Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: July 29, 2010, 04:00:32 PM
I voted for 187 and would do so again.
187 also led some of the Mexican-Americans who voted Republican to perceive the Reps as anti-Latino and now they vote Dem. It also got some of the non-voting MAs to bother to vote, and they now vote Dem. Also, Latino citizens who came of age to vote now vote Dem in larger % than would otherwise have been the case. Given the underlying demographics, this last category is not to be underestimated and will become increasingly Democratic.
The net result here in CA is that the Rep party is locked in to a declining demographic and we are headed towards becoming like the northeast of the US we Rep victories are a great rarity and the Reps that do win are RINOs e.g. Snowe of Maine.
One reason for the perception of anti Mex/Latino bias is comments like those about "scal(ing) back welfare and transfer payments". I am NOT NOT NOT suggesting actual bias on your part. I am saying that such comments are PERCEIVED as such. The preferred story in the Mex-Amer population, and one with considerable basis in reality, is of hard working people doing the work that Americans are unwilling to do, and sending the money home to support their families. Suggestions that they are bums on welfare go over very poorly.
IMHO the Reps must align with the natural family values and entrepeneurial spirit of this population.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post: Taxes do not create jobs
on: July 29, 2010, 11:37:17 AM
Alexander's Essay – July 29, 2010
Taxes Do NOT Create Jobs
Recovery Rhetoric v. Reality
"Would it not be better to simplify the system of taxation rather than to spread it over such a variety of subjects and pass through so many new hands." --Thomas Jefferson
Funded by whom?Fact: Despite all of the claims by Barack Hussein Obama and his cadre of Socialists about "creating or saving" jobs through their so-called "stimulus plan," their taxing revenue out of the private sector (from this and future generations) does NOT "stimulate" private sector job growth -- quite the contrary. (Nor is there any expressed authority in our Constitution for such redistribution of wealth -- but who pays attention to that venerable old parchment?)
Late last Friday, after the White House press corpse had departed for weekend resorts, Obama released his administration's "Mid-Session Budget Review," which analyzed the results of his effort to "fundamentally transform the United States of America" with his "stimulus" plan. From almost any vantage point, the report is tantamount to an admission of failure, but Obama's rhetorical smokescreen continues to imply otherwise.
That plan, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act but more accurately known as the American Socialization and Redistribution Act, is Obama's ruse to confiscate from taxpayers -- and borrow primarily from the Red Chinese -- almost a trillion dollars, then redistribute it to his constituents through government-controlled conduits.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote, "A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."
The deficit created by Obama's plan this year alone is projected to be $1.471 trillion. That's the largest deficit in our nation's history and the largest as a percentage of U.S. economic output since World War II. According to Heritage Foundation analyst Brian Riedl, "Before the recession, federal spending totaled $24,000 per U.S. household. President Obama would hike it to $36,000 per household by 2020 -- an inflation-adjusted $12,000-per-household expansion of government."
Notably, if federal spending were reduced to the per-household rates under Ronald Reagan, we'd have a balanced budget by 2012 without any tax hikes. Of course, that would require cutting government spending, and such a notion is antithetical to the Socialists in control of the U.S. government. That might explain why unemployment in Washington, DC, is just 3 percent.
Of such debt, Thomas Jefferson observed, "We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. ... I place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared. ... The fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follow that, and in its turn wretchedness and oppression."
There is much to be feared because Obama's plan, if unaltered, will break the back of free enterprise and the consequence will, most assuredly, be "wretchedness and oppression."
Obama claims that his stimulus package "creates or saves jobs." Setting aside the utter ridiculousness of this made-up metric and the mainstream media's willingness to let him trot it out, Obama's "stimulus" does nothing more than take income from the private sector and use it to grow government. It is not about job creation but about job displacement. It's about embezzling funds from the private sector to underwrite jobs that a small cadre of central government planners determines are necessary to further centralize their power and control over the economy.
Memo to Obama, et al.: Private sector job creation occurs when private enterprises have sufficient capital to improve and expand their operations in order to meet growing demand in a competitive, healthy economy. The job creation that occurs when the private sector is able to compete in a free market unfettered by excessive government interference (taxation and regulation) is the most stable and secure type of job growth.
Of course, taxes are necessary to fund some government jobs -- most notably those actually authorized by our Constitution, such as in national defense.
However, the current debate is not even centered on tax reductions, but merely holding the line on taxes now. When the current Bush-era tax rate limits expire on 1 January 2011, Obama will, without a single vote in Congress, usher in the largest tax increases in the history of our Republic, even if Congress extends breaks for the lower brackets. This business of sunsetting tax limits is a charade -- cut taxes and then Congress must vote to increase taxes. As it is, the Socialists look heroic for extending tax breaks on all but the "rich."
Here is the breakdown:
The 10% bracket rises to 15%
The 25% bracket rises to 28%
The 28% bracket rises to 31%
The 33% bracket rises to 36%
The 35% bracket rises to 39.6%
The "marriage penalty" and "death tax" will also return, and for more than half of Americans who have substantial savings and investments, the capital gains tax will rise from 15 percent to 20 percent and the dividends tax will rise from 15 percent to 39.6 percent.
This is what I know for certain, firsthand, as a small business owner: If my taxes were lower, I would have more capital to provide salary and wage increases, hire more employees and purchase more equipment to grow our business.
Republicans claim that those hit hardest by Obama's tax increases will be small business owners. But make no mistake: Those hit hardest by Obama's tax increases will not be the owners of small businesses. Instead, they will be the employees of small businesses -- those who like to be employed, those who employ others to provide services and produce equipment for small businesses, those who maintain the physical plants of small businesses, etc.
As Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) lectured uber-Leftist Chris Matthews recently, more than "75 percent of those people who pay that [highest] tax rate are small businesses who file as individuals, not corporations."
I know this, because I'm one of them.
If you're among those who've been led to believe that the current U.S. tax code is "fair" because it's "progressive" (that is, it seizes a much greater percentage of capital from those who create wealth and private sector jobs), I would argue that, from the perspective of those in need of jobs, the current tax system is regressive, as it reduces employment opportunity. When was the last time you were offered a career job by a poor person?
Rejecting the oppression of such taxes, Jefferson wrote, "To take from one, because it is thought his own industry ... has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who ... have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."
In fact, the current job outlook for the unemployed has grown much worse under Obama. There are now five Americans seeking a job for every one job opening.
Of course, socialists decry any effort to replace their "tax-borrow-and-spend" Keynesian mantra with a simple flat or national sales tax. Aside from saving Americans billions of hours of tax-time toil, this would spread the burden of the cost of government over a greater share of American taxpayers.
Let me reiterate: Taxes do not "save or create" private sector jobs, but merely redistribute wealth from the most productive part of the economy (the private sector) to the least productive (the government). That truth, however, will not stop Obama's unmitigated assault on free enterprise. He and his administration will continue to use two tactics to argue for tax increases and more government growth.
First, Obama is the consummate blame-shifter, rarely talking about the economy without mentioning that he "inherited this mess" from the previous administration. In truth, the "Bush deficits" are primarily the result of two events. One was the devastating effect of the Jihadi 9/11 attack on our nation, which wounded the economy, lowered tax revenues, and greatly increased the cost of defending our nation. The other was the cascading crisis of confidence which began with central government meddling in the housing markets and ended in a near collapse of our economy.
So much for the once noble Democrat Party of men like Harry "The Buck Stops Here" Truman.
Second, once Obama dismisses the current fiasco as the result of "failed policies of the past," he trots out the old classist rhetoric upon which every failed socialist regime has been built: the Politics of Disparity.
But don't take my word for it. Here's a sampling of recent fodder from the ObamaPrompter: "hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest ... hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans ... a massive deficit ... neglected to pay for two tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans ... tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans ... we're going to make sure that the wealthiest Americans pay ... more effective in stimulating recovery than tax breaks for the very wealthiest ... the wealthiest 1 percent of households ... tax breaks to the wealthiest few that make the rich richer and the deficit even larger ... save billions of dollars by rolling back tax cuts for the wealthiest ... tax breaks that make the rich even richer ... economy that was working pretty well for the wealthiest Americans ... programs would be funded by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans ... instead of giving all the tax breaks to the wealthiest few ... massive tax cuts for the richest Americans ... the policies were, you cut taxes for the richest people who don't need tax cuts," ad nauseam.
Obama has cleverly twisted the tax lexicon to the point where he now calls tax increases "investments" and claims that tax cuts "cost the government."
Meanwhile, Obama's favorite lap dog, Joe Biden, was out shoring up support for more taxing and spending. "Americans deserve a government that actually works, a government that people can trust; government that people can rely on; and a government that actually gets things done effectively, efficiently, without waste, without fraud, without abuse," he boasted. "We're trying to build a government that delivers much more bang for the buck than it ever has before. So far, we've spent $600 billion..."
What Americans deserve is a lot less government and a lot more free enterprise capacity to grow our economy. That capacity is central to liberty.
Best case scenario, it will take several election cycles before we have enough conservative members of Congress to replace the U.S. tax code with an equitable system that promotes economic growth. In the interim, I humbly submit the Alexander stimulus plan: Cut taxes dramatically for all Americans, make equal cuts in discretionary government spending anywhere and everywhere, and reduce non-discretionary spending by altering the terms of social programs.
I can assure you that if a trillion dollars had been pumped into the economy in the form of tax and regulatory relief, we'd be well down the road to recovery.
As Jefferson put it, "Excessive taxation ... will carry reason and reflection to every man's door, and particularly in the hour of election."
One might only hope a majority of the electorate has the capacity for such reason and reflection.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Publisher, The Patriot Post
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: July 29, 2010, 10:02:46 AM
" I'll say that this is far from over and that Holder and Obama are soon to have their arrogant asses handed to them by the little Governor from AZ"
Maybe with SCOTUS, but by the time it gets in front of SCOTUS it may well be in time to help His Glibness fire up the Hispanic vote. IMHO so far the Reps are not doing what needs to be done to prevent this from being a replay of CA's Prop 187. 187 won, and now the Reps are toast with the Mexican-American vote in CA and as such are toast period.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: July 29, 2010, 01:11:20 AM
DF Cpl. Elinor Joseph was born in Gush Halav in the Galilee to an Arab Christian family. Her father served as a paratrooper in the IDF. She identifies herself as “Arab, Christian, and Israeli.”
(Foto: She is quite foxy)
“I was born here. The people I love live here – my parents, my friends. This is a Jewish state? True. But it’s also my country. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I believe that everyone should enlist. You live here? Go defend your country. So what if I’m Arab?”
“Look at the beret,” says Elinor, smiling from ear to ear, showing off the bright green beret that she earned after completing the trek which is part of her combat training in the Karakal Battalion. Her excitement is accompanied by a new historical precedent, since Elinor is the first Arab female combat soldier in IDF history.
Cpl. Elinor Joseph was born and raised in an integrated neighborhood of Jews and Arabs in Haifa, but attended a school in which all her classmates were Arab. Despite the fact that she would always wear her father’s IDF dog-tag around her neck from when he served in the Paratrooper’s Unit, she never thought she would enlist. “I wanted to go abroad to study medicine and never come back,” she said. To her father it was clear that she would enlist in the IDF, as most citizens in Israel do. This was something that worried her very much. “I was scared to lose my friends because they objected to it. They told me they wouldn’t speak to me. I was left alone.”
Despite their opposition, she decided to move forward and enlist. I understood that it was most important to defend my friends, family, and country. I was born here.” At the end of the day, she says she realized it was the right thing to do.
[Elinor] Joseph serves in the Caracal battalion, which operates on the Egyptian border to block the entry of terrorists and smugglers into Israel.
The difficult dilemma she felt in serving at a border crossing was not easy for her but she said during moments of difficulty and misgiving she would remember, “there was a Katyusha [rocket] that fell near my house and also hurt Arabs. If someone would tell me that serving in the IDF means killing Arabs, I remind them that Arabs also kill Arabs.”http://barenakedislam.wordpress.com/...ombat-soldier/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: French declare war on AQIM
on: July 29, 2010, 01:04:35 AM
France Declares War on AQIM
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday that France was at war with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The statement came after AQIM declared two days earlier that it had killed a 78-year-old French aid worker who had been held hostage by the group since April 19. Michel Germaneau was reportedly beheaded by his AQIM captors in retaliation for a joint French-Mauritanian raid in Mali, which aimed to free Germaneau. Following Fillon’s blunt declaration, French politicians — including the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament — stated that France would provide logistical support and training to the governments in the region, especially Mauritania, Mali and Niger, in their ongoing efforts against AQIM.
France’s reaction to Germaneau’s death has been strong and direct, suggesting that Paris is potentially about to divert its attention to a region it knows very well, dating back to its days as a colonial power. The “declaration of war” is not so much about terrorism as it is about France’s fundamental national interests.
The French presence in West Africa goes back to the 17th century. The French incorporated their various trading outposts into French West Africa in 1895, largely as a response to colonial competition with European imperial rivals. However, other than certain parts of the Niger and Senegal River valleys (a substantive part of the Niger River flowed through British territory in present-day Nigeria), the rest of the enormous territory ranged from sparse desert to the semi-arid Sahel region, inhabited by nomadic tribes that offered no significant economic benefit for Paris. France retained a direct imperial presence in the region for nearly 70 more years and then continued its influence throughout the Cold War via direct patronage of post-independence West African leaders.
French policy in Africa was part of a Gaullist foreign policy employed during the Cold War. This fiercely independent policy led France not only to retain links with — and to a large extent control over — its former colonies, but also to develop a nuclear deterrent and establish relations with the Soviet bloc independent of its NATO allies. Paris saw itself as the pre-eminent political and military power in Europe — with German economic might harnessed for French political gains via the European Economic Community —that justified not only independence in military and political affairs but also a continued presence in its former empire unmatched by any other European country. Even if the former colonies provided little economic gain — aside from funneling illicit funds for the campaigns of various French politicians, including presidential candidates — they provided France with a “bloc” of countries to call its own that enhanced its prestige during the Cold War.
“The ‘declaration of war’ is not so much about terrorism as it is about France’s fundamental national interests.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has therefore been seen as a break in the Gaullist tradition. He reintroduced the French military into NATO’s military command, began repairing relations with the United States that had deteriorated during the presidency of his Gaullist predecessor Jacques Chirac and indicated that French patronage for West African regimes would end. Part of the reason that Sarkozy ditched Gaullism was that he believed that there was no need for France to maintain a “bloc” in distant former colonies, not with the Cold War over and the global game reformatted into a more regional affair. German reunification, of course, played a large role in this shift in French focus, as Paris now felt that balancing Berlin — rather than the United States or Russia — was the real strategic imperative in 2007.
However, ditching Gaullism has proven to be more complicated and less useful than Paris might have thought in 2007. First, the United States’ involvement in the Middle East has made it an inattentive partner for France. The United States has focused wholly on what France can do for its efforts in the Middle East — especially Afghanistan — leaving Sarkozy feeling ignored on European issues. Second, the global economic crisis of 2008 and the eurozone sovereign debt crisis of 2010 have shown Paris that its fate is either with Germany as second-in-command or on the receiving end of German directives. It is a relationship more akin to that of the supposed “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States than one of true partnership or co-leadership.
But as such, Paris needs to have something to contribute to the relationship. Certainly its influence in the Third World is one form of political capital that Berlin does not bring to the table. From it, France not only derives influence in matters of development aid and diplomatic influence, but also — as the case with AQIM could prove — in security and anti-terror matters as well. Berlin still feels uncomfortable with these policy realms and could be convinced to outsource to Paris. This is especially true considering Germany’s lack of capacity in the security arena, certainly compared to France. Therefore, France may be able to prove that it provides the “muscle” behind German economic might.
But a French security role in West Africa — if one develops — is not just about redefining post-Gaullist foreign policy. It would also be about real interests that France never lost in the region, Cold War or not. France is one of the few countries with the capacity — and will — to conduct military operations in Africa (however limited) when its security is provoked. Paris sent commandos to the coast of Somalia when pirates hijacked French citizens. They also remain the only forces to have gone ashore in Somalia to capture pirates, taking them to France for punishment. France still maintains garrisons in a handful of African countries, for defending allied governments or its own commercial interests.
And those commercial interests are particularly acute in West Africa. Holding vast territory was seen in the 19th century as a benefit only in terms of prestige. Today that territory is vital to the French economy, since beneath the sands of Niger lies the source of 40 percent of France’s uranium consumption, set to substantially increase in the current decade as new mining projects come online. While AQIM has not threatened uranium production in the past, the roaming Tuareg nomads have. The two may not share an ideological affinity, but they have worked together previously to share resources. Considering that France relies on nuclear energy for nearly 80 percent of its electricity, the Sahel region is arguably more important to France than the Persian Gulf region is to the United States. Paris understandably tenses up whenever any threat arises that potentially could disrupt its uranium mining operations in Niger. France’s activity and security presence in the region therefore not only makes sense to a Paris looking to redefine its role within the Franco-German leadership duo, but in terms of real national interest as well.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / To speak or not to speak
on: July 28, 2010, 08:53:28 PM
An interesting thought piece from Gabe Suarez (a former LEO btw):
One of the things that is incessantly being discussed in the CCW/LEO community is the after-event-discourse. In other words, what do you say...or not, after you have whacked an attacker. As expected, the variety of advice is as different as people's choices in guns and ammo. A prevailing attitude is to simply shut up and say nothing under any circumstances. I disagree and here is why -
I have been in more than a few of these and also investigated quite a few of these. I noted some trends and tried to use those trends to my benefits when it was my turn at the plate.
First is the fact that the bad guys will not be "keeping quiet". They will be telling the cops you pulled your gun on them, perhaps create some appearance of racism if they can exploit it, and generally make it look like you are the over-reacting, racist, bad guy. What happened may not be obvious to the cops who come out to investigate...specially if the majority of witnesses are against you.
So picture this scene. Two guys have been, as we used to say, "eye f*cking you", and followed you for some time, maybe yelling threatening stuff at you. While you did your best to avoid the issue, you were unsuccessful in getting away and they pressed the confrontation, attacking you with sufficient force to justify a gun solution.
You shoot one of them, maybe wounding him - maybe killing him, and the other one runs off into the night. You saw the first man drop his pistol in a clump of ivy and the other man throw his knife on a rooftop as he ran away.
You immediately call 911 and give a very cryptic account of what happened..."there has been a shooting...I'm the victim...send help".
In the meantime, one of the assailants...the one who got away, is also calling. His story is a little different. According to him you called them "Dirty Ghetto Norwegians", and pulled your gun on them, shooting his buddy. As far as the police know...they got two calls. One a cryptic call, from someone who seemed to be concealing something, and another reporting what amounts to a racial hate crime by a right wing Nazi.
They arrive on scene and after controlling the event, ask you what happened. What you do now will have a bearing on the rest of your life.
The guys who advocate saying nothing will not be able to point to the two weapons which were discarded...and which will disappear as soon as the scene is cleared. The police may not even look for them since no one told them they were in existence. No one will tell them you are a good guy who was a victim of an attempted robbery, as the ONLY info paints you as some KKK wannabe.
Sure...you'll have a lawyer...but all of the evidence the police may have collected will no longer be available, and the investigation will not have been an even and equal one, but rather one where you alone are the suspect.
See the point?? I know a man who did just that...kept his mouth shut because of what a shooting instructor advised him to do and he spent several weeks in jail, had two criminal trials, and is now facing a civil suit from one of his attackers.
Is it hard to control your mouth? Yes it is. But no harder than to control your trigger finger, your desire to drink to excess, or to control the vertical displacement of your zipper. On self control, it is a learned thing and must be practiced daily. Maybe self control is too hard for the modern, self-indulgent, metro-sexual male, but as the Nike commercial said....Just Do It.
It, like many other things, can be trained and developed. If you ignore it, it will never be developed.
Think in these terms...you train gun handling and shooting skills to make them reflexive in the most stressful event someone is ever likely to face....and we tend to do fine. The guys who never train...thinking they will "rise to the occasion" invariably fail. To say, "I will simply say nothing", is in that same line of thinking is it not?
What I have done, with success, is this. I give a very limited statement, focusing on the actions of the bad guys, and them excuse myself from any further questions until my mouthpiece...I mean, attorney, arrives.
Anything I say focuses on what the bad guy(s) have done and not on what I may have done. Something like this -
"Officer. I am glad you are here. Thank God."
"I am a good guy. I was minding my own business on my way home when those two guys attacked me."
"The one in the blue shirt had a knife. He threw it up there on the roof as he ran away. There should be some blood on it from my arm when I blocked his attempt to stab me."
"The guy on the gurney was armed with a pistol. He dropped it right there in that pile of ivy when he fell."
"I was terrified. I am still terrified. Boy am I glad you guys are here. "
"Listen...I am still a little shaken up. I want to cooperate with you guys. This has never happened to me (or this hasn't happened in a while). I have heard stories of good guys getting sued later for saying too much. My attorney is on his way and as soon as he arrives I will be happy to give a full statement with him there. Until then, I think I need to sit down and calm my blood pressure."
At that point things are no longer in your control but you have set the investigation on the proper course, and the truth will be determined instead of being overlooked.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Other things being equal
on: July 28, 2010, 08:23:10 PM
I'm going to live a very long time.
Frankfurt, Germany, December 6 -- A rather bizarre study carried out by German researchers suggests that staring at women's breasts is good for men's health and increases their life expectancy.
According to Dr. Karen Weatherby, a gerontologist and author of the study, gawking at women’s breasts is a healthy practice, almost at par with an intense exercise regime, that prolongs the lifespan of a man by five years.
She added, "Just 10 minutes of staring at the charms of a well-endowed female, is roughly equivalent to a 30-minute aerobics work-out."
A five-year research on 500 men
Researchers at three hospitals in Frankfurt, Germany did an in-depth analysis of 200 healthy males over a period of five years. Half the volunteers were instructed to ogle at the breasts of women daily, while the rest were told to refrain from doing so.
At the close of the study, the researchers noted that the men who stared at the breasts of females on a regular basis exhibited lower blood pressure, slower resting pulse rates and lesser episodes of coronary artery disease.
Sexual desire linked to better blood circulation
The researchers declared that sexual desire gives rise to better blood circulation that signifies an overall improved health.
Weatherby explained the concept stating, "Sexual excitement gets the heart pumping and improves blood circulation. There's no question: Gazing at breasts makes men healthy.
"Our study indicates that engaging in this activity a few minutes daily cuts the risk of stroke and heart attack in half. We believe that by doing so consistently, the average man can extend his life four to five years."
In addition, she also recommended that men over 40 should gaze at larger breasts daily for 10 minutes.
The German research is believed to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Interesting LA Times article
on: July 28, 2010, 03:20:54 PM
As Congress debated the healthcare bill, many critics lamented it would do little to transform a system in which doctors and hospitals bounce patients around in an uncoordinated, costly, sometimes tragic process.
But something unexpected has happened since President Obama signed the legislation in March. Spurred in part by the law, many independent providers across the country are racing to mold themselves into the kind of coordinated teams held up as models for improving care. In some places, the scramble is so intense that physician groups and hospitals are putting aside rivalries and signing new partnerships almost daily.
"It's kind of like the Oklahoma land rush right now," said Patrick Carrier, a veteran hospital administrator who heads Christus Santa Rosa, a group of Catholic hospitals in San Antonio. "Everyone has their wagons lined up and they're getting ready to go."
Three of San Antonio's hospital systems are competing to form alliances with local doctors who are giving up their private fee-for-service practices in exchange for paid positions on a hospital's team.
Healthcare experts have long argued that such a unified approach to medical care offers the best hope for improving quality and saving money. While a few institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente have thrived doing this, the entrenched, competing interests of providers were widely seen as a barrier to nationwide change. It is possible the current rush will fail to reproduce the best models or their results. Further consolidation in the $2.5-trillion healthcare industry might drive up costs for everyone. It could also reprise problems from the 1990s, when HMOs were criticized for restricting patient choice and access to care. But some experts and providers see the new courtship dances as a surprisingly hopeful sign. The healthcare debate may have helped spark doctors, hospitals and others to rethink what they do, raising the prospect of better outcomes for millions of Americans.
"There are a lot of people who have reached the conclusion that they need to change the way they practice medicine," said Dr. Mark B. McClellan, a former Medicare and Medicaid chief in the George W. Bush administration and a leading advocate of more care coordination.
In San Antonio, the leaders of the Christus Santa Rosa hospital have made that very calculation. Over nearly a century and a half, Santa Rosa's onetime infirmary a few blocks from the Alamo stanched cholera outbreaks and saved polio victims in a ward filled with iron lungs. But it operated on a fairly standard business model.
"We looked at our daily census, and if our beds were filled, we'd say, 'We're doing our job,'" Carrier said. "The more people we have in our beds, the more money we earn."
In Santa Rosa's cardiac telemetry ward, that is still the way it works. Recent patients included a 48-year-old man and a 71-year-old woman with congestive heart failure, and a 76-year-old woman with high blood pressure. Such chronic conditions, if treated properly, need not lead to a hospital stay.
The new law directs Medicare to reward alliances of healthcare providers, known as Accountable Care Organizations, or ACOs, if they reduce the cost of caring for patients like these while improving quality. That would likely mean fewer hospitalizations — and less income for Santa Rosa.
"In the new world, we're going to have to manage patients' diseases to manage expenses," Carrier said.
The best way to do that, he and others at Santa Rosa have concluded, is to work more closely with doctors, who now largely determine whom to admit to the hospital.
"Some folks are beginning to say that if you're not an ACO, you may not get paid at all," said Peter Maddox, senior vice president for strategy at Christus Health, the Catholic healthcare system that owns Santa Rosa.
Half a dozen times a week, Carrier meets with independently practicing doctors, talking with them about ways to collaborate and even trade their independence for a good pay package from Santa Rosa. And he's not alone.
"Every group of doctors I talk to is also talking to someone else," Carrier said.
Ultimately, Carrier said, Santa Rosa would like to put 100 primary care doctors on the payroll or in some other arrangement so the hospital and the doctors could manage patients' care jointly and benefit from incentives that Medicare and other insurers may offer.
Not everyone is interested in these overtures. Dr. Manuel M. Quinones Jr., who dissolved a partnership with Santa Rosa several years ago, said physicians should be wary. "When a hospital controls the lion's share, it will always be first in line to get the money," he said.
But like Carrier, many doctors in San Antonio see a changing world in which it's increasingly difficult to practice on their own.
"It's scary," said Dr. A. Charles Rabinowitz, a cardiologist who has watched many colleagues sell their practices. "There is a lot of paranoia out there."
Dr. C. Scott Horn, a family physician in suburban San Antonio, is carefully weighing offers from two hospital systems.
"I don't want to be told that I can only see a patient for 15 minutes," said Horn, the great-grandson of a Texas family doctor. "If someone comes in with an earache and tells me they're getting divorced and their life is falling apart, I'm not going to say, 'Sorry, make another appointment.'"
But practicing independently, Horn wrestles with multiple insurers, uncertain Medicare payments and new requirements to start using electronic health records. Though he has not decided what to do, he is intrigued by a different kind of healthcare model.
"It leads to the best medicine if the people delivering care talk to one another," the 63-year-old physician said. "That may be hard to get going. But in the long run, it's going to be better for patients."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: July 28, 2010, 02:51:18 PM
"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt." --Thomas Jefferson
Nancy Pelosi has it backward on deficits"A major poll just gave Congress a favorability rating of 11% -- lowest in history. Never, it seems, have our representatives in Washington been so disconnected from the people they purport to serve. The disconnect was most evident in separate comments made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a conference of the far-left group Netroots Nation last weekend in Las Vegas. Both weighed in on vital topics. Both revealed why they're so out of touch with reality. Pelosi told the audience she adamantly opposes raising the retirement age for Social Security and said the Depression-era program shouldn't be cut to help reduce the deficit. 'When you talk about reducing the deficit and Social Security, you're talking about apples and oranges,' she said. She has it exactly backward. The No. 1 problem facing this nation is the massive deficit we face over the next 75 years, due almost entirely to the expansion of Social Security and Medicare. The only way to address the deficit is to address entitlements. ... Meanwhile, the speaker had the chutzpah -- or maybe it was twisted humor -- to tell the Netroot folks that Democrats are 'moving on all fronts to reduce the deficit.' ... Reid's comments, made to the same Netroot group, were equally absurd -- and no doubt offensive to voters. After his party insisted during more than a year of debate over the health care overhaul that they did not want a single-payer public option, Reid gloated to the Netroot gathering: 'We're going to have a public option. It's just a question of when.' ... Nor does Reid, like Pelosi, get that Social Security is in a deep crisis. He called it 'the most successful social program in the history of the world.' Successful? A program that socks future generations with trillions in higher taxes and lower standards of living? A program that's already running in the red and whose unsustainable finances promise to push the U.S. to the verge of bankruptcy? The arrogance of Reid's and Pelosi's remarks underscore the problems that the Democrats have with the electorate. They promised moderation and fiscal responsibility. Instead, we got a radical expansion of government power." --Investor's Business Daily
"Has anyone stopped to consider that we might come closer to balancing the budget if all of us simply tried to live up to the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule?" --Ronald Reagan
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." --cultural anthropologist and writer Margaret Mead (1901-1978)
"In case Al Qaeda, its cohorts, and their sponsors lack for summer reading, WikiLeaks ... has just tipped out onto the web a trove of classified U.S. military documents on the war in Afghanistan. As far as there's an upside to this, some of the concerns described in the documents may help focus attention on the problem of nuclear-armed Pakistan's double-dealing in fostering Islamist terrorism, while receiving huge handouts from the U.S. in its role as an ally. ... But in the larger picture, such leaks are routinely cherry-picked by the U.S. media, and in turn by the world media, for anything damning to the U.S. ... Not only will America's enemies now enjoy a chance to cull the leaked documents for any useful intelligence, but odds are that this huge data dump will become the latest ammo in the hands of the Blame-America-First contingent." --columnist Claudia Rosett
"The next time you hear a liberal scoffing at the idea that the American left has a set of 'talking points,' or that they're 'reading from the same script,' tell him to google 'JournoList.' Frankly, it is completely unsurprising that 400, invitation-only, members of leftist media, academia, think tanks and political activist associations would be attempting to coordinate their political strategy. When your ideology is bankrupt, the only thing left is strength in numbers. And when you revere the collectivist aspirations of Marxist/socialist all-encompassing government, 'group-think' becomes as natural as breathing." --columnist Arnold Ahlert
"From Karl Marx to today, the Left has always hated people on the Right, not merely differed or been angry with them. The question is: why? Here are three possible answers. First, the left thinks the right is evil. ... Second, when you don't confront real evil, you hate those who do. ... Third, the left's utopian vision is prevented only by the right. ... Hatred of conservatives is so much part of the left that the day the left stops hating conservatives will mark the beginning of the end of the left as we know it." --columnist Dennis Prager
"The more the president appeals to his base in racial terms, the more his appointees identify themselves as members of a particular tribe, and the more political issues are framed by racial divisions, so all the more such racial obsession creates a backlash among the racially diverse American people. America has largely moved beyond race. Tragically, our president and a host of his supportive special interests have not." --historian Victor Davis Hanson
"Elites may have more brilliance, but those who make decisions for society as a whole cannot possibly have as much experience as the millions of people whose decisions they pre-empt. The education and intellects of the elites may lead them to have more sweeping presumptions, but that just makes them more dangerous to the freedom, as well as the well-being, of the people as a whole." --economist Thomas Sowell
Slamming Fox: "What is similar about Fox News' extensive coverage of some of the stories that most in the other media didn't give much attention to? And I'll take them to you right now. I'll spell them out for you: Van Jones, the New Black Panther story, ACORN, Shirley Sherrod. What's similar about those stories?" --CNN's Rick Sanchez (Uh, they all involve racist leftists for starters.)
The BIG Lie: "You see, I think a lot of Americans think that, well gosh no, we don't want the tax cuts to expire. Ninety-eight percent of you, it doesn't even affect you." --MSNBC's Ed Schultz
Doesn't get it: "[W]hat I don't quite get is a lot of the people who are shouting about letting these tax cuts expire, they don't want it to happen, are the same people who are shouting about the deficit, and how troubling it is that the national debt is skyrocketing. And you can't have it both ways." --MSNBC's economics mastermind Contessa Brewer
Charity government: "Should George Steinbrenner's heirs pony up a voluntary contribution to the government from their estimated $500 million windfall because the federal estate tax has temporarily lapsed? 'It's an excellent question,' a smiling Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner said Thursday. At a breakfast with reporters, Geithner also was asked how he felt about The Boss' heirs cleaning up because of Steinbrenner's July 13 death -- an extremely timely demise in the tax sense. Geithner ducked, but did say he's upset Congress hasn't fixed a situation that denies the Treasury billions in unpaid taxes from wealthy Americans who die this year." --New York Daily News columnist Thomas DeFrank (The tax rate is 0 percent, meaning nobody is leaving taxes "unpaid.")
Dr. Freud, call your office: "Will the Democrats running for the House re-election, they're all running for re-election under the Constitution, and the Senate candidates, will they run away from President O'Carter? I mean, will they run away." --MSNBC's Chris Matthews, with a Freudian slip
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rolling back the State
on: July 28, 2010, 12:57:40 PM
We kick off this new thread with a really good idea from our Canadian friends:
Stephen Taylor: The beginning of the end of the Canadian welfare state
Stephen Taylor July 26, 2010 – 10:45 am
I received a call last week from a reporter around noon about what he
conceded was “the story that just won’t go away.” He was, of course, talking
about the census. He wanted to know if I could pass on a few names of
possible interviews for right-wingers that support the government’s stand to
scrap the long-form census. Of course, there are the folks over at the
Western Standard who are taking up their obvious position against the
mandatory “burden,” but in broader view, it got me thinking about who
opposes the government’s plan and why the story would not just go away.
Every day it seems that there’s a new group of people lining up to bemoan
the Industry Minister’s announcement that the census would forego the
mandatory long-form. Certainly, this illustrates a serious problem that
Stephen Harper faces as Prime Minister. Facing an opposition that can’t get
its act together is one thing, but a nation where the voices of special
interests are louder than ordinary citizens is another.
Indeed in this country, there are two groups of people. In fact, some would
call these groups the haves and the have-nots. This is an not inaccurate way
of describing it, but those that would might have the two switched.
Canadians form two groups: those that receive from the government and those
that pay to the government. Those who form — or are constituent to —
organizations dependent on government policy (and spending) are firmly
against the changes to the census. Those on the other side are largely
ambivalent because they are the large, unorganized and unsubsidized net
The conservative/libertarian Fraser Institute think tank’s motto is “if it
matters, measure it.” The untruth of the inverse of this statement is at the
centre of why this government should follow through. “If you measure it, it
matters” is the motto of those net tax-receiving organizations who only
matter if they can make their case. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried
the ideological argument against these groups for years. But ideology is by
its nature debatable; removing the framework of debate is his shortcut to
If Stephen Harper succeeds in moving in this direction, he will be in the
initial stages of dealing a huge blow to the welfare state. If one day we
have no idea how many divorced Hindu public transit users there are in East
Vancouver, government policy will not be concocted to address them
specifically. Indeed if this group were organized (the DHPTUEV?) and looking
for government intervention, they’d be against the census change. The
trouble is that in Canada, the non-affiliated taxpayers not looking for a
handout have not organized. Indeed, the only dog they have in this fight is
the amount of tax they pay (aka “transfers”) to sustain the interests of
QMI’s David Akin exclaimed surprise that from his cell within the beehive of
special interests that is Ottawa, he was shocked to find that a full half —
that other half — of Canadians aren’t upset about the changes to the census
when it seems that’s the only thing the other bees seem to be buzzing about.
The story that “just won’t go away” is a flurry of activity “inside the
beehive,” because until you go outside, you can’t see the forest for the
The other recent Lockheed Martin-related news story of the past couple of
weeks was the Conservative government’s huge sole-sourced $16-billion
contract with Lockheed Martin to buy F-35 fighter jets. Perhaps I was a bit
naive to think that every part of that sentence should be offensive to the
Ottawa media… sole-sourced… American arms dealer… flying war machines…
Conservative government. No, this largest military purchase in Canadian
history didn’t even make a significant blip on the Ottawa establishment
radar, simply because it didn’t challenge the position of any special
interest groups. There’s no bevy of community/cultural/government
organizations ready to line up to criticize/laud such a move. If the
government had taken $16-billion out of HRSDC’s $80+ billion annual budget
to pay for it, however, there’d be a swarm.
I believe that this Prime Minister has a few objectives in mind as he
integrates seemingly transactional initiatives into something
transformative. First, he merged the Progressive Conservative party and the
Canadian Alliance to challenge what seemed to be entrenched Liberal
electoral domination. Through initiatives such as financial starvation via
election finance reform and ideological force-feeding on the policy front,
Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace
them with the Conservatives as Canada’s default choice for government. His
greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can’t be
measured, future governments can’t pander. I imagine that Stephen Harper’s
view, Canada should be a country of individual initiative, not one of
collective dependence “justified” through the collection of data.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Peek-a-boo, we don't get to see you: SEC exempt
on: July 28, 2010, 12:28:41 PM
SEC Says New FinReg Law Exempts It From Public Disclosure
By Dunstan Prial
Published July 28, 2010
So much for transparency.
Under a little-noticed provision of the recently passed financial-reform legislation, the Securities and Exchange Commission no longer has to comply with virtually all requests for information releases from the public, including those filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
The law, signed last week by President Obama, exempts the SEC from disclosing records or information derived from "surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities." Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say. Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.
That argument comes despite the President saying that one of the cornerstones of the sweeping new legislation was more transparent financial markets. Indeed, in touting the new law, Obama specifically said it would “increase transparency in financial dealings."
The SEC cited the new law Tuesday in a FOIA action brought by FOX Business Network. Steven Mintz, founding partner of law firm Mintz & Gold LLC in New York, lamented what he described as “the backroom deal that was cut between Congress and the SEC to keep the SEC’s failures secret. The only losers here are the American public.”
If the SEC’s interpretation stands, Mintz, who represents FOX Business Network, predicted “the next time there is a Bernie Madoff failure the American public will not be able to obtain the SEC documents that describe the failure,” referring to the shamed broker whose Ponzi scheme cost investors billions.
The SEC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Criticism of the provision has been swift. “It allows the SEC to block the public’s access to virtually all SEC records,” said Gary Aguirre, a former SEC staff attorney-turned-whistleblower who had accused the agency of thwarting an investigation into hedge fund Pequot Asset Management in 2005. “It permits the SEC to promulgate its own rules and regulations regarding the disclosure of records without getting the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which typically applies to all federal agencies.”
Aguirre used FOIA requests in his own lawsuit against the SEC, which the SEC settled this year by paying him $755,000. Aguirre, who was fired in September 2005, argued that supervisors at the SEC stymied an investigation of Pequot – a charge that prompted an investigation by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.
The SEC closed the case in 2006, but would re-open it three years later. This year, Pequot and its founder, Arthur Samberg, were forced to pay $28 million to settle insider-trading charges related to shares of Microsoft (MSFT: 25.86 ,-0.30 ,-1.15%). The settlement with Aguirre came shortly later.
“From November 2008 through January 2009, I relied heavily on records obtained from the SEC through FOIA in communications to the FBI, Senate investigators, and the SEC in arguing the SEC had botched its initial investigation of Pequot’s trading in Microsoft securities and thus the SEC should reopen it, which it did,” Aguirre said. “The new legislation closes access to such records, even when the investigation is closed.
“It is hard to imagine how the bill could be more counterproductive,” Aguirre added.
FOX Business Network sued the SEC in March 2009 over its failure to produce documents related to its failed investigations into alleged investment frauds being perpetrated by Madoff and R. Allen Stanford. Following the Madoff and Stanford arrests it, was revealed that the SEC conducted investigations into both men prior to their arrests but failed to uncover their alleged frauds.
FOX Business made its initial request to the SEC in February 2009 seeking any information related to the agency’s response to complaints, tips and inquiries or any potential violations of the securities law or wrongdoing by Stanford.
FOX Business has also filed lawsuits against the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve over their failure to respond to FOIA requests regarding use of the bailout funds and the Fed’s extended loan facilities. In February, the Federal Court in New York sided with FOX Business and ordered the Treasury to comply with its requests.
Last year, the network won a legal victory to force the release of documents related to New York University’s lawsuit against Madoff feeder Ezra Merkin.
FOX Business’ FOIA requests have so far led the SEC to release several important and damaging documents:
•FOX Business used the FOIA to obtain a 2005 survey that the SEC in Fort Worth was sending to Stanford investors. The survey showed that the SEC had suspicions about Stanford several years prior to the collapse of his $7 billion empire.
•FOX Business used the FOIA to obtain copies of emails between Federal Reserve lawyers, AIG and staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in which it was revealed the Fed staffers knew that bailing out AIG would result in bonuses being paid.
Recently, TARP Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren told FOX Business that the network’s Freedom of Information Act efforts played a “very important part” of the panel’s investigation into AIG.
Warren told the network the government “crossed a line” with the AIG bailout.
“FOX News and the congressional oversight panel has pushed, pushed, pushed, for transparency, give us the documents, let us look at everything. Your Freedom of Information Act suit, which ultimately produced 250,000 pages of documentation, was a very important part of our report. We were able to rely on the documents that you pried out for a significant part of our being able to put this report together,” Warren said.
The SEC first made its intention to block further FOIA requests known on Tuesday. FOX Business was preparing for another round of “skirmishes” with the SEC, according to Mintz, when the agency called and said it intended to use Section 929I of the 2000-page legislation to refuse FBN’s ongoing requests for information.
Mintz said the network will challenge the SEC’s interpretation of the law.
“I believe this is subject to challenge,” he said. “The contours will have to be figured out by a court.”
SEC Financial Regulatory Law H.R. 4173
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Friends of Angelo
on: July 28, 2010, 07:17:02 AM
'Reform' missed 'friends of Angelo'
By STEPHEN B. MEISTER
Last Updated: 12:26 AM, July 27, 2010
Posted: 12:19 AM, July 27, 2010
Democrats claim their sweeping financial-sector reforms will guard against the kind of problems that triggered the recent economic meltdown. But if they really wanted to do that, they would've focused on how so many US officials were simply . . .bought. Fat chance.
Nonetheless, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform, is demanding just such a review -- and, for the sake of the nation, he should get one.
Last week, Issa wrote to Alfred Pollard, general counsel to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, asking for a probe of "VIP" mortgage loans given to Fannie and Freddie executives by Countrywide Financial Corporation. He also disclosed that Senate staffers got 30 low-rate mortgages under the program.
Founder Angelo Mozilo built Countrywide into the nation's largest mortgage lender, with a portfolio at one point worth $1.4 trillion, by selling billions in mostly subprime loans to Fannie and Freddie. Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno, using the anti-redlining statute -- the Community Reinvestment Act -- relentlessly pressured banks to make loans to "the underserved." But the banks could not make enough subprime mortgage loans to satisfy our lawmakers unless the federal government bought the loans they originated. That's where Fannie and Freddie came in.
Eventually, Congress and the Department of Housing and Urban Development ordered Fannie to spend 50 cents of every dollar buying subprime loans. Today, Fannie and Freddie are wards of the state and own, or are responsible for, $5.5 trillion worth of mortgages.
Documents strongly suggest that, through a VIP loan program at Countrywide for "Friends of Angelo," Mozilo helped spur officials to keep up Fannie and Freddie's multitrillion-dollar mortgage-spending spree and, especially, buying Countrywide's junk mortgages. Special account executives were hired to administer the "FOA" loan program. Their business cards contained the designation "VIP Loan Program," so that the VIPs who received these discounted loans would know they were being given special treatment. Thousands of dollars were saved by each VIP borrower, and each had to have known it.
"Friends of Angelo" loans went to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the Senate Banking Committee chairman; Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Budget Committee chairman and a Finance Committee member; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson; Jim Johnson, a former Fannie CEO and adviser to candidate Barack Obama; Clinton Jones III, senior counsel to the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, and Franklin Raines, since-disgraced Fannie CEO.
But the more than 44,000 documents subpoenaed by Issa showed that the corruption in the system ran even deeper. They show that a staggering 153 VIP loans were extended to the quasi-governmental employees who decided what loans Fannie would buy with the taxpayers' money. Another 20 VIP loans were made to Freddie Mac executives.
Mozilo's seemingly systematic efforts to sway lawmakers, a cabinet member, White House staff and the executives at Fannie and Freddie appear to have paid off. In 2007, Countrywide alone originated 23 percent of a massive volume of Fannie and Freddie's mortgage purchases. In that year alone, Mozilo made more than $140 million. VIP borrower and Fannie CEO Jim Johnson signed a strategic agreement with Countrywide granting Fannie exclusive access to Countrywide's junk loans. Mozilo, in effect, had managed to make the United States and Countrywide joint venturers in the most prodigious -- and dangerous -- subprime-mortgage operation in our country's history.
Mozilo also seems to have stifled numerous bills in Congress aimed at reform -- despite warnings by Republicans that a failure to rein in Fannie and Freddie posed grave dangers to taxpayers. When Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) pushed for a comprehensive fix, Dodd successfully threatened a filibuster.
Meanwhile, despite ethical codes governing Congress, the Executive Branch and Fannie and Freddie, which ban the acceptance of gifts or discounts, influential "Friends of Angelo" accepted their discounted loans.
If House Leader Nancy Pelosi really were interested in reform and in "draining the swamp," she'd have launched a probe long ago. She didn't. Even worse, two-time VIP loan recipient Dodd served as sponsor of the financial-reform law, which makes no effort to deal with Fannie and Freddie, even though to date they've received $145 billion in taxpayer bailouts -- with no end in sight.
President Obama and his fellow Democrats singled out Wall Street in their massive reform package. They should have looked in the mirror first.
Stephen B. Meister is a partner in Meister Seelig & Fein LLP.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Ten Myths
on: July 28, 2010, 07:07:11 AM
By BRETT ARENDS
The Dow Jones Industrial Average last week ended up pretty much where it had been a little more than a week earlier. A rousing 200-point rally on Wednesday mostly made up for the distressing 200-point selloff of the previous Friday.
The Dow plummeted nearly 800 points a few weeks ago -- and then just as dramatically rocketed back up again. The widely watched market indicator is down 7% from where it stood in April and up 59% from where it was at its 2009 nadir.
These kinds of stomach-churning swings are testing investors' nerves once again. You may already feel shattered from the events of 2008-2009. Since the Greek debt crisis in the spring, turmoil has been back in the markets.
At times like this, your broker or financial adviser may offer words of wisdom or advice. There are standard calming phrases you will hear over and over again. But how true are they? Here are 10 that need extra scrutiny.
1 "This is a good time to invest in the stock market."
Really? Ask your broker when he warned clients that it was a bad time to invest. October 2007? February 2000? A broken watch tells the right time twice a day, but that's no reason to wear one. Or as someone once said, asking a broker if this is a good time to invest in the stock market is like asking a barber if you need a haircut. "Certainly, sir -- step this way!"
2 "Stocks on average make you about 10% a year."
Stop right there. This is based on some past history -- stretching back to the 1800s -- and it's full of holes.
About three of those percentage points were only from inflation. The other 7% may not be reliable either. The data from the 19th century are suspect; the global picture from the 20th century is complex. Experts suggest 5% may be more typical. And stocks only produce average returns if you buy them at average valuations. If you buy them when they're expensive, you do a lot worse.
3 "Our economists are forecasting..."
Hold it. Ask your broker if the firm's economist predicted the most recent recession -- and if so, when.
The record for economic forecasts is not impressive. Even into 2008 many economists were still denying that a recession was on the way. The usual shtick is to predict "a slowdown, but not a recession." That way they have an escape clause, no matter what happens. Warren Buffett once said forecasters made fortune tellers look good.
4 "Investing in the stock market lets you participate in the growth of the economy."
Tell that to the Japanese. Since 1989 their economy has grown by more than a quarter, but the stock market is down more than three quarters. Or tell that to anyone who invested in Wall Street a decade ago. And such instances aren't as rare as you've been told. In 1969, the U.S. gross domestic product was about $1 trillion, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at about 1000. Thirteen years later, the U.S. economy had grown to $3.3 trillion. The Dow? About 1000.
5 "If you want to earn higher returns, you have to take more risk."
This must come as a surprise to Mr. Buffett, who prefers investing in boring companies and boring industries. Over the last quarter century, the FactSet Research utilities index has even outperformed the exciting, "risky" Nasdaq Composite index. The only way to earn higher returns is to buy stocks cheap in relation to their future cash flows. As for "risk," your broker probably thinks that's "volatility," which typically just means price ups and downs. But you and your Aunt Sally know that risk is really the possibility of losing principal.
6 "The market's really cheap right now. The P/E is only about 13."
The widely quoted price/earnings (PE) ratio, which compares share prices to annual after-tax earnings, can be misleading. That's because earnings are so volatile -- they're elevated in a boom, and depressed in a bust.
Ask your broker about other valuation metrics, like the dividend yield, which looks at the dividends you get for each dollar of investment; or the cyclically adjusted PE ratio, which compares share prices to earnings over the past 10 years; or "Tobin's q," which compares share prices to the actual replacement cost of company assets. No metric is perfect, but these three have good track records. Right now all three say the stock market's pretty expensive, not cheap.
7 "You can't time the market."
This hoary old chestnut keeps the clients fully invested. Certainly it's a fool's errand to try to catch the market's twists and turns. But that doesn't mean you have to suspend judgment about overall valuations.
If you invest in shares when they're cheap compared to cash flows and assets -- typically this happens when everyone else is gloomy -- you will usually do very well.
If you invest when shares are very expensive -- such as when everyone else is absurdly bullish -- you will probably do badly.
8 "We recommend a diversified portfolio of mutual funds."
If your broker means you should diversify across things like cash, bonds, stocks, alternative strategies, commodities and precious metals, then that's good advice.
But too many brokers mean mutual funds with different names and "styles" like large-cap value, small-cap growth, midcap blend, international small-cap value, and so on. These are marketing gimmicks. There is, for example, no such thing as "midcap blend." These funds are typically 100% invested all the time, and all in stocks. In this global economy even "international" offers less diversification than it did, because everything's getting tied together.
9 "This is a stock picker's market."
What? Every market seems to be defined as a "stock picker's market," yet for most people the lion's share of investment returns -- for good or ill -- has typically come from the asset classes (see No. 8, above) they've chosen rather than the individual investments. And even if this does turn out to be a stock picker's market, what makes you think your broker is the stock picker in question?
10 "Stocks outperform over the long term."
Define the long term? If you can be down for 10 or more years, exactly how much help is that? As John Maynard Keynes, the economist, once said: "In the long run we are all dead."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: Guided Dreams
on: July 28, 2010, 02:30:55 AM
Nightmares resulting from traumatic events usually fade over time, as the haunting images and terrifying plots become less intense. The dreams may also naturally evolve into what some specialists call “mastery dreams,” in which the dreamer has found a way to ease the pain or horror — say, confronting a rapist or saving someone from a fire. But when that does not happen of its own accord, many therapists use behavioral interventions to reduce nightmares or guide the waking patient toward having a mastery dream — using the conscious mind to control the wild ways of the unconscious.
Some of these techniques have been in use for years. In one treatment, known as lucid dreaming, patients are taught to become aware that they are dreaming while the dream is in progress. In another, called in vivo desensitization, they are exposed while awake to what may be haunting them in their sleep — for example, a live snake, caged and harmless — until the fear subsides. Both techniques have been researched extensively.
More recently, therapists and other experts have been using a technique called dream incubation, first researched in the early 1990s by Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School.
And Hollywood has just produced its own spin on lucid dreaming and the idea of controlling dreams, with the release earlier this month of “Inception,” a thriller whose plot swirls through the darkest layers of the dream world. As Dr. Barrett wrote in an online review of “Inception,” for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, “I love the idea of millions of action-film fans the world over leaving theaters asking each other if they’re ever had a dream in which they knew they were dreaming — or whipping out their smartphones and Googling to find out if you really can learn to influence dream content.”
Using dream incubation for problem solving, Dr. Barrett, the author of “The Committee of Sleep,” which expanded on her initial research, asks patients to write down a problem as a brief phrase or sentence and place the note next to the bed. Then she tells them to review the problem for a few minutes before going to bed, and once in bed, visualize the problem as a concrete image, if possible.
As they are drifting off to sleep, the patients should tell themselves they want to dream about the problem and ideally keep a pen and paper, and perhaps a flashlight or a pen with a lit tip, on the night table. No matter what time they wake up, they should lie quietly before getting out of bed, note whether there is “any trace of a recalled dream and invite more of the dream to return if possible.” They should write down everything they remember.
For reducing nightmares, she helps patients devise a mastery scenario to work with, and they can remind themselves of it as they fall asleep, saying to themselves, “Tonight if I have the dream of the fire, of Vietnam, I want to find a fire hose, freeze the action, speak to the Vietnamese boy,” She said.
Dr. Barry Krakow of the Maimonides Sleep Arts and Sciences center in Albuquerque and the author of “Sound Sleep, Sound Mind,” helped develop imagery rehearsal therapy. In a 110-page manual he gives his patients, he has them select a nightmare they want to transform into a dream of lesser intensity.
“Change the nightmare any way you wish,” the manual says. “Let new positive images emerge in your mind’s eye to guide you in ‘painting’ your new dream.”
Patients then rehearse the new dream, which could be a less haunting version of the nightmare or a completely different dream, at least once a day for 10 or 20 minutes. He suggests recalling a nightmare only once or twice a week — and only when changing it into a new dream.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Killer Cons for rent
on: July 27, 2010, 10:13:47 PM
Mexico: Prison guards let killers out, lent gunsAP - <unday, July 25, 2010 3:08:33 PM By MARK STEVENSON Mexico: Prison guards let killers out, lent gunsPhoto By AP
Guards and officials at a prison in northern Mexico allegedly let inmates out, lent them guns and allowed them to use official vehicles to carry out drug-related killings, including the massacre of 17 people last week, prosecutors said Sunday.
After carrying out the killings the inmates would return to their cells, the Attorney General's Office said in a revelation that was shocking even for a country wearied by years of drug violence and corruption.
"According to witnesses, the inmates were allowed to leave with authorization of the prison director ... to carry out instructions for revenge attacks using official vehicles and using guards' weapons for executions," office spokesman Ricardo Najera said at a news conference.
The director of the prison in Gomez Palacio in Durango state and three other officials were placed under a form of house arrest pending further investigation. No charges have yet been filed.
Prosecutors said the prison-based hit squad is suspected in three mass shootings, including the July 18 attack on a party in the city of Torreon, which is near Gomez Palacio. In that incident, gunmen fired indiscriminately into a crowd of mainly young people in a rented hall, killing 17 people, including women.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Student ordered to change religious views
on: July 27, 2010, 10:00:45 PM
Lawsuit Claims College Ordered Student to Alter Religious Views on
Homosexuality, Or Be Dismissed
By Joshua Rhett Miller
Published July 27, 2010
Jennifer Keeton, 24, has been pursuing a master's degree in school
counseling at Augusta State University since last year, but school officials
have informed her that she'll be dismissed from the program unless she
alters her "central religious beliefs on human nature and conduct,"
according to a civil complaint filed last week.
A graduate student in Georgia is suing her university after she was told she
must undergo a remediation program due to her beliefs on homosexuality and
The student, Jennifer Keeton, 24, has been pursuing a master's degree in
school counseling at Augusta State University since 2009, but school
officials have informed her that she'll be dismissed from the program unless
she alters her "central religious beliefs on human nature and conduct,"
according to a civil complaint filed last week.
"[Augusta State University] faculty have promised to expel Miss Keeton from
the graduate Counselor Education Program not because of poor academic
showing or demonstrated deficiencies in clinical performance, but simply
because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she
holds to Christian ethical convictions on matters of human sexuality and
gender identity," the 43-page lawsuit reads.
Keeton, according to the lawsuit, was informed by school officials in late
May that she would be asked to take part in a remediation plan due to
faculty concerns regarding her beliefs pertaining to gay, lesbian, bisexual
and transgender issues.
"The faculty identifies Miss Keeton's views as indicative of her improper
professional disposition to persons of such populations," the lawsuit reads.
The remediation plan, according to the lawsuit, noted Keeton's "disagreement
in several class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and
lesbian 'lifestyle,'" as well as Keeton's belief that those "lifestyles" are
cases of identity confusion.
If Keeton fails to complete the plan, including additional reading and the
writing of papers describing the impact on her beliefs, she will be expelled
from the Counselor Education Program, the lawsuit claims.
Keeton has stated that she believes sexual behavior is the "result of
accountable personal choice rather than an inevitability deriving from
deterministic forces," according to the suit.
"She also has affirmed binary male-female gender, with one or the other
being fixed in each person at their creation, and not a social construct or
individual choice subject to alteration by the person so created," the
lawsuit reads. "Further, she has expressed her view that homosexuality is a
'lifestyle,' not a 'state of being.'"
In a statement to FoxNews.com, Augusta State University officials declined
to comment specifically on the litigation, but said the university does not
discriminate on the basis of students' moral, religious, political or
personal views or beliefs.
"The Counselor Education Program is grounded in the core principles of the
American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor
Association, which defines the roles and responsibilities of professional
counselors in its code of ethics," the statement read. "The code is included
in the curriculum of the counseling education program, which states that
counselors in training have the same responsibility as professional
counselors to understand and follow the ACA Code of Ethics."
David French, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the
lawsuit against Augusta State University on Keeton's behalf, said no
university has the right to force a citizen to change their beliefs on any
"The university has told Jennifer Keeton that if she doesn't change her
beliefs, she can't stay in the program," he told FoxNews.com. "She won't
even have a chance to counsel any students; she won't have a chance to get a
counseling degree; she'll be expelled."
Keeton, who is not available for interviews according to French, believes
that people have "moral choices" regarding their sexuality, he said.
"A student has a right to express their point of view in and out of class
without fear or censorship or expulsion," French said.
Phone. 705.879.2870 Fax. 705.438.5893
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: July 27, 2010, 04:24:13 PM
Cracks in support? Or carping from the Left which is left with no where to go?
"An unfulfilled promise to overhaul the nation's patchwork immigration system, which Hispanics overwhelmingly want to see fixed, also may be to blame".
This is a euphemism for amnesty.
I'm not seeing much cause for hope of Rep political competence here and fear in the middle to long term that the Reps will screw this up and, like the aftermath of Prop 187 here in CA, be lastingly screwed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Newt
on: July 27, 2010, 04:19:28 PM
I too like Newt. Indeed I like him a lot, but it is true that he played the spoiled brat about that Air Force One incident and did fold to Clinton and the Dems. Newt did side with the RINO Reps in upstate NY. I am bummed to see him go spineless against the NAACP.
Doug, you are quite right we need to now where our weaknesses are.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on Wikilieaks
on: July 27, 2010, 10:52:40 AM
I am open to additional thoughts changing my mind, but at the moment I cannot see a good end here outside of outside the box thoughts such as those I recently posted. As best as I can tell Obama's psuedo-surge has ensured this.
WikiLeaks and the Afghan War
July 27, 2010
By George Friedman
On Sunday, The New York Times and two other newspapers published summaries and excerpts of tens of thousands of documents leaked to a website known as WikiLeaks. The documents comprise a vast array of material concerning the war in Afghanistan. They range from tactical reports from small unit operations to broader strategic analyses of politico-military relations between the United States and Pakistan. It appears to be an extraordinary collection.
Related special topic page
The War in Afghanistan
Tactical intelligence on firefights is intermingled with reports on confrontations between senior U.S. and Pakistani officials in which lists of Pakistani operatives in Afghanistan are handed over to the Pakistanis. Reports on the use of surface-to-air missiles by militants in Afghanistan are intermingled with reports on the activities of former Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who reportedly continues to liaise with the Afghan Taliban in an informal capacity.
At first glance, it is difficult to imagine a single database in which such a diverse range of intelligence was stored, or the existence of a single individual cleared to see such diverse intelligence stored across multiple databases and able to collect, collate and transmit the intelligence without detection. Intriguingly, all of what has been released so far has been not-so-sensitive material rated secret or below. The Times reports that Gul’s name appears all over the documents, yet very few documents have been released in the current batch, and it is very hard to imagine intelligence on Gul and his organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, being classified as only secret. So, this was either low-grade material hyped by the media, or there is material reviewed by the selected newspapers but not yet made public. Still, what was released and what the Times discussed is consistent with what most thought was happening in Afghanistan.
The obvious comparison is to the Pentagon Papers, commissioned by the Defense Department to gather lessons from the Vietnam War and leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the Times during the Nixon administration. Many people worked on the Pentagon Papers, each of whom was focused on part of it and few of whom would have had access to all of it.
Ellsberg did not give the Times the supporting documentation; he gave it the finished product. By contrast, in the WikiLeaks case, someone managed to access a lot of information that would seem to have been contained in many different places. If this was an unauthorized leak, then it had to have involved a massive failure in security. Certainly, the culprit should be known by now and his arrest should have been announced. And certainly, the gathering of such diverse material in one place accessible to one or even a few people who could move it without detection is odd.
Like the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks (as I will call them) elicited a great deal of feigned surprise, not real surprise. Apart from the charge that the Johnson administration contrived the Gulf of Tonkin incident, much of what the Pentagon Papers contained was generally known. Most striking about the Pentagon Papers was not how much surprising material they contained, but how little. Certainly, they contradicted the official line on the war, but there were few, including supporters of the war, who were buying the official line anyway.
In the case of the WikiLeaks, what is revealed also is not far from what most people believed, although they provide enormous detail. Nor is it that far from what government and military officials are saying about the war. No one is saying the war is going well, though some say that given time it might go better.
The view of the Taliban as a capable fighting force is, of course, widespread. If they weren’t a capable fighting force, then the United States would not be having so much trouble defeating them. The WikiLeaks seem to contain two strategically significant claims, however. The first is that the Taliban is a more sophisticated fighting force than has been generally believed. An example is the claim that Taliban fighters have used man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) against U.S. aircraft. This claim matters in a number of ways. First, it indicates that the Taliban are using technologies similar to those used against the Soviets. Second, it raises the question of where the Taliban are getting them — they certainly don’t manufacture MANPADS themselves.
If they have obtained advanced technologies, this would have significance on the battlefield. For example, if reasonably modern MANPADS were to be deployed in numbers, the use of American airpower would either need to be further constrained or higher attrition rates accepted. Thus far, only first- and second-generation MANPADS without Infrared Counter-Countermeasures (which are more dangerous) appear to have been encountered, and not with decisive or prohibitive effectiveness. But in any event, this doesn’t change the fundamental character of the war.
Supply Lines and Sanctuaries
What it does raise is the question of supply lines and sanctuaries. The most important charge contained in the leaks is about Pakistan. The WikiLeaks contain documents that charge that the Pakistanis are providing both supplies and sanctuary to Taliban fighters while objecting to American forces entering Pakistan to clean out the sanctuaries and are unwilling or unable to carry out that operation by themselves (as they have continued to do in North Waziristan).
Just as important, the documents charge that the ISI has continued to maintain liaison and support for the Taliban in spite of claims by the Pakistani government that pro-Taliban officers had been cleaned out of the ISI years ago. The document charges that Gul, the director-general of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, still operates in Pakistan, informally serving the ISI and helping give the ISI plausible deniability.
Though startling, the charge that Islamabad is protecting and sustaining forces fighting and killing Americans is not a new one. When the United States halted operations in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviets in 1989, U.S. policy was to turn over operations in Afghanistan to Pakistan. U.S. strategy was to use Islamist militants to fight the Soviets and to use Pakistani liaisons through the ISI to supply and coordinate with them. When the Soviets and Americans left Afghanistan, the ISI struggled to install a government composed of its allies until the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996. The ISI’s relationship with the Taliban — which in many ways are the heirs to the anti-Soviet mujahideen — is widely known. In my book, “America’s Secret War,” I discussed both this issue and the role of Gul. These documents claim that this relationship remains intact. Apart from Pakistani denials, U.S. officials and military officers frequently made this charge off the record, and on the record occasionally. The leaks on this score are interesting, but they will shock only those who didn’t pay attention or who want to be shocked.
Let’s step back and consider the conflict dispassionately. The United States forced the Taliban from power. It never defeated the Taliban nor did it make a serious effort to do so, as that would require massive resources the United States doesn’t have. Afghanistan is a secondary issue for the United States, especially since al Qaeda has established bases in a number of other countries, particularly Pakistan, making the occupation of Afghanistan irrelevant to fighting al Qaeda.
For Pakistan, however, Afghanistan is an area of fundamental strategic interest. The region’s main ethnic group, the Pashtun, stretch across the Afghan-Pakistani border. Moreover, were a hostile force present in Afghanistan, as one was during the Soviet occupation, Pakistan would face threats in the west as well as the challenge posed by India in the east. For Pakistan, an Afghanistan under Pakistani influence or at least a benign Afghanistan is a matter of overriding strategic importance.
(click here to enlarge image)
It is therefore irrational to expect the Pakistanis to halt collaboration with the force that they expect to be a major part of the government of Afghanistan when the United States leaves. The Pakistanis never expected the United States to maintain a presence in Afghanistan permanently. They understood that Afghanistan was a means toward an end, and not an end in itself. They understood this under George W. Bush. They understand it even more clearly under Barack Obama, who made withdrawal a policy goal.
Given that they don’t expect the Taliban to be defeated, and given that they are not interested in chaos in Afghanistan, it follows that they will maintain close relations with and support for the Taliban. Given that the United States is powerful and is Pakistan’s only lever against India, the Pakistanis will not make this their public policy, however. The United States has thus created a situation in which the only rational policy for Pakistan is two-tiered, consisting of overt opposition to the Taliban and covert support for the Taliban.
This is duplicitous only if you close your eyes to the Pakistani reality, which the Americans never did. There was ample evidence, as the WikiLeaks show, of covert ISI ties to the Taliban. The Americans knew they couldn’t break those ties. They settled for what support Pakistan could give them while constantly pressing them harder and harder until genuine fears in Washington emerged that Pakistan could destabilize altogether. Since a stable Pakistan is more important to the United States than a victory in Afghanistan — which it wasn’t going to get anyway — the United States released pressure and increased aid. If Pakistan collapsed, then India would be the sole regional power, not something the United States wants.
The WikiLeaks seem to show that like sausage-making, one should never look too closely at how wars are fought, particularly coalition warfare. Even the strongest alliances, such as that between the United States and the United Kingdom in World War II, are fraught with deceit and dissension. London was fighting to save its empire, an end Washington was hostile to; much intrigue ensued. The U.S.-Pakistani alliance is not nearly as trusting. The United States is fighting to deny al Qaeda a base in Afghanistan while Pakistan is fighting to secure its western frontier and its internal stability. These are very different ends that have very different levels of urgency.
The WikiLeaks portray a war in which the United States has a vastly insufficient force on the ground that is fighting a capable and dedicated enemy who isn’t going anywhere. The Taliban know that they win just by not being defeated, and they know that they won’t be defeated. The Americans are leaving, meaning the Taliban need only wait and prepare.
The Pakistanis also know that the Americans are leaving and that the Taliban or a coalition including the Taliban will be in charge of Afghanistan when the Americans leave. They will make certain that they maintain good relations with the Taliban. They will deny that they are doing this because they want no impediments to a good relationship with the United States before or after it leaves Afghanistan. They need a patron to secure their interests against India. Since the United States wants neither an India outside a balance of power nor China taking the role of Pakistan’s patron, it follows that the risk the United States will bear grudges is small. And given that, the Pakistanis can live with Washington knowing that one Pakistani hand is helping the Americans while another helps the Taliban. Power, interest and reality define the relations between nations, and different factions inside nations frequently have different agendas and work against each other.
The WikiLeaks, from what we have seen so far, detail power, interest and reality as we have known it. They do not reveal a new reality. Much will be made about the shocking truth that has been shown, which, as mentioned above, shocks only those who wish to be shocked. The Afghan war is about an insufficient American and allied force fighting a capable enemy on its home ground and a Pakistan positioning itself for the inevitable outcome. The WikiLeaks contain all the details.
We are left with the mystery of who compiled all of these documents and who had access to them with enough time and facilities to transmit them to the outside world in a blatant and sustained breach of protocol. The image we have is of an unidentified individual or small group working to get a “shocking truth” out to the public, only the truth is not shocking — it is what was known all along in excruciating detail. Who would want to detail a truth that is already known, with access to all this documentation and the ability to transmit it unimpeded? Whoever it proves to have been has just made the most powerful case yet for withdrawal from Afghanistan sooner rather than later.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Lost in Translation
on: July 27, 2010, 01:41:41 AM
Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?
Take "Humpty Dumpty sat on a..." Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say "sat" rather than "sit." In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) change the verb to mark tense.
In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.
In Turkish, you would have to include in the verb how you acquired this information. For example, if you saw the chubby fellow on the wall with your own eyes, you'd use one form of the verb, but if you had simply read or heard about it, you'd use a different form.
Do English, Indonesian, Russian and Turkish speakers end up attending to, understanding, and remembering their experiences differently simply because they speak different languages?
These questions touch on all the major controversies in the study of mind, with important implications for politics, law and religion. Yet very little empirical work had been done on these questions until recently. The idea that language might shape thought was for a long time considered untestable at best and more often simply crazy and wrong. Now, a flurry of new cognitive science research is showing that in fact, language does profoundly influence how we see the world.
The question of whether languages shape the way we think goes back centuries; Charlemagne proclaimed that "to have a second language is to have a second soul." But the idea went out of favor with scientists when Noam Chomsky's theories of language gained popularity in the 1960s and '70s. Dr. Chomsky proposed that there is a universal grammar for all human languages—essentially, that languages don't really differ from one another in significant ways. And because languages didn't differ from one another, the theory went, it made no sense to ask whether linguistic differences led to differences in thinking.
Use Your Words
Some findings on how language can affect thinking.
Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue.
Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east and west, rather than left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation.
The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities.
In one study, Spanish and Japanese speakers couldn't remember the agents of accidental events as adeptly as English speakers could. Why? In Spanish and Japanese, the agent of causality is dropped: "The vase broke itself," rather than "John broke the vase."
.The search for linguistic universals yielded interesting data on languages, but after decades of work, not a single proposed universal has withstood scrutiny. Instead, as linguists probed deeper into the world's languages (7,000 or so, only a fraction of them analyzed), innumerable unpredictable differences emerged.
Of course, just because people talk differently doesn't necessarily mean they think differently. In the past decade, cognitive scientists have begun to measure not just how people talk, but also how they think, asking whether our understanding of even such fundamental domains of experience as space, time and causality could be constructed by language.
For example, in Pormpuraaw, a remote Aboriginal community in Australia, the indigenous languages don't use terms like "left" and "right." Instead, everything is talked about in terms of absolute cardinal directions (north, south, east, west), which means you say things like, "There's an ant on your southwest leg." To say hello in Pormpuraaw, one asks, "Where are you going?", and an appropriate response might be, "A long way to the south-southwest. How about you?" If you don't know which way is which, you literally can't get past hello.
About a third of the world's languages (spoken in all kinds of physical environments) rely on absolute directions for space. As a result of this constant linguistic training, speakers of such languages are remarkably good at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes. They perform navigational feats scientists once thought were beyond human capabilities. This is a big difference, a fundamentally different way of conceptualizing space, trained by language.
Differences in how people think about space don't end there. People rely on their spatial knowledge to build many other more complex or abstract representations including time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality and emotions. So if Pormpuraawans think differently about space, do they also think differently about other things, like time?
To find out, my colleague Alice Gaby and I traveled to Australia and gave Pormpuraawans sets of pictures that showed temporal progressions (for example, pictures of a man at different ages, or a crocodile growing, or a banana being eaten). Their job was to arrange the shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order. We tested each person in two separate sittings, each time facing in a different cardinal direction. When asked to do this, English speakers arrange time from left to right. Hebrew speakers do it from right to left (because Hebrew is written from right to left).
Pormpuraawans, we found, arranged time from east to west. That is, seated facing south, time went left to right. When facing north, right to left. When facing east, toward the body, and so on. Of course, we never told any of our participants which direction they faced. The Pormpuraawans not only knew that already, but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time. And many other ways to organize time exist in the world's languages. In Mandarin, the future can be below and the past above. In Aymara, spoken in South America, the future is behind and the past in front.
In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand causality. For example, English likes to describe events in terms of agents doing things. English speakers tend to say things like "John broke the vase" even for accidents. Speakers of Spanish or Japanese would be more likely to say "the vase broke itself." Such differences between languages have profound consequences for how their speakers understand events, construct notions of causality and agency, what they remember as eyewitnesses and how much they blame and punish others.
In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each event, can you remember who did it? She discovered a striking cross-linguistic difference in eyewitness memory. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. Mind you, they remembered the agents of intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent) just fine. But for accidental events, when one wouldn't normally mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn't encode or remember the agent as well.
In another study, English speakers watched the video of Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" (a wonderful nonagentive coinage introduced into the English language by Justin Timberlake), accompanied by one of two written reports. The reports were identical except in the last sentence where one used the agentive phrase "ripped the costume" while the other said "the costume ripped." Even though everyone watched the same video and witnessed the ripping with their own eyes, language mattered. Not only did people who read "ripped the costume" blame Justin Timberlake more, they also levied a whopping 53% more in fines.
Beyond space, time and causality, patterns in language have been shown to shape many other domains of thought. Russian speakers, who make an extra distinction between light and dark blues in their language, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue. The Piraha, a tribe in the Amazon in Brazil, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities. And Shakespeare, it turns out, was wrong about roses: Roses by many other names (as told to blindfolded subjects) do not smell as sweet.
Patterns in language offer a window on a culture's dispositions and priorities. For example, English sentence structures focus on agents, and in our criminal-justice system, justice has been done when we've found the transgressor and punished him or her accordingly (rather than finding the victims and restituting appropriately, an alternative approach to justice). So does the language shape cultural values, or does the influence go the other way, or both?
Languages, of course, are human creations, tools we invent and hone to suit our needs. Simply showing that speakers of different languages think differently doesn't tell us whether it's language that shapes thought or the other way around. To demonstrate the causal role of language, what's needed are studies that directly manipulate language and look for effects in cognition.
Journal Communitydiscuss..“ That language embodies different ways of knowing the world seems intuitive, given the number of times we reach for a word or phrase in another language that communicates that certain je ne sais quoi we can't find on our own.
One of the key advances in recent years has been the demonstration of precisely this causal link. It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently, too. And if you take away people's ability to use language in what should be a simple nonlinguistic task, their performance can change dramatically, sometimes making them look no smarter than rats or infants. (For example, in recent studies, MIT students were shown dots on a screen and asked to say how many there were. If they were allowed to count normally, they did great. If they simultaneously did a nonlinguistic task—like banging out rhythms—they still did great. But if they did a verbal task when shown the dots—like repeating the words spoken in a news report—their counting fell apart. In other words, they needed their language skills to count.)
All this new research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart and sophisticated as we are.
Language is a uniquely human gift. When we study language, we are uncovering in part what makes us human, getting a peek at the very nature of human nature. As we uncover how languages and their speakers differ from one another, we discover that human natures too can differ dramatically, depending on the languages we speak. The next steps are to understand the mechanisms through which languages help us construct the incredibly complex knowledge systems we have. Understanding how knowledge is built will allow us to create ideas that go beyond the currently thinkable. This research cuts right to the fundamental questions we all ask about ourselves. How do we come to be the way we are? Why do we think the way we do? An important part of the answer, it turns out, is in the languages we speak.
—Lera Boroditsky is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and editor in chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: So what?
on: July 27, 2010, 01:35:01 AM
We've long believed the U.S. government classifies too many documents as secret, and now we know for sure. How else to explain why Sunday's release of some 92,000 previously confidential documents reveals so little that we didn't already know about the war in Afghanistan? This document dump will only matter if it becomes an excuse for more of America's political class to turn against a war they once supported.
One news item we could find in the orchestrated rollout on WikiLeaks.org and three newspapers is that the Taliban have heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, perhaps even Stingers of the sort we gave the Afghan rebels to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. But even if they do have Stingers, the U.S. continues to dominate the skies and few U.S. aircraft have been shot down.
Another, more important, disclosure is how closely Iran has been working with the Taliban, as well as with al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. This makes logical sense, given Iran's support for terrorists in Iraq and its general desire to chase America from the region. But the evidence should discredit those who think Tehran can be made peaceable by diplomatic entreaties.
Among the many nonscoops in the documents, we learn that war is hell, especially for infantry, and that sometimes troops make mistakes; that drone aircraft sometimes crash; that a forward U.S. base near the Pakistan border was ill-positioned to defend against Taliban attacks and had to be abandoned; and that many Afghan officials are corrupt and that Afghan troops flee often under fire. Any newspaper reader knew as much.
Far from being the Pentagon Papers redux, the larger truth is how closely the ground-eye view in these documents reinforces what U.S. officials were long saying: that the war wasn't going well, the Taliban were making gains, and a new and invigorated strategy was needed to combat them. Both the Bush and Obama Administrations made the same diagnosis in recent years, neither one kept it secret, and this year Mr. Obama followed through with an increase in troops levels and a renewed counterinsurgency.
The most politically explosive documents concern the conflicting loyalties of Pakistan's Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. Nearly 200 reports allege that the Pakistani military intelligence arm is in cahoots with the Taliban, despite claiming to side with America. This is undoubtedly true but also no surprise.
The ISI helped the U.S. arm and organize the mujahideen against the Soviets, and it kept doing so to fill the Afghan power vacuum after America abandoned the region in the early 1990s. The reports released this week allege—often citing a single source or uncertain information—that the ISI helped train Afghan suicide bombers, plotted to poison beer slated for GIs, and schemed to assassinate President Hamid Karzai. It isn't clear how many of these plots were ever attempted, but there's no doubt that many Pakistanis doubt U.S. staying power, fear Indian influence in Afghanistan, and want to use the Taliban to shape events on their Western border.
Then again, we also know that Pakistan has shifted its behavior in a more pro-American direction in the last 14 months as the Taliban began to threaten Pakistan's own stability. Responding to a surge of terrorism against Pakistani targets, the Pakistani army has pushed Islamist insurgents from the Swat Valley and even South Waziristan. It has taken heavy casualties in the process. Islamabad now actively aids U.S. drone strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in the mountains along its Afghan border.
Pakistan can and should do more to pursue the terrorist enclaves along the border, as well as in Quetta and Karachi. The question is what's the best way to persuade their leaders to act. U.S.-Pakistan cooperation has been one of the Obama Administration's foreign policy successes, and it would be a tragedy if the leak of selective documents, often out of context, would now poison that cooperation.
Pakistan's military elites already see evidence of weak American will in President Obama's declared desire to start a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan next summer. While parts of the ISI are fighting on the wrong side, the U.S. needs to stay engaged with Islamabad both to bring more stability to Afghanistan and especially to destroy terrorist sanctuaries that remain a threat to the U.S. mainland.
That is why it is so disconcerting, if also predictable, to see the usual political suspects seize on the media hullabaloo to claim the Afghan effort is hopeless. The political left, which can't forget Vietnam, is comparing the WikiLeakers to Daniel Ellsberg and even the Tet offensive. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, who pays close attention to the region and has led the fight for more U.S. aid to Pakistan, nonetheless declared that, "However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan."
As informed as he is, Mr. Kerry can't possibly have learned all that much from these documents. His statement is more worrisome as a signal of political panic, a desire to placate his party's growing opposition to President Obama's war effort. Yet this is precisely the time when cooler political heads should be putting the documents into context, explaining the importance of U.S. ties to Pakistan, and above all giving Generals David Petraeus and James Mattis the time they need to succeed in that crucial theater. We can't afford another liberal antiwar stampede.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Death of Paper Money
on: July 27, 2010, 12:56:58 AM
The Death of Paper Money
As they prepare for holiday reading in Tuscany, City bankers are buying up rare copies of an obscure book on the mechanics of Weimar inflation published in 1974.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Ebay is offering a well-thumbed volume of "Dying of Money: Lessons of the Great German and American Inflations" at a starting bid of $699 (shipping free.. thanks a lot).
The crucial passage comes in Chapter 17 entitled "Velocity". Each big inflation -- whether the early 1920s in Germany, or the Korean and Vietnam wars in the US -- starts with a passive expansion of the quantity money. This sits inert for a surprisingly long time. Asset prices may go up, but latent price inflation is disguised. The effect is much like lighter fuel on a camp fire before the match is struck.
People’s willingness to hold money can change suddenly for a "psychological and spontaneous reason" , causing a spike in the velocity of money. It can occur at lightning speed, over a few weeks. The shift invariably catches economists by surprise. They wait too long to drain the excess money.
"Velocity took an almost right-angle turn upward in the summer of 1922," said Mr O Parsson. Reichsbank officials were baffled. They could not fathom why the German people had started to behave differently almost two years after the bank had already boosted the money supply. He contends that public patience snapped abruptly once people lost trust and began to "smell a government rat".
Some might smile at the Bank of England "surprise" at the recent the jump in Brtiish inflation. Across the Atlantic, Fed critics say the rise in the US monetary base from $871bn to $2,024bn in just two years is an incendiary pyre that will ignite as soon as US money velocity returns to normal.
Morgan Stanley expects bond carnage as this catches up with the Fed, predicting that yields on US Treasuries will rocket to 5.5pc. This has not happened so far. 10-year yields have fallen below 3pc, and M2 velocity has remained at historic lows of 1.72.
As a signed-up member of the deflation camp, I think the Bank and the Fed are right to keep their nerve and delay the withdrawal of stimulus -- though that case is easier to make in the US where core inflation has dropped to the lowest since the mid 1960s. But fact that O Parsson’s book is suddenly in demand in elite banking circles is itself a sign of the sort of behavioral change that can become self-fulfilling.
As it happens, another book from the 1970s entitled "When Money Dies: the Nightmare of The Weimar Hyper-Inflation" has just been reprinted. Written by former Tory MEP Adam Fergusson -- endorsed by Warren Buffett as a must-read -- it is a vivid account drawn from the diaries of those who lived through the turmoil in Germany, Austria, and Hungary as the empires were broken up.
Near civil war between town and country was a pervasive feature of this break-down in social order. Large mobs of half-starved and vindictive townsmen descended on villages to seize food from farmers accused of hoarding. The diary of one young woman described the scene at her cousin’s farm.
"In the cart I saw three slaughtered pigs. The cowshed was drenched in blood. One cow had been slaughtered where it stood and the meat torn from its bones. The monsters had slit the udder of the finest milch cow, so that she had to be put out of her misery immediately. In the granary, a rag soaked with petrol was still smouldering to show what these beasts had intended," she wrote.
Grand pianos became a currency or sorts as pauperized members of the civil service elites traded the symbols of their old status for a sack of potatoes and a side of bacon. There is a harrowing moment when each middle-class families first starts to undertand that its gilt-edged securities and War Loan will never recover. Irreversible ruin lies ahead. Elderly couples gassed themselves in their apartments.
Foreigners with dollars, pounds, Swiss francs, or Czech crowns lived in opulence. They were hated. "Times made us cynical. Everybody saw an enemy in everybody else," said Erna von Pustau, daughter of a Hamburg fish merchant.
Great numbers of people failed to see it coming. "My relations and friends were stupid. They didn’t understand what inflation meant. Our solicitors were no better. My mother’s bank manager gave her appalling advice," said one well-connected woman.
"You used to see the appearance of their flats gradually changing. One remembered where there used to be a picture or a carpet, or a secretaire. Eventually their rooms would be almost empty. Some of them begged -- not in the streets -- but by making casual visits. One knew too well what they had come for."
Corruption became rampant. People were stripped of their coat and shoes at knife-point on the street. The winners were those who -- by luck or design -- had borrowed heavily from banks to buy hard assets, or industrial conglomerates that had issued debentures. There was a great transfer of wealth from saver to debtor, though the Reichstag later passed a law linking old contracts to the gold price. Creditors clawed back something.
A conspiracy theory took root that the inflation was a Jewish plot to ruin Germany. The currency became known as "Judefetzen" (Jew- confetti), hinting at the chain of events that would lead to Kristallnacht a decade later.
While the Weimar tale is a timeless study of social disintegration, it cannot shed much light on events today. The final trigger for the 1923 collapse was the French occupation of the Ruhr, which ripped a great chunk out of German industry and set off mass resistance.
Lloyd George suspected that the French were trying to precipitate the disintegration of Germany by sponsoring a break-away Rhineland state (as indeed they were). For a brief moment rebels set up a separatist government in Dusseldorf. With poetic justice, the crisis recoiled against Paris and destroyed the franc.
The Carthaginian peace of Versailles had by then poisoned everything. It was a patriotic duty not to pay taxes that would be sequestered for reparation payments to the enemy. Influenced by the Bolsheviks, Germany had become a Communist cauldron. partakists tried to take Berlin. Worker `soviets' proliferated. Dockers and shipworkers occupied police stations and set up barricades in Hamburg. Communist Red Centuries fought deadly street battles with right-wing militia.
Nostalgics plotted the restoration of Bavaria’s Wittelsbach monarchy and the old currency, the gold-backed thaler. The Bremen Senate issued its own notes tied to gold. Others issued currencies linked to the price of rye.
This is not a picture of America, or Britain, or Europe in 2010. But we should be careful of embracing the opposite and overly-reassuring assumption that this is a mild replay of Japan’s Lost Decade, that is to say a slow and largely benign slide into deflation as debt deleveraging exerts its discipline.
Japan was the world’s biggest external creditor when the Nikkei bubble burst twenty years ago. It had a private savings rate of 15pc of GDP. The Japanese people have gradually cut this rate to 2pc, cushioning the effects of the long slump. The Anglo-Saxons have no such cushion.
There is a clear temptation for the West to extricate itself from the errors of the Greenspan asset bubble, the Brown credit bubble, and the EMU sovereign bubble by stealth default through inflation. But that is a danger for later years. First we have the deflation shock of lives. Then -- and only then -- will central banks go too far and risk losing control over their printing experiment as velocity takes off. One problem at a time please.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Not that Kunstler: What is it?
on: July 26, 2010, 12:44:53 PM
What Is It?
By James Howard Kunstler
on July 26, 2010 9:26 AM
The New York Times ran a story of curious import this morning: "Mel Gibson Loses Support Abroad." Well, gosh, that's disappointing. And just when we needed him, too. Concern over this pressing matter probably reflects the general mood of the nation these dog days of summer - and these soggy days, indeed, are like living in a dog's mouth - so no wonder the USA has lost its mind, as evidenced by the fact that so many people who ought to know better, in the immortal words of Jim Cramer, don't know anything.
Case in point: I visited the Slate Political Gabfest podcast yesterday. These otherwise excellent, entertaining, highly educated folk (David Plotz, Emily Bazelon, and Daniel Gross, in for vacationing John Dickerson) were discussing the ramifications of the economic situation on the upcoming elections. They were quite clear about not being able to articulate the nature of this economic situation, "...this recession, or whatever you want to call it..." in Ms. Bazelon's words. What's the point of sending these people to Ivy League colleges if they can't make sense of their world.
Let's call this whatever-you-want-to-call-it a compressive deflationary contraction, because that's exactly what it is, an accelerating systemic collapse of activity due to over-investments in hyper-complexity (thank you John Tainter). A number of things are going on in our society that can be described with precision. We've generated too many future claims on wealth that does not exist and has poor prospects of ever being generated. That's what unpayable debt is. We have such a mighty mountain of it that the Federal Reserve can "create" new digital dollars until the cows come home (and learn how to play chamber music), but they will never create enough new money to outpace the disappearance of existing notional money in the form of welshed-on loans. Hence, money will continue to disappear out of the economic system indefinitely, citizens will grow poorer steadily, companies will go out of business, and governments at all levels will not have money to do what they have been organized to do.
This compressive deflationary collapse is not the kind of cyclical "downturn" that we are familiar with during the two-hundred-year-long adventure with industrial expansion - that is, the kind of cyclical downturn caused by the usual exhalations of markets attempting to adjust the flows of supply and demand. This is a structural implosion of markets that have been functionally destroyed by pervasive fraud and swindling in the absence of real productive activity.
The loss of productive activity preceded the fraud and swindling beginning in the 1960s when other nations recovered from the traumas of the world wars and started to out-compete the USA in the production of goods. Personally, I doubt this was the result of any kind of conspiracy, but rather a comprehensible historical narrative that worked to America's disadvantage. Tough noogies for us. The fatal trouble began when we attempted to compensate for this loss of value-creation by ramping up the financial sector to a credit orgy so that every individual and every enterprise and every government could enjoy ever-increasing levels of wealth in a system that no longer really produced wealth.
This was accomplished in the financial sector by "innovating" new tradable securities based on getting something for nothing. That is what the aggregate mischief on Wall Street and its vassal operations was all about. The essence of the fraud was the "securitization" of debt, because the collateral was either inadequate or altogether missing. That's how you get something for nothing. The swindling came in when these worthless certificates were pawned off on credulous "marks" such as pension funds and other assorted investors.
Tragically, everybody in a position to object to these shenanigans failed to issue any warnings or ring the alarm bells - and this includes the entire matrix of adult authority in banking, government (including the law), academia, and a hapless news media. Everyone pretended that the orgy of mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt and loan obligations, structured investment vehicles, collateralized debt obligations, and other chimeras of capital amounted to things of real value.
Certainly the editors and pundits in the media simply didn't understand the rackets they undertook to report. You can bet that the players on Wall Street made every effort to mystify the media with arcane language, and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. (Making multiple billions of dollars by trading worthless certificates based on getting something for nothing must be the ultimate definition of succeeding beyond one's wildest dreams.) It's harder to account for the dimness of the news media. I doubt they were in on the caper. More likely there is a correlation between their low pay and their low capacity. But I wouldn't discount the fog of assumptions and expectations about the way the world is supposed to work that can disable even people of intelligence.
I'm as certain as the day is long that the folks on Wall Street, from the myrmidons in the trading pits to the demigods like John Thain, with his thousand-dollar trash basket, knew that they were trafficking in tainted paper. Many of them deserve to be locked up in the federal penitentiary for years on end, and they probably never will because president Barack Obama lacked the courage to set the dogs of justice after them and now it is too late.
The most confused of any putative authorities are the academic economists, lost in the wilderness of their models and equations and their quaint expectations of the way things ought to go if you can tweak numbers. These are the people who believe with the faith of little children that if you can measure anything you can control it. They will go down in history as the greatest convocation of clowns ever assembled, surpassing all the collected alchemists, priests, and vizeers employed in the 1500 years following the fall of Rome.
It's harder to tell whether the elected officials and their appointees in sensitive places like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI had a clue as to the scale of misconduct in the financial sector, or if they were bought off plain and simple, or just too stupid to understand what was going on all around them. The term "regulatory capture" provides valuable insight. How could Christopher Cox at the SEC fail to notice the stupendous malfeasance in the mortgage-related securities rackets. Why isn't he working for fifty cents a day in the laundry of Allenwood Federal Correctional Facility? Why is the grifter of Countrywide mortgage favors, Christopher Dodd, still free to guzzle the fabled bean soup in the Senate lunch room? I could go on in this vein for two hundred pages, but you get the drift.
The collective failure of authority, whether of intention or oversight or mental deficiency boggles the mind. And it leaves us where we are: in a compressive deflationary contraction, a.k.a. the long emergency. This is not a cyclical recession. It's the end of one thing and the beginning of another thing, another phase of history in which people will have to learn to live differently or perish. I'm convinced that just about very elected official who can be swept out of office will be swept out of office - even if their replacements turn out to be a very unsavory gang of sadists and morons who will certainly make things worse.
But these dog days of summer nobody will be paying attention, even as the markets themselves roll over and puke, as I rather imagine they will between now and Halloween, if not next week.
P.S. I have not come to any conclusions about the fate of the Macondo blow-out and the claims of Matthew Simmons, though I have certainly got a lot of mail about it, some of it very intelligent. The BP oil spill has vanished from the news headlines again as the world waits for the final push at the relief wells. We do know that we are entering the heart of the hurricane season and that will make for some excitement.http://kunstler.com/blog/2010/07/what-is-it.html
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Meyer: The BART Shooting Tragedy
on: July 25, 2010, 12:07:30 PM
Less Lethal Issues in Law Enforcement
- Sponsored by TASER International
with Capt. Greg Meyer (ret.)
The BART shooting tragedy: Lessons to be learned
I was the use-of-force expert for former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, who was charged with first-degree murder, then convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Since his conviction 30 hours ago (as I write this), Johannes Mehserle sits in the Los Angeles County Jail, awaiting sentencing in a few weeks. We are left to wonder why. I’ll try to provide some answers.
Mehserle verdict: Involuntary manslaughter
Mehserle was found not guilty of second-degree murder, and not guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
My mission in working with the Mehserle defense was to explain to the jury the policy, training, equipment, and tactical issues that affected Johannes Mehserle’s actions on the BART platform during the early-morning hours of January 1, 2009. It was obvious from the beginning that this incident grew out of yet another case of weapons confusion involving a TASER and a handgun.
Certainly there are a number of lessons to be learned. My article is directed at police trainers and policy makers, and any of the rest of you in law enforcement that wonder how such a tragic mistake could happen, and what can be done to prevent future similar situations.
So what happened out there? I will give you the facts as I know them.
There was a fight on a BART train in Oakland involving New Year’s Eve celebrants. The train engineer called for police assistance. Police pulled people believed to be the fighters off the train. Several were detained who cooperated, and they were handcuffed without any use of force. Oscar Grant was at times cooperative, and at times he resisted. When it was his turn to be handcuffed, he physically resisted. He was taken to the ground, face down. One officer controlled his head and shoulders. Officer Mehserle’s job was to handcuff Grant. Grant “turtled” his right arm underneath his body. Mehserle (who is pretty big and strong) tried mightily for several seconds to get Grant’s arm out.
Mehserle was unable to gain control of the right hand and arm, despite strenuous efforts, clearly established on the video. Earlier that night Mehserle was present when other officers recovered a gun from a suspect's right-front pocket. Three prior documented times in his short career, he and his partner had removed guns from suspects' right-front pockets.
Mehserle observed Oscar Grant's hand going into the right-front pocket. Mehserle worried that Grant may be going for a gun. Mehserle decided to stop the action with a TASER. Mehserle never considered using his handgun. He himself had taken a 5-second ride with a TASER back-shot during his first TASER training less than four weeks earlier, and experienced neuromuscular incapacitation.
One of the wild myths out there in the public about this case is the assertion that an officer would never pull a TASER if he or she thought they might be facing a deadly force scenario. This is false. Officers frequently use TASERs in imminent deadly force situations (sometimes wisely, sometimes not, but that’s for another article). I introduced a multi-page exhibit that documented many, many such cases from court records around the country.
Mehserle loudly announced to the other officer, "Tony, get back, I'm going to tase him. I'm going to tase him." Multiple witnesses (including at least one of Oscar Grant's nearby handcuffed buddies) heard Mehserle's "I'm going to tase him" announcement, and so testified.
At the time, BART did not issue TASERs and holsters individually to officers. They are rotated, shift to shift. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you don't. When you get one, there are three different holster configurations at BART. Weak-side/weak-hand; strong-side/weak-hand crossdraw; and (the one Mehserle happened to have that particular night) strong-hand/cross-draw. They also informally allowed weak-side drop holsters, although that was not written in their policy. (I know that some of you prefer “dominant” and “nondominant” and other labels for the strong-hand, weak-hand concept. No offense, I get it, but for my whole career it was strong-hand, weak-hand, so permit me at this advanced age to use that terminology.)
Mehserle's (strong) right hand moved to his right side (instead of to his left-front, where his TASER was located in a cross-draw holster), and he partially gripped his handgun with his fingers. His right thumb moved back and forth in the air, in and out toward his own ribcage, inches above where the handgun holster safety was, consistent with the motion needed to undo the TASER holster safety strap if a TASER holster were there (which it was not); and totally inconsistent with undoing the Level-3 handgun holster — these motions are clearly seen on video.
For about four seconds, Mehserle unsuccessfully tugged at his handgun, then it came out. Dr. Lewinski testified that Mehserle subconsciously performed an “automatic program” (one that he was very practiced at) when his decision-making degraded under stress. We know from research that under stress, performance is negatively affected, and we react with movements that are most familiar to us.
Mehserle raised himself up to a level consistent with firing a TASER to achieve a minimally good dart spread. (Weeks earlier he had learned that two feet of distance gets you a four-inch dart spread, which is the minimum spread needed to achieve NMI.) Mehserle aimed at Grant's back and fired ONCE (i.e., not the two or three times that officers are trained to shoot a handgun in rapid succession when facing an immediate deadly force threat.)
Witnesses stated (and multiple videos confirmed) that a moment after the shot, Mehserle looked stunned, in shock; he immediately returned his handgun to its holster, contrary to training to scan and assess when you shoot somebody; then he immediately placed his hands on his forehead, exhibited a bewildered look on his face and uttered panicked expletives.
Mehserle bent down, handcuffed Oscar Grant as per standard post-shooting practice, located the bullet hole and applied direct pressure, tried to keep Grant talking, and watched him fade away.
All of Mehserle’s movements except the mistake of drawing the handgun itself instead of the TASER, were consistent with drawing and activating and deploying darts from a TASER. One of the videos also clearly shows Mehserle's right thumb in an upward-sweeping motion along the left side frame of the gun as soon as he draws it, in a manner and place totally consistent with activating the TASER arming switch (safety). There is no decocking device on Mehserle’s Sig Sauer P226DAK handgun, so that thumb move was not at all consistent with preparing to shoot a handgun. We can also see on video that Mehserle’s left hand was placed near the frame of the handgun (not on the grip), and that his left hand reflexively flew upward and away from the handgun when the shot occurred.
I've tentatively concluded that the jury went with involuntary manslaughter on the basis that Mehserle was engaged in a lawful act—the arrest of Oscar Grant III — and that he accidentally drew his handgun while intending to draw his TASER. The jury found that he was criminally negligent in that he didn’t reasonably follow policy and training.
I presented an exhibit for the jury documenting the seven known weapons-confusion cases in the past nine years where an officer shot someone while intending to use his or her TASER. Here is a reprint of the text of that exhibit:
March 2001. Sacramento, CA police officer intends to fire a TASER at a resisting handcuffed suspect in backseat of police car. He instead draws and fires his handgun, shooting the suspect. (nonfatal, M26, strong-side leg holster, strong-hand draw)
September 2002. A Rochester, MN police officer intends to fire a TASER at a resisting suspect. He instead draws and fires his handgun, shooting the suspect. (nonfatal, M26, strong-side cargo pocket, strong-hand draw)
October 2002. A Madera, CA police officer intends to fire a TASER at a resisting handcuffed suspect in the back seat who was attempting to kick out the window of the police car. She instead draws and fires her handgun, shooting the suspect. (fatal; strong side leg holster, M26, strong-hand draw)
October 2003. A Somerset County, MD sheriff's deputy intends to fire a TASER at a fleeing warrant suspect. He instead draws and fires his handgun and shoots the suspect. (nonfatal; M26, strong-side leg holster, strong-hand draw)
September 2005. A Victoria (BC) constable intends to fire a TASER at a resisting suspect. He instead draws and fires his handgun, shooting the suspect. (nonfatal; X26, strong-side cargo pocket, strong-hand draw).
June 2006. A Kitsap County, WA sheriff's deputy intends to fire a TASER at a suspect. She instead draws and fires her handgun, shooting the suspect. (nonfatal; M26, strong-side holster, strong-hand draw)
January 2009. A BART police officer in Oakland, CA intends to fire a TASER at a resisting suspect who is prone and refusing to give up his arm for handcuffing. He instead draws and fires his handgun, shooting the suspect. (fatal; X26, strong-hand cross-draw)
Only Mehserle was criminally prosecuted.
Late in the game, a few days before my testimony, it occurred to me that all of the incidents involved a strong-hand TASER draw, regardless of holster type or placement. The lesson from that is to get the strong hand out of the game! Consider requiring an officer’s TASER to be in weak-side holsters requiring a weak-hand draw to reduce the possibility of another tragic case. Dr. Bill Lewinski (Force Science Research Center) and I have discussed this issue, and we believe that it would significantly reduce the risk (maybe not totally eliminate, but reduce the chance) of having a weapon-confusion incident. A few months ago, BART changed policy to require weak-side, weak-hand-draw TASER holsters only. We were precluded from mentioning that in front of the jury.
I also testified about BART’s training, which did not put trainees through stress-inducing scenarios. It is essential that trainers put officers through their paces with training that is dynamic, stress-inducing, and requires officers to make quick force-options decisions. The training must truly test the officer's ability to be ready for stressful encounters on the street.
As Dr. Lewinski told me, “You need rapid decision-making under stress with time pressure. You need to build the decision-making process under stress in order to condition the officer for the realities on the street.”
Do you do that at your agency?!
Several media outlets are reporting that the jury also found that the California law involving the use of a gun during the commission of a crime (the so-called "gun enhancement") applied in this case. This one is a head-scratcher, because according to my reading of the jury instructions on that issue he would have had to intentionally use the firearm. That seems contrary to the involuntary manslaughter verdict. Legal experts are weighing in on the applicability of that law (designed to discourage robbers and such from having guns) to this case. We’ll see what the judge does during sentencing.
It was an absolute pleasure working with defense attorney Mike Rains. He is right up there with the best that an officer could ever find, and I’ve worked with many. It is most unfortunate that Mike Rains was not brought in to defend Mehserle in the early hours and days after the incident, things might have turned out way different.
Lesson: make sure you are provided a very experienced police use-of-force attorney from the get-go if you are involved in a shooting or other major use-of-force incident.
As soon as I started examining the case, I recommended to attorney Mike Rains that he also retain Dr. Bill Lewinski of the Force Science Research Center as Mehserle’s expert on the biomechanics concerning the weapons-confusion issue. By now I would imagine that most if not all readers would know of Dr. Lewinski’s sterling credentials and reputation. It is always a pleasure to work with such a dedicated professional. See www.forcescience.org
Needless to say, this was a very difficult, politically-charged, heart-wrenching case. From the beginning of my involvement in January 2009, it was clear that there would be no winners. If you’re interested in the political and racial aspects and questionable charging decision of the Alameda County (Oakland, Calif.) district attorney in this case, look elsewhere. Others have written about that, and still others will. Being an LAPD guy, I take the Jack Webb approach: just the facts! And that’s what I’ve tried to provide you.
About the author
Greg Meyer, a retired Captain from the Los Angeles Police Academy, served for 30 years, including eight years as a commanding officer. Greg is a member of the National Advisory Board of the Force Science Research Center, a member of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
He holds the Certified Litigation Specialist credential of the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE), and is a member of the AELE seminar faculty for lethal and nonlethal weapons issues.
Greg can be reached at: email@example.com
This column is sponsored by TASER International for the purpose of disseminating important information related to less lethal technologies, products, policies and training.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / In case your local Pravda missed this , , ,
on: July 23, 2010, 12:22:58 PM
Hizbullah trying to stop UNIFIL patrols
UN Peacekeepers in southern Lebanon attacked
By YAAKOV KATZ
A number of recent clashes between United Nations soldiers in southern Lebanon and local villagers could lead to an escalation along the Israeli-Lebanese border as Hizbullah works to prevent peacekeepers from implementing Security Council Resolution 1701.
On Saturday, two UNIFIL vehicles, including an armored personnel carrier, were blocked by a large group of civilians as the convoy traveled on a road north of the southern Lebanese village of Kabrikha. Stones were also thrown at UNIFIL forces in another village on Saturday.
The civilians stoned the patrol, which decided to leave the scene, hitting a motorcycle that had been parked blocking the road. The crowd then surrounded the patrol, punctured the vehicles’ tires, smashed the windows, and tried grabbing weapons mounted on the vehicles. In response, the soldiers, from the French Battalion, fired warning shots in the air.
The commander of the patrol was attacked and his weapon was stolen. A group of civilians took him to a nearby home where he received medical treatment, UNIFIL said in a statement.
UNIFIL reinforcements and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) troops arrived at the scene, recovered the weapons and restored calm.
UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas called on the LAF to ensure the security of UNIFIL forces. “It is incumbent on the Lebanese authorities to ensure the security and freedom of movement for UNIFIL within its area of operation,” Cuevas said.
Israeli defense officials say villagers affiliated with Hizbullah
Saturday’s clashes were the latest in a series of attacks against UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon in recent weeks. Last Tuesday, residents of Kfar Kila hurled stones at UN vehicles. In the village of Hirbeit Sleim, where a Hizbullah arms cache hidden inside a home blew up last year, residents held a massive protest calling for an end to UNIFIL patrols in the village.
Israeli defense officials said that the escalation in violence was due to increased UNIFIL activity throughout southern Lebanon since Cuevas, a Spanish officer, took command of the peacekeeping force in January. The officials also said that the so-called villagers who attacked the peacekeepers were likely affiliated with Hizbullah.
“UNIFIL has been doing more in recent months,” one Israeli defense official said. “Hizbullah is not happy with this and is trying to deter the peacekeepers from entering the villages which is home to most of their arms caches these days.”
The attacks came just ahead of the fourth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, following which UNIFIL was beefed up to its present force of about 13,000.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Deem and Pass Budget
on: July 22, 2010, 05:28:55 AM
Return to the Article
July 04, 2010
The 'Deem'n Pass' budget
Once again, the Democrats have shown a willingness to bypass procedure to further their own agenda. As Human Events' Connie Hair reported yesterday:
Last night, as part of a procedural vote on the emergency war supplemental bill, House Democrats attached a document that "deemed as passed" a non-existent $1.12 trillion budget. The execution of the "deeming" document allows Democrats to start spending money for Fiscal Year 2011 without the pesky constraints of a budget.
The procedural vote passed 215-210 with no Republicans voting in favor and 38 Democrats crossing the aisle to vote against deeming the faux budget resolution passed.
Never before -- since the creation of the Congressional budget process -- has the House failed to pass a budget, failed to propose a budget then deemed the non-existent budget as passed as a means to avoid a direct, recorded vote on a budget, but still allow Congress to spend taxpayer money.
Representative Paul Ryan issued a statement on behalf of the House Republican Budget Committee entitled "The Majority's Budget Deemer: An Admission of Fiscal Failure." Ryan opens with a scathing analysis:
What House Democratic leaders call a "budget enforcement resolution" is in fact just another "deeming" scheme - one that concedes they cannot meet their most fundamental governing responsibility: writing a congressional budget. They have created a masquerade that only advances their spend-as-you-go philosophy, accelerating the march toward a fiscal and economic crisis. They are doing so because a majority of rank-and-file Democrats cannot vote for a budget with trillion-dollar deficits. As even House Budget Committee Chairman Spratt has acknowledged: "You can say that that's a lack of courage."
Ryan's statement further explains that the "budget enforcement resolution" is not a "budget" or a "resolution," and he clearly reveals its deceptive facts and figures. He concludes by stating: "This is far more than a failure of procedure or politics. It is an abdication of a fundamental responsibility by a Majority that is losing both its will, and its ability, to govern - and it is threatening America's prosperity in the process."
Throw this latest maneuver of the Dems into the pile and one wonders if "threatening" has become something more like "destructing." If Congress can't reign in its reckless spending, America will continue its ride on the donkey's back beyond the "deem'n pass" into territory resembling a banana republic.
Page Printed from: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/07/the_deemn_pass_budget.html
at July 08, 2010 - 03:13:02 PM CDT
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor 7/19/10
on: July 22, 2010, 05:17:51 AM
Mexico Security Memo: July 19, 2010
July 19, 2010 | 2011 GMT
PRINT Text Resize:
Torreon Massacre and Overall Violence
A group of armed men traveling in some eight sport utility vehicles arrived just after midnight July 18 at the Italia Inn, a popular party venue just outside Torreon, Coahuila state, where a birthday party was taking place. The gunmen entered the facility and indiscriminately fired some 166 rounds at party guests who were dancing to a live band. A total of 18 people were killed, with 12 men and five women dying at the scene and one woman succumbing to her injuries later.
The Coahuila attorney general’s office did not say which criminal organization was responsible for the attack, but STRATFOR sources in Mexico claim the attack was in retaliation for the failure of the Italia Inn’s owner to pay extortion fees. The Comerca Lagunera metropolitan area of Mexico, which includes Torreon, Coahuila state, and Gomez Palacio, Durango state, is contested by the Los Zetas organization and Sinaloa cartel, and either group may have been responsible for the attack.
This incident is just the latest in the increasing number of extraordinarily violent attacks that have occurred this year in Mexico. The Mexican government estimated the death toll from organized crime-related violence from January through June 2010 to be 7,048 — only 700 deaths fewer than 2009’s annual total and dramatically more than death counts previously reported by the Mexican media, most of which have been between 6,000 and 6,500.
The violence throughout Mexico shows no sign of slowing, either. The Calderon administration insists its countercartel strategy is still playing out and will be re-evaluated in December 2010. The current strategy in place in Juarez is said to be the intended strategy nationwide, but the death toll from organized crime-related violence in Juarez has already surpassed 1,500 with nearly five-and-a-half months left in 2010 (the total in 2009 was 3,014). In the near term, the Mexican government has shown no signs it intends to change the strategy before its set evaluation date, but if the current trends in violence hold, Mexico would be on pace to well surpass the previous 2009 annual record for organized crime-related killings.
Juarez Explosion Controversy
Conflicting reports continue to emerge about a small improvised explosive device (IED) allegedly planted by the La Linea gang inside a car in Juarez, Chihuahua state, and used against Mexican security forces the evening of July 15. The Mexican government has allowed members of the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau (ATF) and FBI to inspect the scene, along with ATF canine explosive detection teams, and both agencies have collected evidence to be processed in the United States.
Press reports from Mexico and around the world continue to refer to the device as a “car bomb,” which would mark an unprecedented escalation in tactics, though there is no evidence to support this claim. STRATFOR sources in the Mexican government have indicated that federal law enforcement and military personnel involved in the investigation continue to contradict each other about everything from the composition of the device to the exact sequence of events, showing the confusion even within the government. In addition, there are unsubstantiated rumors circulating that accuse the Mexican government of attempting to cover up the true sequence of events for political reasons, given the wide variety of possible scenarios being reported as well as the erroneous claim by a variety of Mexican officials and agencies that the device was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED).
A Mexican military spokesman for the fifth military zone claimed July 18 the device used in the attack on Mexican security forces consisted of approximately 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of commercial-grade explosives — though the military had stated July 16 that the device was composed of 10 kilograms of C-4 high explosives. Regardless of the composition of the device (though a reliable STRATFOR source in the Mexican government has confirmed the explosive substance to have been an industrial explosive gel known as TOVEX), crime scene photography and news footage of the aftermath of the blast do not support the claim that a 10-kilogram device was used. Several car windows in the immediate vicinity of the purported VBIED were not blown out and the chassis of the vehicle in which the IED was placed was intact, though it suffered a great deal of damage from the resulting fire.
Additionally, the use of the term “car bomb” or VBIED implies a new capability for the Mexican cartels, which, in STRATFOR’s judgment, they have yet to demonstrate. The blast and the damage observed fell more in line with a very small IED, or even a couple of hand grenades, placed inside of a car. One possible reason for using the terms VBIED and “car bomb” is to scare the residents of Mexico and the U.S. border region for political and/or financial purposes. Several groups stand to gain from the increased fear of this “new cartel capability” such as the Juarez and Chihuahua state governments, press outlets, private security companies, U.S. border state governments and law enforcement agencies. Also, claiming that La Linea — and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF) for which it is an enforcement arm — are now using indiscriminate terror tactics like detonating bombs will play to the advantage of their rivals, the Sinaloa cartel, in the minds of civilians. Such tactics are likely to increase collateral damage inflicted on civilians as well as draw the Mexican government’s attention more squarely on La Linea and the VCF and away from Sinaloa operations in the region.
(click here to view interactive graphic)
One person was killed, three were injured and three were arrested after a car chase in Zapopan, Jalisco state. During the incident, a group of gunmen reportedly attacked two people with firearms and grenades after a car accident. A firefight also occurred between police and the suspected criminals.
Authorities announced the arrest of nine suspected members of the Sinaloa cartel, including Jorge Antonio Arias Flores, in the municipality of Xalisco, Nayarit state. Arias Flores is believed to be the head of the Sinaloa cartel for Nayarit state.
Police discovered three bodies hanging from two bridges in Cuernavaca, Morelos state. Several messages were found near the bodies and the crime was attributed to the Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS).
Residents of the Las Arenillas neighborhood of Santiago Tepatlaxco, Mexico state, discovered the bodies of two men wrapped in sacks.
The Guanajuato state attorney general’s office announced the capture of seven suspected LFM kidnappers who are linked to eight kidnappings and four murders in the state.
Police in the municipality of Netzahualcoyotl, Mexico state, spotted a man loading a suspicious package into a vehicle and arrested him after a car chase into the Gustavo A. Madero neighborhood of Mexico City. Police discovered 12 firearms, 45 magazines and 657 rounds of ammunition in the vehicle.
Three people were shot to death in their vehicle after leaving a party in Culiacan, Sinaloa state.
One soldier and three suspected criminals were killed during several firefights in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state. Two people were arrested after the incident and authorities seized approximately 31,600 rounds of ammunition.
Five people suspected of carrying out an express kidnapping were arrested in the municipality of Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state.
The decapitated body of an unidentified man was discovered near the central market in Chilpancingo, Guerrero state. The victim’s fingers had been severed.
Six suspected La Familia Michoacana members were arrested during a raid on a house in the Heroes Tecamac neighborhood in Tecamac, Mexico state.
One state security agent was killed and two others were injured after approximately 15 gunmen attacked a vehicle transporting a prisoner in Otumba, Mexico state.
Police arrested 13 people and seized several firearms during a riot in the municipality of Othon P. Blanco, Quintana Roo state. The rioters were led by a government official from the municipality of Subteniente Lopez, Quintana Roo state, and were believed to be aiding the smuggling of firearms and drugs into Mexico from Belize.
The unidentified bodies of two men bearing signs of torture were discovered in the municipality of Iztapalapa, Mexico state.
Three members of the same family, including an infant, traveling by car in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, were killed in a drive-by shooting by unidentified gunmen.
The Secretariat of National Defense announced the arrest of six suspected CPS members during a raid on a safe-house in Cuernavaca, Morelos state. Some of the suspects are believed to have been responsible for several recent murders in Cuernavaca.
Two policemen were killed and three were injured after being attacked by unidentified gunmen in the municipality of Santiago, Nuevo Leon state.
Four policemen were killed in an ambush by unidentified gunmen in the municipality of Acapulco, Guerrero state.
Police in Tijuana, Baja California state, seized approximately 500 kilograms of marijuana during a raid in the Guadalupe Victoria neighborhood. One suspect was arrested during the incident.
Unidentified gunmen killed a police commander in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco state, during a drive by shooting in a convenience store parking lot.
Soldiers in the municipality of Culiacan, Sinaloa state, arrested two men after a car chase. The suspects had reportedly fired at a military patrol in the area.
Read more: Mexico Security Memo: July 19, 2010 | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion
on: July 22, 2010, 05:08:18 AM
Some inconvenient truths in here , , ,
Russia: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion
July 19, 2010 | 2100 GMT
VALERIE KUYPERS/AFP/Getty Images
International Court of Justice President Hisashi Owada (C) opens the Dec. 9, 2009, hearing on Kosovo’s secession from SerbiaSummary
The U.N. International Court of Justice is set to present its opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. While Russia is publicly siding with the Serbs against Kosovo’s independence, Moscow stands to gain — at least rhetorically — no matter how the court rules.
At 3 p.m. local time July 22 in The Hague, the U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ) will present its advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from Serbia. The opinion will not be legally binding — it is an advisory opinion requested by the U.N. General Assembly at the behest of Belgrade — but will in essence determine whether, according to international law, Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal.
Regardless of the ICJ opinion, the circumstances surrounding Kosovo’s UDI remain unchanged. Kosovo is still a de facto Western protectorate with explicit security guarantees from NATO, and Serbia has neither the military capacity to change the status quo nor the desire to try to do so, in light of its efforts to become an EU member state.
Russia, Serbia’s main ally on the Kosovo matter, has stated that it hopes the ICJ ruling will force new talks between Serbs and Kosovars. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said July 15 that Russia continues to oppose Kosovo’s independence and supports Belgrade’s position that Kosovo is a sovereign part of Serbia. But Moscow stands to benefit no matter the outcome of the ICJ deliberations.
The Intertwined Crisis of Kosovo and Georgia
Kosovo’s UDI came 9 years after NATO’s 1999 war against what was then known as Yugoslavia forced Belgrade to relinquish its physical control over the province. The stated reasons for NATO’s military campaign in 1999 were atrocities committed by Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces against the Albanian population of Kosovo. Serbia had waged a number of military conflicts throughout the 1990s, the purpose of which were to expand Belgrade’s influence in the Balkans. Thus, the West wanted to eliminate Serbia — and its leader, Slobodan Milosevic — as a regional threat and rival.
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But the underlying geopolitical context was also NATO’s evolution from a regional security grouping with no mandate to act outside of its membership’s immediate defense to an organization with a mandate to keep order in Europe, and, eventually, beyond. NATO took action in Kosovo without U.N. Security Council (UNSC) approval and despite strong Russian and Chinese opposition. The precedent was set for the U.S. and its allies to act without addressing the interests of other fellow UNSC permanent members (as the U.S. would later repeat in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion).
For Russia, NATO’s actions in Kosovo were untenable. Since Russia is not part of NATO — in fact, the alliance had been created to defend Europe against Soviet invasion — Moscow realized that Kosovo established an extraordinary precedent. NATO determined that an intervention was necessary in a matter of European security, intervened militarily and then resolved the post-conflict environment according to its interests. It did so against a stated Moscow ally, with dubious evidence and reasoning. The West did not stop there either; Kosovo was followed by NATO expansion into the former Soviet sphere in Eastern Europe and the defeat of a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian government.
In this context, the 2008 Kosovo UDI was just another in a line of decisions on European security taken by the West in which Moscow’s protests were ignored. Russia, therefore, formulated a response to the West.
On Feb. 15, 2008, two days before the Kosovo UDI, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the presidents of Georgian breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After the meeting, the Russian foreign ministry released a statement stating, “The declaration of sovereignty by Kosovo and its recognition will doubtlessly be taken into account in [Russia’s] relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” The West did not heed the warning, doubting Russia’s resolve to respond, and Russia used supposed Georgian atrocities against South Ossetians in August 2008 to parallel the West’s actions against Serbia and justify a military intervention that led to Moscow-supported independence for the two breakaway republics.
Russia and the ICJ Opinion
Moscow now stands to benefit, at least rhetorically, no matter what opinion the ICJ supports. A ruling that the UDI was legal also legitimizes Russia’s support for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While the West has made the legal argument that the Kosovo case is unique and sets no precedent, the non-Western opinion on the matter (with very few exceptions) is that it does. In theory, it also opens the possibility that more countries will recognize the two republics, as Moscow would have a case that Kosovo and the two Georgian territories are not different.
However, Moscow does not need South Ossetia and Abkhazia to gain international recognition for its control of the two provinces to pay dividends. Moscow already controls the two provinces economically, politically and militarily and can use them to pressure Georgia — still a U.S. ally — if need be. Therefore, if the ICJ rules that the UDI was illegal, Moscow will not fret much about the legal implications. Instead, it will be able to show that its support for Belgrade has, from the beginning, been justified and that the West, led by the United States, broke international law by encouraging Kosovo to declare independence unilaterally and without recourse to the UNSC. Moscow will use the ICJ opinion in that case to show that it has been a supporter of international law and sanctity of sovereignty.
Kosovo was a redline issue for Moscow in 2008 because it set a precedent that allowed the West to intervene militarily and redraw European borders without asking Russia for its opinion. Russia’s 2008 war against Georgia was the response Moscow used to counter the West’s perceived belligerence. The ICJ opinion, whichever way it goes, will be an added boon for Moscow.
Read more: Russia: The ICJ's Kosovo Opinion | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Fanning the flames of Jihad
on: July 22, 2010, 04:51:38 AM
Fanning the Flames of Jihad
July 22, 2010
By Scott Stewart
On July 11, 2010, al-Malahim Media, the media arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), published the first edition of its new English-language online magazine “Inspire.” The group had tried to release the magazine in late June, but for some reason — whether a technical glitch, virus (as rumored on some of the jihadist message boards) or cyberattack — most of the initial file released was unreadable.
The magazine was produced by someone who has a moderate amount of technological savvy, who speaks English well and who uses a lot of American idioms and phraseology. We did not note any hint of British or South Asian influence in the writing. A government source has suggested to us (and we have seen the claim repeated in the media) that Inspire was produced by a U.S citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia named Samir Khan. Khan is a well-known cyber-jihadist — indeed, The New York Times did an excellent story on Khan in October 2007. Given Khan’s background, history of publishing English-language jihadist material and the fact that he reportedly left the United States for Yemen in 2009 and has not returned, it does seem plausible that he is the driving force behind Inspire.
The magazine contains previously published material from Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Suri and Anwar al-Awlaki. While it also contains new material, this material, especially from al-Awlaki and AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi (aka Abu Bashir), is consistent with their previously published statements. One of the messages by al-Awlaki featured in Inspire, “A Message to the American People,” was previously released to CNN and reissued by al-Malahim on the Internet July 19, almost as if to validate Inspire. Even though the way in which some of the material in Inspire is presented is quite elementary, and could lead some to believe the magazine might be a spoof, we have found no analytical reason to doubt its authenticity.
Presentation aside, the material is quite consistent with what we have seen released by al-Malahim media in its Arabic-language materials over many months. When closely examined, the inaugural issue of Inspire provides a good gauge of AQAP’s thought and suggests the general direction of the broader jihadist movement.
In a letter from the editor appearing at the beginning of the magazine, the purpose of Inspire is clearly laid out: “This magazine is geared towards making the Muslim a mujahid.” The editor also clearly states that Inspire is an effort by al-Malahim Media to reach out to, radicalize and train the millions of English-speaking Muslims in the West, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Inspire does not represent any sort of major breakthrough in jihadist communication. English-language jihadist material has been available on the Internet since the early 1990s on sites such as Azzam.com, and jihadists have released other magazines directly targeting English-speaking audiences. What is remarkable about Inspire is that it was released by al-Malahim and AQAP. Within the jihadist movement, AQAP has assumed the vanguard position on the physical battlefield over the past year with links to several attacks or attempted attacks in the West. AQAP has also been frequently mentioned in Western media over the past several months, and it appears that al-Malahim is trying to exploit that notoriety in order to get the attention of English-speaking Muslims.
Regarding AQAP’s links to recent attacks, Inspire follows the trend of AQAP publications and leaders in recent months in praising Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan and failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and lifting them up as examples for all jihadists to follow. “We call on every Muslim who feels any jealousy for their religious beliefs to expel the polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula, by killing all of the crusaders working in embassies or otherwise, and to declare war against the crusaders in the land of the Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him — on the ground, sea and air. And we call on every soldier working in the crusader armies and puppet governments to repent to Allah and follow the example of the heroic mujahid brother Nidal Hassan [sic]; to stand up and kill all the crusaders by all means available to him.…”
In the article discussing Abdulmutallab, the author again brags about the manufacturing of the improvised explosive device used in the Christmas Day attack even though that device, like the one used in the assassination attempt against Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, failed to achieve the objective. “The mujahidin brothers in the manufacturing department managed with the grace of Allah to make an advanced bomb. The bomb had been tested and proven effective as it has passed through the detector ports. The martyrdom bomber managed with the grace of Allah to reach his target, but due to a technical glitch, the bomb did not explode completely; and we will continue on our path until we get what we want….” This statement would seem to indicate that if AQAP is able to recruit a willing suicide bomber who is able to travel to the West, they will again attempt to attack an airliner using a similar device.
Airliners remain vulnerable to such attacks. STRATFOR has previously noted when discussing AQAP and its innovative IED designs, there are many ways to smuggle IED components on board an aircraft if a person has a little imagination and access to explosives. As we wrote in September 2009, three months before the Christmas Day bomber’s attempted attack, efforts to improve technical methods to locate IED components must not be abandoned, but the existing vulnerabilities in airport screening systems demonstrate that an emphasis needs to be placed not only on finding the bomb but also on finding the bomber.
Throughout the magazine, articles criticize the U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen; Saudi operations against jihadists; the burqa ban in Europe and even global warming — Inspire carried a reproduction of a statement purportedly authored by Osama bin Laden earlier this year titled “The Way to Save the Earth” that criticizes U.S. policy regarding climate change and calls for economic jihad against the United States.
The magazine also contained a portion of a previously-released message titled “From Kabul to Mogadishu” by al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri that encouraged the people of Yemen to join al Qaeda in its global struggle. It only quoted a part of the original message that pertained to Yemen and omitted portions that pertained to other locations.
In addition to the recycled content from al Qaeda’s core leadership, Inspire also contains quite a bit of new and interesting content from AQAP’s military and theological leaders. An interview with AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi provided al-Wahayshi the opportunity to reinforce several points he has been making for months now regarding his call for jihadists to conduct simple attacks using readily available weapons. “My advice to my Muslim brothers in the West is to acquire weapons and learn methods of war. They are living in a place where they can cause great harm to the enemy and where they can support the Messenger of Allah.” Al-Wahayshi continued “…a man with his knife, a man with his gun, a man with his rifle, a man with his bomb, by learning how to design explosive devices, by burning down forests and buildings, or by running over them with your cars and trucks. The means of harming them are many so seek assistance from Allah and do not be weak and you will find a way.”
This call was echoed by Adam Gadahn in March 2010 when the American-born spokesman for al Qaeda prime advised jihadists to strike targets that were close to them with simple assaults and urged his audience to not “wait for tomorrow to do what can be done today, and don’t wait for others to do what you can do yourself.”
These calls are part of a move toward a leaderless resistance model of jihadism that has accompanied the devolution of the jihadist threat from one based on al Qaeda the group to a broader threat based primarily on al Qaeda franchises and the wider jihadist movement. (STRATFOR is currently putting the finishing touches on a book that details our coverage of this devolutionary process since 2004.) With this shift, more attacks such as the Times Square bombing attempt, the Fort Hood shooting and the June 1, 2009, Little Rock shootings can be anticipated.
In an effort to provide training in terrorist tradecraft to such grassroots and lone-wolf jihadists, Inspire contains a section called “Open Source Jihad,” which is the term that AQAP uses to refer to leaderless resistance. This section is intended to serve as “a resource manual for those who loathe tyrants.” The material is intended to allow “Muslims to train at home instead of risking a dangerous travel abroad,” and one part exclaims, “Look no further, the open source jihad is now at hand’s reach.” The section also contains a lengthy step-by-step guide to constructing simple pipe bombs with electronic timers, bearing the rhymed title “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” The images of New York City contained in this section serve as a reminder of the importance New York holds in jihadist thought as a target. Such rudimentary improvised explosive devices are unlikely to cause mass casualties, but like the pipe bombs employed by Eric Rudolph, they could prove deadly on a small scale if they are employed effectively.
When considering this concept of leaderless resistance and of using publications like Inspire to train aspiring jihadists, it is important to remember that this type of instruction has only a limited effectiveness and that there are many elements of terrorist tradecraft that cannot be learned by merely reading about them. In other words, while the jihadist threat may be broadening in one way, it is also becoming less severe, because it is increasingly emanating from actors who do not possess the skill of professional terrorist operatives and who lack the ability to conduct complex and spectacular attacks.
One of the other features in Inspire is an article by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Yemeni cleric who has been linked to Nidal Hasan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Faisal Shahzad and two of the 9/11 hijackers. In his article, titled “May Our Souls be Sacrificed for You,” al-Awlaki focuses on the controversy that arose over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in 2005. Although the cartoons were published nearly five years ago, the jihadists have not allowed the issue to die down. To date, the jihadist response to the cartoons has resulted in riots, arsons, deaths, the 2008 bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad and an attack in January 2010 in which a man armed with an axe and knife broke into the home of Jyllands-Posten newspaper cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in Denmark and allegedly tried to kill him. The Kashmiri militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami (HUJI) also dispatched American operative David Headley to Denmark on two occasions to plan attacks against Jyllands-Posten and Westergaard in what HUJI called “Operation Mickey Mouse.”
In his Inspire article, al-Awlaki states, “If you have the right to slander the Messenger of Allah, we have the right to defend him. If it is part of your freedom of speech to defame Muhammad it is part of our religion to fight you.” Al-Awlaki continues: “This effort, the effort of defending the Messenger of Allah, should not be limited to a particular group of Muslims such as the mujahidin but should be the effort of the ummah, the entire ummah.” He also referred to a 2008 lecture he gave regarding the cartoon issue titled “The Dust Will Never Settle Down” and notes that, “Today, two years later, the dust still hasn’t settled down. In fact the dust cloud is only getting bigger.” He adds that “Assassinations, bombings, and acts of arson are all legitimate forms of revenge against a system that relishes the sacrilege of Islam in the name of freedom.”
Inspire also features a “hit list” that includes the names of people like Westergaard who were involved in the cartoon controversy as well as other targets such as Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who produced the controversial film Fitna in 2008; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the screenplay for the movie Submission (filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the director of Submission, was murdered by a jihadist in November 2004); and Salman Rushdie, author of the book The Satanic Verses. Most of these individuals have appeared on previous jihadist hit lists. A new notable addition was American cartoonist Molly Norris, who was added due to her idea to have a day where “everybody draws Mohammed.” Norris made her suggestion in response to threats against the irreverent animated television program South Park by Muslims over a brief scene in an episode that lampooned the Prophet. Comedy Central censored the South Park episode featuring Mohammed because of the threats, provoking Norris’s suggestion.
Al-Awlaki and AQAP appear to believe they can use the anger over the Mohammed cartoons to help them inspire Muslims to conduct attacks. In this edition of Inspire, they are clearly attempting to fan the flames to ensure that the dust will not settle down. They are also seeking to train these radicalized individuals to kill people, although, as we note above, that is a difficult task to do remotely over the Internet.
One other thing the magazine seeks to accomplish is to help make the jihadist training experience better for English speakers who seek to travel to jihadist training camps abroad. There have been anecdotal reports of Westerners who have traveled to get training and who have not had positive experiences during the process — and of at least one Somali-American who was executed after expressing his desire to leave an al Shabaab training camp and return home. In light of this problem, AQAP includes an article in Inspire titled “What to Expect in Jihad” and designed to reduce the “confusion, shock and depression” that can be experienced by trainees at such camps. The article also provides a list of things to bring to the training camp, including a friend to help ease the loneliness, and recommends that aspiring jihadists learn the local language.
The time and effort that AQAP put into this first issue of Inspire, and the support the magazine apparently receives from important AQAP figures such as al-Wahayshi and al-Awlaki, are strong indicators of the group’s intent to support leaderless resistance as a way to attack the West, something AQAP has had some difficulty doing itself.