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24151  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: August 15, 2009, 10:15:52 AM
Iran’s plummeting birth rates
Despite its fundamentalist Islamic reputation Iran has experimented with birth control with some unexpected, and unwelcome, consequences.
If demography is destiny, the family of Farzaneh Roudi is a snapshot of Iran’s past, present and future. A program director at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington DC, Ms Roudi was born in Iran. Her grandmother had 11 children, her father had 6 and she has 2.

Her profile is not unusual in Iran, where women give birth to fewer than 2 children, on average. This is one of the most remarkable demographic shifts in world history. Its fertility rate has declined from 7 children per woman in 1980 to 1.9 today – a decline of 70 percent in the space of a single generation. And about 80 percent of married women in Iran use contraception -- the highest rate among all the countries in the Middle East.

These staggering statistics confound stereotypes about Iran. Even though the Western media depicts this nation of 70 million as a teeming cauldron of Islamic fundamentalism and social and moral conservatism, the trend to lower birthrates began long ago. In 1967 Mohammad Reza Shah signed the Tehran Declaration. This acknowledged family planning as a human right and programs were quickly established. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution which booted out the Shah, they were dismantled for being pro-Western. But contraceptive use was not totally banned and Imam Khomeini and other Ayatollahs did grant fatwas allowing it as a health measure.

Then came the calamitous eight-year between Iran and Iraq, in which Iran suffered as many as a million casualties. In these drastic circumstances, a large population was regarded as an asset and the government promoted large families.

But after the war, there was a 180-degree turn. Shocked by the rapidly growing population, the government vigorously promoted family planning as a path to economic development. Women were encouraged to space births and to stop at three. Although there was no overt coercion, a 1993 social engineering law penalised large families by terminating family allowances, health benefits and maternity leave for families with four or more children.

The result was unprecedented. Iran’s fertility figures skidded dramatically. The fertility rate for women in rural areas dropped from 8 children per woman in 1977 to 2 children in 2006. According to the leading expert on Iranian demography, Professor Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, of the University of Teheran, simultaneously young couples were delaying having children, married women were spacing births further apart, and older women stopped bearing children.

Even the Shi’ite clergy supported this massive social change. Imam Khomeini and other ayatollahs granted fatwas allowing contraceptive use.

In fact, nowadays there seems to be a national consensus that small families are good families. Back in 2006 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called for a baby boom. "I am against saying that two children are enough. Our country has a lot of capacity. It has the capacity for many children to grow in it. It even has the capacity for 120 million people," he declared. "Westerners have got problems. Because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them."

But this fizzled. His advisors had a quiet word with him and Ahmadinejad turned his mind to other ways of threatening the West.

In any case, Iranian families nowadays resemble the despised Westerners, Ms Roudi told MercatorNet. "Life is not easy nowadays. A lot of the time in the cities both husband and wife work. Their kids have piano classes or karate classes. It’s very normal for families to have only 1 or 2 kids. If you see a young family with 3 children -– that’s a big family."

As a result, Iran’s population profile looks remarkably like a Christmas tree, with a huge bulge between the ages of 15 and 30. Ms Roudi believes that this may help to explain the upheaval in Tehran after the recent disputed election. Most of the protesters were young people.

"Unemployment and high costs of living, coupled with social and political restrictions, have made it increasingly difficult for young Iranians. The sudden uprising that erupted following the disputed presidential election of June 12 is a manifestation of all the underlying frustrations," she writes in the PRB’s population blog.

Paradoxically, they may be frustrated by Iran’s extraordinary achievement in educating its youth. "The successful Iranian uphill battle to improve education in spite of exploding numbers of youngsters and without international assistance must be viewed as a major achievement in human development," writes Professor Abbasi in a recent report. And to further shake Western preconceptions, 65 percent of students admitted to government universities in 2007 were women.

Appalling repression and electoral manipulation after the recent election has entrenched the hold of President Ahmadinejad and his conservative allies on power. But eventually the extraordinary bulge of educated youth will transform Iran, Professor Abbasi, who also teaches at Australian National University, told MercatorNet. "The rapid improvement of education in Iran is likely to generate powerful forces toward more democratic rights," he feels. "There is a high probability that over the coming years, Iran will transform naturally into a modern democracy."

The youth bulge could benefit Iran’s economy. Demographers speak of a "demographic dividend" -– a not-to-be-repeated large number of energetic, well-educated young workers who can contribute to economic growth. Unfortunately unemployment amongst 18 to 30-year-olds is running at about 25 percent. This means that the regime is squandering its opportunity.

There are other shadows, as well. One is drug addiction amongst youth.

Even though it sends drug dealers to the gallows, Iran could have as many as 2 million addicts – nearly 3% of the total population. No other country in the world even comes close to that figure.

"Drug addiction is going up by a horrible rate," a doctor told the Los Angeles Times. "When I was young, in a village or a poor neighborhood you'd hear people say, 'I know an addict.' But now drugs are so pervasive, people say, 'I know somebody who is not an addict.' You criminalise beer, you criminalise girlfriends. You close everything to the young, but the young need a way open, an outlet. We doctors are so angry and frustrated at the government."
And then there is the ticking time-bomb of population ageing. By mid-century, these youthful protesters will be frail and elderly as the bulge works its way to the top of the population pyramid. As in Western Europe and other countries with below-replacement fertility, there will be a relatively small working-age population to support them. The question is how Iran’s government will finance their old age. "I’m sure they will not be prepared," sighed Professor Abbasi.

Iran, like many other countries, is discovering that reducing fertility brings unexpected changes.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. For more about demography on MercatorNet, visit our Demography is Destiny blog.
24152  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: August 15, 2009, 10:13:34 AM
Good post Rachel. 

Why oh why can't Israel negotiate with and trust these people?


Hamas crushes challenge by al-Qaida-inspired group

AP � Members of a militant Islamic group Jund Ansar Allah, stand guard as their leader Abdel-Latif Moussa, �
By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer � 14 mins ago

RAFAH, Gaza Strip � The leader of an al-Qaida-inspired group in the Gaza Strip blew himself up during a shootout Saturday with Hamas security forces, ending hours of violence sparked by a rebellious sermon at a mosque near the Egyptian border.

At least 24 people were killed in clashes with the shadowy group, which posed one of the biggest challenges to Hamas since the militant group seized power in Gaza two years ago.

The fighting broke out Friday when Hamas security men surrounded a mosque in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on the Egyptian border where about 100 members of Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God, were holed up.

Flares lit up the sky overnight as Hamas machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades slammed into the mosque. The militants inside returned fire with automatic weapons and grenades of their own.

The head of the radical Islamic group, Abdel-Latif Moussa, detonated an explosives vest he was wearing when fighting resumed after dawn Saturday, said Ihab Ghussein, a Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman.

"The so-called Moussa has committed suicide ... killing a mediator who had been sent to him to persuade him and his followers to hand themselves over to the government," Ghussein said.

He said the fighting ended later in the morning. Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said a total of 24 people, including six Hamas police officers and an 11-year-old girl, were killed and 150 were wounded.

The group's Web site vowed revenge: "We swear to God to avenge the martyrs' blood and we will turn their women into widows."

Hamas also confirmed the death in the fighting of one of its high-level commanders, Abu Jibril Shimali, whom Israel said orchestrated the capture three years ago of Sgt. Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier who is still being held by Hamas.

The fighting appeared to confirm Hamas' iron rule in Gaza despite a punishing Israeli and Egyptian blockade that keeps all but basic humanitarian supplies from entering the impoverished seaside territory.

It also underscored the group's determination not to allow opponents with differing ideologies to gain a foothold in Gaza. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are together supposed to make up a future Palestinian state, but Hamas' bloody seizure of Gaza in 2007 created rival governments in the two territories � located on opposite sides of Israel � that are complicating Palestinian efforts to gain independence.

Jund Ansar Allah claims inspiration from al-Qaida's ultraconservative brand of Islam but no direct links have been confirmed.

The confrontation was triggered when the leader of the group defied Gaza's Hamas rulers by declaring in a Friday prayer sermon that the territory was an Islamic emirate.

Jund Ansar Allah and a number of other small radical groups seek to enforce an even stricter version of Islamic law in Gaza than that advocated by Hamas.

These groups are also upset that the Hamas regime has honored a cease-fire with Israel for the past seven months.

Hamas says it does not impose its religious views on others, but only seeks to set a pious example for people to follow.

Radical splinter groups such as Jund Ansar Allah call for a global jihad against the entire Western world, while Hamas maintains its struggle is only against the Israeli occupation.

"They are inspired by unbalanced ideologies and in the past they carried out a number of explosions targeting Internet cafes and wedding parties," said Ghussein, adding that the groups do not have any external ties.

The hard-line groups are perhaps the most serious opposition Hamas has faced since it seized control of Gaza and ousted its rivals in the Fatah movement in a five-day civil war in June 2007.

Hamas security blocked all roads to Rafah and declared the town a closed military zone. They said they have arrested about 40 members of the group so far.

Hamas is also investigating the launching of 11 homemade rockets from Gaza into Egypt on Friday. Only five of the rockets detonated, injuring a young girl, said Egyptian security forces.

Saeb Erekat, a senior peace negotiator with Israel and a member of the rival Fatah group in the West Bank, described the situation in Gaza as "alarming."

"Gaza is going down the drain in chaos and lawlessness," he told the AP.

Jund Ansar Allah first came to public attention in June after it claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to attack Israel from Gaza on horseback.

In July, three Muslim extremists from the group holed themselves up in a building in southern Gaza, surrendering to Hamas police only after a lengthy standoff.

It is unclear how many adherents Jund Ansar Allah or other similar extremist groups have in Gaza.

24153  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Death Panels on: August 15, 2009, 10:09:14 AM
I have my questions about Sarah, but she remains someone keeping an eye on.  She certainly has the right enemies grin

The first we heard about Sarah Palin's "death panels" comment was in a conversation last Friday with an acquaintance who was appalled by it. Our interlocutor is not a Democratic partisan but a high-minded centrist who deplores extremist rhetoric whatever the source. We don't even know if he has a position on ObamaCare. From his description, it sounded to us as though Palin really had gone too far.

A week later, it is clear that she has won the debate.

President Obama himself took the comments of the former governor of the 47th-largest state seriously enough to answer them directly in his so-called town-hall meeting Tuesday in Portsmouth, N.H. As we noted Wednesday, he was callous rather than reassuring, speaking glibly--to audience laughter--about "pulling the plug on grandma."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Palin has won a legislative victory as well:

A Senate panel has decided to scrap the part of its healthcare bill that in recent days has given rise to fears of government "death panels," with one lawmaker suggesting the proposal was just too confusing.
The Senate Finance Committee is taking the idea of advance care planning consultations with doctors off the table as it works to craft its version of healthcare legislation, a Democratic committee aide said Thursday.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the committee, said the panel dropped the idea because it could be "misinterpreted or implemented incorrectly." . . .
The Palin claim about "death panels" was so widely discredited that the White House has begun openly quoting it in an effort to show that opponents of the healthcare overhaul are misinformed.
You have to love that last bit. The fearless, independent journalists of the Los Angeles Times justify their assertion that the Palin claim was "widely discredited" with an appeal to authority--the authority of the White House, which is to say, the other side in the debate. One suspects the breathtaking inadequacy of this argument would have been obvious to Times reporters Christi Parsons and Andrew Zajac if George W. Bush were still president. And of course this appears in a story about how the Senate was persuaded to act in accord with Palin's position--which doesn't prove that position right but does show that it is widely (though, to be sure, not universally) credited.

James Taranto on Palin and the "death panel" debate.
.One can hardly deny that Palin's reference to "death panels" was inflammatory. But another way of putting that is that it was vivid and attention-getting. Level-headed liberal commentators who favor more government in health care, including Slate's Mickey Kaus and the Washington Post's Charles Lane, have argued that the end-of-life provision in the bill is problematic--acknowledging in effect (and, in Kaus's case, in so many words) that Palin had a point.

If you believe the media, Sarah Palin is a mediocre intellect, if even that, while President Obama is brilliant. So how did she manage to best him in this debate? Part of the explanation is that disdain for Palin reflects intellectual snobbery more than actual intellect. Still, Obama's critics, in contrast with Palin's, do not deny the president's intellectual aptitude. Intelligence, however, does not make one immune from hubris.
24154  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Poland on: August 15, 2009, 09:58:52 AM
Warsaw's Reality on the North European Plain
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGERLA MERKEL will travel to Sochi, Russia, on Friday to meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, one day after her personal intervention seems to have pushed a deal on German auto maker Opel to a Russian-backed bid. General Motors Corp. reportedly agreed in principle on Thursday with Canadian auto parts manufacturer Magna International to sell its stake in the troubled Opel unit. The Magna bid is backed by state-owned Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, and would include close cooperation between Opel and GAZ, the second-largest Russian car manufacturer.

While GM was worried that the deal would transfer U.S. technology incorporated into Opel to the Russians, Merkel personally lobbied for the deal, spurning GM’s delay and pressuring the U.S. company to accept the Canadian-Russian bid over a rival Belgian offer. The agreement is only one of a number of recent business deals that illustrate the burgeoning economic relations between Russia and Germany.

“Given its geography, Poland historically has had only two foreign policy strategies”
For Germany, the business deals with Russia are a way to increase demand for German exports, particularly for automobiles and heavy machinery that account for the majority of German manufacturing. Since exports account for 47 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product, the Russian market is an important part of Berlin’s strategy to get out of the current recession. For Russia, the deals are meant both as a means of modernizing the Russian economy and as a way to increase Moscow’s political influence with Berlin. As the trade links crystallize, Berlin and Moscow will not be tied together solely by natural gas exports.

This is undoubtedly going to make Poland uncomfortable. If a newly assertive Germany, which for 60 years has not been allowed to have an opinion in matters of foreign policy, chooses not to be hostile to a resurgent Russia, then the situation for Poland becomes difficult. Warsaw is located on the North European Plain — Europe’s superhighway of conquest — directly between Berlin and Moscow. As such, the Poles are categorically fearful of a Russian-German alliance.

Given its geography, Poland historically has had only two foreign policy strategies. The first, employed when Warsaw is in a powerful position, is to use the lowlands of the North European Plain to its own advantage and expand as much as possible, particularly into Ukraine, the Baltic States and Belarus. This is the aggressive Poland of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which in the 16th century was one of the most powerful and largest countries in Europe. As an example of its power, it was only through the intervention of Polish King Jan III Sobieski that Vienna, and thus Europe by extension, was saved from the Ottomans in 1683.

The second strategy, favored when Warsaw feels threatened, is to find an ally outside of the region determined to guarantee Polish independence. This was the case with Napoleonic France in the early 19th century and with the United Kingdom between the two world wars. This is also the situation today, with Poland hoping that the United States will commit to it with the ballistic missile defense (BMD) installation. BMD, from Poland’s perspective, would mean having U.S. troops on its soil, which would extend the alliance between the two countries past what Warsaw sees as nebulous guarantees of NATO.

However, the United States currently is not looking to challenge Russia overtly. Washington is concentrating on Iran, and the last thing the United States wants is for Russia to counter American moves in Poland by supporting Iran through transfer of military technology, nuclear or conventional.

This makes Warsaw nervous: If Poland cannot employ one of its two favored strategies, it tends to cease to exist as a country. The various partitions of Poland, all in the late 18th century, are still fresh in Warsaw’s collective memory. At that time, a rising Prussia and a surging Russian Empire (along with Austria) broke Poland bit by bit until it no longer existed on the European map. The same situation, also well remembered, was the consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, which led to the combined Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

That historical event will bring the current leaders of Poland, Russia and Germany together on Sept. 1 in Gdansk, Poland. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has invited Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ceremonies mark the 70-year anniversary of the World War II invasion.

The meeting is indicative of the balancing act that Warsaw is forced to play, lacking a clear signal from the United States on its commitment to Poland. It is also a signal to Washington that, although the invasion occurred 70 years ago, Poland is still stuck in the middle — between of Moscow and Berlin — on the North European Plain.
24155  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread on: August 15, 2009, 09:33:18 AM
Well, I'm real glad my wife is a great cook , , , and she handles technology for us and the reality side of the DB business and is very active in our children's school (e.g. teaches "Hands on Art", for the Health program etc)

While people certainly are free to come up with whatever arrangements make most sense for them, I suspect that absent PC pressures most of the time the woman will be more home family oriented and the man more go out and bring home the bacon.  IMHO in general when the more this paradigm is deviated from, the lower the birth rate; this creates a situation of contracting populations.
24156  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ Star Wars on: August 15, 2009, 08:36:46 AM
Never has Ronald Reagan's dream of layered missile defenses—Star Wars, for short—been as politically out of favor as in the Age of Obama. Nor as close, at least technologically, to becoming realized.

The latest encouraging news came Thursday courtesy of the Misssile Defense Agency. The Airborne Laser prototype aircraft this week found, tracked, engaged and simulated an intercept with a missile seconds after liftoff. It was the first time the Agency used an "instrumented" missile to confirm the laser works as expected. Next up this fall will be the first live attempt to bring down a ballistic missile, but this test confirms how far along this innovative effort has come.

Along with space-based weapons, the Airborne Laser is the next defense frontier. The modified Boeing 747 is supposed to send an intense beam of light over hundreds of miles to destroy missiles in the "boost phase," before they can release decoys and at a point in their trajectory when they would fall back down on enemy territory. It's a pioneering use of directed energy in defense. The laser complements the sea- and ground-based missile defenses that keep proving themselves in tests.

Yet the Obama Administration isn't buying it. Funding for missile defense was cut in the 2010 budget by some 15%—$1.2 billion to $1.6 billion, depending on how you calculate it. The number of ground-based interceptors was reduced. The Missile Defense Agency's budget for the Airborne Laser is to be slashed in half, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pulled the plug on buying a second plane. The Pentagon says the program will have three tries to hit a live missile, or be killed altogether.

As the Administration keeps defense spending growth flat, while breaking the bank on its domestic priorities, Secretary Gates has to make hard choices. But he might try harder to convince his boss at the White House that Star Wars isn't a sci-fi fantasy. That's what critics used to say about stealth aircraft as well.

With time, and inevitable setbacks, the technology to make layered missile defenses a reality is being proven to work. The Airborne Laser could be—unless prematurely vaporized—an important part of a system to protect America and its allies from rogue states and their nuclear missiles.
24157  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Dodd whitewash on: August 15, 2009, 08:32:19 AM
As the old Irish toast goes, may your sins be judged by the Senate ethics committee. Actually that's not an Irish toast but it must be the fervent hope of every politician who received a "Friend of Angelo" loan from former Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo. Late last week the six Senators on the ethics panel dismissed complaints against Senators Kent Conrad and Chris Dodd with a mere admonishment about the appearance of impropriety.

The three Republican and three Democratic Senators say they conducted an exhaustive probe and inspected 18,000 pages of documents. They say they found "no substantial credible evidence as required by Committee rules" that the Senators received mortgage rates or services that weren't commonly available to the public, and thus did not violate the Senate gift ban.

We'll have to take their word that the evidence wasn't "substantial," because they didn't release those documents, nor did they encourage Mr. Dodd to release any of his records. Readers will recall that in February Mr. Dodd staged a peek-a-boo release with selected reporters but did not allow anyone to have copies of the documents. If the evidence was so clear-cut, why the months of stonewalling?

The Associated Press may have the answer. AP recently noted that among the peek-a-boo papers were two documents titled, "Loan Policy Analysis." Reports AP, "The documents had separate columns: one showing points 'actl chrgd' Dodd — zero; and a second column showing 'policy' was to charge .250 points on one loan and .375 points on the other. Another heading on the documents said 'reasons for override.' A notation under that heading identified a Countrywide section that approved the policy change for Dodd."

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Associated Press
Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd
.How does Mr. Dodd explain that one? He may not have had to. The Senate ethicists don't seem to have required either Mr. Dodd or Mr. Conrad to provide sworn testimony. In its letters to Messrs. Conrad and Dodd, the committee referred to the "depositions" it collected from Countrywide employees, but it described only "responses" and "explanations" from the Senators. Mr. Dodd never spoke to committee members or staff, and never communicated directly with them.

When committee Senators wrote to Mr. Dodd to get answers to their questions about his VIP loans, they received a response signed by his attorney Marc Elias of Perkins Coie. We remember former Senator Robert Torricelli providing a sworn deposition before he was admonished by the committee in 2002. Perhaps he should have tried the Dodd strategy.

As for Mr. Conrad, his staff won't say if the Senator answered questions directly or let his lawyers handle it. Either way, he has to be thrilled that his colleagues found no violation of Senate rules, even after he acknowledged last summer that he had received a benefit and promptly donated $10,500 to charity.

We'd also like to know what committee members thought of Robert Feinberg, the former Countrywide loan officer who told us last year that Mr. Dodd received, and knew he was receiving, preferential treatment. The Washington Post reported last month that Mr. Feinberg told the same thing, under oath, to Senate investigators and said that Mr. Conrad also knew he was receiving special treatment. Mr. Feinberg said the same to the minority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Does the committee think he's lying, or that his testimony simply wasn't "substantial" enough? Again, we don't know because the letters released by the ethics committee don't mention Mr. Feinberg.

Mr. Dodd is running for his sixth term next year and will no doubt claim this as vindication. Voters will have to decide if a Banking Committee Chairman who allowed himself even to be considered a VIP by the nation's foremost subprime lender deserves it.
24158  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-Georgia, Turkey, Caucasus on: August 15, 2009, 08:20:15 AM
I'm still hoping for a post from a forum member who is well-informed about Georgia.

In the meantimes, here is this-- it is from the NYT, so caveat lector:


South Ossetia Tries to Disarm Its Citizens 

Russians and South Ossetians fought together last August north of Tskhinvali, during the brief war against Georgia.

Published: August 14, 2009

TSKHINVALI, Georgia — For years, there was not much difference between a civilian and a soldier in South Ossetia, which was embroiled in a long struggle to separate from Georgia.

David G. Sanakoyev, for example, wore a tie during the day. As South Ossetia’s ombudsman for human rights, he handled complaints about prison conditions or unlawful firings. Three times a week, after work, he changed into camouflage and took up a position at the territory’s border, rotating in and out of combat duty until morning.

Then he put his suit back on, and returned to his desk — a pattern interrupted only once, he recalled, when he was shot through the thigh in a Georgian ambush.

This has been the strange way of life inside South Ossetia, on and off, since the end of the Soviet Union. The tiny population of this valley — factory workers, university students, farmers and smugglers — has been turned into a loosely organized fighting force, deployed along the boundary that separates South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled territory.

Now, with Russia guaranteeing its security, South Ossetia is asking residents to turn in their weapons voluntarily. The police have opened 50 criminal prosecutions for illegal weapons and plan to offer $300 to $400 for each Kalashnikov rifle, a top official said.

The program is a test of confidence, a year after the war between Russia and Georgia.

Mr. Sanakoyev said he had never owned a gun but felt it was still too early to disarm.

“Life has changed,” he said. “But inside, you don’t yet feel that life has changed.”

Twenty years ago, few people in this valley were armed. The first clash between Ossetians and Georgians was fought with wooden bats and hunting rifles in 1989, after an estimated 12,000 Georgian demonstrators surrounded Tskhinvali to protest its first separatist bid. In the two days of violence that followed, six people died, according to Human Rights Watch.

That began a great surge of arming. Timur Tskhovrebov, then working as a tomato farmer, became “a specialist in stealing from Soviet warehouses,” he recalled, with a broad, reminiscent smile. The commander of a 10-man local militia, he would bribe a sentry, throw a mattress over the barbed-wire fence, and clamber in and out, arms loaded with weapons, for two hours until the next sentry arrived.

“This is only one way,” said Mr. Tskhovrebov, 51. “It’s the most honest way. You just steal them.”

As they withdrew into Russian territory, Soviet troops were ready to make deals, in any case. A Kalashnikov could be traded for a Zhiguli or Lada car or, in the case of villagers, a cow. Whole arsenals, put up for sale in Chechnya, supplied South Ossetia.

Irina Kozayeva, a 74-year-old woman with a cloud of hennaed hair, recalled the awe she felt at her first major purchase: a 12.7-caliber machine gun, a World War II-era weapon often mounted on Soviet tanks and capable of shooting down aircraft.

“When I saw it, I closed the door and laid it down on the rug,” she said. “I almost fainted. The sight of such a weapon can make you crazy.”

Ossetians’ attachment to their weapons grew fierce during those years, said Dmitri Medoyev, South Ossetia’s ambassador to Russia. Before the first clashes, authorities in Georgia had stripped many Ossetian hunters of their rifles, and then the Soviet Army twice betrayed Ossetia by withdrawing its forces, Mr. Medoyev said, so “we, the population, cannot trust anyone.”

In addition to a small army, Tskhinvali contrived a defense based on the Swiss armed forces, in which every adult man was required to show up, prepared to fight, during periods of tension.

For an Ossetian, Mr. Medoyev said, “a weapon is an essential part of daily life, his worldview, his accessory, if you will.” Asked how many guns were owned privately, he said, “As many as there are people in the population, that’s how many weapons there are.”

“Of course,” he added, “I’m not counting small children.”

But conditions have changed since last August, said Vitaly G. Gassiyev, South Ossetia’s first deputy interior minister. At a brand-new Russian base in Tskhinvali, dozens of tanks and self-propelled artillery are lined up a few minutes’ drive from Georgian positions, making it unlikely that Ossetian volunteers will be called to the front anytime soon.

By disarming, Mr. Gassiyev said, South Ossetia was using the lessons Russia had learned in the north Caucasus, where wars left a residue of crime, with “guns in hands and lots of uncontrolled elements.”

Two weeks ago, the call went out for people to turn in their arms voluntarily. So far, the police have collected or confiscated 100 machine guns — among them 15 American-made M-4 carbines, presumably lost by Georgian soldiers — and 110 pounds of explosives. In the near future, the police are planning to offer citizens from $370 to $470 in exchange for turning in guns and other weapons.

“I think the project will work without question,” Mr. Gassiyev said. “There is a guarantee of security now.”

When the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe tried to sell this idea to Ossetia’s populace several years ago, it was met with ridicule, recalled Magdalena Frichova, who monitored the conflict in South Ossetia for 10 years for the International Crisis Group. But last year’s war has transformed the dynamics in Ossetia, she added, and Russia may feel a need to ensure control in a region where small militias have thrived.

“This is the fear for the Russians, that it’s going to become like the north Caucasus,” Ms. Frichova said. “You have all these armed groups that aren’t under a command.”

Nerves were still strung tight last week at a border post south of Tskhinvali. The Russian border patrol was nowhere in sight, and two Ossetian men, one in camouflage, were watching cows grazing in no man’s land, waiting for something to happen, just as they have for 18 years. A Georgian police post in Ergneti was visible through the summer foliage. Five days before, the two men said, a rocket-propelled grenade was shot from the Georgian side and exploded in the air.

“If you call someone your brother, but he shoots at you, is he still your brother?” said the man in camouflage, his face weathered by the sun. “For 18 years, they have devoured us. They are jackals, jackals.” He refused to give his name.

His friend, Timur, 39, had left military service after the war, and was watching in slacks and a turtleneck. This year has been quiet, he allowed, but not calm, not yet. Asked about the government’s program to collect weapons, he grinned mischievously.

“Officially, I have given up my gun,” he said.
24159  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / President Reagan on: August 14, 2009, 11:44:43 AM
24160  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-Georgia, Turkey, Caucasus on: August 14, 2009, 11:39:16 AM

The U.S. military said Aug. 14 that it will continue to train Georgian troops for a deployment to Afghanistan. The United States insists that the training will be limited to assisting Georgian forces on the ground in Afghanistan and that it will not provide weapons to the small country. But Russia is strongly opposed to the continued military cooperation between United States and Georgia, and Moscow will have no choice but to respond to the perceived interference in its sphere of influence.

The United States will resume its military training mission in the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Sept. 1 in order to prepare a select contingent of troops for deployment to Afghanistan, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Aug. 14. Morrell said the training would only help Georgian troops contribute to the Afghan operations and is not intended to act as a counterweight to Russian military influence along Georgia’s borders or within the separatist regions.

The United States has continually trained Georgian troops for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 — this has kept approximately a dozen U.S. military personnel inside of Georgia. Tbilisi pulled Georgian troops out of Iraq in August 2008 after Russia invaded Georgia (they were flown back to Georgia in U.S. military aircraft). The United States also froze its training of Georgian troops during and following the Russo-Georgian war, but resumed smaller military officer training in the past month. However, now Tbilisi has repledged 750 troops for Afghanistan, and between 10 and 50 U.S. Marines will train the Georgian troops — this training will focus specifically on counterinsurgency and tactical proficiencies appropriate to the U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan.

Georgia has regularly requested that the United States or NATO help train its military on defensive operations that will help the country counter an invasion by its more powerful, conventionally armed neighbor: Russia. But that request was clearly rejected during U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to Tbilisi in July. Biden and the Pentagon assured Russia that it had nothing to fear because the training would be limited strictly to helping the Georgian forces on the ground in Afghanistan and no weapons would be provided to Georgia. Also, the only troops to be trained by the United States will be leaving Georgia to deploy — an issue that proved problematic in August 2008 when many of the best-trained Georgian troops (in terms of unit cohesion and basic tactical proficiencies) were not in the country when Russian troops entered Georgia.

But even though the U.S. training is not as focused on developing the tactics and skills necessary for Georgia to defend itself as Tbilisi would like, the continued connection between the United States and Georgia — especially militarily — goes against Russian wishes. Moscow has made it clear since the August 2008 war that Georgia lies in Russia’s sphere of influence and the United States should stop its push for a pro-Western Georgia via politics, military or inclusion into Western organizations like NATO.

Having the Georgians participate militarily with NATO operations offends Moscow. Russian relations with the United States have worsened following U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Moscow in which he refused to back down on his support for Georgia, Ukraine and U.S. ballistic missile defense plans in Poland. Now, the United States is demonstrating this continued support in Georgia. Russia has already started to respond by turning up its own military heat near Georgia, indicating that Russian forces are prepared on the ground to launch another invasion at any moment.

But the Russians need to respond not only to Georgia, but also to the United States’ continued dismissal of Russia’s returning status as a great power. Acting out against the United States in Georgia is significant, but Russia has already proven that it is the decisive power in this region. What STRATFOR is watching for is other arenas in which Russia could act out against the United States, such as Iran and Europe. However, it is clear that Moscow will continue its pressure on Georgia.
24161  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: 1823 on: August 14, 2009, 08:58:10 AM
"[W]hy give through agents whom we know not, to persons whom we know not, and in countries from which we get no account, where we can do it at short hand, to objects under our eye, through agents we know, and to supply wants we see?" --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Michael Megear, 1823
24162  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Slingshots on: August 13, 2009, 07:47:31 PM

Slingshots are an amazing tools and I highly recommend learning to use one. Next to using a .22, a slingshot is my preferred tool for hunting small game. They are even legal for hunting in many states (though check your game regulations first). I have used them for taking down squirrels and rabbits at ranges of 30-50 feet. Two experienced shooters I know have even brought down deer with headshots at ranges of 15 yards with heavy-duty (equivalent of 40 lb draw-weight) slingshots and lead ammo.

Keep in mind that these are not the $10 "Wrist-Rockets" you can buy at Wal-Mart. A high-powered slingshot usually costs $30+ and is more like shooting a low-powered recurve bow.

The great thing is that the skill-set you acquire in learning to use a slingshot will carry over to archery since the physical technique for shooting both weapons is nearly identical. A slingshot is quiet, lightweight, and costs little.

For backyard practice, I have an inexpensive “wrist-rocket” available that cost $10. A few bags of 1/2'” marbles from the local craft store provides plenty of “ammo” for practice. I do not use this style of slingshot for hunting as it is too weak.

Instead, I make my hunting slingshots from a Y-shaped stick and heavy duty bands of flat rubber banding. If you don’t want to make your own, then purchase a quality slingshot from an experienced maker like Madison Parker. He hunts regularly with slingshots and knows how to make the good stuff. His site is worth a visit-

Otherwise, I’ve had good luck using the Saunders Wrist Rocket Pro or a Barnett Wrist Rocket, both of which are available online.

Practice and Ammo Types

For practice, suspend a blanket between two trees in your backyard. The blanket should hang down on the ground and be loose to absorb the impact of the marbles. Set up a few pop cans on the ground in front of the blanket and then stand back at 30 feet to start with. As your skill progresses, increase the distance. The rest is all about the 3 magic words that lead to proficiency with any worthwhile skill: practice, practice, practice.

After a few weeks, turn the can on its end and work on hitting the bottom only. Like most skills, repetition is the key here so put in twenty minutes of practice every day. Then after a few weeks, you should be on your way to turning the slingshot into an effective game-getter.

Beware that this is a lethal weapon and can hurdle a projectile great distances (or even bounce them back at you- so protect your eyes!) and you will want to apply the same safety rules as you would when using the .22 rifle.

When you transition to hunting with a more powerful slingshot, use heavier ammo such as .45 caliber blackpowder balls or stainless steel ballbearings.

The above article is an excerpt from The Modern Hunter-Gatherer: A Practical Guide To Living Off the Land by Tony Nester. Due out in September 2009.

24163  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Music on: August 13, 2009, 07:25:54 PM ton_globe/

Modern music owes a lot to Les Paul Inventor and Guitar legend.
24164  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Beck busted? on: August 13, 2009, 07:04:30 PM

Q: Fox News’ Glenn Beck said that the government will get complete access to your computer and all of your files when you log on to for the Cash for Clunkers program. Is there any truth to this?

A: This claim is false. Beck quoted from a security message on the site for dealers, not the site for the general public.
24165  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IBD editorial frontally challenged on: August 13, 2009, 06:59:10 PM
The IBD editorial in question was previously quoted in this thread.  Here is a frontal challenge which seems to make sense.  Comments?

More from

Private Insurance Not Outlawed
August 13, 2009

Q: Will the House’s proposed health care plan outlaw private insurance?
A: No. Those who are claiming that the plan would get rid of private insurance or make it illegal are misinterpreting the bill.
President Obama claims that we will be able to keep our current private health care insurance, but I have heard that on page 16 of the health insurance initiative that after one year private health insurance providers will no longer be able to accept new individual policy holders. Where does this leave me if I need to change insurance companies after the first year? The president insinuates that there are no restrictions on having an individual policy. Is this true?
It’s nonsense to say that private insurance will be outlawed, but it will be regulated. In fact, the bill envisions a wide variety of private policies being offered to the public through a new national health insurance exchange resembling the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan, which makes 269 different private plans in total available to federal workers, including members of Congress.
What page 16 actually says is that those who like their current policies are "grandfathered" and can keep them, even if the policies don’t meet new standards.
The false idea that H.R. 3200 would prohibit insurance companies from accepting new policyholders stems from the conservative Investors’ Business Daily, which made the claim in a July editorial:
Investor’s Business Daily, July 15: It didn’t take long to run into an "uh-oh" moment when reading the House’s "health care for all Americans" bill. Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal. … The provision would indeed outlaw individual private coverage. Under the Orwellian header of "Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage," the "Limitation On New Enrollment" section of the bill clearly states:
"Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day" of the year the legislation becomes law.
So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised – with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won’t be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers.
Here, however, is the paragraph immediately preceding IBD’s quote:
H.R. 3200: Subject to the succeeding provisions of this section, for purposes of establishing acceptable coverage under this division, the term “grandfathered health insurance coverage” means individual health insurance coverage that is offered and in force and effect before the first day of Y1 if the following conditions are met.
In other words, the quote IBD references is part of the definition of “grandfathered” health insurance coverage. That quote doesn’t say that insurers can’t take on new enrollees; it says that if they do, that won’t be considered grandfathered coverage. In other words, any new individual policies would have to meet minimum standards and be offered through the new health insurance exchange.
The proposed health care model would indeed encourage individuals not already covered by employer-provided health policies to buy coverage through the nationwide insurance exchange. The choices would include a range of private plans meeting the new standards, as well as a new federal plan, as the House bill is currently written. People with individually purchased insurance who wish (or need) to change their grandfathered plans will have to purchase insurance through the exchange. If an individual would rather keep his plan, he can do so for as long as the insurance company keeps offering it. At any rate, nobody will be forced into the federal health insurance option – they’ll have their pick of private ones.
In fact, some say the biggest change will be that individual insurance gets better. "In a lot of ways it would improve options for people buying coverage on the individual market right now," said Sara Collins, vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan organization that supports “a high performing health care system." The exchange plans would not be underwritten, and would be required to provide a minimum level of service to everybody. There would also be subsidies available for individuals and small employers to offset the cost of purchasing insurance through the exchange.
IBD won’t admit that it misread page 16, but says "we’re standing by our story," which it now attempts to justify this way:
IBD, July 21: But the exchange will not be a private market. It will be a program in which Americans can buy individual plans from private companies in competition with the "public option" provision of the bill that will provide taxpayer-subsidized coverage.
But whether or not one considers the insurance exchange to be a "private market," the fact is what is sold in that market would include a variety of plans sold by private insurance companies. So IBD’s original claim that the bill would make "individual private medical insurance illegal" is wrong.
– Jess Henig
U.S. House. "H.R. 3200." (as introduced 14 Jul 2009.)
Collins, Sara. Interview with 21 Jul 2009.
"It’s Not an Option." Editorial. Investors Business Daily 15 Jul 2009.
"Still Not an Option." Editorial. Investors Business Daily 21 Jul 2009.
24166  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington: letter to the officers, 1783 on: August 13, 2009, 08:54:23 AM
"Can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honor? If you can -- GO -- and carry with you the jest of tories and scorn of whigs -- the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world. Go, starve, and be forgotten!" --George Washington, letter to the Officers of the Army, 1783
24167  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Charles Murray on: August 13, 2009, 08:40:07 AM
America is supposed to be a democracy in which we're all in it together. Part of that ethos, which has been so essential to the country in times of crisis, is a common understanding that we all pay a share of the costs. Taxes are an essential ingredient in the civic glue that binds us together.

Our democracy is corrupted when some voters think that they won't have to pay for the benefits their representatives offer them. It is corrupted when some voters see themselves as victims of exploitation by their fellow citizens.

By both standards, American democracy is in trouble. We have the worst of both worlds. The rhetoric of the president tells the public that the rich are not paying their fair share, undermining the common understanding from the bottom up. Meanwhile, the IRS recently released new numbers on who pays how much taxes, and those numbers tell the people at the top that they're being exploited.

Let's start with the rich, whom I define as families in the top 1% of income among those who filed tax returns. In 2007, the year with the most recent tax data, they had family incomes of $410,000 or more. They paid 40% of all the personal income taxes collected.

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David Klein
 .Yes, you read it right: 1% of American families paid 40% of America's personal taxes.

The families in the rest of the top 5% had family incomes of $160,000 to $410,000. They paid another 20% of total personal income taxes. Now we're up to three out of every five dollars in personal taxes paid by just five out of every 100 American families.

Turn to the bottom three-quarters of the families who filed income tax returns in 2007—not just low-income families, but everybody with family incomes below $66,500. That 75% of families paid just 13% of all personal income taxes. Scott Hodge of the Tax Foundation has recast these numbers in terms of a single, stunning statistic: The top 1% of American households pay more in federal taxes than the bottom 95% combined.

My point is not that the rich are being bled dry. The taxes paid by families in the top 1% amounted to 22% of their adjusted gross income, not a confiscatory rate. The issue is that it is inherently problematic to have a democracy in which a third of filers pay no personal income tax at all (another datum from the IRS), and the entire bottom half of filers, meaning those with adjusted gross incomes below $33,000, have an average tax rate of just 3%.

This deforms the behavior of everyone—the voters who think they aren't paying for Congress's latest bright idea, the politicians who know that promising new programs will always be a winning political strategy with the majority of taxpayers who don't think they have to pay for them, and the wealthy who know that the only way to get politicians to refrain from that strategy is to buy them off.

For once, we face a problem with a solution that costs nothing. Most families who pay little or no personal income taxes are paying Social Security and Medicare taxes. All we need to do is make an accounting change, no longer pretending that payroll taxes are sequestered in trust funds.

Fold payroll taxes into the personal tax code, adjusting the rules so that everyone still pays the same total, but the tax bill shows up on the 1040. Doing so will tell everyone the truth: Their payroll taxes are being used to pay whatever bills the federal government brings upon itself, among which are the costs of Social Security and Medicare.

The finishing touch is to make sure that people understand how much they are paying, which is presently obscured by withholding at the workplace. End withholding, and require everybody to do what millions of Americans already do: write checks for estimated taxes four times a year.

Both of those simple changes scare politicians. Payroll taxes are politically useful because low-income and middle-income taxpayers don't complain about what they believe are contributions to their retirement and they think, wrongly, that they aren't paying much for anything else. Tax withholding has a wonderfully anesthetizing effect on people whose only income is a paycheck, leaving many of them actually feeling grateful for their tax refund check every year, not noticing how much the government has taken from them.

But the politicians' fear of being honest about taxes doesn't change the urgent need to be honest. The average taxpayer is wrong if he believes the affluent aren't paying their fair share—the top income earners carry an extraordinary proportion of the tax burden. High-income earners are wrong, too, about being exploited: Take account of payroll taxes, and low-income people also bear a heavy tax load.

End the payroll tax, end withholding, and these corrosive misapprehensions go way. We will once again be a democracy in which we're all in it together, we all know that we're all paying a share, and we are all aware how much that share is.

Mr. Murray is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book, "Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality," will be out in paperback later this month (Three Rivers).
24168  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Agradecimiento de cada dia on: August 13, 2009, 07:24:33 AM
Agradezco ese verano que estoy compartiendo con mi familia.
24169  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica on: August 13, 2009, 07:23:29 AM

Les deseo a ti y la gente de Venezuela grande exito en su lucha para defensa de su libertad.  Parece necesario para Uds atrever mucho.

Marc/Crafty Dog
24170  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Honduras on: August 13, 2009, 07:21:03 AM
Interesante , , ,
24171  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Estudio: Una matanza por cuchillo en el metro on: August 13, 2009, 07:20:02 AM
Hola Manuel:

Un gusto verte aqui contribuyendo.

Lo que mencionas sobre ver un joven sangrando abre un tema de tremenda importancia-- la habilidad de responder a heridas: las nuestras o de otras.  Vea el hilo "Emergency Medicine" en nuestro "Martial Arts" forum en

Poder responder requiere educacion y esa educacion esta' ayudado por tener herramiento aptos.  Por ejemplo, tengo una caja con cosas utiles para defender una herida hasta que venga la ambulancia/personas capacitadas en mi camioneta y en mi casa.  Esas cajas incluyen "guantes de ule" para proteger contra el riesgo de contaminacion de enfermedades transimito por sangre.

La Aventura continua.
Marc/Crafty Dog
24172  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Mason: the militia on: August 12, 2009, 09:36:49 AM
"Who you ask is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few public officials."
George Mason--Father of the Bill of Rights
24173  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine on: August 11, 2009, 03:51:37 PM
PLEASE do whatever you want to evaluate the kits AND make whatever suggestions that occur to you.  These kits will be bearing our logo and you are our resident "go to" man for all of this.
24174  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: August 11, 2009, 07:23:51 AM
The excesses of Islamo-Fascism contain the seeds of its defeat.  Good news there BBG.

Geopolitical Diary: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's Disarray
August 10, 2009
Confusion continued Sunday over the power struggle within the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), triggered by the Aug. 5 killing of its founder and leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. air strike. Wali-ur-Rehman, reportedly Mehsud’s most trusted confidant and member of the TTP leadership council, denied reports that either he or the group’s top operational commander, Hakeemullah, had been killed or that the leadership ever met to pick a new chief. A day earlier, there had been reports of an armed clash within the TTP — the largest Pakistani Taliban grouping — that had led to the death of either Wali-ur-Rehman or Hakeemullah, if not both.

Exactly what is happening within the TTP will not be apparent soon. The elimination of Mehsud, which closely followed the retaking of the Swat region from Taliban hands, does not mean that Pakistan has delivered a death blow to its jihadist rebels. However, Mehsud’s death does mark a major success for Islamabad as it deals with the largest threat to Pakistan’s security. It was under Mehsud’s leadership that the Pakistani Taliban movement evolved from a low-level militancy — located mainly in the Waziristan region — to a raging insurgency that engulfed not only the entire tribal belt and most of the North-West Frontier Province, but also leaped out into Pakistan’s core province of Punjab, with significant suicide bombings targeting the most sensitive security facilities.

Clearly, Islamabad might be able to regain control over Pakistan’s Taliban rebels in the wake of Mehsud’s death — a factor that impacts the broader campaign against Taliban forces in Afghanistan also. Prior to Mehsud’s death, the fears were that the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban actually posed a security threat to Pakistan, as it would exacerbate the insurgency on the Pakistani side of the border. But if the Pakistanis can get a handle on the Taliban forces on their own turf, they might be able to exert meaningful influence over their assets among the Afghan Taliban.

In short, Islamabad’s ability to distinguish between “good” and “bad” Taliban has improved. However, there remains a huge gap between what the Pakistani leadership considers “good” and “bad” Taliban and what Washington has been referring to as “reconcilable” and “irreconcilable” Taliban. Although both sides want to see the Afghan insurgency end in a negotiated settlement, U.S.-Pakistani intelligence and military cooperation has improved (as is evident from reports that it was a U.S. air strike that killed Mehsud), and U.S. officials currently are expressing considerable satisfaction with Pakistani efforts against Islamist militants operating within Pakistan, Islamabad cannot be expected to be completely forthcoming when it comes to helping Washington contain the Afghan Taliban.

More important, the current situation is not one in which meaningful negotiations can be expected. The Afghan Taliban have the upper hand in the war and therefore have no incentive to come to the table at this time. They also have their own internal issues to deal with, in terms of bringing all the factions together under a single umbrella. The United States, despite its efforts to identify and reach out to potentially reconcilable elements among the Afghan Taliban, does not want to negotiate from a position of relative weakness — hence its surge of forces in an attempt to level the battlefield.

Pakistan, likewise, needs time to consolidate the gains it has just made in its fight against the Pakistani Taliban and, in the process, regain its influence over the Afghan Taliban. Meanwhile, al Qaeda and its allies on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border who subscribe to the transnational agenda have yet to be dealt with. Herein lies a noteworthy convergence of interests among the United States, Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban: Each side needs to isolate al Qaeda. For the United States, success in the war in Afghanistan depends on making sure al Qaeda cannot use the country as a launch pad for attacks across the globe. For Islamabad, neutralizing al Qaeda’s presence within Pakistan’s borders is a prerequisite for completely regaining control over rogue militant groups and thus for ensuring security. Similarly, if the Afghan Taliban’s central leadership wants to consolidate control over the various insurgent factions and return to power, it needs to distance the Pashtun jihadist movement from al Qaeda.

The United States might not be able to cooperate with the Afghan Taliban against al Qaeda, but the Pakistanis can. Islamabad also has an interest in seeing the rogues among the Afghan Taliban eliminated. In other words, there is a potential for some level of U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation in rooting out those Afghan Taliban that both sides can agree are a threat.

Eventually, the success of the cooperation on the battlefield also could lead Washington and Islamabad to a common definition for “good/reconcilable” Taliban and “bad/irreconcilable” Taliban, opening a possibility of further cooperation in future negotiations. For now, however, the thing to watch for is the extent to which U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation against Pakistani Taliban can be reproduced in the context of the Afghan Taliban.

24175  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Deja Vu all over again on: August 11, 2009, 07:06:49 AM

The Next Fannie Mae
Ginnie Mae and FHA are becoming $1 trillion subprime guarantors..ArticleComments (18)more in Opinion ».EmailPrinter

Much to their dismay, Americans learned last year that they “owned” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Well, meet their cousin, Ginnie Mae or the Government National Mortgage Association, which will soon join them as a trillion-dollar packager of subprime mortgages. Taxpayers own Ginnie too.

Only last week, Ginnie announced that it issued a monthly record of $43 billion in mortgage-backed securities in June. Ginnie Mae President Joseph Murin sounded almost giddy as he cheered this “phenomenal growth.” Ginnie Mae’s mortgage exposure is expected to top $1 trillion by the end of next year—or far more than double the dollar amount of 2007. (See the nearby table.) Earlier this summer, Reuters quoted Anthony Medici of the Housing Department’s Inspector General’s office as saying, “Who would have predicted that Ginnie Mae and Fannie Mae would have swapped positions” in loan volume?

Ginnie’s mission is to bundle, guarantee and then sell mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which is Uncle Sam’s home mortgage shop. Ginnie’s growth is a by-product of the FHA’s spectacular growth. The FHA now insures $560 billion of mortgages—quadruple the amount in 2006. Among the FHA, Ginnie, Fannie and Freddie, nearly nine of every 10 new mortgages in America now carry a federal taxpayer guarantee.

Herein lies the problem. The FHA’s standard insurance program today is notoriously lax. It backs low downpayment loans, to buyers who often have below-average to poor credit ratings, and with almost no oversight to protect against fraud. Sound familiar? This is called subprime lending—the same financial roulette that busted Fannie, Freddie and large mortgage houses like Countrywide Financial.

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Associated Press
 .On June 18, HUD’s Inspector General issued a scathing report on the FHA’s lax insurance practices. It found that the FHA’s default rate has grown to 7%, which is about double the level considered safe and sound for lenders, and that 13% of these loans are delinquent by more than 30 days. The FHA’s reserve fund was found to have fallen in half, to 3% from 6.4% in 2007—meaning it now has a 33 to 1 leverage ratio, which is into Bear Stearns territory. The IG says the FHA may need a “Congressional appropriation intervention to make up the shortfall.”

The IG also fears that the recent “surge in FHA loans is likely to overtax the oversight resources of the FHA, making careful and comprehensive lender monitoring difficult.” And it warned that the growth in FHA mortgage volume could make the program “vulnerable to exploitation by fraud schemes . . . that undercut the integrity of the program.” The 19-page IG report includes a horror show of recent fraud cases.

If housing values continue to slide and 10% of FHA loans end up in default, taxpayers will be on the hook for another $50 to $60 billion of mortgage losses. Only last week, Taylor Bean, the FHA’s third largest mortgage originator in June with $17 billion in loans this year, announced it is terminating operations after the FHA barred the mortgage lender from participating in its insurance program. The feds alleged that Taylor Bean had “misrepresented” its relationship with an auditor and had “irregular transactions that raised concerns of fraud.”

Is anyone on Capitol Hill or the White House paying attention? Evidently not, because on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue policy makers are busy giving the FHA even more business while easing its already loosy-goosy underwriting standards. A few weeks ago a House committee approved legislation to keep the FHA’s loan limit in high-income states like California at $729,750. We wonder how many first-time home buyers purchase a $725,000 home. The Members must have missed the IG’s warning that higher loan limits may mean “much greater losses by FHA” and will make fraudsters “much more attracted to the product.”

In the wake of the mortgage meltdown, most private lenders have reverted to the traditional down payment rule of 10% or 20%. Housing experts agree that a high down payment is the best protection against default and foreclosure because it means the owner has something to lose by walking away. Meanwhile, at the FHA, the down payment requirement remains a mere 3.5%. Other policies—such as allowing the buyer to finance closing costs and use the homebuyer tax credit to cover costs—can drive the down payment to below 2%.

Then there is the booming refinancing program that Congress has approved to move into the FHA hundreds of thousands of borrowers who can’t pay their mortgage, including many with subprime and other exotic loans. HUD just announced that starting this week the FHA will refinance troubled mortgages by reducing up to 30% of the principal under the Home Affordable Modification Program. This program is intended to reduce foreclosures, but someone has to pick up the multibillion-dollar cost of the 30% loan forgiveness. That will be taxpayers.

In some cases, these owners are so overdue in their payments, and housing prices have fallen so dramatically, that the borrowers have a negative 25% equity in the home and they are still eligible for an FHA refi. We also know from other government and private loan modification programs that a borrower who has defaulted on the mortgage once is at very high risk (25%-50%) of defaulting again.

All of which means that the FHA and Ginnie Mae could well be the next Fannie and Freddie. While Fan and Fred carried “implicit” federal guarantees, the FHA and Ginnie carry the explicit full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

We’ve long argued that Congress has a fiduciary duty to secure the safety and soundness of FHA through common sense reforms. Eliminate the 100% guarantee on FHA loans, so lenders have a greater financial incentive to insure the soundness of the loan; adopt the private sector convention of a 10% down payment, which would reduce foreclosures; and stop putting subprime loans that should have never been made in the first place on the federal balance sheet.

The housing lobby, which gets rich off FHA insurance, has long blocked these due-diligence reforms, saying there’s no threat to taxpayers. That’s what they also said about Fan and Fred—$400 billion ago.
24176  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson; Hamilton; Franklin; Jefferson; Reagan; Jefferson on: August 11, 2009, 06:27:22 AM
"Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition." --Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 19, 1781

"In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution." --Alexander Hamilton

"Repeal that [welfare] law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday and St. Tuesday, will soon cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labor, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them." --Benjamin Franklin, letter to Collinson, 1753

"On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already?" --Thomas Jefferson

"The intellectual establishment [is] so busy demanding more power for government, more bureaucracy, regulation, spending and -- oh, yes -- more and more taxes, they forgot all about the secret of America's success -- opportunity for people, for all the people. ... Will we heed the pessimists' agenda of higher taxes, more bureaucracy, and a bigger welfare state leading us right back to runaway inflation and economic decay, or will we [take the] road toward a true opportunity society of economic growth, more jobs, lower tax rates, and rising take-home pay?" --Ronald Reagan

"Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition." --Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 19, 1781
24177  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Illegal counting on: August 10, 2009, 12:08:19 PM
Next year’s census will determine the apportionment of House members and Electoral College votes for each state. To accomplish these vital constitutional purposes, the enumeration should count only citizens and persons who are legal, permanent residents. But it won’t.

Instead, the U.S. Census Bureau is set to count all persons physically present in the country—including large numbers who are here illegally. The result will unconstitutionally increase the number of representatives in some states and deprive some other states of their rightful political representation. Citizens of “loser” states should be outraged. Yet few are even aware of what’s going on.

In 1790, the first Census Act provided that the enumeration of that year would count “inhabitants” and “distinguish” various subgroups by age, sex, status as free persons, etc. Inhabitant was a term with a well-defined meaning that encompassed, as the Oxford English Dictionary expressed it, one who “is a bona fide member of a State, subject to all the requisitions of its laws, and entitled to all the privileges which they confer.”

Thus early census questionnaires generally asked a question that got at the issue of citizenship or permanent resident status, e.g., “what state or foreign country were you born in?” or whether an individual who said he was foreign-born was naturalized. Over the years, however, Congress and the Census Bureau have added inquiries that have little or nothing to do with census’s constitutional purpose.

By 1980 there were two census forms. The shorter form went to every person physically present in the country and was used to establish congressional apportionment. It had no question pertaining to an individual’s citizenship or legal status as a resident. The longer form gathered various kinds of socioeconomic information including citizenship status, but it went only to a sample of U.S. households. That pattern was repeated for the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

The 2010 census will use only the short form. The long form has been replaced by the Census Bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey. Dr. Elizabeth Grieco, chief of the Census Bureau’s Immigration Statistics Staff, told us in a recent interview that the 2010 census short form does not ask about citizenship because “Congress has not asked us to do that.”

Because the census (since at least 1980) has not distinguished citizens and permanent, legal residents from individuals here illegally, the basis for apportionment of House seats has been skewed. According to the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey data (2007), states with a significant net gain in population by inclusion of noncitizens include Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Texas. (There are tiny net gains for Hawaii and Massachusetts.)

This makes a real difference. Here’s why:

According to the latest American Community Survey, California has 5,622,422 noncitizens in its population of 36,264,467. Based on our round-number projection of a decade-end population in that state of 37,000,000 (including 5,750,000 noncitizens), California would have 57 members in the newly reapportioned U.S. House of Representatives.

However, with noncitizens not included for purposes of reapportionment, California would have 48 House seats (based on an estimated 308 million total population in 2010 with 283 million citizens, or 650,000 citizens per House seat). Using a similar projection, Texas would have 38 House members with noncitizens included. With only citizens counted, it would be entitled to 34 members.

Of course, other states lose out when noncitizens are counted for reapportionment. According to projections of the 2010 Census by Election Data Services, states certain to lose one seat in the 2010 reapportionment are Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania; states likely (though not certain) to lose a seat are Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio could lose a second seat. But under a proper census enumeration that excluded illegal residents, some of the states projected to lose a representative—including our own state of Louisiana—would not do so.

The census has drifted far from its constitutional roots, and the 2010 enumeration will result in a malapportionment of Congress.

In the 1964 case of Wesberry v. Sanders, the Supreme Court said, “The House of Representatives, the [Constitutional] Convention agreed, was to represent the people as individuals and on a basis of complete equality for each voter.” It ruled that Georgia had violated the equal-vote principle because House districts within the state did not contain roughly the same number of voting citizens. Justice Hugo Black wrote in his majority opinion that “one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.” The same principle is being violated now on a national basis because of our faulty census.

The Census Bureau can of course collect whatever data Congress authorizes. But Congress must not permit the bureau to unconstitutionally redefine who are “We the People of the United States.”

Mr. Baker teaches constitutional law at Louisiana State University. Mr. Stonecipher is a Louisiana pollster and demographic analyst.
24178  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Baitullah Mehsud on: August 10, 2009, 12:05:11 PM
If true, the news that a CIA drone killed Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud last week is a notable victory in the war on terror, both for Pakistan and the U.S. Previous reports of Mehsud’s demise were greatly exaggerated, but this time Pakistan and U.S. officials are speaking with higher confidence that they’ve got him. White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones said on Fox News Sunday that “all evidence that we have” suggests he is dead.

The fashionable view in anti-antiterror precincts is that terror leaders are like daisies—mow one down and another will pop up to take his place. But not all leaders are easily replaced, and the charismatic and daring Mehsud is probably one of them. He was by most accounts a key figure in uniting the dozen or so factions of the Taliban under his umbrella group Tehreek-e-Taliban.

He is believed to have masterminded a string of bomb attacks that killed hundreds of Pakistanis, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. His activities contributed significantly to the broader instability along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and put pressure on Pakistan’s democratically elected President Asif Ali Zardari. There’s a reason the U.S. had a $5 million bounty on his head.

View Full Image

Associated Press
Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud
.Unconfirmed reports over the weekend suggested dissension in Taliban ranks as they choose a successor, including reports of a gun battle between rivals for the top job. If Mehsud is dead, now is the time for Pakistan to press the advantage in its own campaign in its frontier provinces before a new leader can establish control.

The attack also shows the continued utility of the U.S. drone campaign along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The CIA-controlled attacks are made with the (nonpublic) approval of Pakistan, but Pakistan leaders have complained that the U.S. cared only about pursuing Taliban who posed a threat to Afghanistan or the U.S. homeland. Mehsud focused his attacks on Pakistan itself. So the strike should underscore the U.S. argument that the Taliban pose as much a threat to Pakistan as they do to U.S. interests, while reassuring Pakistan officials that the U.S. is willing to use its assets to reduce the Taliban threat to Pakistan.

The strike also underscores that Pakistan has been an early Obama Administration foreign-policy success. Only three months ago, the Taliban were marching on Islamabad and U.S. officials were fretting about the lack of Pakistani will to resist Islamist extremism. But the U.S. worked behind the scenes to encourage a counterattack, Pakistan’s military has since retaken the Swat Valley in the north, and Mr. Zardari’s government has put aside some of its petty domestic squabbling to focus on the main enemy.

President Obama has also stepped up the pace of drone attacks, which are now thought to have killed more than a third of the top Taliban leaders. These columns reported a month ago on an intelligence report showing that the strikes are also carried out with little or no harm to civilians.

For cosmetic political reasons, the Obama Administration no longer wants to use the phrase “global war on terror.” Yet in Pakistan and Afghanistan it is fighting a more vigorous war on terrorists than did the previous Administration. Whatever you want to call it, the death of Baitullah Mehsud makes the world a safer place.
24179  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Shaking hands on: August 09, 2009, 10:55:38 PM
About 18 monts old:

A U.S. Marine squad was marching north of Fallujah when they came upon
an Iraqi terrorist, badly injured and unconscious. On the opposite side
of the road was an American Marine in a similar but less serious state.
The Marine was conscious and alert and as first aid was given to both
men, the squad leader asked the injured Marine what had happened.

The Marine reported, "I was heavily armed and moving north along the
highway here, and coming south was a heavily armed insurgent."

We saw each other and both took cover in the ditches along the road. I
yelled to him that Saddam Hussein was a miserable, lowlife scum bag who
got what he deserved, and he yelled back that Ted Kennedy is a fat,
good-for-nothing, left wing liberal drunk who doesn't know how to drive.
So I said that Osama Bin Ladin dresses and acts like a frigid,
mean-spirited lesbian! He retaliated by yelling, "Oh yeah? Well, so
does Hillary Clinton!"

"And, there we were, in the middle of the road, shaking hands, when a
truck hit us."
24180  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The pumpkin on: August 09, 2009, 08:06:22 AM
Best Come Back Line???


Police arrested Patrick Lawrence, 22-year-old white male, in a pumpkin patch, at 11:38 p.m. on Friday night.

On Monday, at the Gwinnet County (GA) courthouse,  Lawrence  was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, public indecency, and public intoxication.

The suspect explained that as he was passing a pumpkin patch on his way home from a heavy drinking session when he decided to stop. 'You know how a pumpkin is soft and squishy inside, and there was no one around for miles or at least I thought there wasn't anyone around,' he stated in a telephone interview.

Lawrence went on to say that he pulled over to the side of the road, picked out a pumpkin that he felt was appropriate to his purpose, cut a hole in it, and proceeded to satisfy his alleged need.  'Guess I was really into it, you know?' he commented with evident embarrassment. In the process of doing the deed,  Lawrence  failed to notice an approaching police car and was unaware of his audience until Officer Brenda Taylor approached him.

'It was an unusual situation, that's for sure,' said Officer Taylor. 'I walked up to  Lawrence  and he's just banging away at this pumpkin.' Officer Taylor went on to describe what happened when she approached  Lawrence.  'I said, 'Excuse me sir, but do you realize that you're having sex with a pumpkin? '

'He froze and was clearly very surprised that I was there, and then he looked me straight in the face and said...
"A pumpkin?  S*it .... is it midnight already?"'
24181  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: August 09, 2009, 12:10:42 AM
Michael Yon, to whom I have given his own thread on this nearby, comes to a similar conclusion.
24182  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Knife for Self Defense on: August 09, 2009, 12:04:28 AM
Exactly so.
24183  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine on: August 09, 2009, 12:03:54 AM

We have been in conversations with someone about providing blow out kits for us to offer here and today we forwarded to you what they sent to us for your evaluation.  Please let me know when it arrives.

24184  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: August 09, 2009, 12:00:41 AM
A very enjoyable training session today.  Today I had my Art.
24185  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: September 20, 2009 Gathering on: August 08, 2009, 11:58:36 PM
I like it!!!

Coincidentally enough I did a bit of hitting the tires with a sledgehammer today.
24186  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The market and monetary disorder on: August 08, 2009, 07:37:59 PM
Interesting piece, followed by a friend's comments:


The Stock Market and Monetary Disorder:
I’ll restate my thesis as concisely as I can (not my strong suit):  The deeply maladjusted U.S. “Bubble” economy requires $2.5 Trillion or so of net new Credit creation to stem systemic (Credit and economic Bubbles) implosion.  Only “government” (Treasury, agency debt, and GSE MBS) debt can, today, fill the gigantic void created with the bursting of the Wall Street/mortgage finance Bubble.  The private sector Credit system is severely impaired, and there is as well the reality that the market largely lost trust (loss of “moneyness”) in Wall Street obligations (private-label MBS, CDOs, ABS, auction-rate securities, etc.).  The $2.0 Trillion of U.S. “government” Credit creation coupled with the Trillion-plus expansion of Federal Reserve Credit over the past year has stabilized U.S. financial and economic systems. 

The synchronized global expansion of government deficits, state obligations, and central bank Credit amounts to an historic government finance Bubble.  Markets have thus far embraced the surge of debt issuance.  This U.S. and global reflation will have decidedly different characteristics when contrasted to previous Fed and Wall Street-induced reflations. 
First off all, the most robust inflationary biases are today domiciled in China, Asia and the emerging markets generally.  The debased dollar has provided China and the “developing” world Credit systems unprecedented capacity to inflate (expand Credit/financial claims without fear of spurring a run on their currencies).  Asian and emerging markets are outperforming, exacerbating speculative inflows.  Things that the “developing” world need (energy/commodities) and want (gold, silver, sugar, etc.) should demonstrate increasingly strong inflationary pressures.  Their overflow of dollars provides them, for now, the power to buy whatever they desire. 
Here at home, the post-Wall Street Bubble financial landscape ensures the old days of the Fed slashing rates and almost instantaneously stoking mortgage Credit, home price inflation and consumption have run their course.  Accordingly, the unfolding reflation will be of a different variety than those of the past – and, importantly, largely bypass U.S. housing.  This sets the stage for a lackluster recovery in consumption and economic revival generally.  Household sector headwinds will likely be exacerbated by higher-than-expected inflation (especially in energy and globally-traded commodities), higher taxes and rising interest rates.
There is a confluence of factors that expose the market to an upside surprised in yields.  The bond market has been overly sanguine, emboldened by the prospect of the Bernanke Fed maintaining ultra-loose monetary policy indefinitely.  Bond bulls have been further comforted by the deep structural issues overhanging both the U.S. financial system and economy.  However, massive government Credit creation has, for now, put systemic issues on hold.  Especially in Asia, unfettered Credit expansion creates the backdrop for a surprisingly speedy economic upsurge.  The weak dollar plays a major reflationary role globally, while also raising the prospect for inflationary pressures here at home.  Massive issuance, global economic resurgence, heightened inflation and a weak currency are offering increasingly tough competition to the bullish “forever loose policy” view.
Meanwhile, fixed income must gaze at the feverish equities market with disbelief – and rising trepidation.  The bond market discerns incessant economic impairment, a historic debt overhang, 9.4% unemployment, and begrudging recovery.  An intoxicated stock market ganders something altogether different, with the Morgan Stanley Retail Index up 61% y-t-d, the Morgan Stanley High Tech Index up 47%, the Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index up 52%, and the Broker/Dealers up 45%.  The bond market has been content to laugh off the silly equities game.  The chuckles may have ended today.
My secular bearish thesis rests upon a major assumption:  The U.S. economy is sustained by $2.5 Trillion (or so) of new Credit.  Only this amount will stem a downward spiral of asset prices, Credit, incomes, corporate cash flows and government finances.  On the other hand, if forthcoming, the $2.5 Trillion of additional – chiefly government-directed and non-productive - Credit will foment problematic Monetary Disorder.  In simplest terms, another bout of Credit inflation leads further down the path of unhinged market prices, destabilizing speculation, and unwieldy flows of finance.
The stock market has become illustrative of what we might experience in the way of Monetary Disorder.  Speculation has returned with a vengeance, galloping blindly ahead of fledgling little greenish shoots.  Those of the bullish persuasion contend that the marketplace is, as it should, simply discounting a rosy future.  I would counter that problematic market dynamics have taken over, with prices increasingly disconnected from reality.  In short, the market is in the midst of one major short squeeze.
There are myriad risks associated with the government’s unprecedented market interventions.  Likely not well appreciated, policymaker actions have forced the destabilizing unwind of huge positions created to hedge against systemic risk (as well as to profit from bearish bets).  This reversal of various bear positions has created enormous buying power, especially in the securities of companies (and sectors) most exposed to the Credit downturn.  The reversal of bets in the Credit default swap (and bond) market has certainly played a role.  Surging junk bond and stock prices have fed one another, as the highly leveraged and vulnerable companies provide phenomenal market returns.  The markets are today throwing "money" at the weak and leveraged.
The resulting outperformance of fundamentally weak companies spurred short covering more generally, creating a dynamic whereby heavily shorted stocks became about the best performing sector in the equities market.  This dynamic put significant pressure on so-called market neutral strategies that have proliferated over the past few years.  The strategy of attempting to own the good companies and short bad ones is faltering, likely causing a flow out of these strategies - and a self-reinforcing unwind of positions.  The “bad” stock soar and the “good” ones languish.

There’s nothing like a short squeeze panic to get the markets’ speculative juices flowing.  Many will say all’s just fine and dandy – let the fun and games continue!  My retort is that the stock market is indicative of the current dysfunctional financial backdrop.  At the end of the day, the financial system must be capable of effectively allocating finance and real resources throughout the economy.  I would argue that this is not possible for a system that congenitally misprices risk and distorts financial asset prices.  Today’s stock market will inherently finance mainly speculative Bubbles and fragility. And the core systemic problem, the maladjusted "Bubble economy," well, the financial backdrop only worsens the situation.
I have great confidence that government finance Bubble dynamics ensure ongoing distortions in the markets’ pricing of risk and, as well, a continued misallocation of resources (financial and real).  And it is increasingly clear that the stock market is embroiled in this problematic dynamic.  But that is a dilemma for another day, as surging stocks fan optimism and risk embracement – not to mention forcing many into the stock market with both nostrils plugged.  And speculative equities and Credit markets will spur increased economic output in the short-run.

Everything has been extraordinary; the boom, the bust, policymaker interventions, and now the bear market rally.  I wish I could see some mechanism in the works that will help kick our system’s addiction to easy Credit and commence the inevitable process of economic adjustment and restructuring.  Instead, I see confirmation everywhere that policy and market dynamics are working in concert to sustain the existing financial and economic structure.  I have huge doubts it will work and no doubt about the risks of failure.


The point is that massive injections of liquidity around the world have created conditions which distort the pricing mechanisms to such an extent that we can expect resource allocations to be increasingly screwed up. With artificially lowered interest rates maintained by almost all central banks, people everywhere are becoming leveraged speculators. If you can borrow money at 1 or 2% and invest it for higher returns, the amount you make is limited only by the amount of leverage you are willing to accept. With governments accepting all losses by banks and investment banks, very few constraints remain -- if any at all. Worse than that: if the central banks stop the flood of liquidity, most of these leveraged bets will quickly be revealed as uneconomic malinvestments and the world will be plunged back into crisis. Noland expects that the US government will have to continue running a $2 + trillion dollar deficit indefinitely to hold back the forces of sanity -- and prevent another crisis from breaking out. I would add that the amount of credit unleashed will actually have to grow at an accelerating rate to keep the economy from breaking, again. As Noland said "I have huge doubts it will work and no doubt about the risks of failure."
Needless to say, the government cannot continue to run a $2+ trillion dollar deficit forever without significant consequences. As I have argued in my recent blog posts, the specific nature of the next crisis will depend on decisions not yet made -- so, IMO, nobody can know what form it will take. But it will happen. Don't believe our moronic Fed Chairman -- the one who was telling us everything was great right up until he panicked and said the world would come to an end if he didn't spend a few trillion dollars to bailout his banking cronies. I think even John Maynard Keynes himself would be aghast to see the practices his "theories" have unleashed.
24187  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Candidate Ashraf Ghani on: August 08, 2009, 08:22:23 AM
Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election represents a critical test for our young democracy. It is a referendum on the lawlessness of the current regime and the future stability of our country.

Over the past five years President Hamid Karzai has turned Afghanistan into one of the world’s most failed and corrupt states. Instead of leading our country toward democracy, he has formed alliances with criminals. He has appointed governors and police chiefs who openly flout the rule of law. And he has turned a blind eye to a multibillion-dollar drug trade that has crippled growth and enabled the insurgency to flourish.

To reverse the insurgency’s gains and begin to rebuild the country, we must elect a more capable and accountable government—one that creates jobs, builds houses, and delivers on basic services like education, electricity and water. This is why I’m running for president. I believe that clear vision, dedicated leadership, careful management, and the creation of an environment of trust are the best ways to restore peace and security to Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai’s government is fiercely divided along ethnic and tribal lines. We need a system based on merit, in which every Afghan could see himself as part of the government.

My vision of an inclusive, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan is based on my experience as finance minister from 2002-04 when I worked with other Afghans to achieve real reform. In just two years we completely modernized communications. Partnering with the minister of communications, I refused to offer sweetheart deals to private companies. Instead, we insisted that private telecoms gain access to the Afghan market by paying real taxes through a transparent process. The number of mobile phones in the country jumped to over a million at the end of 2005 from just 100 in July 2002. There are now 7.5 million phones, and private investment exceeds $1 billion. Private telecom is now the second-highest generator of revenue for the government.

We can follow the model of telecom reform to boost public revenue and create as many as one million new jobs in agriculture, construction, services, mining, communication and transportation industries. We can create model economic zones by targeting provinces with the best potential for growth and increasing budget authority on the local level. And we can use the wealth we generate to build one million new housing units for families. Both my employment and housing plans will focus specifically on creating economic opportunities for our youth, our poor and women. Currently marginalized, these three groups can bring economic growth to their communities.

Women’s rights have been grossly violated in Afghanistan during the past decades. In addition to promoting women-run industries like animal husbandry and food processing, I will fight for women’s property rights, increase female participation in government, and improve women’s access to essential reproductive health care by collaborating with successful midwife programs. Investing in women’s education is a fundamental building block for any developing society and needs to be a top priority. I intend to create a women’s-only university to meet the unique needs of female students for leadership and management skills.

My experience as chancellor of Kabul University from 2005-06 convinced me of the urgency of educational reform. The most talented among our youth are taught on the basis of obsolete curricula that were current thinking at the time of their grandparents. We need to update our national curriculum to reflect contemporary science, engineering, economics, arts and law. And we must aggressively recruit from poor and rural provinces.

More than half of Afghanistan’s 33 million people live in small towns and rural communities. Developing these areas presents a formidable challenge but holds enormous potential. In 2002 I designed the comprehensive Afghan National Development Framework. This included the National Solidarity Program, which allocates block grants to local communities. Today this program has reached more than 23,000 villages in 359 of Afghanistan’s 465 districts, enabling individuals to identify, plan, manage and monitor their own development projects. It promotes good governance, empowers rural Afghans, and supports even the poorest in the community. Today the success of the this model has been recognized globally, and it is being adopted by other developing countries around the world.

It is time to get Afghanistan back on the path to peace and development that we were on from 2002-05. The current crisis was not inevitable. Mr. Karzai abandoned his responsibility to the Afghan people.

Afghanistan’s painful quest for a national consensus has led to the realization that we must both build upon and overcome our past. As inheritors of the classic civilization of Islam, we must embrace the values of tolerance, accountability, transparency, justice, the rule of law, scientific inquiry, and active engagement with other civilizations. Simultaneously, we must overcome the divisions and factions that have brought death and destruction. We appreciate the assistance of our international partners but never forget that we are responsible for our future. This election is our chance to chart that future.

Mr. Ghani is a presidential candidate in Afghanistan.
24188  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives/the American Creed on: August 08, 2009, 07:49:27 AM
Various clips of people challenging their Congressman at town hall meetings
24189  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Putin goes to Turkey on: August 08, 2009, 07:36:13 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Putin Goes to Turkey
August 7, 2009
After baring his chest for the cameras in the Siberian wilderness, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shirted up and made his way to Ankara on Thursday for a long-anticipated visit with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Putin has a close relationship with Erdogan. They meet regularly at Putin’s holiday getaway in Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, to privately discuss many topics in which any foreign intelligence agency would take considerable interest. There was much for them to discuss in Ankara, but unlike previous Putin-Erdogan summits, this meeting was meant to be in the media spotlight.

Russia and Turkey are both at critical junctures. Russia — where Putin will mark a decade in power on Sunday — is moving to lock down its influence in the former Soviet region, while the United States remains preoccupied with its wars in the Islamic world. Turkey, emerging from the 90-year geopolitical slumber that followed the Ottoman period, is in the process of rediscovering its old areas of influence in the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans and Central Asia.

With overlapping spheres of influence, Russia and Turkey must be extremely careful not to step on each other’s toes. The two have battled each other multiple times throughout history, but circumstances require them to cooperate for now. The Russians realize they have limited time to implement their agenda for Eurasia, with the United States tied up elsewhere, and they don’t need Turkey — a NATO member and critical ally for the Americans — to get in the way. The Turks, still heavily dependent on Russia for a steady energy supply, are still feeling out old stomping grounds and prioritizing expansion plans, which leaves them with little compulsion to draw Moscow’s anger.

Therefore, Putin and Erdogan have staged a high-profile meeting to show the world — Europe and the United States, in particular — that relations are progressing smoothly.

Energy deals announced Thursday were part of this show. Less than a month after Turkey signed onto the exorbitant Nabucco pipeline project (designed to ship Central Asian natural gas through the Caucasus and Turkey, bypassing Russia on the way to European markets), Erdogan — joined by Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — made a display of signing the equally ambitious South Stream pipeline deal. South Stream is designed to ship Russian natural gas through Turkey’s territorial waters in the Black Sea to Bulgaria, for distribution to Europe. The politics of the day, the technical impediments and the skyrocketing costs of both projects make both Nabucco and South Stream unfeasible for the moment.

Still, there are plenty of political implications when such hollow energy deals are announced. The Russians, who were kept informed by Erdogan that the Nabucco announcement would be made in mid-July, get to remind Western powers that their friends in Ankara won’t help them evade Russia when it comes to European energy security. Turkey gets to assert itself as an indispensable player to both the East and West — saying yes to every project, while buying time to lay the groundwork for its own geopolitical expansion. Most of all, these bilateral visits allow the Turks to demonstrate that the days when Turkey was simply a western outpost along the Russian periphery are gone, and that the country is now an independent global player in its own right.

But beneath these political atmospherics, Putin and Erdogan also had very serious matters to discuss in Ankara. War drums are beating over both Georgia and Iran: Russia is contemplating another show of force in Georgia, and the United States is pressuring Iran to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear program before September ends. These are two areas where Putin and Erdogan are likely to bump heads.

Russia, extremely irked by Washington’s seemingly flippant attitude toward its demands, is drawing attention to the levers it holds in Iran — reminding U.S. President Barack Obama of the implications of failing to take Moscow seriously. The Turks, however, have no interest in seeing a U.S.-Russian showdown over Iran that would bring further turmoil to the Middle East — especially as Ankara is charting out a course to consolidate Turkish influence in its Muslim backyard. Erdogan will continue to cooperate with Putin, but he also might be reminding him of certain levers Turkey possesses that could complicate life for the Russians if they push the envelope on Iran. The options include everything from Turkey — the gatekeeper of Black Sea access — allowing a major NATO build-up that threatens Russia, to boosting defense support for Georgia with major weapons transfers.

The Russians are still contemplating exactly how to maneuver against Washington, but at the same time, Putin is keeping Turkey in sight while determining the costs and benefits of Russia’s next move in this geopolitical chess match.
24190  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Liberal Fascism on: August 07, 2009, 11:29:44 AM
Good thing we have His Glibness rolling back the Bush era angry angry angry

This is fascism.

 angry angry angry angry angry angry angry angry angry
24191  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Corruption on: August 07, 2009, 09:49:23 AM

Reuters) – A leading Democrat in the House of Representatives who has rebuffed Republican efforts to subpoena records of a mortgage program for favored borrowers at Countrywide Financial Corp got home loans from that lender, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Representative Edolphus Towns, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, obtained two loans from Countrywide, which was bought last year by Bank of America, the newspaper said, citing information from the lawmaker's mortgage documents.

Towns has turned down calls from the committee's ranking Republican, Darrell Issa, for the panel to subpoena mortgage records showing who received loans through Countrywide's VIP program, the journal said.

The program offered loans to politically influential figures and other favored borrowers at more attractive terms than were available to the general public.

The mortgage documents on the loans to Towns contain a Countrywide address and branch number that correspond to the VIP program, the Journal reported.

Towns told the paper through a spokeswoman that his decision not to subpoena the VIP records "has nothing to do with his mortgages" and that if the mortgages came through the VIP program "it was without his knowledge."

Towns was not immediately available for comment outside regular U.S. office hours.

In June, Issa wrote to Bank of America asking it to disclose any special mortgage terms the bank's Countrywide unit gave to politically influential customers over an eight-year period. Bank of America bought Countrywide last year after the mortgage lender collapsed under the weight of bad mortgages and defaults.

Countrywide's VIP program of preferential mortgage rates was also known as the "Friends of Angelo" program, after Countrywide founder Angelo Mozilo.

In February, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, a Democrat, said he would refinance two mortgages that he took out in 2003 under Countrywide's VIP program. (Reporting by Santosh Nadgir in Bangalore, editing by Vicki Allen)
24192  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fisher Ames; Hamilton on curing heresies on: August 07, 2009, 09:14:12 AM
Freki:  Jefferson was one wise man!

"I am commonly opposed to those who modestly assume the rank of champions of liberty, and make a very patriotic noise about the people. It is the stale artifice which has duped the world a thousand times, and yet, though detected, it is still successful. I love liberty as well as anybody. I am proud of it, as the true title of our people to distinction above others; but ... I would guard it by making the laws strong enough to protect it." --Fisher Ames, letter to George Richard Minot, 1789

"In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution." --Alexander Hamilton
24193  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Both ways on: August 07, 2009, 09:12:48 AM
Another gem Rachel- thank you. 
Both Ways

One who loves must learn fear. One who fears must learn love.

The thinker must do. The doer must think. The pacifist must fight, the fighter must find peace.

If you flow as a river, burn as a fire. If you burn as a furnace, flow as a river.

If you fly as a bird, sit firm as a rock. If you sit firmly, then fly as a bird.

Be a fire that flows. A rock that flies. Love with fear and fear with love.

For we are not fire, not water, not air, not rocks, not thoughts, not deeds, not fear, not love. We are G-dly beings.
24194  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politically (In)correct on: August 06, 2009, 03:46:55 PM
Our family enjoys the products (but not the prices!!!) at the neighborhood Whole Foods supermarket.

Often there are petitioners/fundraisers of various left-liberal-new agey causes there. 

My wife reports that today there was someone a little different.   cheesy  A couple of Lyndon LaRouchers with a giant sign with a picture of His Glibness with a Hitler mustache and a caption about impeaching him over his "Nazi health plan".  My wife tells me there was quite an uproar from the clientele.   cheesy The police were called!  cheesy They were entering the store as it was time for my wife to leave.   I will look into this tomorrow  cheesy

PS:  For the record LR is fascist scum incarnate and I strongly suspect him of being a front for nefarious interests.  Still, quite a chuckle to hear of the sheeple getting in a snit over free speech.
24195  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: August 06, 2009, 12:54:00 PM
Ultimately the survival and flourishing of the American Creed is up to us:     
24196  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / You might have missed this on: August 06, 2009, 12:51:56 PM
amongst the coverage of Michael Jackson:
24197  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Respect! A hero returns home on: August 06, 2009, 12:48:15 PM     
24198  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives/the American Creed on: August 06, 2009, 12:12:25 PM

Although you make good points, my realities simply do not permit.


Exactly so.
24199  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-Georgia, Turkey, Caucasus on: August 06, 2009, 12:07:12 PM
Indications of War Preparations
Stratfor Today » August 5, 2009 | 2139 GMT

Aug. 5, 2009, is looking eerily similar to Aug. 5, 2008, in the Caucasus as the first anniversary of the Russo-Georgian war creeps closer. Just like last year, STRATFOR is closely watching the region for any signs that another war could break out.

In August 2008, war broke out between Russia and Georgia. Though the two countries had been rattling sabers for years, several key geopolitical and technical indicators convinced STRATFOR that war would indeed break out between Georgia and Russia in the summer of 2008.

Geopolitical Diary: Shades of a Second War

Aug. 5, three days before the anniversary of the start of that war, similar activity is evident. Another fracas in the Caucasus is far from inevitable, but the geopolitical conditions are ripe for Russia to make another move against Georgia. Thus, several triggers need to be monitored in the days and weeks ahead.

What follows is a list of indicators STRATFOR has been following in the Caucasus that could mean preparations for war are under way. We have also listed a few key indicators that we saw in 2008 but have yet to see this year. STRATFOR will follow up with a more analytical examination of Russia’s deeper motives for creating another crisis in the Caucasus.

In place since the August 2008 war:

Russian troops have remained inside Georgia’s secessionist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since August 2008. Russia has established facilities and a military presence consisting of roughly 1,000 troops (though the actual numbers are disputed) in each breakaway province. With these troops stationed inside Georgia, within striking distance of the country’s major east-west road and rail infrastructure and the capital city, Moscow has established a military reality in Georgia that not even the United States is currently disposed to alter. In 2008, a military exercise in North Ossetia (in Russia proper) preceded the invasion of Georgia, with the units involved in the initial thrust in a heightened state of readiness when hostilities began. Depending on the current disposition of Russian troops and their military objectives, some mobilization might be necessary for an invasion of Georgia. However, given the proximity of Russian troops to Georgia proper and the dearth of firm intelligence out of the region, such mobilization might not be detected or recognized until hostilities have already broken out.

In the last month:

STRATFOR has received unconfirmed reports that possibly 10,000 troops from Chechnya loyal to the Kremlin are in the republic of Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, following a separate security situation in the region. Though this is not directly related to Georgia, the troops are conveniently located just 31 miles from the Roki Tunnel, which is where Russia began its operations — including funneling soldiers and tanks into South Ossetia, and later Georgia — in 2008.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Georgia in late July in what was overall an embarrassment for the Georgians, since the United States did not give any noticeable meaningful support for Georgia and said it refused to sell weapons to or provide monitors for Tbilisi. However, after this trip, Biden gave an interview in which he came out verbally swinging against Moscow, stating that Russia is on a demographic and economic decline and will ultimately have to face its withering geopolitical position. This did not go unnoticed by Moscow.
While Biden was in Georgia, key Russian security and defense officials, including First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, were in South Ossetia to meet with the breakaway republic’s leadership. Several military intelligence officials also attended the meeting.

The past two weeks have seen the most noise on the South Ossetian-Georgian border since the August 2008 war. Though tensions never fully ended — gunfire has been traded sporadically across the border — there have been reports recently of mortar fire from both sides, something rarely seen since 2008.
The Georgians allegedly have planned a civilian march from Tbilisi to the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, rumored to coincide with the Aug. 8 anniversary of the war. However, it should be mentioned that plans for such a march have been made several times in previous months but failed to materialize. The South Ossetians have said any such march would be seen as an “attempted invasion.” The secessionist region has closed its border.
Russia said July 29 that this week, it could deploy unmanned aircraft in Georgia that could carry out attacks 6-15 miles inside the country. Russia also said it could send Antonov An-2 and An-3 aircraft, which are capable of carrying people and supplies to small, primitive airstrips.

Upcoming indicators and potential triggers:

Aug. 6: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will travel to Turkey to meet with his counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These two leaders — well aware of each other’s resurgent position — must thoroughly discuss any possible moves that either will make in the region, including moves in Georgia.
Aug. 8: The anniversary of the start of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
Aug. 9: The 10-year anniversary of Putin’s coming into power.
While the above indicators are firmly in place and eerily reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2008 war, there are two crucial indicators from 2008 that STRATFOR has yet to see this year:

Before hostilities erupted into full-scale war last year, the Russians dropped leaflets by air into South Ossetia and Abkhazia warning of “Georgian aggressions.” This, in effect, led to the second indicator:
There was a mass movement of civilians from South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Russia, mainly into the republic of North Ossetia. While Russia could be warning the breakaway provinces’ populations of impending conflict by other means (considering Russia now maintains a significant troop presence in both regions), STRATFOR sources in Abkhazia have yet to witness such developments on the ground.
24200  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal Issues created by the War with Islamic Fascism on: August 06, 2009, 10:33:08 AM
Michael Yon throws his weight behind a search for SF soldiers to fight habeas corpus in Afpakia.
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