Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Govt Motors
on: November 30, 2010, 06:05:27 PM
Craig Coffey, a retiree in Nevada who invested $55,000 in bonds in the old GM that are now worthless, was outraged that the union is on its way to recovering all its money before investors get even a cent of compensation.
Mr. Coffey has had to make ends meet by finding odd jobs, which can be difficult in the hard-hit Las Vegas area. He said it wasn't only the union that benefited from getting full repayment to its pension trust fund under the White House bankruptcy plan.
"That was a way for the government to avoid having the liability put on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation," he said. Bankruptcy courts often discharge corporate pension obligations to the government insurance fund.
GM's union recovering after stock sale
Taxpayers and investors not as fortunate as UAW
By Patrice Hill
-The Washington Times
7:24 p.m., Thursday, November 25, 2010
General Motors Co.'s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company's union.
Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company's 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.
The boon for the union fits the pattern established when the White House pushed GM into bankruptcy and steered it through the courts in a way that consistently put the interests of the union ahead of many suppliers, dealers and investors — stakeholders that ordinarily would have fared as well or better under the bankruptcy laws.
"Priority one was serving the interests of the UAW" when the White House's auto task force engineered the bankruptcy, said Glenn Reynolds, an analyst at CreditSights. The stock offering served to show once again how the White House has handsomely rewarded its political allies, he said.
The union's health care and pension trust fund earned $3.4 billion through the sale of one-third of its shares in GM last week. Analysts estimate that it would break even if it sells the remaining two-thirds of its shares at an average price of $36 — close to where the stock traded shortly after the offering hit the market. GM shares closed at $33.45 on Wednesday.
For taxpayers to break even, by contrast, the stock would have to rise to at least $52 and by some estimates as high as $103 — levels that would take years to achieve.
In any event, after selling one-third of its shares last week, the U.S. Treasury has agreed not to sell any more of its GM stock for another six months, while the union fund is free to keep selling its shares.
Through the offering, the Treasury recouped $13.7 billion of its $49.5 billion cash infusion in GM, with another $1.8 billion possible by the end of the year. GM is repaying another $9.5 billion in loans from the Treasury, but that still leaves taxpayers a long way from breaking even.
Union claims ordinarily do not receive such special treatment in bankruptcies.
The generous share of GM stock given to the union trust fund under the White House deal puts it not only ahead of the Treasury but on a par with secured creditors such as banks, which normally receive the most favorable treatment from bankruptcy courts.
Perhaps the biggest losers are the investors in the old GM. None of the bankrupt company's previous stockholders got any money, while the claims of thousands of investors who purchased the company's bonds are still being kicked around in a Manhattan bankruptcy court.
"It gives outraged flashbacks to the old GM bondholders," who remain mired in the bankruptcy proceedings and are unlikely to recover more than 30 percent of their investments, Mr. Reynolds said.
He compared the deal to the corrupt crony capitalism in Russia under President Vladimir Putin.
The White House "took a page out of the Putin political asset reallocation and reward system" when it engineered the deal, he said.
Mr. Reynolds also described the White House deal as a combination of "Boss Tweed on steroids" and "Hugo Chavez on meds," as far as the bondholders are concerned.
Craig Coffey, a retiree in Nevada who invested $55,000 in bonds in the old GM that are now worthless, was outraged that the union is on its way to recovering all its money before investors get even a cent of compensation.
"We just sat and watched [the stock offering]. We got nothing," he said. "Screwed again."
Mr. Coffey has had to make ends meet by finding odd jobs, which can be difficult in the hard-hit Las Vegas area. He said it wasn't only the union that benefited from getting full repayment to its pension trust fund under the White House bankruptcy plan.
"That was a way for the government to avoid having the liability put on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation," he said. Bankruptcy courts often discharge corporate pension obligations to the government insurance fund.
"They dodged a bullet there and pushed it back to the union," Mr. Coffey said. "Now, they've made them whole and screwed the bondholders."
Steve Rattner, the White House auto czar who engineered the deal, repeated the position he took throughout the bankruptcy — that the bondholders would have ended up with nothing if the government hadn't intervened.
"I think everybody was treated fairly," he told Bloomberg News last week. "If we had not saved General Motors, those bonds would be worth exactly zero."
UAW President Bob King celebrated the success of the stock offering last week. "We know that for the long-term viability and success of our membership, General Motors has to be successful," he said.
He hinted that the union in the next round of collective bargaining that begins next summer may seek to recoup still more of the concessions it made in bankruptcy, given GM's growing profitability.
"The best outcome is a successful GM that then shares fairly with our membership," he said.
John Paul McDuffie, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, said the full funding of the union's pension and health care trust fund through the bankruptcy process represents progress because it helped solve one of most "persistent and difficult" bones of contention between GM and its union.
GM and the UAW had been at loggerheads for years over how to deal with GM's so-called "legacy" costs — funding the generous worker health care and retirement benefits it promised in earlier eras.
The bankruptcy settlement enabled GM to proceed with a hard-won 2007 plan it negotiated with the union to spin off those huge liabilities and let them be funded in the future by the trust fund that received the stock.
Mr. McDuffie said the bankruptcy also proved useful in forcing the company to learn to survive in turbulent times.
© Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Health and Healing
on: November 30, 2010, 08:42:49 AM
NY Times on Accupuncture
By GREG BISHOP
Published: November 29, 2010
Stretched out on a massage table in his Long Island City condominium, Jets fullback Tony Richardson closed his eyes. Over the next hour, he groaned and grimaced and eventually fell asleep, as Lisa Ripi, the traveling N.F.L. acupuncturist, went to work.
Lisa Ripi, working with the Jets’ Tony Richardson, is gone 20 days each month, working abut 96 hours a week as the N.F.L.’s traveling acupuncturist.
The Jets’ Tony Richardson finds acupuncture uncomfortable but said it made an immediate 10 percent difference.
Ripi poked and prodded Richardson on a recent Tuesday, using blue and pink needles, until his body resembled a road map marked with 120 destinations. “SportsCenter” provided mood music. Afterward, Richardson said his soreness had mostly vanished.
“They always tell me I’m their little secret,” Ripi said. “I feel like the little mouse who takes the thorns out of their feet.”
Professional football players partake in a violent game, and as the season progresses, they spend more time in training rooms than on practice fields. They visit chiropractors and massage therapists, practice yoga, undergo electronic stimulation and nap in hyperbaric chambers.
Yet relatively few receive acupuncture, which brings smiles to the faces of Ripi’s clients. They remain fiercely territorial. They fight over Fridays because it is closest to their games. They accuse one another of hogging, or trying to steal her.
All swear by Ripi’s technique, which she described as closer to Japanese-style acupuncture than to traditional Chinese methods. She focuses less on established points and more on sore areas, using needles to increase blood flow, relaxing muscles tightened in the weight room.
Players say her sessions are their most important treatment. They feel more loose, more flexible. Richardson finds acupuncture uncomfortable but said it made an immediate 10 percent difference. For sculptured bodies tuned like racecars, 10 percent constitutes a significant improvement.
As Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior said: “I’m not the same if I don’t have it. It’s like getting the game plan. You can’t go into the week without either one.”
Ripi, 46, travels at least 20 days each month during the season, treating 40 players on five teams (the Ripi Division: Jets, Giants, Steelers, Bengals and Dolphins). She flies to Miami on Sunday, Pittsburgh on Monday, New York on Tuesday, Cincinnati on Wednesday, back to Pittsburgh on Thursday and back to New York on Friday. She works 96 hours a week and naps mostly on airplanes. By Friday, even her assistant sends “hate texts,” Ripi said.
In 13 years of working with N.F.L. players, Ripi said proudly, she never missed an appointment. She did miss dozens of holidays, did have three marriages end in divorce, did make abundantly clear her first priority.
“Think of the impact she has every Sunday,” Richardson said. “And it’s funny, because she’s not really a football fan, or really recognized. But we know her importance.”
Raised in a traditional Italian family on Long Island, Ripi lived in a healthy household, at the directive of her father, John: no white bread, no soda and an abundance of vitamins.
Ripi took a winding path into acupuncture: art school, aerobics instruction, massage therapy and body building, in which she qualified for several national competitions. Despite standing 5 feet 3 inches, she squatted and dead-lifted 250 pounds.
In 1996, a friend suggested that acupuncture would alleviate Ripi’s shoulder pain, and after two sessions, it disappeared. So Ripi went to school for acupuncture and Chinese pharmacology and finished the five-year program in four years.
Soon after, while visiting another friend in Costa Rica, Ripi met the actor Woody Harrelson, who asked for treatment “posthaste,” she said. She slipped a business card into Harrelson’s luggage, which led to two years of traveling with and treating him, and to other celebrity clients like the singer Mariah Carey.
Back in New York in March 1998, Ripi was referred to Jumbo Elliott, an injured offensive tackle for the Jets. She knew nothing about football and assumed Elliott was a body builder until she saw his Jets memorabilia. He later offered to take her to training camp and introduce her to his teammates.
She met her core group of clients that summer in Hempstead, N.Y., and as the players switched teams — Farrior to Pittsburgh and Chad Pennington to Miami — her business and travel expanded.
Players require individualized treatment. Steelers linebacker James Harrison takes more than 300 needles, and Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora begs for fewer than 40. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis hates needles and grips the table as if under attack.
Ripi views the players more as brothers than clients. She saw the world with Cincinnati linebacker Dhani Jones for his Travel Channel show. She stores tables at the players’ houses; travels to training camps, Super Bowls and Pro Bowls; works every Christmas and Thanksgiving. Ripi’s services are not cheap. She charges $220 for one treatment or $1,200 each day, and expenses.
She spends roughly 12 hours each Thursday treating at least 10 players at Farrior’s house, where the Steelers hold their men’s “spa night” featuring acupuncture. Ripi cooks dinner for them, and they play cards while they wait turns. She starts with nose tackle Casey Hampton at 3:30 p.m. and finishes with Harrison roughly 12 hours later.
Ripi can tell the position each plays simply on the location of the pain: wide receiver (legs, shoulders), offensive lineman (elbows, back), quarterback (throwing shoulder), defensive lineman (back), running back (hamstring).
On Sundays, she sometimes watches football. But Ripi’s clients often face one another, prompting conflicting emotions, especially when a defensive client mauls an offensive client, and she ponders how she will treat the resulting pain.
Depending on their tolerance (or honesty), players described acupuncture as painful, slightly painful or not painful; as a pinch or a burning sensation. They said the groin and the back of the knee hurt the most. Jets offensive tackle Damien Woody said, “She’s kind of lethal with it.”
Ripi performs a combination of massage with acupuncture to relax players and find sore spots and trigger points. She does use established points, too, to increase the flow of what she called stuck blood. This season, Revis went to Ripi for his injured hamstring, and she stuck one needle atop his head.
“She might hit a nerve, and you might get a zap,” Jones said. “Or she’ll put one in your groin, and pain might shoot into the big toe.”
Recently, Deadspin reported that Ripi oversaw the Jets’ massage therapist program when two therapists were sent inappropriate text messages from the former quarterback Brett Favre. The Web site said Ripi urged the therapists to remain silent. Ripi declined to comment on the report, but she is considering hiring a lawyer. (She does not oversee the massage program.)
Her clients wonder why most teams ignore less traditional methods like acupuncture, with all that they invest in healing players’ battered bodies. Farrior, wearing his team president hat, said he would require it.
Ripi says that more teams and athletes across all sports will eventually turn to acupuncture. Her clients do not seem so sure. Some teams do not even have massage therapists or nutritionists on staff, Jones said. But Ripi has faith because she still treats retired players, because even front-office types like Bill Parcells tried her table, because, she insisted, acupuncture works.
John Ripi described his daughter as softhearted and giving, and over the years, he learned to accept her absence at family gatherings. He came to understand how all the dots connected, from Harrelson in the jungle, to Thursday nights at Farrior’s house, to a life spent healing football players without fanfare.
“I take what I do seriously,” Ripi said. “It’s a euphoric, spontaneous feeling. They come first. Before anything. Before me.”
With that, Ripi went home to pack. The traveling N.F.L. acupuncturist had a flight to catch.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gore- ethanol a mistake
on: November 30, 2010, 08:22:06 AM
In Greece earlier this month, Al Gore made a startling admission: "First-generation ethanol, I think, was a mistake." Unfortunately, Americans have Gore to thank for ethanol subsidies. In 1994, then-Vice President Gore ended a 50-50 tie in the Senate by voting in favor of an ethanol tax credit that added almost $5 billion to the federal deficit last year. And that number doesn't factor the many ways in which corn-based ethanol mandates drive up the price of food and livestock feed.
Sure, he meant well, but as Reuters reported, Gore also said, "One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president."
In sum, Gore demonstrated that politicians are lousy at figuring out which alternative fuels make the most sense. Now even enviros like Friends of the Earth have come to believe that "large-scale agro-fuels" are "ecologically unsustainable and inefficient." That's a polite way of saying that producers need to burn through a boatload of fossil fuels to make ethanol.
Gore also showed that most D.C. politicians can't be trusted to put America's interests before those of Iowa farmers. But there is one pursuit in which homo electus excels: spending other people's money.
Beware politicians when they promise you "the jobs of the future." Last week, the Washington Post ran a story about a federal grant program in Florida designed to retrain the unemployed for jobs in the growing clean-energy sector. Except clean tech isn't growing as promised. Officials told the Post that three-quarters of their first 100 graduates haven't had a single job offer.
In May, President Obama came to a Fremont, Calif., solar plant where he announced, "The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra." This month, Solyndra announced it was canceling its expansion plans. The announcement came after voters rewarded the green lobby by defeating Proposition 23 -- which would have postponed California's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law AB32 -- because voters bought the green-jobs promise.
Back to Gore. There is a movement in Washington to end Gore's mistake. Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina have proposed ending the 45-cent-per-gallon subsidy on corn ethanol, which is set to expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it.
As DeMint explained in an e-mail to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, "Government mandates and tax subsidies for ethanol have led to decreased gas mileage, adversely effected the environment and increased food prices. Washington must stop picking winners and losers in the market, and instead allow Americans to make choices for themselves."
That's what free-market types who oppose corporate welfare -- like me -- have been saying for years.
So the question is: Will this new batch of Republicans have the intestinal fortitude to buck the farm lobby and agribusiness by weaning them from the public teat? Or are they no better than the farm-lobby-pandering Al Gore?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: It is a self-sustaining recovery
on: November 29, 2010, 11:54:14 AM
This is a very different take than much of what is posted around here, but Brian Wesbury is a superb supply side economist with an outstanding record with his predictions.
It's a Self-Sustaining Recovery
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
In the four months between June and October, retail sales surged 10.2% at an annual rate and are up 7.3% over the past 12 months. Still, consumers get no respect from the majority of analysts and economists, who during the summer and early fall, could not stop talking about a double dip recession.
But instead of going wobbly, consumers seem to be standing strong. ComScore says online sales versus last year were up 28% on Thanksgiving Day, 9% on Black Friday, and 13% so far in November. Coremetrics, another online data gatherer, reports sales from Thanksgiving Day thru Saturday are up 14%. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported 8.7% more people visited stores this year versus last year and the average shopper spent 6.4% more than a year ago.
The only report that was “remotely negative” came from ShopperTrak (and its network of 70,000 US malls) – sales were up 0.3% versus a year ago. However, the ShopperTrak data have a weakness - free-standing big box stores are not classified as malls. Clearly, this could lead to underestimating sales.
Meanwhile, more data is coming this week. Car and light truck sales probably totaled more than 12-million at an annual rate for the second month in a row – the fastest pace since September 2008, except for during “cash-for clunkers.”
This is not just “pent-up demand.” Nor is it a “new normal.” The surge in consumer spending has its roots in improving fundamentals. Private sector wages and salaries are up 4% in the past year and small business income is up 5.8%. Productivity is boosting incomes for workers and companies.
In addition, the jobs picture is steadily getting brighter, with private sector payrolls up an average of 106,000 per month over the past six months. At 407,000, initial jobless claims have fallen to their lowest level in years, which points to continued improvement in payroll growth.
Meanwhile, consumers are still paying down debts, but they are doing it more slowly, leaving more money to spend than a year ago. And the share of after-tax earnings that households need to service their debts and make other recurring payments (rent, car leases, property taxes, etc.) has fallen below its long-run average and will soon be back to 1995 levels.
As we have said over-and-over again, things are far from perfect. Unemployment is still too high, government growth is creating uncertainty, the financial situation in Europe seems precarious, and fear seems to be an investment strategy. Nonetheless, a self-sustaining recovery is underway.
The Fed is easy, productivity is strong, the “panic” is over, and government policy (in the US and abroad) has taken a turn for the better. As a result, economic growth will surprise to the upside. As this strength becomes more self evident, confidence in equity markets will grow. Look out above.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Emperor's Nuclear Clothes
on: November 29, 2010, 10:56:55 AM
By STEPHEN PETER ROSEN
Enough is enough. Every day, the events of the real world reveal that the American foreign policy establishment is wearing nothing but the emperor's new clothes—policies that make proper people murmur "how Nobel-worthy" while looking around to see if anyone else notices something odd.
Respectable wise men, in and out of government, talk of the importance of arms control and a nuclear-free world, when the reality is that Iran, North Korea and other countries have made the acquisition of nuclear weapons their highest priority. The government of Russia has committed itself to a military posture in which tactical nuclear weapons play a larger role in war fighting and war termination.
The bitter truth is that a world with fewer nuclear weapons really is in the interest of the United States. That is why it won't happen: Too many countries believe that a nuclear-free world will leave the conventional military superiority of the U.S. unchallengeable.
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.The wise men call on China to help us restrain the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, while the Chinese official press praises North Korea for its toughness after its artillery attacks. American officials piously intone that we will not reward bad behavior. They point to the deployment of carrier forces that everyone knows are determined not to fire one round in anger. Meanwhile, the U.S. government prepares the ground for new rounds of talks in which rewards for North Korea will be carefully discussed.
The relative decline and overextension of American military power makes the prospect of using military power against U.S. allies increasingly a matter of "It just might work," rather than "Don't even think about it." American allies must, as reasonable men and women, consider whether to strike out on their own, either by increasing their own military power or by seeking accommodations with those who oppose the U.S.
So what is to be done? We have no good options, we are told, with the subtext being "Get used to North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons." But we do have options.
In the near term, we must allow our allies to acquire the weapons they need for their own defense. The U.S. government should reverse its decision not to sell F-22s to Japan. It should aid the expansion of the Japanese submarine force by transferring relevant military technologies, and it also should encourage Japanese production of anti-missile interceptors for foreign sale.
If we deploy American military power, we must do it like we mean it. If North Korea and Iran want nuclear weapons, and China does nothing to stop them, we can reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons onto American aircraft carriers and attack submarines in the Pacific. We should put on round-the-clock shifts the production lines of weapons that would be needed in the event of war with Iran or North Korea (such as the long-range version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile).
The U.S. can also ask the United Nations for a resolution authorizing air strikes against North Korea in the event of any future attack on the people or territory of South Korea or Japan. China will then stand up and be counted on one side or the other.
Such measures would provide some immediate reassurance to our allies that we will fight if we must, if they are attacked again. Of course, they won't make the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs go away. To deal with those, we must have a longer-term program.
The U.S. will need offensive as well as defensive forces that can thwart foreign aggression, even though aggressors have nuclear weapons. This is neither impossible nor paradoxical. Countries have defeated the U.S. since we developed nuclear weapons. Israel has been attacked repeatedly even though it has had nuclear weapons since 1967. What is very hard, and may be impossible, is to get other countries to allow the U.S. military to use bases on their territory when their enemies have nuclear weapons and they do not.
Over the next 10 years, the U.S. needs to increase its ability to conduct non-nuclear war from undersea, from ships out of range of missile attack, and from bases on American soil by means of long-range missiles and aircraft, manned or unmanned. The U.S. must be able to use cyber warfare and other unconventional means, and to defend itself from retaliatory attacks in kind. The U.S. military must also be prepared to operate in an environment in which other countries have used nuclear weapons. This means having not only missile defenses, but also protection against the electromagnetic pulses generated by nuclear weapons, which can paralyze modern electronics.
This will not be cheap, but it will be less expensive if we help our democratic allies arm themselves—by transferring technologies to them, by working with them, and by encouraging them to help each other.
This isn't a recipe for World War III with China or anybody else. It is a realistic response to a world in which countries are developing nuclear weapons not to fight other countries but to coerce them. Our goal should be a world in which countries can live peacefully without fear of being coerced militarily. It is an old-school response that doesn't seek war, but that also doesn't aspire to utopian goals.
Mr. Rosen is professor of national security and military affairs at Harvard.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reagan
on: November 29, 2010, 10:51:44 AM
"We warned of things to come, of the danger inherent in unwarranted government involvement in things not its proper province. What we warned against has come to pass. And today more than two-thirds of our citizens are telling us, and each other, that social engineering by the federal government has failed. The Great Society is great only in power, in size and in cost. And so are the problems it set out to solve. Freedom has been diminished and we stand on the brink of economic ruin. Our task now is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home. We are not a cult, we are members of a majority. Let's act and talk like it. The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when?" --Ronald Reagan
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues
on: November 28, 2010, 03:16:38 PM
Thank you. Delighted to hear it, but , , , how on earth is that new?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: Arbitration
on: November 27, 2010, 10:51:42 AM
Even though it is POTH, this editorial sounds reasonable to me.
Unexpected wireless charges are a chronic affliction of life on the grid. The industry triggers more complaints from consumers than any other. AT&T Mobility, by consumer rankings, is the worst. Its performance in a case the Supreme Court heard recently has done nothing to improve that reputation.
This is the latest in the arbitration war — a battle over whether the United States will increasingly have a privatized system of justice that bars people from enforcing rights in court and, if so, what will be considered fair in that system. It would be grossly unfair for the court to let the corporation get away with what it wants to in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion — a case that involves a small amount of money and a huge principle.
When Vincent and Liza Concepcion signed up for AT&T cellphone service, they received two new phones in exchange for making a two-year agreement. To their consternation, AT&T charged them $30.22 in sales tax for the phones. The Concepcions sued the company for fraud in Federal District Court and their case and another were consolidated as a class action.
Because of an arbitration clause in its customer agreement, AT&T insisted that the Concepcions had to submit their claim to individual arbitration. The federal district judge said no. The judge ruled that the agreement is “unconscionable” under California law — imposed by the company harshly, coerced and not consented to. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit forcefully upheld the decision.
The issue before the Supreme Court is the Federal Arbitration Act, which recognizes some kinds of arbitration agreements as enforceable obligations — and whether that pre-empts the California law. The court must decide if the state law applies only to arbitration agreements, and not contracts generally, or if it hinders Congressional desire to treat arbitration agreements and other contracts similarly and promote speedy resolution of claims.
California says that its law does neither and the appellate court agrees. AT&T contends that California law isn’t what the state says it is. AT&T is asking the Supreme Court to intrude on California’s sovereignty and second-guess interpretation of state law by state courts.
During the recent argument in the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan asked AT&T’s lawyer, “Now, who are we to say that the state is wrong about that?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked a similar question: “Are we going to tell the State of California what it has to consider unconscionable?” When the lawyer answered yes, Justice Stephen Breyer said rhetorically: “Why, why, why?”
The lawyer’s best shot at victory was to portray California law as extreme. Unfortunately for him, courts applying law of at least 19 other states have reached the same conclusion as California, including five federal appeals courts. Under California law, an agreement isn’t enforceable if it requires a customer to submit to individual arbitration that can’t be effective. It can’t be effective, as in this case, if the payoff is so paltry that it takes away incentive to challenge fraud or deception. AT&T’s arbitration agreement supposedly assures customers “a minimum recovery of $7,500, plus double attorneys’ fees, if the arbitrator awards them more than” an offer from AT&T. Translated: AT&T can pay the claim’s value — here, $30.22 — before an arbitrator is picked.
The Ninth Circuit said this “artifice” has “the practical effect of rendering” AT&T “immune from individual claims.” AT&T’s arbitration clause is unconscionable. The Supreme Court should say so.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Russia
on: November 27, 2010, 10:46:32 AM
MOSCOW — A well-known television personality on Thursday used the occasion of an awards ceremony to deliver a blistering critique of Russian television, saying its journalists had bent so completely to the will of the government that they were “not journalists at all but bureaucrats, following the logic of service and submission.”
Leonid G. Parfyonov’s speech was especially remarkable because of its venue: an elegant dinner organized by Channel One, Russia’s leading channel, to honor the memory of a television host who was gunned down in 1995. Looking out at a glittering crowd that included many of the most powerful figures in the Russian media, Mr. Parfyonov said they had taken on the docile posture of the Soviet-era Central Television.
On federal channels, he said, one cannot hear “critical, skeptical or ironic discussions” of either President Dmitri A. Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.
“The highest authorities are beginning to look like the dear departed, of whom one says good things or nothing at all,” said Mr. Parfyonov, who was visibly nervous as he accepted his award. “This, despite the fact that the audience is obviously demanding different opinions; what a furor arose around that single exception, the televised dialogue between Yuri Shevchuk and Vladimir Putin.”
Mr. Shevchuk, a Russian rock star, exchanged views with Mr. Putin at a dinner for the Russian cultural elite, capitalizing on the occasion to lecture the increasingly irritated prime minister on press freedom, government corruption and police abuse, among other things.
Mr. Parfyonov was accepting the first annual Vladislav Listyev television award, which comes with a prize of one million rubles, or about $32,000. Video of the speech, which could be found on Channel One’s Web site, was viewed many thousands of times on Friday, particularly in media circles. A prominent blogger, Rustam Adagamov, called it “an epitaph for modern Russian television.”
Mr. Parfyonov sketched out the recent history of Russian broadcasting, starting with Mr. Putin’s ousting of media moguls whose channels were critical of the government and the demand for national unity that came in the wake of terrorist attacks. Journalists in Russia saw their work shearing into two categories: suitable for television, or not suitable for television. While newspaper reporters can still occasionally confront Mr. Putin with uncomfortable questions, television newscasters “guess the authorities’ goals and aims, their moods, their friends and enemies,” when tackling delicate subjects, he said.
“I have no right to blame any one of my colleagues, since I am not a fighter and I do not expect heroic deeds from others, but it is necessary to call things by their names,” he said. As media independence drains away, Russians are increasingly contemptuous of journalism in general and shrug their shoulders when journalists are beaten for their work, he said.
“People do not understand that journalists take risks because of their audience,” he said. “They do not attack journalists because they wrote something, or said something, or filmed something, but because people read it, or heard it, or saw it.”
Vladimir V. Pozner, a veteran television host who was serving as the event’s master of ceremonies, said the speech was startling precisely because Mr. Parfyonov is a cautious man who “has always been part of the corporate structure.”
“It’s not as much criticism of television as criticism of what the government has done to television,” Mr. Pozner said. “Everyone knows that’s the way things stand. Ever since Putin came in, the big channels have been tightly controlled, and everyone knows what you can say or not say.” But, he added, they do not say so in public.
“It’s a little bit like our friend Hans Christian Andersen, and the little boy who said, ‘But the king is naked!’ ” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Doug Casey on Hopium
on: November 26, 2010, 08:58:33 PM
The most recent Doug Casey has this pithy summary of problems not being dealt with:
"Among those issues are historic levels of debt, the long-lasting consequences of a deflating housing bubble, trillions of dollars of toxic paper on the balance sheets of banks and governments here and abroad, unsupportable trade deficits, unpayable entitlements, artificially low interest rates and the likelihood of a self-feeding interest rate death spiral, the high costs of implementing universal health care and the other large programs passed in the last two years, a negative demographic trend, persistent unemployment, and, of course, the escalating race to the bottom for the fiat currencies that is increasingly seen as the only way out for desperate governments around the globe."
Other than that, we are fine.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / LA Times: Olga Kotelko-2
on: November 26, 2010, 02:30:24 PM
The conundrum for masters athletes — though it seems Kotelko’s great fortune to have largely escaped the phenomenon — is this: Big physiological benefits from exercise are there for the taking. You just have to keep exercising. But you can’t exercise if the body breaks down. To avoid injuries, aging track athletes are often advised to keep to their old routines but to lower the intensity. The best advertisement for that strategy was a race turned in five years ago by a 73-year-old from Ontario. Age-graded, Ed Whitlock’s 2:54 marathon (the equivalent of a 20-year-old running 2:03.57) was the fastest ever run. When people collared him afterward to find out his training secret, they learned that he ran every day, slowly, for hours, around the local cemetery.
Kotelko herself speaks often of the perils of getting carried away. “If you undertrain, you might not finish,” she says. “If you overtrain, you might not start.” But there’s some evidence that, in trying to find the sweet spot between staying in race shape and avoiding the medical tent, a lot of seniors athletes aren’t training hard enough — or at least, aren’t training the right way to maximally exploit what their body can still do.
Recently, Scott Trappe, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., published a study on weightlessness and exercise in The Journal of Applied Physiology. Using M.R.I. and biopsy data from NASA, he looked at the exercise program of nine astronauts from the International Space Station. In many ways, an astronaut in zero gravity is undergoing an experiment in accelerated aging — muscles atrophy, bone-density declines. That’s what these astronauts were finding too, even though they were using a treadmill, a stationary bike and a resistance machine.
Trappe concluded the regime wasn’t nearly hard-core enough. His prescription for NASA: heavier loads and explosive movements. “It’s pretty clear that intensity wins up there,” he says. “And I would predict this to be the case as we age. Part of the challenge is the mind-set or dogma that we need to slow down as we get older.” For example, the belief that aging joints and tendons can’t take real weight-training is dead wrong; real weight-training is what might just save them. Seniors can work out less frequently, Trappe reckons, as long as they really bring it when they do.
Kotelko used to train like that — spurred on by her severe Hungarian coach. Strangely though, since easing off the throttle the last few years, she’s getting some of the best results of her life. It’s hard to know what to conclude from that, except perhaps that the gene-shifting theory is true, and Kotelko is still enjoying the compound interest from that earlier sweat equity. “What I do now seems adequate,” she reasons. “It must be. I keep getting world records.”
THE DAY AFTER the treadmill test, Kotelko was ushered into the free-weight gym at McGill University. She lay down at the bench press. Taivassalo was interested in the composition of Kotelko’s muscle fibers. We all have Type 1 muscle (slow-twitch, for endurance) and a couple of varieties of Type 2 (fast-twitch, used for power). Most people are born with roughly half of Type 1 and half of Type 2. Around age 70, fast-twitch muscle begins to stop responding, followed by the decline of slow-twitch a decade later. Power drains away. Trappe calls this the “fast-twitch-fiber problem.” It helps explain the frustration that aging sprinters feel when their times drop off despite their dogged efforts. And no matter how high-tech their exercise program, how strong their will, how good their genes, nobody escapes. Often, the drop-off happens too gradually to notice. But sometimes little moments of perspective pop up.
In Kamloops, Kotelko jumped 5.5 feet to trump her own indoor long-jump world record. Afterward, the sexagenarian pentathletes took to the pit. Among them was Philippa (Phil) Raschker, a 63-year-old from Marietta, Ga., legendary on the masters track circuit. Raschker holds, or has held, more than 200 national and world records — sprints, jumps, hurdles. She was competing in nine events in Kamloops. (This despite being pretty much exhausted from working late into the night filing clients’ taxes for days on end. She’s an accountant; it was March.) When I first saw her high jumping, from a distance, I thought she could have been 25. You could see, below her stretch top, the six-pack. But it wasn’t how Raschker looked that arrested; it was the way she moved. Raschker Fosbury-flopped over the bar like water pouring from a jug. The flop allows you to jump higher than other methods do because your center of gravity never actually clears the bar. But the severe back arch demands a suppleness that’s alien to the aging body, which is why pretty much no one over 65 does it. Kotelko was already too old to flop when she took up track at age 77. Instead, she sort of bestrides the bar. Her world record of 2.7 feet is just a little higher than the superfoamy mat. Overall, Kotelko’s high jump gives the impression of someone taking a run at a hotel-room bed.
Page 5 of 6)
The difference between the world’s greatest 60-year-old and the world’s greatest 90-year-old was clear. On view was the march of “sarcopenia” — the loss of muscle, the theft of that once-explosive power that makes the very old seem subject to a different set of physical laws.
It is irresistible to think of Olga Kotelko and Phil Raschker as twins separated by time. Except that Raschker has the potential advantage of a much earlier head start on the track. Given all that extra compounding interest, might she in 30 years become a kind of super-Olga?
“Hard to say,” Hepple says. “She’s obviously at a point that precedes many of the big changes that usually happen. And we don’t know how resistant she is — and that resistance is something we do think sets Olga apart.” Those extra decades of pounding might break Raschker down or burn her out.
Motivation may ultimately be the issue. Finding reasons to keep exercising is a universal challenge. Even rats seem to bristle, eventually, at voluntary exercise, studies suggest. Young rats seem intrinsically driven to run on the wheels you put in their cages. But one day those wheels just stop turning. The aging athlete must manufacture strategies to keep pushing in the face of plenty of perfectly rational reasons not to: things hurt, you’ve achieved a lot of your goals and the friends you used to do it for and with are disappearing.
But competition can spur people on. “Maintaining your own records in the face of your supposed decline, providing evidence that you’re delaying the effects of aging — these are strong motives,” says Bradley Young, a kinesiology and sports psychology professor at the University of Ottawa. Young studies the factors that make track athletes want to continue competing into old age. A big one is training partners and family — both the encouragement they offer, and the guilt you’d feel letting them down if you quit. But the strongest motivating driver, Young found, was one’s spouse.
In this way, too, Kotelko is unique. She has no husband, and though she does have some family — her daughter Lynda and son-in-law Richard, with whom she lives in Vancouver — they are not involved in her training.
IN ONE OF HER last duties to science on the Montreal trip, Kotelko lay serenely, under local anesthetic, on an examining table in the storied Montreal Neurological Institute, where Wilder Penfield mapped the human brain. “Contract your thigh muscle, please,” Dr. José Morais said. The muscle shrugged up visibly when she tensed. The doctor began to draw out a little plug of tissue with a gleaming silver instrument that looked a bit like a wine corker. The sample would be frozen, and the fibers would later be examined.
Muscle is a decent barometer for the general health of a body. It contains what Hepple calls biomarkers of aging — changes over time in its structure, biochemistry, protein expression. These mark the body’s decreasing ability to withstand the stresses it encounters — “some from outside us, like infections, and some from inside us,” like the cellular trash that builds up through normal body functions like breathing and metabolism. “In essence, they tell us how well Olga has handled the very things that cause most of us to age and die at or around age 80.”
Hepple, in Kotelko’s tissue sample, would be looking for the little angular muscle fibers that typically stop working as people age because they have come unplugged from the motor neurons, nerve cells that tell them to fire. Many researchers assume the problem is within the muscle cells. Hepple disagrees. He says those neighboring motor neurons aren’t activating the muscle as they should, and he speculated that more of Kotelko’s would be functioning properly.
Ideally, these two scientists would like to run a sample through genetic testing. Perhaps there are clues in Kotelko’s genome that will help explain the thing that is so singular about her — not speed or power or prowess in any one event, but the resilience to endure all the stress of hard physical activity, year after year, without a hint of breakdown, and no end to the pattern in sight. “There could be a lot we find out in that biopsy,” Taivassalo said, “that tells us what to ask next.” Taivassalo intends to put together a larger sample size, at least 20 or 30 subjects, all old athletes. At that point the information starts becoming statistically significant, and patterns emerge. If the prospect of 30 more nominal Olgas spraying data points into unmapped space is enough to set the hearts of gerontologists aflutter, to Kotelko, the idea that there may be, somewhere, even one more older track star — a genuine rival — is tantalizing. She yearns, she insists, with semiplausible conviction, to be pushed. There’d be no talk of low-hanging fruit and meaningless medals if there were someone she could race close and beat in real time. “I’d love that,” she told me more than once.
Page 6 of 6)
She may get her wish. Mitsu Morita, an 88-year-old from Japan, is faster than Kotelko was at that age and is breaking all of Kotelko’s records in that age bracket. A Nike ad featuring Morita made her a minor phenomenon in Japan; there are clips of her orbiting the track, followed by laughing teenagers trying to keep up. In the 200, Morita’s world-record time is almost 10 seconds faster than Kotelko’s time in the 90-to-95 category. She claims she gets her strength from eating eel.
Morita is not a big traveler. If she can be persuaded to come to America for the world outdoor championships in Sacramento next summer, Kotelko will have her hands full.
In October, the first of Kotelko’s muscle samples came back from the lab. The results were compelling. In a muscle sample of a person over the age of 65, you would expect to see at least a couple of fibers with some mitochondrial defects. But in around 400 muscle fibers examined, Taivassalo said, “we didn’t see a single fiber that had any evidence” of mitochondrial decay. “It’s remarkable,” she added.
As the data on Kotelko gather, it’s hard to avoid a conclusion. “Olga has done no more training than many athletes, and yet she’s the one still standing,” Hepple says. “Why? In my mind, it has everything to do with her innate physiological profile.”
This sounds like discouraging news: she is not like us. But understanding Kotelko’s uniqueness may provide benefits for others. We could learn a lot about why, for example, nerve cells die by studying someone in whom, for whatever reason, they seem to live on. And that, Taivassalo explains, may have implications for neuromuscular diseases like ALS — for which no current therapies have a meaningful impact. Drugs might be developed to, for example, somehow dial up the signals at that junction where the neurons are supposed to be telling muscles to move. Small molecular agents could target specific problem areas in aging muscles to make them more resilient. “At this stage it’s all speculation,” Hepple says. “But that’s the direction we’re moving. Because all the usual things don’t seem to apply.”
Presumably, at least some of the interventions that emerge will help mimic, for ordinary people entering their very old years, if not exactly Kotelko’s performance on the track, at least something approaching the quality of her life.
This is the other story of the future of aging. When the efforts of medical science converge to simply prolong existence, you envision Updike’s golfer Farrell, poking his way “down the sloping dogleg of decrepitude.” But scientists like Taivassalo and Hepple have a different goal, and exercise — elixir not so much of extended life as extended youthfulness — may be the key to reaching it. James Fries, an emeritus professor at Stanford School of Medicine, coined the working buzz phrase: “compression of morbidity.” You simply erase chronic illness and infirmity from the first, say, 95 percent of your life. “So you’re healthy, healthy, healthy, and then at some point you kick the bucket,” Tarnopolsky says. “It’s like the Neil Young song: better to burn out than to rust.” You get a normal life span, but in Olga years. Who wouldn’t take it?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / LA Times: Olga Kotelko-1
on: November 26, 2010, 02:29:43 PM
On the third floor of the Montreal Chest Institute, at McGill University, Olga Kotelko stood before a treadmill in the center of a stuffy room that was filling up with people who had come just for her. They were there to run physical tests, or to extract blood from her earlobe, or just to observe and take notes. Kotelko removed her glasses. She wore white New Balance sneakers and black running tights, and over her silver hair, a plastic crown that held in place a breathing tube.
STRENGTH Kotelko holds the world indoor shot-put record for women 90 and over.
Olga Kotelko’s Record:16.1 ft.
High-School Record, Women’s: 54 ft.
World Record, Women’s: 74.3 ft.
Tanja Taivassalo, a 40-year-old muscle physiologist, adjusted the fit of Kotelko’s stretch-vest. It was wired with electrodes to measure changes in cardiac output — a gauge of the power of her heart. Taivassalo first met Kotelko at last year’s world outdoor masters track championships in Lahti, Finland, the pinnacle of the competitive season for older tracksters. Taivassalo went to watch her dad compete in the marathon. But she could hardly fail to notice the 91-year-old Canadian, bespandexed and elfin, who was knocking off world record after world record.
Masters competitions usually begin at 35 years, and include many in their 60s, 70s and 80s (and a few, like Kotelko, in their 90s, and one or two over 100). Of the thousands who descended on Lahti, hundreds were older than 75. And the one getting all the attention was Kotelko. She is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95.
“We have in masters track ‘hard’ records and ‘soft’ records,” says Ken Stone, editor of masterstrack.com — the main news source of the growing masters athletic circuit. “Soft records are like low-hanging fruit,” where there are so few competitors, you’re immortalized just for showing up. But Stone doesn’t consider Kotelko’s records soft, because her performances are remarkable in their own right. At last fall’s Lahti championship, Kotelko threw a javelin more than 20 feet farther than her nearest age-group rival. At the World Masters Games in Sydney, Kotelko’s time in the 100 meters — 23.95 seconds — was faster than that of some finalists in the 80-to-84-year category, two brackets down. World Masters Athletics, the governing body of masters track, uses “age-graded” tables developed by statisticians to create a kind of standard score, expressed as a percentage, for any athletic feat. The world record for any given event would theoretically be assigned 100 percent. But a number of Kotelko’s marks — in shot put, high jump, 100-meter dash — top 100 percent. (Because there are so few competitors over 90, age-graded scores are still guesswork.)
In Lahti, watching Kotelko run fast enough that the wind blew her hair back a bit, Taivassalo was awed on a personal level (she’s a runner) and tantalized on a professional one. She hoped to start a database of athletes over 85, testing various physiological parameters.
Scientifically, this is mostly virgin ground. The cohort of people 85 and older — the fastest-growing segment of the population, as it happens — is increasingly being studied for longevity clues. But so far the focus has mostly been on their lives: the foods they eat, the air they breathe, the social networks they maintain and, in a few recently published studies, their genomes. Data on the long-term effects of exercise is only just starting to trickle in, as the children of the fitness revolution of the ’70s grow old.
Though the world of masters track offers a compelling research pool, Taivassalo may seem like an unlikely scientist to be involved. Her area of expertise is mitochondrial research; she examines what happens to the body when mitochondria, the cell’s power plants, are faulty. Her subjects are typically young people who come into the lab with neuromuscular disorders that are only going to get worse. (Because muscle cells require so much energy, they’re hit hard when mitochondria go down.) Some researchers now see aging itself as a kind of mitochondrial disease. Defective mitochondria appear as we get older, and these researchers say that they rob us of endurance, strength and function. There’s evidence that for young patients with mitochondrial disease, exercise is a potent tool, slowing the symptoms. If that’s true, then exercise could also potentially be a kind of elixir of youth, combating the ravages of aging far more than we thought.
Published: November 25, 2010
(Page 2 of 6)
You don’t have to be an athlete to notice how ruthlessly age hunts and how programmed the toll seems to be. We start losing wind in our 40s and muscle tone in our 50s. Things go downhill slowly until around age 75, when something alarming tends to happen.
AGILITY She holds two world records in javelin for women over 85.
Olga Kotelko’s Record: 41 ft
High-School Record, Women’s: 176.5 ft.
World Record, Women’s: 237 ft.
“There’s a slide I show in my physical-activity-and-aging class,” Taivassalo says. “You see a shirtless fellow holding barbells, but I cover his face. I ask the students how old they think he is. I mean, he could be 25. He’s just ripped. Turns out he’s 67. And then in the next slide there’s the same man at 78, in the same pose. It’s very clear he’s lost almost half of his muscle mass, even though he’s continued to work out. So there’s something going on.” But no one knows exactly what. Muscle fibers ought in theory to keep responding to training. But they don’t. Something is applying the brakes.
And then there is Olga Kotelko, who further complicates the picture, but in a scientifically productive way. She seems not to be aging all that quickly. “Given her rather impressive retention of muscle mass,” says Russ Hepple, a University of Calgary physiologist and an expert in aging muscle, “one would guess that she has some kind of resistance.” In investigating that resistance, the researchers are hoping to better understand how to stall the natural processes of aging.
Hepple, who is 44 and still built like the competitive runner he used to be, met Taivassalo at an exercise-physiology conference. She did her Ph.D. on people with mitochondrial disease; he was better acquainted with rats. They married. In the room at McGill, Hepple leaned in to the treadmill, barking encouragement to Kotelko as needed as she jacked her heart rate up beyond 135. In the end, Kotelko’s “maxVO2” score — a strong correlate of cardiovascular endurance — topped out at 15.5. That’s about what you’d expect from a “trained athlete of 91,” if such a type existed.
In truth, there is no type. Though when you hear the stories of older senior athletes, a common thread does emerge. While most younger masters athletes were jocks in college if not before, many competitors in the higher brackets — say, older than age 70 — have come to the game late. They weren’t athletes earlier in life because of the demands of career and their own growing families. Only after their duties cleared could they tend that other fire.
That’s Kotelko’s story, too. She grew up, with parents of Ukrainian descent, on a farm in Vonda, Saskatchewan, No. 7 of 11 kids. In the morning, after the chickens were fed and the pigs slopped and the cows milked, the brood would trudge two miles to school, stuff a broken old softball with sand or rags and play ball. Kotelko loved the game and played through childhood, but as she got older, the opportunities just weren’t there.
As an adult she taught grades 1 through 10 in the one-room schoolhouse in Vonda, married the wrong man young and, realizing her mistake, fled for British Columbia in 1957 with two daughters and brought them up alone, earning her bachelor’s degree at night. Much of her adulthood had run through her fingers before she could even think again about sports.
She picked up softball again after retiring from teaching in 1984 — slow-pitch, but pretty competitive. (“We went for blood.”) And then one day when she was 77, a teammate suggested she might enjoy track and field.
She hooked up with a local coach, who taught her the basics. She found a trainer — a strict Hungarian woman who seemed as eager to push her as Kotelko was keen to be pushed. Juiced with enthusiasm, Kotelko hit the gym hard, three days a week in season. For up to three hours at a stretch, she performed punishing exercises like planks and roman chairs and bench presses and squats, until her muscles quivered and gassed out.
Though she still does some of these things — the push-ups (three sets of 10), the situps (three sets of 25) — she doesn’t push herself the same way anymore. Apart from Aquafit classes three times a week, she pretty much takes the whole dreary Vancouver winter off. Then, come spring, four weeks or so before the first competition of the season (she’ll usually enter five or six meets each year), she starts her routine. She carts her gear to the track at the high school. She dons her spikes, takes a spade and turns the middens of teenage recreation into long-jump pits. And then goes to it — alone. On the track she will often run intervals: slow for a minute, then full out for a minute. At the beginning of each year she figures out where to put her energy. This year it’ll be throws and jumps and the 100-meter dash — the only meaningful world record missing from her résumé. She says she may not run the 200 and 400 again until 2014, when she moves up into the 95-plus age category. (Her current world marks in those events, she reckons, will be safe for four more years.)
She does deep breathing and reflexology. She has developed a massage program, which she rolls out most nights, called the “O.K.” routine, after her own initials. It involves systematically kneading her whole body, from stem to gudgeon, while lying in bed. Sometimes she’ll work one part of her body while stretching another with a looped strap. (“I don’t like wasting time,” she says.)
Ken Stone calls her “bulletproof,” and her history even off the track bears the label out. Apart from two visits to give birth to her daughters, she has seen the inside of a hospital once in her life, for a hysterectomy.
Page 3 of 6)
Kotelko acknowledged her good luck as she put away a big plate of pasta and a glass of red wine one evening, midway through the world indoor championships in Kamloops, British Columbia, this spring.
“How old do you feel?” I asked her.
“Well, I still have the energy I had at 50,” she said. “More. Where is it coming from? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s a mystery even to me.”
The previous day, on a patch of grass tricked out as a javelin field, I watched Kotelko come forward for her turn to throw. Kotelko, who is five feet tall, took the javelin offered by an official with quiet dispatch, like a hockey player accepting a new stick from the bench. There was a bit of a crosswind; it didn’t affect her too much. She picked a cloud to aim at (a tip she first read about in a library book). Ritualistically, she touched the spear tip, rocked on the back foot and let fly, all momentum. It traveled 41 feet.
Later, in her favorite event, the hammer throw, Kotelko took her place on the pitch with the other competitors — younger women she competes alongside, though not strictly against, since at this meet she was the only woman in the 90-and-over category. She removed her glasses. She swung the seven-pound cannonball around her head — once, twice, three times — and the thing sailed, landing with a thud, 45.5 feet away. “If I spun I could throw it farther,” she admitted later, but after watching somebody very old fall that way, she has decided not to risk it.
EXERCISE HAS BEEN shown to add between six and seven years to a life span (and improve the quality of life in countless ways). Any doctor who didn’t recommend exercise would be immediately suspect. But for most seniors, that prescription is likely to be something like a daily walk or Aquafit. It’s not quarter-mile timed intervals or lung-busting fartleks. There’s more than a little suffering in the difference.
Here, though, is the radical proposition that’s starting to gain currency among researchers studying masters athletes: what if intense training does something that allows the body to regenerate itself? Two recent studies involving middle-aged runners suggest that the serious mileage they were putting in, over years and years, had protected them at the chromosomal level. It appears that exercise may stimulate the production of telomerase, an enzyme that maintains and repairs the little caps on the ends of chromosomes that keep genetic information intact when cells divide. That may explain why older athletes aren’t just more cardiovascularly fit than their sedentary counterparts — they are more free of age-related illness in general.
Exactly how exercise affects older people is complicated. On one level, exercise is a flat-out insult to the body. Downhill running tears quadriceps muscles as reliably as an injection of snake venom. All kinds of free radicals and other toxins are let loose. But the damage also triggers the production of antioxidants that boost the health of the body generally. So when you see a track athlete who looks as if that last 1,500-meter race damn near killed him, you’re right. It might have made him stronger in the deal.
Exercise training helps stop muscle strength and endurance from slipping away. But it seems to also do something else, maintains Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (who also happens to be a top-ranked trail runner). Resistance exercise in particular seems to activate a muscle stem cell called a satellite cell. With the infusion of these squeaky-clean cells into the system, the mitochondria seem to rejuvenate. (The phenomenon has been called “gene shifting.”) If Tarnopolsky is right, exercise in older adults can roll back the odometer. After six months of twice weekly strength exercise training, he has shown, the biochemical, physiological and genetic signature of older muscle is “turned back” nearly 15 or 20 years.
Whether we are doing really old folks any favors by prescribing commando-grade training, well, “that’s the million-dollar question,” Hepple says. “Olga can obviously handle it. But most people aren’t Olga.” In general, kidneys and other organs tend to have trouble managing the enzymes and byproducts produced when muscle breaks down. Inflammation, which produces that good kind of soreness weekend warriors are familiar with, “also damages a lot of healthy tissue around it,” notes Li Li Ji, an exercise physiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “That’s why I usually discourage older people from being too ambitious.”
Yet if there’s a single trend in the research into exercise and gerontology, it’s that we have underestimated what old folks are capable of, from how high their heart rates can safely climb to how deeply into old age they can exercise with no major health risks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom
on: November 26, 2010, 12:02:52 PM
a) As we have discussed in the privacy thread, IMHO the correct Constitutional analysis does not limit itself to the 4th; it includes the 9th, which IMO most certainly includes a right to privacy. Your analytical model allows for everyone to be tracked and recorded everywhere they go whenever they step outside their door.
b) In the VP of Rapiscan interview, the Veep said that they WILL be coming out with this program, not that they have already done so.
c) I certainly hope you are right, but in my travels I have had to deal with some serious TSA cases of cranial rectal interface.
Anyway, here's this from Stratfor a few years ago:
The Case for Screening Air Passengers Rather than Belongings
August 18, 2006 | 2319 GMT
PRINT Text Resize:
ShareThisIrish airline Ryanair issued an ultimatum to the British government Aug. 18 to restore normal airport security measures within a week or risk being sued by the company for compensation. Ryanair said it faces more than $3.7 million in losses from disrupted flight schedules in the aftermath of the plot to destroy aircraft in flight using liquid explosives. In announcing the foiled plot Aug. 10, the British government immediately banned passengers from bringing carry-on luggage and liquids of all kinds aboard planes originating in the United Kingdom.
Liquid explosives do pose a serious threat to airliners in flight, although a review of previous plots against planes indicates these types of explosives are not the only thing security services need to be concerned about. Moreover, militants can be expected to adapt to evolving airline security measures.
The British case is reminiscent of Operation Bojinka, a plot to use a modular explosive device made of a doll stuffed with nitrocellulose and augmented by a bottle of liquid explosive. North Korean agents used liquid explosive PLX, disguised as a fifth of liquor, to destroy KAL Flight 858 in 1987. A number of other powerful, commercially manufactured liquid explosives also could be used to attack an airliner, such as nitroglycerine and Astrolite. Improvised versions of these explosives also can be manufactured.
Creative bombmakers have hidden explosives in a number of imaginative ways, perhaps most notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which did some outside-the-box thinking when it melted the explosives TNT and Composition B and cast them into a variety of shapes, including a tea set. PFLP-GC also hid Semtex and other plastic explosives in a variety of items, including running shoes and electronics.
In fact, electronics also have been a popular choice for bombmakers looking to smuggle an improvised explosive device (IED) aboard planes. Perhaps the most famous case is the Libyan-constructed device concealed inside a Toshiba radio cassette player that was used to bring down Pan Am Flight 103. Similar devices hidden in another model of Toshiba cassette player were found in a raid on a PFLP-GC safe house in Germany a few months before the Pan Am 103 bombing.
In the 1987 KAL case, the firing train and a small charge of C-4 hidden inside the radio were used to initiate the PLX. In a London case in 1986, Nezar Hindawi, a Jordanian who later acknowledged working for Syrian intelligence, gave his unwitting and pregnant Irish girlfriend an IED concealed in bag to take on an El Al flight from London to Tel Aviv. The timer and detonator for the device were concealed in a pocket calculator. El Al security detected the device before it could be taken aboard the plane, and Hindawi was quickly arrested. In 1996, Israelis used an IED concealed in a cell phone to assassinate Yahya Ayyash, aka “The Engineer,” an infamous Hamas bombmaker.
These are only past IED incidents involving airplanes, though it is important to point out that, as security measures change, terrorist tactics also will adapt, much as narcotics “mules” have adapted to efforts to prevent them from bringing narcotics aboard planes by using everything from body cavities to dead babies.
In addition to Richard Reid’s infamous shoe bomb, there are many other ways in which explosives could be “worn” onto a plane. In the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434, Abdel Basit and his associates used nitrocellulose camouflaged inside a doll, though nitrocellulose also could be easily hidden in any number of clothing items that have fiber filling, such as mittens and winter coats. Additionally, the design of the ubiquitous suicide vests and belts could allow explosives to be walked through a magnetometer if all the metal components were removed. In August 2004, Israeli authorities found explosive underwear on a young Palestinian attempting to enter Israel at the Erez border crossing. Because of the Reid plot, all passengers must remove their shoes. Had the Palestinian been attempting to board a plane, there is no telling how the incident would now affect passengers at airline security checkpoints.
It is virtually impossible to use technical screening measures to absolutely prevent explosive material from being brought on board an aircraft. Prison authorities using magnetometers and strip searches have failed to completely prevent all contraband from slipping through. The need for a greater reliance on other methods — such as name checks, interviews and behavioral profiling — to keep airplanes safe seems apparent.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty's momentary ruminations
on: November 26, 2010, 11:52:19 AM
For several months now my hip joints (especially the right one) and my sacral joint have been really annoyed and my usual methods for putting things right have been working very slowly.
One of the things I like about the Powerplate that I mentioned in my previous post is that it allows me to release my quads in a way that for me other methods just don't get as well.
Lo and behold! My hip and sacral joints are feeling quite a lot better and it occurs to me that perhaps the underlying problem all along included my quads being really tight-- perhaps induced by the downhill portion of the rucking training I was doing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor
on: November 26, 2010, 11:41:47 AM
STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Colin Chapman: After defending your patch and securing shelter, food and water, a reliable source of energy is the most important policy goal. The two most populous countries - China and India - compete with Japan and the United States for energy. China’s energy consumption has more than doubled in the last decade and is now more than that of the United States. So how are these Asian giants going to secure their future energy?
Welcome to Agenda and to discuss this, I’m joined by STRATFOR’s Rodger Baker. Rodger, let’s start with China.
Rodger Baker: China has been ramping up its energy consumption and we’ve seen that the rate of consumption increased quite a bit in the past few years. One of the things they’re doing to try to alleviate some of that is increasing natural gas imports. That’s by pipelines from Central Asia, it’s by pipelines from Russia that they’re working on, as well as building LNG import terminals. (Marc: Readers of the Afghanistan-Pakistan thread may remember my outside the box proposal for the US to do this for central Asia.)
The Chinese are looking at additional nuclear power as well - trying to set up more nuclear power plants, trying to increase the electricity that comes from that. They’re looking at alternative sources for energy - trying to spread out where they can get oil, where they can get gas, where they can even get coal or uranium. But in general, it’s it’s a very difficult proposition for the Chinese because of the speed and the pace at which energy consumption continues to rise.
Chapman: There’s a world shortage of natural gas at the moment, so this is a good time to do deals.
Baker: It’s certainly good to try to lock in deals for the Chinese at this time. They are a major consumer, and one of the advantages that they have is that they’re fairly close to several of the suppliers in Southeast Asia, in Australia, in Central Asia.
Chapman: Despite the failure of the Copenhagen Summit, China now seems to be at least thinking about clean energy. How serious is it?
Baker: Well, China’s energy and electricity production is almost 3/4 based on coal and is very hard to break away from coal. They’ve got massive domestic supply’s, although in recent years we’ve seen them have to shift to supplement with imports, particularly at peak times or when there’s transportation disruptions within the country.
Their green energy push has a couple of different focuses behind it. One is, of course, the idea that they want to improve the quality of energy that they produce. The other though is an attempt to draw in additional technology and additional payment from other countries, and the Chinese have been strong promoters of green energy, green energy technology and development. But they’ve hoped that a lot of the technology is going to come from the United States, from the Germans, from maybe the Japanese and the Koreans, and on that side they’re starting to find problems, and as we saw at the latest round of global talks on green energy, the Chinese initiative that we saw a year ago that seemed very strong is starting to pull back, starting to fade back, and they’re not really able to push forward as fast as they thought they would.
Chapman: Now the country with the second largest population is India. And it’s growing fast too. How is it going about securing its future energy supplies?
Baker: Like the Chinese, the Indians are looking at natural gas and trying to find ways to bring that in. The domestic infrastructure makes it very difficult in India to move a certain product to different locations of the country. Another thing with India, though, is that they are a fairly high user of a biomass and waste to produce energy. That’s been good for them in some ways in that it gives them domestic sources of energy that perhaps China and other countries don’t seem to take advantage of. On the other hand, the the polluting problems of those sorts of energy are starting to cause a backlash in India and starting to cause them to readjust the way in which they use those sorts of technologies.
Chapman: And then there’s Japan, which is the world’s third-largest economy. And an island state totally dependent on imports.
Baker: Japan is certainly one of the world’s largest economies despite years of economic malaise, and their energy consumption remains very high. But if you look at the charts - in the past - the Japanese were very good at implementing early on energy efficiency measures, and so that the importation of oil, the importation of natural gas didn’t continue to grow apace - where we saw the Chinese starting to rise in their consumptions.
The Japanese maintain their security of their supply lines by maintaining a very strong defense relationship with the United States, but we’ve also seen Tokyo start to dabble in developing its own ways of of ensuring supply lines. So we see them working closer with India, now we see them working in the Middle East. The Japanese have been working on what effectively is a base for their operations out of Djibouti, and these are ways that Japan, both from a security perspective and kind of a long-term interest perspective, is trying to strengthen their supply lines, particularly in the face of a China that seems to be not only more active but a China that is sucking up more and more resources.
Chapman: Of course, on the Pacific is Russia, which is a big energy supplier. Are they preparing to cash in on the huge increase in energy demand in the Pacific?
Baker: One of the problems that Russia faces in really breaking into this large East Asia demand for energy is location. The Russian energy resources aren’t near the borders are, not near the the coastal facilities except for maybe Sakhalin, and are not even near the Chinese border. So they have to run very long pipelines, they have to run the energy by rail and draw it out from really hostile territory inside Russia - based on the weather, based on how far north some of the territory is.
Another issue the Russians have is that they continue to be a little cautious about just where and how they supply their energy. For the longest time you would hear ideas that Russia was concerned that the Chinese were going to rush across the border and hold Siberia because they have a big population, and the Russians have a small population. That’s not really a concern at the moment. There’s no infrastructure there really to absorb the Chinese population or for the Chinese to do that.
The question becomes if you build these pipelines, if you bring in the Chinese investment to develop these energy fields does that change the equation on the way in which China looks at this Russia. So there’s a little bit of caution there. The Russians really have been pushing through their relationships and Central Asia to be able to feed into this region, but we certainly saw Moscow looking at substantially increasing its flow of energy products to the Pacific, to Asia over the next say 10 years.
Chapman: Rodger Baker, thanks very much for those insights on the Asian giants and the future of their energy security. That’s Agenda for this week. I’m Colin Chapman. Thanks very much for joining me.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom
on: November 26, 2010, 11:32:56 AM
Replying to your prior post:
Regarding the last point first, I know that you don't want a dystopian surveillance state. My point is that the interface of the accelerating march of technology in this area and your conceptual framework is, in fact, headed that way.
Having the scanners upgrade from programs that show nude pictures to ones that simply report anomalies and their locations will meet the objections of many people.
Regarding safety, I sent you earlier a letter from scientists in a format that I can't post here the gist of which is that the apparently low radiation numbers are misleading because they are unlike the numbers to which they are being compared; the other numbers are for radiation which goes through the body, whereas here they all come to rest on the skin and that therefore the science on the safety/danger of this technology does not really exist yet.
For me, I think I will opt-out of the scanner and do the dance as the TSA agent grabs my pants. It irks me mightily that in making such a decision I have to wonder if this will put me forever on some DHS data base of "domestic extremists"
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 70% of US debt to be refinanced in next five years
on: November 26, 2010, 11:04:17 AM
In a WaPo article, the head of the FDIC writes
"With more than 70 percent of U.S. Treasury obligations held by private investors scheduled to mature in the next five years, an erosion of investor confidence would lead to sharp increases in government and private borrowing costs."
I knew that we have been doing a lot of short term stuff in financing our deficit, but this datum puts a hard number on it. 70% is one fg scary number. The FDIC agrees with what I have been saying on this point-- when interest rates begin to rise, it is going to be far faster and far more than people with cranial-rectal interface-itis imagine.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / "He got away" has consequences
on: November 26, 2010, 02:27:35 AM
The intro comment is by an LEO friend whose judgment I greatly respect:
Because several officers together did not have the ass to take this man into custody, he killed one of their brethren shortly thereafter...
Excerpt from a Wash Post article yesterday:
About 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23, McDonald spotted a 1997 burgundy Buick with a broken taillight. He ordered the driver, Shermell Howard, 27, to pull over, according to a police report. In the car with her was Daniel Giddings, also 27, a 240-pound felon whose physique one official would describe as "prison buff." The Taurus was tucked into his waistband.
Giddings had been released from prison 36 days earlier after serving eight years of a 12-year sentence for aggravated assault. A judge had ordered him to report to a halfway house, but Giddings soon absconded in violation of his parole. When several police officers, acting on a tip that Giddings was at a house in the area, tried to arrest him, he fought with them and escaped. Now, he was wanted for aggravated assault on the officers as well as the parole violation.
As McDonald walked up to the vehicle, Giddings jumped out and ran. McDonald chased him three blocks through the North Philadelphia neighborhood known as Strawberry Mansion, a place of boarded-up buildings and painted brick rowhouses with metal bars on the doors and windows.
"White T-shirt, brown jacket," McDonald breathlessly told a police dispatcher as he called in the incident on his police radio at 1:46 p.m. and gave his location. "Twenty-four hundred Colorado. Just got on a red bike."
McDonald didn't say - maybe he didn't have time - that Giddings had knocked a child off the bicycle.
McDonald caught up to Giddings, losing his hat along the way. The officer grabbed Giddings and drew his ASP police baton. The two fought. The felon threw the officer to the ground. Both drew guns, Giddings's Taurus against McDonald's Glock 9mm service weapon.
Shots were traded, and McDonald was hit several times, including a round that went through his shoulder and pierced his heart.
Giddings then stood over the officer and pumped more bullets into him...
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: World Gold Council
on: November 26, 2010, 02:11:58 AM
By LIAM PLEVEN and CAROLYN CUI
The innovation that opened gold investing to the masses and helped spur this
year's record-breaking bull market was hatched in an act of desperation by a
little-known gold-mining trade group.
The World Gold Council, created to promote gold, was fighting for survival.
Its members—global gold-mining companies—were frustrated with the council's
inability to stem two decades of depressed prices and find buyers for a
growing glut of the yellow metal. Eight years ago, they were considering
withdrawing funding from the trade group, a move that would have effectively
shut it down.
Chris Thompson, the group's chairman, figured the council needed to expand
the pool of gold buyers, particularly in the U.S. The idea of trading gold
on an exchange had been floating around for years, but various hurdles had
prevented it from taking off in America.
What the council eventually managed to create in those dark days surpassed
its wildest dreams: SPDR Gold Shares, the exchange-traded fund launched in
November 2004. The fund, known by its ticker symbol GLD, has ballooned into
a $56.7 billion behemoth.
Today, GLD is the fastest-growing major investment fund ever, according to
research company Lipper Inc., and one of the most active gold traders in the
market. Its presence has helped gold—which settled down 0.33% in New York
trading Wednesday, at $1,372.90 a troy ounce—triple in price in recent years
to fresh all-time highs this month.
As the world's largest private owner of bullion, GLD is soaking up $30
million of gold daily, stored in a London vault that now holds the
equivalent of about six months' worth of the world's entire gold-mining
The revolution that opened gold investing to the masses and helped spur a
record-breaking bull market was hatched in an act of desperation by an
obscure gold-mining trade group. WSJ's Emma Moody explains SPDR Gold Shares.
GLD has won fans who say it has democratized the gold market, paving the way
for investors of all stripes to get direct exposure to the precious metal.
Its nearly 1 million investors include ordinary individuals, institutions
like Northern Trust Corp. and billionaire hedge-fund managers like John
But skeptics argue GLD could become a Godzilla-like beast if the gold rally
reverses sharply. They say its buying has already turbo-charged gold prices,
exposing the market, and legions of small investors, to a rapid fall.
Smaller copycat funds add to the risk.
"We tell our clients to watch out for it, because it's there, and it's a
real risk," said Jeffrey Christian, founder of CPM Group, which advises
major investors worldwide on gold.
The questions come as ETFs in general are coming under heightened scrutiny
about whether they distort markets. ETFs are wildly popular and growing
fast, spanning stocks, bonds and hard assets. But they have made it possible
for far more money to rush in and out of previously illiquid markets.
GLD shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange, as well as in Tokyo, Hong
Kong, Singapore and Mexico City. Each share represents one-tenth of an ounce
of gold. That, in effect, gives shareholders the right to their share of
proceeds from selling a full bar, minus fees. Before GLD issues new shares,
it takes in the necessary gold to back them. On days when there are more
sellers than buyers of GLD shares, the fund offloads some of its gold.
Created under the auspices of the World Gold Council, the fund relies on a
number of partners. It is marketed under the banner of State Street Global
Advisors, which has fund-selling expertise. HSBC PLC stores and protects the
gold bars. Bank of New York Mellon Corp. handles daily operations, such as
calculating the fund's net asset value. For all its size and breadth, fund
managers say, it's relatively simple to operate. BNY Mellon, for instance,
needs roughly a dozen employees to run the fund day-to-day.
That has helped make it a windfall for all involved. The gold council, which
spent $14 million developing the fund, has reaped about $150 million from
its inception through Sept. 30. Its revenue is a percentage of net asset
value, set at 0.15%. State Street has the same terms and also collected
about $150 million in that time. Both are on track to bring in more than $80
million in the coming year if GLD stays at today's size.
The success owes much to timing. The council launched the fund as interest
in gold was picking up, first because of inflation worries and then as a
safe-haven against financial disasters. Since then gold prices have more
than tripled from $444.80, setting a record high—though not adjusted for
inflation—of $1,409.80 on Nov. 9.
The recent rally has been driven by many factors, of which GLD is just one.
The U.S. dollar has steadily lost value, so some investors have bought gold
as a hedge against the greenback. Tapping new ore veins is getting harder.
Gold has benefited at once from fears of economic stagnation after the
financial crisis and concern that government spending on the recovery will
GLD, though, is widely seen as amplifying those trends.
Buying fund shares is easier and cheaper than investing in gold futures or
buying coins. And GLD has now locked up nearly 1,300 metric tons of the
world's gold supply, making the market tighter. The fund's impact has won it
a following in the gold industry.
"It's got the gold price up," said Nick Holland, chief executive of Gold
Fields Ltd., a major mining company and a member of the gold council.
"That's got to be good."
Access thousands of business sources not available on the free web. Learn
Calculating the impact of GLD and its brethren is far from an exact science.
But industry observers including Mr. Christian and Philip Klapwijk of GFMS
Ltd. estimate gold-backed ETFs have probably added about $100 to $150 an
ounce to the price of gold as a result of the incremental increase in
Translated, that would mean gold-backed ETFs have increased the value of the
bullion that gold miners will produce this year by up to $9 billion.
Many investors believe gold has much further to rise. But after a 10-year,
one-way ride, others worry there could be a violent reversal down the road.
The gold market hasn't been severely tested since GLD and similar, but far
smaller, bullion-backed funds were launched.
And many GLD investors aren't experienced in gold investing. Between 60% and
80% of GLD investors had never bought gold before, estimates Jason
Toussaint, managing director of the council. No one knows how those
newcomers might react in a sharp downturn.
If GLD shareholders get spooked by drops in the gold price and sell en
masse, the fund would have to dump metal to meet redemptions, possibly
accelerating declines by prompting others to sell even more. Because GLD
trades on an exchange, any selloff would be immediately visible, unlike
typically opaque bullion sales.
"We are more concerned about these issues than we were initially," said
Scott Malpass, chief investment officer for University of Notre Dame Asset
Management, which started buying GLD shares in 2005 and now has about $70
million invested. "It can turn on a dime. It can happen very quickly." For
now, Mr. Malpass thinks the advantages of investing in gold outweigh the
risks and the fund is properly managed.
In the fund's planning stages, the world's miners had modest ambitions.
Gold prices were just starting to stir from a 20-year bear market and many
companies were struggling to break even. Hurdles to gold abounded. It was
hard to purchase, store and insure. Some investors chose to own stocks of
The council had long focused on gold jewelry, which represented over 80% of
demand but exposed the industry to economic downturns. In 2002, after the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, jewelry demand for gold dropped 11%.
Attracting investors, the industry concluded, was the way to go. Mr.
Thompson, the chairman, wanted a CEO for the council who would have
credibility with American investors to help implement the vision. He zeroed
in on James Burton, who at the time headed the California Public Employees'
Retirement System, one of the biggest institutional investors in the world.
Calpers had no direct investments in gold.
In July 2002, Mr. Burton flew to meet Mr. Thompson in London. Mr. Burton was
skeptical, but curious. Their discussions lasted 12 hours—including talks
over a round of golf, two rounds of beers and meals. Mr. Thompson gave an
overview of the gold market, and a pitch for why the moment was ripe to
attract retail investors. By the end, Mr. Burton was hooked.
In August 2002, Mr. Burton, who had left Calpers, took over the gold council
and immediately slashed 60% of the 108-person staff, closed half of the 22
offices and set about creating what became GLD.
The gold council wanted a product that ordinary investors could buy and sell
just like a stock. The challenge was to make shares track the gold price,
much like an index fund. The eventual solution was to create a trust to
serve as the legal owner of GLD's gold bars.
Products were launched in Australia and the U.K. But getting a U.S. version
took longer than the council expected.
The mining community backed the idea, but worried it might cannibalize
demand for gold-mining stocks. Since it was to be the first U.S. fund
entirely backed by a physical commodity, regulators also sought to
understand how the concept would work. The Securities and Exchange
Commission spent months seeking information about the product and the gold
market, say Mr. Burton and Mr. Thompson.
The gold council also needed to hire assorted players—a trustee, a marketing
agent and a vault operator. That process wasn't seamless, either.
Barclays PLC worked for months on the project, then withdrew and built its
own fund, the iShares Gold Trust, which also holds bullion. Barclays sold
the iShares exchange-traded fund business to BlackRock in June 2009, and its
smaller gold fund has since become an intense competitor.
The council also wasn't sure how successful the fund would be, and paid UBS
Securities $4 million for underwriting the first 2.3 million shares of GLD,
according to regulatory filings. UBS declined to comment.
"I thought it would take a lot more marketing effort to convince people to
buy gold in a securitized form," said Mr. Burton.
But as GLD opened, the pent-up investor demand erupted. The fund hit $1
billion in assets in three trading days, and $10 billion in just over two
"It grew pretty quickly," said Jim Ross, head of exchange-traded funds for
State Street. The firm manages 120 exchange-traded funds, as of Sept. 30,
and the SPDR S&P 500 fund is the only one larger than GLD. "The fact that's
our second-most successful product is still surprising to me, frankly," Mr.
The sniping at GLD also began early. Some gold investors questioned whether
the fund held as much bullion as it said it did, eventually prompting the
council to post on its website audit reports by an independent firm,
Inspectorate International Ltd., which conducts two counts each year of
GLD's gold bars in London.
A segment of the gold-investing community still prefers to secure a personal
stash. Some want to be able to get their hands on their bullion in a hurry,
particularly in the event of a severe crisis. Gold-vault operators are
cutting fees to lure such investors.
Rivals also highlight worst-case scenarios the fund could face. Ben Davies,
chief executive of London-based Hinde Capital, which oversees a gold fund,
noted that GLD's bullion isn't insured. If the gold "is lost, damaged,
stolen or destroyed," the trust "may not have adequate sources of recovery,"
according to the prospectus.
Mr. Toussaint said the council believes HSBC's security measures and the
bank's other liability coverage provide protection. "That's the whole reason
we put it in a vault in the first place," he said.
Despite GLD's success, even those involved in the fund acknowledge the rally
will eventually end. "We don't believe gold is always going to go up," said
State Street's Mr. Ross. "No investment does."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 3 points &unionizing the TSA
on: November 26, 2010, 01:58:09 AM
You make many points well, but
a) I repeat the line of inquiry about corruption: former DHS head Cherthoff (sp?) representing Rapiscan
b) I repeat the point made by Rapiscan's VP that Rapiscan will shortly have scanners that simply report anomalies and their general location-- which certainly would vitiate the issue of nudie pictures and what happens to them
c) As evidenced on the Privacy thread on our SCH forum and on this thread here, I think you fail utterly to appreciate that a goodly part of what motivates those here who disagree with you is not stupidity or the inability to follow a logical line of thought, but rather where your logic will take us when followed to its logical conclusions-- to a state where we are followed and recorded for posterity by cameras and microphones wherever we go and even the privacy of our own bodies is outweighed by the logic of eliminating all risk.
By JOHN FUND
As millions of Americans travel to be with family on Thanksgiving, many will encounter the Transportation Safety Administration's new full-body scanners and pat-down searches at airports. Complaints are piling up and a new Washington Post poll finds 50% of Americans say the pat-down searches "go too far" in violating civil liberties.
But if you think TSA is dysfunctional and unpopular now, wait until it unionizes. This month, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that 50,000 TSA personnel will be allowed to vote on whether or not to join a union with full collective bargaining rights. The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are already gearing up their campaigns to win over the screeners.
After 9/11, Congress wisely decided to forbid TSA employees from coming under union work rules out of fear that it could compromise security. Imagine if every change in procedures had to be cleared with union shop stewards. While it is not easy to fire TSA personnel now, just think how difficult it will be to remove bad employees if they are covered by union job protection agreements.
But in 2007, the new Democratic Congress eliminated the ban on collective bargaining, and as soon as Barack Obama became president in 2009 his appointees began pushing unionization for TSA. Last year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted in Congressional testimony that she backs collective bargaining rights for TSA employees, overriding the considered judgment of all previous TSA administrators that such rights are at cross-purposes with the flexibility TSA needs to meet certain threats.
John Mica of Florida, the new GOP chair of the House Transportation Committee, told me last month that we should have followed the advice of Israeli security experts and used private contractors and psychological tests to counteract terrorism in the wake of 9/11. At least one busy airport -- Orlando International -- is preparing to dump TSA in favor of a private security company, which is allowed under an opt-out provision in the federal law governing airport security. "Having TSA going towards unionization is just the wrong way to go," said Mr. Mica.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB (Pravda on the Beach a.k.a. the Left Angeles Times)
on: November 25, 2010, 01:15:51 PM
I preface this by noting
a) that IMHO Bush's approach to Russia failed and left us in a very weak position; and
b) that Reagan wanted to share Star Wars with the Russians. Now, a mere 25 years or so later, Obama appears to be thinking of something similar.
Reporting from Washington —
As he flew to Yokohama, Japan, this month, President Obama was on the way to the sleeper event of the fall, a peripheral get-together almost entirely overlooked amid a battery of colossal global summits.
Hardly anyone outside the White House even knew of the one-on-one with the Russian president, quietly scheduled for a Sunday morning two weeks ago.
Even Obama's team didn't realize that he and Dmitry Medvedev were on the brink of a deal that could eventually bring the Russians in on a plan to build a missile defense system in Europe in cooperation with NATO, the organization whose longtime mission was to keep Moscow's nuclear threat in check.
For weeks, Russian negotiators had been putting the brakes on missile talks. One top Obama advisor was ready to let it go for at least a year.
But it was to be a lesson in summitry for a White House entourage — officials, advisors and journalists — that had been focused on the big-name acronym summits this month. Especially stinging for Obama had been the failure to achieve key objectives at the G-20 summit of industrialized nations days earlier in Seoul, leaving the United States on its own in dealing with its fragile economy and high unemployment rate.
In the realm of diplomacy, though, deals that seem entirely on track can fall apart when the titans convene. And newer, more significant ones can appear out of thin air.
"It's interesting," deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said in retrospect, "how a bilateral meeting at one summit is necessary to yield results at another."
Just before boarding Air Force One to Yokohama, the president shook off the headlines that had irritated him in Seoul. Such meetings don't always produce "revolutionary progress," he said, but rather "evolutionary progress."
The Nov.13-14 trip to Japan was devoted almost entirely to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. A meeting on the sidelines with Medvedev was expected to be just another get-together for the two fortysomething lawyers.
That Sunday morning, the presidents and their top advisors arranged themselves around a long table in a small meeting room of the InterContinental Yokohama Grand Hotel and started talking about previously negotiated issues: Afghanistan, trade, the START arms treaty they'd signed but not ratified.
On missile defense, Obama knew that the negotiators in Brussels had not worked out the important issues, such as how to agree on common threats or resume joint-defense exercises. He turned the conversation there anyway. And as he did, advisors in the room were surprised by Medvedev's demeanor.
"He was leaving himself wiggle room," said one senior Obama administration official who was there, "and not committing to anything. But he was clearly very friendly and open to what the president was saying."
That meant something to the Americans at the table. In treaty talks the year before, when Medvedev had wanted to give some ground but hadn't yet built support for it back home, they'd seen him adopt the same mien.
Four days later, U.S. Ambassador Ivo Daalder, Obama's NATO point man in Brussels, called to report a development. The Russian brakes were off, he said.
Indeed, at the final summit of the month — of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders in Lisbon — the Russians shook hands on some surprising plans, although the details have yet to be worked out. Medvedev agreed to work toward cooperation with NATO on a missile shield designed to protect Europe and the United States, beginning with a study of each side's technologies and how they might be interwoven.
Missile defense was no longer a problem in U.S. and NATO relations with Russia, Daalder said. Instead, it was now "a means to foster greater cooperation with Russia."
The plan is far from reality. Medvedev is imposing some conditions that have to be studied, and it may be more likely that the best result will be cooperative development of separate NATO and Russian missile defense systems.
Still, analysts say there was a breakthrough in Lisbon, owing in large part to the "reset" in relations with Russia that began when Obama came to office and pledged to start over with Moscow.
"This was an important moment to show we're moving beyond that confrontational relationship," said Stephen Flanagan, former Russia advisor to President Clinton and a now scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Just getting Medvedev to show up for the NATO summit was a feat, he said, as was the fact that the European nations welcomed his presence.
Obama sees the Russian relationship as a long game, said Mike McFaul, his top Russia advisor. The reboot of the American relationship had to come first, and a fresh start with NATO could follow.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor develops its analysis further
on: November 25, 2010, 12:26:44 AM
Building on the previous post, , ,
Deciphering North Korea's Provocations
North Korean artillery began shelling the island of Yeonpyeongdo in disputed waters Tuesday afternoon (local time). The island is occupied by South Korea and located in the West (Yellow) Sea south of the Northern Limit Line that South Korea claims as its territory, but north of the Military Demarcation Line that North Korea claims as its territory. Homes were destroyed and at least two South Korean soldiers were killed. South Korean artillery responded in kind, and South Korean F-16 fighter jets were scrambled.
Looking back, in 1968, North Korean commandoes staged an attack on the Blue House, the South Korean president’s office and residence, in an assassination attempt against South Korean President Park Chung Hee. In 1983, North Korean special agents killed four members of the South Korean Cabinet on a visit to Myanmar, and in 1987 they caused an explosion on a South Korean airplane that killed 115 people. There were running gunbattles in the hills of South Korea in 1996 as Koreans pursued commandoes that had infiltrated the South via submarine. Even today, small arms fire and even artillery fire are routinely exchanged between the North and the South — particularly in the disputed waters west of the Demilitarized Zone. Naval skirmishes occurred there in 1999, 2002 and 2009, and it was in these same waters that the South Korean corvette ChonAn (772) sank in March.
The ChonAn sinking combined with the wider context really brings this recent incident into relief. Despite what Seoul and its allies consider to be irrefutable proof of Pyongyang’s culpability in the sinking of the ChonAn, there was no meaningful reprisal against the North beyond posturing and rhetoric. Needless to say, international sanctions have not succeeded in chastening North Korea in recent years.
“The question is, what exactly is Pyongyang pushing for?”
History is rife with examples of sunken warships that either served as a pretext for war or were ignored in the name of larger geopolitical interests. But while the ChonAn sinking was not incomparable to other fatal incidents in North-South relations on the Korean Peninsula, it has certainly been a new low-water mark for the last decade. And historical precedent or not, it is generally worth taking note when one country does not respond to the aggression of another that has committed an overt act of war by sinking a ship and taking dozens of sailors’ lives. Perhaps the most overt result of the ChonAn sinking other than some very serious internal retrospection regarding South Korea’s military and its defense posture was the tension between the United States and South Korea over Washington’s hesitancy to deploy an American aircraft carrier at Seoul’s request as a demonstration of the strength and resolve of the alliance (due to Washington’s sensitivity to Beijing’s opposition).
Indeed, the subsequent compromise between Seoul and Washington was supposed to center on an enhanced schedule of military exercises over time — including both new exercises and the expansion of existing ones. Among these was supposed to be the Hoguk 2010 exercise that began Monday and included some 70,000 South Korean troops conducting maneuvers — including on the very island shelled by North Korea, Yeonpyeongdo — an annual exercise in which the United States has often participated. Yet American participation was withdrawn earlier in the month at effectively the last minute over a “scheduling conflict” — in reality once again likely due to American concerns about the broader regional dynamic, including China’s and Japan’s reaction (the drills would have involved U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa partaking in an amphibious invasion of a small island, which would have been somewhat provocative in the current tense atmosphere over island sovereignty in Northeast Asia). What’s more, the United States has little interest in seeing conflict flare up between the North and the South, so its calculus may in fact be not only wider regional concerns but also specifically the tension on the Korean Peninsula. In other words, part of the American motivation to withdraw its participation in Hoguk 2010 may very well have been to avoid provoking North Korea, even at the expense of further disappointing its South Korean ally.
Even before the Hoguk 2010 withdrawal, the U.S. hesitancy had enormous impact on Seoul, which, in the South Korean mind, was refused immediate and unhesitating reinforcement by its most important ally at the worst possible moment because of other American interests in the region. The state of the alliance is still strong, and exercises at more convenient times can be expected. But the course of events in 2010 in terms of the American commitment to the alliance may well define South Korean strategic thinking for a decade.
For North Korea, on the other hand, it is hard to imagine a more successful course of events. It struck at its southern rival with impunity and, as a bonus, provoked potentially lasting tensions in the military alliance arrayed against it. The North also wants to avoid all-out war, so Pyongyang is not without its disincentives in terms of provoking Seoul. Note that North Korea’s actions have been limited to disputed areas and of a nature that would be difficult to interpret as a prelude to a larger, broader military assault (one to which the South Korean military would be forced to respond). Instead Pyongyang appears to be calling attention to the disputed maritime border, at least in part a bid to emphasize the need for a peace treaty or some similar settlement that would resolve the disadvantageous status quo in the sea and give Pyongyang the assurances of non-aggression from the United States that it desires.
Yet Pyongyang enjoys a significant trump card — its “nuclear” option. By this, STRATFOR does not mean North Korea’s fledgling nuclear program, which may or may not include workable atomic devices. We mean the legions of hardened conventional artillery positions within range of downtown Seoul and able to rain down sustained fire upon the South Korean capital, home to about 46 percent of the country’s population and source of about 24 percent of its gross domestic product. Though North Korea’s notoriously irrational behavior is actually deliberate, carefully cultivated and purposeful, Seoul is still an enormous thing to gamble with, and South Korea — and the United States, for that matter — can hardly be faulted for not wanting to gamble it on military reprisals in response to what amount to (admittedly lethal) shenanigans in outlying disputed areas.
The problem that has emerged for the United States and its allies is that “red lines” exist only if they are enforced, and both Iran and North Korea have become expert at pushing and stretching them as they see fit. Though (despite rhetoric and appearances) Pyongyang absolutely wants to avoid war, especially during the transition of power, it has now established considerable room to maneuver and push aggressively against its southern rival.
So, what exactly is Pyongyang pushing for? What does it seek to achieve through the exertion of this pressure? Is it still within the realm of its behavior throughout most of the past decade, in which provocations were intended to give it the upper hand in international negotiations, or is it now asking for something more? The North Korean regime has been extraordinarily deliberate and calculating, and one would think it remains so. But is this ability to calculate weakening as a result of the internal strains of the power transition, or other unseen factors? Finally, what is Pyongyang ultimately aiming at as it takes advantage of South Korea’s inability to respond?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Had BO been at Plymouth Rock , , ,
on: November 24, 2010, 05:45:46 PM
Had today's political class been in power in 1623, tomorrow's holiday would have been called "Starvation Day" instead of Thanksgiving. Of course, most of us wouldn't be alive to celebrate it.
Every year around this time, schoolchildren are taught about that wonderful day when Pilgrims and Native Americans shared the fruits of the harvest. But the first Thanksgiving in 1623 almost didn't happen.
Long before the failure of modern socialism, the earliest European settlers gave us a dramatic demonstration of the fatal flaws of collectivism. Unfortunately, few Americans today know it.
The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share the work and produce equally.
That's why they nearly all starved.
When people can get the same return with less effort, most people make less effort. Plymouth settlers faked illness rather than working the common property. Some even stole, despite their Puritan convictions. Total production was too meager to support the population, and famine resulted. This went on for two years.
"So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented," wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, (I) (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."
In other words, the people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.
"This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many."
Because of the change, the first Thanksgiving could be held in November 1623.
What Plymouth suffered under communalism was what economists today call the tragedy of the commons. The problem has been known since ancient Greece. As Aristotle noted, "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."
If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free-rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty.
What private property does -- as the Pilgrims discovered -- is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there's a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.
Here's the biggest irony of all: The U.S. government has yet to apply the lesson to its first conquest: Native Americans. The U.S. government has held most Indian land in trust since the 19th century. This discourages initiative and risk-taking because, among other reasons, it can't be used as collateral for loans. On Indian reservations, "private land is 40 to 90 percent more productive than land owned through the Bureau of Indian Affairs," says economist Terry Anderson, executive director of PERC. "If you drive through western reservations, you will see on one side cultivated fields, irrigation, and on the other side, overgrazed pasture, run-down pastures and homes. One is a simple commons; the other side is private property. You have Indians on both sides. The important thing is someone owns one side."
Secure property rights are the key. When producers know their future products are safe from confiscation, they take risks and invest. But when they fear they will be deprived of the fruits of their labor, they will do as little as possible.
That's the lost lesson of Thanksgiving.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Laying down the line
on: November 24, 2010, 04:13:06 PM
The shelling across the Northern Limit Line between North Korea and South Korea recently has raised a lot of questions as to just what the North Koreans are doing — why they carried out this act at this particular time. One of the elements to that is really to better understand what is the Northern Limit Line, why is it there and how do the North Koreans view this.
At the end of the Korean War, as the armistice was being discussed, there was a general agreement on where the DMZ — the demilitarized zone - would go between the two Koreas. However, there was no agreement on where the maritime border would go on the west coast. The United Nations unilaterally drew the Northern Limit Line — putting it within three nautical miles of the North Korean coast, which was standard territory at the time. It also placed five islands just south of the NLL under South Korean or under U.N. control at the time. And in many ways, that boxed in the North Koreans, and it protected the southern port at Incheon.
The North Koreans never recognized the NLL, and by the late 1950s they were already complaining about it. They were suggesting the creation of what they called the MDL — the military demarcation line. This would have been a line that matches more along the 12 nautical miles and runs fairly diagonally between North Korea and South Korea in the West Sea. For the North Koreans, this would give them access to Haeju, their southern deepwater port. It would also give them access to critical crab-fishing grounds in the area.
For the South Koreans however the shape of the MDL, from their perspective, would put Incheon at risk, and South Korea and the United Nations refused to change the line.
As the Cold War was drawing to a close, the North Koreans were looking at ways to modify and change their economic structure. They knew they couldn’t be fully reliant upon the Chinese, upon the Soviets or the Russians after that point. And they started looking into the idea of special economic zones, of trying to increase trade. Ports became very important for them, and they started looking again at Haeju and they started looking again at the Northern Limit Line.
By the end of the 1990s and the firm establishment of Kim Jong Il as the new leader of North Korea, the Northern Limit Line became a very hot area once again. There were two incidents at the end of 1999 and the beginning of the 2000s of shelling between the two Koreas — a maritime fight which had ships sunk on both sides. Tensions began to rise along that line. The North Koreans started calling for a renegotiation of the line and demanding that the South Koreans back away from their positions along that line.
When we look at North Korea’s broad strategic behavior in trying to force negotiations over critical issues, we see them posturing, we see them raising crises so they can step back from them in return for talks and for negotiations. But as we’ve seen in the issues of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, they’ve reached a point where it’s very hard now to create a crisis because they’ve already tested nuclear weapons; they’ve already launched long-range missiles. In general, any red line — real or imagined — has already been crossed.
We’re seeing now on the NLL that the North Koreans are having a step up even to a higher state of activity to be able to draw attention to the NLL. So shelling into the water doesn’t do it, missile tests doesn’t do it, shooting between boats doesn’t necessarily do it, even the incident with the Chon An didn’t seem to bring this NLL issue back up onto the table. They’re now shelling South Korean islands.
The question is how far do the North Koreans have to go before the crisis either draws attention in the way they want or forces a response from the South Koreans and, ultimately, from the United States.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Guro Crafty's momentary ruminations
on: November 24, 2010, 03:16:50 PM
About once a year I go through a squat cycle.
My routine is very simple. The first week I start at 3 sets of 10x135, then the each weak I add 20 or 10 pounds for the top set and do it for 5 reps. As long as I can do the 5 reps, the next week I add weight. In the 7-8 days between squat day, I make sure to have one explosive day for legs, typically sprints (100 yards for time) and basic football/lacrosse agility type drills on the neighborhood high school's football field.
Today I spent the $15 to go to a special gym (The Yard in Hermosa Beach) frequently the site of various pro athletes. One of my favorite gizmos there is the "powerplate", a device which vibrates in a special way and releases muscles, blah blah; it is excellent for performance preparation. Then I I did my squats and accomplished today's mission (5x195) rather easily. Yes, the numbers are humble, but for me it works best to plug along steadily adding 10 pounds a week (20 for the first few weeks) until the rate of return diminishes-- typically somewhere around 5x255. Then I am done with the cycle and on to something else.
Also, for some strange reason I did incline bench today. I have no idea why I prefer incline to flat bench, but I do.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia & China blow off dollar
on: November 24, 2010, 03:09:09 PM
This is what comes of following deranged policies:
China, Russia quit dollar
St. Petersburg, Russia - China and Russia have decided to renounce the US dollar and resort to using their own currencies for bilateral trade, Premier Wen Jiabao and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced late on Tuesday.
Chinese experts said the move reflected closer relations between Beijing and Moscow and is not aimed at challenging the dollar, but to protect their domestic economies.
"About trade settlement, we have decided to use our own currencies," Putin said at a joint news conference with Wen in St. Petersburg.
The two countries were accustomed to using other currencies, especially the dollar, for bilateral trade. Since the financial crisis, however, high-ranking officials on both sides began to explore other possibilities.
The yuan has now started trading against the Russian rouble in the Chinese interbank market, while the renminbi will soon be allowed to trade against the rouble in Russia, Putin said.
"That has forged an important step in bilateral trade and it is a result of the consolidated financial systems of world countries," he said.
Putin made his remarks after a meeting with Wen. They also officiated at a signing ceremony for 12 documents, including energy cooperation.
The documents covered cooperation on aviation, railroad construction, customs, protecting intellectual property, culture and a joint communiqu. Details of the documents have yet to be released.
Putin said one of the pacts between the two countries is about the purchase of two nuclear reactors from Russia by China's Tianwan nuclear power plant, the most advanced nuclear power complex in China.
Putin has called for boosting sales of natural resources - Russia's main export - to China, but price has proven to be a sticking point.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who holds sway over Russia's energy sector, said following a meeting with Chinese representatives that Moscow and Beijing are unlikely to agree on the price of Russian gas supplies to China before the middle of next year.
Russia is looking for China to pay prices similar to those Russian gas giant Gazprom charges its European customers, but Beijing wants a discount. The two sides were about $100 per 1,000 cubic meters apart, according to Chinese officials last week.
Wen's trip follows Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's three-day visit to China in September, during which he and President Hu Jintao launched a cross-border pipeline linking the world's biggest energy producer with the largest energy consumer.
Wen said at the press conference that the partnership between Beijing and Moscow has "reached an unprecedented level" and pledged the two countries will "never become each other's enemy".
Over the past year, "our strategic cooperative partnership endured strenuous tests and reached an unprecedented level," Wen said, adding the two nations are now more confident and determined to defend their mutual interests.
"China will firmly follow the path of peaceful development and support the renaissance of Russia as a great power," he said.
"The modernization of China will not affect other countries' interests, while a solid and strong Sino-Russian relationship is in line with the fundamental interests of both countries."
Wen said Beijing is willing to boost cooperation with Moscow in Northeast Asia, Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in major international organizations and on mechanisms in pursuit of a "fair and reasonable new order" in international politics and the economy.
Sun Zhuangzhi, a senior researcher in Central Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the new mode of trade settlement between China and Russia follows a global trend after the financial crisis exposed the faults of a dollar-dominated world financial system.
Pang Zhongying, who specializes in international politics at Renmin University of China, said the proposal is not challenging the dollar, but aimed at avoiding the risks the dollar represents.
Wen arrived in the northern Russian city on Monday evening for a regular meeting between Chinese and Russian heads of government.
He left St. Petersburg for Moscow late on Tuesday and is set to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-11/24/content_11599087.htm
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB: PETN
on: November 24, 2010, 03:08:10 PM
Reporting from Washington — New airport security procedures that have stirred the emotions of air travelers — full-body scans and aggressive pat-downs — were largely designed to detect an explosive powder called PETN, which has been a staple of Al Qaeda bomb makers for nearly a decade.
It was PETN that was molded into the sole of Richard Reid's black high-top sneaker when he walked onto American Airlines Flight 63 bound for Miami in December 2001.
It was PETN that was sewn into the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, authorities say, when he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
And it was PETN that suspected Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen packed inside computer printer cartridges that were shipped Oct. 28, intending to blow up planes en route to Chicago.
None of the plots succeeded in taking down an aircraft, but top U.S. officials are concerned about fresh indications that Al Qaeda remains determined to get PETN on airplanes by trying to exploit vulnerabilities in passenger and cargo screening.
Not only has the terrorist network acknowledged its role in bomb plots, it is also sharing what it knows about building bombs on the Web and elsewhere.
PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate, presents some vexing problems for security experts. A powder about the consistency of fine popcorn salt, it will not trigger an alarm on a metal detector. Because of its more stable molecules, PETN gives off less vapor, making it more difficult to detect by bomb-sniffing dogs and the trace swabs used by the Transportation Security Administration.
PETN's stability makes it easy to hide and easily transformed. When mixed with rubber cement or putty, it becomes a rudimentary plastic explosive — a baseball-sized amount can blow a hole in an airplane fuselage.
"PETN is hard to detect and lends itself to being concealed," said an intelligence official who was not authorized to speak on the record. "It packs a punch."
One way to detect PETN is through its detonator, which typically uses materials that are easier to trace. Reid's shoe bomb combined PETN with a volatile explosive accelerant called TATP that can be made from dime-store nail polish and hydrogen peroxide. The Yemen printer cartridge bombs placed the PETN around small homemade blasting caps containing the chemical lead azide.
The fact that PETN has been the common denominator in all of the bombs is a major reason why the TSA is unlikely to yield substantially in its search for practical ways to prevent the deadly powder from making it aboard a plane.
The new aggressive pat-downs and the increased use of full-body scanners — there are more than 400 machines in 69 U.S. airports — were a direct response to last year's alleged bombing attempt on Christmas Day, when Abdulmutallab passed through screening with 80 grams of PETN, authorities say.
Some passengers have objected to the enhanced screening as an invasion of privacy, though several polls show air travelers consider safety far more important.
"I know people want to bomb us," TSA chief John Pistole told reporters Monday. Pistole isn't just worried about terrorists in Yemen. He said he is particularly concerned that home-grown terrorists might "get ahold of a PETN device."
PETN can be made in a rudimentary lab or salvaged from old munitions. It can scraped from old bombs or stripped out of detonator cord, a fast-burning fuse about the diameter of a clothesline that is commonly used in road construction and mining. The amount of PETN in 5 feet of detonator cord has enough explosive power to buckle the roof of a car.
Smuggling explosives onto airplanes is a vulnerability that the TSA has known about since 2005, when covert testing teams run by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general were able to penetrate TSA airport security with explosive-like test devices, Pistole said.
The best technological weapons that the TSA has now are body scans of passengers and X-rays of cargo and baggage. But the scanners can't see anything hidden inside body cavities, and their effectiveness relies on operators identifying something unusual.
The scanners are "just anomaly detectors. Someone has to notice, has to have some expertise," said former Homeland Security Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin, who managed covert testing teams in 2003 and 2004 that were able to get guns, knives and explosives through TSA screening.
There are new techniques available for cargo, baggage and passenger screening that can detect individual explosive molecules using mass spectrometry, a technology that would be better at identifying PETN than the swab machines in use by the TSA.
"There is no question that the technology now deployed can't do it," Ervin said.
Even technology can only detect so much. The printer cartridge bombs from Yemen were sealed in plastic and cleaned with solvents to remove PETN molecules. The packages were discovered because of a tip from Saudi intelligence services.
Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, said security screening needed to be less predictable, "so Al Qaeda and our [other] adversaries can't simply game the system."
The TSA also should invest in better human intelligence and institute a method of questioning passengers that Israel uses at airport checkpoints, said Edward Luttwak, an expert on security strategy and a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In recent discussions with members of the security services in Israel, Luttwak found "general puzzlement about TSA's enthusiasm for these machines."
The TSA's plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars deploying more than 1,000 full-body scanners by the end of 2011 "is a syndrome of having no budget limits and maybe aggressive salesmanship," Luttwak said.
Israeli screeners, he added, are not looking for people who fit a physical profile, but a behavioral profile of avoidance and inconsistency. In Luttwak's view, it is easier for terrorists to design a bomb that can get past a screening regime than it is to find someone who is both a good actor and willing to be a suicide bomber.
A TSA program to identify suspicious behavior in search lines has deployed about 3,000 agents in more than 160 U.S. airports. Officers are trained to identify suspicious facial expressions and body language by walking up and down the line, initiating conversations and pulling passengers for additional screening.
In a glossy, color magazine released this week by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni-based group vowed to continue using PETN. The magazine, written in English, included photos and a detailed description of how the printer cartridge bombs were made and packaged to avoid detection by bomb-sniffing dogs.
The authors encouraged copycat attacks: "Do you think that our research will only be used by Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula and won't be shared with other mujahidin?"
The headline on the magazine was simply "$4,200" — the amount the group says it spent to build and ship the bombs.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / another Stratfor: Helmand Vallye
on: November 24, 2010, 11:32:19 AM
second post of the morning:
One theme of this weekly update, particularly in recent months, has been a rather critical view of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan. This perspective has its roots in the strategic and grand strategic altitude from which STRATFOR views the world and the context into which STRATFOR attempts to place world events. In particular, STRATFOR has raised questions regarding the opportunity costs of the forces committed to the counterinsurgency-focused strategy in Afghanistan and the size and duration of the commitment necessary to attempt to achieve meaningful and lasting results. But this update has also long endeavored to provide an accurate portrayal of operational and tactical developments — both challenges and successes. STRATFOR noted at the beginning of the year that the “new” American strategy, though it has its flaws, is more coherent and entails a more tough-minded recognition and awareness of U.S. challenges and weaknesses in Afghanistan.
The central Helmand River Valley is an example of recent tactical success. Here the U.S. Marine Regimental Combat Team-1 (RCT-1) is responsible for key areas south of Lashkar Gah, the Helmand provincial capital, including the farming community of Marjah to the west and Nawa and Gamshir further south down the Helmand River. Some two years ago, this area was the responsibility of a single Marine infantry battalion (some 1,000 Marines), that was spread quite thin simply attempting to provide some semblance of security in district centers. Today, four battalions provide security across the Regimental Area of Operations from more than 100 positions — many held by a squad of only about nine Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman and partnered with an Afghan National Army (ANA) squad. Other positions are held by the Afghan Uniform Police, the Afghan National Civil Order Police (a gendarmerie formation) or the ANA independently. A local community police initiative awkwardly known as the Interim Security Critical Infrastructure provides a block-by-block arrangement where locals provide for their own security.
(click here to enlarge image)
After two years of security operations in Nawa, Marine commanders will now visit the central market without helmets or body armor. It is the success story of the recent U.S.-led effort here, and one which commanders consider replicable in Marjah and Gamshir — where the fight is still more kinetic — given time. And there have been signs that locals are more forthcoming with intelligence and share it with both U.S. forces and Afghan forces, a potentially important sign for the durability of the civilian relationship with the government.
Gains across the central Helmand River Valley remain fragile and reversible, and it will take time to consolidate and entrench these successes, particularly since the area was once broadly and firmly controlled by the Taliban. It will also take time for the Afghan security forces and government — through trial and error, experience, training, and further support — to become strong enough to resist any return of Taliban fighters to the area or, perhaps more important, to deny the Taliban any meaningful ideological or material local support. It has often been said that the United States won all the battles in Vietnam but lost the war. Tactical success does not necessarily indicate broader operational or strategic gains, but it is nevertheless a trend that will warrant close scrutiny.
2014 and Beyond
The (not entirely unexpected) announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama on Nov. 20 at the NATO Summit in Lisbon that responsibility for security in Afghanistan would be completely transferred to Afghan forces by 2014 was particularly important in this regard, because it now makes explicit that there is more room for consolidating and cementing near-term gains against the Taliban. Notably, the 2014 timetable entails combat forces; in Iraq, some 50,000 U.S. troops remain in the country following the termination of combat operations at the end of August, playing an “advisory and assistance” role — meaning that the overall commitment of U.S. forces to Afghanistan could well last many years beyond 2014.
But the recent gains in Afghanistan have required the massing of forces. Four reinforced and heavily supported U.S. Marine infantry battalions in the central Helmand River Valley represent a far denser concentration of combat power than most areas of Afghanistan ever have or likely will ever experience. The Helmand River Valley is not a representative case study because the laser-sharp focus of forces cannot be replicated everywhere in the country. But it has been an area deliberately identified and targeted in the U.S. strategy in order to focus on key population centers and deny the Taliban both that population and the income from the poppy crop that the militants rely upon significantly.
This application of force has seen results — if not as rapidly as was originally hoped when Marines seized key bazaars in Marjah back in February. Relationships and a degree of trust are forming between locals and both U.S. and Afghan forces. But an insurgency is a moving target, and already the most intense combat operations have shifted northward to the district of Sangin. So while Marine efforts in Marjah in the last six months have indeed succeeded, the effects of the transition to Afghan forces as U.S. forces begin to pull back and focus their efforts elsewhere will warrant close and ongoing scrutiny.
The United States announced Nov. 19 that it will expand its Northern Distribution Network (NDN) supply chain to the Afghan theater by utilizing the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda. U.S. Transportation Command said the initial shipment will involve approximately 100 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers and will arrive in December. Klaipeda will join the Latvian port of Riga, the Estonian port of Tallinn, Georgia’s port of Poti and the Turkish port of Mersin in receiving non-lethal materiel such as building supplies, fuel and food bound for northern Afghanistan (the variety of materiel shipped has also expanded). The NDN began operation in early 2009 in response to threats to the supply chain in Pakistan and already sees the transit of some 1,000 TEU containers per week. The port of Klaipeda has the highest container-handling rate of all the other Baltic ports, though the capacities of the Russian, Kazakh, Uzbek and Tajik railways are a key limiting factor.
The United States is also looking at expanding its ability to use transportation networks in Russia and Central Asia. Russia agreed to allow the shipment of armored vehicles through its territory along the NDN and is currently negotiating with NATO to allow reverse transit, which would let NATO send materiel upstream, back to the Baltic, Turkish and Georgian ports for repair or redeployment. But Central Asia also poses several challenges for the United States and NATO. Aside from being extremely long, the NDN is not completely free of security risks. Militants in Tajikistan have threatened to attack shipments traversing Uzbekistan and Tajikistan into Afghanistan. While there is no evidence that this is happening enough to be significant — Pakistani militants have set a high standard for interfering with logistics — militants along the Tajik-Afghan border do have ties to the Afghan Taliban and could mount a more aggressive campaign, much like the Pakistani militants’ continuing challenges to NATO supply lines there. Nevertheless, further diversification of the logistical network, while it cannot replace reliance on Pakistan and entails risks of its own, can be considered significant progress for the U.S.-led war effort.
Main Battle Tanks
Logistics remain a key aspect of the fight inside Afghanistan as well. The notoriously poor road infrastructure — there is not currently a single paved road in the entire RCT-1 area of operations — is further degraded in wet conditions. This makes a Marine request for the deployment of a company of M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks (MBTs) particularly noteworthy. The tanks will offer heavy direct fire support that further taxes that infrastructure — at nearly 70 tons, the M1 does not tread lightly on local roads, and it is a fuel-hungry beast, with its gas turbine engine capable of burning through a gallon of gasoline in a quarter mile — but will also, by virtue of the off-road mobility that tracks provide, give greater freedom of movement. This will mark the first deployment of U.S. MBTs to the country, though Canadian and Danish Leopard tanks have been used to considerable effect in Kandahar province since 2007.
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
M-1 Abrams main battle tanksThe Marine Assault Breacher Vehicle, which is built on an M1A1 chassis, has been operating in Helmand province for a year now, giving the Marines a sense of what it takes to operate a vehicle of that size and weight. Both institutionally and doctrinally, the Marine tanker community is a small one that has always worked closely with infantry. Much has been said of what this request signifies at the current time, but the request was submitted earlier in the year and in fact echoed a request made last year that was denied. A small contingent of tanks — a single company has been requested which, including support vehicles, will amount to only around 15 vehicles to be deployed by the entire 1st Marine Division (Forward) — is simply part and parcel of how the Marines do business. The tanks will not win the war, and the request is not a sudden, panicked call for reinforcements.
The precision-engagement that the Abrams’ 120 mm main gun offers will be a significant direct-fire support asset, especially as vegetation is now thinning out, allowing for it to engage targets at longer range (beyond 2 miles). Indeed, in the lightly armored and largely foot-mobile Afghan campaign, even the Abrams’ M2 .50-caliber machine gun — often found along with the Mk 19 40 mm automatic grenade launcher mounted on M-ATV trucks — will often be found valuable, since the tanks’ tracks will allow them to move and position themselves in places that even the M-ATVs cannot go.
Meanwhile, the lack of a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the Taliban’s composition remains an issue. Nowhere was this made clearer than when a purported senior Taliban leader taking part in backchannel negotiations with the Afghan government was announced to have been an impostor. While this is an emerging development that requires further clarification and investigation, the mere statement — and the viability of such a claim, even if this one turns out to be different — underscores a longstanding STRATFOR point that no one has a good master list of the Taliban hierarchy. And without this sort of sound analytic construct and sophisticated and nuanced understanding of one’s adversary, raw intelligence can only go so far.
Read more: A Week in the War: Afghanistan, Nov. 17-23, 2010 | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Intel issues in Afg
on: November 24, 2010, 11:30:53 AM
The spectrum of intelligence-gathering capabilities deployed by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan has expanded significantly in recent years, but perhaps the most important type of intelligence in counterinsurgency — human intelligence — remains elusive. Not all signs are negative, however, and the evolution of human intelligence will be a key factor in the success or failure of allied efforts in the months and years ahead.
The Afghanistan Campaign, Part 1: The U.S. Strategy
Military Doctrine, Guerrilla Warfare and Counterinsurgency
STRATFOR has long held that Afghanistan is at its heart an intelligence war. While we are hardly alone in this view, intelligence remains central to our perspective and coverage of the war. Intelligence for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has seen a broad spectrum of improvements in recent years, but the most important developments may be in the sphere of human intelligence.
The Broad Spectrum of Intelligence
The technical platforms for battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) have improved dramatically in recent years, with most honed in Iraq at the height of American military efforts there. Over time, these ISR assets have been freed up (to a certain degree) from Iraq and transitioned to Afghanistan, more platforms have been built and deployed and the technologies themselves — as well as the ways in which ISR is communicated and disseminated — have been further refined.
SPC THEODORE SCHMIDT, U.S. Department of Defense
A Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment blimp being launched over a forward operating base in AfghanistanThere is now such a broad spectrum of ISR platforms deployed in Afghanistan that it is difficult to cover concisely even what is known and discussed in the open source (and this does not even include “national technical means,” i.e., spaced-based sensors). The list of deployed ISR platforms includes:
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): The RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper are only the most recognized. Equipped with electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) turrets, significant additional numbers of UAVs have been surged into the country in recent years, dramatically expanding the number of sustained UAV orbits and their availability — though they remain in high demand.
Manned aircraft: The MC-12W Liberty, a recent addition to the operational arsenal, provides both EO/IR coverage and signals intelligence. A squadron is now operating from Kandahar Airfield. These and other fixed-wing platforms dedicated to ISR and signals collection (including the British R1 Sentinel) are complemented by the EO/IR capabilities of attack helicopters and combat aircraft overhead to provide close air support — all of which are increasingly well integrated.
Aerostats: Persistent Threat Detection System and Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) lighter-than-air aerostats (e.g., blimps) deployed at major airfields and forward operating bases provide ISR coverage from fixed ground stations.
Elevated systems: Tower- and mast-mounted system variants of the RAID system have been around for years but are now being complemented by the Ground-Based Operational Surveillance System (GBOSS), a system that is being mated with Man-portable Surveillance and Target Acquisition Radars (MSTAR) that provide all-weather day and night capabilities that are low-power and can be deployed on light trailers or even vehicles.
Limits of ISR
Airborne capabilities are beholden to weather both in order to fly (rotary wing and lighter fixed-wing aircraft can be more restricted) and to see (some thermal and particularly radar-based sensors are less sensitive to overcast weather), which is particularly problematic in the winter months. However, the variety and number of platforms has dramatically increased, leading to improved situational awareness. The scale, affordability and power requirements of the smaller GBOSS variants especially are translating into the deployment of dedicated EO/IR and MSTAR capabilities to lower and lower echelons — some of which are less sensitive to unpredictable weather.
U.S. Air Force
An MC-12W Liberty intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planeBut this sort of surveillance is limited in that one must know where to look, what to look for, and what can be discerned. The technology can be applied to main supply routes and route clearance efforts — keeping the lines of supply open in the country by watching specific stretches of road, for example. Similarly, with more bandwidth, even squad-level engagements can quickly have eyes overhead.
But short of being spotted actively digging in the ground on a main supply route or openly toting an assault rifle or rocket-propelled grenade while retreating from a firefight, the Taliban exist as a guerrilla force among the people. Even with the remarkable resolution of modern EO/IR sensors, visual means of intelligence gathering will only achieve so much in a counterinsurgency effort. More important, their tactical and battlefield utility may not translate into larger operational or strategic success. In many cases, it is only with biometrics such as eye scans that individuals can readily be visually identified as Taliban if they are not overtly engaged in some sort of incriminating activity (and then only if they have committed some nefarious deed that caused security forces to scan their eye).
Further emphasizing this lack of clarity in terms of individual identity and relationship to the diffuse and amorphous Taliban phenomenon, a purported senior Taliban leader taking part in back-channel negotiations with the Afghan government is now being reported as an impostor. STRATFOR has long held that no one has a good master list of the Taliban hierarchy; without this sort of sound analytic construct and sophisticated and nuanced understanding of one’s adversary, raw intelligence can only get you so far.
Similarly, signals intelligence — also a very broad, active and significant effort — has its value. If claims of success against the Taliban through special operations forces raids to capture and kill senior leadership and operational commanders are accurate, signals intelligence is likely playing an active and pivotal role.
But the one type of intelligence upon which the war might truly turn is human intelligence. This is not to denigrate or disregard the pivotal importance of ISR, signals and other means of collection. Each type of intelligence is different in extremely important and defining ways, and each has its role. Continued collection efforts and continually improving technical means are obviously important.
LCPL JOHN MCCALL, U.S. Department of Defense
A Ground Based Operational Surveillance System tower being secured in southwestern AfghanistanBut an indigenous guerrilla force naturally enjoys advantages in intelligence by virtue of its demographic identity, its cultural awareness and its human relationships. Merely managing this disadvantage can be a daunting task for a foreign power. Moreover, indigenous security forces trained and supported by that foreign power are very often inherently compromised to the benefit of the guerrilla.
Intelligence that cannot be gotten directly can be secured from allies with that knowledge, though it is not at all clear that the capabilities of Afghanistan’s fledgling intelligence services (particularly in key areas like the Taliban’s heartland in southwestern Afghanistan) or its willingness to share what actionable intelligence it does have can be decisive. It certainly has not been yet. Similarly, the United States has struggled to get sufficiently timely and accurate intelligence from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
The assistance of locals at the tactical level presents another avenue — both for intelligence to flow to U.S. units and for actionable intelligence to flow directly to Afghan security forces (which are only in some cases manned with local troops). Even in places like Marjah, which were until recently controlled — uncontested by ISAF forces — by the Taliban, there have been instances of locals not only helping identify improvised explosive devices or individuals that other forms of intelligence have not, but doing so openly, without attempting to conceal their own identity or collaboration.
In Iraq, active intelligence sharing from Iraq’s Sunnis on the al Qaeda and foreign jihadist operations that they had previously supported proved decisive in turning the tide in the war (even if the situation remains fragile and uncertain). This was done at a high level within the Sunni community — a level and example that is simply not replicable in the Afghan case. But it is nevertheless a reminder of how decisive indigenous intelligence can be in counterinsurgency.
Without a single demographic to turn to, and with such complex demography to begin with, there is no comparable single solution in Afghanistan. And a local here and there pointing out an explosive device that may well be near where his children play or travel or selling out a particularly unpleasant hard-line Taliban operative does not necessarily indicate much tactical progress in the intelligence sphere. The motivation of the source is of pivotal importance in human intelligence — he may be doing it for personal gain (by accurately or inaccurately fingering a competitor) or seeking financial or political gain. This is why it is difficult to draw conclusions, but the intelligence relationship between ISAF forces, Afghan security forces and locals in areas like Marjah will warrant close scrutiny moving forward. There are more and more instances of this sort of local assistance, and now that the United States and NATO have overtly committed to four more years of combat operations, that assistance may prove at least sustainable. The extent and actual intelligence value of that assistance is unclear, but the prospect for an increasingly broad (if not systematic) network of local human sources could yet hold strategic significance for the U.S.-led war effort.
Read more: Afghanistan: The Intelligence War | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on US response
on: November 24, 2010, 10:06:19 AM
This is a genuine question GM, what would your propose?
WASHINGTON — President Obama and South Korea’s president agreed Tuesday night to hold joint military exercises as a first response to North Korea’s deadly shelling of a South Korean military installation, as both countries struggled for the second time this year to keep a North Korean provocation from escalating into war.
The exercise will include sending the aircraft carrier George Washington and a number of accompanying ships into the region, both to deter further attacks by the North and to signal to China that unless it reins in its unruly ally it will see an even larger American presence in the vicinity.
The decision came after Mr. Obama attended the end of an emergency session in the White House Situation Room and then emerged to call President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea to express American solidarity and talk about a coordinated response.
But as a former national security official who dealt frequently with North Korea in the Bush administration, Victor Cha, said just a few hours before the attack began, North Korea is “the land of lousy options.”
Mr. Obama is once again forced to choose among unpalatable choices: responding with verbal condemnations and a modest tightening of sanctions, which has done little to halt new attacks; starting military exercises that are largely symbolic; or reacting strongly, which could risk a broad war in which South Korea’s capital, Seoul, would be the first target.
The decision to send the aircraft carrier came as the South Korean military went into what it termed “crisis status.” President Lee said he would order strikes on a North Korean base if there were indications of new attacks.
North Korea’s artillery shells fell on Yeonpyeong Island, a fishing village whose residents fled by ferry to the mainland city of Inchon — where Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s troops landed 60 years ago this fall, three months after the outbreak of the Korean War.
Today, Inchon is the site of South Korea’s main international airport, symbolizing the vulnerability of one of the world’s most vibrant economies to the artillery of one of the world’s poorest and most isolated nations.
A senior American official said that an early American assessment indicated that a total of about 175 artillery shells were fired by the North and by the South in response on Tuesday.
But an American official who had looked at satellite images said there was no visible evidence of preparations for a general war. Historically, the North’s attacks have been lightning raids, after which the North Koreans have backed off to watch the world’s reaction. This one came just hours after the South Koreans had completed a long-planned set of military exercises, suggesting that the North Korean attack was “premeditated,” a senior American official said.
Television reports showed large plumes of black smoke spiraling from the island, as dozens of houses caught fire. The shelling killed two marines and wounded 18 people. The South put its fighter planes on alert — but, tellingly, did not put them in the air or strike at the North’s artillery bases. Mr. Obama was awakened at 3:55 a.m. by his new national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, who told him of the attack.
Just 11 days before, North Korea had invited a Stanford nuclear scientist to Yongbyon, its primary nuclear site, and showed him what was described as a just-completed centrifuge plant that, if it becomes fully operational, should enable North Korea to enrich uranium into nuclear fuel and add to its arsenal of 8 to 12 nuclear weapons.
Taken together, the nuclear demonstration and the attack were widely interpreted as an effort to bolster the credentials of Kim Jong-un, the heir apparent as the country’s leader, and the son and grandson of the only two men who have run the country. When his father, Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s ailing leader, was establishing his credentials, the North conducted a similar series of attacks.
“They have a 60-year history of military provocations — it’s in their DNA,” said a senior administration official. “What we are trying to do is break the cycle,” a cycle, he said, that has North Korea’s bad behavior rewarded with “talks, inducements and rewards.” He said that the shelling would delay any effort to resume the six-nation talks about the North’s nuclear program.
While Mr. Obama was elected on a promise of diplomatic engagement, his strategy toward the North for the past two years, called “strategic patience,” has been to demonstrate that Washington would not engage until the North ceased provocations and demonstrated that it was living up to past commitments to dismantle, and ultimately give up, its nuclear capacity.
The provocations have now increased markedly, and it is not clear what new options are available. Beijing’s first reaction on Tuesday was to call for a resumption of the six-nation talks involving North and South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States. The last meeting was two years ago, at the end of the Bush administration.
Mr. Obama’s aides made it clear in interviews that the United States had no intention of returning to those talks soon. But its leverage is limited.
When North Korea set off a nuclear test last year just months after Mr. Obama took office, the United States won passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution that imposed far harsher sanctions. The sanctions gave countries the right, and responsibility, to board North Korean ships and planes that landed at ports around the world and to inspect them for weapons. The effort seemed partly successful — but the equipment in the centrifuge plant is so new that it is clear that the trade restrictions did not stop the North from building what Siegfried S. Hecker, the visiting scientist, called an “ultramodern” nuclear complex.
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By far the biggest recent disruption of relations came in March, when a sudden explosion sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. South Korean and international investigators said the blast was caused by a North Korean torpedo. The North has vehemently denied it. If the North was responsible for the sinking, it would be the most lethal military attack since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
President Lee of South Korea decided not to respond militarily to the sinking and was praised by Washington for his restraint. To make North Korea pay a price, he imposed new food restrictions on the North and ended trade worth several hundred million dollars that had been intended to induce the desperately poor North Koreans to choose income over military strikes. But some analysts believe that the cutoff in food aid was an excuse, if not a motivation, for Tuesday’s attack.
Choi Jin-wook, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a research institute in Seoul, said, “It’s a sign of North Korea’s increasing frustration.”
“Washington has turned a deaf ear to Pyongyang, and North Korea is saying: ‘Look here. We’re still alive. We can cause trouble. You can’t ignore us.’ ”
Yet for Mr. Obama, much stronger responses, including a naval quarantine of the North, carry huge risks. A face-off on the Korean Peninsula would require tens of thousands of troops, air power and the possibility of a resumption of the Korean War, a battle that American officials believe would not last long, but might end in the destruction of Seoul if the North unleashed artillery batteries near the border.
Pressing against a precipitous reaction is that the North’s attacks have a choreographed character, even a back-to-the-future feel. The last time North Korea engaged in acts this destructive was in the 1980s, when it blew up a South Korean airliner and also detonated a bomb in Myanmar in a botched attempt to assassinate the visiting South Korean president. Both attacks were said to be ordered by Kim Jong-il, who was then the heir to Kim Il-sung, his father and North Korea’s founder.
Now Mr. Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, is in that position. He was promoted on Sept. 28 to the rank of four-star general, a prerequisite for his ascendancy to power. Many see these attacks as the effort of a man the Chinese now say is 25 years old to establish his military credentials.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom
on: November 24, 2010, 09:58:28 AM
As there is between Nazis and the TSA. My doggy nose detects of whiff of GM feeling a tad offended on that.
GM, in one of my posts of yesterday I quoted a Rapiscan VP saying that the naked pictures will shortly not be necessary. Wouldn't this eliminate the source of all this discontent? The TSA gets a scan it says addresses the issue, and we don't have to get photo'd nude and trust the government to not keep the fotos or have to have some TSA person grabbing our junk (and asking us to cough?