor of a straightforward criminal-justice model. Although piracy is certainly a criminal offense, treating it like bank robbery or an ordinary murder case presents certain problems for Western states.

To begin with, common criminals cannot be targeted with military force. There are other issues as well. Last April the British Foreign Office reportedly warned the Royal Navy not to detain pirates, since this might violate their "human rights" and could even lead to claims of asylum in Britain. Turning the captives over to Somali authorities is also problematic -- since they might face the head- and hand-chopping rigors of Shariah law. Similar considerations have confounded U.S. government officials in their discussions of how to confront this new problem of an old terror at sea.

In the last few years, France determined to return its pirate prisoners to Somalia based on assurances of humanitarian treatment. The U.S. has, of course, rendered terror prisoners to foreign governments based on similar assurances, and only time will tell whether they are genuine. An equally important question is whether the transfer of captured pirates to local authorities will result in prosecution at all. In many areas, local governments may be subject to corruption or intimidation by strong pirate gangs.

One thing is certain: As in the war on terror, the new campaign against piracy will test the mettle of Western governments. It will also require them to balance the rights of lawbreakers against the indisputable rights of the law-abiding to not live their lives in danger and fear.

Messrs. Rivkin and Casey are Washington, D.C., lawyers who served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
===============
The latest ship to fall into the hands of pirates off the coast of northern Africa is a Hong Kong-registered cargo vessel captured yesterday in the Gulf of Aden. The unfortunately named Delight is now steaming toward Somalia, where it presumably will be held for ransom. It joins the Saudi supertanker, Sirius Star, seized over the weekend.

 
AP
The MV Sirius Star.
The assault on the Delight is one of 90-plus attacks on ships this year by Somali pirates, more than double last year's tally, according to the International Maritime Bureau. It says that pirates are currently holding 15 ships and more than 250 sailors. That includes a Ukrainian ship carrying Russian tanks intended for southern Sudan; it was captured in September.

The pirates' headquarters is Somalia, whose dysfunctional government lacks basic law-enforcement agencies, on or off shore, to disrupt pirates. It has a 1,000-mile coastline along the Gulf of Aden, where marauders and their boats can hide easily. Yemen and Djibouti, which also border the Gulf of Aden, are more politically stable, but have few capabilities. The same is true for Kenya, off whose coast the supertanker was taken.

The pirates prey on commercial vessels, which in this computerized age usually carry small, mostly unarmed, crews; the Sirius Star, three times the size of an aircraft carrier, is run by a crew of just 25. The pirates are equipped with modern weapons and high-tech devices such as GPS trackers and satellite phones. Three years ago they used rocket-propelled grenades against a cruise ship carrying 150 American, Australian and European passengers. The ship managed to outrun the pirates.

As Somalia falls apart and the pirates proliferate, it's been left to the U.S. and the rest of the civilized world to police them. The main vehicle for doing so is a global maritime effort called Combined Task Force 150. It was set up after 9/11 by the Bush Administration and falls under the aegis of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. Commanders have hailed from France, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Pakistan. The current commander is a Commodore of the Danish Royal Navy.

CTF 150 has 2.5 million square miles to patrol. Fighting piracy poses knotty legal problems too, as David Rivkin and Lee Casey describe here, not least what to do with captured pirates. Build a Captain Jack Sparrow wing at Guantanamo to contain them?

Antipiracy efforts are working elsewhere in the world. Pirates thrived in the Strait of Malacca, which is transited annually by 60,000 ships, but last year there were only 73 pirate attacks, down from 276 five years earlier. The decline is the result of a coordinated policing effort by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, with help from the U.S., which provided training and equipment. Captured pirates are tried in local courts. They aren't treated lightly.

That's Asia. What remains to be seen is how the U.S. and Old Europe deal with this escalating assault. The world has been here before, circa 1805. That was the year of the Battle of Derne, the first fight on foreign soil of the new United States of America. It is recorded in the Marine Hymn's famous line about the "shores of Tripoli." President Thomas Jefferson ordered the Marines into action against the Barbary Coast pirates, who had been exacting ransom from the major maritime powers in return for seized ships and kidnapped citizens.

This problem obviously spills into the lap of the newly arriving President. Though relatively small, the pirates are a challenge to established authority in a way understandable to all. If the high seas are allowed to degrade into a no-man's land, the world's thugs will notice and press forward elsewhere. It's going to require an exercise of U.S. power to push back, or allow global piracy to flourish.

23876  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Britain grapples with Sharia on: November 19, 2008, 08:15:51 AM
The always suspect NY Times, on a subject wherein it is particulalry suspect:
==============================

Britain Grapples With Role for Islamic Justice
by ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: November 18, 2008

LONDON — The woman in black wanted an Islamic divorce. She told the religious judge that her husband hit her, cursed her and wanted her dead.

Suhaib Hasan spoke with a woman who was trying to divorce her husband in London. But her husband was opposed, and the Islamic scholar adjudicating the case seemed determined to keep the couple together. So, sensing defeat, she brought our her secret weapon: her father.

In walked a bearded man in long robes who described his son-in-law as a hot-tempered man who had duped his daughter, evaded the police and humiliated his family.

The judge promptly reversed himself and recommended divorce.

This is Islamic justice, British style. Despite a raucous national debate over the limits of religious tolerance and the pre-eminence of British law, the tenets of Shariah, or Islamic law, are increasingly being applied to everyday life in cities across the country.

The Church of England has its own ecclesiastical courts. British Jews have had their own “beth din” courts for more than a century.

But ever since the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, called in February for aspects of Islamic Shariah to be embraced alongside the traditional legal system, the government has been grappling with a public furor over the issue, assuaging critics while trying to reassure a wary and at times disaffected Muslim population that its traditions have a place in British society.

Boxed between the two, the government has taken a stance both cautious and confusing, a sign of how volatile almost any discussion of the role of Britain’s nearly two million Muslims can become.

“There is nothing whatever in English law that prevents people abiding by Shariah principles if they wish to, provided they do not come into conflict with English law,” the justice minister, Jack Straw, said last month. But he added that British law would “always remain supreme,” and that “regardless of religious belief, we are all equal before the law.”

Conservatives and liberals alike — many of them unaware that the Islamic courts had been functioning at all, much less for years — have repeatedly denounced the courts as poor substitutes for British jurisprudence.

They argue that the Islamic tribunals’ proceedings are secretive, with no accountability and no standards for judges’ training or decisions.

Critics also point to cases of domestic violence in which Islamic scholars have tried to keep marriages together by ordering husbands to take classes in anger management, leaving the wives so intimidated that they have withdrawn their complaints from the police.

“They’re hostages to fortune,” said Parvin Ali, founding director of the Fatima Women’s Network, a women’s help group based in Leicester. Speaking of the courts, she said, “There is no outside monitoring, no protection, no records kept, no guarantee that justice will prevail.”

But as the uproar continues, the popularity of the courts among Muslims has blossomed.

Some of the informal councils, as the courts are known, have been giving advice and handing down judgments to Muslims for more than two decades.

Yet the councils have expanded significantly in number and prominence in recent years, with some Islamic scholars reporting a 50 percent increase in cases since 2005.

Almost all of the cases involve women asking for divorce, and through word of mouth and an ambitious use of the Internet, courts like the small, unadorned building in London where the father stepped in to plead his daughter’s case have become magnets for Muslim women seeking to escape loveless marriages — not only from Britain but sometimes also from Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany.

Other cases involve disputes over property, labor, inheritances and physical injury. The tribunals stay away from criminal cases that might call for the imposition of punishments like lashing or stoning.

Indeed, most of the courts’ judgments have no standing under British civil law. But for the parties who come before them, the courts offer something more important: the imprimatur of God.

“We do not want to give the impression that Muslims are an isolated community seeking a separate legal system in this country,” said Shahid Raza, who adjudicates disputes from an Islamic center in the West London suburb of Ealing.

“We are not asking for criminal Shariah law — chopping of hands or stoning to death,” he continued. “Ninety-nine percent of our cases are divorce cases in which women are seeking relief. We are helping women. We are doing a service.”
======
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Still, there is ample room for clashes with British custom. Three months ago, for example, a wealthy Bangladeshi family asked Dr. Raza’s council to resolve an inheritance dispute. It was resolved according to Shariah, he said. That meant the male heirs received twice as much as the female heirs.

Courts in the United States have endorsed Islamic and other religious tribunals, as in 2003, when a Texas appeals court referred a divorce case to a local council called the Texas Islamic Court.

But Shariah has been rejected in the West as well.

The Canadian province of Ontario had allowed rabbinical courts and Christian courts to resolve some civil and family disputes with binding rulings under a 1991 law. But when the Islamic Institute on Civil Justice there tried to create a Shariah court, it was attacked as a violation of the rights of Muslim women.

As a result, Ontario changed the entire system in 2006 to strip the rulings of any religious arbitration of legal validity or enforceability.

In Britain, beth din courts do not decide whether a Jewish couple’s marriage should end. They simply put their stamp of approval on the dissolution of the marriage when both parties agree to it. The beth din also adheres to the rules of Britain’s 1996 Arbitration Act and can function as an official court of arbitration in the consensual resolution of other civil disputes, like inheritance or business conflicts.

“People often come to us for reasons of speed, cost and secrecy,” said David Frei, registrar of the London Beth Din. “There’s nothing to prevent Muslims from doing the same thing.”

In Britain’s Islamic councils, however, if a wife wants a divorce and the husband does not, the Shariah court can grant her unilateral request to dissolve the marriage.

Most Shariah councils do not recognize the Arbitration Act, although Mr. Straw has been pushing them in recent months to do so. The main reason for their opposition is that they do not want the state involved in what they consider to be matters of religion.

The conflict over British Shariah courts comes at a time when Islamic principles are being extended to other areas of daily life in Britain.

There are now five wholly Islamic banks in the country and a score more that comply with Shariah.

An insurance company last summer began British advertising for “car insurance that’s right for your faith” because it does not violate certain Islamic prohibitions, like the one against gambling.

Britain’s first Shariah-compliant prepaid MasterCard was begun in August.

Here in London, Suhaib Hasan’s “courtroom” is a sparsely furnished office of the Islamic Shariah Council in Leyton, a working-class neighborhood in the eastern corner of the city. It has no lawyers or court stenographer, no recording device or computer, so Dr. Hasan takes partial notes in longhand.

“Please, will you give him another chance?” he asked the woman in black who was seeking divorce — that is, before she brought in the weighty voice of her father.

“No, no!” the woman, a 24-year-old employment consultant who had come seeking justice from 200 miles away, replied. “I gave him too many chances. He is an evil, evil man.”

“I’ll give you one month’s time to try to reconcile,” Dr. Hasan ruled.

Then her father tipped the scales.

“He was not a cucumber that we could cut open to know that he was rotten inside,” the father testified. “The only solution is divorce.”

Apparently convinced, Dr. Hasan said he would recommend divorce at the London Central Mosque, where he and several other religious scholars meet once a month to give final approval to cases like this.

Dr. Hasan, a silver-bearded, Saudi-educated scholar of Pakistani origin, handles the Pakistani community; an Egyptian ministers to the ethnic Arab community, while a Bangladeshi and a Somali work with their own communities.

The council in Leyton is one of the oldest and largest courts in the country. It has been quietly resolving disputes since 1982 and has dealt with more than 7,000 divorce cases.

Under some interpretations of Islamic law, a woman needs the blessing of a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence to be divorced, while a man can simply say three times that he is divorcing his wife.

Dr. Hasan counsels women that they must have their civil marriages dissolved in the British civil system.

“We always try to keep the marriages together, especially when there are children,” said Dr. Hasan’s wife, Shakila Qurashi, who works as an unofficial counselor for women.

If the husband beats her, she should go to the police and have a divorce, Ms. Qurashi said. “But if he’s slapped her only once or something like that,” she said, “and he admits he has made a mistake and promised not to do it again, then we say, ‘You have to forgive.’ ”

One recent afternoon, the waiting room was full of women and their family members.

A Pakistan-born 33-year-old mother of five explained that her husband would beat her and her children. “He threatens to kill us,” she said, as her daughter translated from Urdu. “He calls me a Jew and an infidel.” Dr. Hasan told her to immediately get police protection and request an Islamic divorce.

Another woman, 25, wanted out of a two-year-old arranged marriage with a man who refused to consummate the relationship. Dr. Hasan counseled dialogue.

“Until we see the husband,” he said, “we can’t be sure that what you’re saying is true.”
23877  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: Speak Truth on: November 19, 2008, 07:49:26 AM
"It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition."

—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August, 19 1785
23878  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: November 19, 2008, 07:41:01 AM
And on a more mundane level, we also need to end gerrymandering and to kill "campaign finance reform"-- both of which make it harder to take on an incumbent.  I don't know what the current numbers are, but not so lmany years ago, the incumbency re-election rate was well above 95%!!!
23879  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Reproductive issues on: November 19, 2008, 07:36:07 AM
My problem with this smoothly written piece is this:

"I suppose you don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions, but you do have to somehow (1) give women the tools to prevent pregnancy in the first place, and (2) allow women the resources to make childbirth a viable option. Outlawing abortion doesn't do either of those things, which is why it's phenomenally unsuccessful at actually decreasing the abortion rate."

As a practical matter I have no problem with the first of these--making brith control methods widely available-- but doubt that money really is the issue-- if you can afford to take a woman out, you or she can afford the condom or other method.  If you can't afford a condom you probably aren't getting laid very much anyway.  cheesy   That said, "allowing women the resources" is a glib euphemism for taking money from some people, who might want to spend it on their own children, and giving it to others, who should be not getting pregnant, but are.

The fundamental problem for me with the approach suggested by this article is this-- it seems devoid of a sense that people should be responsible for the consequences of their own actions-- a core principle of a free society.

I simply don't find its logic of poor= higher abortion rates, therefor give the poor money, persuasive.  Yes there may be a correlation of higher abortion rates in the poor (tangentially I wonder if the rate has been the same over time-- if not, does it not suggest other variables are work?), but a discussion of all this there should include a discussison of the fact that birth rates are higher too.  For me, leaving this out is either poor methodology or disingenuous, or both.   Otherwise one could just as easily argue that the far lower than replacement birth rates of higher income people means that we should prevent wealth in order to increase birth rates to at least a replacement level-- and as logically consistent as it might be to do so, one doubt the author of this piece would approve of such logic!

For me, the answer lies in the right values.  That does NOT mean saying "Unless the State takes money from you and gives it to me, I will kill this Life inside me", which is what the logic of this piece reduces to, is a form of moral blackmail.    The right values are rather consistenly denigrated in movies, on TV, in popular culture-- and one suspects that there is a rather direct correlation between abortion rates and the inculcation of these liberal cultural values.   Because it is so important, and so utterly off the typical liberal radar screen, I mention in particular the importance of fathers and marriage.  I'm guessing that one finds a rather strong correlation between a woman considering an abortion and her being unmarried.  Where is the discussion of this in the article? I'm guessing there is a rather strong correlation between the woman wanting an abortion, and not being sure who the father is.  Where is the discussion of this in the article?

The bottom line reduces to this: BE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT YOU DO.  If you want to have sex but don't want to have a baby, use birth control. 


23880  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Schneier on: November 18, 2008, 10:12:41 PM
http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/05/is_big_brother_1.html
Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.

« The Most Secure Car Park in the World | Main | Sex Toy Security Risk »

May 11, 2007
Is Big Brother a Big Deal?
Big Brother isn't what he used to be. George Orwell extrapolated his totalitarian state from the 1940s. Today's information society looks nothing like Orwell's world, and watching and intimidating a population today isn't anything like what Winston Smith experienced.

Data collection in 1984 was deliberate; today's is inadvertent. In the information society, we generate data naturally. In Orwell's world, people were naturally anonymous; today, we leave digital footprints everywhere.

1984's police state was centralized; today's is decentralized. Your phone company knows who you talk to, your credit card company knows where you shop and Netflix knows what you watch. Your ISP can read your email, your cell phone can track your movements and your supermarket can monitor your purchasing patterns. There's no single government entity bringing this together, but there doesn't have to be. As Neal Stephenson said, the threat is no longer Big Brother, but instead thousands of Little Brothers.

1984's Big Brother was run by the state; today's Big Brother is market driven. Data brokers like ChoicePoint and credit bureaus like Experian aren't trying to build a police state; they're just trying to turn a profit. Of course these companies will take advantage of a national ID; they'd be stupid not to. And the correlations, data mining and precise categorizing they can do is why the U.S. government buys commercial data from them.

1984-style police states required lots of people. East Germany employed one informant for every 66 citizens. Today, there's no reason to have anyone watch anyone else; computers can do the work of people.

1984-style police states were expensive. Today, data storage is constantly getting cheaper. If some data is too expensive to save today, it'll be affordable in a few years.

And finally, the police state of 1984 was deliberately constructed, while today's is naturally emergent. There's no reason to postulate a malicious police force and a government trying to subvert our freedoms. Computerized processes naturally throw off personalized data; companies save it for marketing purposes, and even the most well-intentioned law enforcement agency will make use of it.

Of course, Orwell's Big Brother had a ruthless efficiency that's hard to imagine in a government today. But that completely misses the point. A sloppy and inefficient police state is no reason to cheer; watch the movie Brazil and see how scary it can be. You can also see hints of what it might look like in our completely dysfunctional “no-fly��? list and useless projects to secretly categorize people according to potential terrorist risk. Police states are inherently inefficient. There's no reason to assume today's will be any more effective.

The fear isn't an Orwellian government deliberately creating the ultimate totalitarian state, although with the U.S.'s programs of phone-record surveillance, illegal wiretapping, massive data mining, a national ID card no one wants and Patriot Act abuses, one can make that case. It's that we're doing it ourselves, as a natural byproduct of the information society.We're building the computer infrastructure that makes it easy for governments, corporations, criminal organizations and even teenage hackers to record everything we do, and -- yes -- even change our votes. And we will continue to do so unless we pass laws regulating the creation, use, protection, resale and disposal of personal data. It's precisely the attitude that trivializes the problem that creates it.

This essay appeared in the May issue of Information Security
23881  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gingrich: Crony Capitalism on: November 18, 2008, 07:47:05 PM
Other names for Liberal Fascism are Corporatism (running society as if it were one giant corporation) and Crony Capitalism:

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

Crony Capitalism, Predatory Politicians, and the Detroit Three
by  Newt Gingrich

There’s a term that’s commonly applied to the economic systems of some Asian and Latin American countries.  It’s “crony capitalism.”

Crony capitalism is when government controls significant parts of the economy.  Under this kind of bureaucratic micromanagement, politicians -- not the free market -- call the shots.  And that means that the decisions that control the economy are of necessity political decisions, not economic ones.

Crony capitalism is bad for government.  Economic power in the hands of politicians breeds corruption.  Crony capitalism is bad for democracy.  Individuals and businesses outside favored industries have an unequal voice in self-government.  Crony capitalism is bad for business.  Politicians wedded to the status quo stifle growth and innovation.  And there’s one more thing about crony capitalism:  It’s come to America.

Predatory Politicians Practicing Crony Capitalism Created the Economic Crisis

It’s the nature of crony capitalism to expand -- for government to acquire more and more of the economy. The agents of this expansion are elected officials.  Call them “predatory politicians.”

Crony capitalism practiced by predatory politicians is at the root of the current financial meltdown.  In exchange for campaign cash and support for favored constituents, predatory politicians aided and abetted the government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as they created and fed the subprime mortgage market. Now Predatory Politicians Are About to Make It Worse

And to fix the mess they created, what have predatory politicians turned to?  Why, more crony capitalism of course.

First, they designed Wall Street bailouts in which a former chairman of Goldman Sachs got a blank check to disburse hundreds of billions of dollars to his former colleagues on Wall Street.  Then they took over an insurance company at a hugely inflated cost. Now predatory politicians want taxpayers to fund a bailout of three bloated, stagnant companies that have been losing money for years, one of which is currently hemorrhaging over $1 billion a month.

The Detroit Three:  An Investment Only a Predatory Politician Would Propose

To reward the unions that helped produce its electoral victory, the newly empowered Democratic Congress is proposing that American taxpayers pony up $25 billion to bail out the Detroit Three automakers, Ford, GM and Chrysler.  Democrats are using the current financial crisis as their excuse to bailout the autos.  But in fact, the Detroit three were unprofitable long before the current crisis hit.  According to one economist, GM and Ford made more money-losing investments in the 1980s than any other U.S. companies.  And the Detroit money pit only got deeper in the ensuing two decades.  Since 1998, GM has been losing an astonishing $1.5 billion a month.

That’s an investment only a predatory politician would propose.

Bringing Fannie and Freddie Style Accountability to the Auto Industry

One of the things that makes crony capitalism so profitable for politicians is that Washington exempts itself from the economic and financial rules it imposes on private industry.  For example, in 2003, federal regulators discovered that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had engaged in Enron-style accounting fraud.  But while executives at private companies who engaged in similar fraud went to prison -- and Congress responded by imposing the draconian and business-killing Sarbanes-Oxley bill on private businesses -- Fannie and Freddie executives barely received a slap on the wrist. 

One of the reasons was House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.).  Frank fought tenaciously against the regulation that would have held Fannie and Freddie executives accountable and might have averted the financial crisis. Now Chairman Frank wants to bring his particular style of crony capitalism to the auto industry.

Any Detroit Bailout Government Board Should Be Subject To Sarbanes-Oxley

On “Face the Nation” this Sunday, Chairman Frank announced that not only would he push for a taxpayer bailout of the Detroit Three during the special session of Congress this week, but he would also create a government oversight board for the three companies -- in effect, a board of directors made up of predatory politicians.

I believe that it would be a mistake for the taxpayers to be forced to bail out Detroit.  Companies at which union workers make $71 an hour in wages and benefits -- compared to just $47 an hour at Toyota’s U.S. plants -- are not going to be saved by a $25 billion government check.

But if Democrats do find the votes to bring crony capitalism to Detroit, Americans should at the very least insist that any government board of directors created for the auto industry be subject to the criminal penalties and lengthy prison sentences in Sarbanes-Oxley.

What’s fair for the rest of us is fair for predatory politicians.

A Chance For President-Elect Obama to Deliver Real Change

The solution to our economic problems, be they in Detroit or on Wall Street, isn’t more crony capitalism; it’s economic growth. 

While politicians in Washington are constantly calling on taxpayers to put up more and more money to bail out flagging businesses, there are practical things that wouldn't cost the taxpayers a penny that we could do to make America a better place to create jobs.

One of these things is to repeal Sarbanes-Oxley.  As I outline in more detail here, Sarbanes-Oxley has had the unintended consequences of stifling innovation, killing new business start-ups and driving listings overseas.

President-elect Obama won an historic victory two weeks ago on the promise of delivering change to the American people.  Bailing out the Detroit auto dinosaurs is not change. It is crony capitalism in service of a failed status quo. 

President-elect Obama should stand up to congressional Democrats and say “no” -- “no” to saddling future generations of Americans with the bill for today’s crony capitalism.

That would be change we could believe in.

Your friend,




23882  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: November 18, 2008, 07:30:53 PM
http://www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=HA1JK-oGo4M
23883  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Education on: November 18, 2008, 05:41:14 PM
Right now most parents face a monopsony.  Charter schools would end that without spending any more than we currently spend.

Agree with GM about getting the Feds out of education through high school.
23884  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: November 18, 2008, 05:38:11 PM
We are so fornicated , , , cry
23885  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Grannis on: November 18, 2008, 04:51:01 PM
Scott Grannis writes:

A better bailout proposal
Grover Norquist has a brilliant suggestion for a much better way to spend $700 billion of taxpayers' money. In my view, this proposal would guarantee a quick recovery. And with Laffer-Curve effects taken into account, they might end up costing almost nothing:

Cut the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 15%, giving us one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the developed world. We currently have the second-highest rate in the world (behind only Japan). This new 15% rate would give us the third-lowest rate in the world (ahead of only Ireland and Iceland). It would put us well below the Euro-zone average rate of 25%. Companies would be dying to set up shop in the United States. Estimated JCT cost: $170 billion

Eliminate the capital gains and dividends tax. These rates are currently 15%, but actually represent a double-tax on corporate profits. When combined with the new, lower 15% rate on corporate income, capital costs would be at their lowest levels in nearly a century. Tax something less, and get more of it. Estimated JCT cost: $35 billion

Cut the top personal income tax rate from 35% to a flat 15%. This would give the U.S. the lowest personal income tax rate in the developed world. Estimated JCT score: $235 billion

Kill the death tax. Almost nothing is more capital-killing for small businesses and family farms than the estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxes. Estimated JCT score: $24 billion

Allow companies to fully-expense capital assets purchased the first year. Under current law, businesses and other taxpayers must usually “depreciate,” or slowly-deduct, capital asset purchases the first year. This capital-boosting proposal would allow taxpayers to deduct 100% of the purchase price from their taxes in year one. Estimated JCT score: $240 billion
23886  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Updated letter on: November 18, 2008, 04:28:35 PM
Woof All:

My name is Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny.  Some of you may know me as "the Guiding Force" of "the Dog Brothers" and/or the Head Instructor of Dog Brothers Martial Arts. www.dogbrothers.com .  Today I speak as Dog Brothers Inc.

I have been asked by a well established Producer with a good track record in doing athletically-oriented television series for major networks to help develop a television show based upon stick and other weaponry fights, so I am looking for fighters.  For the right men, this could be a very special opportunity to build a career doing something you love.

I need to be vague on the vision for the show at the moment and how much money is involved.  That is the way it must be for now.  Once we see who we have, "the story will tell itself"(tm) and we will know which of visions we have for the show will be the right one, and you will have a chance to decide if it is right for you.

Although much of the fighting will be similar to our "Dog Brother Real Contact Stickfighting" (see the fight clips at
http://www.dogbrothers.com/pages/multimedia.html to get an idea) know that the fighting here will be , , , well, it will be
something that has never been seen before.

This does NOT mean it will be more dangerous or more painful , , , necessarily wink

As I write this in Mid-November 2008, we are looking at a time frame of several months.

Those selected first will be part of the pilot and the rest will be brought on stream as things move forward.   IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE CONSIDERED FOR BECOMING A PART OF THIS, well, 90% of Life is showing up.  We need to see the following
from you:

1) a one page RESUME.  The resume should include the following:
    a) age, height, weight, citizenship, languages, website/mypage/etc. if any,
    b) martial arts background: systems, styles, teachers, fighting experience, competitive athletic background etc.
    c) contact info

2) Photos: 
   a) Head Shot
   b) Full Body shot.  Not to worry if you are not body beautiful.

3) DEMO REEL:  The Demo Reel should have two sections.

   A: The PHYSICAL section:

Please demonstrate fight skills with your preferred weapons.  Ideally this will be both solo (we'd like to see the nature of your movement) AND with/against others.  Of course, we are more interested in the latter.

If you don't have/have access to your fight footage, please state briefly and clearly what your fight experience is (and isn't).  Simple honesty, no puffery please.  Remember, the bullshit that gets you in the door also gets you out the door.

These are the possible areas of interest to us.

   a) Double stick
   b) Single stick
   c) Staff
   d) knife
   e) emptyhand skills: MMA or otherwise
   f) gun skills (pistol, rifle, or paintball)
   g) other (e.g. sword and shield, whip, nunchaku, fencing, etc)
   h) footage that indicates your athleticism, your strength and
conditioning level, etc..

Total running time no more than FIVE MINUTES:

   B: A PERSONALITY SECTION.  This section is optional.  Maximum time: Three minutes.  Note that a good one minute is better than three minutes of chatter.  Please simply talk to the camera about why you do what you do, where you could picture something like this fitting in your life, and so forth.  JUST BE YOURSELF.  Conventional and off-beat are good, so too are funny and serious, and crude and cosmic!   JUST BE YOURSELF!


Please send your resume and Demo Reel/Disc to

Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
Attention: TV Project
703 Pier Ave #664
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

And of course, the submissions and the contents thereof become the property of Dog Brothers Inc.!

The Adventure begins!
Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
Dog Brothers Inc.
23887  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, et al, cf Yemen) on: November 18, 2008, 03:51:53 PM
Oil Tankers and Pirates on the Open Sea
Stratfor Today » November 18, 2008 | 0006 GMT

KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images
The Japanese tanker Takayama, which was targeted by pirates in April 2008Summary
The U.S. Fifth Fleet announced Nov. 17 that pirates have hijacked the Sirius Star, an oil tanker en route from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Such a hijacking is very difficult and would indicate a significant increase in tactical capabilities of pirates. Not only is the ship massive and difficult to board, it also was far out at sea and hard to get to. The tanker was also carrying $100 million worth of crude, which could result in a very handsome ransom for the pirates — that is, if U.S. or other naval forces on patrol in the area don’t try to recapture the vessel.

Analysis
The Sirius Star, a United Arab Emirates-owned Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), was hijacked Nov. 15 by pirates, probably Somalians, 520 miles southeast of Mombassa, Kenya. The ship, which is 360 yards long and sits about 11 yards above the water line, was carrying 2 million barrels of oil worth $100 million for delivery to the United States. It is now reported to be en route to Eyl, in the Puntland region of Somalia, where up to 11 other ships are being held while ransoms are negotiated. The largest ship ever hijacked, the Sirius Star will not be able to dock at Eyl, but the hijackers will do their best to hold on to it and demand a ransom for its return.

This is not the first time that pirates have targeted a tanker. In April, an attempt was made on the Takayama, a Japanese tanker, but it failed even though the pirates used rocket propelled grenades to try to intimidate the ship’s captain into letting them aboard. These scare tactics have typically been successful on small fishing boats or yachts, but VLCCs are high enough off of the water to repel pirate attacks if the pirates are spotted in time. Pirates face a disadvantage when they attempt to scale the face of a tanker because the crew can more easily disrupt their attempts with water hoses or even weapons. However, Somalian pirates are heavily armed and more practiced with their weapons than the typical tanker crew.

The location of this hijacking is far outside the range in which pirates are considered a threat. The world’s most active waters for piracy are in the Gulf of Aden, located along Somalia’s northern coast, south of Yemen. But the Nov. 16 attack was much farther south, closer to Kenya and Tanzania than Yemen. It was also much farther off shore than most pirate attacks, which typically poses a challenge because the boats are limited to how much fuel they can carry. Given pirates’ emerging new tactics and technologies — using “mother ships” to transport smaller attack boats out to sea, global positioning systems, satellite phones — it should be expected that the range of pirate activity will increase.

It is also possible that the Sirius Star, outside the traditional range of pirate attacks, had let down her guard. Given the location of the hijacking, it is likely that the pirates were trolling outside of their traditional waters as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and other NATO countries (as well as Russia) step up patrols and escorts in the Gulf of Aden. By expanding their range, pirates have managed to continue their operations despite increased policing of the gulf. This could, in turn, increase the range of antipiracy efforts that are currently constrained to the gulf and Somalian waters.

Of course, the pirates would be happy to return the ship for the right amount of money. The highest ransom reportedly collected by Somalian pirates was $3 million, and pirates are currently asking for $20 million to release the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship that was delivering tanks and light arms to Kenya.

Now that the Sirius Star is captured, it will be interesting to see how the international naval contingent patrolling the waters of Somalia will respond. Stratfor has contended that piracy is being made easy and profitable by a lack of international interest in the welfare of ocean-going vessels, since most that have been hijacked belong to countries that lack the capability to take them back by force. But the United States certainly has an interest in the Sirius Star — and the capability to recapture the ship. And French special forces have demonstrated that if French citizens are in harm’s way, as they were when the Le Ponant was hijacked April 4 in the Gulf of Aden, it is possible to take back a ship by force. Britain also has an interest in Sirius Star — two of its 25 crewmembers are British
— as well as the capability to deploy special forces to capture a VLCC.

Nevertheless, taking down a ship is very risky — especially such a large ship in hostile territory. If no country is willing or able to retake the Sirius Star, Vela International, the ship’s owner, may find itself in ransom negotiations for the ship’s cargo and crew. This kind of brazen hijacking will give the United States, Britain and other countries with a naval units operating off the coast of Somalia a chance to prove how committed they are to stopping piracy.
23888  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DLO 3 on: November 18, 2008, 03:41:33 PM
At the moment I am looking a the first rough edit of Kali Tudo 2 and am awaiting the first rough edit of DLO-3.   Given our concerns about piracy and related matters (see thread nearby), there is a chance that I will say "Screw it!" and do DLO-3 as a LEO/Military project only.
23889  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Piracy, copyright infringment, youtube, and related matters on: November 18, 2008, 03:39:28 PM
Woof All:

We sell DVDs.  We believe in what we sell and believe we sell it at a fair price.

As we all know, piracy, putting stuff up for free on youtube type sites, rental operations, download operations, etc. all add up to the march of technology making it very easy for others to steal our work.  This has become quite a problem and has gotten to the point that I am seriously asking myself if it makes sense for us to make new DVDs.

The purpose of this thread is twofold:

1) to open a discussion here of these issues, and
2) to request that if you think we treat your fairly for you to help us out by letting us know about those who do us wrong.  In this regard, please do NOT post them here--after all we don't want these nefarious actors getting any free advertising!-- just email us at info@dogbrothers.com   Know that my wife invariably expresses our appreciation with some freebie DVDs and other items!

Thank you,
Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
23890  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran, Iraq, and the SOFA on: November 18, 2008, 03:27:34 PM
Geopolitical Diary: The SOFA and Iranian Options
November 18, 2008 | 0257 GMT
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary and a figure close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly praised the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) reached between the United States and the government of Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had acted “very well” in approving the SOFA — the first time a senior Iranian official had anything good to say about the agreement.

This is clearly a public shift in Iranian policy, which has thus far been critical of the SOFA, which would allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for another three years. Iran’s position has been that American troops should be withdrawn immediately. Therefore, in accepting the presence of U.S. forces for three more years, Tehran appears to have made a concession. Publicly, the Iranians had been opposing the pact, but behind the scenes they were part of the negotiation process. They have also cut the ground out from under those Iraqi Shia who oppose the SOFA, such as Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement. The al-Sadrites have said they would oppose the treaty through “legal avenues,” which means there is a possibility of some trouble in the legislature.

But we can be confident that Shahroudi did not make his statements casually. He is too well connected and too influential to have simply spoken out of turn. The Iranians have signaled their approval. But it should be remembered that this was not an official government endorsement. Iran can potentially back away from its approval. Nevertheless, it is as close as we can get to approval by Iran without a sea change in U.S.-Iranian relations.

That’s the real question here — whether Shahroudi’s statement represents a redefinition of U.S.-Iranian relations. There have been persistent reports of the Bush administration opening low-level diplomatic relations with Iran before it leaves office. There have been indications from Tehran that such an opening would be welcome. Undoubtedly, there have been quiet talks between U.S. and Iranian officials. Senior Iraqi Shiite leaders were cool on the SOFA until this weekend, when they shifted their position, opening the door for an agreement. It is speculative, but not unreasonable, to wonder what role the Iranian government played in changing the Shiite leaders’ minds and what other elements there may be to any U.S.-Iranian understanding that Shahroudi’s statement was a part of.

And then there is the important question of why Iran is so happy about this deal. One answer is that Tehran has moved closer to an agreement with the United States that guarantees its interests in Iraq. The other is that the SOFA, while extending the U.S. presence in Iraq, guarantees that U.S. forces will leave the country after three years and reduce their presence in Iraq’s cities in 2009. If we were cynical, we would wonder whether Iran’s good cheer — agreement with Washington or not — stems from the fact that the Americans will be gone and Iran will still be there after three years. The Iranians can wait, and they know that in three years or 10, the Baghdad government will be fragile and manipulable.

Indeed, the two explanations are fully compatible. The United States and Iran may well have reached quiet understandings that have made this SOFA achievable, and Iran is content with those agreements. At the same time, the Iranians may be thinking ahead and recognizing that the SOFA clears the way — should the situation permit and require — for much greater Iranian involvement in Iraq down the road. The SOFA gives the Iranians options, and it should not be a surprise that they are pleased.

As for the United States, this SOFA, if implemented, closes down options and limits influence. With the United States pulling out in three years — or perhaps less — Iraqi groups know that they will not be able to depend on American forces to protect their interests. They will be moving away from the United States to secure their positions on their own. As that happens, U.S. influence in Baghdad will begin to decrease dramatically.

This leaves open the question of what Washington — either George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s — thinks the status of U.S.-Iranian relations will be in three years. As it currently stands, the SOFA, without any other understandings, works only if the government in Baghdad is effective enough and motivated to block Iranian influence in three years. Without that, Iraq could well come into an Iranian orbit. The United States is clearly betting on Baghdad.
23891  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Any Training Groups Near San Diego? on: November 18, 2008, 03:06:36 PM
I have always had high regard for Guro Narrie Babao. (He can be seen in our "Grandfathers Speak" DVD)  He lives somewhere in the San Diego area.  I have been given permission by his son to post his contact info here:

" His e-mail Narrie_b@hotmail.com. His cell (619) 980-6144"
23892  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: November 18, 2008, 02:57:20 PM
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/...guns-to-agent/

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/...10312008_7.xml

http://www.voanews.com/english/archi...01-26-voa1.cfm

http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/20...s-neighborhood

and most damning of all:
http://www.judicialwatch.org/news/20...ursion-reports

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

Mexico Security Memo: Nov. 17, 2008
Stratfor Today » November 18, 2008 | 0014 GMT
Related Special Topic Page
Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
Mexicans Detained in Buenos Aires-Area Cocaine Seizure
Federal police in Argentina made one of the largest narcotics seizures in the South American country in recent years on Nov. 13, when they confiscated 752 kilograms of cocaine from a warehouse in the San Miguel area just north of Buenos Aires. In addition to the cocaine seizure, three Bolivian nationals and two Mexican nationals were taken into custody. The cocaine is thought to have come from Colombia and to have been destined for Europe. The tip that led to the seizure allegedly originated from Federico Faggionatto Marquez, the lead investigator into ephedrine smuggling involving Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. In recent months, Argentine officials have made several arrests of suspected Sinaloa cartel members, including the reported head of the ephedrine smuggling operation, Jesus Martinez Espinoza, who was arrested in Paraguay and extradited to Argentina on Nov. 14 to face narcotics-related charges.

The United States still remains the largest and most lucrative drug market for the Mexican cartels. But the increased law enforcement presence along the U.S.-Mexican border could have prompted the Sinaloa cartel to diversify its markets by shifting its focus southward, something suggested by evidence of increased Sinaloa operations in South America. Argentine officials have only been investigating Sinaloa’s presence in the South American country since August, so it probably will take some time before the full extent of the Sinaloa cartel’s operations and presence in South America is known.

Doubts Over Plane Crash Investigation
In a poll conducted by the periodical Milenio, 56 percent of Mexicans told surveyors that they believe the plane crash that killed Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino and former Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos was not accidental. According to Stratfor sources, that sentiment is echoed among many members of the Mexican government as well. The Mexican government asked the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to help with the investigation, which reassured most observers that the investigation would be handled competently.

Even though the results finding pilot error were handed over by a reputable U.S. agency, the cartels’ demonstrated ability to assassinate high-level Mexican federal employees has left many Mexicans skeptical of government claims that the Nov. 4 crash was an accident. Doubts over official explanations of political figures’ deaths are not new for Mexico. For example, many Mexicans still doubt Mexican government claims that a lone gunmen shot Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio at a campaign rally in Tijuana, Baja California, in March 1994, instead suspecting that the Arellano Felix Organization ordered the assassination.





(click to view map)

Nov. 10
The mayor of Ciudad Juarez said he favors allowing citizens to use firearms to protect themselves.
The United States began the process of requesting the extradition of Jamie “El Hummer” Gonzalez Duran, who faces drug-trafficking charges in the United States.
In a survey conducted by Milenio.com, 56 percent of those questioned believe the plane crash that killed Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mourino was not accidental.
Three bodies with bound hands and feet, blindfolded, and showing signs of torture were discovered below a dam near Durango, Durango state.
Citizens of the indigenous community of Cheranastico, Michoacan, kidnapped 17 Paracho municipal policemen in protest of the arrest of Juan Escamilla Lucas for arms violations.
A group of armed commandos kidnapped 27 workers from a ranch in northern Sinaloa state.
Mexican military members confiscated nearly 1 ton of marijuana in the Huetamo municipality of Michoacan state.
Three men with high-powered rifles attacked members of the Mexican military’s 76th Infantry Battalion conducting an operation Chihuahua state, during which the military personnel seized 12 tons of marijuana.
Nov. 11
Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said that the Mexican government has underestimated the true power of the drug cartels.
Four alleged leaders of the international street gang MS-13 were detained in the southern state of Chiapas following an anonymous tip that led police to their safe house.
A confrontation between peasants and indigenous villagers in Chiapas state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez left one woman dead and nine others in police custody. Authorities also seized various firearms and magazines.
Twenty-seven day laborers kidnapped from a ranch in northern Sinaloa state on Nov. 10 were released. The ranch involved reportedly is connected to the crime family of Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, who heads the Juarez cartel.
The burned bodies of two individuals were found along the federal Acapulco highway in Guerrero state.
One male and one female prison guard were shot dead in a local jail in Culiacan, Sinaloa.
Nov. 12
Mexican military personnel decommissioned a cocaine processing laboratory near the center of Culiacan, Sinaloa.
Mexican military personnel detained 22 policemen of various ranks for alleged connections to drug-trafficking organizations.
Six heavily armed assassins executed the director of public security for the city of Patzcuaro, Michoacan, as he left the public security department headquarters.
Mexican army personnel seized more than 120 firearms of various calibers, 1,500 rounds of ammunition and about 140 pounds of marijuana during operations in eastern Michoacan state.
Mexican army personnel guarded the offices of the Anti-Organized Crime Unit of the Mexican attorney general’s office as 21 police officers arrived from Baja California state for investigation into their presumed connections to drug trafficking.
Federal police seized more than 2 tons of marijuana, two firearms and three vehicles during operations in Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas state.
Nov. 13
Municipal police arrested 13 presumed members of the Milenio cartel in Tonala, Guadalajara, traveling in three trucks. Police seized 13 long arms, three short arms, various fragmentation grenades, and body armor with Federal Investigations Agency insignia.
Baja California state has asked for U.S. assistance in the search for ten municipal policemen associated with drug trafficking.
In three separate operations, police in Chiapas detained 13 men and women belonging to three different kidnapping gangs: “El Aguila,” “La Zorrita” and “Los Melendez.”
The U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, was closed after gunshots were heard near the building; consulate operations were suspended indefinitely.
Elements of the Mexican military seized 19 airplanes, various aeronautical equipment and several weapons reportedly used by drug traffickers in Cajeme, Sonora.
A body riddled with bullet holes was discovered in the Lomas de Guadalupe neighborhood of Culiacan, Sonora.
Nov. 14
A group of armed men stormed an immigration checkpoint in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Oaxaca state, kidnapping 12 women of Central American origin. State police officials indicated that the group might be linked to Los Zetas, the armed wing of the Gulf cartel.
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) members in the Mexican Senate have proposed reforms that will provide police officers and government officials with guarantees of protection during and after their commissions and entitle them to pensions. In response to an increase in infiltration of the police by drug cartels and attacks against authorities, PRI Sen. Francisco Herrera said that the safeguard will help “return to society not only hope, but also confidence in the security of the state,” El Milenio reported.
A group of armed men in Tijuana, Baja California state, shot four men and one woman. Shell casings found at the scene indicate the gunmen used 7.62mm-by-39mm and 2.23 caliber weapons, the police said.
Speaking in Acapulco, Mexican President Felipe Calderon praised the Mexican navy for recent success in the war against the drug cartels; naval cocaine seizures have reached nearly 43 tons.
Four people were shot and killed in two separate incidents in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, including a former farm leader and former alderman of the Democratic Revolutionary Party. The first incident involved a roadside shooting by gunmen armed with 9 mm pistols. The other incident involved a double execution with AK-47 rounds.
Elements of the State Judicial Police arrested three alleged members of the La Familia Michoacana criminal organization in Teoloyucan, Mexico state for allegedly threatening employees of the public safety department.
A group of armed men attacked a political convoy on one of the main avenues in Tijuana, Baja California state. Authorities reported that no one was injured during the incident.
Nov. 15
A man was found dead in the town of Churumuco, Michoacan state; the victim had two bullets in his skull.
Guerrero state Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca Galinso confirmed a report from a commanding officer of the Federal Investigations Agency that organized criminal elements are funding at least two social organizations in Guerrero state. The organizations’ names were not specified.
Five people were killed in Tijuana; two were shot with assault rifles at a restaurant, one man was shot dead in a pool hall, and two bodies were found in the street.
Nov. 16
Mexican drug dealers have established bases of operation in 42 of the 50 U.S. states, Mexican newspaper Milenio reported Nov. 16, citing Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) findings. According to the DEA, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, Alabama, Arkansas, Vermont and South Dakota are the only states that Mexican drug dealers do not occupy. The report indicates that the Juarez cartel is present in at least 21 states, including the U.S.-Mexican border states; the Sinaloa cartel in 17; the Tijuana cartel in 15; and the Gulf cartel in 13.
Tell Stratfor What You Think
23893  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: November 18, 2008, 02:52:47 PM
And here is a hero of mine, Michael Yon:

http://www.michaelyon-online.com/
23894  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: November 18, 2008, 02:43:28 PM
Hannity is a putz and a schmuck.  I can't bear to watch him even when I agree with him.  tongue
23895  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yemen: The neglected rights of women on: November 18, 2008, 02:40:02 PM
http://yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1208&p=culture&a=2
Wirasat (Succession), neglected rights of woman
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Qazi Dr. Shaikh Abbas Borhany For the Yemen Times

 
 

Except Islam which attained its perfection divinely, no other religion grants and honours the share of women in Wirasat (inheritance). According to the Qur’an and Ahadith such laws, are considered and judged to be tyrannical and against the law of nature, which totally neglect the rights of women in Wirasat. Today, the so-called ‘Liberals’, who in general are also called ‘Reformists’ are in fact a group of that class who are ignorant of the Shariah. They raise the slogan of equality in the shares of men and women in Wirasat, which is totally repugnant to the Shariah. These inimical forces of Islam totally forget that neither Christians nor Jews or Hindus grant the Rights of Women in the Wirasat, as is bestowed by Islam.

Sharia law is no longer a difficult to understand in the study of Islam. Today Sharia, its role in political Islam and its impact on the daily lives of Muslim women and humanity has made headlines everywhere, almost daily. The word "Sharia" literally means "the path on sand created by camels walking to water-spots" but spiritually it means Hidayat-guidance. Islam initially restore women's rights by taking the first steps in that desert society by banning female-infanticide, preventing forcing of women into unwanted marriages, allowing women to retain their fathers' names after marriage, permitting women to be witnesses (albeit their testimony counted as half of a man's) and establishing Haq ul Wirasat- their ownership rights to property and their income. All of these advances in women's rights occurred in the Middle East when Europe was in the midst of the Dark Ages. The term "Fiqh" emerged, which literally means human understanding. "Where an explicit command of Allah or His Rasul already exists, no Muslim leader or legislature, or any religious scholar can form an independent judgment not even all the Muslims of the world put together, have any right to make least alteration to it". Believing so is regarded as alliance to Islam itself. All books on Sharia law univocally maintain this dictum. The Qur'an and the Ahadith are two of the most important sources of Sharia.

From early days to the present so-called civilized period, women have been a victim of injustice. Fourteen centuries have passed and the benedictions of Islam have covered a large part of the world, and now we are in the 15th century, but women are still deprived of their Right of Wirasat. The major reason for not acting upon the laws of Wirasat, conferred by Shariah, is due to the filthy rich selfish class. This cursed class has set aside the commandments of Shariah so that their property and estate may not get divided, and due to this reason keep their sisters and daughters unmarried. Before the dawn of Islam, daughters, whether, old or young, were not given any share in Wirasat. In the days of Jahiliyah, Arabs did not give their own daughters any Right of Wirasat but adopted a boy of some one else as their own son (Mutabanna in Arabi) and gave him the status of successor. Islam eliminated this injustice and strongly ordered to distribute the due share of their wealth and property to their women. One of the most important differences between the Qur'an and the Bible is their attitude towards female inheritance of the property of a deceased relative. According to Numbers 27:1-11, widows and sisters don't inherit at all. Daughters can inherit only if their deceased father had no sons. Otherwise the sons receive the entire inheritance. Prior to Islam, inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives. The Qur'an abolished all these unjust customs and gave all the female relatives their just share (see Qur'an 4:7, 11, 12 and 176). It is a matter of sorrow and regret that the practice prevalent before Islam still exists and women are bereft of their share in Wirasat. To dispel this tyranny Ayat 7 of Surah al Nisa was sent down by Allah. The principle was fixed divinely so that both men and women become rightful share holders in Wirasat. Qur’an says:

“For men, there is a share in what their parents and kindred leave behind, and for women a share in what their parents and kindred leave behind, be it little, or be it much: a decreed share”.

The cardinal principal of Wirasat is to distribute the wealth among all the near relatives, and not to let it accumulate in the hands of one person, a wise and effective check on concentration of wealth in few hands. In Surah al Nisa it has been clarified:

“A man would get share equal to two women”.

This law of Wirasat contains a clarification of the shares of a man and a woman and is like other laws of Shariat, conferred by the divine institution of Wahi. It is not a law passed by any Council, Senate, Assembly, Committee or Organization, which may be approved today or amended and rejected tomorrow. After the Wahi, the matter does not rest on the opinion of any human bequeathing wealth/property. The distribution of shares and every right of Wirasat has been fixed by the Divine Law of Shariah. It cannot be amended at will by the so-called enlightened or reformist, whenever they wish to do it, and due to the Wahi, their thoughts and Aqaid become null and void in which a woman remains deprived of any share in Wirasat. If we look at the spirit of Shariah, we will find that the responsibilities of men and women are quite distinct and separate. Their duties and rights are separate and different. Men have been made responsible for supporting women; but not vice-versa. The responsibility of man in regard to the sustenance of woman has been fixed by Islam. A woman has been given half the share of man in wealth/property because there are separate laws for her sustenance, military services and punishment. A woman’s special right in the Wirasat is due to Mehar, and the right of Nufuqa. If we look at the social order of Islam, we will find that according to the law of Wirasat, a man gets two thirds while a woman gets one third because men are responsible for the expenses of women. Therefore the wealth/property of a woman remains immune from the use or grip of men, while two third share of man is spent on both man and woman. If we consider this point, we find that a woman gets a substantial share in Wirasat as an additional benefit.

In his famous book “Daem al Islam”, Vol. II., Syedna Qazi al Numan has mentioned that Abi Jafar Imam Mohammad al Baqir and Abi Abdullah Imam Jafar Assadiq have jointly declared that women are not entitled for inheritance in movable property, but are only entitled to their proper share of Wirasat according to the Law of Qur’an, the amount being taken for the price of land forming part of the heritable estate. Thus the woman would get her proper share, not in the shape of land, but in other forms of property known at that time. Syedna Qazi al Numan explained further: this is not a general rule, (very unfortunately many Fuquha (Muslim Jurists) still consider it as general rules and applying the same formula on every case) but restricted

(a) to land which had been dedicated as Waqf for the benefit of men, who had undertaken Jihad in defense of the Muslims or

(b) to land dedicated as Waqf for the benefit of one group of persons (namely men) to the exclusion of the other group (women).

According to the pre Islam customary law, females and cognate were excluded from Wirasat. The amendments in the law of Wirasat conferred by Islam fall generally under two heads:

The husband or wife and females as well as cognates are recognized as competent to inherit.

Parents and ascendants are given a Right to inherit even when there are male Wurus’a who are present.

It is a provision of Qur’an that the daughter is entitled to succeed with the son, as interpreted by the Ahl al Bait as applicable to all female Wurus’a. Fuquh’a takes the provision of the Qur’an as not restricted to individual instances of the daughter or the sister, but as establishing a new principle for the benefit of the women, which is the most important legal reform introduction by Islam when referring to the rights of women.

Summarizing this we can confirm that Islam has totally eliminated all injustices regarding the Wirasat of women, and that the double share of man in Wirasat is due to the fact that the man has to bear other burdens (family) on his budget. Also the aspect of Wirasat of a wife is on the basis of her Mehar and the right of Nufuq’a. If only an economic aspect was under consideration, Islam would not have differentiated in the rights of Wirasat of men and women, like the worshippers of the West.


The writer is Attorney at Law & Religious Scholar. He has a PhD (USA), NDI, Shahadat al A’alamiyyah (Najaf, Iraq), M.A., LLM (Shariah)and is a member, Ulama Council of Pakistan.

Email address: qazishkborhany@hotmail.com
23896  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: November 18, 2008, 01:34:48 PM
 tongue cheesy

Actually, appearances to the contrary,  cheesy it IS a serious answer.  I've misplaced my copy of the book "Liberal Fascism" and so cannot even give you the author's name.

That said, if you go back to the intellectual origins of Mussolini and Hitler's National SOCIALISM, you will see that fascism is a LEFT WING ideology, not right wing.  If you go back you will see that FDR's New Deal, which BO seeks to emulate and dramatically expand, was essentially FDR's take on what Mussolini was doing.

Although American Fascism, a.k.a. Liberalism, usually lacks the overtly violent tactics of Mussolini's Brown Shirts, its economic and social concepts and its goals are those of fascism. 
23897  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena on: November 18, 2008, 01:21:35 PM
Many Dealings of Bill Clinton Are Under Review
 DON VAN NATTA Jr. and JO BECKER
NY Times
Published: November 17, 2008
Over the weekend, former President Bill Clinton enthusiastically endorsed the prospect that his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, might join the Obama administration as secretary of state. “If he decided to ask her and they did it together,” the former president said, “I think she’ll be really great as a secretary of state.”

Mr. Clinton delivered those remarks at an international economic symposium in Kuwait City sponsored by the National Bank of Kuwait, which said the former president would “share with a select audience his perspective on the issues likely to shape the future prospects of the region.”
It is precisely that kind of paid speech, which Mr. Clinton delivered 54 times last year for a total of $10.1 million in fees, that has complicated the vetting process that Mrs. Clinton is undergoing by the Obama transition team. “Whatever happens or doesn’t happen is between Obama and her,” Mr. Clinton said.

That may be, but Mr. Clinton’s postpresidential life as a globe-trotting philanthropist, business consultant and speech-giver poses the highest hurdle for Mrs. Clinton to overcome if President-elect Barack Obama chooses to nominate her as secretary of state, according to aides of the Clintons and Mr. Obama.

The Obama transition team is focused on the wide array of Mr. Clinton’s postpresidential activities, some details of which have not been made public. This list includes the identity of most of the donors to his foundation, the source of some of his speaking fees — he has earned as much as $425,000 for a one-hour speech — and his work for the billionaire investor Ronald W. Burkle.

The vetting of Mr. Clinton’s myriad philanthropic and business dealings is “complicated, and it may be the complications that are causing hesitation on both sides,” said Abner J. Mikva, one of Mr. Obama’s closest supporters and a White House counsel during the Clinton administration. “There would have to be full disclosure as to who all were contributors to his library and foundation. I think they’d have to be made public.”

While aides to the president-elect declined Monday to discuss what sort of requirements would make it possible for Mrs. Clinton to serve as secretary of state, they said Mr. Obama would not formally offer her the job unless he was satisfied that there would be no conflicts posed by Mr. Clinton’s activities abroad.

Associates of the Clintons said that Mr. Clinton was likely to have to make significant concessions and that he was inclined to do so. Among other things, they said, he would probably have to agree not to take money for speeches from foreign businesses that have a stake in the actions of the American government. Another obvious issue, Democratic lawyers said, would be whether Mr. Clinton’s foundation should accept money from foreign governments, businesses or individuals for the foundation’s philanthropic activities and if it should disclose those donors publicly.

“The problem is it’s going to require some sacrifice by him,” said a former Clinton aide who is not involved in the discussions but did not want to be identified because the talks are confidential. “If he’s not willing to do that, it could blow up.”

One proposal, floated by Mr. Mikva and several other aides involved in the vetting process, would be for Mr. Clinton to separate himself from the activities of his foundation, including raising money.

“It’s not just what he does or says — it’s the fact that the foundation is involved with foreign countries, some of which might well be in conflict with U.S. policy,” Mr. Mikva said. “It’s more than a legal problem — there are ethical problems and appearance problems.”

Several longtime associates of the Clintons said the former president would be an asset to Mrs. Clinton if she were appointed secretary of state. The Obama administration “would be able to use Bill Clinton as the ultimate special envoy inside the tent,” one longtime associate said.

Since the former president established the William J. Clinton Foundation in 1998, it has raised more than $500 million, a sum that allowed him to build his steel-and-glass presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., and create the Clinton Global Initiative, which has done good deeds all over the world, including working to eradicate AIDS in Africa. Much of that money has been raised from foreign sources.

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Page 2 of 2)



Mr. Clinton is not required by law to identify the donors to his foundation, and this year he declined to name them. Last year, while Mrs. Clinton was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, The New York Times compiled the first detailed list of 97 donors who gave or pledged a total of $69 million for the Clinton presidential library in the final years of his administration. The examination found that while some $1 million contributors were longtime Clinton friends, others were seeking policy changes from the administration. Two people pledged $1 million each while they or their companies were under investigation by the Clinton Justice Department.

The foundation has received contributions from the Saudi royal family, the king of Morocco, a foundation linked to the United Arab Emirates and the governments of Kuwait and Qatar.

In a statement, the foundation said at the time, “Donors did not seek, nor did President Clinton give, favors from the federal government,” adding that most of the contributions were made after Mr. Clinton left office. A spokesman for the foundation, Matt McKenna, declined to comment on Monday.

During Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Clintons agreed to sell $11 million to $26 million worth of stock and pledged to liquidate holdings that had been in a blind trust. She said then that they wanted to avoid conflicts of interest.

In September, at his annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting, Mr. Clinton hosted more than two dozen foreign leaders, including Queen Rania of Jordan, President Shimon Peres of Israel and President Álvaro Colom of Guatemala.

Mr. Obama met Thursday in Chicago with Mrs. Clinton. Shortly after that, the process of looking into Mr. Clinton’s activities began, slowed in part because Mr. Clinton did not return to the United States until early Monday.

Several Democrats close to the Clintons said the former president’s activities should not be a disqualifier because the couple had been more open about their finances than past veterans of the White House, thanks to Senate disclosure requirements.

“They are arguably the most transparent former first couple in history,” said one Democratic official, who declined to be identified because the talks are confidential. “For eight years, they’ve been doing this.”

Lanny J. Davis, a longtime Clinton friend who said he was not speaking on the couple’s behalf, said he “completely rejects 100 percent” any suggestion that there was a conflict between Mr. Clinton’s work raising money for his foundation and the work Mrs. Clinton would be doing as the nation’s chief diplomat.

When the Clintons released their postpresidency tax returns in April, the documents showed the couple had earned $109 million after leaving the White House in January 2001. Most of it has come from book-writing and speaking fees, a sum that accounts for nearly $92 million, including a $15 million advance from Mr. Clinton’s best-selling autobiography, “My Life.”

The returns also showed that Mr. Clinton had collected at least $12.6 million since 2002 from his work as an adviser to Mr. Burkle, whose Yucaipa Companies have invested money for the Dubai government and acquired a stake in a Chinese media company.

The former president helped drum up business for several domestic and foreign investment funds in Yucaipa’s portfolio, although precisely what Mr. Clinton did is unknown.

Beyond Mr. Clinton’s work for his foundation and his foreign business dealings, there is also the unique issue of having a secretary of state whose husband is a former president. During her campaign, Mrs. Clinton said if she were elected president, she would appoint Mr. Clinton as a “roving global ambassador.”

But if Mrs. Clinton were to be nominated as secretary of state, potential conflicts could occur if Mr. Clinton continued to serve as a traveling emissary of the United States. It is unknown whether he would be asked to curtail speaking out on foreign policy matters or, if asked, if he would be willing to do so.
23898  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives on: November 18, 2008, 01:18:34 PM
The proper name for this is Liberal Fascism.
23899  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: November 18, 2008, 12:19:49 PM
Well, drifting briefly outsdie the parameters of this thread:

As best as I can tell, our support of Kosovo breaking away is a break from the understandings of international law.   Redrawing international boundaries is a true Pandora's box.  Due to its many border regions where ethnic Russians are a small minority, the priniciples enunciated by the US in supporting the breakaway of Kosovo can readily be applied to various situations which would challenge the territorial integrity of Russia itself.  Russia was EXTREMELY emphatic that Kosovo should not breakaway and basically we laughed and said "Watcha gonna do about it?"  -- so Russia was delighted to hoist us on our own petard when it applied them to the two regions of Georgia where ethnic Russians are in the majority.

(In dealing with Russia IMHO at all times we need to keep our eye on the demographic ball-- Russian birth rates are FAR below replacement levels. Every day Russia has fewer Russians, and the ones they have are older.  This makes the Russians in their "near abroad" e.g. Ukraine, doubly important to them.)

Concerning the pipeline issues:  Europe, especially Germany, gets a lot of gas from western Russia and Russia gets a lot of gas from central Asia-- without which it could not export its western gas to Europe.   Supplying Europe gives Russia huge leverage over Europe.

There is a lot of gas and oil in central Asia.  If that oil and gas could reach world markets through pipelines not controlled by Russia, it would help get Europe from under the Russian thumb.  One such pipeline currently exists-- and it runs through Georgia.   Russia's conquest of northern Georgia has made clear that there is nothing that the US or Europe will do about it (see e.g. the Russia-Europe thread entry of this morning) and hence that the pipeline which runs through Georgia does so at Russian whim.  Thus plans for additional pipelines are being mothballed.  What private company would invest now the tens of billions of $$$ required?

Outside the box thinker Jack Wheeler (google him, he is an interesting guy) suggests building a pipeline from central Asiaa though Afg and Pak.  This he thinks would give Afg and Pak some skin in the game for productive activities (at present what does Afg have except for opium?) AND foil Russian attempts to control Europe's energy supplies.
23900  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ukraine on: November 18, 2008, 11:06:12 AM
Ukjraine would not be on my radar screen but for the analyses of Stratfor in the past few years.  Beginning today Stratfor is starting an extended analysis of the situation in Ukraine, its pivotal role in US-Russia and Euro- Russian relations and so I begin this thread.

============
Part 1: Instability in a Crucial Country
Stratfor Today » November 18, 2008 | 1205 GMT
Summary
Ukraine is a country at a crossroads. Not only is it among those being hit hardest by the current global financial crisis, but it is now flirting with actual dissolution. The country’s economy is fundamentally weak, and ongoing political strife has made economic reforms necessary but impossible. Furthermore, the country is the cornerstone of the geopolitical battle between the West and Russia. Its weakness makes Ukraine dependent on outside powers, but outside powers appear to be working to pull the country apart.

Analysis
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a series on Ukraine.

Of all the countries being hit by the global financial crisis, Ukraine is one of the most profoundly affected because it is already coping with failing financial institutions, a collapsing economy and a domestic political scene too shattered to handle much of anything. On top of that, it is unfortunate enough to be the centerpiece of the geopolitical turf war between Russia and the West. In short, Ukraine is so deeply troubled that it cannot exist or remain united as a state unless an outside power enables it. And right now, outside powers are doing just the opposite.

The Current Financial Crisis
Ukraine is fundamentally unprepared to weather the global financial crisis. The country’s budget deficit is 2.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and is likely to increase before it decreases, as declining industrial output triggered by the global recession will inevitably reduce expected tax receipts. Confounding the budget deficit is the parliament’s promise to increase minimum wages in 2009 — a promise that no party will want to back out of publicly when parliamentary and presidential elections could be held soon.

Related Link
Countries in Crisis
Ukrainian currency problems are also quite severe. Foreign investment has been leaving Ukraine’s equity markets (it declined almost 80 percent so far in 2008; only Iceland experienced a larger drop) and speculators have been attacking the currency, the hryvnia. The hryvnia has lost 20 percent of its value in the last month alone, and there are fears that a devaluation is on the way. As confidence inside Ukraine slides, bank runs are taking place; Ukraine’s Central Bank President Vladimir Stelmakh estimated that customers withdrew almost $3 billion — approximately 4 percent of the country’s total deposits — from accounts within a week.

As the hryvnia’s decline continues, all loans — both business and private — taken out in foreign currencies (whether Swiss franc, euro or dollar) will begin appreciating, creating a very real possibility of defaults that domestic banks will not be able to cover.

This brings up the issue of total public and private sector debt. Ukraine’s debt is not exorbitant (private sector debt is at $80 billion and public is $20 billion; combined, it is a moderately high 66 percent of GDP), but it is the speed with which it has accumulated over the past two years that is worrying. With the decline in the hryvnia and upcoming debt service payments (around $46 billion due next year for private sector and $1.6 billion for public), Ukrainian total foreign currency reserves — totaling $37 billion — could begin drying up fast, particularly if the government continues to try to use the reserves to prop up the hryvnia.

Ukraine’s public sector debt, currently only 10 percent of GDP, could also begin to rise as the domestic banks face liquidity pressures and the government is forced to intervene as well as it can, though it cannot afford bailouts like those in the United States, Europe and Russia. The country’s sixth largest bank, Prominvestbank — which holds 4 percent of the market share in Ukraine’s banking sector — was already bailed out by the government on Oct. 8 to the tune of $1 billion, and the Ukrainian economy’s overall weakness indicates that more domestic lenders could follow suit.

However, much as in Central Europe, it could be the foreign banks that create havoc for Ukraine’s economy. Foreign banks already own roughly 50 percent of the country’s banking system: Austria’s Raiffeisen owns Bank Aval, Italy’s UniCredit owns Ukrsotsbank and the French BNP Paribas owns UkrSibbank. These banks — both foreign and domestic — were particularly active in bringing about the Ukrainian explosion of mortgages and retail loans, most of which were made in foreign currencies (euro and Swiss francs) so as to take advantage of a lower interest rate.

Ukraine is right behind the troubled Hungary, Croatia and Romania in terms of the percentage of total loans made in foreign currencies (roughly 50 percent of all loans in Ukraine). As the hryvnia depreciates, consumers and businesses will be less able to service these foreign-currency-denominated loans. This will lead to a potential mountain of unserviceable debt that could collapse domestic banks and spread the contagion to the rest of emerging markets and potentially to foreign bank headquarters.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered Ukraine a $16.5 billion loan. However, Ukraine’s internal political chaos has suspended the country’s ability to meet the IMF’s conditions or even make a decision on the IMF’s terms.

Fundamentally Weak
Beyond the current financial crisis, Ukraine’s economy is volatile at best — leaving little hope for the country to pull itself out of any difficulty. One problem is that each region in Ukraine is highly dependent on a specific industry for money; so when that industry fails, the entire region tends to fail. Furthermore, most of Ukraine’s lucrative business is based in the eastern half of the country, which typically gives that half (and Russia) a bit more political and economic power. Although Ukraine mainly depends on its metallurgical industry, it also gains much revenue from grain, military exports and energy transit. However, each of these sectors is suffering from deep problems that could not be easily fixed even if the country had the proper tools.





(click image to enlarge)
Metals
Ukraine is one of the world’s top 10 steel-producing and iron-ore-producing nations and is the third-largest exporter of steel. The metallurgical industry accounts for 40 percent of Ukraine’s exports, nearly 30 percent of its GDP and 12 percent of its tax revenues — and it employs more than half a million people.

However, the metallurgical industry is exceedingly inefficient and outdated. It is also highly dependent on expensive natural gas from its neighbor, Russia, making the cost of Ukrainian steel already 25 percent higher than its Russian and Chinese competitors. To make matters worse, demand and prices for many metals, especially steel, are collapsing globally. Prices for steel soared for the past year, prompting many steel-producing countries such as Brazil, India, Russia, China and Australia to overproduce, creating a global surplus. This leaves Ukraine horribly exposed since anyone who would have previously agreed to pay for the more-expensive Ukrainian steel now has several other options.

Ukraine’s Industry Ministry has officially declared the metallurgical sector to be in crisis, with 17 of the 36 steelmaking furnaces closed. Moreover, many of the metals heavyweights in Ukraine are foreign-owned — by firms such as ArcelorMittal and Rusal — and are already discussing massive layoffs. This will also greatly increase Ukraine’s account deficit. The bottom line is that Ukraine simply cannot compete on a global level in metallurgy, though much of its economy is dependent on it.

Grain
Ukraine saw an increase in revenues from an abundant grain harvest and exporting; in the third quarter of 2008, Ukraine’s exports outpaced imports. Grains account for approximately 6 percent of the country’s exports and brought in more than $2 billion the summer of 2008. The problem with grain is that the revenue it generates is cyclical, and thus Ukraine will not see any more cash from it until mid-2009. That, combined with severe credit constriction — which will stress farmers in the upcoming planting season — makes any dependency on the grain sector shaky.

Military Exports
Ukraine also depends on military exports to bring in cash. During and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, military units (including nuclear forces) were moved from Ukraine back inside Russia proper, but Kiev retained and commanded a great deal of Soviet military hardware and production facilities. Since around the mid-1990s, Kiev has sold that used equipment to countries as diverse as China, Sierra Leone, Kenya and even the United States. Though Ukraine retains significant stocks of such equipment, those stocks continue aging and slipping further toward obsolescence, and there is a (rapidly approaching) limit to how far the Soviet military legacy can carry Ukraine. There are a few discrepancies in estimates of how much money military exports bring in for Kiev. The official estimate by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry is around $1 billion a year; however, there are many within the government who claim it generates three times that amount but some equipment is sold under the table to other parties (such as Georgia) that Kiev does not want to be formally connected with.

Energy Transit
The only other really substantial moneymaker for the country is energy transit. Eighty percent of Russia’s energy exports of oil and natural gas to Europe transit through Ukraine. Currently, Ukraine receives approximately $1.9 billion a year simply for transiting Russian and Central Asian natural gas to Europe, along with some compensation on its own domestic purchases — be that a small bartered amount in payment or discounted natural gas. Ukraine announced Nov. 5 that it is planning on raising the amount it transports in 2009 in hopes of raising its revenues. However, the energy game is tricky for Ukraine because it also has to import 90 percent of its own domestic supplies of natural gas — something that typically gets the government into a $2 billion debt to Moscow every quarter — and Russia is considering raising its prices to Ukraine in the new year.

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