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24201  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Book review: Ethan Allen of Vermont on: August 22, 2011, 02:53:45 PM


By ROBERT K. LANDERS
By 1771, a conflict over frontier settlements in what is today Vermont had begun to turn violent. Colonial officials in New York, eager to profit from making land grants in the territory between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River, refused to recognize grants already made there by the New Hampshire colony. The Hampshire settlers themselves, meanwhile, were determined to hold on to their property and not pay twice for it. Ethan Allen, a major property owner in the region known as the New Hampshire Grants, emerged as the leader of the opposition to New York's efforts.

In June 1771, getting word that a New York surveyor was running lines in the woods 20 miles away, Allen and some of his followers went to the scene. Dressed as Indians, with soot-blackened faces, they threatened to kill the "Yorker"—who fled with his crew. Later that year, Allen formally organized the "Green Mountain Boys" to defend the Hampshire settlements and scotch any New York-backed settlements. He and his "boys" torched fences and haystacks as warnings to New York settlers reluctant to leave; in October, the Green Mountain Boys burned down the cabin of a Yorker who refused to depart.

In "Ethan Allen," historian Willard Sterne Randall cites the behavior by the nascent folk hero and his men—who in extreme cases flogged defiant Yorkers—and links it with "the tactics of intimidation used by ten thousand Sons of Liberty in the period before the Revolution" to raise "an unsettling question: was America founded, at least in part, on terrorism?" Mr. Randall does not attempt an answer, however.

The author and his publisher call Ethan Allen a "founding father," presumably to appeal to all those readers with a seemingly insatiable appetite for books about those so designated, but if Allen was a founding father, it was of Vermont, not of the United States. Still, by my reading of Mr. Randall's exhaustively researched and insightful (but overly long) biography, Allen did make two significant contributions to the war for independence, each the result, directly or indirectly, of his recklessness.

View Full Image
.Ethan Allen
By Willard Sterne Randall
(Norton, 617 pages, $35)
.The first was what many considered a premature attack on Britain's Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775. Even after the battles at Lexington and Concord the preceding month, most delegates to the Second Continental Congress were not ready to cut America loose from Britain, continuing to express hope for reconciliation with the mother country. But after years of armed struggle against New York's royal governors and sheriffs over the New Hampshire Grants, 37-year-old Ethan Allen—tall, muscular and "a commanding figure in his forest green greatcoat and sheared beaver tricorn hat"—and his Green Mountain Boys were ready to fight for independence.

Thinking that if Fort Ticonderoga at Lake Champlain were wrested from the British, it could serve as a base for a rapid invasion and capture of Quebec, Allen was glad to accept the request of "patriots" in the Connecticut and Massachusetts colonies that he (and Benedict Arnold) lead a surprise attack on the huge but lightly defended facility. With only 83 frontiersmen, Allen took the fort without a shot being fired. Ticonderoga's real value proved to be its cannon and mortars, which in the coming winter Gen. George Washington's artillery commander, Henry Knox, would famously transport to Boston, overcoming the many formidable obstacles presented by terrain and weather.

Thanks to the bloodless fort seizure, Ethan Allen became the first American hero of the war, appearing in triumph before the Continental Congress in June 1775. Even the conservative delegates from New York, whose royal officials had branded him an outlaw and put a price on his head, joined the unanimous vote urging that the Green Mountain Boys be transformed into the Green Mountain Regiment, with Allen to be made a colonel in the Continental Army.

Allen's other important contribution to the Revolution was his best-selling wartime memoir of the harsh treatment he'd endured as a British prisoner for 32 months. In September 1775, while serving as a scout inside Canada, he joined in a rash plan to attack Montreal; counting on support that never materialized, Allen wound up a captive. If he expected to be treated as an officer and a gentleman, he was soon disappointed, for the British looked on him as a common criminal. "A Narrative of the Captivity of Colonel Ethan Allen," published in 1779, "riveted a populace still at war and instilled a patriotic feeling into a beleaguered people," Mr. Randall writes.

As a deist who had rejected Christianity, Allen felt no obligation to love his enemies. After his release in a prisoner exchange and return home to the new republic of Vermont in 1778, he led an official drive to ferret out loyalists (including his own brother Levi, even though Levi had tried to aid him when he was held captive), drive them away and confiscate their property. Allen went after Yorkers as well as loyalists. Mr. Randall notes: "To Allen, it was all the same."

A loose cannon if ever there was one, Allen during the war also engaged in secret talks with the British in Canada to obtain an agreement on prisoner exchanges with Vermont, arranging a ceasefire that averted British attacks on the shores of Lake Champlain. In those talks he explored the possibility of a separate peace for Vermont, using the threat of that to try to get Congress, despite New York's opposition, to admit Vermont into the Union. Allen strung the British along for nearly two years, and even after Yorktown, frustrated by Congress's latest refusal to admit Vermont to the Union, he wrote to British commander Frederick Haldimand: "I Shall do Every thing in my Power to render this State a British province." But by then, Mr. Randall relates, Haldimand had begun to grasp "that he had been duped." Vermont finally became a state in 1791, two years after Allen's death.

Mr. Landers, a former reporter at Congressional Quarterly's Editorial Research Reports, is the author of
"An Honest Writer: The Life and Times of James T. Farrell."

24202  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: First thing we do is deregulate the lawyers on: August 22, 2011, 02:45:21 PM


By CLIFFORD WINSTON
AND ROBERT W. CRANDALL
The job market is not looking bright for Americans of all walks of life, even Ivy League college graduates and those with advanced degrees. For example, a new wave of law school graduates has just taken state bar examinations, which they must pass to obtain a license to practice law. But after accumulating as much as $150,000 in law school debt (likely on top of undergraduate debt), many of those test-takers are concerned that jobs in their field are vanishing.

Is there really an excess supply of lawyers? The Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating the subject while the New York Law School and the Thomas Cooley Law School in Michigan are being hit with class action suits claiming that they fraudulently inflated employment statistics to lure prospective students. But the solution proffered by many in the legal community—to put new limits on entry into the legal profession—is not the answer and will make the problem worse over the long term.

The reality is that many more people could offer various forms of legal services today at far lower prices if the American Bar Association (ABA) did not artificially restrict the number of lawyers through its accreditation of law schools—most states require individuals to graduate from such a school to take their bar exam—and by inducing states to bar legal services by non-lawyer-owned entities. It would be better to deregulate the provision of legal services. This would lower prices for clients and lead to more jobs.

Occupational licensing limits competition and raises the cost of legal services. But those higher costs are not justified when the services provided by lawyers do not require three years of law school and passing a particular test. One example is LegalZoom.com, an online company which sells simple legal documents—documents that should not require pricey lawyers to prepare—like do-it-yourself wills, uncontested divorce documents, patent applications and the like.

The competition supplied by new legal-service providers, who may or may not have some type of law degree and may even work for a non-lawyer-owned firm, will not only lead to aggressive price competition but also a search for more efficient methods to serve clients.

Every other U.S. industry that has been deregulated, from trucking to telephones, has lowered prices for consumers without sacrificing quality. For example, most regulated large airlines used to operate with large numbers of empty seats, particularly on longer routes. Once deregulation allowed Southwest Airlines, a smaller regional carrier, and other new carriers to offer service on any route, airline fares declined dramatically and the industry operated with far fewer empty seats and more employees. Deregulation of wireless, cellular telephone services and the entry of new carriers has led to the lowest wireless rates in the developed world and stimulated huge expenditures and associated employment in constructing new networks.

Entry by new firms—sometimes from other industries—spurs innovation. The legal industry will be no different. Ford, Honda and Toyota moved into motor vehicle production from bicycle, motorcycle and farm-equipment production, respectively. More recently, Apple moved from computers into mobile telephones (the iPhone), putting enormous competitive pressure on industry giants such as Nokia, Motorola and Research in Motion (Blackberry). The resulting innovations improved quality and lowered prices while also expanding employment.

Allowing accounting firms, management consulting firms, insurance agencies, investment banks and other entities to offer legal services would undoubtedly generate innovations in such services and would force existing law firms to change their way of doing business and to lower prices.

Entry deregulation would also expand individuals' options for preparing for a career in legal services, including attending vocational and online schools and taking apprenticeships without acquiring formal legal education. Established law schools would face pressure to reduce tuition and shorten the time to obtain a degree, which would substantially reduce the debt incurred by those who choose to go to those schools.

Supporters of occupational licensing to restrict the number of lawyers in the U.S. are wrong to assert that deregulation would unleash a wave of unscrupulous or incompetent new entrants into the profession. Large companies seeking advice in complex financial deals would still look to established lawyers, most of whom would probably be trained at traditional law schools but may work for a corporation instead of a law firm.

Others, seeking simpler legal services such as a simple divorce or will, would have an expanded choice of legal-service providers, which they would choose only after consulting the Internet or some other modern channel of information about a provider's track record. Just as the medical field has created physician assistants to deal with less serious cases, the legal profession can delegate simple tasks.

The track record of deregulation naysayers is hardly impressive—after all, some predicted in 1977 that airline deregulation would lead to a United Airlines monopoly. And while we cannot predict all the effects of legal services deregulation, we are confident that those services would be more responsive to consumers and that there would be more jobs in the legal profession.

Mr. Winston is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where Mr. Crandall is a nonresident senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program. They are co-authors, along with Vikram Maheshri, of "First Thing We Do, Let's Deregulate All the Lawyers" (2011, Brookings Press).
24203  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Baraq splits the baby on: August 22, 2011, 02:42:32 PM
An issue predicted more than once by me many months ago.
====================

The trade magazine Defense News reports that the Obama Administration has notified Taiwan that it will not sell it new F-16s, but will agree to upgrade the island's older fighters. "They are going to split the baby," a defense industry source told reporter Wendell Minnick. The metaphor is apt, as this outcome would endanger the island democracy.

Both the U.S. and Taiwan have denied the report, but whether it is final or not, we're hearing the Administration is leaning this way. If so, Beijing will have bullied another American President into scaling back the sale of defensive arms required under the Taiwan Relations Act. The island's weak defense is now becoming critical, as a report on Taiwanese air power due out shortly from the Pentagon will show.

Trying to paper over this reality with moves like upgrading Taiwan's F-16 A/B fighter only makes matters worse. These aging airframes reportedly will get sophisticated radars and electronic countermeasures that in some ways will make them more capable than the U.S. Air Force's own F-16s. So in order to make up the shortfall in Taiwan's defenses caused by its unwillingness to sell plain vanilla F-16 C/Ds, the Obama Administration is risking this more advanced technology falling into Beijing's hands by way of its espionage rings on the island.

Taiwan doesn't need the most advanced weaponry on the market to defend itself; it needs reasonably capable weapons in sufficient quantities. China is improving the capabilities of its weapons, but its biggest advantage on Taiwan is in numbers. The mainland can send missiles and fighters in waves across the Strait to overwhelm the island's air force. Taiwan is buying advanced Patriot missile defenses, which will help, but new F-16s are a crucial part of its defense in depth.

By hesitating to provide Taiwan with the arms it needs, President Obama is setting up a future U.S. President for a crisis. Beijing has declared that it will attack if Taiwan's leaders try to put off reunification indefinitely. In practice, this means that when the Chinese military enjoys a decisive advantage in the Taiwan Strait, the threats against Taiwan could begin in earnest. If the Obama Administration fails to honor America's commitments to Taiwan, Beijing's threats could turn to war sooner than anyone anticipates.

24204  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Three Things on: August 22, 2011, 11:31:56 AM


http://www.ted.com/talks/ric_elias.html
24205  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Huxley vs. Orwell on: August 22, 2011, 11:28:33 AM
http://www.egodialogues.com/words-language/huxley-orwell.php
24206  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Taps on: August 22, 2011, 11:17:39 AM
Melissa Venema, age 13, is the trumpet soloist. Here is Taps played in its entirety. The Original version of Taps was called Last Post, and was written by Daniel Butterfield in 1801. It was rather lengthy and formal, as you will hear in this clip, so in 1862 it was shortened to 24 notes and re-named Taps. Melissa Venema is playing it on a trumpet whereby the original was played on a bugle. Watch at this site.

http://www.flixxy.com/trumpet-solo-melissa-venema.htm
24207  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Our man formerly in Iraq recommends on: August 22, 2011, 10:50:05 AM


It is rare that I will straight up make a mass recommendation of a book but War by Sebastan Junger is one I will.  I am only 1/3rd of the way through the book and find it full of insight on a variety of topics that should interest persons interested in combat dynamics, real combat, and the situation in Afghanistan.
 
If you have not read this book, you should.  It is not a rehash of the movie Restrepo.  It is superior in content, story and insight.
24208  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Story on Justice: 1833 on: August 22, 2011, 09:09:19 AM
"Without justice being freely, fully, and impartially administered, neither our persons, nor our rights, nor our property, can be protected. And if these, or either of them, are regulated by no certain laws, and are subject to no certain principles, and are held by no certain tenure, and are redressed, when violated, by no certain remedies, society fails of all its value; and men may as well return to a state of savage and barbarous independence." --Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833
24209  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: How are those green jobs working out for you, Baraq? on: August 22, 2011, 08:56:24 AM

When an industry is this reliant on government subsidies, the last thing it needs is a dose of market forces. The industry is renewable energy. The market force is China.

The paradox of wind and solar power is that they are too expensive to compete properly with conventional fuels like natural gas, yet lower equipment prices from competition can prove fatal to manufacturers. Last week, U.S. solar panel maker Evergreen Solar went bankrupt. Despite shifting its factory to China, from a state-supported facility in Massachusetts, it couldn't compete.

China figures large in renewable energy's future. It already is the world's largest market for new wind turbines.

In solar, China's share of global demand is set to rise to 13% in 2015 from 7% this year, says Barclays Capital.

 .Moreover, if renewable technologies are to wean themselves off state subsidies, the sort of deflation imposed by the expansion of Chinese competitors is necessary.

Chinese demand for renewables is underpinned by economic development and government backing—handy when cash-strapped European governments are cutting subsidies. But Beijing isn't interested in helping Western suppliers. In wind power, for instance, foreign manufacturers' share of the Chinese market has collapsed from 80% in 2004 to less than 15% today.

Having conquered their home market, Chinese wind manufacturers aren't content to stay at home. Four Chinese companies made BTM Consult's top 10 list of wind turbine suppliers last year, up from two in 2008. Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology, No. 2 in China by shipments, has recently won orders in the U.S. and aims to derive 30% of gross profit overseas by 2015.

And Chinese suppliers make formidable competitors. Sanford C. Bernstein reckons Chinese turbines shipped to the U.S. and Europe are, on average, 20% cheaper than those built locally, and the gap could hit 30% next year.

If anything, Western solar equipment firms face an even bigger challenge, especially as they compete in a much more fragmented industry. This helped cut average solar module prices by more than half between 2006 and 2010.

Chinese expansion will accelerate this trend. Credit Suisse reckons China's GCL-Poly Energy, for example, could have production capacity equal to two-thirds of the entire global solar panel market in 2012. What's more, by then it could be churning out panels at a lower all-in cost than current cost leader First Solar, an American firm.

Solar power needs lower costs: Bernstein estimates it costs $142 per megawatt hour—multiples of current U.S. wholesale electricity costs—and that's with tax benefits included. But achieving lower costs means lower equipment prices. So while new solar installations in 2012 are forecast to be 25% above 2010's level by volume, the revenue pool will be 23% smaller, reckons Commerzbank.

View Full Image

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
 
A general view of the eSolar Sierra SunTower power plant in Lancaster, Calif., in the Mojave Desert.
.Better technology offers one way to resist the competitive pressure. William Blair & Co. analyst Nick Heymann highlights Siemens. The German industrial group is taking substantial market share in the growing offshore wind market, where there is less competition. Siemens can also bundle transmission networks with its turbines, a critical piece of equipment Chinese competitors don't supply typically.

Western competitors will have to work hard to differentiate themselves in this way. Chinese rivals are following a well-worn path of conquering their home market and then expanding aggressively abroad, helped by generous domestic credit. An industry reliant on subsidies and needing to drive down costs anyway can hardly complain much. But don't be surprised if this most politicized of technologies becomes a flashpoint for protectionism.

—Liam Denning
24210  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The War on Savers continues on: August 22, 2011, 08:51:06 AM

By MATT PHILLIPS
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has put the financial world on notice: Brace for two more years of rock-bottom interest rates.

That is great news for borrowers, but it promises rough going for anyone seeking returns from fixed-income investments—from retirees to giant pension funds to companies sitting on record amounts of cash.

It has been almost three years since the Fed cut its key rate to almost zero, and on Aug. 9, the central bank said rates are likely to remain there until at least mid-2013. Rates for everything from Treasury bills to money-market funds are near zero. The yield on the 10-year note briefly slid below 2% last week, a level last seen in April 1950.

\Central banks traditionally use low rates to prompt more borrowing and nudge investors to seek higher returns in riskier assets like stocks, thereby boosting the broader economy.

But the benefits may not flow so easily. Consumers are showing few signs of wanting to borrow, bank and insurer profits are likely to suffer, and, with the stock market sliding, pension and other investment funds face years of low returns.

Some analysts worry the U.S. may be in for a Japan-like scenario of years of low rates, sluggish growth, and poor returns.

View Interactive
."If you do Depression-type studies, then you've seen this pattern before—or Japan," says Priya Misra, head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "Both comparisons are not great."

Consumers
For consumers, low rates mean cheap loans for everything from a new home to a new car. But with millions of people nearing the end of their working lives, low rates also portend meager returns on fixed-income investments. With the stock market well below its 2007 highs, that could be particularly painful.

"The retiree who doesn't have any debt, but relies on interest income to supplement their Social Security check, they're really feeling the squeeze from lower interest rates," says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at personal finance website Bankrate.com.

Yields on savings vehicles such as certificates of deposit, or CDs, have fallen sharply. In 2006, the average one-year CD yielded roughly 3.78%, according to Bankrate.com. As of last week, that was down to 0.42%. Average seven-day yields on the more than $2.5 trillion in assets in money-market mutual funds are near zero, at 0.01%, according to data provider iMoneyNet. In 2007 they hovered above 4.5%.

On the flipside, mortgage rates have tumbled sharply. On Friday, Freddie Mac reported mortgage rates hit their lowest level in more than 50 years, with the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4.15%.

Banks
One of the most basic ways banks make money is by borrowing at low short-term interest rates and lending at higher long-term rates.

While short-term rates have little room to fall, longer-term rates have been in decline.

Banks try to cope by cutting what they pay depositors, but that often isn't enough. One measure showing the pressure is banks' yield on assets, which fell to 4.41% for banks with assets of more than $1 billion in the first quarter, the lowest in at least six years, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Exacerbating the problem, demand for loans is low, and customers are still pouring in savings.

Zions Bancorporation of Salt Lake City is cutting rates by as much as two-thirds on certificates of deposit as they mature, in an effort to keep costs down while loan demand is weak.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., small mortgage lender University Bank has few takers for loans. "My customers aren't borrowing, because they are worried about the future," says Stephen Lange Ranzini, the bank's chief.

On the upside: Banks are sitting on $19 billion of unrealized gains, mainly on Treasurys and other bonds that rallied amid the economic uncertainty, according to Nomura Equity Research. But generally, the negatives outweigh the positives.

"The risk is that low interest rates will eat into profits for years," says Craig Siegenthaler, an analyst at Credit Suisse.

Companies
Low rates are a mixed blessing for corporations, which have been raising billions in the bond market at sometimes record-low rates. But companies including Apple Inc. and Google Inc. are also sitting on record amounts of cash. According to Standard & Poor's, the top 500 U.S. companies by market capitalization had almost $1 trillion in cash and cash equivalents at the end of the first quarter. Low rates mean they are earning remarkably little on that hoard.

Data-storage company Equinix Inc. keeps the majority of its $1.2 billion in cash in Treasurys, but the Redwood, Calif.-based company is getting a tiny return of 0.10%, says Chief Financial Officer Keith Taylor. In some cases, it is a negative rate after fees, he says.

In late July, Mr. Taylor began moving cash to higher-yielding assets such as commercial paper, where the company receives about 2%, he says. He is also looking at moving funds into the debt of countries like Canada.

Others are moving to take advantage of low borrowing costs. At Utah-based self-storage company Extra Space Storage, finance chief Kent Christensen's team is working to lock in the lowest interest rates he has seen in years.

Mr. Christensen says the sudden drop in interest rates has emboldened the company to quickly refinance the debt on some of its 820 storage facilities, which could save $2 million to $4 million this year.

"We have more interest and debt than we did three years ago, but we're actually paying a lower amount of interest costs than we were," he says.

Institutional Investors
Pension funds and insurance companies are among the biggest owners of bonds in the U.S., and they face serious headaches as they cut checks to retirees or pay claims to policyholders.

For many pension funds, low yields are one half of what Goldman Sachs analysts call a "double whammy" with lower stock prices. Goldman estimates that the aggregate funded status—a measure of plan assets as a share of estimated obligations—of U.S. corporate-pension plans in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index was down to about 75% as of mid-August, from 85% at the beginning of 2011.

State pensions face a similar squeeze. The plans are shooting for a return of 8%, the median assumption of 126 plans, the National Association of State Retirement Administrators says on its website. That would be a challenge at the best of times.

Insurers are sensitive to interest rates because premiums that pour in from policyholders are mostly invested in bonds. Some insurers, like MetLife Inc., have hedging programs to help manage the situation, according to Barclays Capital. Still, "low interest rates are pressure points" across the industry, says UBS Securities insurance analyst Andrew Kligerman.

Insurers are likely to raise prices to make up for some of the lost income, though those in highly competitive parts of the property-casualty industry will find it tough to do so, analysts say. As rates have fallen over the past couple of years, some life insurers already have redesigned and repriced products, offering less-generous benefits, and some have exited product lines entirely.

The problem is worrisome enough for Moody's Investors Service to release a report Friday warning that ultralow rates for five or more years would subject some life insurers "to substantial losses that could result in downgrades, some multi-notch."

—Suzanne Kapner, Leslie Scism, Emily Chasan and Dana Mattoli contributed to this article.
24211  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Libya and on: August 22, 2011, 08:34:56 AM
I can picture something like this:

He courageously led from behind to let the Euros carry a load of the sort that they normally shirk; this exercise of "smart power" is now proven smart (and contrasts nicely with the Bush team); it wins us points in the Arab world; the nattering negativism of the Reps is now proven wrong and Baraq's cool steady hand proven right; we have accomplished the overthrow of a real bad actor; blah blah.
24212  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: More on Asset Forfeiture-- the outrage continues on: August 22, 2011, 08:30:20 AM


By JOHN R. EMSHWILLER And GARY FIELDS
New York businessman James Lieto was an innocent bystander in a fraud investigation last year. Federal agents seized $392,000 of his cash anyway.

An armored-car firm hired by Mr. Lieto to carry money for his check-cashing company got ensnared in the FBI probe. Agents seized about $19 million—including Mr. Lieto's money—from vaults belonging to the armored-car firm's parent company.

He is one among thousands of Americans in recent decades who have had a jarring introduction to the federal system of asset seizure. Some 400 federal statutes—a near-doubling, by one count, since the 1990s—empower the government to take assets from convicted criminals as well as people never charged with a crime.

Last year, forfeiture programs confiscated homes, cars, boats and cash in more than 15,000 cases. The total take topped $2.5 billion, more than doubling in five years, Justice Department statistics show.

The expansion of forfeiture powers is part of a broader growth in recent decades of the federal justice system that has seen hundreds of new criminal laws passed. Some critics have dubbed the pattern as the overcriminalization of American life. The forfeiture system has opponents across the political spectrum, including representatives of groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union on the left and the Heritage Foundation on the right. They argue it represents a widening threat to innocent people.

"We are paying assistant U.S. attorneys to carry out the theft of property from often the most defenseless citizens," given that people sometimes have limited resources to fight a seizure after their assets are taken, says David Smith, a former Justice Department forfeiture official and now a forfeiture lawyer in Alexandria, Va.

Backers of the system say there are adequate protections for the innocent, and describe the laws as a powerful tool for returning money to crime victims.

The government has recovered for eventual distribution to victims more than $650 million from imprisoned swindler Bernard Madoff and others who received money from his scheme. Federal officials are in the process of recovering over $6.5 billion more from the Madoff fraud.

Last year, federal authorities say, some $293 million of forfeiture proceeds were returned to crime victims nationally, nearly double the amount in 2009. The Justice Department filed about 90,000 criminal cases last year. There were forfeiture actions in a total of about 3,700 criminal cases, double the number of five years earlier.

 .Supporters further say there should be many more forfeiture actions. Even an imprisoned criminal "can have a smile on his face because he is going to be able to enjoy the proceeds of his crime when he gets out," says Charles Intriago, a former federal prosecutor and now president of the International Association for Asset Recovery, a Miami organization for asset-recovery specialists.

Forfeiture law has its roots in the Colonial days, when it was used to battle pirates and smugglers. In the 1970s and 1980s, Congress began giving law-enforcement officials power to go after the assets of other criminals, such as organized-crime figures.

The more than 400 federal statutes allowing for forfeiture range from racketeering and drug-dealing to violations of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act, according to a December 2009 Congressional Research Service report. The report shows that seizure powers were extended to about 200 of those laws in 2000 in a major congressional overhaul of the forfeiture system.

Top federal officials are also pushing for greater use of civil-forfeiture proceedings, in which assets can be taken without criminal charges being filed against the owner. In a civil forfeiture, the asset itself—not the owner of the asset—is technically the defendant. In such a case, the government must show by a preponderance of evidence that the property was connected to illegal activity. In a criminal forfeiture, the government must first win a conviction against an individual, where the burden of proof is higher.

Raul Stio, a New Jersey businessman, is caught up in the civil-forfeiture world. Last October, the Internal Revenue Service, suspicious of Mr. Stio's bank deposits, seized more than $157,000 from his account. Mr. Stio hasn't been charged with a crime.

In a court filing in his pending civil case, the Justice Department alleges that Mr. Stio's deposits were structured to illegally avoid an anti-money-laundering rule that requires a cash transaction of more than $10,000 to be reported to federal authorities. Mr. Stio made 21 deposits over a four-month period, each $10,000 or less, the filing said.

Steven L. Kessler, Mr. Stio's attorney, says there was no attempt to evade the law and that the deposits merely reflected the amount of cash his client's businesses, a security firm and bar, had produced. Mr. Stio was saving to buy a house, he says.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the case.

Speaking about civil forfeiture broadly, another Justice Department official called it a tool of "critical" importance in taking away the ill-gotten gains of international criminal organizations operating in the U.S. Otherwise, participants in criminal operations such as these might often be beyond federal authorities' reach, leaving asset seizure as one of the ways authorities can target an operation.

In fiscal year 2010, there were more than 11,000 noncriminal forfeiture cases, according to available federal statistics. That figure has held fairly steady the past five years.

It's tough to know how many innocent parties may be improperly pulled into the forfeiture system. Last year, claimants challenged more than 1,800 civil-forfeiture actions in federal court, Justice Department figures show.

Justice Department officials say they rarely lose such cases, a fact they cite as evidence the system is working properly. Forfeiture attorneys counter that the government often settles cases, returning at least part of the seized assets, if it thinks it might lose.

Part of the debate over seizures involves a potential conflict of interest: Under a 1984 federal law, state and local law-enforcement agencies that work with Uncle Sam on seizures get to keep up to 80% of the proceeds.

Last year, under this "equitable-sharing" program, the federal government paid out more than $500 million, up about 75% from a decade ago.

The payments give authorities an "improper profit incentive" to seize assets, says Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm in Arlington, Va. It's a particular concern amid current state and local government budget problems, he contends.

Justice Department officials say the 8,000 state and local agencies in the equitable-sharing program have greatly expanded the federal government's ability to go after criminal activities, particularly the movement of drugs and drug cash along the nation's highways. The program is monitored to ensure seizures are handled properly, they add.

Seeming abuses occasionally emerge. In 2008, federal Judge Joseph Bataillon ordered the return of $20,000 taken from a man during a traffic stop in Douglas County, Neb. Judge Battaillon quoted from a recording of the seizure, in which a sheriff's deputy complained about the man's attitude and suggested "we take his money and, um, count it as a drug seizure."

The judge's order said the case produced "overwhelming evidence" that the funds were clean.

Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning said the remarks made by his officers on the recording were "uncalled for" and "had a potential for tainting the case." But overall, he says, the seizure was handled properly. Since 2002, he says, his department has earned $11 million in equitable-sharing money.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Nebraska said the deputy's remarks were "a rare and isolated event."

About a decade ago, the forfeiture system got a major overhaul. The 2000 Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, or Cafra, put in protections for individuals, including increasing the government's burden of proof in many proceedings. Cafra also extended forfeiture powers to additional crimes.

Cafra's new safeguards didn't go far enough, critics argue. For instance, reformers failed to win a broad guarantee that poor people would have access to a lawyer. "It isn't much good to say you have the right to get your property back if you can't afford a lawyer," said the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) at a 1999 congressional hearing.

Jorge Jaramillo, a construction worker, says he couldn't afford a lawyer after more than $16,000 was seized from him last year in a traffic stop. "I had all of $20 left," he says.

In a Delaware federal-court filing, the Justice Department argued the money was related to drug dealing. It pointed to air fresheners in the car, which could mask the smell of drugs, and a fast-food bag containing cigar tobacco, which the filing said was often a sign that the cigar wrapper had been used to smoke marijuana.

The filing also said a police dog had signaled that the cash carried residue of illegal drugs. Such "dog sniffs" are a common but controversial feature in forfeitures.

Mr. Smith, the Virginia attorney, represented Mr. Jaramillo at no upfront cost. In court documents, Mr. Jaramillo, who wasn't charged with a crime, said he was carrying the money because he was traveling to buy a car from a seller who wanted cash.

The government in May agreed to return Mr. Jaramillo's money, with interest. Mr. Smith was also awarded $6,000 in attorney's fees. Under Cafra, attorneys' fees in civil-forfeiture cases are at least partially payable if the claimant wins.

The Cafra reforms helped Mr. Jaramillo find a lawyer even though he says he had no money. Still, forfeiture attorneys say this feature of the law is being eroded in some instances. In April, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Cafra attorney's fee should be paid to the client, not directly to the lawyer. Lawyers say this makes it possible for the government to seize their fees if the client has a tax lien or other obligation.

Mr. Lieto, the New York businessman, discovered the frustrations an innocent party can face as he worked for months to keep open his check-cashing business after federal agents seized his firm's working capital.

For years, according to court filings, Mr. Lieto used an armored-car company to pick up cash from his bank for delivery to his check-cashing outlets. The sealed bank bags were routinely stored overnight in the car company's vault. In February 2010, the FBI raid seized the $19 million as part of the fraud probe.

Under the law, an innocent third party generally can't seek an asset's return until the underlying criminal case is resolved, which can take time. In this case, two men pleaded guilty last fall to a multi-million-dollar fraud.

An innocent party's money is returnable if it's clearly separate from the fraud. Mr. Lieto's two sealed and marked bank bags with the $392,000 qualified, his attorney, Mr. Kessler, argued in court filings. Others among the scores of customers made similar claims.

The government countered that the crooks' operation, which included the armored-car service, routinely commingled customers' money. Thus, everyone had to get in line as fraud victims.

Court records indicate that fraud victims might get about 25 cents or less on the dollar. However, in February the government agreed to give Mr. Lieto's money back in full.

Mr. Lieto's lawyer, Mr. Kessler, had filed a deposition from a vault manager who had watched Mr. Lieto's two still-sealed bags being loaded onto the FBI's truck. If the bags were opened and commingled, it was done by authorities, a Lieto court filing argued.

Write to John R. Emshwiller at john.emshwiller@wsj.com and Gary Fields at
24213  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Closing in on Kaddaffy? on: August 21, 2011, 09:25:03 PM
Reports are that Son #1 has been captured and many reports suggest Tripoli is under severe pressure.

As I have previously commented, it is not impossible that this end well.
24214  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: August 21, 2011, 09:09:42 PM
That would also belong in the Demographics thread.
24215  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: August 21, 2011, 03:26:19 PM
Some random musings , , ,

*It would appear that my $25 to Newt was a complete waste.  He's now campaigning with his wife in Hawaii  rolleyes.   Done with you Newt; that was the last burn.

*Bachman will weaken from here; the overlap on the issues and on the executive experience thing alone will bleed out to Perry.  Imagine the optics of a picture of the two of them, side by side.

*Ryan smoke signals on the horizon? 

*People are looking for candidates willing and capable to face down Baraq.   Candidates lacking that fade.  Romney?  Ryan has smoke signals out there, certainly he dominates the budgetary dimension better than anyone else out there, and, IMHO is capable of utterly bitchslapping His Glibness to the point of lasting humilation.
24216  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strat: Gas pipeline stuff on: August 21, 2011, 03:10:43 PM
Analyst Eugene Chausovsky examines the current politics of energy infrastructure from the Caucasus region to central Europe as the European Union seeks alternatives to Russia.


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

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski continued his weeklong tour of the Caucasus region on July 27, where he is visiting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Poland, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is trying to establish closer ties to all of these countries. Of these countries, Azerbaijan represents the most important, both to Poland and to wider Europe.

Azerbaijan is important both for its strategic location and for its energy, particularly as a growing natural gas producer and exporter. The latter is what Azerbaijan has been heavily courted by the West as demonstrated by Poland’s recent initiative to restart energy negotiations with Azerbaijan along with Turkmenistan, which is a major natural gas producer and exporter under the format of the EU. The reason that these countries are so important to the EU is that they would represent a formidable alternative to Russian energy supplies, which Moscow uses not only as an economic but also as a political tool. The EU has been focusing specifically on two energy projects: Nabucco and Trans-Caspian.

Nabucco is a project that would take natural gas from Azerbaijan, across Turkey, through southeastern Europe to the gas-trading hub of Vienna, via a pipeline. Nabucco will be very difficult to construct, however, and, because of Nabucco’s high cost and capacity, another source of energy must be included into the project. And that is where the Trans-Caspian pipeline comes in. The Trans-Caspian project would connect Turkmenistan’s natural gas supplies to Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and would make Nabucco a much more viable project, at least in terms of securing suppliers.

But it is for this reason that these projects face substantial resistance from outside powers. Russia knows that if Nabucco were to come online, it would be a significant blow to Russia’s use of energy as a tool of influence in Europe, particularly central Europe. Therefore, Russia has been working to block the progress of Nabucco and foster divisions within the various European partners included in the project.

The Trans-Caspian project has also faced substantial resistance from Russia, as well as Iran, and is being contested on the legal and political grounds. So despite the fact that Poland has demonstrated an interest in reviving the Nabucco and Trans-Caspian projects, both of these projects to face many political and technical obstacles.

24217  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Quantitative easing explained- scary funny on: August 20, 2011, 08:09:15 PM
I forget whether these have been posted previously. Even if so, they are well worth the watching again:


http://www.garynorth.com/public/7261.cfm

http://www.garynorth.com/public/7261.cfm
24218  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Wild Dog on: August 20, 2011, 07:51:24 PM
"In the silence of a stick buzzing by your head, you decide just which self it is you truly wish to defend."  Wild Dog
24219  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: New Militant Opportunities on: August 20, 2011, 11:42:35 AM


Egypt's Political Awakening Creates New Militant Opportuntiies

A series of coordinated attacks occurred Thursday along Israel’s border with Egypt. While each attack was relatively small, the incidents indicate some degree of coordination among the attackers. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak attributed the attacks to elements emanating from the Gaza Strip, while Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tactical reports stated that the attacks had been launched from across Israel’s border with Egypt along the Sinai peninsula. No one has yet claimed responsibility.

“Egypt’s rolling back of the police state and subsequent political reforms have made it difficult to maintain domestic security and keep militants under control. Indeed, militants are already taking advantage of the political opening.”
Israel has plenty of experience in dealing with threats from militants in Gaza. In response, Israel often conducts preemptive as well as retaliatory airstrikes using real-time intelligence. In addition, whenever things appear to be getting out of control, the IDF conducts a major ground offensive.

Attacks inside Israel have become a rare occurrence. Weakened capability and shifting strategic imperatives have caused Hamas and other militant groups to largely refrain from such attacks. Most attacks usually consist of the firing of rockets from Gaza, a practice Hamas has an interest in both limiting as well as calibrating to enhance its control over the Strip.

In light of recent unrest in the Arab world and the new political and security reality in Egypt, these latest attacks in Israel potentially represent a new kind of threat — one posed by transnational jihadists who have long wanted to undermine Egypt without operational success. It is quite possible that al Qaeda is trying to exploit the post-Mubarak political environment to mobilize its Sinai- and Gaza-based assets in order to create an Egyptian-Israeli crisis that can (potentially) undermine Cairo’s stability.


Egypt After Mubarak

Under the police state run by ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt successfully kept political Islamists restrained, neutralizing the threat from jihadist groups. The unrest that broke out in the Arab world earlier this year has altered the domestic political reality in Egypt. Mubarak’s fall from power in the wake of popular agitation and the Egyptian military regime’s obligated engagement in political reforms have created a new environment — one in which autocratic measures have become largely obsolete.

Egypt’s rolling back of the police state and subsequent political reforms have made it difficult to maintain domestic security and keep militants under control. Indeed, militants are already taking advantage of the political opening. They have stepped up their operations, as evidenced by attacks against energy infrastructure and other targets in the Sinai Peninsula.

The new era of Egyptian multiparty politics has also allowed a variety of Islamist actors to emerge as legitimate political entities. At the same time, Egyptian national sentiment is emerging as a major factor in the foreign policymaking process. This change alone constitutes a threat to Israel’s national security, though it is a more of a long-term issue.

The rise of different types of Islamist actors (Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and Sufists, among others) as legitimate political entities who pursue constitutional means to come to power makes it difficult for jihadists to directly threaten the stability of the Egyptian regime. With even Salafists and former jihadist groups such as Gamaah al-Islamiyah and Tandheem al-Jihad embracing the political mainstream, the jihadists will have a hard time gaining support for an armed insurrection against the Egyptian state. Realizing that they are not able to directly confront the Egyptian state (despite the Arab unrest), the jihadists are trying to indirectly undermine the regime by exploiting the Israeli-Gaza situation and the renewed militancy in the Sinai.


A New Threat To Israel?

Even before today’s attacks, the Israelis responded to increasing attacks in the Sinai by allowing Cairo to deploy an additional 1,000 troops to the peninsula. That concession indicated that Israel is likely skeptical of the Egyptian military’s ability to effectively deal with this problem, considering current political and security circumstances. Cairo is under a lot of stress domestically and regionally. Egypt is in the early stages of trying to manage political and militant opposition in a tense political climate and it is unable to maintain internal security as effectively as it once did.

Israel, therefore, will likely see today’s attacks as a new kind of threat. The Israeli leadership realizes that the problem is no longer strictly confined to Gaza but has now spread to Egypt itself. However, Israel doesn’t have any good way to control the situation unfolding within the borders of its Arab neighbor. That said, Israeli officials have already begun pointing fingers at the deteriorating security situation in Egypt, a response which likely going to cause tensions between Jerusalem and Cairo — exactly what the jihadists hope to achieve.

The latest video statement from al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he speaks of an “intellectual” effort in addition to the armed one, is noteworthy. Al-Zawahiri’s comments are part of al Qaeda’s response to the so-called “Arab Spring” — a development in which the jihadists have largely been marginalized. Al-Zawahiri has long been frustrated by the fact that many former jihadists in Egypt (his home country) have renounced violence, attacking al Qaeda and him personally.

For decades, the al Qaeda leader has longed to be capable of undermining the Egyptian state, and now the Arab unrest provides an opportunity (albeit not without challenges of its own). Al-Zawahiri’s status as al Qaeda chief after the death of Osama bin Laden boosts the viability of this endeavor. In this new role, he is more or less free to steer the movement toward his preferred direction. His ascension to the top of the jihadist hierarchy also signals a rise of Egyptians (who have long held a disproportionate amount of influence) within the global jihadist network.

The result is that al Qaeda can be expected to focus heavily on the Egyptian-Gaza-Israeli fault line. This fixation will not only complicate matters for Israel and its efforts to deal with the Gaza Strip, it could also begin to unravel the Egyptian-Israeli relationship that has existed since the signing of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords.

24220  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: August 19, 2011, 10:42:26 PM
Refresh our memory JDN please, from where is your wife?
24221  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / I wasn't talking to you. on: August 19, 2011, 09:00:19 PM


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqoGORXAv2o&feature=player_embedded
24222  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california on: August 19, 2011, 08:44:46 PM
All of them, most certainly including we the idiots who elected them and voted for moronic borrowings of billions of dollars (E.g. stem cell research?  Gimme a fg break!)
24223  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california on: August 19, 2011, 06:53:23 PM
FWIW, my initial impression is that in some ways he is acting like an adult.  I don't envy him the clusterfcuk he has inherited.
24224  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / We're #2 in the nation now! on: August 19, 2011, 03:52:59 PM


12% unemployment.  Only Nevada is higher.
24225  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / First review on CTB on: August 19, 2011, 03:47:01 PM


http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-conan-20110819,0,3012389.story
24226  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Abolish the Dept of Education on: August 19, 2011, 01:39:22 PM


http://www.mercatornet.com/sheila_liaugminas/view/9565/
24227  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Abolish the Dept of Education on: August 19, 2011, 01:38:39 PM


http://www.mercatornet.com/sheila_liaugminas/view/9565/
24228  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Two articles on: August 19, 2011, 01:37:00 PM


http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=1029.new#new

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the_marriage_gap_thats_destroying_middle_america/

24229  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology on: August 19, 2011, 01:19:39 PM
TTT for the attention of Richard Lighty
24230  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson, 1824 on: August 19, 2011, 01:15:33 PM
"I should consider the speeches of Livy, Sallust, and Tacitus, as preeminent specimens of logic, taste and that sententious brevity which, using not a word to spare, leaves not a moment for inattention to the hearer. Amplification is the vice of modern oratory." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to David Harding, 1824
24231  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Sinai, Egypt & Hamas on: August 19, 2011, 11:53:15 AM
The  series of armed assaults that took place Aug. 18 in Israel underscores the dilemma Cairo is facing in trying to simultaneously  manage a shaky political transition at home and its increasingly complicated relationship with Israel. Egypt hopes to address this dilemma by bringing Hamas under its direct influence. The Egyptian military-intelligence elite sees such a move — which could be facilitated by the crisis in Syria — as increasingly necessary, but it still carries substantial risk.


Security Concerns Building Again in the Sinai

Israel claimed the Aug. 18 attackers had infiltrated southern Israel from the Sinai Peninsula, where the Egyptian army on Aug. 12 launched Operation Eagle and deployed around 1,000 troops backed by armored vehicles and commandos to contain a rise in jihadist activity in the region. The Egyptian security and military presence in the Sinai is regulated by the Camp David Accords, and any shift in this presence must be negotiated with Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly approved the latest Egyptian military deployment to the Sinai. Israel’s concern over jihadist activity in the Sinai spreading to Israel currently outweighs its concern over Egypt’s military presence in the Sinai buffer region.

Egypt has faced a jihadist threat in the Sinai region for years, but the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak was largely successful in keeping this threat in check. However, the instability that began in Egypt this past January and led to Mubarak’s ouster created a security vacuum in the Sinai when police forces abruptly withdrew from the area, allowing smugglers and Salafist-jihadist groups to strengthen their foothold in the desert region. Such groups, whose ability to operate in this area depends heavily on cooperation from local Bedouins, have been suspected of responsibility for attacks on police stations and patrols as well as most if not all of five recent successful attacks on the El Arish natural gas pipeline that runs from Egypt to Israel.

Along with this rise in militant activity, a previously unknown al Qaeda franchise calling itself al Qaeda in the North Sinai started promoting itself with fliers posted in mosques in the Egyptian Sinai city of El Arish following the first evening of Ramadan. The group proclaimed a campaign to transform the Sinai into an Islamic Emirate, address the injustices suffered by Bedouins, lift the blockade on Gaza and dissolve the Camp David agreements. The group said it was planning attacks on Egyptian police stations and security forces and notably pitted itself against Hamas in accusing the organization of not respecting Shariah in Gaza.

The main and immediate strategic intent of this group is to create an Egyptian-Israeli crisis that will undermine Cairo’s influence in the Sinai and give militant groups room to expand. This supposed new al Qaeda franchise is most likely another name for Takfir wal-Hijra, a Sinai-based Salafist group that has been able to expand its operations in the current security vacuum. It may be operating independently or following recent calls by new al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri for jihadists to get more active in Egypt, or even maintaining sporadic contact with the al Qaeda core.

As Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak articulated Aug. 18 following the attacks, the “incident reflects the weakness of the Egyptian hold on Sinai and the expansion of activity there by terror elements.” The question now is how Egypt plans to address this growing threat.


Egypt’s Islamist Militant Management

Egypt’s military regime is already facing a significant challenge in trying to manage a political transition at home among varied opposition groups. Its strategy so far to contain the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been to allow the emergence of various Islamist actors, including Salafist groups, to broaden competition in the political arena. Sowing divisions among political Islamists can be a tricky process (and one that is extremely worrying for Israel), especially as Egypt also has to worry about preventing coordination between these groups and militant factions in nearby Gaza, such as Hamas. The security vacuum in the Sinai is now compounding these concerns as the Egyptian regime has been struggling to reassert its influence over groups operating in the Sinai-Gaza borderland. As a recent example, Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported Aug. 15 that the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has refused multiple Egyptian requests to hand over Palestinian militants that were suspected of having participated in a recent attack on a police station in El Arish and who allegedly escaped back into Gaza via tunnels.

Egypt’s growing frustration over Hamas has led some leading members of the Egyptian security establishment to make the case that Cairo needs to do more to bring Hamas under its control. According to a STRATFOR source, the director of the Egyptian intelligence service, Maj. Gen. Murad Mi’rafi, has been trying to convince Supreme Council of the Armed Forces leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to allow Hamas to move its headquarters from Damascus to Cairo. Mi’rafi’s reasoning is that by allowing Hamas to set up its headquarters in Cairo, it will reciprocate by doing more to cooperate with Egyptian authorities to stem the activities of Salafist-jihadists in the Sinai, primarily by denying them sanctuary in Gaza and by sharing information on their operations. After all, the Salafist-jihadists are a direct threat to Hamas’ ability to dominate the Palestinian Islamist landscape.

Talks between Egypt and Hamas over relocating Hamas offices to Cairo have been in the works since at least early May, when rumors first started circulating that the Hamas politburo, led by Khaled Meshaal, might be moving its headquarters from the Syrian capital. Hamas’ relationship with the Syrian regime has deteriorated significantly in recent months as Hamas has found itself in the awkward position of being politically pressured by Damascus to defend the Syrian regime in the face of widespread protests and intensifying crackdowns. Hamas’ refusal to issue statements or organize demonstrations in support of regime of President Bashar al Assad has created a great deal of friction between the Syrian government and Hamas leadership, leading the Syrian army to attack the al-Raml Palestinian refugee camp in Latakia on Aug. 13. The Syrian army offensive in Latakia was perceived by the Hamas politburo in Damascus as a direct attack on the organization and, according to a Hamas source, was one of the main reasons Meshaal decided to visit Cairo on Aug. 17 to discuss the relocation proposal. It should be noted that Hamas official Salah al-Badawil on Aug. 17 denied the talks in Cairo dealt with the politburo relocation issue and instead downplayed the talks as dealing primarily with Hamas’ efforts to improve cooperation with Egypt in managing the  Rafah border crossing into Gaza.

The Egyptian regime seems to still be considering welcoming Hamas. Having the Hamas politburo based in Cairo creates a dependency relationship in which Hamas will be beholden to the Egyptian authorities for the free flow of money and goods to sustain its operations. This level of clout has proved highly useful to Syria and Iran, which are pressuring Hamas to remain in Damascus for fear of losing this leverage in the Palestinian territories to Egypt and its Arab allies.

By hosting the Hamas politburo, Egyptian authorities would also have much deeper insight into the group’s activities to keep Hamas and its proxies contained in Gaza. Egypt could use a tighter relationship with Hamas for intelligence sharing on the jihadist presence in the Sinai and Gaza, as neither Cairo nor Hamas wants to see such groups expanding their influence at the expense of known groups with narrow militant goals like Hamas. Egypt, in turn, could use an intelligence boost with Hamas to further its security relationship with Israel and reassume its position as the primary mediator between Israel and Palestinian armed groups.

The Egyptian MB, which has made a conscious effort to cooperate with the ruling military council during Egypt’s political transition, also seems to be in favor of the Hamas politburo move to Cairo. A Hamas political presence in Cairo would theoretically provide the MB with foreign policy leverage once it becomes a domestic political force via elections, as it would be the Egyptian political entity with the closest ties to the Islamist Palestinian organization. Moreover, as the MB tries to navigate the post-Mubarak landscape, it wants to ensure its colleagues in Hamas do not engage in actions that could undermine the Muslim Brotherhood’s political agenda and give the military regime the excuse to crack down. From the MB’s point of view, the more influence the Egyptian security apparatus has over Hamas, the less likely Hamas will become a point of contention in the MB’s delicate negotiations with the military. Notably, Meshaal also met with MB leader Mohammed Badie and other members at the group’s Cairo headquarters during his visit.

Hosting Hamas in Cairo would not come without risks, however. With more influence over the group comes responsibility, and Egypt would have to accept that tighter control over Hamas means Israel will hold Egypt accountable for Hamas’ actions. Egypt would thus be gambling that it will be able to sufficiently influence the group to contain its militant activity and resolve the issue of rival jihadist groups eroding Hamas’ clout in Gaza. It is also unclear whether such a move would exacerbate existing fault lines in the Hamas leadership. The question moving forward is whether Syria’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with Hamas along with a growing threat of jihadist activity spreading from the Sinai will be enough to drive Cairo and Hamas together.

24232  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: August 19, 2011, 10:09:45 AM
I hope I did not inadvertently communicate that I was taking anything amiss.
24233  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The United States of Entitlements on: August 19, 2011, 10:07:11 AM

The United States of Entitlements
by Bruce Thornton (Research Fellow and W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellow, 2009–10, 2010–11)
The 2012 presidential election will be a referendum on democracy.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ancient Athens birthed both democracy and its most penetrating critics. The fundamental contentious issue was whether average people had the ability to manage the state and determine its proper interests, policies, and goals. For the defenders of democracy like the philosopher Protagoras, the politikê technê—i.e. the skills and knowledge necessary for coexistence in a community—belongs to all men by nature. Otherwise, no community could even exist. It would degenerate into a Hobbesian war of all against all. For its critics like Aristophanes, Plato, and Thucydides, radical democracy empowered people who did not have the skills or virtues necessary for seeing beyond their immediate private interests and desires in order to choose policies that benefitted the state as a whole, both in the present and the future.

 
Illustration by Barbara Kelley On the whole, the American Founders agreed with these critics of democracy. The founders rejected democracy for the same reason they rejected monarchy and oligarchy: given that, as Alexander Hamilton wrote, "men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious," these irrational appetites and passions inherent in human nature, when concentrated in one governing faction, would cause each to degenerate into oppression and disorder if left unchecked. Fearing this outcome, the founders created a republican mixed government like that of ancient Sparta or Rome as described in the work of the Greek historian Polybius. "The balance of a well-ordered government," John Adams wrote, "will alone be able to prevent that emulation [rivalry for power] from degenerating into dangerous ambition, irregular rivalries, destructive factions, wasting seditions, and bloody civil war." Thus the Constitution established a monarchical executive, an oligarchic Senate, and a democratic House of Representatives, each empowered to balance the other and forestall the inevitable decline into tyranny each alone would undergo if it possessed too much power.

Will voters make decisions that are necessary for the long-term health of the country?

The excesses of ancient Athenian democracy and its near destruction at the hands of Sparta made the founders particularly wary of direct democracies, which as James Madison wrote, "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths." By empowering people no matter how lacking in virtue, character, or knowledge, democracy gives greater scope to their irrational appetites, leaving them vulnerable to factional strife or the demagogue who promises them the gratification of their desires at the expense of freedom and political order. Then democracy becomes "ochlocracy," a "mob rule" that descends into tyranny: "For the mob," Polybius writes, "habituated to feed at the expense of others, and to have its hopes of a livelihood in the property of its neighbors, as soon as it has got a leader sufficiently ambitious and daring, being excluded by poverty from the sweets of civil honors, produces a reign of mere violence. Then come tumultuous assemblies, massacres, banishments, redivisions of land; until, after losing all trace of civilization, it has once more found a master and a despot."

Though this may seem like a dusty political philosophy lesson, remember that the United States has evolved perilously close to the sort of direct democracy that would have horrified the founders. In addition to certain constitutional changes such as the 17th amendment’s direct election of senators—which subjects that body more directly to the short-term selfish interests of constituents—more recent developments in communication technology are altering the nature of our republic. Daily polling, the blogosphere, and the 24-7 news cycle have exposed politicians to incessant pressure from fickle public opinion. The growth of special-interest lobbies, also empowered by those same developments in communication technology, has made it easier for political leaders eager for reelection or private gain to pursue short-term economic and political advantage at the expense of long-term planning and the collective good. And the evolution of "democracy" into an unexamined, self-evident good sidelines the traditional criticisms of democracy that so influenced the American Founders.

In the next few years our country will be a sort of laboratory in which these old ideas about the dangers of democracy will be put to the test. Particularly worrisome is the increasing inclination to see the state not as an object of collective affection, duty, and loyalty in which individuals find some measure of their identities and meaning, but rather as a mere dispenser of entitlements that each faction tries to control for its own benefit. This weakness of democracy was apparent at its birth in ancient Athens. By the middle of the 4th Century B.C., an Athenian citizen could expect some form of state pay practically every day of the year, such as a stipend for attending the Assembly, serving on a jury, or attending a festival. Meanwhile, the citizen’s responsibility to manage the state and its military was given over to professional generals and politicians.

Demosclerosis is the modern expression of the dangers of direct democracy.

More dangerous than the abdication of civic duty is the threat of violent revolution to enrich one’s faction, as when Polybius speaks of the democratic "mob" as "habituated to feed at the expense of others, and to have its hopes of a livelihood in the property of its neighbors"—a hope that is made real by violence. Traditional criticisms of democracy that influenced the American Founders invariably focus on its tendency to sacrifice the good of the state in order to redistribute wealth by expropriating it from others, whether through manipulation of the machinery of government or through violence.

In our own day, violent revolution is unlikely. But expansive and expensive entitlements managed and dispensed by government bureaucracies achieve the same end using democratic means: the redistribution of wealth at the expense of the long-term planning and policies needed for civic and economic well-being. The clash of numerous competing factional interests as they enrich themselves via such government transfers of wealth has led to what journalist Jonathon Rauch in 1994 called "demosclerosis."

"By definition," Rauch explains, "the government's power comes from its ability to reassign resources, whether by taxing, spending, regulating, or simply passing laws. But that very ability energizes countless investors and entrepreneurs and ordinary Americans to go digging for gold by lobbying government. In time, a whole industry––large, sophisticated, professionalized, and self-serving––emerges and then assumes a life of its own. This industry is a drain on the productive economy, and there appears to be no natural limit to its growth. As it grows, the steady accumulation of subsidies and benefits, each defended in perpetuity by a professional interest group, calcifies government. Government loses its capacity to experiment and so becomes more and more prone to failure." Demosclerosis is the modern expression of the dangers of direct democracy that the founders feared.

The present crisis of entitlement costs––$2.4 trillion in 2011––and the burgeoning government debt needed to pay for them give force to Rauch’s analysis. According to the Heritage Foundation, if the country stays on its present course, by 2050 the national debt will hit 344 percent of GDP, while by 2080 spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Obamacare subsidy program will reach 24.2 percent of GDP, a sum that will consume all federal tax revenues (assuming the amount of taxes collected averages 18 percent of GDP).

Americans know that Medicare is in trouble. But they don't want to do anything about it.

Yet despite this swiftly advancing economic catastrophe, Representative Paul Ryan’s proposal to reform Medicare, the only specific plan to appear so far, is not popular with most Americans. According to a CNN poll, just 35 percent favor Ryan’s plan, while 58 percent oppose it. And even though the plan does not apply to anyone over 55 years old, 64 percent of those over 65 oppose it. Still, Americans do recognize that Medicare is in trouble—but they do not want to do anything about it: a CBS News poll finds that 53 percent believe that Medicare needs fundamental changes, while 58 percent say it should continue functioning as it does now. This cognitive dissonance applies to entitlement spending in general. A Bloomberg poll finds that 49 percent of those polled are more worried about Republican cuts to entitlement programs, while 40 percent are more worried about Democrats maintaining current spending levels.

The practical political fallout of these conflicting attitudes was apparent in the May special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District, a traditional Republican stronghold. Democrat Kathy Hochul won in part because her opponent, Jane Corwin, had endorsed Representative Ryan’s plan. During the campaign, Corwin was cast as eager to reduce entitlements in order to give tax-breaks to the rich. Lurid ads appeared in which a Ryan look-alike pushed an old lady in a wheelchair over a cliff. This was not a far cry from Paul Krugman’s hyberbolic assertion that Republican calls for budget cuts "are literally stealing food from the mouths of babes."

President Obama, for his part, legitimized these scare tactics. In April, he called the Ryan plan a "vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors," and claimed that seniors would have to pay $6,000 more for health care in order to finance "tax cuts for the wealthy."

Will the New York special election, with its Mediscare tactics, be a harbinger for 2012? The debt and economic growth will surely be on the electorate’s mind. But more profoundly, the 2012 elections will be a referendum on democracy itself, a contest between Plato and Protagoras. It will show whether a critical mass of American voters are able to see beyond their own private interests and make decisions that, while causing themselves some pain, are nonetheless necessary for the long-term fiscal health of the country—or whether, consistent with the ancient critics of democracy and the fears of the founders, they will choose instead a government that uses its power to benefit those who are, as Polybius put it, "habituated to feed at the expense of others, and to have [their] hopes of a livelihood in the property of its neighbors."


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Bruce S. Thornton is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He received his BA in Latin in 1975 and his PhD in comparative literature–Greek, Latin, and English–in 1983, both from the University of California, Los Angeles. Thornton is currently a professor of classics and humanities at California State University in Fresno, California. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays and reviews on Greek culture and civilization and their influence on Western civilization. He has also written on contemporary political and educational issues, as well as lecturing at venues such as the Smithsonian Institute, the Army War College, and the Air Force Academy and appearing on television, including the History Channel and ABC’s Politically Incorrect. His latest book, published in March 2011, is titled The Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich, and Obama's America.


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24234  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: August 19, 2011, 12:28:30 AM
We can be a really strange bunch some times , , ,
24235  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues on: August 19, 2011, 12:27:05 AM
Asssessing the politics of this:  Net I think it gets Baraq more votes.  I doubt the Reps will draw much attention to this-- the cases that meet the criteria are precisely those most susceptible to heart strings.
24236  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / A moment of contrast on: August 19, 2011, 12:22:59 AM
Not really grin

Moving along now , , , here's a moment of contrast (for the record, I suspect the US would fare equally poorly in the comparison) :

Japan Earthquake: Ethical Residents Return $78 Million From Rubble

 

First Posted: 8/18/11 04:45 PM ET

 

While looting often becomes an issue post-disaster, it's been the exact opposite in Japan.

 

Since the March earthquake and tsunami that leveled much of Japan, thousands of wallets containing a total of $48 million in cash have washed ashore -- and been turned in, ABC reports. In addition, 5,700 safes containing $30 million in cash also have turned up.

 

Ryuji Ito, professor emeritus at Japan's Yokohama City University, tells the Daily Mail that these acts of integrity are simply reflective of the culture:

 

"...The fact that a hefty 2.3 billion yen in cash has been returned to its owners shows the high level of ethical awareness in the Japanese people."

 

And doing the right thing doesn't just end with the people who found the money. Japanese officials have also worked tirelessly to track down owners and return safes and other valuables.

 

Police in Miyagi prefecture searched for residents at evacuation centers and made their way through missing person reports and address forms at the post office, according to ABC. Police also met with mayors and called any cell phone numbers they could find.

 

Officials tell the news outlet that the difficulty lay in determining whether homes were gone and if the owners were actually still alive.

24237  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Res Ipsa Loquitor on: August 19, 2011, 12:20:50 AM

Japan Earthquake: Ethical Residents Return $78 Million From Rubble

 

First Posted: 8/18/11 04:45 PM ET

 

While looting often becomes an issue post-disaster, it's been the exact opposite in Japan.

 

Since the March earthquake and tsunami that leveled much of Japan, thousands of wallets containing a total of $48 million in cash have washed ashore -- and been turned in, ABC reports. In addition, 5,700 safes containing $30 million in cash also have turned up.

 

Ryuji Ito, professor emeritus at Japan's Yokohama City University, tells the Daily Mail that these acts of integrity are simply reflective of the culture:

 

"...The fact that a hefty 2.3 billion yen in cash has been returned to its owners shows the high level of ethical awareness in the Japanese people."

 

And doing the right thing doesn't just end with the people who found the money. Japanese officials have also worked tirelessly to track down owners and return safes and other valuables.

 

Police in Miyagi prefecture searched for residents at evacuation centers and made their way through missing person reports and address forms at the post office, according to ABC. Police also met with mayors and called any cell phone numbers they could find.

 

Officials tell the news outlet that the difficulty lay in determining whether homes were gone and if the owners were actually still alive.

24238  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Laws? We don't need no stinkin' laws! Baraq cancels illegality. on: August 18, 2011, 08:19:45 PM
Hat tip to CCP; pasting his post from Cognitive Dissonance here as well

****New DHS Rules Cancel Deportations – Washington Times

The Homeland Security Department said Thursday it will halt deportation proceedings on a case-by-case basis against illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria such as attending school, having family in the military or are primarily responsible for other family members’ care.

The move, announced in letters to Congress, won immediate praise from Hispanic activists and Democrats who had chided President Obama for months for the pace of deportations and had argued he had authority to exempt broad swaths of illegal immigrants from deportation.

“Today’s announcement shows that this president is willing to put muscle behind his words and to use his power to intervene when the lives of good people are being ruined by bad laws,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.

In the letters to Congress, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said her department and the Justice Department will review all ongoing cases and see who meets the new criteria on a case-by-case basis.

“This case-by-case approach will enhance public safety,” she said. “Immigration judges will be able to more swiftly adjudicate high priority cases, such as those involving convicted felons.”

The new rules apply to those who have been apprehended and are in deportation proceedings, but have not been officially ordered out of the country by a judge. Miss Napolitano said a working group will try to come up with “guidance on how to provide for appropriate discretionary consideration” for “compelling cases” in those instances where someone has already been ordered deported.

It was unclear how many people might be affected by the new rules, though in fiscal year 2010 the government deported nearly 200,000 illegal immigrants who it said did not have criminal records.

The Obama administration has argued for months that it did not have authority to grant blanket absolution, and Miss Napolitano stressed that these cases will be treated individually, though the new guidance applies across the board.

In June, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that handles interior immigration law enforcement, issued new guidance expanding authority to decline to prosecute illegal immigrants. The goal, ICE leaders said, was to focus on their priority of catching illegal immigrants who have also committed other crimes or are part of gangs.

The chief beneficiaries of the new guidance are likely to be illegal immigrant students who would have been eligible for legal status under the Dream Act, which stalled in Congress last year.

“Today is a victory not just for immigrants but for the American people as a whole because it makes no sense to deport Dream Act students and others who can make great contributions to America and pose no threat,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “It is not in our national interest to send away young people who were raised in the U.S. and have been educated here and want only to contribute to this country’s success. “

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who earlier this year wrote asking Homeland Security to exempt illegal immigrant students from deportation, said the move will free up immigration courts to handle cases involving serious criminals.

Both men said, though, that they will continue to push for legislation that would grant a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants and expands new pathways for more immigrants to come legally in the future.

But groups pushing for a crackdown on illegal immigration said the administration’s move abused the Constitution by usurping a power Congress should have.

“Supporters of comprehensive and targeted amnesties for illegal aliens have consistently failed to win approval by Congress or gain support from the American public,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Having failed in the legislative process, the Obama administration has simply decided to usurp Congress’s constitutional authority and implement an amnesty program for millions of illegal aliens.”****

24239  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ben Franklin on the First Amendment on: August 18, 2011, 04:01:19 PM


"If by the liberty of the press were understood merely the liberty of discussing the propriety of public measures and political opinions, let us have as much of it as you please: But if it means the liberty of affronting, calumniating and defaming one another, I, for my part, own myself willing to part with my share of it, whenever our legislators shall please so to alter the law and shall chearfully consent to exchange my liberty of abusing others for the privilege of not being abused myself." --Benjamin Franklin, An Account of the Supremest Court of Judicature in Pennsylvania, viz. The Court of the Press, 1789


24240  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Again the DB forum leads the way on: August 18, 2011, 03:27:29 PM
Doug posted my internet friend Scott Grannis's blog on August 15.  Three days later Larry Kudlow catches up grin
==========

Scott Grannis is cited again by Larry Kudlow on National Review.

 

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/274988/deflationary-m2-explosion-larry-kudlow

 

The Deflationary M2 Explosion
Fears over the safety and solvency of European government debt and banks are haunting the stock market.

Amidst the financial flight-wave to safety, with stocks plunging, gold soaring, and Treasury bond rates collapsing — and all the European banking fears which go with that — there’s an important sub-theme developing: An almost-forgotten monetary indicator, M2, which is mostly cash, demand-deposit checking accounts, savings deposits, and retail money-market funds, has been soaring.

According to the St. Louis Fed, M2 is up 24.2 percent at an annual rate over the past two months. Almost out of the blue, that comes to a near $500 billion increase. In rough terms, the M2 explosion breaks down to $165 billion in demand deposits and $335 billion in savings deposits.

What’s going on here? There’s a flight to government-guaranteed accounts. Some people believe Europeans are withdrawing from their own banking system and parking their money in the U.S. banking system, guaranteed by Uncle Sam. Kelly Evans reports in her Wall Street Journal column of a $30 billion outflow from equity mutual funds that has probably gone into cash.

This is a very disconcerting development. Normally, big M2 growth would signal a faster economy, and maybe even higher inflation. But as economist Michael Darda points out, the velocity, or turnover, of money seems to be plunging.

“The recent pickup in broad money in the U.S. looks like a dash for risk-free cash assets,” writes Darda. He also notes that widening corporate-credit risk spreads and shrinking government-bond rates signal a recession risk, not a coming boom.

So contrary to monetarist theory, the M2 explosion seems more closely related to a deflation/recession risk. Economist-blogger Scott Grannis writes, “The recent growth of M2 surpasses even the explosive safe-haven demand for money that accompanied 9/11 and the financial crisis of late 2008. Something big is going on, and it can only be the financial panic that is sweeping Europe as money flees a banking system that is loaded to the gills with PIIGS debt.”

Grannis concludes, “In short, it looks like there is a run on the European banks and the U.S. banking system is the safe-haven of choice.”

On the other hand, all may not be lost — at least from the standpoint of the American economy.

Economist Conrad DeQuadros, who acknowledges the precautionary demand for high cash balances in the current financial uncertainty, believes that the economic data do not yet signal recession. DeQuadros points out that jobless claims, hours worked, retail sales, and industrial production are all picking up. He also notes that profits are still rising, even though their growth is slowing. And C&I business loans have grown at an 8 percent annual rate over the past three months.

I would just add to all this: The biggest problem for the plunging stock market is coming out of Europe. Fears over the safety and solvency of European government debt and banks are haunting the stock market. I still don’t believe it’s 2008. But yes, like everyone else, I’m worried.

That said, we are awash with liquidity everywhere. U.S. banks and companies have more cash than they know what to do with. The problem is they are immobilized by fiscal policy run amok. We desperately need a regulatory rollback and flat-tax reform to boost asset prices and to get banks to loan, companies to invest, and America back to work.

24241  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury beginning to hedge? on: August 18, 2011, 02:52:51 PM

Data Watch

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Existing home sales declined 3.5% in July to an annual rate of 4.67 million units To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 8/18/2011


Existing home sales declined 3.5% in July to an annual rate of 4.67 million units, coming in below the consensus expected pace of 4.90 million units. Existing home sales are down 21.0% versus a year ago.

Sales in July were down in the West and South, but up in the Northeast and Midwest. All of the decline in sales was due to single-family sales; condos-coops sales were unchanged.
 
The median price of an existing home fell to $174,000 in July (not seasonally adjusted), and is down 4.4% versus a year ago. Average prices are down 3.2% versus last year.
 
The months’ supply of existing homes (how long it would take to sell the entire inventory at the current sales rate) rose to 9.4 from 9.2 in June.  The increase in the months’ supply was mostly due to the slowdown in the pace of sales. An increase in condos-coops inventories also boosted the months’ supply.
 
Implications:  Sales of existing homes fell to an eight-month low in July.  The consensus expected a gain to 4.90 million units at an annual rate due to the strong showing of pending home sales over the past couple of months. Pending home sales are homes that have gone under contract to be purchased. What seems to have happened is that people have decided to cancel on their contracts. The National Association of Realtors said that cancelled contracts to buy existing homes remained at higher levels over the past two months from a more typical 9% - 10% over the past year. The spike in cancellations is probably due to a couple factors. First, stricter lending rules and low appraisals seem to be playing a large factor. Second, with the debt debate looming in July this may have spooked some people from closing on their contracts. We expect a bounce back in existing homes next month. In other news, The Philly Fed index fell to -30.1, the lowest level in over two years. The consensus expected a decline to 2.0. There are times when manufacturing surveys are more based on sentiment, and we believe with all the financial turmoil that has been happening in Europe, along with the large market losses over the last couple weeks, that this is one of those times. However, mid-month manufacturing indicators should not be completely ignored and we will be paying close attention to these along with the weekly indicators we follow to see if we see any change to our forecast. So far, other than data which measure sentiment, the economy appears to be avoiding any sharp downturn.
 
24242  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Congressman West on a rampage! :-) on: August 18, 2011, 02:26:02 PM

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/allen-west-im-here-to-lead-blacks-off-the-democratic-party-plantation/
24243  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dealing with Social Breakdown (The UK riots) on: August 18, 2011, 01:59:32 PM
Fascinating!
24244  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jihad Watch has questions for Perry on: August 18, 2011, 11:07:04 AM


http://www.jihadwatch.org/2011/08/why-shouldnt-rick-perrys-islamic-ties-be-vetted.html
24245  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / FTC about to go after Google? on: August 18, 2011, 11:04:47 AM


The Federal Trade Commission is ready to formally declare war against Google, reports the Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The Federal Trade Commission is poised to serve Google Inc. with civil subpoenas, according to people familiar with the matter, signaling the start of a wide-ranging, formal investigation into whether the Internet-search giant has abused its dominance on the Web.

The agency’s five-member panel of commissioners is preparing to send its formal demands for information to Google within days, these people said. They said other companies are likely to receive official requests for information about their dealings with Google at a later stage.

Representatives for Google and the FTC declined to comment.

[...]

The [FTC's] inquiry…will examine fundamental issues relating to Google’s core search-advertising business, said people familiar with the matter. The business is the source of most of Google’s revenue. The issues include whether Google—which accounts for around two-thirds of Internet searches in the U.S. and more abroad—unfairly channels users to its own growing network of services at the expense of rival providers.

In November, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, opened its own formal investigation into allegations by several companies that Google had violated European competition laws. Google denies the allegations.
==========
a friend comments:
A key player in the FTC’s investigation will be the Bureau of Economics antitrust unit — which is now headed by a British government official with extensive ties to European Union authorities. I suspected something was up yesterday, but now I think it’s clear: Jon Leibowitz brought in a foreign economist to help oversee the Google investigation because he couldn’t trust any American economist to validate his insane obsession with destroying one of America’s most successful companies.

24246  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: inflation accelerating on: August 18, 2011, 10:40:01 AM
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.5% in July To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 8/18/2011


The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.5% in July versus a consensus expected increase of 0.2%. The CPI is up 3.6% versus a year ago.

“Cash” inflation (which excludes the government’s estimate of what homeowners would charge themselves for rent) was up 0.6% in July and is up 4.3% in the past year.
 
The increase in the CPI was mostly due to a 2.8% rise in energy prices. Food prices were up 0.4%. Excluding food and energy, the “core” CPI increased 0.2%, matching consensus expectations. Core prices are up 1.8% versus last year.
 
Real average hourly earnings – the cash earnings of all employees, adjusted for inflation – fell 0.1% in July and are down 1.3% in the past year. Real weekly earnings are down 1.0% in the past year.
 
Implications: The Consumer Price Index roared ahead 0.5% in July, handily beating consensus estimates.  While most of the increase was due to energy, which rose 2.8% for the month, it’s important to note that nearly all other major categories rose as well.  “Cash” inflation, which excludes the government’s estimate of what homeowners would pay themselves in rent, rose 0.6% in July, the most since November 2008.  This measure of inflation is up 4.3% in the past year.  “Core” inflation (which excludes food and energy) rose 0.2%, matching expectations, and is accelerating.  Over the past year, core prices are up 1.8%, but in the past six months, prices are up at a 2.6% annual rate and an even faster 3.1% rate in the last three months.  This is not welcome news for Fed officials who are trying to justify QE3.  Some say rising inflation is caused by “temporary factors” and will dissipate.  But they can’t explain what caused the temporary factors in the first place.  We believe their hopes of fading inflation will be dashed. In other news this morning, new claims for unemployment benefits rose 9,000 last week to 408,000.  The four-week moving average fell to 403,000 versus 440,000 in May.  Continuing claims for regular state benefits increased 14,000 to 3.70 million.  We are closely watching high-frequency indicators like this to see if there is a sharp downturn in economic activity.  Today’s jobless claims numbers don’t indicate there is one.
24247  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The Buffer on: August 18, 2011, 09:40:58 AM
The Buffer Between Mexican Cartels and the U.S. Government
August 17, 2011


By Scott Stewart

It is summer in Juarez, and again this year we find the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF), also known as the Juarez cartel, under pressure and making threats. At this time in 2010, La Linea, the VCF’s enforcer arm, detonated a small improvised explosive device (IED) inside a car in Juarez and killed two federal agents, one municipal police officer and an emergency medical technician and wounded nine other people. La Linea threatened to employ a far larger IED (100 kilograms) if the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) did not investigate the head of Chihuahua State Police intelligence, whom the VCF claimed was working for the Sinaloa Federation.

La Linea did attempt to employ another IED on Sept. 10, 2010, but this device, which failed to detonate, contained only 16 kilograms of explosives, far less than the 100 kilograms that the group had threatened to use.

Fast-forward a year, and we see the VCF still under unrelenting pressure from the Sinaloa Federation and still making threats. On July 15, the U.S. Consulate in Juarez released a message warning that, according to intelligence it had in hand, a cartel may be targeting the consulate or points of entry into the United States. On July 27, “narcomantas” — banners inscribed with messages from drug cartels — appeared in Juarez and Chihuahua signed by La Linea and including explicit threats against the DEA and employees of the U.S. Consulate in Juarez. Two days after the narcomantas appeared, Jose Antonio “El Diego” Acosta Hernandez, a senior La Linea leader whose name was mentioned in the messages, was arrested by Mexican authorities aided by intelligence from the U.S. government. Acosta is also believed to have been responsible for planning La Linea’s past IED attacks.

As we have discussed in our coverage of the drug war in Mexico, Mexican cartels, including the VCF, clearly possess the capability to construct and employ large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) — truck bombs — and yet they have chosen not to. These groups are not averse to bloodshed, or even outright barbarity, when they believe it is useful. Their decision to abstain from certain activities, such as employing truck bombs or targeting a U.S. Consulate, indicates that there must be compelling strategic reasons for doing so. After all, groups in Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq have demonstrated that truck bombs are a very effective means of killing perceived enemies and of sending strong messages.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for the Mexican cartels to abstain from such activities is that they do not consider them to be in their best interest. One important part of their calculation is that such activities would remove the main buffer that is currently insulating them from the full force of the U.S. government: the Mexican government.


The Buffer

Despite their public manifestations of machismo, the cartel leaders clearly fear and respect the strength of the world’s only superpower. This is evidenced by the distinct change in cartel activities along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a certain operational downshift routinely occurs. In Mexico, the cartels have the freedom to operate far more brazenly than they can in the United States, in terms of both drug trafficking and acts of violence. Shipments of narcotics traveling through Mexico tend to be far larger than shipments moving into and through the United States. When these large shipments reach the border they are taken to stash houses on the Mexican side, where they are typically divided into smaller quantities for transport into and through the United States.

As for violence, while the cartels do kill people on the U.S. side of the border, their use of violence there tends to be far more discreet; it has certainly not yet incorporated the dramatic flair that is frequently seen on the Mexican side, where bodies are often dismembered or hung from pedestrian bridges over major thoroughfares. The cartels are also careful not to assassinate high-profile public figures such as police chiefs, mayors and reporters in the United States, as they frequently do in Mexico.

The border does more than just alter the activities of the cartels, however. It also constrains the activities of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. These agencies cannot pursue cartels on the Mexican side of the border with the same vigor that they exercise on the U.S. side. Occasionally, the U.S. government will succeed in luring a wanted Mexican cartel leader outside of Mexico, as it did in the August 2006 arrest of Javier Arellano Felix, or catch one operating in the United States like Javier’s oldest brother, Francisco Arellano Felix. By and large, however, most wanted cartel figures remain in Mexico, out of the reach of U.S. law.

One facet of this buffer is corruption, which is endemic in Mexico, reaching all the way from the lowest municipal police officer to the presidential palace. Over the years several senior Mexican anti-drug officials, including the nation’s drug czar, have been arrested and charged with corruption.

However, the money generated by the Mexican cartels has far greater effects than just promoting corruption. The billions of dollars that come into the Mexican economy via the drug trade are important to the Mexican banking sector and to the industries in which the funds are laundered, such as construction. Because of this, there are many powerful Mexican businessmen who profit either directly or indirectly from the narcotics trade, and it would not be in their best interest for the billions of drug dollars to stop flowing into Mexico. Such people can place heavy pressure on the political system by either supporting or withholding support from particular candidates or parties.

Because of this, sources in Mexico have been telling STRATFOR that they believe that Mexican politicians like President Filipe Calderon are far more interested in stopping drug violence than they are in stopping the flow of narcotics. This is a pragmatic approach. Clearly, as long as there is demand for drugs in the United States there will be people who will find ways to meet that demand. It is impossible to totally stop the flow of narcotics into the U.S. market.

In addition to corruption and the economic benefits Mexico realizes from the drug trade, there is another important element that causes the Mexican government to act as a buffer between the Mexican cartels and the U.S. government — geopolitics. The Mexico-U.S. relationship is a long one that has involved considerable competition and conflict. The United States has long meddled in the affairs of Mexico and other countries in Latin America. And from the Mexican perspective, American imperialist aggression, via the Texas War of Independence and the Mexican-American War, resulted in Mexico losing nearly half of its territory to its powerful northern neighbor. Less than a century ago, U.S. troops invaded northern Mexico in response to Pancho Villa’s incursions into the United States.

Because of this history, Mexico — as with most of the rest of Latin America — regards the United States as a threat to its sovereignty. The result of this perception is that the Mexican government and the Mexican people in general are very reluctant to allow the United States to become too involved in Mexican affairs. The idea of American troops or law enforcement agents with boots on the ground in Mexico is considered especially threatening from the Mexican perspective.


A Thin Barrier

While Mexican sovereignty and international law combine with corruption and economics to create a barrier to assertive U.S. intervention in Mexico’s drug war, this barrier is not inviolable. There are two distinct ways this type of barrier has been breached in the past: by force and by consent.

An example of the first was seen following the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of U.S. DEA special agent Enrique Camarena. The DEA was not able to get what it viewed as satisfactory assistance from the Mexican government in pursuing the case despite the tremendous pressure applied by the U.S. government. This prompted the DEA to unilaterally enter Mexico and snatch two Mexican citizens connected to the case. Because of his involvement in the Camarena case, Honduran drug kingpin Juan Matta-Ballesteros was also rendered from his home in Honduras by U.S. government agents.

As a result of the U.S. reaction to the Camarena murder, the Guadalajara Cartel, Mexico’s most powerful criminal organization at the time, was decapitated, its leaders — Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero — all arrested and convicted for their part in ordering the killing. The tremendous pressure applied to Mexican authorities by the U.S. government to arrest the trio, coupled with the fear that they too might be rendered, ultimately led to their detention, although they did maintain sufficient influence to ensure that they were not extradited to the United States.

The Guadalajara Cartel also lost its primary connection to the Medellin cartel (Matta-Ballesteros) as a result of the Camarena case, and the cartel was eventually fractured into smaller units that would become today’s Sinaloa, Juarez, Gulf and Tijuana cartels. The Camarena case taught the Mexican cartel bosses to be careful not to provoke the Americans to the point where it will bring the full power of the U.S. government to bear upon their organizations (a lesson recently demonstrated by the unilateral U.S. operation to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan).

But in addition to unilateral force, sometimes the U.S. government can be invited into a country despite concerns about sovereignty. This happens when the population has something it fears more than U.S. involvement, and this is what happened in Colombia in the late 1980s. In an effort to influence the Colombian government not to cooperate with the U.S. government and extradite him to the United States, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin Cartel, resorted to terrorism. In 1989 he launched a string of terrorist attacks that included the assassination of one presidential candidate, the bombing a civilian airliner in an attempt to kill a second presidential candidate and several large VBIED attacks, including the detonation of a 1,000-pound truck bomb in December 1989 targeting the Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS, Colombia’s primary national intelligence and security service) that caused massive damage in the area around the DAS building in downtown Bogota. These attacks had a powerful impact on the Colombian government and Colombian people and caused them to reach out to the United States for increased assistance despite their concern about U.S. power. The increased U.S. assistance eventually led to the death of Escobar and the systematic dismantling of his organization.

The lesson in the Escobar case was: Do not push your own government or population too far or they will turn on you and invite the Americans in.


Full Circle

So, in looking at the situation in Mexico today, there are indeed cartel organizations that have been hit hard. Over the past few years, we have seen groups such as the Beltran Leyva Organization, the Arellano Felix Organization, the VCF and Los Zetas heavily damaged. Many of these groups, particularly the VCF, the Arellano Felix Organization and Los Zetas, have been forced to resort to other criminal activity such as kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking to fund their operations. However, they have not yet undertaken large-scale terrorist attacks. The VCF tiptoed along that line last year, with La Linea’s small-scale IED attacks, as did the Gulf cartel, but these groups were careful not to use IEDs that were too large, and La Linea never employed the huge IED it threatened to. In fact, the overall use of IEDs is down dramatically in 2011 compared to the same period last year — despite the fact that explosives are readily available in Mexico and the cartels have the demonstrated capability to manufacture and employ them.

It is also important to recognize that in the past couple of years, when the United States has become heavily interested in attacks linked to the Mexican cartels, the cartel figures believed to be responsible for these actions have been arrested or killed. This has happened in cases such as the March 2010 murders of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, the September 2010 murder of David Hartley on Falcon Lake, the February 2011 murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata, and even the previously mentioned July 27 threats against U.S. interests in Juarez. This means that the chances of a cartel such as the VCF getting the United States directly involved without the cartel being directly impacted are probably quite slim. In other words, if the VCF attacks the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, it can expect to be targeted directly by the U.S. and Mexican governments, instead of the governments focusing on other cartel players in the city, such as the VCF’s rival, the Sinaloa Federation.

As noted in our last cartel update, we anticipate that in the coming months the Mexican government campaign against Los Zetas will continue to impact that group, as will the attacks against Los Zetas by the Gulf cartel and its criminal allies. We also anticipate that the aforementioned Sinaloa pressure against the VCF in Juarez will not diminish. Nor will Mexican government pressure: We have seen reports that Luis Antonio Flores (also known as El Comen 2 or El Tarzan), El Diego’s replacement as the leader of La Linea, was arrested Aug. 16. However, we have seen nothing that would indicate that this pressure will cause these groups to lash out in the form of large-scale terrorist attacks like those associated with Pablo Escobar. Even when wounded, these Mexican organizations have shown that they seek to maintain the buffer protecting them from the full power of the U.S. government.

24248  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / The Buffer on: August 18, 2011, 09:40:08 AM
The Buffer Between Mexican Cartels and the U.S. Government
August 17, 2011


By Scott Stewart

It is summer in Juarez, and again this year we find the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF), also known as the Juarez cartel, under pressure and making threats. At this time in 2010, La Linea, the VCF’s enforcer arm, detonated a small improvised explosive device (IED) inside a car in Juarez and killed two federal agents, one municipal police officer and an emergency medical technician and wounded nine other people. La Linea threatened to employ a far larger IED (100 kilograms) if the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) did not investigate the head of Chihuahua State Police intelligence, whom the VCF claimed was working for the Sinaloa Federation.

La Linea did attempt to employ another IED on Sept. 10, 2010, but this device, which failed to detonate, contained only 16 kilograms of explosives, far less than the 100 kilograms that the group had threatened to use.

Fast-forward a year, and we see the VCF still under unrelenting pressure from the Sinaloa Federation and still making threats. On July 15, the U.S. Consulate in Juarez released a message warning that, according to intelligence it had in hand, a cartel may be targeting the consulate or points of entry into the United States. On July 27, “narcomantas” — banners inscribed with messages from drug cartels — appeared in Juarez and Chihuahua signed by La Linea and including explicit threats against the DEA and employees of the U.S. Consulate in Juarez. Two days after the narcomantas appeared, Jose Antonio “El Diego” Acosta Hernandez, a senior La Linea leader whose name was mentioned in the messages, was arrested by Mexican authorities aided by intelligence from the U.S. government. Acosta is also believed to have been responsible for planning La Linea’s past IED attacks.

As we have discussed in our coverage of the drug war in Mexico, Mexican cartels, including the VCF, clearly possess the capability to construct and employ large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) — truck bombs — and yet they have chosen not to. These groups are not averse to bloodshed, or even outright barbarity, when they believe it is useful. Their decision to abstain from certain activities, such as employing truck bombs or targeting a U.S. Consulate, indicates that there must be compelling strategic reasons for doing so. After all, groups in Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq have demonstrated that truck bombs are a very effective means of killing perceived enemies and of sending strong messages.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for the Mexican cartels to abstain from such activities is that they do not consider them to be in their best interest. One important part of their calculation is that such activities would remove the main buffer that is currently insulating them from the full force of the U.S. government: the Mexican government.


The Buffer

Despite their public manifestations of machismo, the cartel leaders clearly fear and respect the strength of the world’s only superpower. This is evidenced by the distinct change in cartel activities along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a certain operational downshift routinely occurs. In Mexico, the cartels have the freedom to operate far more brazenly than they can in the United States, in terms of both drug trafficking and acts of violence. Shipments of narcotics traveling through Mexico tend to be far larger than shipments moving into and through the United States. When these large shipments reach the border they are taken to stash houses on the Mexican side, where they are typically divided into smaller quantities for transport into and through the United States.

As for violence, while the cartels do kill people on the U.S. side of the border, their use of violence there tends to be far more discreet; it has certainly not yet incorporated the dramatic flair that is frequently seen on the Mexican side, where bodies are often dismembered or hung from pedestrian bridges over major thoroughfares. The cartels are also careful not to assassinate high-profile public figures such as police chiefs, mayors and reporters in the United States, as they frequently do in Mexico.

The border does more than just alter the activities of the cartels, however. It also constrains the activities of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. These agencies cannot pursue cartels on the Mexican side of the border with the same vigor that they exercise on the U.S. side. Occasionally, the U.S. government will succeed in luring a wanted Mexican cartel leader outside of Mexico, as it did in the August 2006 arrest of Javier Arellano Felix, or catch one operating in the United States like Javier’s oldest brother, Francisco Arellano Felix. By and large, however, most wanted cartel figures remain in Mexico, out of the reach of U.S. law.

One facet of this buffer is corruption, which is endemic in Mexico, reaching all the way from the lowest municipal police officer to the presidential palace. Over the years several senior Mexican anti-drug officials, including the nation’s drug czar, have been arrested and charged with corruption.

However, the money generated by the Mexican cartels has far greater effects than just promoting corruption. The billions of dollars that come into the Mexican economy via the drug trade are important to the Mexican banking sector and to the industries in which the funds are laundered, such as construction. Because of this, there are many powerful Mexican businessmen who profit either directly or indirectly from the narcotics trade, and it would not be in their best interest for the billions of drug dollars to stop flowing into Mexico. Such people can place heavy pressure on the political system by either supporting or withholding support from particular candidates or parties.

Because of this, sources in Mexico have been telling STRATFOR that they believe that Mexican politicians like President Filipe Calderon are far more interested in stopping drug violence than they are in stopping the flow of narcotics. This is a pragmatic approach. Clearly, as long as there is demand for drugs in the United States there will be people who will find ways to meet that demand. It is impossible to totally stop the flow of narcotics into the U.S. market.

In addition to corruption and the economic benefits Mexico realizes from the drug trade, there is another important element that causes the Mexican government to act as a buffer between the Mexican cartels and the U.S. government — geopolitics. The Mexico-U.S. relationship is a long one that has involved considerable competition and conflict. The United States has long meddled in the affairs of Mexico and other countries in Latin America. And from the Mexican perspective, American imperialist aggression, via the Texas War of Independence and the Mexican-American War, resulted in Mexico losing nearly half of its territory to its powerful northern neighbor. Less than a century ago, U.S. troops invaded northern Mexico in response to Pancho Villa’s incursions into the United States.

Because of this history, Mexico — as with most of the rest of Latin America — regards the United States as a threat to its sovereignty. The result of this perception is that the Mexican government and the Mexican people in general are very reluctant to allow the United States to become too involved in Mexican affairs. The idea of American troops or law enforcement agents with boots on the ground in Mexico is considered especially threatening from the Mexican perspective.


A Thin Barrier

While Mexican sovereignty and international law combine with corruption and economics to create a barrier to assertive U.S. intervention in Mexico’s drug war, this barrier is not inviolable. There are two distinct ways this type of barrier has been breached in the past: by force and by consent.

An example of the first was seen following the 1985 kidnapping, torture and murder of U.S. DEA special agent Enrique Camarena. The DEA was not able to get what it viewed as satisfactory assistance from the Mexican government in pursuing the case despite the tremendous pressure applied by the U.S. government. This prompted the DEA to unilaterally enter Mexico and snatch two Mexican citizens connected to the case. Because of his involvement in the Camarena case, Honduran drug kingpin Juan Matta-Ballesteros was also rendered from his home in Honduras by U.S. government agents.

As a result of the U.S. reaction to the Camarena murder, the Guadalajara Cartel, Mexico’s most powerful criminal organization at the time, was decapitated, its leaders — Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero — all arrested and convicted for their part in ordering the killing. The tremendous pressure applied to Mexican authorities by the U.S. government to arrest the trio, coupled with the fear that they too might be rendered, ultimately led to their detention, although they did maintain sufficient influence to ensure that they were not extradited to the United States.

The Guadalajara Cartel also lost its primary connection to the Medellin cartel (Matta-Ballesteros) as a result of the Camarena case, and the cartel was eventually fractured into smaller units that would become today’s Sinaloa, Juarez, Gulf and Tijuana cartels. The Camarena case taught the Mexican cartel bosses to be careful not to provoke the Americans to the point where it will bring the full power of the U.S. government to bear upon their organizations (a lesson recently demonstrated by the unilateral U.S. operation to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan).

But in addition to unilateral force, sometimes the U.S. government can be invited into a country despite concerns about sovereignty. This happens when the population has something it fears more than U.S. involvement, and this is what happened in Colombia in the late 1980s. In an effort to influence the Colombian government not to cooperate with the U.S. government and extradite him to the United States, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin Cartel, resorted to terrorism. In 1989 he launched a string of terrorist attacks that included the assassination of one presidential candidate, the bombing a civilian airliner in an attempt to kill a second presidential candidate and several large VBIED attacks, including the detonation of a 1,000-pound truck bomb in December 1989 targeting the Colombian Administrative Department of Security (DAS, Colombia’s primary national intelligence and security service) that caused massive damage in the area around the DAS building in downtown Bogota. These attacks had a powerful impact on the Colombian government and Colombian people and caused them to reach out to the United States for increased assistance despite their concern about U.S. power. The increased U.S. assistance eventually led to the death of Escobar and the systematic dismantling of his organization.

The lesson in the Escobar case was: Do not push your own government or population too far or they will turn on you and invite the Americans in.


Full Circle

So, in looking at the situation in Mexico today, there are indeed cartel organizations that have been hit hard. Over the past few years, we have seen groups such as the Beltran Leyva Organization, the Arellano Felix Organization, the VCF and Los Zetas heavily damaged. Many of these groups, particularly the VCF, the Arellano Felix Organization and Los Zetas, have been forced to resort to other criminal activity such as kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking to fund their operations. However, they have not yet undertaken large-scale terrorist attacks. The VCF tiptoed along that line last year, with La Linea’s small-scale IED attacks, as did the Gulf cartel, but these groups were careful not to use IEDs that were too large, and La Linea never employed the huge IED it threatened to. In fact, the overall use of IEDs is down dramatically in 2011 compared to the same period last year — despite the fact that explosives are readily available in Mexico and the cartels have the demonstrated capability to manufacture and employ them.

It is also important to recognize that in the past couple of years, when the United States has become heavily interested in attacks linked to the Mexican cartels, the cartel figures believed to be responsible for these actions have been arrested or killed. This has happened in cases such as the March 2010 murders of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, the September 2010 murder of David Hartley on Falcon Lake, the February 2011 murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata, and even the previously mentioned July 27 threats against U.S. interests in Juarez. This means that the chances of a cartel such as the VCF getting the United States directly involved without the cartel being directly impacted are probably quite slim. In other words, if the VCF attacks the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, it can expect to be targeted directly by the U.S. and Mexican governments, instead of the governments focusing on other cartel players in the city, such as the VCF’s rival, the Sinaloa Federation.

As noted in our last cartel update, we anticipate that in the coming months the Mexican government campaign against Los Zetas will continue to impact that group, as will the attacks against Los Zetas by the Gulf cartel and its criminal allies. We also anticipate that the aforementioned Sinaloa pressure against the VCF in Juarez will not diminish. Nor will Mexican government pressure: We have seen reports that Luis Antonio Flores (also known as El Comen 2 or El Tarzan), El Diego’s replacement as the leader of La Linea, was arrested Aug. 16. However, we have seen nothing that would indicate that this pressure will cause these groups to lash out in the form of large-scale terrorist attacks like those associated with Pablo Escobar. Even when wounded, these Mexican organizations have shown that they seek to maintain the buffer protecting them from the full power of the U.S. government.





88260
24249  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bureaucracy and Regulations in action: The Fourth Branch of the US Govt. on: August 18, 2011, 09:25:57 AM
SEC destroyed files?

http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/mikeshedlock/2011/08/18/sec_destroys_9000_fraud_files
24250  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH on the UK and US riots on: August 18, 2011, 09:22:50 AM


A once civil and orderly England was recently torn apart by rioting and looting -- at first by mostly minority youth, but eventually also by young Brits in general. This summer, a number of American cities witnessed so-called "flash mobs" -- mostly African-American youths who swarmed at prearranged times to loot stores or randomly attack those of other races and classes.

The mayhem has reignited an old debate in the West. Are such criminally minded young Americans and British turning to violence in protest over inequality, poverty and bleak opportunities? The Left, of course, often blames cutbacks in the tottering welfare state and high unemployment. The havoc and mayhem, in other words, are a supposed wake-up call in an age of insolvency not to cut entitlements, but to tax the affluent to redistribute more of their earnings to those unfairly deprived.

The Right counters that the problem is not too few state subsidies, but far too many. The growing -- and now unsustainable -- state dole of the last half-century eroded self-reliance and personal initiative. The logical result is a dependent underclass spanning generations that becomes ever more unhappy and unsatisfied the more it is given from others. Today's looters have plenty to eat. That is why they target sneaker and electronics stores -- to enjoy the perks of life they either cannot or will not work for.

We might at least agree on a few facts behind the violence. First, much of the furor is because poverty is now seen as a relative, not an absolute, condition. Per-capita GDP is $47,000 in the U.S. and $35,000 in Britain. In contrast, those rioting in impoverished Syria (where average GDP is about $5,000) or Egypt (about $6,000) worry about being hungry or being shot for their views, rather than not acquiring a new BlackBerry or a pair of Nikes. Inequality, not Tiny Tim-like poverty, is the new Western looter's complaint.

So when the president lectures about fat-cat "corporate jet owners," he doesn't mean that greed prevents the lower classes from flying on affordable commercial jets -- only that a chosen few in luxury aircraft, like himself, reach their destinations a little more quickly and easily. Not having what someone richer has is our generation's lament instead of lacking elemental shelter, food or electricity. The problem is not that the bathwater in Philadelphia is not as hot as in Martha's Vineyard, but that the conditions under which it is delivered in comparison are far more basic and ordinary.

Second, the wealthy have not set an example that hard work and self-discipline leads to well-deserved success and the good life. Recently, a drunken, affluent young prospect for the U.S. ski team urinated on a sleeping 11-year old during a transcontinental flight. And the more the psychodramas of drones like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, or some members of the royal family, become headline news, the more we see boredom and corruption among the pampered elite. The behavior of John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Arnold Schwarzenegger does not remind us that good habits of elite public figures follow from well-deserved riches and acclaim -- but only that with today's wealth and power comes inevitable license and decadence.

Third, communism may be dead, but Marxist-inspired materialism still measures the good life only by equal access to "things." We can argue whether those who loot a computer store are spoiled or oppressed. But even a person in faded jeans and a worn T-shirt can still find all sorts of spiritual enrichment at no cost in either a museum or a good book. Did we forget that in our affluent postmodern society, being poor is often an impoverishment of the mind, not necessarily the result of a cruel physical world?

Finally, there is far too much emphasis on government as the doting, problem-solving parent. What made Western civilization rich and liberal was not just free-market capitalism and well-funded constitutional government, but the role of the family, community and church in reminding the emancipated individual of an affluent society that he should not always do what he was legally permitted to. Destroy these bridles, ridicule the old shame culture of the past, and we end up with unchecked appetites -- as we now witness from a smoldering London to the flash mobbing in Wisconsin.

Our high-tech angry youth are deprived not just because their elders put at risk their future subsidies, but because they were not taught what real wealth is -- and where and how it is obtained and should be used.
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