Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government Programs, spending, budget process
on: April 14, 2010, 03:11:59 PM
Tea Party's rise makes perfect sense
By Robert Herbold and Scott Powell
If our elected officials were accountable to the rules they require of the private sector to ensure honest accounting, such as the standards of Generally Accepted Accounting Practices and the business reform laws of Sarbanes-Oxley, they would not only be removed from office, but many would be in jail.
Can anyone really trust the Congressional Budget Office' assessment of health care reform, wherein 10 years of taxes "balance" six years of health care benefit expenditures? How is it different from the crime committed at WorldCom about 10 years ago, in which fraudulent accounting mismatched expenses to income over the years in which they were incurred? The new health care bureaucracy will likely drive cost overruns like every other entitlement, but obviously "ObamaCare" goes negative in Year 11 and beyond.
Even before passage of health care reform, the public understood that Medicare and Medicaid are going bankrupt. The year-long debate didn't address that, but it helped voters see the government's accounting tricks to shift the liability of Medicare off the budget to suit politics. This deceptive accounting eventually will facilitate the bankruptcy of the United States as surely as the off-balance sheet liabilities brought down companies like Enron.
No doubt Bernard Madoff gets the Heisman Trophy for white-collar crime. But his Ponzi fraud that robbed the public of some $50 billion is dwarfed by the Social Security system that is a classic Ponzi scheme, in which present and future retiree claims cannot be met by those entering and currently paying into the system.
Fannie, Freddie and Co.
And consider the recent debt-driven meltdown that caused the worst recession since the 1930s. The legislators who opened the floodgates for the proliferation of subprime debt by pushing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to lower their portfolio standards were never held accountable. Fannie and Freddie required a $100 billion bailout (and counting) from taxpayers, but the lawmakers — well, they got promoted to chair the committees in charge of solving the problems they helped create.
Is it really any wonder that a "Tea Party" movement was born a year ago? What kind of government are we getting for the taxes we pay April 15? The fact that the Tea Party has gained center stage in American politics just one year from its founding reveals the breadth of lost public trust. Career Democrats and Republicans have too long been in denial of the elephant they brought into the living room — a dependency on buying votes without regard to deficits or debt. And now President Obama, the emperor who claimed to be committed to rolling back lobbyists, earmarks and profligacy with transparency and bipartisanship, has revealed for all to see that he has no clothes and that, in true Chicago style, the ends justify the means.
Incumbent politicians from both parties are now vulnerable — especially those visibly tied to the corrupting influence of big-money special interests. The obvious need to cut government spending is abrogated by these lobbyists who control funding for politicians' re-election campaigns. Each party has different entrenched constituent lobbyists. But their net effect drives ever more government spending, taxes and debt. As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noted in recent testimony before Congress, this burdens the private sector and edges the country ever closer to insolvency.
A quiet calamity
The watchmen to shine the light on all this abuse used to be the press. But in a media culture that embraces celebrity, sound bites and — yes — political correctness, the nation's slide toward financial ruin just didn't get the attention it most certainly deserved. Many reporters were all too happy to vilify the culprits of capitalism, as with WorldCom, Enron and the like, and to crowd the courthouses for the CEO perp walks. But they should have spent just as much energy taking to task the government players who enabled this financial catastrophe.
So what's to be done? The blatant disrespect for the will of the majority and the Constitution is setting up the November elections as a momentous turning point. Common sense truth that resonates with peoples' deepest concerns is very powerful as demonstrated in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Voters' instincts are to protect their children and grandchildren, and nothing will get out the vote better than candidates who articulate a vision of freedom and opportunity that cuts spending, streamlines benefits and once and for all puts America's financial house in order.
Robert Herbold is a retired COO of Microsoft Corp. and managing director of the Herbold Group LLC. Scott Powell is director at AlphaQuest and RemingtonRand and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Palin Inc
on: April 14, 2010, 01:37:04 PM
By JOHN FUND
No one knows if Sarah Palin is running for president in 2012, but we do know her decision to resign as governor of Alaska has brought her a bonanza of riches she couldn't have tapped if she had remained in her $125,000-a-year government job.
ABC News estimates that since she left the governor's office just eight short months ago, Ms. Palin has brought in at least 100 times her old annual salary -- or a minimum of $12 million. Her best-selling book, "Going Rogue," was sold to Harper Collins for an estimated $7 million, her deal with Fox News is said to be worth up to $2 million, and she will make about $250,000 an episode for an eight-part Learning Channel show on the culture and sights of Alaska.
Then there are the paid speaking engagements. While Ms. Palin does many events for free or donates the proceeds to charity, she's still hauling in several six-figure fees for speeches to groups ranging from economic conferences to university gatherings. Her clients have included the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, the Complete Woman Expo, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, and the Sierra-Cascade Logging Conference. Tomorrow, she will cross the border into Canada to speak for an estimated $200,000 at a fundraising dinner for a cancer center and hospital near Toronto. Tickets, priced at $200 each, have sold out.
At the same time, Ms. Palin's political action committee is raising decent but unspectacular amounts. SarahPAC raised $400,000 in the first quarter of this year, a haul smaller than similar PACs run by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty ($566,000) and Mitt Romney ($1.45 million). Both men are likely candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
All in all, the available evidence is that Ms. Palin's Excellent Adventure Tour is bringing in too much fun and profit for her to consider giving it up as early as next year to run for president. At age 46, she has the luxury of securing her financial future, repairing cracks in her credibility from the 2008 campaign and waiting for another year to run for president. If I had to bet, she'll still be running for the gold in 2012 rather than the presidential brass ring.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: How to cut government spending
on: April 14, 2010, 01:08:33 PM
Glenn Beck made an interesting point last night concerning Social Security, and I paraphrase:
Its not a pension. It is Social Security INSURANCE. What is insurance for? Unexpected events. The unexpected event at the time SS was created was to outlive one's money. IIRC what he said, the life span was 62 at the time, and SS kicked in at 65. Now our life span averages 75 for men and 80 for women.
Bottom line, the age at which SS kicks in needs to be moved upwards. Certainly we should not change the rules for those close to 65, but overall the qualifying age needs to be moved upwards.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Friedman
on: April 14, 2010, 01:01:02 PM
I often find Thomas Friedman to be rather fatuous, and so hesitate to post this, but WTH, this seemed interesting to me:
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalink By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: April 13, 2010
There are many differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, but they do resemble each other in one critical way. In both countries, the “bad guys,” the violent jihadists, are losing. And in both countries, it still is not clear if the “good guys” will really turn out to be good.
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And the big question the Obama team is facing in both countries is: Should we care? Should we care if these countries are run by decent leaders or by drug-dealing, oil-stealing extras from “The Sopranos” — as long as we can just get out? At this stage, alas, we have to care — and here’s why.
I’ve read a lot of analyses lately criticizing President Obama and Vice President Biden for coming down so hard on Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s corruption. Karzai’s the best we’ve got, goes the argument. He’s helped us in our primary objective of degrading Al Qaeda and done good things, like opening schools for girls. Sure, he stole his election, but he is still more popular than anyone else in Afghanistan and would have won anyway. (Then why did he have to steal it? Never mind.)
This line echoes the realist arguments during the cold war as to why we had to support various tyrants. What mattered inside their countries was not important, the argument went. What mattered is where they lined up outside in our great struggle against Soviet Communism.
The Bush team took this kind of “neo-realist” approach to Afghanistan. It had no desire to do state-building there. Once Karzai was installed, President Bush ignored the corruption of Karzai and his cronies. All the Bush team wanted was for Karzai to hold the country together so the U.S. could use it as a base to go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Frankly, this low-key approach made a lot of sense to me because I never thought Afghanistan was that important. But, unfortunately, the Karzai government became so rotten and incapable of delivering services that many Afghans turned back to the Taliban.
So the Obama team came with a new strategy: We have to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan if we are going to keep Al Qaeda in check there and in Pakistan — and the only way to do that is by clearing them out of the towns and installing decent Afghan police, judges and bureaucrats — i.e., good governance — in the Taliban’s wake. Obama’s view is that, to some degree, idealism is the new realism in Afghanistan: To protect our hard-core interests, to achieve even our limited goals of quashing Al Qaeda and its allies, we have to do something that looks very idealistic — deliver better governance for Afghans.
I still wish we had opted for a less intrusive alternative; I’m still skeptical about the whole thing. But I understand the logic of the Obama strategy and, given that logic, he was right to chastise Karzai — even publicly. If decent governance is the key to our strategy, it is important that Afghans see and hear where we stand on these issues. Otherwise, where will they find the courage to stand up for better governance? We need to bring along the whole society. Never forget, the Karzai regime’s misgovernance is the reason we’re having to surge anew in Afghanistan. Karzai is both the cause and the beneficiary of the surge. I’m sure the surge will beat the bad guys, but if the “good guys” are no better, it will all be for naught.
In the cold war all that mattered was whether a country was allied with us. What matters in Obama’s war in Afghanistan is whether the Afghan people are allied with their own government and each other. Only then can we get out and leave behind something stable, decent and self-sustaining.
Unlike Afghanistan, the war in Iraq was, at its core, always driven more by idealism than realism. It was sold as being about W.M.D. But, in truth, it was really a rare exercise in the revolutionary deployment of U.S. power. The immediate target was to topple Saddam’s genocidal dictatorship. But the bigger objective was to help Iraqis midwife a democratic model that could inspire reform across the Arab-Muslim world and give the youth there a chance at a better future. Again, the Iraq story is far from over, but one does have to take heart at the recent elections there and the degree to which Iraqi voters favored multiethnic, modernizing parties.
So, while Obama came to office looking at both Iraq and Afghanistan as places where we need to be focused more on protecting our interests than promoting our ideals, he’s finding himself, now in office, having to promote a more idealist approach to both. The world will be a better place if it works, but it will require constant vigilance. When Karzai tries to gut an independent election commission, that matters. When the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, refuses to accept a vote count certified by the U.N. that puts him in second place, that matters.
As I have said before, friends don’t let friends drive drunk — especially when we’re still in the back seat alongside an infant named Democracy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers:
on: April 13, 2010, 02:21:07 PM
Good one Freki.
Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson!
"Jealousy, and local policy mix too much in all our public councils for the good government of the Union. In a words, the confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance...." --George Washington, letter to James Warren, 1785
"A local spirit will infallibly prevail much more in the members of Congress than a national spirit will prevail in the legislatures of the particular States." --James Madison, Federalist No. 46
"Next Monday the Convention in Virginia will assemble; we have still good hopes of its adoption here: though by no great plurality of votes. South Carolina has probably decided favourably before this time. The plot thickens fast. A few short weeks will determine the political fate of America for the present generation, and probably produce no small influence on the happiness of society through a long succession of ages to come." --George Washington, letter to Marquis de Lafayette, 1788
"[G]iving [Congress] a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole [Constitution] to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly, no such universal power was meant to be given them." --Thomas Jefferson
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. ... t is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable -- and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!" --Patrick Henry
"Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them." --Thomas Jefferson
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson, fair copy of the drafts of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798
"If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one." --James Madison
"It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution." --James Madison, Federalist No. 37
"If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws - the first growing out of the last." --Alexander Hamilton
"In the formation of our constitution the wisdom of all ages is collected -- the legislators are antiquity are consulted, as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. It short, it is an empire of reason." --Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787
"It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors." --George Washington
"It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune. This necessity however exists; and the problem to be solved is, not what form of Government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect." --James Madison
"The example of changing a constitution by assembling the wise men of the state, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we had give them. The constitution, too, which was the result of our deliberation, is unquestionably the wisest ever yet presented to men." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to David Humphreys, 1789
"The deliberate union of so great and various a people in such a place, is without all partiality or prejudice, if not the greatest exertion of human understanding, the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen." --John Adams, quoted in a letter from Rufus King to Theophilus Parsons, 1788
"Whatever enables us to go to war, secures our peace." --Thomas Jefferson
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The Russian Resurgence
on: April 13, 2010, 02:12:30 PM
by Lauren Goodrich
This past week saw another key success in Russia’s resurgence in former Soviet territory when pro-Russian forces took control of Kyrgyzstan.
The Kyrgyz revolution was quick and intense. Within 24 hours, protests that had been simmering for months spun into countrywide riots as the president fled and a replacement government took control. The manner in which every piece necessary to exchange one government for another fell into place in such a short period discredits arguments that this was a spontaneous uprising of the people in response to unsatisfactory economic conditions. Instead, this revolution appears prearranged.
A Prearranged Revolution
Opposition forces in Kyrgyzstan have long held protests, especially since the Tulip Revolution in 2005 that brought recently ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power. But various opposition groupings never were capable of pulling off such a full revolution — until Russia became involved.
In the weeks before the revolution, select Kyrgyz opposition members visited Moscow to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. STRATFOR sources in Kyrgyzstan reported the pervasive, noticeable presence of Russia’s Federal Security Service on the ground during the crisis, and Moscow readied 150 elite Russian paratroopers the day after the revolution to fly into Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan. As the dust began to settle, Russia endorsed the still-coalescing government.
There are quite a few reasons why Russia would target a country nearly 600 miles from its borders (and nearly 1,900 miles from capital to capital), though Kyrgyzstan itself is not much of a prize. The country has no economy or strategic resources to speak of and is highly dependent on all its neighbors for foodstuffs and energy. But it does have a valuable geographic location.
Central Asia largely comprises a massive steppe of more than a million square miles, making the region easy to invade. The one major geographic feature other than the steppe are the Tien Shan mountains, a range that divides Central Asia from South Asia and China. Nestled within these mountains is the Fergana Valley, home to most of Central Asia’s population due to its arable land and the protection afforded by the mountains. The Fergana Valley is the core of Central Asia.
Click image to enlarge
To prevent this core from consolidating into the power center of the region, the Soviets sliced up the Fergana Valley between three countries. Uzbekistan holds the valley floor, Tajikistan the entrance to the valley and Kyrgyzstan the highlands surrounding the valley. Kyrgyzstan lacks the economically valuable parts of the valley, but it does benefit from encircling it. Control of Kyrgyzstan equals control of the valley, and hence of Central Asia’s core.
Moreover, the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek is only 120 miles from Kazakhstan’s largest city (and historic and economic capital), Almaty. The Kyrgyz location in the Tien Shan also gives Kyrgyzstan the ability to monitor Chinese moves in the region. And its highlands also overlook China’s Tarim Basin, part of the contentious Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Given its strategic location, control of Kyrgyzstan offers the ability to pressure Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Kyrgyzstan is thus a critical piece in Russia’s overall plan to resurge into its former Soviet sphere.
The Russian Resurgence
Russia’s resurgence is a function of its extreme geographic vulnerability. Russia lacks definable geographic barriers between it and other regional powers. The Russian core is the swath of land from Moscow down into the breadbasket of the Volga region. In medieval days, this area was known as Muscovy. It has no rivers, oceans or mountains demarcating its borders. Its only real domestic defenses are its inhospitable weather and dense forests. This led to a history of endless invasions, including depredations by everyone from Mongol hordes to Teutonic knights to the Nazis.
To counter this inherent indefensibility, Russia historically has adopted the principle of expansion. Russia thus has continually sought to expand far enough to anchor its power in a definable geographic barrier — like a mountain chain — or to expand far enough to create a buffer between itself and other regional powers. This objective of expansion has been the key to Russia’s national security and its ability to survive. Each Russian leader has understood this. Ivan the Terrible expanded southwest into the Ukrainian marshlands, Catherine the Great into the Central Asian steppe and the Tien Shan and the Soviet Union into much of Eastern and Central Europe.
Russia’s expansion has been in four strategic directions. The first is to the north and northeast to hold the protection offered by the Ural Mountains. This strategy is more of a “just-in-case” expansion. Thus, in the event Moscow should ever fall, Russia can take refuge in the Urals and prepare for a future resurgence. Stalin used this strategy in World War II when he relocated many of Russia’s industrial towns to Ural territory to protect them from the Nazi invasion.
The second is to the west toward the Carpathians and across the North European Plain. Holding the land up to the Carpathians — traditionally including Ukraine, Moldova and parts of Romania — creates an anchor in Europe with which to protect Russia from the southwest. Meanwhile, the North European Plain is the one of the most indefensible routes into Russia, offering Russia no buffer. Russia’s objective has been to penetrate as deep into the plain as possible, making the sheer distance needed to travel across it toward Russia a challenge for potential invaders.
The third direction is south to the Caucasus. This involves holding both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges, creating a tough geographic barrier between Russia and regional powers Turkey and Iran. It also means controlling Russia’s Muslim regions (like Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan), as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The fourth is to the east and southeast into Siberia and Central Asia. The Tien Shan mountains are the only geographic barrier between the Russian core and Asia; the Central Asian steppe is, as its name implies, flat until it hits Kyrgyzstan’s mountains.
With the exception of the North European Plain, Russia’s expansion strategy focuses on the importance of mountains — the Carpathians, the Caucasus and Tien Shan — as geographic barriers. Holding the land up to these definable barriers is part of Russia’s greater strategy, without which Russia is vulnerable and weak.
The Russia of the Soviet era attained these goals. It held the lands up to these mountain barriers and controlled the North European Plain all the way to the West German border. But its hold on these anchors faltered with the fall of the Soviet Union. This collapse began when Moscow lost control over the fourteen other states of the Soviet Union. The Soviet disintegration did not guarantee, of course, that Russia would not re-emerge in another form. The West — and the United States in particular — thus saw the end of the Cold War as an opportunity to ensure that Russia would never re-emerge as the great Eurasian hegemon.
To do this, the United States began poaching among the states between Russia and its geographic barriers, taking them out of the Russian sphere in a process that ultimately would see Russian influence contained inside the borders of Russia proper. To this end, Washington sought to expand its influence in the countries surrounding Russia. This began with the expansion of the U.S. military club, NATO, into the Baltic states in 2004. This literally put the West on Russia’s doorstep (at their nearest point, the Baltics are less than 100 miles from St. Petersburg) on one of Russia’s weakest points on the North European Plain.
Washington next encouraged pro-American and pro-Western democratic movements in the former Soviet republics. These were the so-called “color revolutions,” which began in Georgia in 2003 and moved on to Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005. This amputated Russia’s three mountain anchors.
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine proved a breaking point in U.S.-Russian relations, however. At that point, Moscow recognized that the United States was seeking to cripple Russia permanently. After Ukraine turned orange, Russia began to organize a response.
The Window of Opportunity
Russia received a golden opportunity to push back on U.S. influence in the former Soviet republics and redefine the region thanks to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the crisis with Iran. Its focus on the Islamic world has left Washington with a limited ability to continue picking away at the former Soviet space or to counter any Russian responses to Western influence. Moscow knows Washington won’t stay fixated on the Islamic world for much longer, which is why Russia has accelerated its efforts to reverse Western influence in the former Soviet sphere and guarantee Russian national security.
In the past few years, Russia has worked to roll back Western influence in the former Soviet sphere country by country. Moscow has scored a number of major successes in 2010. In January, Moscow signed a customs union agreement to economically reintegrate Russia with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Also in January, a pro-Russian government was elected in Ukraine. And now, a pro-Russian government has taken power in Kyrgyzstan.
The last of these countries is an important milestone for Moscow, given that Russia does not even border Kyrgyzstan. This indicates Moscow must be secure in its control of territory from the Russian core across the Central Asian Steppe.
As it seeks to roll back Western influence, Russia has tested a handful of tools in each of the former Soviet republics. These have included political pressure, social instability, economic weight, energy connections, security services and direct military intervention. Thus far, the pressure brought on by its energy connections — as seen in Ukraine and Lithuania — has proved most useful. Russia has used the cutoffs of supplies to hurt the countries and garner a reaction from Europe against these states. The use of direct military intervention — as seen in Georgia — also has proved successful, with Russia now holding a third of that country’s land. Political pressure in Belarus and Kazakhstan has pushed the countries into signing the aforementioned customs union. And now with Kyrgyzstan, Russia has proved willing to take a page from the U.S. playbook and spark a revolution along the lines of the pro-Western color revolutions. Russian strategy has been tailor-made for each country, taking into account their differences to put them into Moscow’s pocket — or at least make them more pragmatic toward Russia.
Thus far, Russia has nearly returned to its mountain anchors on each side, though it has yet to sew up the North European Plain. And this leaves a much stronger Russia for the United States to contend with when Washington does return its gaze to Eurasia.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe
on: April 13, 2010, 01:03:13 PM
Russia's efforts to reassert influence along its territorial periphery are currently evident in numerous ways. A customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus -- which took effect on Jan. 1, 2010 -- was quickly followed by elections in Ukraine, which brought a pro-Russian president to power in February. Last week, a revolt in Kyrgyzstan toppled the government of independent-minded President Kurmanbek Bakiyev; the speed with which an interim government was formed and Russian troops were flown into the country has strongly suggested that Moscow helped to orchestrate events in Bishkek. And to the west, a "charm offensive" launched months ago, in hopes of softening anti-Russian sentiments in Poland, has gained new traction following the deaths of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and dozens of military, economic and political officials in an April 10 plane crash near Smolensk.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: April 13, 2010, 12:21:33 PM
Power Line Bloghttp://www.powerlineblog.com
CIA spies and Dartmouth deans
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April 9, 2010 Posted by Scott at 5:24 AM
Ishmael Jones is the pseudonymous former Central Intelligence Agency case officer who focused on human sources with access to intelligence on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. His assignments included more than 15 years of continuous overseas service under deep cover. He is the author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published by Encounter Books and just out in paperback.
We invited Mr. Jones to write something for us on a theme related to his book. He has followed up with the following post on a subject close to our heart:
A challenge to free societies today is the growth in size, power, and cost of highly paid, non-producing administrators and bureaucrats. These Soviet-style nomenklatura classes can stifle the fundamental missions of organizations. As a former CIA officer involved in intelligence reform, much of the work I do is aimed at the systemic control of bureaucracy.
In the CIA, bureaucracy weakens intelligence collection and makes Americans vulnerable to attack. At a college such as Dartmouth, which Power Line editors have followed closely, bureaucracy must be carefully monitored or it will hinder undergraduate education.
Study of the CIA's clandestine service is helpful in the analysis of other organizations because its use of secrecy, essential for conducting espionage operations, also allows it to avoid accountability. It is a Petri dish that shows how bureaucracy can grow if unimpeded.
Bureaucracy perverts human nature. The CIA is filled with brave, talented, patriotic, and energetic people, but the system does not encourage clandestine work. Clandestine work is hard and lonely, and it takes place in dingy hotel rooms in dysfunctional countries, far from family. Any CIA officer who goes to hunt bin Laden, for example, will be living in tough and dangerous conditions for long periods of time. Absence from CIA headquarters means the officer will not develop the connections, friendships and administrative skills necessary for advancement. Any CIA officer who goes to hunt bin Laden will return years later, unknown and unpromoteable. Espionage has come to be regarded as low-level work, meant for newly trained employees or the naive. It's much better to become a headquarters manager, with regular hours, low stress, plenty of time with the family, and stronger promotion possibilities.
At an educational institution like Dartmouth, which like many universities has seen a dramatic increase in administrative staff, an administrative job can be attractive. If a dean is considered more important than an educator, there will be strong pressure to create more positions for deans and to become a dean oneself. Undergraduate education means hard work. Undergraduates can be exasperating and rebellious. At the end of each term they might write unpleasant evaluations of professors which can be read by everyone on campus. It's much better to seek power, rank, and closer access to Dartmouth 's president and board by becoming an administrator.
I once attended a meeting at CIA headquarters with a group of bureaucrats and was astonished to see that an admired friend and colleague had joined their ranks. He'd once done brave work in tracking nuclear proliferators in Africa . We laughed about his transition to bureaucrat, and he apologized for his sloth, but pointed out that his new path led to promotion, more money, and the chance to make big bucks some day through CIA contracts. He'd found a job for his wife as an administrator as well, and she sat in a nearby office. The CIA finds it easier to live a bureaucratic lifestyle within the United States - no getting arrested by foreign intelligence services, no hassles, clean drinking water. More than 90% of CIA employees now live and work entirely within the United States , which is in violation of the CIA's charter. The number of effective CIA officers operating overseas under deep cover is almost insignificant.
Professional relationships don't need much of the administrative support that bureaucracy thrives upon. Good intelligence can usually be sent directly to the person who needs it - the President, military commanders, law enforcement - without much supervision. Bureaucrats just slow it down. Intelligence on the "Underwear Bomber" was available at the US embassy in Nigeria in November 2009, thanks to the bomber's father, but the information could not be pushed through the masses of supervisors during the five weeks before the bomber boarded the plane.
Professional educators, like CIA officers, require little supervision and should not be burdened with excessive deans and other administrative personnel. Dartmouth professors such as John Rassias, renowned for his decades of close interaction with students, need little supervision. More importantly, such educators should not be removed from their fundamental work to become administrators themselves.
The real dollar cost of bureaucrats is much greater than their salaries and benefits alone, because bureaucrats strive to look busy and to rise within the establishment, to control more funds and people. So they invent programs. A CIA contractor may take home $300k and his or her spouse another $300, with benefits at perhaps another $50k. We can still bear this burden. What we cannot bear are the $100 million programs these people create in order to advance themselves. Programs crowd out real espionage, which doesn't cost much. Good operations need only the cost of hotel rooms, airline tickets, and payments to sources.
If highly paid employees at a college are not involved in education, then what are they doing? I suspect many are doing the same things that CIA managers do in Washington , DC: attending meetings, drawing up budgets, jockeying for position and influence, solidifying their political power, and doing whatever it takes to look busy.
Bureaucracy's effect on human nature is fascinating. Its growth into a living creature within the CIA provides important lessons and warnings for the design and leadership of other institutions.
Mr. Jones has set up a site for his book here. He writes that all book profits go to veterans' charities.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Trash
on: April 13, 2010, 12:10:29 PM
Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
HORSHOLM, Denmark — The lawyers and engineers who dwell in an elegant
enclave here are at peace with the hulking neighbor just over the back
fence: a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage
and industrial waste, round the clock.
A plant in Horsholm, Denmark, uses new technology to convert trash into
energy more cleanly.
The Vestforbraending plant in Copenhagen, the largest of the 29
waste-to-energy plants in Denmark. Their use has reduced the country's
Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts
local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants,
from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a
In that time, such plants have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal
and a crucial fuel source across Denmark, from wealthy exurbs like Horsholm
to Copenhagen’s downtown area. Their use has not only reduced the country’s
energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the
environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide
emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now
released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.
With all these innovations, Denmark now regards garbage as a clean
alternative fuel rather than a smelly, unsightly problem. And the
incinerators, known as waste-to-energy plants, have acquired considerable
cachet as communities like Horsholm vie to have them built.
Denmark now has 29 such plants, serving 98 municipalities in a country of
5.5 million people, and 10 more are planned or under construction. Across
Europe, there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the
Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones.
By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the
United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the
federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way
for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There
are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of
more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years
Instead, distant landfills remain the end point for most of the nation’s
trash. New York City alone sends 10,500 tons of residential waste each day
to landfills in places like Ohio and South Carolina.
“Europe has gotten out ahead with this newest technology,” said Ian A.
Bowles, a former Clinton administration official who is now the
Massachusetts state secretary of energy.
Still, Mr. Bowles said that as America’s current landfills topped out and
pressure to reduce heat-trapping gases grew, Massachusetts and some other
states were “actively considering” new waste-to-energy proposals; several
existing plants are being expanded. He said he expected resistance all the
same in a place where even a wind turbine sets off protests.
Why Americans Are Reluctant
Matt Hale, director of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery of
the United States Environmental Protection Agency, said the reasons that
waste-to-energy plants had not caught on nationally were the relative
abundance of cheap landfills in a large country, opposition from state
officials who feared the plants could undercut recycling programs and a
“negative public perception.” In the United States, individual states and
municipalities generally decide what method to use to get rid of their
Still, a 2009 study by the E.P.A. and North Carolina State University
scientists came down strongly in favor of waste-to-energy plants over
landfills as the most environmentally friendly destination for urban waste
that cannot be recycled. Embracing the technology would not only reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution, but also yield copious
electricity, it said.
Yet powerful environmental groups have fought the concept passionately.
“Incinerators are really the devil,” said Laura Haight, a senior
environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Investing in garbage as a green resource is simply perverse when governments
should be mandating recycling, she said. “Once you build a waste-to-energy
plant, you then have to feed it. Our priority is pushing for zero waste.”
The group has vigorously opposed building a plant in New York City.
Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has championed green initiatives and
ranked Copenhagen’s waste-fueled heating on his list of environmental “best
practices,” has shied away from proposing to get one built.
“It is not currently being pursued — not because of the technology, which
has advanced, but because of the issue in selecting sites to build
incinerators,” said Jason Post, the mayor’s deputy press secretary on
environmental issues. “It’s a Nimby issue. It would take years of hearings
Nickolas J. Themelis, a professor of engineering at Columbia University and
a waste-to-energy proponent, said America’s resistance to constructing the
new plants was economically and environmentally “irresponsible.”
“It’s so irrational; I’ve almost given up with New York,” he said. “It’s
like you’re in a village of Hottentots who look up and see an airplane —
when everybody else is using airplanes — and they say, ‘No, we won’t do it,
it’s too scary.’ ”
Acceptance in Denmark
Attitudes could hardly be more different in Denmark, where plants are placed
in the communities they serve, no matter how affluent, so that the heat of
burning garbage can be efficiently piped into homes.
Planners take pains to separate residential traffic from trucks delivering
garbage, and some of the newest plants are encased in elaborate outer shells
that resemble sculptures.
“New buyers are usually O.K. with the plant,” said Hans Rast, president of
the homeowners’ association in Horsholm, who cut a distinguished figure in
corduroy slacks and a V-neck sweater as he poured coffee in a living room of
white couches and Oriental rugs.
“What they like is that they look out and see the forest,” he said. (The
living rooms in this enclave of town houses face fields and trees, while the
plant is roughly some 400 yards over a back fence that borders the homes’
carports). The lower heating costs don’t hurt, either. Eighty percent of
Horsholm’s heat and 20 percent of its electricity come from burning trash.
Many countries that are expanding waste-to-energy capacity, like Denmark and
Germany, typically also have the highest recycling rates; only the material
that cannot be recycled is burned.
Waste-to-energy plants do involve large upfront expenditures, and tight
credit can be a big deterrent. Harrisburg, Pa., has been flirting with
bankruptcy because of a $300 million loan it took to reopen and refit an old
public incinerator with the new technology.
But hauling trash is expensive, too. New York City paid $307 million last
year to export more than four million tons of waste, mostly to landfills in
distant states, Mr. Post said. Although the city is trying to move more of
its trash by train or barge, much of it travels by truck, with heavy fuel
In 2009, a small portion of the city’s trash was processed at two
1990-vintage waste-to-energy plants in Newark and Hempstead, N.Y., owned by
a private company, Covanta. The city pays $65 a ton for the service — the
cheapest available way for New York City to get rid of its trash. Sending
garbage to landfills is more expensive: the city’s costliest current method
is to haul waste by rail to a landfill in Virginia.
While new, state-of-the-art landfills do collect the methane that emanates
from rotting garbage to make electricity, they churn out roughly twice as
much climate-warming gas as waste-to-energy plants do for the units of power
they produce, the 2009 E.P.A. study found. Methane, the primary warming gas
emitted by landfills, is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the
gas released by burning garbage.
The study also concluded that waste-to-energy plants produced lower levels
of pollutants than the best landfills did, but nine times the energy.
Although new landfills are lined to prevent leaks of toxic substances and
often capture methane, the process is highly inefficient, it noted.
Laws Spur New Technology
In Europe, environmental laws have hastened the development of
waste-to-energy programs. The European Union severely restricts the creation
of new landfill sites, and its nations already have binding commitments to
reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 2012 under the international pact
known as the Kyoto Protocol, which was never ratified by the United States.
Garbage cannot easily be placed out of sight, out of mind in Europe’s
smaller, densely populated countries, as it so often is in the United
States. Many of the 87 waste-to-energy plants in the United States are in
densely populated areas like Long Island and Cape Cod.
While these plants are generally two decades old, many have been
progressively retrofitted with new pollution filters, though few produce
both heat and power like the newest Danish versions.
In Horsholm only 4 percent of waste now goes to landfills, and 1 percent
(chemicals, paints and some electronic equipment) is consigned to “special
disposal” in places like secure storage vaults in an abandoned salt mine in
Germany. Sixty-one percent of the town’s waste is recycled and 34 percent is
incinerated at waste-to-energy plants.
Page 3 of 3)
From a pollution perspective, today’s energy-generating incinerators have
little in common with the smoke-belching models of the past. They have
arrays of newly developed filters and scrubbers to capture the offending
chemicals — hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins,
furans and heavy metals — as well as small particulates.
Emissions from the plants in all categories have been reduced to just 10 to
20 percent of levels allowed under the European Union’s strict environmental
standards for air and water discharges.
At the end of the incineration process, the extracted acids, heavy metals
and gypsum are sold for use in manufacturing or construction. Small amounts
of highly concentrated toxic substances, forming a paste, are shipped to one
of two warehouses for highly hazardous materials, in the Norwegian fjords
and in a used salt mine in Germany.
“The hazardous elements are concentrated and handled with care rather than
dispersed as they would be in a landfill,” said Ivar Green-Paulsen, general
manager of the Vestforbraending plant in Copenhagen, the country’s largest.
In Denmark, local governments run trash collection as well as the
incinerators and recycling centers, and laws and financial incentives ensure
that recyclable materials are not burned. (In the United States most
waste-to-energy plants are private ventures.) Communities may drop
recyclable waste at recycling centers free of charge, but must pay to have
At Vestforbraending, trucks stop on scales for weighing and payment before
dumping their contents. The trash is randomly searched for recyclable
material, with heavy fines for offenders.
The homeowners’ association in Horsholm has raised what its president, Mr.
Rast, called “minor issues” with the plant, like a bright light on the
chimney that shone into some bedrooms, and occasional truck noise. But
mostly, he said, it is a respected silent neighbor, producing no noticeable
The plant, owned by five adjacent communities, has even proved popular in a
conservative region with Denmark’s highest per-capita income. Morten
Slotved, 40, Horsholm’s mayor, is trying to expand it. “Constituents like it
because it decreases heating costs and raises home values,” he said with a
smile. “I’d like another furnace.”
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Silat
on: April 13, 2010, 11:29:35 AM
Cuando yo fui' un juez en UFC 10, el "referee" (?Como se dice?) Big John McCarthy me decia que hubo un luchador de silat en UFC 2 en una pelea no televisada. El me prometia mandar un video de la pelea, pero, como es comun en ese vida
eso no ocurria. Por casualidad, ayer alguien me dio el URL de ese pelea en youtube:
"You're probably referring to Alberto Cerro Leon, a Pentjak Silat stylist from Spain that competed in UFC 2. He lost in the first round to Remco Pardoel, a 260 lb Dutch judoka. He didn't show much prowess in terms of standup & he was quickly thrown when he tried to hop on Remco's back, but on bottom he managed to hang in there for almost 10 min before he got choked out. Here's the vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRbXRq2wgHk
I also found an interview with Leon where he talks about his background in Silat and his experience in UFC 2 - it's in Spanish, about a quarter of the way down the page (frames 5, 6, 7): http://kickboxingmma.freehostia.com/...IADEPRENSA.htm
La Aventura continua!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe
on: April 12, 2010, 05:21:46 PM
Didn't Russia just foment the overthrow the govt of Krygyztan (sp?) where we have a now suspended base vital to supply the Afghan War?
Isn't this the same Russia that invaded Georgia without consequence?
Isn't this the same Russia that uses its status as a natural gas supplier to squeeze and nudge Europe towards desired behaviors?
Isn't this the same Russia that just backed down the US from anti-missile defense for Europe from Iranian attack?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor
on: April 12, 2010, 11:21:17 AM
Russia’s presidential representative in the Central Federal District, Georgy Poltavchenko, said late April 10 that the Polish flight crew of the crashed presidential plane had been advised by Russian air traffic controllers to deviate from their flight plan to Smolensk and land in Minsk or Vitebsk in Belarus. This was later echoed by Russian Transportation Minister Igor Levitin, who said that the decision to land the plane was taken by the Polish pilot, which has been confirmed by flight recordings recovered from the crash site. According to Levitin, the visibility at the airport was 400 meters due to heavy fog, whereas the required landing visibility is at least 1,000 meters. Levitin also said the two flight recorders will be taken to Moscow where they will be examined in cooperation with Polish investigators. According to STRATFOR sources in Poland, the decision to land in Smolensk, and not in Belarus, may have been influenced by the fact that the ceremonies marking the 70-year anniversary of the Katyn massacre were due to take place within an hour of the supposed landing. In addition, the Tu-154 presidential plane was built in 1990 and had recently been serviced in Russia. In January 2010, Russian airline Aeroflot ceased to fly the model, which was designed in the 1960s. Polish President Lech Kaczynski — who, along with 96 others died in the crash — was known to take risks, demanding that his pilot lands his presidential plane in Tbilisi during the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. His pilot at the time refused to land in a war zone, instead diverting the plane to Azerbaijan. According to sources in Poland, that pilot was reprimanded and never flew with the president again.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Higher consciousness
on: April 12, 2010, 07:59:40 AM
without the harder contact
Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again
By JOHN TIERNEY
As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.
“It was a whole personality shift for me. I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people.” CLARK MARTIN, a retired psychologist, on his participation in an experiment with a hallucinogen
Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.
Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.
After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.
“All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating,” he recalled. “Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water’s gone. And then you’re gone.”
Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.
Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.
The results so far are encouraging but also preliminary, and researchers caution against reading too much into these small-scale studies. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s, when some scientists-turned-evangelists exaggerated their understanding of the drugs’ risks and benefits.
Because reactions to hallucinogens can vary so much depending on the setting, experimenters and review boards have developed guidelines to set up a comfortable environment with expert monitors in the room to deal with adverse reactions. They have established standard protocols so that the drugs’ effects can be gauged more accurately, and they have also directly observed the drugs’ effects by scanning the brains of people under the influence of hallucinogens.
Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate. These similarities have been identified in neural imaging studies conducted by Swiss researchers and in experiments led by Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins.
In one of Dr. Griffiths’s first studies, involving 36 people with no serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a profound spiritual experience with lasting positive effects for most of them. None had had any previous experience with hallucinogens, and none were even sure what drug was being administered.
To make the experiment double-blind, neither the subjects nor the two experts monitoring them knew whether the subjects were receiving a placebo, psilocybin or another drug like Ritalin, nicotine, caffeine or an amphetamine. Although veterans of the ’60s psychedelic culture may have a hard time believing it, Dr. Griffiths said that even the monitors sometimes could not tell from the reactions whether the person had taken psilocybin or Ritalin.
The monitors sometimes had to console people through periods of anxiety, Dr. Griffiths said, but these were generally short-lived, and none of the people reported any serious negative effects. In a survey conducted two months later, the people who received psilocybin reported significantly more improvements in their general feelings and behavior than did the members of the control group.
The findings were repeated in another follow-up survey, taken 14 months after the experiment. At that point most of the psilocybin subjects once again expressed more satisfaction with their lives and rated the experience as one of the five most meaningful events of their lives.
Since that study, which was published in 2008, Dr. Griffiths and his colleagues have gone on to give psilocybin to people dealing with cancer and depression, like Dr. Martin, the retired psychologist from Vancouver. Dr. Martin’s experience is fairly typical, Dr. Griffiths said: an improved outlook on life after an experience in which the boundaries between the self and others disappear.
In interviews, Dr. Martin and other subjects described their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.
“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Dr. Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.”
The subjects’ reports mirrored so closely the accounts of religious mystical experiences, Dr. Griffiths said, that it seems likely the human brain is wired to undergo these “unitive” experiences, perhaps because of some evolutionary advantage.
“This feeling that we’re all in it together may have benefited communities by encouraging reciprocal generosity,” Dr. Griffiths said. “On the other hand, universal love isn’t always adaptive, either.”
Although federal regulators have resumed granting approval for controlled experiments with psychedelics, there has been little public money granted for the research, which is being conducted at Hopkins, the University of Arizona; Harvard; New York University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and other places.
The work has been supported by nonprofit groups like the Heffter Research Institute and MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
“There’s this coming together of science and spirituality,” said Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS. “We’re hoping that the mainstream and the psychedelic community can meet in the middle and avoid another culture war. Thanks to changes over the last 40 years in the social acceptance of the hospice movement and yoga and meditation, our culture is much more receptive now, and we’re showing that these drugs can provide benefits that current treatments can’t.”
Researchers are reporting preliminary success in using psilocybin to ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses. Dr. Charles S. Grob, a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at U.C.L.A., describes it as “existential medicine” that helps dying people overcome fear, panic and depression.
“Under the influences of hallucinogens,” Dr. Grob writes, “individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH
on: April 12, 2010, 07:54:16 AM
WASHINGTON — Three months ago, American intelligence officials examining satellite photographs of Pakistani nuclear facilities saw the first wisps of steam from the cooling towers of a new nuclear reactor. It was one of three plants being constructed to make fuel for a second generation of nuclear arms.
The message of those photos was clear: While Pakistan struggles to make sure its weapons and nuclear labs are not vulnerable to attack by Al Qaeda, the country is getting ready to greatly expand its production of weapons-grade fuel.
The Pakistanis insist that they have no choice. A nuclear deal that India signed with the United States during the Bush administration ended a long moratorium on providing India with the fuel and technology for desperately needed nuclear power plants.
Now, as critics of the arrangement point out, the agreement frees up older facilities that India can devote to making its own new generation of weapons, escalating one arms race even as President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia sign accords to shrink arsenals built during the cold war.
Mr. Obama met with the leaders of India and Pakistan on Sunday, a day ahead of a two-day Washington gathering with 47 nations devoted to the question of how to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. In remarks to reporters about the summit meeting, Mr. Obama called the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon “the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term.”
The summit meeting is the largest gathering of world leaders called by an American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt organized the 1945 meeting in San Francisco that created the United Nations. (He died two weeks before the session opened.) But for all its symbolism and ceremony, this meeting has quite limited goals: seeking ways to better secure existing supplies of bomb-usable plutonium and highly enriched uranium. The problem that India and Pakistan represent, though, is deliberately not on the agenda.
“President Obama is focusing high-level attention on the threat that already exists out there, and that’s tremendously important,” said Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia who has devoted himself to safeguarding global stockpiles of weapons material — enough, by some estimates, to build more than 100,000 atom bombs. “But the fact is that new production adds greatly to the problem.”
Nowhere is that truer than Pakistan, where two Taliban insurgencies and Al Qaeda coexist with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal. According to a senior American official, Mr. Obama used his private meeting Sunday afternoon with Yousaf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s newly empowered prime minister, to “express disappointment” that Pakistan is blocking the opening of negotiations on a treaty that would halt production of new nuclear material around the world.
Experts say accelerated production in Pakistan translates into much increased risk.
“The challenges are getting greater — the increasing extremism, the increasing instability, the increasing material,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who as a C.I.A. officer and then head of the Energy Department’s intelligence unit ran much of the effort to understand Al Qaeda’s nuclear ambitions.
“That’s going to complicate efforts to make sure nothing leaks,” he said. “The trends mean the Pakistani authorities have a greater challenge.”
Few subjects are more delicate in Washington. In an interview last Monday, Mr. Obama avoided a question about his progress in building on a five-year, $100 million Bush administration program to safeguard Pakistan’s arms and materials.
“I feel confident that Pakistan has secured its nuclear weapons,” Mr. Obama said. “I am concerned about nuclear security all around the world, not just in Pakistan but everywhere.” He added, “One of my biggest concerns has to do with the loose nuclear materials that are still floating out there.”
Taking up the Pakistan-India arms race at the summit meeting, administration officials say, would be “too politically divisive.”
“We’re focusing on protecting existing nuclear material, because we think that’s what everyone can agree on,” one senior administration official said in an interview on Friday. To press countries to cut off production of new weapons-grade material, he said, “would take us into questions of proliferation, nuclear-free zones and nuclear disarmament on which there is no agreement.”
Mr. Obama said he expected “some very specific commitments” from world leaders.
“Our expectation is not that there’s just some vague, gauzy statement about us not wanting to see loose nuclear materials,” he said. “We anticipate a communiqué that spells out very clearly, here’s how we’re going to achieve locking down all the nuclear materials over the next four years, with very specific steps in order to assure that.”
Those efforts began at the end of the cold war, 20 years ago. Today officials are more sanguine about the former Soviet stockpiles and the focus is now wider. Last month, American experts removed weapons-grade material from earthquake-damaged Chile.
The summit meeting will aim to generate the political will so that other nations and Mr. Obama’s own administration can create a surge of financial and technical support that will bring his four-year plan to fruition.
“It’s doable but hard,” said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard. “It’s not easy to overcome secrecy, complacency, sovereignty and bureaucracy.”
Mr. Obama plans to open the summit meeting with a discussion of the scope of the terrorist threat. The big challenge, Mr. Mowatt-Larssen said, is to get world leaders to understand “that it’s a low-probability, but not a no-probability, event that requires urgent action.”
For instance, in late 2007, four gunmen attacked a South African site that held enough highly enriched uranium for a dozen atomic bombs. The attackers breached a 10,000-volt security fence, knocked out detection systems and broke into the emergency control room before coming under assault. They escaped.
During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama promised to “increase funding by $1 billion a year to ensure that within four years, the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons are removed from all the world’s most vulnerable sites and effective, lasting security measures are instituted for all remaining sites.”
In Mr. Obama’s first year, though, financing for better nuclear controls fell by $25 million, about 2 percent.
“The Obama administration got off to an unimpressive start,” Mr. Bunn wrote in his most recent update of “Securing the Bomb,” a survey to be published Monday by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy group that Mr. Nunn helped found in Washington. But he added that its proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year calls for a 31 percent increase.
The next phase in Mr. Obama’s arms-control plan is to get countries to agree to a treaty that would end the production of new bomb fuel. Pakistan has led the opposition, and it is building two new reactors for making weapons-grade plutonium, and one plant for salvaging plutonium from old reactor fuel.
Last month, the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington, reported that the first reactor was emitting steam. That suggests, said Paul Brannan, a senior institute analyst, that the “reactor is at least at some state of initial operation.”
Asked about the production, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said, “Pakistan looks forward to working with the international community to find the balance between our national security and our contributions to international nonproliferation efforts.”
In private, Pakistani officials insist that the new plants are needed because India has the power to mount a lightning invasion with conventional forces.
India, too, is making new weapons-grade plutonium, in plants exempted under the agreement with the Bush administration from inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. (Neither Pakistan nor India has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.)
The Obama administration has endorsed the Bush-era agreement. Last month, the White House took the next step, approving an accord that allows India to build two new reprocessing plants. While that fuel is for civilian use, critics say it frees older plants to make weapons fuel.
“The Indian relationship is a very important one,” said Mr. Nunn, who influenced Mr. Obama’s decision to endorse a goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. But he said that during the Bush years, “I would have insisted that we negotiate to stop their production of weapons fuel. Sometimes in Washington, we have a hard time distinguishing between the important and the vital.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Did FDR get us out of the Depression?
on: April 12, 2010, 07:27:26 AM
By BURTON FOLSOM JR. AND ANITA FOLSOM
'He got us out of the Great Depression." That's probably the most frequent comment made about President Franklin Roosevelt, who died 65 years ago today. Every Democratic president from Truman to Obama has believed it, and each has used FDR's New Deal as a model for expanding the government.
It's a myth. FDR did not get us out of the Great Depression—not during the 1930s, and only in a limited sense during World War II.
Let's start with the New Deal. Its various alphabet-soup agencies—the WPA, AAA, NRA and even the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority)—failed to create sustainable jobs. In May 1939, U.S. unemployment still exceeded 20%. European countries, according to a League of Nations survey, averaged only about 12% in 1938. The New Deal, by forcing taxes up and discouraging entrepreneurs from investing, probably did more harm than good.
What about World War II? We need to understand that the near-full employment during the conflict was temporary. Ten million to 12 million soldiers overseas and another 10 million to 15 million people making tanks, bullets and war materiel do not a lasting recovery make. The country essentially traded temporary jobs for a skyrocketing national debt. Many of those jobs had little or no value after the war.
No one knew this more than FDR himself. His key advisers were frantic at the possibility of the Great Depression's return when the war ended and the soldiers came home. The president believed a New Deal revival was the answer—and on Oct. 28, 1944, about six months before his death, he spelled out his vision for a postwar America. It included government-subsidized housing, federal involvement in health care, more TVA projects, and the "right to a useful and remunerative job" provided by the federal government if necessary.
Roosevelt died before the war ended and before he could implement his New Deal revival. His successor, Harry Truman, in a 16,000 word message on Sept. 6, 1945, urged Congress to enact FDR's ideas as the best way to achieve full employment after the war.
Congress—both chambers with Democratic majorities—responded by just saying "no." No to the whole New Deal revival: no federal program for health care, no full-employment act, only limited federal housing, and no increase in minimum wage or Social Security benefits.
Instead, Congress reduced taxes. Income tax rates were cut across the board. FDR's top marginal rate, 94% on all income over $200,000, was cut to 86.45%. The lowest rate was cut to 19% from 23%, and with a change in the amount of income exempt from taxation an estimated 12 million Americans were eliminated from the tax rolls entirely.
Corporate tax rates were trimmed and FDR's "excess profits" tax was repealed, which meant that top marginal corporate tax rates effectively went to 38% from 90% after 1945.
Georgia Sen. Walter George, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, defended the Revenue Act of 1945 with arguments that today we would call "supply-side economics." If the tax bill "has the effect which it is hoped it will have," George said, "it will so stimulate the expansion of business as to bring in a greater total revenue."
He was prophetic. By the late 1940s, a revived economy was generating more annual federal revenue than the U.S. had received during the war years, when tax rates were higher. Price controls from the war were also eliminated by the end of 1946. The U.S. began running budget surpluses.
Congress substituted the tonic of freedom for FDR's New Deal revival and the American economy recovered well. Unemployment, which had been in double digits throughout the 1930s, was only 3.9% in 1946 and, except for a couple of short recessions, remained in that range for the next decade.
The Great Depression was over, no thanks to FDR. Yet the myth of his New Deal lives on. With the current effort by President Obama to emulate some of FDR's programs to get us out of the recent deep recession, this myth should be laid to rest.
Mr. Folsom, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, is the author of "New Deal or Raw Deal?" (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Mrs. Folsom is director of Hillsdale College's annual Free Market Forum.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Good news
on: April 12, 2010, 07:11:59 AM
The U.S. government's rescue of wobbly companies and financial markets is starting to look far less expensive or long-lasting than once feared.
As momentum grows at companies that looked like zombies just a few months ago to repay taxpayers for lifelines they got during the financial crisis, the projected cost of the bailout is shrinking to just a fraction of previous estimates. Treasury Department officials say the tab is likely to reach $89 billion, which includes the Troubled Asset Relief Program, capital injections into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, loan guarantees by the Federal Housing Administration and Federal Reserve moves ...
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington to Madison 1786
on: April 12, 2010, 06:53:44 AM
"No morn ever dawned more favorable than ours did; and no day was every more clouded than the present! Wisdom, and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm." --George Washington, letter to James Madison, 1786
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NJ leads the way?--2
on: April 11, 2010, 10:44:26 PM
Hope in Jersey
In the state’s latest tax war, Governor Christie is standing firm.
11 April 2010
New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s recently unveiled budget has been alternately hailed and condemned for imposing spending cuts on the economically ailing state, but one item that’s not actually in the proposed budget has proved the biggest flashpoint: the so-called “millionaire’s tax” surcharge on incomes of $400,000 or more. Former governor Jon Corzine enacted the tax on a one-year timeline to replenish the state’s chronically empty coffers and bolster depleted revenues. By allowing it to expire, Christie has touched off a charged but vital debate about the kind of state New Jersey is—and the kind it should be.
The death of the millionaire’s tax has provoked howls of outrage from New Jersey Democrats. State Senate president Stephen Sweeney complained that while Christie’s budget forces lean times on the state, “the only people that got a break are the higher-income people.” Sweeney has threatened that the Democrat-controlled state legislature would block the budget unless the tax is reinstated. The New Jersey Star Ledger was equally incensed, raging that “the governor can’t possibly justify deep tax cuts for the state’s wealthiest families while he’s imposing these spending cuts.” The paper charged that by refusing to tax the rich more, the governor was engaging in “class warfare.” With the goading of politicians and the media, New Jersey residents have also warmed to the idea that the rich are not sharing in the sacrifice that tough times demand. Despite having a broadly favorable view of their new governor and little appetite for additional tax hikes, they oppose eliminating the tax on high earners.
Christie’s critics would seem to have a strong case: Why should the rich get a tax break, especially when the governor is asking the state to tighten its collective belt? The fiscal reality is more complicated. For one thing, many of those hit by the millionaire tax aren’t really millionaires, but small businesses. Of the 63,480 income tax returns filed for incomes of $400,000 and more in 2008, over half had some small-business income, according to the New Jersey Division of Taxation. Moreover, New Jersey’s wealthy already face one of the heaviest tax burdens in the country. According to the latest figures, the top 1 percent of income earners pays 45 percent of state income taxes, the consequence of a highly progressive tax structure that will put New Jersey into a sixth-place tie this year with New York for the nation’s highest top marginal income-tax rate. With the sunset of the millionaire’s tax surcharge, New Jersey returns to the still-high rate established in the original “millionaire’s tax”: passed in 2004 by then governor Jim McGreevey, it considers individuals making $500,000 or more as millionaires, raising their tax rate to 8.97 percent. New Jersey also has the second-highest sales tax rate; the sixth-highest corporate tax rate; and the highest property taxes in the nation. Overall, as Christie points out, New Jersey collects more state and local taxes as a percentage of income than any other state. Affluent residents, of course, pay the largest share.
And their tax burden is likely to increase even without the millionaire’s tax. With President Obama set to let the Bush tax cuts expire this year, Tax Foundation staff economist Mark Robyn points out that New Jerseyans earning over $500,000 annually could face a 50 percent marginal tax rate—that is, each dollar earned past the $500,000 threshold will be taxed at nearly 50 percent. As Robyn suggests, that “increases the likelihood that high-income New Jersey residents will seek out states with a lower tax rate.”
Evidence suggests this tax-driven exodus is already underway. Several studies have documented that New Jersey’s tax burden is driving wealth—as well as the jobs, job opportunities, and revenues it creates—from the state. The most recent is a February study conducted by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, which found that New Jersey lost more than $70 billion in wealth between 2004 and 2008 as wealthy households departed for lower-tax states like Pennsylvania and Florida. An October 2007 Rutgers University study on income by public policy professors James Hughes and John Seneca made similar findings. Examining Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service data, they found that by 2005 New Jersey had lost nearly $8 billion in gross income since the start of the decade. As a result of the income loss and the associated drop in consumer spending, the authors estimate, the state lost nearly 39,000 jobs, $2.76 billion in gross domestic product, and $85.4 million in state sales- and income-tax revenues. Their study didn’t offer a sole explanation for the vanished income, but Professor Seneca says that high taxes are one probable cause. “Certainly, if you talk to tax accountants and estate advisors, the anecdotes are numerous that the general tax structure is a factor,” he says.
In fleeing for more tax-friendly locales, high-income earners have left New Jersey with some unwelcome distinctions. The state now ranks fifth-highest in the country in outward migration, with 450,000 residents moving out since the beginning of the decade and 400,000 moving in—a net loss of 50,000. Even that doesn’t convey the full impact of capital flight, because those who leave tend to be wealthier—and pay more in income taxes—than the new residents, who are often immigrants. Rutgers’ James Hughes, dean of the school’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, points to a telling economic indicator. New Jersey ranks in the top three states in the nation in providing business for leading moving companies like Van Lines and Mayflower, but those companies don’t do nearly as much business with those moving into the state. “That suggests that the people who are leaving are wealthier while those moving in have nothing to move in,” Hughes observes. Combine the outflow of wealth with the spending of the state’s perennially profligate legislature, and it’s not hard to see why New Jersey is facing a $10.7 billion budget deficit this year.
That bleak economic outlook may explain why Democrats have not moved to reinstate the millionaire’s tax, even as they’ve decried the Christie administration for failing to do so. “When Democrats criticize Christie for not renewing the millionaire’s tax, they are in essence blaming themselves,” says Joseph Malone, the Republican budget officer in the state assembly. “Democrats have the majority in the state assembly and the state senate, so if they want to raise this tax somebody should step up and move forward with the legislation. They are blaming Christie for something they and the Corzine administration wouldn’t do.”
Republicans have mostly cheered Christie’s refusal to raise taxes, but some object to various aspects of his budget and what they might mean for the state’s financial future. The biggest concern: the budget eliminates $848 million in property tax rebates while cutting aid to schools and municipalities. That could force districts to make up for the lost revenue by raising property taxes. Paul Mulshine, the lone conservative columnist at the Star Ledger, warns that “local property taxes will skyrocket under the Christie budget.” Democrats could also capitalize on the aid cuts to offer voters a stark choice: pay more in taxes or raise them on the rich.
That is not necessarily a winning argument, however. As City Journal’s Steven Malanga points out, even in the absence of state aid, New Jersey school districts are already flush with cash. New Jersey’s education spending per pupil is 60 percent above the national average, and state schools have been on a costly spending spree since 2001, hiring thousands of new teachers even as enrollment has grown by a modest 3 percent. Amid the ongoing fiscal crisis, taxpayers are unlikely to be receptive to suggestions that they bankroll the schools’ already-bloated budgets by paying more in property taxes. Meanwhile, Governor Christie has tried to prevent the possibility of a property tax hike. To that end, he has called for a constitutional amendment to limit property-tax rate increases to 2.5 percent per year and promised to back municipalities in contract negotiations with unions.
Others worry that Christie’s budget could lay the groundwork for a tax hike on the rich because it doesn’t do enough to shrink the size of government. The most vocal conservative critic in this regard has been Steve Lonegan, the fiery former mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, who lost out to Christie in last year’s gubernatorial primary. “New Jersey already has an enormously progressive tax code in the country and the Democrats want to make it worse,” says Lonegan, now head of the New Jersey chapter of the free-market grassroots group Americans for Prosperity. “That said, I’m very concerned that Christie’s budget is creating a political environment in which Democrats will offer taxes on the wealthy as the only solution.” As an example, Lonegan notes that, despite promises to cut spending, Christie’s budget actually increases several government welfare programs. The governor supports expanding Medicaid enrollment for children up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, and he has proposed expanding food stamps to 185 percent of the poverty level. “We can’t be putting more people on the dole when we should be putting them to work,” Lonegan protests. More broadly, he worries that the failure to cut government entitlements “gives Democrats the leverage they need to raise taxes on the high income earners we desperately need to build this state.”
Republicans in the state legislature seem confident that it won’t come to that. Assemblyman Malone dismisses the Democrats’ carping about the millionaire’s tax as little more than “political rhetoric.” In private discussions, he says, his Democratic colleagues admit that another tax on the rich will jeopardize the revenues the state needs to regain its financial footing. “Unless there’s a 100 percent reversal in revenues, the starting point for the budget is that there is no additional money,” says Malone, who notes that the past year alone saw a 12 percent decline in revenues—the worst in state history. “Democrats don’t want this turmoil, and I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t understand the depth of the financial crisis we face in the state.” Matt Rooney, founder of the conservative New Jersey politics blog Save Jersey, agrees. No matter what they may say in public, Democrats are unlikely to oppose the budget because it doesn’t contain a tax increase. “Dire circumstances and public opinion have Democrats over a barrel,” Rooney says. “The uncomfortable truth is that many Democrats do know better.”
If that’s indeed the truth, then the squabbling over the millionaire’s tax and the amped-up charges of “class warfare” are nothing more than a noisy political sideshow. After years of financial mismanagement, this is a hopeful sign that the state is not condemned to repeat the past.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Fear and Loathing in Boxing
on: April 11, 2010, 06:26:40 PM
LAS VEGAS – Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield is using George Foreman's comeback more than 15 years ago as inspiration.
The 47-year-old Holyfield (43-10-2, 28 KOs) knocked out 41-year-old Frans Botha with 2:05 left in the eighth round to claim the WBF heavyweight championship on Saturday night. Holyfield (43-10-2) knocked the defending champion down 31 seconds earlier with a right to the chin.
Botha (47-5-3) beat refree Russell Mora's count, but Mora then stopped the fight with the South African backed into a corner.
"I'm going to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world," Holyfield said.
Two judges, Jerry Roth and Glenn Feldman, had Botha ahead 67-66 when the fight was stopped. The other judge, Herb Santee, had it 69-64 for Holyfield.
"I'm happy Botha gave me an opportunity," Holyfield said. "When people talk about you, it's who I fought. I fought the best."
There were only 3,127 people at the Thomas & Mack Center, most rooting for Holyfield in his first fight since Dec. 20, 2008, when he lost a majority decision to Nikolay Valuev.
"George Foreman said, 'It's not about my age,'" Holyfield referred to what the former champ said back in the 1990s. "He became heavyweight champion of the world."
In the second round, Holyfield briefly lost his balance, stumbling into a corner after a right from Botha with 2:04 left.
"(Holyfield has) got the skills. He's got the determination," Botha said. "He landed his shots. He's a true warrior. I didn't feel ashamed losing to a great champion like him."
At the post-fight press conference, it was mentioned Holyfield would like to fight one of the Klitschko brothers, who hold three of the four major heavyweight champions. Wladmir Klitschko holds two titles, while Vatali holds one.
Early on, Botha was warned by the referee twice in the first three rounds for hitting behind the head. Botha also was warned in the first round for a double hit to the head during a clinch.
This was Holyfield's first fight in Las Vegas since 2003, when he lost to James Toney at Mandalay Bay.
Before Saturday, Holyfield was only 10-6 in Las Vegas
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / CA issues
on: April 11, 2010, 06:20:34 PM
FRESNO, Calif. – They grew their fortune in the California sun, turning pedestrian fruits and nuts into a vast and varied empire that secured their place in Hollywood.
Stewart and Lynda Resnick's flashy bottles of Fiji Water and POM Wonderful are now coveted across the globe. Their donations keep the lights on in art museums across the country. And Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington count them among their dearest friends.
But as their marketshare rises worldwide, one of the billionaires' competitors is fighting back, accusing the Western power couple of profiting at the public's expense, court records and interviews show.
Now, as drought-stricken California weighs whether to give private companies more control in managing its scarce water supplies, a new lawsuit claiming the Resnicks violated utilities law by making money from a vast, taxpayer-funded underground reservoir is causing a stir in the state Capitol.
"Water is a public resource, owned by the people," said Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael. "We shouldn't be giving away public funds to private sector interests, let alone choosing winners and losers in the business world."
The Resnicks, who live in a Beverly Hills mansion and have a second home in Aspen, Colo., are among the nation's largest corporate farmers and are generous philanthropists and political donors, giving $536,000 to Democratic and Republican California governors in the last decade.
The Los Angeles Business Journal estimates the couple's empire is worth $1.5 billion. It includes about 120,000 acres in California's Central Valley — where they say they own more fresh citrus, almond and pistachio trees than anyone else in the country — and a facility akin to the Fort Knox of water.
That kind of success, Lynda Resnick said in a telephone interview, can inspire jealousy, and likely motivated this most recent "nuisance" lawsuit. Her husband declined to be interviewed.
After growing up working class in Highland Park, N.J., Stewart Resnick started a business waxing floors while in law school at the University of California, Los Angeles. The couple bought farmland in the 1980s as a hedge against inflation, gaining access to water contracts attached to those parcels.
As drought has hammered the region, leading farmers to abandon their dry fields, the Resnicks' 48 percent stake in the Kern Water Bank, an underground pool that stores billions of gallons of freshwater, has become increasingly valuable.
Court records show that in early 2007, the Resnicks' companies' combined water holdings reached 755,868 acre feet — more than twice the size of San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy reservoir. In 2007, that volume would have qualified as California's 11th largest reservoir, but the firms' water holdings have diminished significantly since, company officials said.
That cache provided enough to nourish the Resnicks' orchards, but it also offered another benefit. From 2000 to 2007, records show the state paid the Resnicks an additional $30.6 million for water previously stored there as part of a program to protect fish native to the ecologically fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Lynda Resnick's marketing savvy helped build cachet around her otherwise obscure brands, such as POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Cuties mandarins and Teleflora floral bouquets.
Revered among advertisers as the "Pom Queen," she has hired medical scientists to bear out health claims that their fruits and nuts help fight disease and extend life expectancy. Last year, following a nationwide recall of pistachios over salmonella fears, she hired Levi Johnston, the teen father of Sarah Palin's grandson, to promote the snack nuts. The domestic business grew by 40 percent over the last crop year.
"We've done more for the pistachio than anyone ever since it was planted in the Garden of Eden," she said in the phone interview. "My husband should be canonized for all the work he's done."
Others in agribusiness see it differently.
Ali Amin, a Persian immigrant who owns a competing processing plant, filed a lawsuit in late March in Fresno County Superior Court claiming the Resnicks violated California public utilities laws because they turned a profit by selling water to farmers who weren't members of their Bakersfield-based water company, Westside Mutual Water Co.
"You feel like David fighting Goliath," Amin said. "If they're allowed to keep doing this, the rest of the independents and small growers won't be able to compete."
Amin's lawsuit alleges he lost $5.5 million in revenue when growers lured by water supplies sold their nuts to the Resnicks' plant, which processes almost two-thirds of the nation's pistachios. Amin controls about 5 percent of the market.
Resnick and other water users in agricultural Kern County gained control of the Kern bank — the largest underground water storage facility in the nation — in the mid 1990s, following a round of negotiations with the state Department of Water Resources. Their position was that the state had shorted rural areas in allotting water in a previous drought.
To avoid potential litigation from unhappy water users, state officials ceded ownership of the Kern Water Bank — developed with $74 million from the department and $23 million in taxpayer-approved bonds — to a local water agency. In return, water users gave back 45,000 acre feet from the amount they contracted to receive each year.
The deal was a pivotal moment in the rise of the Resnicks' business interests. Ownership of the bank ultimately was transferred to a joint powers authority including the local water agency, the Resnicks' Westside Mutual Water Co. and four water districts.
Westside distributes water stored there to its members, the operations that grow Resnick's fruits and nuts, according to court records.
To prevent price-gouging, the California Public Utilities Commission requires most mutual water companies to register as public utilities and subject their rates to state regulation if they sell water to nonmembers for profit. There are some exceptions, such as a "water emergency," but the PUC rules require those sales to nonmembers to be at cost.
PUC staff attorney Fred Harris said Westside had not registered with the PUC. If the company skirted the law, by selling water to nonmembers at a profit — as the Amin suit alleges — Harris said Westside could be required to register and set up rates with the commission.
Assemblyman Huffman and Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said those allegations in the Amin lawsuit touch on a broader debate about whether companies should be able to profit from taxpayer-funded waterworks amid a drought.
An $11.1 billion water bond signed last year by Schwarzenegger would allow private companies to partially own, operate and profit from dams, reservoirs and water banks built with billions in public funds. It won't become law unless voters approve it on the November ballot, and it's unclear how the bond proposal would interact with current laws on public-private partnerships.
"I don't think anyone wants to see this become a gift of public funds to private corporations," said Huffman, who is considering introducing a bond amendment to remove or clarify the language.
Bill Phillimore, who directs Resnick's water company, said the company has managed scarce water supplies responsibly, and he and his bosses have spent "a considerable amount of time to make sure we get value out of the last drop."
Rob Six, a spokesman for the couple's private holding company, Roll International Corp., said the Amin suit was "frivolous," and said the company would seek sanctions against Amin's processing business.
Both sides claim victory in a previous suit in which many of the same claims were raised. A jury awarded Amin $3.46 million late last month after deciding a pistachio grower who had supplied his plant breached his contract by later sending his nuts to the Resnicks. A Fresno County Superior Court judge granted the Resnicks' request to be dismissed from the suit.
After Amin's first suit was filed, two of Resnick's companies filed a federal suit in Los Angeles against Amin, his processing plant and his agricultural consultant, alleging Amin's plant engaged in false advertising that Resnick's companies to suffer up to $15 million in damages.
"There are very jealous people out there," Lynda Resnick said. "But we usually win because we have such good in-house counsel."
The Resnicks, who have had legal tangles with everyone from Tiger Woods to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, have a good track record at winning.
Their suit to kill the California Pistachio Commission, a board farmers paid to do generic marketing for the snack nut, proved so expensive that after spending more than $2 million in legal fees, farmers gave up and voted to disband the commission three years ago.
"Here you had one man who had the money and thought he knew what was best, and didn't want to take part in a democratic organization," said Brian Blackwell, president of the Western Pistachio Association, which now represents smaller growers. "Whatever he's doing, he's going to try to run the show."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan
on: April 11, 2010, 06:09:30 PM
I have been remiss of late in posting here Michael Yon's reports, but he has been quite busy. Indeed he has been so busy that the following just came in:
The military has beheaded my embed with U.S. Forces. Not sure why, though they talk about journalist over crowding. (I haven't seen a journalist in weeks.)
I'll keep covering the war alone.
A new photo dispatch is up.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / More on the continuum
on: April 11, 2010, 10:00:15 AM
Second entry of the morning:
Use of Force Continuum (podcast transcript)Solari: Hi. I’m Jenna Solari. With me today is John Bostain. John and I are instructors in the Enforcement Operations Division of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia; otherwise known as the FLETC. John, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Bostain: Sure. Before I came to FLETC, I spent almost eight years as a police officer in Hampton, Virginia. I served as uniform patrol officer, police academy instructor, detective and SWAT team member. Since joining the FLETC staff five and a half years ago, I’ve been an instructor in both the Physical Techniques Division and Enforcement Operations Division. I’m currently the Senior Instructor for Use of Force for FLETC basic programs.
Solari: Well, could you tell us a little about the FLETC?
Bostain: The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center trains federal law enforcement officers and agents from more than 80 different agencies. Part of the training includes Use of Force. We teach students when a police officer can use force, and how much force is authorized.
Solari: Well, I understand you’re here today to specifically address Use of Force continuums as a training tool. What is a Use of Force continuum?
Bostain: The term Use of Force continuum is one name for a visual model that depicts progressive escalation and de-escalation of force based on a subject’s actions. They have been a mainstay in law enforcement for many years. They are also known as Use of Force Models, Use of Force Ladders and Subject to Control Matrices.
Solari: John, is there one visual model or continuum that is used by every law enforcement agency?
Bostain: No, not here in the United States. Canada uses a circular model called the National Use of Force Framework in all of their agencies, but here in the United States it’s much different. Continuums vary from state to state and agency to agency. They come in a number of different forms. Some look like time lines, some look like pyramids and some even look like doughnuts.
Solari: Are Use of Force Models an effective tool for training officers?
Bostain: You know, I think we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Before we can start a discussion about Use of Force Models and continuums, let’s first address the legal standard for use of force by law enforcement officers in the United States.
Solari: Ok, great, who sets that legal standard?
Bostain: It’s set by the United States Supreme Court, and its interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.
Solari: Well, then, has the Supreme Court said when law enforcement officers are allowed to use force?
Bostain: Yes, they have. The Supreme Court has expressly stated the right to make an arrest or an investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some level of physical coercion of threat thereof to affect it. In other words, if the officer has the authority to conduct a seizure, he has the authority to use force or the threat of force to accomplish that mission.
Solari: So then we know when an officer can use force. Has the Supreme Court told us how much force a police officer can use to control a suspect?
Bostain: That’s an excellent question, Jenna. According to the Court, in a 1989 case named Graham v. Connor, police officers may use the amount of force that is objectively reasonable to control subjects during a lawful seizure. Objective reasonableness is based upon the totality of circumstances known to the officer at the moment force was used.
Solari: What does that mean, exactly?
Bostain: The Court will consider any objective fact the officer was aware of at the time he applied force. It’s up to the officer of course, to articulate those facts to the Court. If another reasonable officer could have taken the same action based on those facts, then the use of force is lawful. Objective facts are those that can observed or measured by others, like the time of day, environmental surroundings, number of officers versus the number of suspects. Things like that. Objective facts don’t include things that are solely in the officer’s mind, such as a dislike of the suspect, or fear or nervousness felt by the officer. Those are subjective facts, and they don’t carry any legal weight when it comes to use of force.
Solari: Alright, so, let’s say an officer has an arrest warrant for Fred Ferkle for domestic assault and battery. What’s the right way, according to the Fourth Amendment, for that officer to approach Fred Ferkle and execute the warrant?
Bostain: Well Jenna, there’s no single quote unquote right way to handle it. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say Fred Ferkle has a known history of resisting arrest and assaults on a police officer. Let’s also say that our friend Fred is about, oh I don’t know, 6’2” and weighs about 225 lbs. Let’s also say the officer’s making the arrest by himself, at approximately 10:00 at night. When he approaches Fred’s house, he sees Fred out on his front yard. The officer identifies himself as a police officer and he says, “Fred, you’re under arrest.” Fred responds by turning towards the officer, pointing his finger at him and saying, “screw you, I’m not going to jail tonight.” Now, one officer, maybe one that’s highly experienced with martial arts, may decide to control Fred using an empty hand control technique. Another officer, based on the exact same information as the first, may decide to spray Fred with OC. Yet another officer, maybe one much smaller in stature than Fred, may decide to use an electronic control device such as a taser. And yet another officer may handle this exact situation by using an extendible baton. That means there may be a whole range of reasonable force options available to the officer in a use of force situation. There is not a single correct answer that can be relied upon each time.
Solari: But, does the example we just discussed, all those options that you laid out for us, do they all conform to the Supreme Court case law?
Bostain: Absolutely. The Court has acknowledged that the use of force decisions are made under circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. The Court doesn’t expect the officer to be perfect. All the officer has to do is be reasonable. There’s no pre-set solution to use of force situations. Every incident presents a unique set of facts. There’s just no way to anticipate them all.
Solari: Well, then the Use of Force continuums must say the same thing, right?
Bostain: Actually no. Use of Force continuums try to anticipate the suspect’s actions and equate them with a predetermined officer response.
Solari: Why? Is that required by the Fourth Amendment?
Bostain: No, quite the opposite. In Graham, the Supreme Court specifically stated that the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application.
Solari: So, let me make sure I understand this, Use of Force continuums try to do what the Supreme Court said is impossible?
Bostain: Exactly. Again, most continuums are structured in a way that a specific subject action equates to a specific officer response, regardless of the totality of circumstances known to the officer. So, in the arrest warrant example we discussed earlier, a model might say the officer’s justified in using a hands-on control technique or OC spray, but not a baton or taser. That’s just not legally accurate. Even though the law says that all four of those responses could be reasonable, every model I’ve ever seen contradicts that. That’s because it’s impossible for a model to account for things like known violent history of the suspect; duration of the action; size; age; condition of the officer and suspect; and other facts that may make up the totality of circumstances.
Solari: Other than the apparent conflict with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, are there any other concerns about Use of Force continuums?
Bostain: Yeah. Each continuum has its own general categories of subject actions. They include phrases such as passive resistance, verbal non-compliance, active resistance, assaultive, grievous bodily harm, you get the point. The problem is that there is no universal agreement on how to define each of these terms. Active resistance to one officer may appear passive to another, and may even appear assaultive to another. These types of inconsistencies may cause an officer to unnecessarily hesitate as he tries to pigeonhole a subject’s actions into a specific definition on a Use of Force continuum. Use of Force continuums are a cognitive tool, and they’re not very useful in the rapidly evolving dynamics of a critical incident.
Solari: Well, has anybody done any studies to determine how clearly an officer can think during a critical incident? I mean, is it difficult to use a cognitive tool while trying to control a suspect?
Bostain: That’s a good question. There has been a great deal of research into what is called the biomechanics of lethal force. Much of this research has been conducted by the Force Science Research Center located at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota. According to the most current research conducted by Force Science, things happen so quickly in a use of force incident that a subject can take actions against an officer much quicker than the officer can react. Utilizing a Use of Force continuum as a cognitive tool takes additional time -- time an officer just doesn’t have in a use of force incident, which compounds the problem.
Solari: Well that’s interesting. What other issues have come up regarding Use of Force Models?
Bostain: Well, there’re a number of other concerns. Most models hold to the principle of using the minimal amount of force necessary to effect the law enforcement objective.
Solari: Well, minimal force, that doesn’t sound so bad.
Bostain: The problem with adhering to that theory is that it encourages the officer to go through a trial and error process of deciding what force response option is the minimum, but is still going to be effective. Officers may try a minimal response hoping it’s going to work. When that fails, they try the next minimal response and hope it works. When that one fails too, the situation has deteriorated to the point where now it takes a great amount of force to control the subject. If the officer was just allowed to go and follow the guidance of the Supreme Court in Graham, they could go directly to the force response option they believe is reasonable based on the totality of circumstances.
Solari: Well, is there a benefit to going straight to the most effective reasonable response, rather than just trying to use minimal force?
Bostain: Definitely. The officer will control the situation sooner, which leads to fewer injuries to the suspect, fewer injuries to the officer, and generally less overall force used.
Solari: Well, John, the way you’ve described it, the Fourth Amendment gives officers a pretty wide lane of travel when it comes to use of force. It seems like that as long as the officer can articulate objective facts that make his use of force reasonable, then he’s satisfied the Fourth Amendment. That’s all the Courts require, right?
Bostain: That’s right. It’s a very easy standard to understand and apply.
Solari: So, has there been any attempt to make Use of Force Models as easy to apply as the Fourth Amendment standard?
Bostain: Um, sort of, but it hasn’t been effective. Most models in use around the country utilize something called the One Plus Rule. It’s been said in use of force training for years that the officer should be one level higher than the suspect on the Use of Force continuum in order to control the suspect. The confusing part about that is that the officer first has to decide what level the suspect is at, and then try to figure out what one level above that is. That might work well in a classroom environment, but in the tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstances of a use of force incident, it’s just not practical.
Solari: But shouldn’t the model already say what the right response is? Isn’t that the whole point?
Bostain: Yes, and that’s how we know models don’t work. When you have to create an extra rule just to make the model make sense, something’s wrong.
Solari: Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying. First, Use of Force Models actually conflict with Supreme Court case law?
Bostain: Yeah. They impose more restrictions on officers than the Fourth Amendment requires.
Solari: Well okay, and second, as you explained it, the terms used in Use of Force Models are usually pretty ambiguous.
Bostain: Right. What one officer considers to be active resistance might be interpreted as assaultive by another reasonable officer. That puts the two officers in different places on the model, even though they’re facing the exact same situation.
Solari: Well I can imagine the effect of that confusion is to cause both officers to hesitate.
Bostain: That’s right. Officers who should be taking control of the suspect before the situation escalates are too busy trying to figure out where they fall on a Use of Force Model, and what the minimal force is under those circumstances.
Solari: So John, as a former officer and a current law enforcement trainer, what do you recommend we do with all the Use of Force Models and continuums that are out there?
Bostain: Jenna, I get asked that question all of the time. In short, I think we should do away with them. That’s what we’ve done here at FLETC. We have replaced the model with more legal training, which focuses on the Constitutional standard set forth by the United States Supreme Court. From the first week of training, FLETC students are exposed to Graham v. Connor and its requirements. After their initial legal training, the Constitutional standard is reinforced almost daily by our Firearms Division and Physical Techniques Division. The legal concepts are further reinforced through reality based training programs which include a use of force lab that focuses exclusively on use of force decision making skills. But, in my opinion, the most important thing we can do is focus on teaching students to articulate themselves in written reports that conform to the Constitutional standard. We have been conducting training like this for the past two years, and all of it has been without the use of a continuum.
Solari: Well now, I want to ask you a question that I imagine a lot of officers and agents out there have in mind, as they listen to you describe doing away with these models and continuums. Thinking about things like administrative consequences and litigation that might result after use of force incidents, how would officers justify a use of force if they can’t point to a model?
Bostain: Exactly the way the Supreme Court told them to in Graham. All they have to do is articulate the objective facts that made their application of force reasonable under the totality of circumstances. If the officer’s actions were a proportional response to the threat posed by the suspect, it’s reasonable. It’s really that simple.
Solari: Well, boil it down for us, what would be the benefits of throwing out all of the models and going strictly with the Constitutional standard?
Bostain: Well Jenna, for starters, one word – consistency. We have one legal standard for use of force in this country and that is objective reasonableness. By eliminating the dozens of different models and continuums, we can get the entire country on one sheet of music. That sheet of music is the one set forth by the United States Supreme Court. Secondly, officers can gain confidence in their ability to make use of force decisions, because they are armed with the knowledge to make force decisions based on objective facts rather than a subjective model. There will be less unnecessary hesitation by officers in the field, which should lead to the ability to control subjects sooner and with less force. As I said earlier, this also reduces the chances of the officer getting injured as well as reducing the chance of injury to the suspect. Lastly, it puts the officer and the agency in a better position to defend themselves from potential liability, because the officers will be acting in accordance with the Constitutional law, which will be the legal standard used in any future litigation.
Solari: Well John, I hope this information gets some agencies thinking about their Use of Force training. The way you’ve described it, phasing out models would result in nothing but positive change for law enforcement. Thanks a lot for that information.
Bostain: My pleasure Jenna.
Solari: For those of you who want to hear other FLETC PodCasts, you can find them on the internet at http://www.fletc.gov/training/programs/legal-division/podcasts
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread
on: April 11, 2010, 09:49:00 AM
Some rather disappointing fights last night IMHO.
Neither Hughes nor Renzo seemed to have much fire left in them. Two great warriors in their time , , , which is now gone.
Odd performance by Spider. The talent is off the charts, so what was it the last half of the fight when he just danced around?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kyrgyzstan
on: April 10, 2010, 12:00:10 PM
Russia's Growing Resurgence
EVIDENCE OF RUSSIA’S ROLE IN THE OVERTHROW of the Kyrgyz government Wednesday became even clearer Thursday.
Not coincidentally, members of the interim government that the opposition began forming on Wednesday have lengthy and deep ties to Russia. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was not only quick to endorse the new government, but he also offered the opposition Russia’s support — financial or otherwise. Interestingly, Russia on Thursday also sent 150 of its elite paratroopers to its military installation in Kant -– twenty miles from the capital of Bishkek –- leaving a looming suspicion that Russia could step in further to ensure the success of the new government.
Protests take place regularly in Kyrgyzstan. The fact that Wednesday’s protests spun into riots, followed by the seizure then ousting of the government, followed by the installation of a replacement government set to take control — all in less than a 24-hour period — are all clear indicators that this was a highly organized series of events, likely orchestrated from outside the country. Furthering this assumption were reports from STRATFOR sources on the ground that noted a conspicuous Russian FSB presence in the country during the riots. These reports cannot be confirmed, but it is not unrealistic to assume that a pervasive presence of Russian security forces exists in the country.
There are many reasons why Russia decided to target Kyrgyzstan. The country lies in a key geographic location nestled against China and Kazakhstan, and surrounds the most critical piece of territory in all of Central Asia: the Fergana Valley. Whoever controls Kyrgyzstan has the ability to pressure a number of states, including Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan was also the scene of the 2005 Tulip Revolution, which ushered in President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who is now sheltering himself in the southern regions of the country. It was not that Bakiyev was pro-Western like other color revolution leaders in Georgia and Ukraine, but he was available to the highest bidder and the United States was willing to pay.
The United States has maintained a transit center at the Manas International Airport — which serves as a key logistical hub for its operations in Afghanistan — since 2001. Though Russia has four — soon to be five — military installations in Kyrgyzstan, Manas is the only serious U.S. military presence in Central Asia. With a Russian-controlled government coming into power in Bishkek, Moscow now holds the strings over Manas. This gives Russia another lever to use against the United States within the larger struggle between the two powers.
“As of Wednesday, Russia has now added to its repertoire the ability to pull off its own style of color revolution with the toppling of the Kyrgyz government.”
Russia’s main goal within that struggle is to have Western influence pulled back from its former turf — especially in the former Soviet states — and for the United States to accept Russian pre-eminence in the former Soviet sphere. But Russia is not just waiting for the United States to hand over its former turf. Instead, it has been actively resurging back into these countries using a myriad of tools.
Russia has long exerted its influence in the former Soviet states by attempting to ensure their economic reliance on Russia — as an integrated part of each country’s economy, and as an energy provider or energy transporter. This was seen in 2006 when Russia started cutting off energy supplies to Ukraine and also in Lithuania, to force the countries and their supporters in Europe to be more compliant.
Russia proved in 2008 that it was willing to use military force against its former Soviet states by going to war with Georgia. This move was particularly poignant since Georgia also had been a country turned pro-Western via a color revolution, and was pushing for membership into NATO. In early 2010, Russia showed that it could slowly organize forces in Ukraine to be democratically elected, replacing the pro-Western government elected in the Orange Revolution.
As of Wednesday, Russia has now added to its repertoire of tools used in the former Soviet states the ability to pull off its own style of color revolution with the toppling of the Kyrgyz government.
Russia has been systematically tailoring its resurgence into each country of its former sphere according to the country’s circumstances. This has not been quick or easy for Moscow. The overthrow of Kyrgyzstan has been painstakingly planned for nearly a decade to either flip the country back under Moscow’s control, or at least roll back U.S. influence and make the country more pragmatic to the Russian mission.
Russia knows there is no one-size-fits-all plan for its former Soviet states. The Kremlin cannot simply wage war with each country like it did with Georgia, cut off energy supplies like in Lithuania, set up a democratically elected government like in Ukraine or overthrow the government as in Kyrgyzstan. Now and going forward, Russia will tailor the type of influences it uses to each country it wants to control.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Conditioning
on: April 10, 2010, 10:48:54 AM
I've experienced full battle rattle a few times and I am greatly impressed with how efficiently it helps to carry the weight. That said, the more I go into training this, the more in awe I am of what our fighting men are doing. Here I am noticing the difference between 40 and 50 pounds and they are carrying 70-80 and sometimes much more than that-- and operating in temperatures overe 100 or more at altitudes that would tax me to walk unweighted.
Anyway, I have been told that we will be carrying about 45 pounds for 4-12 miles a day and returning to our base of operations every night. The wide range of daily mileage I suspect is due to the fact that sometimes the trail is lost and lots of time must be invested in moving extra slowly while recovering it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics
on: April 09, 2010, 08:49:40 PM
Agreed, but the author raises a valid point. It does look there is a psuedo recovery under way and this most certainly can help BO and the Demogogues in a big way come November-- "He/they saved us!" the sheeple will bleat.
Tis for sure that in great part the Patricians a.k.a. the Republicans have offered minimal coherent alternatives.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: April 09, 2010, 08:44:45 PM
Well, good news-- it looks like for some reason we were billed for two months, which included a slight increase due to a , , , particular birthday of my wife.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO's dinner in Prague
on: April 09, 2010, 01:26:17 PM
Obama's Working Dinner in Prague
AS THE WORLD WATCHES KYRGYZSTAN PRESIDENT Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s rule go up in flames, an important meeting scheduled for Thursday is receiving surprisingly little media attention. U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with 11 Central and Eastern European leaders in Prague on that day. Obama will have what the U.S. administration is calling a “working dinner” with the leaders at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, just a few hours after the ceremony to sign the replacement for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev at Prague Castle.
The working dinner is not receiving much media attention in the United States or Central Europe, mainly due to the coverage that the START ceremonies are garnering. Other domestic issues in Central Europe, especially upcoming elections in four of the 11 countries, are also getting a fair amount of recognition. Nonetheless, the dinner is a notable event, and the first time a U.S. president is exclusively meeting with 11 leaders from Central Europe in a forum not related to either NATO or the European Union.
The main goal of the “working dinner” is to give Central European leaders an opportunity for some face time with the U.S. president. It is not going to result in any specific joint communique or policy conclusion, but rather provide a stage for Central European leaders to voice some of their concerns. According to STRATFOR sources in the region, topics for debate will range from joint efforts in Afghanistan and upcoming revisions to the NATO Strategic Concept, to relations with Russia and regional security issues in Central Asia and the Balkans.
From the U.S. perspective, the purpose of the meeting is to reassure Central Europe’s leadership of the U.S. commitment without having to actually make a substantive effort to involve the United States in the region when Washington is still embroiled in Afghanistan and is in the process of extracting itself from Iraq. Poland and Romania are asking for the Ballistic Missile Defense systems that come with American boots on the ground, the Baltic States want a more substantive NATO military presence to counter increasing Russian pressures in the Baltic Sea and all want to see some sort of a response from Washington to the reversal of pro-Western forces in neighboring Ukraine. If Obama can reassure Central Europe by hosting a dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, then he has accomplished his task at a low cost.
The symbolism of the dinner will not be lost on Central Europe’s neighbors, particularly Western Europe and Russia. Obama irritated Western Europe earlier this year when he decided not to attend the upcoming U.S.-EU summit because, as was semi-officially explained by the White House, he had better things to do. That he now has time for Central Europeans exclusively is definitely going to send a message to Berlin and Paris. The fact that the meeting comes on the heels of the Greek financial crisis and during a period of marked European disunity over how to handle it will also not be lost on Germany and France. Central Europeans are increasingly becoming frustrated at the closeness between Berlin, Paris and Moscow, and are beginning to have their economic interests (EU membership) diverge from their security interests (alliance with the United States via NATO). Obama’s meeting with the Central European leadership can be interpreted as the United States further driving a wedge — whether willingly or not — between those two interests.
“The symbolism of the dinner will not be lost on Central Europe’s neighbors, particularly Western Europe and Russia. “
Russia will not be pleased either. It has enjoyed a relatively free hand in Central and Eastern Europe while Washington has been embroiled in its Middle East adventures, and does not want to see the United States commit more attention to the region. But it will also not appreciate Obama so clearly giving Central Europe’s leaders — many of whom the Kremlin would openly describe as Russophobes — his attention on the same day that was supposed to have all the world’s media tuned to the pomp and circumstance of the START signing.
That is why we find the timing of the crisis in Kyrgyzstan…curious.
Kyrgyzstan was not really entrenched in the pro-United States or pro-Russian influence, but has essentially been available to the highest bidder. This has left Moscow irritated with Bishkek — especially with the now outgoing President Bakiyev — but it has never forced Russia to target Kyrgyzstan outright. Moscow has always felt that it would have to do little to influence the impoverished, landlocked country whose only significant export — hydroelectric power generated from rivers flowing down its mountains — is literally drying up.
That said, we are noticing traces of Russian influence in the Kyrgyz opposition movements now assuming power. Also, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has already come out to essentially praise the removal of “nepotistic” Bakiyev who had “fallen in the same trap” as his predecessor.
When it comes to protesters and government-topplers, the Russian media has traditionally been less than charitable, typically calling them “hooligans” or “criminals.” However, during the current Kyrgyz crisis, the Russian media has altered its language by referring to the protesters as “human rights activists” who are part of “NGO” groups. This is reminiscent of the language that the Western media has used to describe protesters of color revolutions it has supported in the past. It is also similar to the language that Russia typically reserves for pro-Kremlin groups operating on the other side of the NATO borders, particularly the Baltic States. This is not the first time Russia has used Western norms and language to describe events that are to its benefit. For example, Russia referred to its August 2008 Georgian intervention as “humanitarian,” mirroring the “responsibility to protect” doctrine espoused by NATO during its bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
It is also notable that the outgoing Kyrgyz government started blaming the Russian media for its coverage of Kyrgyzstan’s unrest and problems with corruption weeks before the crisis developed. This tells us that, at a minimum, Russia most likely knew what was about to occur. There is the possibility that they took an active roll in the events in Kyrgyzstan, but it is not yet clear whether the current unrest has been at all instigated by Moscow, or whether the Kremlin is simply moving to capitalize on an otherwise indigenously sparked unrest.
The fact that we have witnessed the reversals of two ostensibly pro-Western color revolutions — the Orange (in Ukraine) and Tulip (in Kyrgyzstan) — within three months of each other this year will not be lost on the dinner coterie in Prague.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ajami
on: April 09, 2010, 10:20:34 AM
By FOUAD AJAMI
President Obama's "war of necessity" in Afghanistan increasingly has to it the mark of a military campaign disconnected from a bigger political strategy.
Yes, it is true, he "inherited" this war. But in his fashion he embraced it and held it up as a rebuke to the Iraq war. The spectacle of Afghan President Hamid Karzai going rogue on the American and NATO allies who prop up his regime is of a piece with other runaway clients in far-off lands learning that great, distant powers can be defied and manipulated with impunity. After all, Mr. Karzai has been told again and again that his country, the safe harbor from which al Qaeda planned and carried out 9/11, is essential to winning the war on terror.
Some months ago, our envoy to Kabul, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, saw into the heart of the matter in a memo to his superiors. Mr. Eikenberry was without illusions about President Karzai. He dismissed him as a leader who continues to shun "responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and his circle don't want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending war on terror and for military bases to use against surrounding powers."
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.The Eikenberry memorandum lays to rest once and for all the legend of Afghanistan as a "graveyard of empires." Rather than seeking an end to the foreign military presence, the Afghans and their leader seek to perpetuate it. It spares them the hard choice of building a nation-state, knitting together feuding ethnicities and provinces, and it brings them enormous foreign treasure.
Mr. Karzai may be unusually brazen and vainglorious in his self-regard. He may have been acting out of a need to conciliate the Pashtun community from which he hails and which continues to see him as the front man for a regime that gives the Tajiks disproportionate power and influence. But his conduct is at one with the ways of Afghan warlords and chieftains.
Still, this recent dust-up with Mr. Karzai—his outburst against the West, his melodramatic statement that he, too, could yet join the Taliban in a campaign of "national resistance," his indecent warning that those American and NATO forces soldiering to give his country a chance are on the verge of becoming foreign occupiers—is a statement about the authority of the Obama administration and its standing in Afghanistan and the region.
Forgive Mr. Karzai as he tilts with the wind and courts the Iranian theocrats next door. We can't chastise him for seeking an accommodation with Iranian power when Washington itself gives every indication that it would like nothing more than a grand bargain with Iran's rulers.
In Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East, populations long in the path, and in the shadow, of great foreign powers have a good feel for the will and staying power of those who venture into their world. If Iran's bid for nuclear weapons and a larger role in the region goes unchecked, and if Iran is now a power of the Mediterranean (through Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Beirut), the leaders in Kabul, whoever they are, are sure to do their best to secure for themselves an Iranian insurance policy.
From the very beginning of Mr. Obama's stewardship of the Afghan war, there was an odd, unsettling disjunction between the centrality given this war and the reluctance to own it in full, to stay and fight until victory (a word this administration shuns) is ours.
Consider the very announcement of the Obama war strategy last November in Mr. Obama's West Point address. The speech was at once the declaration of a "surge" and the announcement of an exit strategy. Additional troops would be sent, but their withdrawal would begin in the summer of 2011.
The Afghans, and their interested neighbors, were invited to do their own calculations. Some could arrive at a judgment that the war and its frustrations would mock such plans, that military campaigns such as the one in Afghanistan are far easier to launch than to bring to a decent conclusion, that American pride and credibility are destined to leave America entangled in Afghan troubles for many years to come. (By all indications, Mr. Karzai seems to subscribe to this view.)
Others could bet on our war weariness, for Americans have never shown an appetite for the tribal and ethnic wars of South Asia and the Middle East. The shadow of our power lies across that big region, it is true. But we blow in and out of these engagements, generally not staying long enough to assure our friends and frighten our enemies.
Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator who recast Pakistani politics away from that country's secular beginnings and plunged into the jihad and its exertions, once memorably observed that being an ally of the United States was like sitting on the bank of a great river where the ground is lush and fertile, but that every four to eight years the river changes course and the unsuspecting friend of American power finds himself in a barren desert. Mr. Obama has not given the protagonists in the Afghan war the certainty that he is in it for the long haul.
In word and deed, Mr. Obama has given a sense of his priorities. The passion with which he pursued health-care reform could be seen at home and abroad as the drive of a man determined to remake the American social contract. He aims to tilt the balance away from liberty toward equality. The very ambition of his domestic agenda in health care and state intervention in the economy conveys the causes that stir him.
Granted, Mullah Omar and his men in the Quetta Shura may not be seasoned observers of Washington's ways. But they (and Mr. Karzai) can discern if America is marking time, giving it one last try before casting Afghanistan adrift. It is an inescapable fact that Mr. Obama hasn't succeeded in selling this Afghan venture—or even the bigger war on terror itself—to his supporters on the left. He fights the war with Republican support, but his constituency remains isolationist at heart.
The president has in his command a great fighting force and gifted commanders. He clearly hopes they will succeed. But there is always the hint that this Afghan campaign became the good, worthwhile war by default, a cause with which to bludgeon his predecessor's foray into Iraq.
All this plays out under the gaze of an Islamic world that is coming to a consensus that a discernible American retreat in the region is in the works. America's enemies are increasingly brazen, its friends unnerved. Witness the hapless Lebanese, once wards of U.S. power, now making pilgrimages, one leader at a time, to Damascus. They, too, can read the wind: If Washington is out to "engage" that terrible lot in Syria, they better scurry there to secure reasonable terms of surrender.
The shadow of American power is receding; the rogues are emboldened. The world has a way of calling the bluff of leaders and nations summoned to difficult endeavors. Would that our biggest source of worry in that arc of trouble was the intemperate outburst of our ally in Kabul.
Mr. Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is the author of "The Foreigner's Gift" (Free Press, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan
on: April 09, 2010, 08:46:42 AM
Noonan has disappointed not infrequently in the last few years. Here she begins to recapture form:
By PEGGY NOOONAN
Like all Americans, I continue to seek to understand exactly what moods, facts, assumptions, dynamics, agendas and structures underlay and made possible the crash and the great recession.
We do this so that we will be able to bring our gained wisdom into the future and keep another crash from happening, should we ever have another bubble to precede it. We also do it so that we know who to hate.
That's why this week's Financial Industry Inquiry Commission hearings were so exciting, such a public service. The testimony of Charles Prince, former CEO of Citigroup, a too-big-to-fail bank that received $45 billion in bailouts and $300 billion in taxpayer guarantees, was riveting. You've seen it on the news, but if you were watching it live on C-Span, the stark power of his brutal candor was breathtaking. This, as you know, is what he said:
"Let's be real. This is what happened the past 10 years. You, for political reasons, both Republicans and Democrats, finagled the mortgage system so that people who make, like, zero dollars a year were given mortgages for $600,000 houses. You got to run around and crow about how under your watch everyone became a homeowner. You shook down the taxpayer and hoped for the best.
."Democrats did it because they thought it would make everyone Democrats: 'Look what I give you!' Republicans did it because they thought it would make everyone Republicans: 'I'm a homeowner, I've got a stake, don't raise my property taxes, get off my lawn!' And Wall Street? We went to town, baby. We bundled the mortgages and sold them to fools, or we held them, called them assets, and made believe everyone would pay their mortgage. As if we cared. We invented financial instruments so complicated no one, even the people who sold them, understood what they were.
"You're finaglers and we're finaglers. I play for dollars, you play for votes. In our own ways we're all thieves. We would be called desperadoes if we weren't so boring, so utterly banal in our soft-jawed, full-jowled selfishness. If there were any justice, we'd be forced to duel, with the peasants of America holding our cloaks. Only we'd both make sure we missed, wouldn't we?"
OK, Charles Prince didn't say that. Just wanted to get your blood going. Mr. Prince would never say something so dramatic and intemperate. I made it up. It wasn't on the news because it didn't happen.
It would be kind of a breath of fresh air though, wouldn't it?
In fact, the hearings weren't dramatic but a tepid affair, gentle and genteel. The commission members—economists, lawyers, former officeholders—actually made me miss congressmen, who can at least be relied on to emote and act out the indignation of the citizenry as they understand the citizenry. As an investigative style this isn't pretty and usually isn't even sincere, but it can jar witnesses into revealing, either deliberately or by accident, who they really are and what they really think.
At this week's hearings, the questioners often spoke the impenetrable financial language of the witnesses. The leveraged capital arbitrage of the lowest CDOs were subject to the supersenior subprime exposure, as opposed to the triple-A seniors, right? The witnesses—former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on Wednesday, Mr. Prince and former Treasury secretary and Citigroup chairman Robert Rubin on Thursday—were, in their testimony, obviously anxious not to be the evening's soundbite. Nobody wants to be the face of a bailout. This is where famous and important people being grilled hide now: in boringness, in an opacity of language so thick that following them is actually impossible. The testimony reminded me of an observation in Michael Lewis's "The Big Short," his study of what happened on Wall Street and why:
"Language served a different purpose inside the bond market than it did in the outside world. Bond market terminology was designed less to convey meaning than to bewilder outsiders. . . . The floors of subprime mortgage bonds were not called floors—or anything else that might lead the bond buyer to form any sort of concrete image in his mind—but tranches. The bottom tranche—the risky ground floor—was not called the ground floor but the mezzanine . . . which made it sound less like a dangerous investment and more like a highly prized seat in a domed stadium." In short, "The subprime mortgage market had a special talent for obscuring what needed to be clarified."
Which is what the hearings were like.
By Thursday afternoon I couldn't figure out why they'd been held. They couldn't have been aimed at informing the citizenry. Even the tone was strange, marked by a kind of weird delicacy, a daintiness of approach, a courtesy so elaborate I thought at some points commission members were spoofing each other. "Thank you so much for appearing," "I'm so grateful for that insight." Guys, there's a war on.
I want to pick out some memorable moments, but I can't really quote them because they resist quotation.
So I'll translate.
On Wednesday, Mr. Greenspan said it's easy to look back and see your mistakes, but what is to be gained by endless self-examination? It's tempting to be self-critical, but self-criticism can become self-indulgence. Systems are complex; human decision-making is shaped by the endless fact of human fallibility. I didn't do anything wrong, and neither did Ayn Rand by the way, but next time you might try more regulation.
On Thursday Chairman Phil Angelides to Messrs. Prince and Rubin: I like you, do you like me? But we don't like undersecuritized trilevel tranches, do we?
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.At one point commissioner Bill Thomas, a Republican former congressman from California, almost got an intelligent question out. It started as: How did you guys get to the top and run the show and not know what was going on below you? But Mr. Thomas got stuck in the muck of synthetic product securitized assets and then lost his thread, to the extent he had a thread. He began to ask Mr. Prince about his famous dancing quote: "As long as the music is playing, you've got to get up and dance," Mr. Prince had said in 2007. But Mr. Thomas asked his question so meekly—it was an "alleged quote" and maybe it was misunderstood by the press, which is always misunderstanding things. Then Mr. Thomas suddenly wasn't asking that, but asking if it would be nice if in the future bankers "have a structure," a stronger federal regulatory structure, though we probably shouldn't have one if we don't need it, but maybe we do, to sort of stop people like you, not that people like you should be stopped in any way.
Mr. Prince seized on this to say the dancing quote was taken out of context: He'd been talking about liquidity. Ah. Well, that takes the sting out of that one.
From a commission member: The American people have experienced a 30% fall in housing values. Do you know why?
Mr. Prince: Yes, we haven't had such a decline "since the Great Depression." The reason is before the crash there was "a bubble." There was too much "easy money." Then the bubble popped.
Thank you, Sherlock.
The takeaway, as they say, of the whole event, was more or less this:
Citigroup testifiers: We didn't do anything particularly wrong, and what happened is all so sad, isn't it? Sad, subprimed and tranched.
Commission: Yes, all so sad and tragic. Somebody's head should roll. I like your tie.
Can't we do better than this?