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24001  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Repeal will not be easy on: October 28, 2011, 08:54:59 AM
By LOUISE RADNOFSKY
Every Republican presidential candidate has promised to repeal the Obama administration's health-care overhaul. But despite full-throated criticism, it's going to be hard for any of them to fulfill that pledge if elected.

 Despite their full-throated pledges to repeal the health overhaul law, no Republican presidential candidate is likely to fulfill that pledge entirely if elected in 2012. Louise Radnofsky has details on The News Hub.
.Standing in the way of that seemingly simple campaign promise—an article of faith among GOP voters—is a welter of practical and political obstacles. They include immovable limits on what elements the Senate can tackle, in the likely event Republicans don't have a 60-seat majority after the 2012 election, and the party's need to come up with spending cuts to replace savings promised by "ObamaCare," as it's dubbed by critics.

These and other hurdles have sparked a lively debate among the candidates over whose approach is best, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney battling rivals who say his two-step plan is unrealistic. For now, GOP lawmakers and conservative strategists are pushing separate, piecemeal approaches.

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Close.The conundrum is in part a direct consequence of the law's complexity, something Democrats now consider an asset. In the House, some Republicans have been studying ways to choke off funds for the law while working toward repeal, while in the Senate Republicans are pushing bills to knock out specific pieces of the law.

The complications are evident in Mr. Romney's two-step plan.

Mr. Romney has proposed signing an executive order on "day one" offering waivers to any governor who wants his or her state to opt out of the law. His rivals note that by law, such waivers can't take effect before 2017. The move would also leave untouched the focus of conservative opposition: the requirement that individuals carry insurance or pay a fee.

Mr. Romney said he would follow this on "day two" with legislation to repeal the law, using a Senate tactic called budget reconciliation. That would require only 51 votes to succeed, a total the GOP might reach after next year's election.

But under the rules, such a bill would tackle only parts of the legislation that relate directly to the budget. Anything else would require 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and few see Republicans notching that number.

More
WashWire: Poll: Most Don't Like Health-Care Law
.Presidential contenders Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman have attacked Mr. Romney's approach, particularly the first step of his plan.

"Ultimately there are no administrative silver bullets that can roll back the core provisions," said Tim Miller, a spokesman for Mr. Huntsman. Mark Miner, a spokesman for Mr. Perry, said the candidate would do "as much as is possible through executive order, but will focus on leading Congress to pass a full repeal."

In addition, some provisions of the law are linked with others and would cause problems for health insurers if dismantled. Moreover, while polls show a plurality of the public backs repeal, people also favor certain pieces of the bill.

In a March 2011 survey by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 74% said they thought lawmakers should keep provisions that prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person's medical history. But a new poll just released by the foundation found that 51% of respondents have an unfavorable opinion of the law, up from 46% in the March survey.

In the coming election campaign, Democrats are expected to highlight such provisions, including a mandate that insurance companies issue coverage for children even if they have pre-existing medical conditions.

"The few policies that aren't loved, such as the individual requirement to purchase insurance, make the overwhelmingly desirable provisions, such as the insurance-reform protections, workable and affordable," said Chris Jennings, a former senior health adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Another potential problem: The Congressional Budget Office initially found that the law narrowed the deficit, thanks to its tax increases and Medicare cuts. Opponents say such savings are illusory because they expect Congress to put off those provisions. Even so, reconciliation rules require Republicans to provide offsetting cuts.

When the health care overhaul passed in 2010, CBO calculated it would reduce the deficit by $124 billion over 10 years. Since then, the Obama administration has shelved the law's long-term-care insurance program, which CBO originally estimated would save $70 billion over that time period.

CBO declined to comment on future projections.

Proponents of repeal point out that the law's deficit-reduction projections are likely to diminish substantially by 2013.

Conor Sweeney, a spokesman for House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), said analysts used gimmicks to arrive at their original estimates for the overhaul's deficit reduction, and that the demise of the long-term-care program leaves a more manageable budget gap to fill.

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Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney
.In the Republican-controlled House, Mr. Ryan has led efforts to repeal the legislation in its entirety. He has said he believes it can be replaced with other measures that would contain the cost of health care, such as changes to the structures of Medicare and Medicaid. He also wants to keep insurance companies from being able to deny coverage based on a person's medical history.

Choking off the law's funds, which some Republicans recommend, could help thwart the overhaul in 2013. But it would leave the law on the books for Democrats to revive funding for it in the future.

In the Senate, where the procedural problems are most acute, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is pushing smaller bills to address specific pieces of the law, including requirements for individuals and employers to purchase insurance or pay a fine, and a tax on medical devices, according to spokeswoman Julia Lawless.

James Capretta, a top budget official in the administration of George W. Bush, said if drafters were "creative" and went after every provision that had spending implications, they could remove most of the law or make it irrelevant using the budget reconciliation process. "It would take a fair amount of work, but it's definitely doable," he said.

Senior GOP leadership aides said it was too early to know for sure how they would go about using the reconciliation process, and neither they nor the presidential candidates have specified how they would plug the budget gap.

24002  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty/International Law on: October 28, 2011, 08:35:10 AM
I got a bit of a similar impression; the idea that communicated was "What does it matter?  We have veto on the Security Council."
24003  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: European matters on: October 28, 2011, 12:15:56 AM
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2011     STRATFOR.COM  Diary Archives

European Disunity Halts Solutions to Crisis
Eurozone leaders gathered in a summit Wednesday — the fourth in less than a week — out of which they had hoped to issue a firm line to address the financial crisis that has now reached its 21st month. Meanwhile — and according to STRATFOR, more importantly — the German parliament voted overwhelmingly to bar any further expansion of European bailout structures that might require a greater contribution by Germany.
There were three specific topics on the summit’s agenda. First, a major bank repair effort whose approval, it is hoped, could turn Europe’s damaged financial institutions into a source of strength, rather than a weakness. Second, a write-down of Greek debt — by at least half — that would give Greece’s economy a chance to recover, rather than drowning in interest payments. Finally, the summit was intended to seek an expansion of the eurozone bailout fund that would give the latter the ammunition to assist — if not directly underwrite — the broader European recovery effort.
“As the vote in the German parliament shows, even in the face of financial collapse there is little desire to take the steps necessary to save the structures of modern Europe.”
Of the three, only the first goal solidified, and even then only in part. While reports late in the day suggest that a voluntary write-down of 50 percent of the value of Greek bonds has been agreed to by bondholders, the exact details of the plan are not clear. Meanwhile, the Europeans agreed to increase banks’ capital adequacy ratios — the amount of cash that banks must hold in reserve — up to 9 percent by June of 2012, something that EU leaders estimated will cost about 100 billion euros. Considering that by the EU’s own numbers that reaching that degree of a security blanket would cost — conservatively — 200 billion euros without even pretending to address the banking sector’s other problems, the agreement fell well short of offering a comprehensive solution to the financial problems facing Europe. On the questions about Greek debt and about bailouts for struggling sovereign states, the Europeans asserted that they had “reached agreement,” but put off any specific decisions until the next major summit.
Europe’s financial crisis is getting worse by the week. What started nearly two years ago with Greece’s sovereign debt crisis has since spread to a half dozen countries — even affecting European heavyweight France — as well as most of the Continent’s major banks. What has not spread is the willingness of any particular European state to apply the necessary volume of resources to address the crisis. In fact, as the vote in the German parliament shows, even in the face of financial collapse there is little desire to take the steps necessary to save the structures of modern Europe.
Such reluctance is understandable; the price to stave off Europe’s crisis is remarkably high. STRATFOR estimates that an effective attempt to tackle the European crisis would require bailout resources of about 2 trillion euros. Simply arriving at the current level of less than 500 billion euros required a strenuous effort.
The European Central Bank (ECB) does not have full authority over monetary policy and banks in a manner similar to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England or the Central Bank of Paraguay. When negotiating the Treaty on Monetary Union, European states reserved control over their own banks, ceding the least amount of authority possible to the ECB. The system was only sustainable — politically, economically and financially — as long as everyone was profiting. With the arrival of multiple debt crises and banking crises and considering a languishing global export market, the kind of economy that allowed this system to work is gone and unlikely soon to return.
Considering Europe’s political and economic disunity, the EU’s host of financial and institutional shortcomings, the sheer size of the problem and the ever-increasing pressure on governments and banks alike, perhaps the most notable outcome after a week of largely failed summits was that the eurozone remained intact. However, on the floor of the German Bundestag on Wednesday, it was made abundantly clear that the one country that might have the financial resources to resolve the crisis will not be sharing them. Neither the common currency nor the common market can exist in a Europe in which the union’s members are unwilling to share burdens and follow collective rules. Germany at present is focused on the rules, while the countries in need are focused on the burdens. Both approaches are correct in their own way, yet both are wrong.
Despite failing to articulate the specifics of any credible financial resolution to Europe’s debt crisis, this was about as good of a political response as Europe could hope for given the circumstances. By alluding to — but not mandating — a restructuring, no crushing pressure has been put on the banks, yet. By not announcing the details of how the European Financial Stability Facility will be expanded, European leaders have denied critics for now the opportunity to proclaim failure. That Germany, the one country whose participation is required in any solution for Europe, is pursuing its own interests in such a brash manner does not bode well for Europe’s future.
24004  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty/International Law on: October 27, 2011, 08:27:50 PM
Very good post Doug!
24005  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Newt Gingrich on: October 27, 2011, 08:13:03 PM
Me too.  My wife, who is pretty hardcore Republican loathes him as a man who divorced his dying wife.
24006  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Marcus Flavinius on: October 27, 2011, 08:03:55 PM

"We had been told, on leaving our native soil, that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens settled overseas, so many years of our presence, so many benefits brought by us to populations in need of our assistance and our civilization.
We were able to verify that all this was true, and, because it was true, we did not hesitate to shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes. We regretted nothing, but whereas we over here are inspired by this frame of mind, I am told that in Rome factions and conspiracies are rife, that treachery flourishes and that many people in their uncertainty and confusion lend a ready ear to the dire temptations of relinquishment and vilify our action.
I cannot believe that all this is true and yet recent wars have shown how pernicious such a state of mind could be and to where it could lead.
Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the Republic.
If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones in these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the Legions."
Marcus Flavinius
24007  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Newt Gingrich on: October 27, 2011, 08:03:00 PM
Passes Perry in the polls!
24008  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty/International Law on: October 27, 2011, 05:00:23 PM
I would add that many states in the General Assembly are quite tiny in land mass and or numbers, yet they get the same vote as big states of substance.   Indeed they are often dominated by more powerful states and vote as they are told-- think East Europe during the Soviet Empire or states in need of oil financing during the OPEC years.   In the conversion of the USA from a confederation to a federation, this was in part dealt with by having a House of Representatives and a Senate.   Is the Security Council really an analog to the Senate? 

Is there really a shared creed in the UN? NOT HARDLY!

America is the EXCEPTION in that we are born of a Creed, not a race, not a religion, not merely a particular piece of land. The flip side of that exception is that the UN is overwhelmingly made of countries based upon religion, race, ethnicity, and so forth.  How can such an assemblage be a moral arbitor? 

What twaddle!!!

24009  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Clintons did this w lots of Whitewater & other corruption witnesses too on: October 27, 2011, 04:50:55 PM
BREAKING: PJ Media Finds Gunwalker’s ‘Unreachable’ Man in the White House


The Obama admin. told Rep. Darrell Issa that Kevin O’Reilly — Gunwalker’s possible connection to Obama — was “in Iraq and unavailable.” He’s there, but available. After we called him, his phone number was deactivated.


The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is investigating to what extent the White House was aware of — or involved in — the “Fast and Furious” gunwalking scandal.

The committee recently requested to speak with former White House National Security Staffer Kevin O’Reilly. According to CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson, the Obama administration answered:

O’Reilly is on assignment for the State Department in Iraq and unavailable.

Through a tip, PJ Media learned that Kevin O’Reilly was unexpectedly named director of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau for Iraq (INL-Iraq). Long-time INL-Iraq employee Virginia Ramadan had been expected to get the position — many were quite surprised when she did not.

The previous occupants of the Director, INL-Iraq position — Joe Manso and Francisco Palmieri — were not considered “unreachable” to press or government access. A quick internet search reveals Palmieri, while director, attended a media event on August 23, 2010.

On October 21, PJ Media reporter Patrick Richardson called the number for Office of the Director, INL-Iraq:

1-240-553-0581, ext. 3275

Richardson reached a voicemail message confirming that it was indeed the correct number. He left a message that was not returned.

On Monday Richardson called again, and an assistant answered. Richardson asked to speak with Kevin O’Reilly, and the assistant asked who was calling. Richardson gave his name and stated he was with PJ Media.

The assistant said O’Reilly was currently on a conference call, and asked if Richardson wanted to leave a message. Richardson gave his phone number. His call was not returned.

This morning, Richardson called again. He received a prerecorded message saying “this number is not in service.”

PJ Media is aware that the number was in service as the line to the director’s office for several years prior to Richardson’s calls.

Today, PJ Media is forwarding this information over to Darrell Issa, along with some suggested questions to ask of the Obama administration:

– Why were we told Kevin O’Reilly was “unavailable” if he was employed in a position that has always been open to media, and indeed was easily reached by PJ Media?

– Why did Kevin O’Reilly suddenly get sent to Iraq for the Director, INL-Iraq position when another employee was widely considered the most-qualified person for the job?

– Now that we know he is in the Director, INL-Iraq position and not in a position ever considered “unreachable,” when will you be sending him to Washington to testify?

The committee’s interest in Kevin O’Reilly stems from documents the White House released last month on September 30 – a late afternoon “Friday document dump.” From Sharyl Attkisson’s reporting on the documents:

The documents show extensive communications between then-ATF Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix office Bill Newell — who led Fast and Furious — and then-White House National Security Staffer Kevin O’Reilly. Emails indicate the two also spoke on the phone. Such detailed, direct communications between a local ATF manager in Phoenix and a White House national security staffer has raised interest among Congressional investigators looking into Fast and Furious. Newell has said he and O’Reilly are long time friends.

The email exchanges span a little over a month last summer. They discuss ATF’s gun trafficking efforts along the border including the controversial Fast and Furious case, though not by name. The emails to and from O’Reilly indicate more than just a passing interest in the Phoenix office’s gun trafficking cases. They do not mention specific tactics such as “letting guns walk.”

A lawyer for the White House wrote Congressional investigators: “none of the communications between ATF and the White House revealed the investigative law enforcement tactics at issue in your inquiry, let alone any decision to allow guns to ‘walk.’”

Among the documents produced: an email in which ATF’s Newell sent the White House’s O’Reilly an “arrow chart reflecting the ultimate destination of firearms we intercepted and/or where the guns ended up.” The chart shows arrows leading from Arizona to destinations all over Mexico.

In response, O’Reilly wrote on Sept. 3, 2010 “The arrow chart is really interesting — and — no surprise — implies at least that different (Drug Trafficking Organizations) in Mexico have very different and geographically distinct networks in the US for acquiring guns. Did last year’s TX effort develop a similar graphic?”

The White House counsel who produced the documents stated that some records were not included because of “significant confidentiality interests.”

Also included are email photographs including images of a .50 caliber rifle (left) that Newell tells O’Reilly “was purchased in Tucson, Arizona (part of another OCDTF case).” OCDTF is a joint task force that operates under the Department of Justice and includes the US Attorneys, ATF, DEA, FBI, ICE and IRS. Fast and Furious was an OCDTF case.

An administration source would not describe the Tucson OCDTF case. However, CBS News has learned that ATF’s Phoenix office led an operation out of Tucson called “Wide Receiver.” Sources claim ATF allowed guns to “walk” in that operation, much like Fast and Furious.

Congressional investigators for Republicans Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have asked to interview O’Reilly by September 30. But the Administration informed them that O’Reilly is on assignment for the State Department in Iraq and unavailable.
24010  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hanging with BF Forever 1776 on: October 27, 2011, 04:02:52 PM
"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." --Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 1776
24011  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty/International Law on: October 27, 2011, 04:00:14 PM
BD:

I have next to zero respect for the legitamacy or competence of the UN towards those ends, nor am I sure that I even agree with all of them.  (Whatever the hell "social progress" is according to the General Assembly of the UN, I suspect I rather strongly disagree.

This might explain the generally snarky tone of this thread towards the UN.  grin

To the extent the UN succeeds in claiming power, US sovereignty is diminished.
24012  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: OWS U. on: October 27, 2011, 03:53:30 PM
The Occupy Wall Street protests have drawn huge numbers of confused and directionless young people, but maybe that's not all bad. Some of them at least seem to be getting a remedial course in economics.

Nan Terrie learned an expensive lesson last week about the importance of property rights. "Stealing is our biggest problem at the moment," the 18-year-old protester told the New York Post. "I had my Mac stolen—that was like $5,500." Why? Because she left it in a public place, amid a crowd demanding the redistribution of wealth. Imagine that.

Perverse incentives were at work at Occupy Boston, where 36-year-old Andrew Warner told the Boston Herald: "It's turning into us against them." By "them" he didn't mean rich bankers but street vagrants: "They come in here and they're looking at it as a way of getting a free meal and a place to crash, which is totally fine, but they don't bring anything to the table at all." The same is true in New York, where "sanitation committee" member Lauren Digioia told the Daily News: "There's a lot of takers here and they feel entitled."

The makeshift government at Manhattan's Zuccotti Park is also dealing with the problem of externalities, in the form of percussionists who irritate neighbors and fellow protesters alike by drumming at all hours. That has inspired both regulations (drumming is permitted only at certain hours) and taxes. New York magazine reports that the "finance working group" had levied a "percussion tax" of 50% on tips.

Drummer Shane Engelerdt sounds like a tea party member complaining about taxation without representation: "They didn't even give the drummers a say. . . . They're like the banks we're protesting." Actually, they're like the government the protesters are trying to expand—but perhaps that will become clear in the next lesson.

24013  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty/International Law on: October 27, 2011, 03:36:25 PM
As a talk shop facilitating communication so that affairs between nations do not unnecessarily get out of hand, the UN is fine.   The problems begin as soon as it seeks to become more than that e.g. posturing as some sort of moral arbitrator or voice of "the international community" or mechanism of global governance.
24014  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: October 27, 2011, 03:31:47 PM
Vice President of Tactical Intelligence Scott Stewart discusses the arrest of Rafael Cardenas Vela and what it means for the Gulf Cartel and for security in Mexico’s northeast.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Related Links
•   Mexican Drug War Update: The Polarization Continues
On Oct. 26, U.S. authorities announced they had arrested Rafael Cardenas Vela in a traffic stop in Port Isabella, Texas on Oct. 20. The arrest of Cardenas, who is also known as “El Junior,” is significant because he was one of the leaders of two factions that are currently fighting for control of the Gulf Cartel. The struggle among these differing Gulf Cartel factions could have a significant impact on the security situation in Mexico’s northeast.
Rafael Cardenas Vela is the nephew of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, former leader of the Gulf Cartel. Osiel Cardenas Guillen was convicted in a U.S. court in 2010 and sentenced to serve 25 years, which he is currently serving in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. Following the arrest of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, control of the Gulf Cartel was handed to his brother, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, also know as “Tony Tormenta,” as well as Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, who is know as “El Coss.”
That arrangement seemed to work fairly well for several years, but it broke apart following the death of Tony Tormenta in November 2010. This led to a rift in the Gulf Cartel between a faction of those members of the cartel who are loyal to the Cardenas family and a section of the cartel that is loyal to El Coss. In recent months, we’ve been watching as that friction and tension have increased and it appears currently that it’s on the verge of breaking into an all-out war.
In early September, we saw one of El Coss’s major lieutenants, Samuel “El Metro 3” Flores Borego, get assassinated in northern Mexico. And this was one of the signs that tensions were increasing between the two factions. We believe that it’s very likely that the arrest of El Junior is connected to this inter-factional fighting between the Gulf Cartel, and it’s quite possible that the information that led to his arrest was leaked to U.S. authorities by El Coss, his primary rival for control of the Gulf Cartel.
The fact that Cardenas was in U.S. custody for several days before his arrest was announced is very interesting. It indicates to us that he was likely cooperating with U.S. authorities. So we’re going to be watching this Gulf Cartel infighting very carefully for signs that it’s going to weaken these various cartel factions enough that other organizations can move into their areas of operation. In this case of the Gulf Cartel, we have both Los Zetas, who used to be the enforcer group of the Gulf Cartel before splitting from them in January 2010 and are now bitter rivals with the Gulf Cartel, and of course their allies, the Sinaloa Cartel.
Over time, the Sinaloa Cartel has shown that it is very aggressive at moving into and taking territory from its former allies like we saw in Tijuana and in Juarez. So it would not be surprising for them to try to make a move in the northeast to take control of Matamoros. And it’s going to be important to watch the area around Matamoros to see if the areas that are controlled currently by the Gulf Cartel fall to one of these other very powerful cartel organizations.
24015  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Rafael Cardenas Vela of Gulf Cartel captured in US on: October 27, 2011, 03:31:14 PM
Vice President of Tactical Intelligence Scott Stewart discusses the arrest of Rafael Cardenas Vela and what it means for the Gulf Cartel and for security in Mexico’s northeast.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


•   Mexican Drug War Update: The Polarization Continues

On Oct. 26, U.S. authorities announced they had arrested Rafael Cardenas Vela in a traffic stop in Port Isabella, Texas on Oct. 20. The arrest of Cardenas, who is also known as “El Junior,” is significant because he was one of the leaders of two factions that are currently fighting for control of the Gulf Cartel. The struggle among these differing Gulf Cartel factions could have a significant impact on the security situation in Mexico’s northeast.

Rafael Cardenas Vela is the nephew of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, former leader of the Gulf Cartel. Osiel Cardenas Guillen was convicted in a U.S. court in 2010 and sentenced to serve 25 years, which he is currently serving in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. Following the arrest of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, control of the Gulf Cartel was handed to his brother, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, also know as “Tony Tormenta,” as well as Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, who is know as “El Coss.”

That arrangement seemed to work fairly well for several years, but it broke apart following the death of Tony Tormenta in November 2010. This led to a rift in the Gulf Cartel between a faction of those members of the cartel who are loyal to the Cardenas family and a section of the cartel that is loyal to El Coss. In recent months, we’ve been watching as that friction and tension have increased and it appears currently that it’s on the verge of breaking into an all-out war.

In early September, we saw one of El Coss’s major lieutenants, Samuel “El Metro 3” Flores Borego, get assassinated in northern Mexico. And this was one of the signs that tensions were increasing between the two factions. We believe that it’s very likely that the arrest of El Junior is connected to this inter-factional fighting between the Gulf Cartel, and it’s quite possible that the information that led to his arrest was leaked to U.S. authorities by El Coss, his primary rival for control of the Gulf Cartel.

The fact that Cardenas was in U.S. custody for several days before his arrest was announced is very interesting. It indicates to us that he was likely cooperating with U.S. authorities. So we’re going to be watching this Gulf Cartel infighting very carefully for signs that it’s going to weaken these various cartel factions enough that other organizations can move into their areas of operation. In this case of the Gulf Cartel, we have both Los Zetas, who used to be the enforcer group of the Gulf Cartel before splitting from them in January 2010 and are now bitter rivals with the Gulf Cartel, and of course their allies, the Sinaloa Cartel.

Over time, the Sinaloa Cartel has shown that it is very aggressive at moving into and taking territory from its former allies like we saw in Tijuana and in Juarez. So it would not be surprising for them to try to make a move in the northeast to take control of Matamoros. And it’s going to be important to watch the area around Matamoros to see if the areas that are controlled currently by the Gulf Cartel fall to one of these other very powerful cartel organizations.
24016  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / OMG! Romney speaks truth! on: October 27, 2011, 01:27:12 PM
WSJ:

A friend of ours quipped recently that Mitt Romney could do his Presidential candidacy a lot of good if he took even a single position that is unpopular in the polls. Well, we can report that he has done that on housing policy, that he's being pummeled for it, and that it may be his finest campaign hour. It also contrasts favorably with the latest temporary, ad hoc and futile housing effort from President Obama.

Campaigning last week in Nevada, the epicenter of the housing bust, Mr. Romney was asked by the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board what he would do about housing and foreclosures. His reply:

"One is, don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up. Let it turn around and come back up. The Obama Administration has slow-walked the foreclosure processes that have long existed, and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang."

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Close...How's that for refreshing? After five years of politicians trying without success to postpone disclosures and levitate the housing market, Mr. Romney dared to tell the truth. Parts of the U.S., including Nevada, still have too many homes, and that supply needs to be sold off and fixed up so the market can find a bottom before home prices can start to rise again. The faster that process proceeds, the faster the recovery will take hold.

For this apostasy, Mr. Romney is getting whacked by the Democratic National Committee in a 30-second TV ad that first aired Tuesday in Arizona: "Almost half of Arizona homeowners underwater. Foreclosures everywhere. And what's Mitt Romney's plan?" the ad intones. Then it quotes Mr. Romney: "Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.'"

The attack ad doesn't quote the second part of Mr. Romney's Las Vegas answer, which spoke another truth: "Number two, the credit [that] was given to first time homebuyers was insufficient and inadequate to turn around the housing market. I think it was an ineffective idea. It was a little bit like the cash-for-clunkers program, throwing government money at something which was not market-oriented, did not staunch the decline in home values anymore than it encouraged the auto industry to take off."

While he was at it, Mr. Romney might have added to his list of "ineffective" housing ideas the Bush Administration's Hope Now program, the Barney Frank-George W. Bush Hope for Homeowners plan, the Obama Administration Home Affordable Modification Program, the Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program, and, this week, an expanded version of the March 2009 Home Affordable Refinance Program (Harp).

All of these government plans used taxpayer cash to forestall foreclosures in an attempt to stop housing prices from falling from their manic heights. How's that working out? Five years into the housing bust, the U.S. still has 10.9 million "underwater" borrowers, whose homes are worth less than the original purchase price. States like Florida, Nevada and New Jersey have long foreclosure backlogs, and home prices still haven't begun to recover in much of the country.

Related Video
 Mary Kissel of the editorial board says Mitt Romney has the right answer on housing.
..Mr. Romney's advice to let the foreclosure and resale process take its course as rapidly as possible until the market finds a "bottom" couldn't possibly do any worse than the Obama Administration and its frenetic attempts to "save" homeowners have done. To the extent that it encourages a faster recovery it is also more compassionate. As the nearby chart shows, while the fall in home prices has been painful for current owners, it has also made housing far more affordable for new buyers.

Which brings us to the latest White House housing gesture, Harp II, to make it easier to refinance mortgages guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Harp I was supposed to help four to five million borrowers refinance, but only around 894,000 have used it so far.

So why not double down on lack of success? Harp II will remove many of the restrictions on banks and borrowers that were contained in Harp I to protect taxpayers. These include removing the 125% loan-to-value ceiling for underwater borrowers, dealing with bank litigation concerns, and eliminating the need for a new appraisal. It also extends the end of the program to December 31, 2013, from next June 30.

No doubt this will help some homeowners refinance, especially with the Federal Reserve continuing to push long-bond rates even lower. But it is not a free lunch, especially for investors who hold mortgage-backed securities. Those securities will fall in value as borrowers prepay their old loans, and sure enough the MBS market fell out of bed after the White House announcement on Monday.

The Congressional Budget Office tested an economic model of the mock refinancing plan in September and estimated that while government enterprises like Fannie and Freddie would save $3.9 billion from refinancing, they'd also lose $4.5 billion from the reduced value of their mortgage-backed securities. Pension funds, banks and others would lose as much as $15 billion. Such investors don't get any sympathy these days, but don't be surprised if they're skittish about re-entering America's politicized housing market in the future.

As for Mr. Romney, in his Vegas interview he did add briefly that "the idea of helping people refinance homes to stay in them is one that's worth further consideration," subject to more information. That's the poll-driven candidate talking, but for today let's congratulate the truth-teller.

24017  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: socioeconomic class in the US on: October 27, 2011, 01:19:31 PM
I salute his courage and integrity, but frankly I don't think he's doing that great a job.

When one is outnumbered, one has to stop hit the tendency of the larger numbers to overspeak you.  Begin by obtain respect for the fact that you are there outnumbered and establish that they will not overspeak and interrupt you because you are there to speak American to American.  Establish an agreement to stick to one thing at a time.  Continuously work in reference to points where there is agreement.

This are some things I learned while being a Libertarian candidate for US Congress.

24018  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Iran's uses same phone tracking capabilities as possessed by US on: October 27, 2011, 01:11:36 PM



By STEVE STECKLOW, FARNAZ FASSIHI and LORETTA CHAO
When Western companies pulled back from Iran after the government's bloody crackdown on its citizens two years ago, a Chinese telecom giant filled the vacuum.

Huawei Technologies Co. now dominates Iran's government-controlled mobile-phone industry. In doing so, it plays a role in enabling Iran's state security network.

Huawei recently signed a contract to install equipment for a system at Iran's largest mobile-phone operator that allows police to track people based on the locations of their cellphones, according to interviews with telecom employees both in Iran and abroad, and corporate bidding documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It also has provided support for similar services at Iran's second-largest mobile-phone provider. Huawei notes that nearly all countries require police access to cell networks, including the U.S.

Huawei's role in Iran demonstrates the ease with which countries can obtain foreign technology that can be used to stifle dissent through censorship or surveillance. Many of the technologies Huawei supports in Iran—such as location services—are available on Western networks as well. The difference is that, in the hands of repressive regimes, it can be a critical tool in helping to quash dissent.

See a screenshot of an article about Huawei reprinted on the website of the Chinese embassy in Tehran. It first appeared in August 2009, two months after mass demonstrations erupted in Iran. The article notes that Huawei's clients include "military industries."

Last year, Egyptian state security intercepted conversations among pro-democracy activists over Skype using a system provided by a British company. In Libya, agents working for Moammar Gadhafi spied on emails and chat messages using technology from a French firm. Unlike in Egypt and Libya, where the governments this year were overthrown, Iran's sophisticated spying network remains intact.

In Iran, three student activists described in interviews being arrested shortly after turning on their phones. Iran's government didn't respond to requests for comment.

Iran beefed up surveillance of its citizens after a controversial 2009 election spawned the nation's broadest antigovernment uprising in decades. Authorities launched a major crackdown on personal freedom and dissent. More than 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds remain in jail, according to Iranian human-rights organizations.

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Close.This year Huawei made a pitch to Iranian government officials to sell equipment for a mobile news service on Iran's second-largest mobile-phone operator, MTN Irancell. According to a person who attended the meeting, Huawei representatives emphasized that, being from China, they had expertise censoring the news.

The company won the contract and the operator rolled out the service, according to this person. MTN Irancell made no reference to censorship in its announcement about its "mobile newspaper" service. But Iran routinely censors the Internet using sophisticated filtering technology. The Journal reported in June that Iran was planning to create its own domestic Internet to combat Western ideas, culture and influence.

In winning Iranian contracts, Huawei has sometimes partnered with Zaeim Electronic Industries Co., an Iranian electronics firm whose website says its clients include the intelligence and defense ministries, as well as the country's elite special-forces unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. This month the U.S. accused a branch of the Revolutionary Guards of plotting to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. Iran denies the claim.

Huawei's chief spokesman, Ross Gan, said, "It is our corporate commitment to comply strictly with all U.N. economic sanctions, Chinese regulations and applicable national regulations on export control. We believe our business operations in Iran fully meet all of these relevant regulations."

William Plummer, Huawei's vice president of external affairs in Washington, said the company's location-based-service offerings comply with "global specifications" that require lawful-interception capabilities. "What we're doing in Iran is the same as what we're doing in any market," he said. "Our goal is to enrich people's lives through communications."

 .Firms Aided Libyan Spies
8/30/2011
Cisco Poised to Help China Keep an Eye on Its Citizens
7/5/2011
Iran Vows to Unplug Internet
5/28/2011
U.S. Products Help Block Mideast Web
3/28/2011
Full Coverage: Wsj.com/censorship
.Huawei has about 1,000 employees in Iran, according to people familiar with its Iran operations. In an interview in China, a Huawei executive played down the company's activities in Iran's mobile-phone industry, saying its technicians only service Huawei equipment, primarily routers.

But a person familiar with Huawei's Mideast operations says the company's role is considerably greater, and includes a contract for "managed services"—overseeing parts of the network—at MTN Irancell, which is majority owned by the government. During 2009's demonstrations, this person said, Huawei carried out government orders on behalf of its client, MTN Irancell, that MTN and other carriers had received to suspend text messaging and block the Internet phone service, Skype, which is popular among dissidents. Huawei's Mr. Plummer disputed that the company blocked such services.

Huawei, one of the world's top makers of telecom equipment, has been trying to expand in the U.S. It has met resistance because of concerns it could be tied to the Chinese government and military, which the company denies.

Last month the U.S. Commerce Department barred Huawei from participating in the development of a national wireless emergency network for police, fire and medical personnel because of "national security concerns." A Commerce Department official declined to elaborate.

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CloseBloomberg News
 
Building F1, home to the exhibition hall, stands at the Huawei Technologies Co. campus in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China, on Thursday, May 19, 2011.
.In February, Huawei withdrew its attempt to win U.S. approval for acquiring assets and server technology from 3Leaf Systems Inc. of California, citing opposition by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The panel reviews U.S. acquisitions by foreign companies that may have national-security implications. Last year, Sprint Nextel Corp. excluded Huawei from a multibillion-dollar contract because of national-security concerns in Washington, according to people familiar with the matter.

Huawei has operated in Iran's telecommunications industry since 1999, according to China's embassy in Tehran. Prior to Iran's political unrest in 2009, Huawei was already a major supplier to Iran's mobile-phone networks, along with Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Nokia Corp. and Siemens AG, according to MTN Irancell documents.

Iran's telecom market, which generated an estimated $9.1 billion in revenue last year, has been growing significantly, especially its mobile-phone business. As of last year, Iran had about 66 million mobile-phone subscribers covering about 70% of the population, according to Pyramid Research in Cambridge, Mass. In contrast, about 36% of Iranians had fixed-line phones.

As a result, mobile phones provide Iran's police network with far more opportunity for monitoring and tracking people. Iranian human-rights organizations outside Iran say there are dozens of documented cases in which dissidents were traced and arrested through the government's ability to track the location of their cellphones.

Many dissidents in Iran believe they are being tracked by their cellphones. Abbas Hakimzadeh, a 27-year-old student activist on a committee that published an article questioning the actions of Iran's president, said he expected to be arrested in late 2009 after several of his friends were jailed. Worried he could be tracked by his mobile phone, he says he turned it off, removed the battery and left Tehran to hide at his father's house in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

A month later, he turned his cellphone back on. Within 24 hours, he says, authorities arrested him at his father's house. "The interrogators were holding my phone records, SMS and emails," he said.

He eventually was released and later fled to Turkey where he is seeking asylum. In interviews with the Journal, two other student activists who were arrested said they also believe authorities found them in hiding via the location of their cellphones.

In early 2009, Siemens disclosed that its joint venture with Nokia, NSN, had provided Iran's largest telecom, government-owned Telecommunications Company of Iran, with a monitoring center capable of intercepting and recording voice calls on its mobile networks. It wasn't capable of location tracking. NSN also had provided network equipment to TCI's mobile-phone operator, as well as MTN Irancell, that permitted interception. Like most countries, Iran requires phone networks to allow police to monitor conversations for crime prevention.

NSN sold its global monitoring-center business in March 2009. The company says it hasn't sought new business in Iran and has established a human-rights policy to reduce the potential for abuse of its products.

A spokesman for Ericsson said it delivered "standard" equipment to Iranian telecom companies until 2008, which included built-in lawful-interception capabilities. "Products can be used in a way that was not the intention of the manufacturer," the spokesman said. He said Ericsson began decreasing its business in Iran as a result of the 2009 political upheaval and now doesn't seek any new contracts.

As NSN and Ericsson pulled back, Huawei's business grew. In August 2009, two months after mass protests began, the website of China's embassy in Tehran reprinted a local article under the headline, "Huawei Plans Takeover of Iran's Telecom Market." The article said the company "has gained the trust and alliance of major governmental and private entities within a short period," and that its clients included "military industries."

The same month the Chinese embassy posted the article, Creativity Software, a British company that specializes in "location-based services," announced it had won a contract to supply a system to MTN Irancell. "Creativity Software has worked in partnership with Huawei, where they will provide first and second level support to the operator," the company said.

The announcement said the system would enable "Home Zone Billing"—which encourages people to use their cellphones at home (and give up their land lines) by offering low rates—as well as other consumer and business applications that track user locations. In a description of the service, Creativity Software says its technology also enables mobile-phone operators to "comply with lawful-intercept government legislation," which gives police access to communications and location information.

A former telecommunications engineer at MTN Irancell said the company grew more interested in location-based services during the antigovernment protests. He said a team from the government's telecom-monitoring center routinely visited the operator to verify the government had access to people's location data. The engineer said location tracking has expanded greatly since the system first was installed.

An official with Creativity Software confirmed that MTN Irancell is a customer and said the company couldn't comment because of "contractual confidentiality."

A spokesman for MTN Group Ltd., a South African company that owns 49% of the Iranian operator, declined to answer questions, writing in an email, "The majority of MTN Irancell is owned by the government of Iran." He referred questions to the telecommunications regulator, which didn't respond.

In 2008, the Iranian government began soliciting bids for location-based services for the largest mobile operator, TCI's Mobile Communication Co. of Iran, or MCCI. A copy of the bidding requirements, reviewed by the Journal, says the contractor "shall support and deliver offline and real-time lawful interception." It also states that for "public security," the service must allow "tracking a specified phone/subscriber on map."

Ericsson participated in the early stages of the bidding process, a spokesman said. Internal company documents reviewed by the Journal show Ericsson was partnering with an Estonian company, Reach-U, to provide a "security solution" that included "Monitor Security—application for security agencies for locating and tracking suspects."

The Ericsson spokesman says its offering didn't meet the operator's requirements so it dropped out. An executive with Reach-U said, "Yes, we made an offer but this ended nowhere."

One of the ultimate winners: Huawei. According to a Huawei manager in Tehran, the company signed a contract this year to provide equipment for location-based services to MCCI in the south of Iran and is now ramping up hiring for the project.

One local Iranian company Huawei has done considerable business with is Zaeim Electronic Industries. "Zaeim is the security and intelligence wing of every telecom bid," said an engineer who worked on several projects with Zaeim inside the telecom ministry. Internal Ericsson records show that Zaeim was handling the "security part" of the lawful-interception capabilities of the location-based services contract for MCCI.

On its Persian-language website, Zaeim says it launched its telecommunications division in 2000 in partnership with Huawei, and that they have completed 46 telecommunications projects together. It says they now are working on the country's largest fiber-optic transfer network for Iran's telecom ministry, which will enable simultaneous data, voice and video services.

Zaeim's website lists clients including major government branches such as the ministries of intelligence and defense. Also listed are the Revolutionary Guard and the president's office.

Mr. Gan, the Huawei spokesman, said: "We provide Zaeim with commercial public use products and services." Zaeim didn't respond to requests for comment.



Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204644504576651503577823210.html#ixzz1c0UPXuMc
24019  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Morris: Main Street vs. Wall Street on: October 27, 2011, 10:57:33 AM


CAIN SOUNDS ANTI-WALL STREET
By DICK MORRIS
Published on TheHill.com on October 25, 2011

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Liberals often fail to understand the fault lines that run through the Republican Party. But when those fault lines mirror their own, you would think they'd get it.

Even as President Obama rakes in $35,000 per couple at lavish fundraisers after relying on Goldman Sachs to be his largest single donor in 2008, the left sits in a park in Manhattan decrying Wall Street excesses. The Dodd-Frank bill, sold as a measure to crack down on Wall Street, is killing community and small banks throughout the nation, hastening the day when Wall Street will be the only source of corporate or personal lending.
 
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, voters have clearly opted for a candidate who came from the private sector rather than one who lived his life in politics, as the continuing collapse of Rick Perry and the ongoing ascendancy of Mitt Romney and Herman Cain attest. But which private sector? Wall street and big business, or small business? Between Romney and Cain, a new chasm is emerging. As Cain put it: "Mitt generated jobs on Wall Street. I did it on Main Street."

The same discontent that is brewing over in Lower Manhattan among the extreme left is also raging on the right as small businessmen rally to Cain, emphatically making it clear that the needs of big business are not only not their needs, but often are a direct contradiction.

In a sense, the fault lines the Romney/Cain contest is exposing are very similar to those that first made their appearance when Arizona's Barry Goldwater defeated New York's Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination for president in 1964. The split in the GOP has only grown wider. The evangelical, small-business, economic-freedom, anti-tax and anti-regulation Tea Party vote is lining up behind Cain. The economic-growth conservatives, corporate executives, free-market economists and GOP establishment are backing Romney.

The emerging contest will not be so much the right versus the center as it will be big versus small, the establishment versus insurgents, libertarian Republicans against social conservatives and, yes, Wall Street versus Main Street.

We are going to be treated to a presidential campaign in which both parties' candidates will have to cope with increasing animosity toward the greed and self-serving refusal to be accountable that have characterized Wall Street and the financial industry.

But it is particularly intriguing to compare the impetus for the Cain candidacy with that of the Occupy Wall Street group. Both decry the tendency toward bigness and each disapproves of massive corporate bailouts that choose winners and losers. Both are opposed to crony capitalism and do not want the federal government to be a servant of the financial industry.

And both find themselves in opposition to the mainstream of their political parties. The world is indeed round, with apologies to Thomas Friedman. The far left and the far right unite in their opposition to big business and to the centrist establishments of both parties that maintain cozy and symbiotic relationships with Wall Street.

Can Obama continue to run on Wall Street money while backed by Occupy Wall Street foot soldiers? It seems unlikely. Can Cain tap into the resentment against Wall Street that rises from the demonstrators in Lower Manhattan? Perhaps he can.

The real criticism of Obama is not that he is a socialist -- advocating government ownership and control of business. It is that he is a corporatist -- advocating government control while keeping ownership in private hands. He wants a few big companies and a handful of major banks, the big labor unions and the federal government to work together to divide the pie and deal the cards. He wants to establish here a corporatism reminiscent of de Gaulle's France and modern-day Germany. Soon the left will realize what the right is already coming to know -- that the mainstream of each party is hopelessly in bed with Wall Street.
24020  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Aid to Israel on: October 27, 2011, 10:46:18 AM
This appears today on FrontPagemag.com - Very well-stated:

In Defense of U.S. Aid to Israel
Posted By David Meir-Levi On October 27, 2011

As demonstrated in the present writer’s two previous articles (here and here) regarding US aid to Israel, the USA, in return for its aid and political support, receives from Israel very profitable financial and political reciprocity and significant benefits in the areas of military intelligence, ordnance and operations.  On the other hand, America’s aid to Israel’s enemies actually supports America’s enemies, underwrites in part their terrorist actions against our soldiers and civilians, funds the very countries that openly seek our destruction, and pays the salaries of Arab terrorist mass murderers.

Why then do some scholars, journalists and political commentators devote so much time and energy to arguing that American aid to Israel is excessive, a waste of the American taxpayers’ money, and a political liability to the USA?

Take for example, one among many, the Washington D.C. economist Thomas Stauffer who warned us in 2002 that Israel is bankrupting America, having received more than $1.6 trillion in foreign aid since 1973.  Stauffer upped the ante a year later with the assertion in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA) that the cost to the US taxpayer of our government’s support of Israel is actually $3 trillion!

The real numbers are actually rather easy to ascertain.  The Congressional Research Service provides annual reports for Congress on a wide variety of issues, among them the total cost of American aid to Israel.  Their analysts do not seem to be especially pro- or anti-Israel. The most recent report, for 2010, indicates that the total US aid to Israel for military, economic and immigrant resettlement costs from 1949 to 2010 was $109 billion dollars or, on average, less than $2 billion per year.  As is apparent from the 2010 report, US aid to Israel was zero or negligible until 1967 (after the 6-Day War), and did not reach the current annual sums of $2.5 billion to $3 billion or more until 1997 (following the Oslo Accords).  $3 billion per year is not chump change; but it is hardy an amount that would “bankrupt” the USA, and it is not much more than America’s annual aid to Egypt.

Moreover, as explained in the present writer’s two previous articles, American support for Israel is a very profitable investment for the USA rather than a gift to Israel.

Compare $109 billion to Stauffer’s $3 trillion! Recall that a million million, or one thousand billion, equals one trillion.  Stauffer has inflated his numbers by a factor of 30!

How does he come up with his trillions? –  by throwing in the proverbial “kitchen sink.”

Stauffer reaches his enormous sums by adding to the bona fide aid his utterly irrational but self-serving assertion that Israel is to blame for post-1973 rises in oil prices and thus bears the onus of culpability for America’s energy costs after the 1973 Yom Kippur war and the 1974 Arab oil embargo.  He never mentions that this embargo was imposed by our so-called ally Saudi Arabia, nor does he venture to suggest what Israel should have done when Egypt and Syria invaded — not defend itself?  In which case there would have been a very short Yom Kippur war and no oil embargo, but also no Israel?
He throws in as well the cost of American trade restrictions on Libya, Iraq and Iran; but never explains how these restrictions, a function of decisions made by our President and Congress, are Israel’s fault.  He even decries American Jews’ charitable gifts to Israel and to pro-Israel charities in the USA – after all, if that money did not go to Israel it would instead benefit the US economy.  One cannot but wonder whether he has ever expressed similar animus toward American citizens of the Catholic faith contributing to the Vatican.

Perhaps most confusing, he even lumps into his astronomic estimate the aid that the USA has given to Egypt (c. $117 billion) and to Jordan (c. $22 billion) in return for peace treaties with Israel.  Aside from the obvious fact that this USA money went to Egypt and Jordan but not to Israel, it is also quite rational to suggest that our government wisely saw these treaties as foundation blocks of peace in the Middle East, and therefore well worth the investment.  In short, Stauffer pulls into his calculus anything and everything that he can possibly think of to inflate the numbers.  Contrary to the popular adage, he does not throw in everything but the kitchen sink, he tosses that in too.

Essays of a similar ilk, by Stephen Zunes,  Scott McConnel, and various writers for the transparently anti-Israel Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA), have employed similar mendacious and misleading tactics to exponentially inflate the cost of American support for Israel and condemn the US-Israel special relationship as a liability for the USA.

More detailed rebuttals of these “kitchen sink” arguments can be found here, here, and here; but the critique summarized above demonstrates the sheer irrationality and galactic exaggerations of the “kitchen sink” approach to assessing US aid to Israel.
The most comprehensive condemnation of the US government’s support for Israel comes from the article and book by Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, who insist that “Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support which “dwarfs that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion.”
A long list of distinguished scholars, commentators, journalists, congressmen and government representatives have discredited Walt and Mearsheimer, highlighting their egregiously inflated numbers, incorrect history, frequent decontextualization of quotes and facts, and misrepresentation of the underlying dynamics of the Arab-Israel conflict.  Moreover, Walt and Mearsheimer stooped to such unprofessional depths as to draw some of their “facts” from neo-Nazi and other anti-Israel hate websites. Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government distanced itself from the paper, and insisted that its logo be removed from all publications of the article, despite the fact that Steven Walt is a professor there.  Consensus among critics is that the paper utterly fails to meet academic standards and promotes anti-Semitic myths.

It is correct to state that Israel was for many years after 1973 the largest individual recipient of direct U.S. aid.  But for many of those years Egypt came in as a very close second; and after the onset of US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American-supported governments of these two countries each received tens of billions more annual aid than Israel.  Iraq alone has received in excess of $58 billion since 2003 for reconstruction and “state building.” So if there is a risk of American largesse “bankrupting” the USA, why pick on Israel?

US military support worldwide totaled 630 billion in 2008, approached 800 billion in 2009, and continues to rise.  Let’s keep in mind that these hundreds of billions spent on maintaining military bases and deploying troops in Europe and the Far East are US aid to the countries that host our bases.  Were the USA to withraw these military deployments, the host countries would need to shoulder more of the burden for their own defense.  The billions that the US spends on our military presence in the world free those same billions in the host countries’ economies for their own domestic use.

How then can anyone argue that US aid to Israel “dwarfs” American aid to other countries when the USA spends from three to five times that amount in Iraq, and when US aid annually to Israel is less than one-half of one percent (0.5%) of American total military and other aid world-wide?  Why do acclaimed scholars and other widely respected professionals need to “throw in the kitchen sink?”   Why do they need to make spurious and demonstrably false claims about the amount of American aid?  They lie because the truth does not support their agenda.

Walt and Mearsheimer are explicit about their agenda in their paper and their book:  they seek to demonstrate that the American government is in the grip of a Zionist conspiracy, the head of which is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and evidence for which is the enormous amount of US aid to Israel; hence their need to insist that US aid to Israel dwarfs the aid given to any other state.  Since the real numbers are too small to support such an extreme proposition, Walt and Mearsheimer must resort to culling their “facts” from Neo-Nazi Jew-hatred websites.  Since the benefits to the USA are so great that the actual aid dollars are more than justified, then these erstwhile scholars and others of their ilk must fabricate astronomic numbers, and minimize or deny the benefits of this aid to the USA.

The purpose of all of these “kitchen sink” exercises is obvious: discredit Israel and Israel’s supporters by making Israel look like a liability rather than an asset and thus justify anti-Israel animus, legitimize hatred of Israel, and influence governments and individuals to reduce or eliminate support for Israel. This type of mendacity is akin to Holocaust denial and Israel denial.  All three turn history upside down, distort reality, and deny the patently undeniable with palpable lies and transparent fabrications.  The ultimate goal of all three is support for those forces seeking Israel’s destruction.

In sharing this ultimate goal with Hamas, Hezbollah, a dozen other genocidal Muslim terrorist organizations, and Iran, the purveyors of the “kitchen sink” assessment of US aid to Israel have joined the ranks of the 21st century’s version of Hitler’s little helpers.T
24021  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China (& Japan, South China Sea-- Vietnam, Philippines, etc) on: October 27, 2011, 10:27:07 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama is preparing for a series of visits throughout East Asia. In mid-November, he will be visiting several of the East Asian countries, as well as attending to the APEC summit in Hawaii and the East Asia summit in Bali, Indonesia. The trip is being seen as a key part of U.S. re-engagement in East Asia. In many ways, this term “re-engagement” is somewhat misleading — the U.S. never really disengaged from East Asia. But there’s a perception that the U.S. interest in the region has been lower than it was in the past. In the immediate post-Cold War period, the United States really did not have a strategic focus anywhere in the world. In the post 9/11 period, the U.S. was obviously focused very heavily upon the Middle East. During that same time period, the Chinese began to expand rapidly in their economic activity. And the perception in the region is that there’s now an unbalanced structure that China has in many ways become too strong economically and that the United States has not maintained a position in there to balance out this rising China. And with Japan’s economy continuing to remain in malaise, Japan has been unable also to provide that stabilizing force.
In many ways, as the United States looks at the world, it sees East Asia as one of its highest potential economic opportunities. By the mid-90s, containerized shipping from the United States and to the United States across the Pacific had basically equaled containerized shipping across the Atlantic. By the late 2000s, the Trans-Pacific accounted for nearly 2/3 of U.S. containerized shipping. So we see a much stronger role for East Asia in U.S. trade for both imports and exports. This is the place where the United States would like to be able to expand. One of the key elements to this is going to be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is, in essence, a free trade agreement of the Pacific. Critical to this is Japan’s participation. While there are a lot of other countries that are or will be involved in these TPP negotiations, Japan really is the linchpin for the United States — it is the large economy sitting in Asia, and it is one that the U.S. wants to reintegrate within that trade agreement and within that framework.
In Japan, there’s some reticence to joining into this. We see the prime minister perhaps more interested in working with Obama to bring this about, but we see a lot of resistance from other elements of the political spectrum and particularly from agriculture in Japan. And this is something that seems to come up pretty regularly in U.S. free trade agreements — the question of agriculture.
In the United States, there is also resistance to free trade agreements, but with the passage of the Korus FTA, the Colombian and the Panama free trade agreements it seems that there is some space for momentum, some potential for the president to be able to make progress on this proposal.
Conspicuously absent from any of the early forms of these TPP discussions is China. This is a free trade agreement that in many ways doesn’t recognize China as potentially being part, and even with some of the smaller players the U.S. is getting some resistance because of negotiations over what role state-owned enterprises may play. If China ever gets drawn into this, it will be in a manner that tries to deal with the benefits the state-owned enterprises gain. Not only with the TPP but with the entire concept of U.S. re-engagement in the region, the Chinese see this as some counter to Beijing’s economic success and to Beijing’s interests.
We’re going to see as the U.S. continues to become more active politically, militarily and economically in the region, we’re going to see the Chinese pushing back. We’re going to see the Chinese work with some of the East Asian countries — maybe give them more incentives to pull closer to China and try to maintain that level of influence. And so as the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, as the U.S. reduces its forces in Afghanistan, it may have the bandwidth to be able to start shifting attention to other areas of the world. They have identified East Asia as a primary place to look, and, in doing so, we’re going to start seeing some tensions play out, I think, between the United States and between the Chinese in this area where China feels is really its sphere of influence.
24022  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury continues to razz GM on: October 27, 2011, 10:12:22 AM
WSJ:

By JEFFREY SPARSHOTT And JEFF BATER
U.S. economic growth accelerated this summer as consumers and businesses boosted spending, allaying at least for now concerns of a slide back toward recession.

DJ Newswires reporter Paul Vigna has the morning's markets preview, which includes a positive GDP report for the third quarter. Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Separately, new claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week yet remained elevated, showing that the labor market is still struggling to find its footing.
Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of all the goods and services produced in an economy, grew at an inflation-adjusted annual rate of 2.5% from July through September, the strongest performance in a year.
 
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected GDP to rise 2.7%.

The economy grew a paltry 0.4% in the first quarter and 1.3% in the second quarter of the year, sparking concerns of a new downturn.  But in the third quarter, consumer spent more on durables -- goods like cars and refrigerators -- and services, while business investment surged.   The first estimate of the economy's benchmark indicator showed third-quarter personal consumption expenditures up 2.4%, compared with only 0.7% in the preceding period.  
 
"Despite negative economic headlines, we're not seeing evidence of a slowdown in demand," JetBlue Airways Corp. interim Chief Financial Officer Mark Powers said Wednesday after the company reported third-quarter earnings.
Businesses also are investing, especially in equipment and software. Nonresidential fixed investment jumped 16.3% after a 10.3% rise in the second quarter.
Federal government spending and rising exports also helped the economy, while inventory investment and falling state and local government spending dragged on growth.
Real final sales -- GDP less changes in private inventories -- increased 3.6%, compared with a 1.6% rise in the second quarter.

The pace of growth rose as businesses rebounded from natural disasters in Japan and despite uncertainty over the United  States' fiscal outlook and a rolling financial crisis in Europe. The outlook for Europe brightened Thursday -- leaders there said they secured a deal to reduce Greece's debt after they labored overnight to find agreement on what they had billed as a blockbuster package to stem the Continent's debt problems.

Looking ahead, some economists are concerned that the recovery will again slow as the real estate market remains moribund, unemployment high, wages stagnant and consumer confidence low more than two years after the recession formally ended.
"Even if the economy doesn't contract, growth should remain unusually lackluster next year," Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said ahead of the GDP release.

Federal Reserve officials meet Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss whether there is anything else they can or should do to spur growth. At their last meeting, in September, they voted to shift the Fed's portfolio of securities so it will hold more long-term U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage debt than previously planned. They hope the move will lower long-term interest rates, boosting investment and spending.

Some Fed officials, though, are worried the central bank will egg on inflation. The core inflation rate--which excludes volatile moves in food and energy prices and is closely watched by the Fed--increased 2.1% from the previous quarter, the Commerce Department said. That followed a 2.3% gain in the second quarter.   The overall price index for personal consumption expenditures increased by 2.4% in the third quarter, compared with a 3.3% rise over the previous three months.
Gross domestic purchase prices were up 2.0%, while the chain-weighted GDP price index increased by 2.5%.
Jobless Claims Flat
Initial jobless claims dropped by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 402,000 the week ended Oct. 22, the Labor Department said Thursday. In the prior week, jobless claims had decreased by 7,000 to 404,000, based on revised figures.
The four-week moving average of new claims, a more reliable indicator of the labor market's performance because it smoothes out volatile weekly figures, edged up by 1,750 to 405,500 in the latest week.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast claims would fall by 3,000 to 400,000. Most economists believe jobless claims must fall below 400,000 for the economy to add more jobs than it is shedding. The figures released Thursday are consistent with the view that employers are reluctant to make big hires--or significant layoffs--as the economy remains stuck in a slow growth phase.

A poll of 70 corporate economists released last week showed that only 29% expect employment will increase in the next six months--the lowest number in the quarterly National Association for Business Economics survey since January 2010.
Last month the unemployment rate was stuck at 9.1%, even though U.S. employers did add jobs in September.
President Barack Obama has proposed a $447 billion package of spending initiatives and tax cuts aimed at boosting employment. That jobs bill, however, has meet resistance from Republicans in Congress who oppose new spending.
After Obama's plan was rejected as whole, Democrats have taken to trying to pass it on a piecemeal basis. Next week, the Senate is expected to take up a proposal to increase infrastructure spending for wide range of projects including bridge repairs and expanding high-speed Internet access.

Thursday's report showed the number of continuing unemployment benefits--those drawn by workers for more than a week--totaled 3,645,000 in the week ended Oct. 15. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag.
That number fell by 96,000 from the prior week, the lowest point since September 2008. It's not possible to know if that decrease is due to workers finding jobs or running out of benefits, a Labor official said.
The unemployment rate for workers with unemployment insurance was 2.9% for the week ending Oct. 15, down 0.1% from the week before, the new data showed.

The state-by-state breakdown in initial jobless claims, which is also released with a lag, showed the biggest rise the week ended Oct. 15 was in Wisconsin, where claims rose by 1,193. Puerto Rico also saw claims grow significantly, jumping by 1,286. The largest decline in claims was in California, down 8,942 as there were fewer layoffs in the service industry, the state reported.
Eric Morath and Andrew Ackerman

=========

Data Watch
________________________________________
The first estimate for Q3 real GDP growth is 2.5% at an annual rate To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 10/27/2011
The first estimate for Q3 real GDP growth is 2.5% at an annual rate, exactly as the consensus expected.
The largest positive contributions to the real GDP growth rate were personal consumption, which grew at a 2.4% rate, and business investment, which grew at a 16.3% rate.
 
The weakest component of real GDP, by far, was inventories, which reduced the real GDP growth rate by 1.1 points.
 
The GDP price index increased at a 2.5% annual rate in Q3. Nominal GDP – real GDP plus inflation – rose at a 5.0% rate in Q3 and is up 4.1% versus a year ago.   
 
Implications: Real GDP growth came in exactly as the consensus expected, but the make-up of Q3 data bodes well for the end of the year and beyond.  The weakest part of today’s report was inventories, which were a drag of 1.1 points on the real GDP growth rate.  Inventories are at rock bottom levels.  Any boost will add to GDP in the months and quarters ahead.  If we exclude inventories, final sales grew at a robust 3.6% rate.  This drag from inventories is not new.  In the past four quarters, while overall real GDP has grown 1.6%, final sales (which exclude inventories) have grown a much more respectable 2.4%.  Private final sales, which excludes the government, shows a strong underlying growth trend: up at a 4.4% annual rate in Q3 and up 3.5% from a year ago.  Business investment grew at a 16.3% rate in Q3, the fastest pace so far this year.  In other words, consumer and business spending is growing much faster than those who watch consumer and business confidence data think it will, or should.  Even home building was up slightly, for the third time in the past four quarters.  Nominal GDP (real growth plus inflation) grew at a 5% annual rate in Q3 and is up at a 4.5% rate in the past two years.  The Federal Reserve cannot possibly justify another round of Quantitative Easing based on the growth rate of nominal GDP, nor should it continue to hold short-term interest rates near zero.  In other news this morning, new claims for unemployment insurance dipped 2,000 last week to 402,000.  Continuing claims for regular state benefits fell 96,000 to 3.65 million, the lowest since September 2008.  On the housing front, pending home sales, which are contracts on existing homes, declined 4.6% in September, suggesting a slight dip in existing home sales in October
24023  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty/International Law on: October 27, 2011, 09:59:30 AM
Part of the problem is that Baraq, Hillary (and her legal advisor Harold Koh) et al positively look to the UN and seek to empower it-- including giving it its own source of tax revenues (e.g. cap & trade).  Part of the problem is that by giving the organization legitimacy which it does not deserve, we give it a power in the eyes of our own people-- which gives unearned and undue weight to the various deranged and not infrequently anti-semitic/anit-Israel votes of the General Assembly.
24024  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR on: October 27, 2011, 01:53:46 AM
Ummm , , , Thread Nazi here.  The UN has its very own thread and the posts here would fit there very nicely , , ,
24025  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The excrement just keeps piling up on: October 26, 2011, 07:08:32 PM
Cornyn urging wider probe of 'Fast and Furious'

‘Spillover effects’ in Texas cited


Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell E. Issa on Monday to expand their formal "Fast and Furious" investigation to include accusations that similar gunrunning probes took place in Texas.

Mr. Cornyn said he asked U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in August to address the "scope and details of any past or present ATF gun-walking programs" in his home state, but never got a response.

"Though their failure to respond is not direct evidence of malfeasance, the department's reluctance to address allegations of additional 'gun-walking' schemes in my state raises serious questions, and Texans deserve a full accounting of the department's role in this matter," he wrote.

Mr. Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) "gun-walking" schemes have had significant "spillover effects" in Texas. In two separate incidents in January and April 2010, 60 rifles that were "walked" during the Fast and Furious operation were recovered from criminals in El Paso, Texas.

He said the attorney for a federal firearms licensee (FFL) in Houston has charged that his employees were ordered by ATF to conduct suspicious sales of firearms to purchasers who may have been working on behalf of Mexican drug cartels.

Last December, he said, the Justice Department convened a grand jury to investigate whether several salespersons at the Houston gun dealers were criminally liable for selling weapons to straw purchasers. The investigation, he said, was dropped only after the licensed firearms dealers revealed that the illicit sales were carried out at the behest of the ATF.

"I fear that ATF may have pressured other FFLs in Texas to conduct illegal activities, and that many of these weapons may have ended up in the hands of cartels and at the scene of multiple violent crimes in Mexico," Mr. Cornyn said.

He also asked that the investigation include a look into whether a Texas-based "gun-walking" program was responsible for the slaying of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata on Feb. 15, 2011, in Mexico. One of the weapons used to kill Zapata was purchased by Texas resident Otilio Osorio in October 2010 and, according to Mr. Cornyn, later trafficked to Mexico through Laredo, Texas.

Zapata was fatally shot, and his partner, Victor Avila, was wounded twice in the leg in the ambush on a major highway near the city of San Luis Potosi, about 250 miles north of Mexico City. The men, assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, were returning to their office after a meeting with other U.S. personnel in San Luis Potosi.

Neither man was armed, as Mexico does not allow U.S. law enforcement personnel to carry weapons in the country.

Mr. Osorio, 22, and his brother, Ranferi, 27, were arrested at their home on charges of possessing firearms with an obliterated serial number. Kelvin Leon Morrison, 25, also was arrested and charged in a separate complaint with making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms and dealing in firearms without a license. He lives next door to the Osorios.

According to court documents, a confidential ATF informant arranged a meeting in early November with people who had firearms to be transported from Dallas to Laredo. The meeting was arranged as part of an investigation of Los Zetas, a violent and ruthless Mexican drug-trafficking gang.

Mr. Cornyn said evidence uncovered by Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, suggests that the ATF was aware of Mr. Osorio's weapons-trafficking activities "long before that date."

"The delay in his arrest raises concerns that the ATF knowingly allowed Osorio to continue trafficking weapons through Texas as part of a broader 'gun-walking' program," he said, adding in his letter that he supported efforts by the two lawmakers "to hold the Department of Justice accountable for their involvement in the Operation Fast and Furious tragedy."

"American tax dollars should never again be spent to arm Mexican drug cartels," he said.

In the Arizona-based Fast and Furious operation, 20 "straw buyers" purchased more than 2,000 weapons between September 2009 and December 2010, many of which were walked into Mexico and turned over the Mexican drug smugglers. The weapons included AK-47 assault weapons, Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifles, FN 5.7mm semi automatic pistols and other assorted rifles, shotguns and handguns — many of which remain unaccounted for.

The straw buyers paid as much as $900,000 for the weapons, with much of the illicit cash being furnished by the drug cartels. 

24026  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizens defend themselves/others. on: October 26, 2011, 06:14:24 PM

Know the law in YOUR state!

http://dogbrothers.com/store/product_info.php?cPath=46&products_id=158
24027  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Germany says on: October 26, 2011, 05:33:50 PM

Summary
Germany’s parliament voted Oct. 26 to limit the German commitment to European bailouts. This move shows Germany’s unwillingness to continue serving as the primary source of funding for Europe as a whole. This means circumstances within Europe must shift in order for the European Union and the eurozone to survive the current financial crisis. Sharp writedowns of Greek debt would have to not trigger a financial meltdown, EU member states would have to put the union’s interests above their own, and outsiders would have to be persuaded to become the primary funders for the European bailout mechanism.

Analysis
STRATFOR has watched with great interest as  the eurozone crisis has unfolded over the past 21 months. In many ways this is the final stage of the post-Cold War interregnum. In the aftermath of World War II, the European Union (and its predecessors) was created to both constrain Germany and harness Germany’s economic dynamism to bolster French power. This was made possible because Europe was split and occupied by U.S. and Soviet forces, while Germany was denied the ability to unilaterally further its national interests. Those circumstances have changed. The Soviets left, the U.S. presence is a shadow of what it once was, and the Germans are reunified and once again looking out for themselves. With the Cold War over, the European Union is left to its own devices.

Germany benefits greatly from the European Union and the eurozone. These structures keep European competition firmly in the realm of economics and finance — areas in which the Germans, with their capital richness, central location, highly skilled labor and powerful industrial base, are well prepared to win. The European Union even created a regulatory structure that expressly puts German industry at an advantage.

But Germany is no longer willing to fund Europe, which it has done from immediately after World War II until very recently. The Germans have “bailed out” Europe several times. They paid massive war reparations — primarily to the French — after World War II. They funded the majority of the European Union’s development costs and agricultural subsidies for the first three decades of European integration. They paid — by themselves — for the rehabilitation of the former East Germany and contributed the largest share of funding for the rehabilitation of the rest of the former Soviet satellites. They also were forced to allow the other eurozone states to enter into the common currency at artificially depreciated currency exchange rates.

Dissatisfaction with this past role was apparent Oct. 26 when Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, voted overwhelmingly to approve Chancellor Angela Merkel’s negotiating position at the EU summit later that day.

The Bundestag capped Germany’s financial guarantee to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) — the eurozone’s bailout mechanism — at its current level of 211 billion euros ($294 billion). (The EFSF does not contain actual state cash; it uses government guarantees as backing to raise money on private bond markets. Contributing states only have to fill their guarantees if states undergoing bailout procedures default, in which case investors will be reimbursed with state money.) The Germans believe they have done enough, and they will no longer serve as Europe’s cash machine.

The other important prohibitive clause in the legislation the Bundestag approved is opposition to the European Central Bank’s (ECB’s) purchasing any state debt. Such purchases are already illegal under EU treaties, but in order to prevent financial meltdowns the ECB has been making indirect purchases (it lends money to banks to buy the debt and, through economic machinations, ends up holding the debt). The Germans see such actions not only as undermining a clause they fought very hard to get included in EU treaties, but also as directly undermining their efforts to get the weaker eurozone states to implement austerity measures. Whether the ECB will follow the German recommendation — and it is a recommendation, as the ECB is officially independent — remains to be seen. Mario Draghi, the Italian who will take over as ECB governor Nov. 1, has made it clear that he intends to maintain the purchase policy. Discussions at the summit should be quite vigorous.

Between the prohibition on new government guarantees and the demand on ECB actions, the Germans have constrained — perhaps outright eliminated — the two largest and most credible sources of potential funding for the eurozone’s bailout systems.

Instead, the Germans are asking for much deeper private and non-European participation. They want holders of Greek debt to take a much larger restructuring than the 21 percent discount agreed upon in July. Leaks from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have echoed this, indicating that perhaps a 60-75 percent reduction in the bonds’ value is necessary if Greece is to ever recover. In trade, the Germans are demanding that the current EU/IMF monitoring of Greece’s finances become permanent.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is no clear message on how the bailout fund will be expanded to handle more bailouts. At its current size — 440 billion euros — it might be able to barely handle Spanish remediation, but a banking crisis or an Italian bailout would utterly overwhelm it. In Merkel’s Bundestag speech Oct. 26, the chancellor indicated that some sort of financial leveraging option would be used, but that is something that will be debated and decided at the EU summit later in the day. Merkel will need to return to the Bundestag to get the specifics ratified.

With such limited financing options, the European bailouts are to be funded more or less by the kindness of strangers: The EFSF’s existing funding limits are woefully inadequate for the tasks at hand, and if the Germans will not lead the way to increase its volume directly, eurozone governments are now wholly dependent upon outsiders to meet those funding commitments the eurozone governments refuse to. The Germans have stated very clearly what they expect from the rest of the European Union: austerity. With no more German guarantees on order and with a leveraging plan that is somewhat dubious, the only means many EU states have of avoiding bankruptcy is to make extremely deep budget cuts. These states are now in a bit of a race to implement austerity measures before the markets cut off funding.

To work, this strategy requires three very unlikely developments.

First, sharp writedowns of Greek debt must not start a general crisis. The largest holders of Greek debt are the Greek banking sector and the Greek pension system, so sharp writedowns could save Athens on interest payments, but they will only increase the pension burden by causing a Greek banking meltdown that will require the Greeks — both state and private — to more aggressively tap the EFSF (which has not yet been expanded). Even this assumes that the banks agree to a “voluntary” restructuring and do not simply declare Greece to be in default, which would trigger the cascade of financial failures the Europeans have spent the past two years trying to avoid.

Second, all of Europe’s financially troubled governments would have to put the European Union and the euro ahead of their own survival. This is highly unlikely, but not (yet) impossible. The Slovak government has already fallen over the EFSF issue, but it still approved ratification. Additionally, in preparation for the Bundestag presentation and the subsequent summit, Merkel laid very heavily into one of Europe’s financial laggards: Italy. Merkel’s actions triggered a political crisis in Rome, where pension reforms were agreed upon but at the cost of the promised resignation of political and financial fixture Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister.

Third, forces beyond Europe would have to buy in, en masse, to the European bailout, likely without guarantees that their funds are completely safe. Under the pre-existing system any investors would be guaranteed to have 100 percent of their funds returned to them — courtesy largely of German taxpayers — should a weak state default. Under any leverage plan, that recovery percentage would be smaller; 20 percent is emerging as the likely number for an absolute guarantee. But the Europeans desperately need outsiders to buy in to provide the sort of bridge financing and financial safety nets required to keep Europe’s governments and banks afloat. To that end, EFSF chair Klaus Regling is already planning trips to China and Japan — the world’s largest holders of foreign currency reserves — to try and convince them to use their stored cash for assistance. Some purchases are likely, but if the Germans are unwilling to finance the rescue of a system they benefit from, it is difficult to envision others being willing to do more.

STRATFOR does not see any of these three scenarios as being particularly likely. But without a great deal of financial commitment from Germany and the other, richer eurozone states, this is what must happen if the eurozone is to survive.



Read more: The European Financial Crisis: Germany's Proposal | STRATFOR
24028  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR on: October 26, 2011, 05:23:31 PM
while establishing global governance, with its own tax revenue stream e.g. cap & trade as a permanent intravenous tap into the US economy-- you know the one that is "1%" to the "99%" of the world.
24029  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR on: October 26, 2011, 04:52:01 PM
I would remind us that backing bastards because they are our bastards tends to get us out on a limb too-- just in different ways.

I would remind us that a goodly percentage of us backed going into Iraq for reasons which included the Neocon analysis-- draining the swamp and establishing some sort of free republic/democracy in Iraq as an example of a non Islamo-fascist model.  Despite the determination of Baraq and the progressives to sabotage the mission, we sort of succeeded-- but now Baraq has succeeded in finally throwing it all away.
24030  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Newt's Manager speaks on: October 26, 2011, 04:43:53 PM
Dear Marc,
With great fanfare, Gov. Perry released an optional flat tax proposal that is similar to the proposal outlined in the 21st Century Contract With America. Both proposals implement an optional flat tax as a vehicle towards a simplified tax code. Both plans give American taxpayers the option to do their taxes on a paper the size of a postcard. The plans do, however, have significant differences, and since Rick Perry promised to “bump plans” at the last debate in Las Vegas, our campaign outlined the major differences in an easy to read point by point format. Our plan has a significantly lower flat tax rate - 15% compared to Perry’s 20%. Our plan also does a better job of unlocking job creation with a lower corporate tax of 12.5%. Perry’s 20% is a significant improvement over the current 35% top rate, but it fails to give the United States a significant advantage over other nations. The plan that Speaker Gingrich laid out in the 21st Century Contract With America has many other important differences that spur job creation and make the proposal far more likely to pass.

We welcome a robust policy debate with all the candidates who have the courage to release real policy proposals. The American people deserve more than just platitudes and campaign slogans, and that is why this campaign has always been built around ideas. It was a lack of this kind of in-depth policy discussions that resulted in the election of the woefully unprepared Barack Obama. Speaker Gingrich has the knowledge and experience to speak at length on specific policies, which is why we have also gratefully accepted an invitation to a one-on-one policy debate with Herman Cain.

The debate is being sponsored by the Texas Tea Party Patriots and will feature conservative Congressman and Iowa icon Steve King as emcee. The debate will be held in Houston on November 5, and we will be bringing you details about where you can watch this historic exchange.

Our campaign is experiencing a resurgence as the American people take a hard look at all the candidates. For the month of October, we now stand only about $200,000 from raising a million dollars! The media has tried to use the last quarter fundraising numbers to write off anyone that isn’t one of their chosen candidates. If we can issue a press release that we surpassed $1 million in October, it will simply reinforce how ludicrous that media narrative is! We can do it, but we need your help! We need to raise at least $200,000 before Monday at midnight! Support the reemergence of this campaign by helping us reach this important goal by making a contribution today!

Thank You,

Michael Krull
Newt 2012
Campaign Manager
24031  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IEDs on: October 26, 2011, 04:41:15 PM

An IED Attack in Monterrey

On Oct. 20, as a Mexican military patrol chased a vehicle carrying suspected cartel gunmen through the streets of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, an unidentified party remotely detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) placed in a parked car moments before the patrol passed by it. There were no reported deaths or injuries from the blast, but all of the gunmen in the vehicle escaped. Though this is the first IED attack Monterrey has witnessed,  there have been other such attacks in Mexico within the past year or so. In July 2010, La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes cartel, set off an IED in a car in Ciudad Juarez, killing four people; between August and December 2010, the Gulf cartel deployed as many as six IEDs throughout Tamaulipas state; and in January 2011, a small IED detonated in Tula, Hidalgo state, injuring four people.

In the aftermath of such attacks, it is tempting for observers and the mainstream media to assume cartel violence in Mexico has reached an unprecedented level of escalation, and that an increased use of IEDs is all but certain. However, the Oct. 20 ambush, sophisticated though it was, actually showed some degree of restraint on the part of the planners, as did the IED attacks of the past year elsewhere in Mexico. Given the psychological impact and tactical effectiveness of IED use in a combat environment — and cartel personnel armed with the knowledge to construct sophisticated explosive devices — perhaps more astonishing than the occurrence of IED attacks is the fact that cartels do not conduct them with more regularity or on a greater magnitude than they have. That the cartels choose not to do so illustrates a calculated strategy aimed at staving off further American involvement and limiting negative domestic public opinion against them.


courtesy of El Universal
A Mexican soldier stands near the site of the Oct. 20 Monterrey blastMilitary grade explosives are very easy to acquire on the black market in Mexico. More readily available and cheaper than guns, they are routinely confiscated by security forces. In fact, the army has made notable seizures as recently as the past week. On Oct. 18, the Mexican army seized around 20 kilograms (about 45 pounds) of C4 in or around Mexico City, capable of producing an explosion 10 times larger than that of the Monterrey blast. Later on Oct. 20, the army seized 45 blocks of C4, detonators, weapons and cell phones in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state.

The prevalence of individuals practiced at constructing explosive devices adds to the issue. Many cartels employ ex-military personnel as enforcers. Los Zetas, for example, were founded by defectors from the Mexican army’s Special Forces Airmobile Group and originally served as the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel before embarking on their own narcotics trafficking operations. These individuals learned the intricacies of demolitions as part of their military training, and they are now in a position to deploy — or train others to deploy — IEDs across the country.

However, former members of the military are not the only ones in Mexico who know how to make bombs. The country’s mining sector has given many people an expertise in the use of explosives and has contributed to cartel inventories. Industrial hydrogel explosives have been used in some IEDs, notably in an attempt made in Juarez in August 2010. They also have been seized in cartel munitions caches in large enough quantities to bring down buildings.

Despite the availability of explosives and the prevalence of people who know how to manipulate those explosives, large IEDs have yet to be deployed in Mexico. This dynamic has been very different from what we have seen in places like Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s. The reason for this is simple. The leaders of Mexico’s various cartels conduct business based on the principle that if they can stand to benefit from something — an assassination, extortion or even a licit activity — they will do it; if not, it will be avoided. The use of large IEDs would create substantial domestic pressure and compel the Mexican government to come down hard on the cartels — much harder than Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s administration has demonstrated to date.

More important, cartels cannot afford direct and heavy-handed interdiction from the U.S. government aimed at their total dismantlement. The use of large, powerful IEDs would lead the Mexican government to designate the cartels as terrorist organizations. Such a designation would allow U.S. law enforcement easier access to their finances and operation, something the cartels want to avoid at every cost. It could also lead to dramatically increased U.S. involvement in the fight against the Mexican criminal cartels.

Mexico’s drug cartels must weigh the tactical benefits of using IEDs with the strategic need to keep the U.S. government off their backs. Intermittent IED attacks can be expected in the future, but those attacks will continue to utilize small amounts of explosives to mitigate the risk of U.S. involvement — or political crisis in Mexico. This dynamic could possibly change should one of the criminal cartels become desperate and believe they have nothing to lose, but as we saw in the case of La Linea in Juarez, the group did not follow through on their threat to employ a 100-kilogram vehicle-borne IED even when heavily pressed.



(click here to view interactive map)

Oct. 19

The Mexican military seized a drug lab in Zapopan, Jalisco state. Approximately 27 metric tons of chemical precursors were discovered.
Mexican authorities seized a heroin and cocaine processing lab in Xochitepec, Morelos state. Two individuals were detained in the operation.

Oct. 20

An improvised explosive device in a vehicle exploded Oct. 20 as a Mexican military convoy passed by it in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, while pursuing gunmen. All the gunmen escaped.
A police radio operator was killed by gunmen in a security hut in Veracruz city, Veracruz state. The operator was involved in an ongoing operation in Los Volcanes neighborhood. Police pursued the gunmen afterwards, killing one gunman and injuring another.
The Mexican military detained five alleged Los Zetas members in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state. Among the five was Rodrigo Herrera Valverde, a nephew of the former Veracruz state governor, Fidel Herrera Beltran.

Oct. 21

A confrontation in Tancitaro, Michoacan state, between gunmen and the Mexican military left one soldier and three gunmen dead.
Three individuals were executed in Apatzingan, Michoacan state. Their bodies were left with a narcomanta signed by the Knights Templar stating that the individuals died because of their behavior.

Oct. 22

Police seized 42 kilograms of cocaine from a tractor-trailer near Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state.
Police arrested four suspected La Barredora members in Acapulco, Guerrero state.

Oct. 23

A convoy of gunmen executed three individuals in Villa Ocampo, Durango state. The same convoy was reported driving through Las Nieves, Durango state, prior to the executions.
Soria “El Hongo” Adrian Ramirez, leader of Cartel del Centro, was arrested in Ojo de Agua, Mexico state. Cartel del Centro is reportedly in territory disputes with the Knights Templar, La Familia Michoacan and La Mano Con Ojos.
A confrontation between Mexican authorities and gunmen in Doctor Gonzalez, Nuevo Leon state resulted in the death of a Los Zetas plaza boss and the capture of three Los Zetas members. The plaza boss, Gabriel “El Cochiloco” Hernandez Hernandez, was responsible for the municipalities of La Laja and El Oregan in Nuevo Leon state.


Read more: Mexico Security Memo: Restrained IED Attacks a Necessary Tactic For Drug Cartels | STRATFOR
24032  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Stratfor: IEDs on: October 26, 2011, 04:39:45 PM

An IED Attack in Monterrey

On Oct. 20, as a Mexican military patrol chased a vehicle carrying suspected cartel gunmen through the streets of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, an unidentified party remotely detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) placed in a parked car moments before the patrol passed by it. There were no reported deaths or injuries from the blast, but all of the gunmen in the vehicle escaped. Though this is the first IED attack Monterrey has witnessed,  there have been other such attacks in Mexico within the past year or so. In July 2010, La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes cartel, set off an IED in a car in Ciudad Juarez, killing four people; between August and December 2010, the Gulf cartel deployed as many as six IEDs throughout Tamaulipas state; and in January 2011, a small IED detonated in Tula, Hidalgo state, injuring four people.

In the aftermath of such attacks, it is tempting for observers and the mainstream media to assume cartel violence in Mexico has reached an unprecedented level of escalation, and that an increased use of IEDs is all but certain. However, the Oct. 20 ambush, sophisticated though it was, actually showed some degree of restraint on the part of the planners, as did the IED attacks of the past year elsewhere in Mexico. Given the psychological impact and tactical effectiveness of IED use in a combat environment — and cartel personnel armed with the knowledge to construct sophisticated explosive devices — perhaps more astonishing than the occurrence of IED attacks is the fact that cartels do not conduct them with more regularity or on a greater magnitude than they have. That the cartels choose not to do so illustrates a calculated strategy aimed at staving off further American involvement and limiting negative domestic public opinion against them.


courtesy of El Universal
A Mexican soldier stands near the site of the Oct. 20 Monterrey blastMilitary grade explosives are very easy to acquire on the black market in Mexico. More readily available and cheaper than guns, they are routinely confiscated by security forces. In fact, the army has made notable seizures as recently as the past week. On Oct. 18, the Mexican army seized around 20 kilograms (about 45 pounds) of C4 in or around Mexico City, capable of producing an explosion 10 times larger than that of the Monterrey blast. Later on Oct. 20, the army seized 45 blocks of C4, detonators, weapons and cell phones in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state.

The prevalence of individuals practiced at constructing explosive devices adds to the issue. Many cartels employ ex-military personnel as enforcers. Los Zetas, for example, were founded by defectors from the Mexican army’s Special Forces Airmobile Group and originally served as the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel before embarking on their own narcotics trafficking operations. These individuals learned the intricacies of demolitions as part of their military training, and they are now in a position to deploy — or train others to deploy — IEDs across the country.

However, former members of the military are not the only ones in Mexico who know how to make bombs. The country’s mining sector has given many people an expertise in the use of explosives and has contributed to cartel inventories. Industrial hydrogel explosives have been used in some IEDs, notably in an attempt made in Juarez in August 2010. They also have been seized in cartel munitions caches in large enough quantities to bring down buildings.

Despite the availability of explosives and the prevalence of people who know how to manipulate those explosives, large IEDs have yet to be deployed in Mexico. This dynamic has been very different from what we have seen in places like Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s. The reason for this is simple. The leaders of Mexico’s various cartels conduct business based on the principle that if they can stand to benefit from something — an assassination, extortion or even a licit activity — they will do it; if not, it will be avoided. The use of large IEDs would create substantial domestic pressure and compel the Mexican government to come down hard on the cartels — much harder than Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s administration has demonstrated to date.

More important, cartels cannot afford direct and heavy-handed interdiction from the U.S. government aimed at their total dismantlement. The use of large, powerful IEDs would lead the Mexican government to designate the cartels as terrorist organizations. Such a designation would allow U.S. law enforcement easier access to their finances and operation, something the cartels want to avoid at every cost. It could also lead to dramatically increased U.S. involvement in the fight against the Mexican criminal cartels.

Mexico’s drug cartels must weigh the tactical benefits of using IEDs with the strategic need to keep the U.S. government off their backs. Intermittent IED attacks can be expected in the future, but those attacks will continue to utilize small amounts of explosives to mitigate the risk of U.S. involvement — or political crisis in Mexico. This dynamic could possibly change should one of the criminal cartels become desperate and believe they have nothing to lose, but as we saw in the case of La Linea in Juarez, the group did not follow through on their threat to employ a 100-kilogram vehicle-borne IED even when heavily pressed.



(click here to view interactive map)

Oct. 19

The Mexican military seized a drug lab in Zapopan, Jalisco state. Approximately 27 metric tons of chemical precursors were discovered.
Mexican authorities seized a heroin and cocaine processing lab in Xochitepec, Morelos state. Two individuals were detained in the operation.

Oct. 20

An improvised explosive device in a vehicle exploded Oct. 20 as a Mexican military convoy passed by it in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, while pursuing gunmen. All the gunmen escaped.
A police radio operator was killed by gunmen in a security hut in Veracruz city, Veracruz state. The operator was involved in an ongoing operation in Los Volcanes neighborhood. Police pursued the gunmen afterwards, killing one gunman and injuring another.
The Mexican military detained five alleged Los Zetas members in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state. Among the five was Rodrigo Herrera Valverde, a nephew of the former Veracruz state governor, Fidel Herrera Beltran.

Oct. 21

A confrontation in Tancitaro, Michoacan state, between gunmen and the Mexican military left one soldier and three gunmen dead.
Three individuals were executed in Apatzingan, Michoacan state. Their bodies were left with a narcomanta signed by the Knights Templar stating that the individuals died because of their behavior.

Oct. 22

Police seized 42 kilograms of cocaine from a tractor-trailer near Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state.
Police arrested four suspected La Barredora members in Acapulco, Guerrero state.

Oct. 23

A convoy of gunmen executed three individuals in Villa Ocampo, Durango state. The same convoy was reported driving through Las Nieves, Durango state, prior to the executions.
Soria “El Hongo” Adrian Ramirez, leader of Cartel del Centro, was arrested in Ojo de Agua, Mexico state. Cartel del Centro is reportedly in territory disputes with the Knights Templar, La Familia Michoacan and La Mano Con Ojos.
A confrontation between Mexican authorities and gunmen in Doctor Gonzalez, Nuevo Leon state resulted in the death of a Los Zetas plaza boss and the capture of three Los Zetas members. The plaza boss, Gabriel “El Cochiloco” Hernandez Hernandez, was responsible for the municipalities of La Laja and El Oregan in Nuevo Leon state.


Read more: Mexico Security Memo: Restrained IED Attacks a Necessary Tactic For Drug Cartels | STRATFOR
24033  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Meeting with informants on: October 26, 2011, 11:24:43 AM
Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton discusses the process used by U.S. government agents to meet and debrief informants inside the United States.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

In this week’s Above the Tearline we’re going to discuss the process behind how U.S. government informants are debriefed inside the United States.

U.S. government informants are met and debriefed by special agents in various settings across country — from coffee shops to hotel rooms. Operationally the agent always selects the meeting site and venues are chosen based on the degree of trust one has placed in a confidential informant. Prior to the meeting with the informant the agent will conduct a surveillance detection route, known as an SDR, to look for surveillance. We have many pieces on our website discussing the purpose of intentions of the SDR and I would encourage you to read them if you have additional interest.

Depending upon the threat or risk to the agent or the informant at the meeting site, backup agents can also be used in a surveillance capacity to ensure the meeting site has not been compromised. For example the debriefing of a cartel source from Mexico and Laredo poses a different risk than a white-collar whistleblower from Wall Street. If a surveillance team is in use, a standard rule of thumb is for the team to be deployed at least one hour ahead of time at the meeting site. Their job is to look for hostile surveillance and provide security backup if needed.

Contrary to what you see in the movies, very rarely are the informant meetings recorded electronically by the agents. If money is going to be exchanged between the agent and the informant, there is usually another agent present as a witness to the transaction. The informant will also sign or initial a receipt and a codename after a white envelope of cash is passed. Process-wise, some agencies like the FBI dictate that informant meetings are always done by two agents. On the other hand, the CIA likes one-on-one meetings to better foster a relationship and trust.

What’s the Above the Tearline with this video? Informant meetings can be risky and dangerous. Steps are taken to not only ensure the safety of the agent, but also the informant. The compromise of informants in some gangs or terrorist organizations can lead to death, so confidentiality of the source is taken very seriously by the agents involved. Intelligence collection is a difficult business and can pose gaps that can only be filled by those with direct knowledge of the case or investigation. Those gaps can usually only be filled by human sources.
24034  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: October 26, 2011, 10:26:15 AM


This piece is by Thomas Friedman.  That is to say much of it is specious, full of non-sequiturs, and inconvenient facts e.g. the unremittingly destructive, hateful, and sometimes quasi-treasonous opposition and destruction waged by the Dems, Liberals, Progressives, Socialists, and Communists against our success during the Bush administration that mysertiosly  rolleyes disappeared once his glibness took office AND perhaps it may stimulate our thinking here.

I continue to think our side is frequently incoherent and often opportunistic.  The damage being done by Baraq et al is historic, yet many of us simply carp.

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

Who would have predicted it? Barack Obama has turned out to be so much more adept at implementing George W. Bush’s foreign policy than Bush was, but he is less adept at implementing his own. The reasons, though, are obvious.

 

In his own way, President Obama has brought the country to the right strategy for Bush’s “war on terrorism.” It is a serious, focused combination of global intelligence coordination, targeted killing of known terrorists and limited interventions — like Libya — that leverage popular forces on the ground and allies, as well as a judicious use of U.S. power, so that we keep the costs and risks down. In Libya, Obama saved lives and gave Libyans a chance to build a decent society. What they do with this opportunity is now up to them. I am still wary, but Obama handled his role exceedingly well.

No doubt George Bush and Dick Cheney thought that both Iraq and Afghanistan would be precisely such focused, limited operations. Instead, they each turned out to be like a bad subprime mortgage — a small down payment with a huge balloon five years down the road. They thought they would be able to “flip” the house before the balloon came due. But partly because of their incompetence and lack of planning, it took much longer to flip the house to new owners and the price America paid was huge. Iraq may still have a decent outcome — I hope so, and it would be important — but even if it becomes Switzerland, we overpaid for it.

So let’s be clear: Up to now, as a commander in chief in the war on terrorism, Obama and his national security team have been so much smarter, tougher and cost-efficient in keeping the country safe than the “adults” they replaced. It isn’t even close, which is why the G.O.P.’s elders have such a hard time admitting it.

But while Obama has been deft at implementing Bush’s antiterrorism policy, he has been less successful with his own foreign policy. His Arab-Israeli diplomacy has been a mess. His hopes of engaging Iran foundered on the rocks of, well, Iran. He’s made little effort to pull together a multilateral coalition to buttress the Arab Awakening, in places like Egypt, to handle the postrevolution challenges. His ill-considered decision to double down on Afghanistan could prove fatal. He is in a war of words with Pakistan. His global climate policy is an invisible embarrassment. And the coolly calculating Chinese and Russians, while occasionally throwing him a bone, pursue their interests with scant regard to Obama’s preferences. Why is that?

Here I come to defend Obama not to condemn him.

True, he was naïve about how much his star power, or that of his secretary of state, would get others to swoon in behind us. But Obama’s frustrations in bagging a big, nonmilitary foreign policy achievement are rooted in a much broader structural problem — one that also explains why we have not produced a history-changing secretary of state since the cold war titans Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and James Baker.

The reason: the world has gotten messier and America has lost leverage. When Kissinger was negotiating in the Middle East in the 1970s, he had to persuade just three people to make a deal: an all-powerful Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad; an Egyptian pharaoh, Anwar Sadat; and an Israeli prime minister with an overwhelming majority, Golda Meir.

To make history, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by contrast, need to extract a deal from a crumbling Syrian regime, a crumbled Egyptian regime, a fractious and weak Israeli coalition and a Palestinian movement broken into two parts.

We don’t even bother anymore to negotiate with the flimsy civilian government in Pakistan. We just go right to its military, which only wants to perpetuate the conflict with India — and exploit Afghanistan as a chip in that war — to justify the Pakistani Army’s endless consumption of so many state resources.

Making history through diplomacy “depends on making deals with other governments,” says Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert (and co-author with me on “That Used to Be Us”). “But now, to make such deals, we actually have to build the governments we want to negotiate with — and we can’t do that.” Indeed, in so many hot spots today, we have to do nation-building before we can do diplomacy. So many states propped up by the cold war are failing.

And where states are stronger — like Russia, China and Iran — we have less leverage because leverage is ultimately a function of economic strength. And while many of America’s companies are still strong, our government is mired in debt. When a nation is in debt as deep as we are — with severe defense cuts inevitable — its bark is always bigger than its bite.

The best way for us to gain leverage on Russia and Iran would be with an energy policy that reduced the price and significance of oil. The only way to gain more leverage on China is if we increase our savings and graduation rates — and export more and consume less. That isn’t in the cards.

So, Mama, tell your children not to grow up to be secretary of state or a foreign policy president — not until others have done more nation-building abroad and we’ve done more nation-building at home.

24035  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 26, 2011, 10:16:34 AM
You ARE right.  They ARE there.  AND we are pushing a lot of folks in search of answers towards them.
24036  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / MI's push for personhood at conception on: October 26, 2011, 10:15:20 AM

I have often analyzed the flaw of Roe v. Wade as being that the right to privacy does not trump the right to life.  One does not have the right to murder in the privacy of one's home.  Therefore the question becomes one of when does life begin?  In that the Constitution does not grant the power to determine that question to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade is intellectual gibberish.

MI now appears to have picked up on this line of thought.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/us/politics/personhood-amendments-would-ban-nearly-all-abortions.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha23
24037  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT/POTH: Chinese desalinization on: October 26, 2011, 10:05:59 AM
IMHO scarcity of potable water is destined to become a major problem, perhaps a crisis.  Towards that end I have a rather sizable holding in PHO for the long term. 

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

TIANJIN, China — Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.
Related
There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.
“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”
In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.
As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.
The Beijiang project, southeast of Beijing, will strengthen Chinese expertise in desalination, fine-tune the economics, help build an industrial base and, along the way, lessen a chronic water shortage in Tianjin. That money also leaks away like water — at least for now — is not a prime concern.
“The policy drivers are more important than the economic drivers,” said Olivia Jensen, an expert on Chinese water policy and a director at Infrastructure Economics, a Singapore-based consultancy. “If the central government says desalination is going to be a focus area and money should go into desalination technology, then it will.”
The government has, and it is. At the government’s order, China is rapidly becoming one of the world’s biggest growth markets for desalted water. The latest goal is to quadruple production by 2020, from the current 680,000 cubic meters, or 180 million gallons, a day to as many as three million cubic meters, about 800 million gallons, equivalent to nearly a dozen more 200,000-ton-a-day plants like the one being expanded in Beijiang.
China’s latest five-year plan for the sector is expected to order the establishment of a national desalination industry, according to Guo Yozhi, who heads the China Desalination Association. Institutes in at least six Chinese cities are researching developments in membranes, the technology at the core of the most sophisticated and cost-effective desalination techniques.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top-level state planning agency, is drafting plans to give preferential treatment to domestic companies that build desalting equipment or patent desalting technologies. There is talk of tax breaks and low-interest loans to encourage domestic production.
In an interview, Mr. Guo called the government role in desalination “symbolic,” saying that direct government investment in seawater projects does not exceed 10 percent of their cost. By comparison, he said, big water ventures like the massive South-North Water Diversion Project, which will divert water from the Yangtze River in the south to the thirsty north, are completely government-financed.
Still, the government’s plans could mean an investment of as much as 200 billion renminbi, or about $31 billion, by state-owned companies, government agencies and private partners.
Beijiang’s desalination complex, built by S.D.I.C. at the behest of the Development and Reform Commission as a concept project, was almost wholly made in Israel, shipped to Tianjin and bolted together. Nationally, less than 60 percent of desalination equipment and technology is domestic.
China’s goal is to raise that to 90 percent by 2020, said Jennie Peng, an analyst and water industry specialist at the Beijing office of Frost & Sullivan, a consulting company based in San Antonio.
There are plenty of reasons for China to want a homegrown desalination industry, not the least of which is homegrown fresh water. Demand for water here is expected to grow 63 percent by 2030 — gallon for gallon, more than anywhere else on earth, according to the Asia Water Project, a business information organization.
Northern China has long been short of water, and fast-expanding cities like Beijing and Tianjin already have turned to extensive recycling and conservation programs to meet the need.


In Tianjin, deemed a model city for water conservation, 90 percent of water used in industry is recycled; 60 percent of farm irrigation systems use water-saving technologies; 148 miles of water-recycling pipes snake beneath the city. Apartments in one 10-square-mile area of town feature two taps, one for drinking water and one for recycled water suitable for other uses.
The Beijiang plant, one of two, supplies an expanding suburb with 10,000 tons of desalted water daily, with plans to someday pump 180,000 tons. A second 100,000-ton facility supplies a vast ethylene production plant outside of town.
The Beijiang plant has faced some hiccups. The mineral-free distilled water scrubs rust from city pipes en route to taps, turning the water brown. Some residents are suspicious of the water, saying its purity means it lacks nutrients. The plant is addressing both complaints by adding minerals to the water.
But some say slaking China’s thirst may be a beneficial sideline to larger aims. The global market for desalination technology will more than quadruple by 2020 to about $50 billion a year, the research firm SBI Energy predicted last month, and growing water shortages worldwide appear to ensure further growth.
Beyond that, the increasingly sophisticated membrane technologies that filter salt from seawater can be applied to sewage treatment, pollution control and a legion of other cutting-edge uses. Far outpaced now by foreign membrane producers, which command at least 85 percent of the market, China is set on developing its own advanced technologies.
Some experts say that is where the government’s interest mostly lies. “What this is about is developing China’s membrane industry, more than it is local use,” said Ms. Jensen, the Singapore analyst. “This is an export industry fundamentally, not one to make a green China.”
Whatever the motivation, China is already racing toward meeting its targets.
Just as foreign companies rushed to China to secure a place in its budding wind-energy market, the list of foreign companies that have plunged into China’s desalination industry is long: Hyflux of Singapore, Toray of Japan, Befesa of Spain, Brack of Israel and ERI of the United States, among others.
And just as foreigners shifted solar-energy research and production to China, desalination companies are leaving their home bases as well. The Norwegian company Aqualyng is a partner with the Beijing city government on a desalination plant in Tangshan, a coastal city about 135 miles east of Beijing, and is studying moving its manufacturing facilities from Europe to China.
ERI, which is based in San Francisco and claims to have the desalination industry’s most advanced technology, is moving research facilities to China and is considering moving manufacturing as well at some later date.
Most of the foreign companies have partnered with state-owned corporations, for help in securing business and for political protection in a country where the rule of law and protection of intellectual property are in a state of flux. And although some foreign investors in technology-laden projects like wind energy and high-speed rail later claimed their Chinese partners appropriated their technologies, the heads of ERI and Aqualyng say they can become researchers and manufacturers in China without losing control of their products.
The chairman of Aqualyng’s board, Bernt Osthus, said in an interview that the company’s partnership with the Beijing government had been “close to an ideal partner,” with the Norwegians controlling the technology and the Chinese providing money and local know-how.
He added, however, that the company was considering a joint research venture with a Chinese partner.
“By reducing our ownership in our equipment and taking on a state-owned Chinese partner and moving production from Europe to China, the technology effectively becomes Chinese,” he said. “I’m still the owner. I’m still owning my piece of the pie. I’m just increasing the size of the pie.”
And a big pie it is.
“There are large-scale desalination projects centralized all up and down the east coast of China,” ERI’s chief executive officer, Thomas S. Rooney Jr., said in an interview. “Our company has the most advanced technology in the entire desalination industry. And one of the beautiful things about China is that they like to adopt the most advanced technologies.”
“You can either fight them or join them, and our philosophy is that China likely is going to be the next big desalination market,” he added. “I would rather develop technology for China in China and take a more open approach than play the secrets game.”

24038  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Med Marijuana and Public Safety Personnel on: October 26, 2011, 09:56:04 AM
http://www.aele.org/alert-email.html

A new article appears in the AELE Monthly Law Journal.

* Medical Marijuana and Public Safety Personnel

Marijuana is a controlled substance whose use, sale, and possession are federal crimes, regardless of any state laws to the contrary. As a result, issues have arisen as to the right of employers, including public safety employers, to discipline and terminate employees for the use of medical marijuana when it is allowed by state law.

The article discusses what some courts have said regarding the right of management to terminate employees for the use of medical marijuana.
24039  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton, Federalist 1, 1787 on: October 26, 2011, 09:54:19 AM
"Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants." --Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 1, 1787
24040  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 26, 2011, 09:53:31 AM
Although I am not BD, I'll take a stab at that:

The starting impetus is a sense that folks who had quite a bit to do with the excrement storm in which we find ourselves got bailed out by the government.

In point of fact there is considerable truth in this-- as we have been pointing out on these pages for years now.  What the decent folks amongst the OWS are missing is that what the are protesting the the natural and inevitable result of "public-private partnerships", "encouraging home ownership" via govt. guarantees of mortgages, and other forms of liberal and corporate fascism.   What WE are missing is a golden opportunity to reach out to these people.  Instead many/most of us are focused on snarky comments painting the whole thing as a progressive commie monolith instead of looking to peel off the goodly percentage of folks who are rightly mad and need our help in understanding WHY they are mad and WHAT TO DO about it.
24041  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Syria next? on: October 25, 2011, 12:40:34 PM
A number of us have commented on the incongruity of going after Kadaffy but not Assad in Syria.

Now that Kadaffy is gone, I gather that Sen. McCain (you remember him, most of us voted for him over Baraq) has called for going after Syria's Assad.

What say we?
24042  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tax Policy on: October 25, 2011, 11:32:06 AM

I confess I took a shortcut this morning (I had a phone interview scheduled) and have not yet listened to the Boortz talk.  It was sent by someone who usually sends good stuff, and I posted it not as an advocate, but as an offering describing the FAIR Tax case,
24043  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Yes? No? on: October 25, 2011, 11:25:14 AM
By FARNAZ FASSIHI
Iranian officials have delivered conflicting responses to U.S. allegations that Tehran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Washington, in a new sign of a split among Iran's decision makers.

Washington has said all options are on the table to retaliate for the alleged plot, including military action and tougher sanctions on Iran's Central Bank—the only remaining conduit for the oil revenue that is the backbone of the Iranian regime's finances.

On Monday, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, Manssor Arbabsiar, pleaded not guilty in a U.S. District Court in Manhattan to criminal charges of hiring a U.S. undercover agent posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel to murder the Saudi ambassador.

While senior Iranian officials have defiantly denied and ridiculed the U.S. allegations, Iranian diplomats have offered to help investigate, in a sign of concern that the fallout from the alleged plot could be worse for Tehran than longstanding accusations over its nuclear program.

How Iran weathers the allegations will depend in part on whether the faction advocating a confrontational tone wins over those supporting diplomacy.

Iran's conservatives, who now control the government, are divided between loyalists of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who favor less clerical control.

In the past, Iranian political factions have been able to unify against outside pressure, whereas internal cracks now make it difficult to present a consolidated front.

The first sign that Iran was struggling to devise an effective strategy to limit the damage from the accusation by U.S. officials on Oct. 11 came in the slow response by top officials.

It took six days for Iran's top two officials to comment on the alleged plot, an unusual lapse.

When they did respond, the two leaders ridiculed the charges with traditional revolutionary bombast.

Mr. Khamenei warned that Iran would respond harshly to any "illicit" actions by the U.S. Mr. Ahmadinejad, giggling and shrugging in an interview with al-Jazeera, refused any cooperation with U.S. investigators.

State-influenced Iranian news sources then followed the defensive effort by publishing accusations that the plot was cooked up by an opposition group.

But supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad soon showed a more conciliatory tone. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran was prepared to carefully examine the U.S.'s evidence and would conduct a "serious and patient" investigation, even if the charges were fabricated.

The statement by Mr. Salehi, an Ahmadinejad ally, reflected a leaning by the president to show some willingness to negotiate—at odds with Mr. Khamenei.

Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, a critic of Mr. Ahmadinejad, said last week that he was appointing a special envoy to investigate alleged crimes against Muslims by the U.S.

This rupture is on display almost on a daily basis, in domestic and foreign policy. The conservative-dominated parliament voted on Sunday to impeach the finance minister, a close ally of Mr. Ahmadinejad, over a $2.6 billion bank fraud that has roiled Iranian politics. The president has denied any wrongdoing by himself or his administration.

That split has also been seen with regard to international pressure over Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Ahmadinejad offered publicly, while in New York for the United Nations General Assembly in September, to start talks with the U.S.

Mr. Khamenei immediately shot down the idea, according to Iranian news reports.

The contradiction in responses stems from disagreements over how to deal with the West, analysts said.

Now, the prospect that the U.S. could pursue sanctions at the U.N. Security Council against Iran's central bank is a particular concern, though China and Russia have opposed such action.

"Iran's response [to the plot allegations] shows that they are very worried," said Hossein Bastani, a political analyst based in France who worked for the administration of President Mohammad Khatami. "Many officials are secretly wondering, 'What if this true?' And even if it isn't, the damage is already done."
24044  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Stratfor on: October 25, 2011, 11:22:05 AM
Second post of the day

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of STRATFOR’s 2010 annual Mexican cartel report, the fluid nature of the drug war in Mexico has prompted us to take an in-depth look at the situation more frequently. This is the third product of those interim assessments, which we will now make as needed, in addition to our annual year-end analyses and our weekly security memos.

While there has been a reshuffling of alliances among Mexican drug cartels since our July cartel update, the trend discussed in the first two updates of the year continues. That is the polarization of cartels and associated sub-groups toward the two largest drug-trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. Meanwhile, the three primary conflicts in Mexico’s drug war remain cartel vs. cartel, cartel vs. government and cartel vs. civilians. Operations launched by the military during the second quarter of 2011, primarily against Los Zetas and the Knights Templar, continued through the third quarter as well, and increasing violence in Guerrero, Durango, Veracruz, Coahuila and Jalisco states has resulted in the deployment of more federal troops in those areas.

The northern tier of states has seen a lull in violence, from Tijuana in Baja California state to Juarez in Chihuahua state. Violence in that stretch of northern Mexico subsided enough during the third quarter to allow the military to redeploy forces to other trouble spots. In Tamaulipas state, the military remains in charge of law enforcement in most of the cities, and the replacement of entire police departments that occurred in the state during the second quarter was recently duplicated in Veracruz following an outbreak of violence there (large numbers of law enforcement personnel were found to be in collusion with Los Zetas and were subsequently dismissed).

The battles between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas for control over northeastern Mexico continue, though a developing rift within Gulf leadership may complicate the cartel’s operations in the near term. While Gulf remains a single entity, we anticipate that, absent a major reconciliation between the Metros and Rojos factions, the cartel may split violently in the next three to eight months. If that happens, alliances in the region will likely get much murkier than they already are.

In central and southern Mexico, fighting for control of the major plazas at Guadalajara, Acapulco, Chilpancingo and Oaxaca continues to involve the major players — Sinaloa, Los Zetas and the Knights Templar — along with several smaller organizations. This is particularly the case at the Jalisco and Guerrero state plazas, where there are as many as seven distinct organizations battling for control, a situation that will not likely reach any level of stasis or clarity over the next three to six months.

Though our last update suggested the potential for major hurricanes to complicate the drug war in Mexico, the region has avoided the worst of the weather so far. Though the hurricane season lasts until the end of November, the most productive period for major storms tends to be September and early October, so the likelihood of any hurricanes hitting Mexico’s midsection is fairly remote at this point.

Looking ahead toward the end of 2011, STRATFOR expects high levels of cartel violence in the northeastern and southern bicoastal areas of Mexico to continue. The military has deployed more troops in Guadalajara for the Pan-American Games, which run Oct. 14-30, as well as in Veracruz and Coahuila, and any flare-up of violence in those areas will likely be influenced by the military’s presence.



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Current Status of the Mexican Cartels


Sinaloa Federation

Over the past four months, the Sinaloa cartel, under the leadership of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, has continued to control the bulk of its home state of Sinaloa, most of the border region in Sonora state and the majority of Chihuahua and Durango states. The cartel continues to pursue its strategic goals of expansion into or absorption of neighboring cartel territories and to import precursor chemicals, mostly from China, for its methamphetamine production in Sinaloa, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and Jalisco states. These shipments typically are received in the Pacific coast port cities of Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo.

In addition to marijuana, Sinaloa is known to be smuggling high-value/low-volume methamphetamines, domestically produced heroin and Colombian cocaine into the United States via the plazas it directly controls at Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales, Agua Prieta, Columbus and Santa Teresa (both in New Mexico), Rio Bravo, El Porvenir and Manuel Ojinaga as well as the Gulf-controlled plazas at Ciudad Mier, Miguel Aleman, Diaz Ordaz, Reynosa and Matamoros.

As we will further discuss in a separate section below, it appears that Sinaloa recently managed to co-opt the formerly independent Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), which until early September was believed to be strongly distrustful of El Chapo. It is clear that dynamic has changed. Regarding Sinaloa’s running battles to subdue the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes cartel (VCF, aka the Juarez Cartel) and take control of the Juarez plaza, the slow, long-term strangulation of the VCF remains in progress.

Sinaloa recently took two significant hits to its leadership when regional chief Jose Carlos Moreno Flores was captured by military forces in Mexico City in mid-September and Noel “El Flaco Salgueiro” Salgueiro Nevarez, leader of Sinaloa’s enforcer arm Gente Nueva, was captured in Culiacan, Michoacan state, in early October.

According to information released by Mexico’s Defense Secretariat, Moreno Flores ran Sinaloa’s Guerrero state operations in the cities of Chilpancingo, Jaleaca de Catalan, Izotepec, Pueblo Viejo, Buena Vista, Tlacotepec and Leonardo Bravo. He also controlled agricultural drug operations in Izotepec, Tlacotepec, Chichihualco and Chilpancingo.

Salgueiro Nevarez reportedly founded Gente Nueva and had led it since 2007. Also under his control were the Juarez street gangs Los Mexicles and Los Artistas Asesinos, which conduct operations against the Juarez cartel and its allies Los Aztecas. Salgueiro Nevarez also ran operational cells in Guerrero and Durango states. His removal may adversely affect Gente Nueva’s operational cohesion, though it is not yet clear whether he had a trusted lieutenant in the wings to replace him.


Gulf Cartel

In the last four months, it has become apparent that a schism within the Gulf cartel over divided loyalties may be evolving into a split with large and violent consequences. As discussed in the 2009 and 2010 annual cartel reports, Gulf leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen continued to run the cartel from his federal prison cell in Mexico after his capture in March 2003. He was subsequently extradited to the United States, where he was convicted. Currently, he resides in the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, where tight security measures make it difficult for him to maintain any control over his organization.

Following his removal from power-by-proxy, Osiel Cardenas Guillen was replaced as leader of the organization by a pair of co-leaders, his brother Antonio Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cardenas Guillen and Jorge Eduardo “El Coss” Costilla Sanchez. This arrangement shifted when Antonio Cardenas Guillen was killed in a six-hour standoff with Mexican military forces in November 2010.

The split within the Gulf cartel that we are now watching began to a large extent with the death of Antonio Cardenas Guillen. At the time, it is believed that Rafael “El Junior” Cardenas, the nephew of Osiel and Antonio Cardenas Guillen, expected to replace his uncles as leader of the Gulf cartel. Instead, Costilla Sanchez assumed full control of the organization. The schism became wider as two factions formed, the Metros, which were loyal to Costilla Sanchez, and the Rojos, which were loyal to the Cardenas family.

While government operations against the Gulf cartel resulted in the capture of several plaza bosses over the last three months — Abiel “El R-2” Gonzalez Briones, Manuel “El Meme” Alquisires Garcia, Ricardo Salazar Pequeno and Jose Antonio “El Comandante” Martinez Silva — internal violence brought down one of the factional leaders. On Sept. 3, 2011, the body of Samuel “El Metro 3” Flores Borrego was found by authorities in Reynosa. Flores Borrego had been the trusted lieutenant of Costilla Sanchez and served as his second in command as well as Reynosa plaza boss. These two men were at the top of the Metros faction.

Then on Sept. 27, in a rather brazen hit on U.S. soil, gunmen in an SUV opened fire on another vehicle traveling along U.S. Route 83 east of McAllen, Texas. The driver, Jorge Zavala from Mission, Texas, who was connected to a branch of the Gulf Cartel, was killed. Though his role in the cartel is unclear, he is rumored to have been close to a senior Gulf plaza boss, Gregorio “El Metro 2” Sauceda Gamboa, who was arrested in April 2009. As indicated by his “Metro” nickname, Sauceda had been aligned with the faction of the Gulf cartel that supports Costilla Sanchez.

On Oct. 11, the Mexican navy reported that the body of Cesar “El Gama” Davila Garcia, the Gulf cartel’s head finance officer, was found in the city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas. According to a statement from the Ministry of the Navy, the body was found in a home, dead of a gunshot wound. El Gama had been Antonio Cardenas Guillen’s accountant, but after the 2009 death of Tony Tormenta, El Gama was made plaza boss of the Gulf cartel’s port city of Tampico for a period of time, then placed back in Matamoros as the chief financial operator for the cartel. Many questions arise from this killing, but it could be another indication of internal Gulf conflict.

Though the Gulf split has been quietly widening for two years, the apparent eruption of internally focused violence during the past quarter indicates the division may be about to explode. The consequences of a violent rupture within the Gulf cartel likely include moves by Los Zetas and Sinaloa to take advantage of the situation and grab territory. This would further heighten violence beyond the already volatile conditions created by the three-way battle between Los Zetas, the Gulf cartel and government forces for control of Mexico’s northeast.


Arellano Felix Organization

Little has changed in the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) since July’s update on cartel activity in Tijuana, Baja California. The AFO (aka the Tijuana Cartel) is widely considered to be operating by permission of the Sinaloa cartel, an agreement suggested by a drop in the turf-war homicide rate in Tijuana. According to the Mexican federal government, deaths by homicide statewide in Baja California from January through August 2011 numbered 464, compared to 579 for the same period in 2010.

In mid-August, Mexican authorities arrested AFO member Juan Carlos Flores “El Argentino” in Tecate, Baja California. Carlos Flores indicated that he was subordinate to a man known only as “El Viejon,” who is second in command of the AFO, which is led by Fernando “El Ingeniero” Sanchez Arellano. On July 9, Mexican authorities arrested Armando “El Gordo” Villarreal Heredia, an AFO lieutenant who reported to Sanchez Arellano. Any significant gains or losses for the AFO have gone largely unnoticed since the cartel effectively operates as a Sinaloa vassal organization.

For the near term we do not expect significant changes within or related to the AFO, although given the cartel’s continued but discrete interaction with Los Zetas, we believe there will probably be a resurgence of open hostility by the AFO at some point to regain control of its plazas.


The Opposition


Los Zetas

Los Zetas continue to fight a large, multi-front war across Mexico. They are combating the Gulf cartel, Sinaloa and Mexican government forces in the northeast while assisting the Juarez cartel in holding Sinaloa forces back in Chihuahua state. Los Zetas are also taking control of additional territory in Zacatecas, pushing into Jalisco, Nayarit, Guerrero and Mexico states and battling Sinaloa in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. The organization is being hit hard by the Mexican military in its home territories in Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Coahuila and Veracruz states and fighting to hold the crucial plazas at Monterrey and the port of Veracruz against incursions by Sinaloa, Gulf and CJNG.

Certainly, Los Zetas are being pressed on every side. What we find telling is that despite significant challenges to their ownership of Monterrey and Veracruz, Los Zetas do not appear to have been displaced, though we do expect violence to increase significantly in the near term as rival groups openly push into both cities. While Los Zetas have withdrawn from territory before — Reynosa in the spring of 2010 being a prime example — the loss of that plaza was not detrimental overall to the cartel’s operations, given its control of other plazas in the region and in Nuevo Laredo. However, we expect to see Los Zetas ramp up defensive efforts in Monterrey and Veracruz, two cities that have great strategic value for the cartel.

From July to mid-October, federal operations against Los Zetas in Veracruz, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi and Quintana Roo states netted 17 cell leaders and plaza bosses, including Angel Manuel “Comandante Diablo” Mora Caberta in Veracruz, Jose Guadalupe “El Dos” Yanez Martinez in Saltillo and Carlos “La Rana” Oliva Castillo, reported to be the third in command of Los Zetas, in Saltillo. During a two-month operation in Coahuila, government forces also reportedly seized caches of weapons, ammunition, tactical gear and 27 tons of marijuana and freed approximately 97 kidnapped migrants.

Over the past four months, questions have emerged in the U.S. and Mexican security communities about the strength, cohesion and capabilities of Los Zetas. At times, information from open sources, government reports and confidential STRATFOR sources on both sides of the border has been contradictory — which tends to be the norm given the exceptionally fluid nature of the drug war. The question of whether Los Zetas are weakening has many factors, including leadership losses, gains or losses in territorial control, increases or decreases in apparent smuggling activities (which directly tie to revenue) and the quality and quantity of human resources.

As we discussed in July, the estimated 30 deserters from the Mexican army’s Special Forces Airmobile Group (GAFE) who originally formed the core cadre of Los Zetas have been shrinking in number. On July 3, one of the remaining 11 “Zeta Viejos” at large, Jesus Enrique “El Mamito” Rejon, was apprehended by Mexican Federal Police in Atizapan de Zaragoza, Mexico state. In the past decade, 15 members of the original core group have been reported captured and imprisoned and nine have been reported killed. It is not realistic to assume, however, that the organization has lost the specialized skillsets, training and knowledge that those particular individuals possessed.

When evaluating reports of captured or killed Zeta leaders and the effects those losses might have on the organization, it is important to consider what leaders remain, the size of the manpower pool (both in terms of trained foot soldiers and potential recruits) and the existence of training programs and infrastructure for the rank and file.

First, unlike the more traditional Mexican drug cartels, which tend to be family-centric, the Los Zetas organization is more of a meritocracy, and a number of later recruits have risen to leadership positions. Prime examples are Miguel “Z-40” Trevino Morales, who was recruited roughly two years after the group’s 1998 founding and has risen to No. 2 in the organization, and Carlos “La Rana” Oliva Castillo, reported to be the regional boss over the states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Coahuila, who joined Los Zetas in 2005 and was captured the first week of October 2011. In recent media reports of his capture, Oliva Castillo is described as the No. 3 leader in the organization behind Trevino Morales. While STRATFOR has yet to corroborate Oliva Castillo’s position in the cartel, if he did in fact replace captured third-in-command Jesus “El Mamito” Rejon, neither part of the founding group.

Second, it is known that Mexico’s Defense Secretariat “lost track” of as many as 1,700 special operations soldiers over the past 10 years, according to documents obtained from the Federal Institute for Access to Information by the Mexican newspaper Milenio. A March 8 Milenio article indicated that at least 1,680 Special Forces Airmobile Group (GAFE) soldiers had deserted in the past decade, including trained snipers, infantrymen and paratroopers with advanced survival and counternarcotics training.

It is not reasonable to assume that all of the GAFE deserters over the last decade went to work for Los Zetas or any of the other drug-trafficking organizations. However, it is reasonable to expect that, in an environment where cartels have had a wide presence and a demonstrated willingness to pay handsomely for highly skilled soldiers, a significant proportion of the GAFE deserters would sell their skills to the highest bidder and many would gravitate toward Los Zetas. If even one-third of the GAFE deserters chose to join any of Mexico’s cartels, there are likely dozens of highly skilled soldiers already in positions of authority or working their way up the Zeta organizational ladder (along with recruits from other Mexican military branches and law enforcement agencies).

While the organization long has recruited predominantly from military and law enforcement pools, which means most new recruits are already able to use basic firearms and understand fundamental tactics, the strength of Los Zetas comes from structured training in small-unit combat tactics at facilities modeled after GAFE training camps. According to STRATFOR sources with access to seized training materials, Zeta training includes basic marksmanship, fire-team drills and room-clearing techniques.

The thoroughness of Zeta training depends on the tempo of the drug war. Prior to about May 2010, Zeta camps in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and elsewhere operated with sufficient space and freedom for recruit training to last as long as six months. When the Mexican government and the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia Michoacana (LFM) cartels began to press them on every side, Zeta recruit training was reduced. According to a captured Zeta foot soldier, basic training in early 2011 involved two weeks of boot camp in which rudimentary firearms skills were taught. The recruits were then mobilized to gain additional training on the battlefield. The net effect has been seen in such “loose cannon” events as the Falcon Lake shooting in September 2010 and the  botched carjacking attack on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents travelling through San Luis Potosi in February 2011. Nevertheless, we expect that Los Zetas will ramp up training whenever possible since their continued success depends upon it.

What we find important in these dynamics is that Los Zetas have taken several big hits in the past several months but have managed to absorb the losses without any overall diminution of the organization’s size or reach, even though the persistent pressure has reduced the capabilities of rank-and-file Zeta operatives. The net effect has been the organization’s fairly static condition. Peripheral Zeta losses on the outskirts of Monterrey and Veracruz have been offset by recent gains in Zacatecas state and elsewhere. It certainly is possible, however, that the last months of 2011 may see an overall degradation of Los Zetas if CJNG and Sinaloa are successful in making inroads into Monterrey and Veracruz, and we expect the military to continue its operations against Los Zetas as well.


Cartel Pacifico Sur

Since the last cartel update, we have seen little activity by Cartel del Pacifico Sur (CPS). The cartel has suffered no significant arrests, and any violence associated with group has gone unnoticed in contested areas. This lack of reported losses and gains for CPS may be due to its alliance with Los Zetas, which attracts most of the media attention. There also is the possibility that, while Sinaloa and the Mexican government focus their efforts on Los Zetas, CPS is taking advantage of a lull in territorial battles to concentrate on smuggling activities and rejuvenate its revenue streams. We do not consider CPS to be marginalized at this point and will be watching for signs of activity during the last quarter of this year.


Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization

Although constriction of the VCF continues, the cartel retains the loyalty of the approximately 8,000-member Azteca street gang, which has helped it hold on to Juarez and maintain control of the three primary ports of entry into the United States, all of which feed directly into El Paso, Texas. STRATFOR sources recently indicated that the VCF also retains supply lines for its marijuana and cocaine shipments and continues to push large quantities of narcotics across the border.

On July 29, Mexican authorities captured Jose Antonio “El Diego” Acosta Hernandez, the top leader of La Linea, the VCF’s enforcement arm. His position in the VCF hierarchy makes him difficult to replace. For the cartels, there is never a good time to lose an important figure, but the loss is felt even more acutely when the figure is the leader of a cartel’s armed wing and he is removed from the mix during a heated and prolonged battle for survival.

The whereabouts of Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and his closest lieutenants are unknown. At the beginning of 2011 there was an expectation that the level of violence associated with Sinaloa operations against the VCF would continue to escalate, given the indicators seen at the time. However, over the last eight to nine months we have seen cartel-related homicides drop significantly. It appears now, though, that violence again is on the rise in Juarez. Gun battles and targeted killings are increasing in the city, and STRATFOR sources in the region expect the current trend to continue through the end of 2011.


La Resistencia

La Resistencia was originally a confederation between enforcers from Guadalajara-based affiliates of the Sinaloa Federation, the Milenio Cartel and Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel’s faction, along with enforcers from the Gulf Cartel and LFM. The organization was intended to fight against Zeta incursions into Jalisco and Michoacan. Following the July 2010 death of Coronel, the alliance splintered as the LFM made a push to take over Guadalajara and Coronel’s followers blamed Sinaloa leader El Chapo Guzman for Nacho Coronel’s demise.

In the melee that followed, the Milenio Cartel was badly damaged by the arrests of high-profile leaders and by battles with the strongest of the splinter groups from Coronel’s organization, CJNG. Remnants of the Milenio Cartel have continued to use the La Resistencia name. Although La Resistencia was originally formed to combat Los Zetas, it recently announced an alliance with the group. If there is an alliance forming, it could help explain why CJNG, the enemy of La Resistencia, recently traveled across Mexico to target Zeta operatives in the port city of Veracruz.

La Resistencia has been hit hard by CJNG and the Mexican government, but an apparent alliance with Los Zetas raises questions regarding the transfer of skills and the potential for a significantly increased Zeta presence in La Resistencia’s area of operations. We will be watching this situation closely, since the dual dynamic of a Zeta-La Resistencia alliance and CJNG’s cross-country operation lead us to expect elevated violence over a substantial part of Mexico’s bi-coastal midsection.


Independent Operators


La Familia Michoacana

LFM continues to suffer losses at the hands of the Knights Templar and the Mexican government. On Oct. 5, LFM leader Martin Rosales Magana “El Terry” was captured in Mexico state, the most significant hit to the cartel’s leadership since Jesus “El Chango” Mendez’s fall in July. The Mexican Federal Police claims that the La Familia structure is disintegrating and the cartel no longer has much access to essential precursors in the production of methamphetamines. The continued losses indicate that LFM as an organization is nearing its end. However though LFM’s losses have hurt the organization, the cartel continues to show activity. In a raid in July, U.S. law enforcement agencies arrested 44 individuals in Austin, Texas, who allegedly were LFM members, though it remains unclear whether the cell in Austin worked for LFM or the Knights Templar.

There have been indications that remnants of LFM are continuing to seek an alliance with Los Zetas. Narcomantas signed by the Knights Templar were intended to send a message to El Terry, blaming him for aligning with Los Zetas. Following his arrest in early October, Mario Buenrostro Quiroz, the alleged leader of a Mexico City drug gang known as “Los Aboytes,” claimed in an on-camera interview that El Terry had sought an alliance with Los Zetas prior to his arrest. This claim followed reports that Jesus “El Chango” Mendez was also seeking an alliance with Los Zetas before being arrested. While the Mexican government denies LFM has achieved an alliance with Los Zetas, LFM will likely continue pressing for any advantage to stay alive as the Knights Templar continue trying to eradicate it.


The Knights Templar

One question that emerged over the last quarter is whether the Federal Police will increase its focus on Knights Templar operations. With LFM’s organizational decline, Federal Police will have more resources to target the Knights Templar in Michoacan and Mexico states. Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas has suggested an imminent end to LFM and a shift in operations against the Knights Templar.

The Knights Templar have taken hits from Mexican federal forces, but there have been no indications that the group’s organizational structure has been seriously impacted. Arrested in September was one of the group’s principal members, Saul “El Lince” Solis Solis, the highest-level Knights Templar leader to fall in the third quarter. A number of other Knights Templar leaders were arrested in the third quarter, including Bulmaro “El Men” Salinas Munoz and Neri “El Yupo” Salgado Harrison. The effect of these arrests on the group’s operations remains unclear.

The Knights Templar continue to display narcomantas in Michoacan and Mexico states. In September, the cartel offered monetary rewards for information leading to the capture of certain individuals named on the banners (known LFM members who the Knights Templar claimed were aligned with Los Zetas).

The early October arrest of Los Aboytes gang leader Buenrostro Quiroz has raised questions about Knights Templar leadership. In the video of Buenrostro Quiroz being questioned by authorities, he said he met with Knights Templar leaders approximately a month before he was captured. He further claimed that Nazario “El Mas Loco” Moreno Gonzalez is still alive and heading the Knights Templar with Servando “La Tuta” Gomez Martinez, former LFM plaza boss, as second in command. There has been no evidence supporting Buenrostro Quiroz’s claims, although Moreno Gonzalez’s body was never found when he was reported dead in December 2010. The prospect of Moreno Gonzales, the ideological founder of LFM, still being alive would explain to a large extent LFM’s immediate decline following the emergence of the Knights Templar in March.

The Knights Templar will continue to target LFM members in Michoacan and Mexico states, and as it takes over La Familia’s turf it will likely increase its methamphetamine production operations. Regardless of whether an alliance exists between LFM and Los Zetas, we anticipate increasing conflict between the Knights Templar and Los Zetas in the coming months due to both groups’ territorial aspirations.


Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion

When we began discussing Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion in the last quarterly update, we included it in the “Independent Operators” section. We took the cartel at its word, which had been made clear its publically released videos, that CJNG had declared war on all other cartels. The organization, based in Guadalajara, consists primarily of former Sinaloa members who had worked for Nacho Coronel and who believe that Nacho was betrayed by Sinaloa leader El Chapo Guzman Loera. However, recent activities by CJNG have greatly muddied our take on the group.

Between Sept. 20 and the first week in October, at least 67 bodies labeled as Zetas were dumped in Boca del Rio, a wealthy southern suburb of Veracruz. The first batch of 35 bodies was dumped in a busy traffic circle in broad daylight during afternoon rush hour. All of the killings were claimed by CJNG. We find this odd for two reasons: While it is not surprising that CJNG would go after Los Zetas, Veracruz is very much outside of CJNG’s home territory in Guadalajara, and CJNG appears to have conducted these operations in cooperation with the Sinaloa Federation. Therefore, it seems as though CJNG may have been co-opted by Sinaloa (though Sinaloa has not confirmed this).

However, as discussed in the Sinaloa and La Resistencia sections above, such a restructuring of affiliations makes sense, and we anticipate that CJNG’s links to other cartels will become increasingly clear over the next quarter.

24045  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Dates on: October 25, 2011, 11:15:17 AM
We are looking at February 17-19.
24046  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / My suspicions about vitamins appear to be correct , , , on: October 25, 2011, 11:08:54 AM
The case for dietary supplements is collapsing.
WSJ:

A succession of large-scale human studies, including two published earlier this month in leading medical journals, suggests that multivitamins and many other dietary supplements often don't have health benefits—and in some cases may even cause harm.

 After decades of research on the possible benefits of nutritional supplements, the handwriting is on the wall: Vitamins look to be a bust for the majority of people, many leading scientists are concluding. Shirley Wang has details on Lunch Break.
.The data have prompted some nutrition researchers to say taking vitamins is a waste of money for those without a specific nutrient deficiency or chronic illness. Such findings have also fueled a debate about whether the field should continue conducting expensive human trials to figure out whether particular supplements affect health.

"The better the quality of the research, the less benefit [supplements] showed," says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. "It's fair to say from the research that supplements don't make healthy people healthier."

For instance, vitamins B-6 and B-12 are often touted as being good for the heart, but several studies have failed to find that they lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according the Office of Dietary Supplements, part of the National Institutes of Health. Vitamin C hasn't been shown in many studies to lower a person's risk of getting a cold. Calcium, while important to bone health, doesn't lower risk of heart disease or cancer and may increase risk of kidney stones.

"We have an enormous body of data telling us that plant-rich diets are very healthy," says Josephine Briggs, head of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, another NIH center. "As soon as we take these various antioxidants[and other nutrients] out and put them in a pill, we're not consistently getting a benefit."

Researchers and nutritionists are still recommending dietary supplements for the malnourished or people with certain nutrient deficiencies or medical conditions. For instance folic acid—the supplement form of folate——reduces the likelihood of a common birth defect if taken by pregnant women.

Studying the effects of vitamins and supplements in the real world is difficult, since people eat foods with multiple nutrients that can interact with supplements and skew results. And observational trials can only show an association, not cause and effect.

Enlarge Image

Close(l-r) F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal (3); Diane Fields for The Wall Street Journal
 .That is one reason the Council on Responsible Nutrition, which represents the supplement industry, says it is too early to say supplements don't have health benefits. Duffy MacKay, the group's vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs, says lengthier studies may be required to show the benefits of some supplements.

Micronutrients, which include antioxidants like vitamin C, hormones like vitamin D and metals like iron, are essential to the body in small amounts because they help facilitate important reactions in and between cells. Too much of them, however, can cause problems.

The effectiveness of many dietary supplements remains untested and makers aren't required to do tests before selling a product. Still, about half of Americans reported taking at least one supplement a month in 2006, in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey published in April of this year. The supplement industry brought in $28 billion in sales in 2010, up 4.4% from 2009, according to Nutrition Business Journal, an industry trade publication.

Vitamin users may derive a benefit from the placebo effect, experts say. And they often are convinced the supplements make them feel better, regardless of what studies show.

"The thing you do with [reports of studies] is just ride them out, and literally we see no impact on our business," said Joseph Fortunato, chief executive of supplement retailer GNC Corp., according to a transcript of the company's third-quarter conference call with analysts last week.

"Consumers believe in our products," a spokesman for GNC said. GNC's revenue grew 15.5% in the third quarter of this year compared to a year ago and the stock, which closed at $25.08, is up 0.5% year-to-date.

Of growing concern to many scientists are the increasing hints of harm from vitamins.

The first red flags started emerging nearly 20 years ago. Researchers thought from early work that extra beta-carotene could help prevent lung cancer, but two randomized trials published in 1994 and 1996 showed an increased rate of lung cancer among smokers who took beta-carotene supplements.

Oncologist Mark Heaney of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York showed in laboratory work in 2008 that vitamin C appeared to inhibit the effect of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment. Subsequent research has shown vitamin C may inadvertently protect cancer cells more than normal cells.

A study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, known as the SELECT trial, found that vitamin E—previously thought to lower risk of prostate cancer—actually increased the chance slightly. The risk could be mitigated by the simultaneous consumption of another micronutrient, selenium, the study says.

Multivitamins aren't faring much better. Results from the Iowa Women's Health Study, published earlier this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found in a sample of over 38,000 older women, multivitamin use over time was linked with a slight but statistically significant increased risk of earlier mortality.

A studyof 1,900 men and women in 15 cities across Europe published in 2008 in the European Journal of Nutrition followed healthy elderly individuals for 10 years. Among smokers in the study, those who took multivitamins were more likely to die younger than smokers who didn't.

Another large trial examining postmenopausal women in the NIH's Women's Health Initiative found no discernible impact from taking a multivitamin on preventing breast, lung or colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease or premature death, according to the 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Some experts warn against overemphasizing the potential harm of multivitamins because it isn't clear how that statistical uptick in risk of death would translate into actual increased risk in real life.

The consistent failure to show benefits has led researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and elsewhere to call for more lab experiments and small-scale studies of how the nutrients work, after over a decade of pursuing large, clinical trials of particular supplements' effectiveness.

"We've missed a step," says Alan Kristal, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington who studies the links between diet and cancer. "We need to understand the mechanism by which these things are acting."

Roberta Anding, a nutritionist at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, says some people need multivitamins and other supplements, but she is cautious about the risk from high doses of micronutrients. "It's no longer nutrition when the doses become high, it's pharmacology," she says.

The best way to get micronutrients is through a balanced diet, she says.

"If you're looking at this as, 'At least I'm [taking a multivitamin],' but you're not exercising or eating well, then it is a waste of money," says Ms. Anding, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, a research and advocacy group
24047  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The pension time bomb on: October 25, 2011, 10:07:12 AM
Following up on GM's posts

The pension time bomb
State governments have promised public employees trillions in retirement benefits. Only problem: The money to pay them doesn’t exist
 
Why are pensions a problem?
For decades, local and state governments have guaranteed employees that they can retire on comfortable—and in some cases, lavish—pensions. Officials assumed that taxes, investments, and other revenues would rise over time, covering the cost. That assumption has turned out to be wrong. Taxpayers are now on the hook to provide pensions to 80 percent of the nation’s 27 million state and local government workers and retirees. The combined shortfall in funding those pensions could be as much as $3.4 trillion—more than double this year’s federal deficit. Even using a rosy projection that pension-investment portfolios will return 8 percent annually, seven states, including Illinois, Connecticut, and Louisiana, are on track to exhaust their pension funds within a decade. More than half of state pension funds will run dry by 2027. “This charade can’t last,” wrote former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and investment advisor Alexander Rubalcava in The New York Times. “In many cities, pension obligations will soon consume a quarter or more of the annual budget—money that will be unavailable for parks, libraries, street maintenance, and public safety.”

How did governments miscalculate so badly?
Pension funds subsist on three revenue streams: employee contributions, employer contributions, and investment earnings. During the 1990s, soaring stock prices swelled the value of pension funds, enabling states and municipalities to reduce their own contributions and those from employees. They also acceded to public union demands to increase benefits. “Everybody was raising benefits without thinking of the long term,” said Kil Huh, director of research for the Pew Center on the States. Governments began assuming they could count on rising markets and high investment returns indefinitely. But in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, stock prices plummeted, eventually declining 56 percent from their 2007 peak; pension portfolios were devastated. The loss in equity was exacerbated by the plunge in tax revenues that also accompanied the Great Recession.

How generous are benefits?
They vary dramatically. The average annual benefit in 2008 was $22,780, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, a figure that includes part-time workers. But some public employees receive benefits far beyond average. More than 9,000 beneficiaries of CalPERS, California’s state retirement plan, which is the nation’s largest, receive six-figure annual pensions. In Yonkers, N.Y., taxpayers were outraged to learn that some police officers who had retired in their 40s were collecting six-figure pensions for life; former cop Hugo Tassone, for example, retired at 44 with a $101,333 pension. Edward A. Stolzenberg, a former public hospital administrator in New York’s Westchester County, receives $222,143 annually. “It may not be viable,” Stolzenberg acknowledged. “But that’s the way the state structured it.”

What about the cost of current workers?
It’s also part of the problem. While median family income actually declined over the past decade, salaries for public workers continued to rise. Blue-collar public workers with a high school education now earn, on average, more than their private-sector counterparts—$53,880 annually compared with $50,596. White-collar public-sector employees, however, fare less well. Those with professional degrees earn an average of $121,192 in the public sector, compared with $192,977 in the private sector. But with state budgets under duress and unemployment stuck at around 9.6 percent, public workers’ salaries and benefits are now coming under increased scrutiny. Taxpayer groups in California, which has a projected $19 billion budget deficit, want to cut salaries and take an ax to the most generous public pensions. But most state constitutions explicitly guarantee benefits that have accrued from work already completed. Even when municipalities have declared bankruptcy, their employee pension benefits have been paid.

Can benefits be scaled back?
Only for future employees. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently signed legislation reducing pension benefits for new state employees. In California this month, voters in nine municipalities approved ballot measures to limit benefits for future public employees. And governments are starting to take a harder line in collective bargaining with public unions. “I’ve seen a sea change in the local collective bargaining process,” said Dwight Stenbakken, deputy executive director of the League of California Cities. Some analysts recommend following the lead of Georgia, which requires that prior to being enacted, any changes to retiree benefits be studied for long-term impacts. According to the Pew Center on the States, the policy has helped Georgia avoid “costly and irreversible” mistakes. 

What if reform efforts fail?
Look out. If states run out of pension reserves, they’ll be forced to dip into operating budgets to pay benefits—siphoning money from schools, health care, and other vital services. Because most states are required to balance their budgets, tax increases or cuts to government services are the only options. In every region of the country, the high-rolling days are gone and the public-pension bill is coming due. “This is not a conservative-versus-liberal issue,” said Dan Liljenquist, a Utah state senator and pension-reform advocate, “this is a reality issue.”
24048  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A newsletter forwarded by a friend on: October 25, 2011, 10:01:31 AM

Fear and Loathing in the Eurozone
Xcerpt from Stock World Weekly: Fear and Loathing in the Eurozone, week ahead section.
 
(Click here for more Stock World Weekly)
Late Thursday afternoon, Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal, a well-known sounding board for Bernanke when he wants to give signals to the markets, reported “Federal Reserve officials are starting to build a case for a new program of buying mortgage-backed securities to boost the ailing economy, though they appear unlikely to move swiftly.” (Fed Is Poised for More Easing)
This report builds on sentiments that Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo expressed in a speech on Thursday evening. Bloomberg reported “Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo’s call for resuming large-scale purchases of mortgage bonds may boost chances the central bank will start a third round of asset buying aimed at reviving U.S. growth.
“Policy makers should move the tool ‘back up toward the top of the list’ because it would help the economy through lower mortgage costs that would boost home purchases and spending by people who refinance their home loans, Tarullo said late yesterday in a speech in New York.”
Tarullo’s speech and Hilsenrath’s article both came out on Thursday, suggesting the Fed is making an effort to broadcast its seriousness about using its tools to jump-start the moribund U.S. economy. Any large-scale program of buying bonds will essentially be another round of quantitative easing (QE3), predictably leading to increases in stock and commodity prices.
However, regarding commodity prices, one event last week may put a damper on increases in commodity prices. On Tuesday, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) voted to put position limits on commodity markets, as it attempts to deal with problems created by runaway speculation. Phil has repeatedly reported on the manipulation in the oil markets, with articles such as last June’s “Which Way Wedne$day - Let’s Break the $peculator$.” Tuesday’s action, while welcome, is long overdue.
 The six month chart of the Dollar shows the 73 to 76 range that the Dollar traded in for five months, before it broke out in early September. Now, however, the Dollar’s impressive breakout is failing. It looks like the Dollar may return to its previous trading range. Moreover, with Bernanke and Tarullo banging the drums for more QE, market participants know that QE3 is likely to weaken the Dollar. If the inverse relationship between the Dollar and the stock market persists, the depressed Dollar is bullish for equities. This is no secret and is why hints of QE3 drive the Dollar down and prop equities up.
Europe will be the focus of the financial news again next week. German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy will try to work out a deal to give additional funding and more discretionary power to the EFSF, while simultaneously strengthening “economic integration” and capitalization of European banks, all under the auspices of implementing “economic governance of the euro area.” Achieving their goals would be historic by any measure.
A primary issue at the heart of the struggle is whether the theoretically unlimited funding of the European Central Bank (ECB) can be used to ‘backstop’ the EFSF, thereby guaranteeing sufficient capital to recapitalize banks and buy distressed bonds. While Sarkozy is a strong proponent of backstopping the EFSF with ECB funding, going so far as to abandon his wife during childbirth to travel to Frankfurt to make his case to Chancellor Merkel, his efforts were in vain. Merkel, backed by ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, adamantly refused to consider Sarkozy’s proposal.
As the UK Telegraph noted “Europe's central bank could not be used to boost the EFSF because of a 20-year EU treaty clause forbidding the union from using its cash to save European governments. Unlike the EFSF, an ad hoc inter-governmental ‘special purpose vehicle’ based in Luxembourg, the ECB is governed by the detailed chapter and verse of European law.” According to a senior EU diplomat, “If the ECB could act like a national central bank that would make life a hell of lot easier, problem solved, but that runs up against the treaties and Germany's cult of the Bundesbank. Sarkozy was told 'game over’”(France and Germany: an unstoppable force meets an immovable object)
Indeed, the mood at this weekend’s summit in Brussels was somber. The impasse over the EFSF was overshadowed by a surprise announcement from Christine Lagarde, former French finance minister who is now chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Lagarde warned that, without a default, the Greek debt crisis by itself could deplete the entire €440Bn EFSF fund. Her announcement further stated that the IMF was no longer willing to pick up a third of the total bill for rescuing Greece, estimated at €73Bn, unless European banks were prepared to write off at least 50% of Greek debt. One eurozone finance minister was quoted on Saturday as saying that the situation in Brussels was “Grim, the worst mood I have ever seen, a complete mess.” (Eurozone summit - despair and backbiting in the corridors of power)
Stock World Weekly writing and editing team, Elliott and Ilene, recently interviewed Russ Winter of Winter Watch at Wall Street Examiner. In part 1, Chaos in the Land of Oz, we established that the Fed is the Wizard, and we are living in an economic Land of Oz. This week, in part 2, we discussed the debt crisis in Europe, the too-big-to-fail (TBTF) banks, and whether there is a pathway back to Kansas. Ilene also asked Russ whether the was long or short any stocks:
Russ: Right now, I’m shorting the "Palace of Versailles" stocks, stocks like Tiffany’s, Ambercrombie-Fitch, Coach, Starbucks, that sell at rich multiples, because supposedly wealthy people are doing well. Well, rich people were losing their asses in the market in the last couple of months. If you look at the polls, rich people are just as negative as poor people now. The Palace of Versailles trade makes little sense when protesters are in front of your houses, and the stores you shop at. I try to run counter to the conventional wisdom. (Click on this link to read the full interview, Chaos in the Land of Oz, part 2)
Late Friday afternoon Phil took a “cashy and cautious” stance. He wrote, “Well that was a totally fun week. Congrats to all the bullish faithful and, of course, the $25KP players – CASH IS GOOD – enjoy the weekend!”
In contrast to Russ and Phil's more cautious positioning, Lee Adler of the Wall Street Examiner is on the cusp of potentially turning more bullish, BUT he wants to see some proof first. He wrote to subscribers of the WSE’s Professional Edition, "The market has broken a key resistance level. Unless this move whipsaws, the market could reach projections of 1280-1300 quickly. Such a breakout would in turn suggest that the 18 month 2 year cycle had entered an up phase. Unless bears mount a ferocious countermove on Monday, the likelihood is that they could be in hibernation at least through the winter months."
We have a trade idea this week from Pharmboy, who writes, “Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY, $32.56) is losing its patent protection on Plavix next year, but has a blockbuster replacement in Xarelto. The company has other interesting pipeline candidates, and a hefty 4.1% dividend yield.
I like starting a position by selling the January 2012 $31 puts for $1.10 or better.”
24049  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Arrogance of Anger on: October 25, 2011, 09:58:49 AM
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Anger at your faults is arrogance, and of a very self-destructive form. Every failure becomes pain, every pain becomes a gruesome punishment. An objective person is able to look at his faults and what needs to change and say, "This is what G–d gave me to work with." He accepts stormy weather as part of the course and slowly and patiently steers his ship to port.
24050  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes: Narcos inflitrated on: October 25, 2011, 09:50:10 AM
WASHINGTON — American law enforcement agencies have significantly built up networks of Mexican informants that have allowed them to secretly infiltrate some of that country’s most powerful and dangerous criminal organizations, according to security officials on both sides of the border.

As the United States has opened new law enforcement and intelligence outposts across Mexico in recent years, Washington’s networks of informants have grown there as well, current and former officials said. They have helped Mexican authorities capture or kill about two dozen high-ranking and midlevel drug traffickers, and sometimes have given American counternarcotics agents access to the top leaders of the cartels they are trying to dismantle.
Typically, the officials said, Mexico is kept in the dark about the United States’ contacts with its most secret informants — including Mexican law enforcement officers, elected officials and cartel operatives — partly because of concerns about corruption among the Mexican police, and partly because of laws prohibiting American security forces from operating on Mexican soil.
“The Mexicans sort of roll their eyes and say we know it’s happening, even though it’s not supposed to be happening,” said Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexican security matters at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“That’s what makes this so hard,” he said. “The United States is using tools in a country where officials are still uncomfortable with those tools.”
In recent years, Mexican attitudes about American involvement in matters of national security have softened, as waves of drug-related violence have left about 40,000 people dead. And the United States, hoping to shore up Mexico’s stability and prevent its violence from spilling across the border, has expanded its role in ways unthinkable five years ago, including flying drones in Mexican skies.
The efforts have been credited with breaking up several of Mexico’s largest cartels into smaller — and presumably less dangerous — crime groups. But the violence continues, as does the northward flow of illegal drugs.
While using informants remains a largely clandestine affair, several recent cases have shed light on the kinds of investigations they have helped crack, including a plot this month in which the United States accused an Iranian-American car salesman of trying to hire killers from a Mexican drug cartel, known as Los Zetas, to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
American officials said Drug Enforcement Administration informants with links to the cartels helped the authorities to track down several suspects linked to the February murder of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, Jaime J. Zapata, who is alleged to have been shot to death by members of Los Zetas in central Mexico.
The D.E.A.’s dealings with informants and drug traffickers — sometimes, officials acknowledged, they are one and the same — are at the center of proceedings in a federal courthouse in Chicago, where one of the highest-ranking leaders of the Sinaloa cartel is scheduled to go on trial next year.
And last month, a federal judge in El Paso sentenced a midlevel leader of the Sinaloa cartel to life in prison after he was found guilty on drug and conspiracy charges. He was accused of working as a kind of double agent, providing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency with information about the movements of a rival cartel in order to divert attention from his own trafficking activities.
As important as informants have been, complicated ethical issues tend to arise when law enforcement officers make deals with criminals. Few informants, law enforcement officials say, decide to start providing information to the government out of altruism; typically, they are caught committing a crime and want to mitigate their legal troubles, or are essentially taking bribes to inform on their colleagues.
Morris Panner, a former assistant United States attorney who is a senior adviser at the Center for International Criminal Justice at Harvard Law School, said some of the recent cases involving informants highlight those issues and demonstrate that the threats posed by Mexican narcotics networks go far beyond the drug trade.
“Mexican organized crime groups have morphed from drug trafficking organizations into something new and far more dangerous,” Mr. Panner said. “The Zetas now are active in extortion, human trafficking, money laundering, and increasingly, anything a violent criminal organization can do to make money, whether in Mexico, Guatemala or, it appears, the U.S.”
===================
Because of the clandestine nature of their communications with informants, and the potential for diplomatic flare-ups between the United States and Mexico, American officials were reluctant to provide any details about the scope of their confidential sources south of the border.
Over the past two years, officials said, D.E.A. agents in Houston managed to develop “several highly placed confidential sources with direct access” to important leaders of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. This paid informant network is a centerpiece of the Houston office’s efforts to infiltrate the “command and control” ranks of the two groups.
One of those paid informants was the man who authorities say was approached last spring by a man charged in Iran’s alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. Law enforcement documents say the informant told his handlers that an Iranian-American, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, had reached out to him to ask whether Los Zetas would be willing to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States and elsewhere.
Authorities would provide only vague details about the informant and his connections to Los Zetas, saying that he had been charged in the United States with narcotics crimes and that those charges had been dropped because he had “previously provided reliable and independently corroborated information to federal law enforcement agents” that “led to numerous seizures of narcotics.”
The Justice Department has been more forthcoming about the D.E.A.’s work with informants in a case against Jesús Vicente Zambada-Niebla, known as Vicentillo. Officials describe Mr. Zambada-Niebla as a logistics coordinator for the Sinaloa cartel, considered one of the world’s most important drug trafficking groups. His lawyers have argued that he was an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, which offered him immunity in exchange for his cooperation.
The D.E.A. has denied that allegation, and the Justice Department took the rare step of disclosing the agency’s contacts with him in court documents. The intermediary was Humberto Loya-Castro, who was both a confidant to the cartel’s kingpin, Joaquín Guzmán, known as El Chapo, and an informant to the D.E.A.
The documents do not say when the relationship between the agency and Mr. Loya-Castro began, but they indicate that because of his cooperation, the D.E.A. dismissed a 13-year-old conspiracy charge against him in 2008.
In 2009, the documents said, Mr. Loya-Castro arranged a meeting between two D.E.A. agents and Mr. Zambada-Niebla, who was floating an offer to negotiate some kind of cooperation agreement. But on the day of the meeting, the agents’ supervisors canceled it, expressing “concern about American agents meeting with a high-level cartel member like Zambada-Niebla.”
Mr. Zambada-Niebla and Mr. Loya-Castro showed up at the agents’ hotel anyway. The D.E.A. agents sent Mr. Zambada-Niebla away without making any promises, the documents said. A few hours later, Mr. Zambada-Niebla was captured by the Mexican police, and was extradited to the United States in February 2010.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on organized crime at the Brookings Institution, said that while some had criticized the D.E.A. for entertaining “deals with the devil,” she saw the Zambada case as an important intelligence coup. Even in an age of high-tech surveillance, she said, there is no substitute for human sources’ feeding authorities everything from what targeted traffickers like to eat to where they sleep most nights.
A former senior counter narcotics official echoed that thought.
“A D.E.A. agent’s job, first and foremost, is to get inside the body of those criminal organizations he or she is investigating,” the former official said, asking not to be identified because he occasionally does consulting work in Mexico. “Nothing provides that microscopic view more than a host that opens the door.”
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