Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Al Jazeera
on: January 29, 2011, 01:51:09 PM
President Obama, say the 'D-Word'
US appears to shy away from talk about democracy in Middle East, despite
historic anti-government rallies in ally Egypt.
Mark LeVine Last Modified: 28 Jan 2011 12:36 GMT
*Obama has 'sought to equate Egypt's protesters and government as equally
pitted parties in the growing conflict' [AFP]***
It's incredible, really. The president of the United States can't bring
himself to talk about democracy in the Middle East. He can dance around it,
use euphemisms, throw out words like "freedom" and "tolerance" and
"non-violent" and especially "reform," but he can't say the one word that
really matters: democracy.
How did this happen? After all, in his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the
spoke the word loudly and clearly - at least once.
"The fourth issue that I will address is democracy," he declared, before
explaining that while the United States won't impose its own system, it was
committed to governments that "reflect the will of the people... I do have
an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability
to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the
rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is
transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you
choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that
is why we will support them everywhere."
"No matter where it takes hold," the president concluded, "government of the
people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power."
Of course, this was just
however lofty, reflecting a moment when no one was rebelling against the
undemocratic governments of our allies - at least not openly and in a manner
that demanded international media coverage.
Now it's for real.
And "democracy" is scarcely to be heard on the lips of the
his most senior officials.
In fact, newly released WikiLeaks cables show that from the moment it
assumed power, the Obama administration specifically toned down public
criticism of Mubarak. The US ambassador to Egypt advised secretary of state
Hillary Clinton to avoid even the mention of former presidential candidate
Ayman Nour, jailed and abused for years after running against Mubarak in
part on America's encouragement.
Not surprisingly, when the protests began, Clinton declared that Egypt was
"stable" and an important US ally, sending a strong signal that the US would
not support the protesters if they tried to topple the regime. Indeed,
Clinton has repeatedly described Mubarak as a family friend. Perhaps Ms
Clinton should choose her friends more wisely.
Similarly, president Obama has refused to take a strong stand in support of
the burgeoning pro-democracy movement and has been no more discriminating in
his public characterisation of American support for its Egyptian "ally".
Mubarak continued through yesterday to be praised as a crucial partner of
the US. Most important, there has been absolutely no call for real
Rather, only "reform" has been suggested to the Egyptian government so that,
in Obama's words, "people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate
"I've always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on
reform - political reform, economic reform - is absolutely critical for the
long-term well-being of Egypt," advised the president, although
vice-president Joe Biden has refused to refer to Mubarak as a dictator,
leading one to wonder how bad a leader must be to deserve the title.
Even worse, the president and his senior aides have repeatedly sought to
equate the protesters and the government as somehow equally pitted parties
in the growing conflict, urging both sides to "show restraint". This
equation has been repeated many times by other American officials.
This trick, tried and tested in the US discourse surrounding the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is equally nonsensical here. These are not two
movements in a contest for political power. Rather, it is a huge state, with
a massive security and police apparatus that is supported by the world's
major superpower to the tune of billions of dollars a year, against a
largely young, disenfranchised and politically powerless population which
has suffered brutally at its hands for decades.
The focus on reform is also a highly coded reference, as across the
developing world when Western leaders have urged "reform" it has usually
signified the liberalisation of economies to allow for greater penetration
by Western corporations, control of local resources, and concentration of
wealth, rather than the kind of political democratisation and redistribution
of wealth that are key demands of protesters across the region.
*Al Jazeera interview says it all*
An Al Jazeera English
Thursday with US state department spokesman PJ Crowley perfectly summed up
the sustainability of the Obama administration's position. In some of the
most direct and unrelenting questioning of a US official I have ever
witnessed, News Hour anchor Shihab al-Rattansi repeatedly pushed Crowley to
own up to the hypocrisy and absurdity of the administration's position of
offering mild criticism of Mubarak while continuing to ply him with billions
of dollars in aid and political support.
When pressed about how the US-backed security services are beating and
torturing and even killing protesters, and whether it wasn't time for the US
to consider discontinuing aid, Crowley responded that "we don't see this as
an either or [a minute later, he said "zero sum"] proposition. Egypt is a
friend of the US, is an anchor of stability and helping us pursue peace in
the Middle East".
Each part of this statement is manifestly false; the fact that in the midst
of intensifying protests senior officials feel they can spin the events away
from openly calling for a real democratic transition now reveals either
incredible ignorance, arrogance, or both.
Yet this is precisely an either/or moment. Much as former US president Bush
declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we can either be "with or against"
the Egyptian people. Refusing to take sides is in fact taking sides -the
Moreover, Crowley, like his superiors, refused to use the word democracy,
responding to its use by anchor al-Rattansi with the word "reform" while
arguing that it was unproductive to tie events in Egypt to the protests in
other countries such as Tunis or Jordan because each has its own
"indigenous" forces and reasons for discontent.
That is a very convenient singularisation of the democracy movements, which
ignores the large number of similarities in the demands of protests across
the region, the tactics and strategies of protest, and their broader
distaste and distrust of the US in view of its untrammelled support for
dictatorships across the region.
Ensconced in a system built upon the lack of democracy - not just abroad,
but as we've seen in the last decade, increasingly in the US as well -
perhaps president Obama doesn't feel he has the luxury of pushing too hard
for democracy when its arrival would threaten so many policies pursued by
Instead, "stability" and "reform" are left to fill the void, even though
both have little to do with democracy in an real sense.
Perhaps Obama wants to say the D-word. Maybe in his heart he hopes Mubarak
just leaves and allows democracy to flourish. By all accounts, the president
is no ideologue like his predecessor. He does not come from the
political-economic-strategic elites as did Bush, and has no innate desire to
serve or protect their interests.
Feeling trapped by a system outside his control or power to change, maybe
president Obama hopes that the young people of the Arab world will lead the
way, and will be satisfied by congratulations by his administration after
But even if accurate, such a scenario will likely never come to pass. With
Egyptians preparing to die in the streets, standing on the sidelines is no
longer an option.
*A gift that won't be offered again*
The most depressing and even frightening part of the tepid US response to
the protests across the region is the lack of appreciation of what kind of
gift the US, and West more broadly, are being handed by these movements.
Their very existence is bringing unprecedented levels of hope and productive
activism to a region and as such constitutes a direct rebuttal to the power
and prestige of al-Qaeda.
Instead of embracing the push for real democratic change, however, surface
reforms that would preserve the system intact are all that's recommended.
Instead of declaring loud and clear a support for a real democracy agenda,
the president speaks only of "disrupting plots and securing our cities and
skies" and "tak[ing] the fight to al-Qaeda and their allies", as he declared
in his State of the Union address.
Obama doesn't seem to understand that the US doesn't need to "take the
fight" to al-Qaeda, or even fire a single shot, to score its greatest
victory in the "war on terror". Supporting real democratisation will do more
to downgrade al-Qaeda's capabilities than any number of military attacks. He
had better gain this understanding quickly because in the next hours or days
the Egypt's revolution will likely face its moment of truth. And right
behind Egypt are Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and who knows what other countries,
all looking to free themselves of governments that the US and its European
allies have uncritically supported for decades.
If president Obama has the courage to support genuine democracy, even at the
expense of immediate American policy interests, he could well go down in
history as one of the heroes of the Middle East's Jasmine winter. If he
chooses platitudes and the status quo, the harm to America's standing in the
region will likely take decades to repair.
Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting
researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in
Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and
Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).*
*The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.*
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Medicaid cuts
on: January 29, 2011, 12:12:53 PM
Hamstrung by federal prohibitions against lowering Medicaid eligibility, governors from both parties are exercising their remaining options in proposing bone-deep cuts to the program during the fourth consecutive year of brutal economic conditions.
Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a Democrat, proposes cutting Medicaid by $1.7 billion.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is expected to propose at least $2 billion in cuts in his budget.
Because states confront budget gaps estimated at $125 billion, few essential services — schools, roads, parks — are likely to escape the ax. But the election of tough-minded governors, the evaporation of federal aid, the relentless growth of Medicaid rolls and the exhaustion of alternatives have made the program, which primarily covers low-income children and disabled adults, an outsize target.
In Arizona, which last year ended Medicaid payments for some organ transplants, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, is asking the Obama administration to waive a provision of the new health care law so that the state can remove 280,000 adults from the program’s rolls. In California, the newly elected governor, Jerry Brown, a Democrat, proposes cutting Medicaid by $1.7 billion, in part by limiting the beneficiaries to 10 doctor visits a year and six prescriptions a month.
In the budget he will unveil on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York is expected to propose cutting even more — at least $2 billion from projected state spending on Medicaid, which totaled about $14 billion this year.
And Gov. Nathan Deal, the new Republican leader of Georgia, proposed this month to end Medicaid coverage of dental, vision and podiatry treatments for adults. South Carolina is considering going a step further by also eliminating hospice care.
The governors are taking little joy in their proposals. And many of them, particularly the Republicans, are complaining about provisions of last year’s health care overhaul, and of the stimulus package before it, that require the states to maintain eligibility levels in order to keep their federal Medicaid dollars.
“Please know that I understand fully the impacts of this rollback, and it is with a heavy heart that I make this request,” Ms. Brewer wrote this week in seeking a waiver, the first of its kind, from Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. “However, I am left with no other viable alternative.”
The shrinking of Medicaid programs, if approved by the state legislatures, would come at a tenuous moment for the Obama administration. Starting in 2014, the health care law calls for an enormous expansion of Medicaid eligibility that is expected to add 16 million beneficiaries by 2019.
Some states are now cutting benefits like prescription drugs and mental health treatment that will be required then. The federal government will cover the entire cost of the expansion through 2016, when states must gradually pick up a share, peaking at 10 percent in 2020 and remaining there.
Governors have known that this precipice was near for close to two years.
Medicaid, which covered 48.5 million people in 2009, up 8 percent in a year, is a joint state and federal program. The federal government provides the lion’s share of the money and sets minimum standards for eligibility and benefits that states may exceed if they wish.
In 2009, Congress provided about $90 billion for states in the stimulus package to offset the cost of surging Medicaid rolls. Last August, it extended the aid at a reduced level, adding $15 billion over six months. The relief raised the federal share to between 65 percent and 82 percent, depending on the state, up from between 50 percent and 75 percent.
While that money is widely credited with staving off catastrophe, deficits were so deep that 39 states cut Medicaid payments to providers in 2010, and 20 states pared benefits, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
On July 1, the enhanced federal aid will disappear, causing an overnight increase of between one-fourth and one-third in each state’s share of Medicaid’s costs. But because of the federal eligibility restrictions, the options for states are largely limited to cutting benefits that are not federally required; reducing payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes; and raising taxes on those providers.
“States have already cut payments to health care providers and scaled back benefits over the last few years, so these new proposed cuts are much more painful,” said Edwin Park, a health expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning research group.
A number of states, Texas and California among them, are considering further reductions of as much as 10 percent in payments to providers. Medicaid reimbursement is already so low that many physicians refuse to accept the coverage.
Several states also plan to raise co-payments for beneficiaries. And a number of governors, notably Rick Scott in Florida, are considering vast expansions of managed care plans in an attempt to control costs.
Mr. Brown’s proposed cap on doctors’ visits in California would affect only 10 percent of Medicaid recipients, said Toby Douglas, the state’s Medicaid director. But many of them would be among the sickest beneficiaries. Mr. Brown also has suggested eliminating an adult day care program that serves 27,000 people who might otherwise end up in nursing homes.
“We are having to make proposals that are not the best choices for our most vulnerable beneficiaries,” Mr. Douglas said. “But given our limited resources, they are the best choices for the State of California.”
Lawmakers in a few states have discussed withdrawing from Medicaid, although Texas officials recently concluded that the loss of federal matching dollars would make it impractical. In at least one state, Minnesota, officials are expanding Medicaid eligibility to some childless adults before 2014, largely to win federal dollars for coverage that was being provided by the state.
Arizona’s waiver request will be a test of the new health care law’s flexibility, and of the White House’s disposition. Other states are watching. Twenty-nine Republican governors wrote Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders this month to urge repeal of the prohibition, which they called “unconscionable.”
Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency would not comment on Arizona’s pending request or the administration’s approach to waivers. “We want to continue our close partnership with the states and our nation’s governors,” she said.
Arizona is asking to remove 250,000 childless adults and 30,000 parents from Medicaid. They were granted eligibility by a 2000 referendum that made Arizona one of the few states to cover low-income childless adults.
The expansion was financed with proceeds from cigarette taxes and a tobacco lawsuit, but that money became insufficient in 2004. The state’s general fund has been making up the difference ever since. Eliminating the coverage would save $541 million, closing nearly half of the budget gap for the coming year.
In her letter to Ms. Sebelius, Ms. Brewer noted that Medicaid consumed 30 percent of her state’s general fund, up from 17 percent in 2007. And she emphasized that Arizona’s coverage was more generous than that in most states, a pointed reference to Kansas, where Ms. Sebelius was governor until two years ago.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sent by a not always reliable internet friend
on: January 29, 2011, 12:01:02 PM
I am clueless in these things. Any comments from the more cyber-literate amongst us?
Does your government have an Internet kill-switch? Read our guide to
Guerrilla Networking and be prepared for when the lines get cut.
By Patrick Miller, David Daw
Jan 28, 2011 3:50 PM
These days, no popular movement goes without an Internet presence of
some kind, whether it's organizing on Facebook or spreading the word
through Twitter. And as we've seen in Egypt
</article/218052/egypt_expands_communications_blackout.html>, that means
that your Internet connection can be the first to go. Whether you're
trying to check in with your family, contact your friends, or simply
spread the word, here are a few ways to build some basic network
connectivity when you can't rely on your cellular or landline Internet
Do-It-Yourself Internet With Ad-Hoc Wi-Fi
Even if you've managed to find an Internet connection for yourself, it
won't be that helpful in reaching out to your fellow locals if they
can't get online to find you. If you're trying to coordinate a group of
people in your area and can't rely on an Internet connection, cell
phones, or SMS, your best bet could be a wireless mesh network
sorts--essentially, a distributed network of wireless networking devices
that can all find each other and communicate with each other. Even if
none of those devices have a working Internet connection, they can still
find each other, which, if your network covers the city you're in, might
be all you need. At the moment, wireless mesh networking isn't really
anywhere close to market-ready, though we have seen an implementation of
the 802.11s draft standard, which extends the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard to
include wireless mesh networking, in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO
However, a prepared guerrilla networker with a handful of PCs could make
good use of Daihinia <http://daihinia.com/> ($25, 30-day free trial), an
app that piggybacks on your Wi-Fi adapter driver to turn your normal
ad-hoc Wi-Fi network into a multihop ad-hoc network (disclaimer: we
haven't tried this ourselves yet), meaning that instead of requiring
each device on the network to be within range of the original access
point, you simply need to be within range of a device on the network
that has Daihinia installed, effectively allowing you to add a wireless
mesh layer to your ad-hoc network.
Advanced freedom fighters can set up a portal Web page on their network
that explains the way the setup works, with Daihinia instructions and a
local download link so they can spread the network even further. Lastly,
just add a Bonjour-compatible chat client like Pidgin
<http://pidgin.im/> or iChat, and you'll be able to talk to your
neighbors across the city without needing an Internet connection.
Back to Basics
Remember when you stashed your old modems in the closet because you
thought you might need them some day? In the event of a total
communications blackout--as we're seeing in Egypt, for example--you'll
be glad you did. Older and simpler tools, like dial-up Internet or even
ham radio, could still work, since these "abandoned" tech avenues aren't
being policed nearly as hard.
In order to get around the total shutdown of all of the ISPs within
Egypt, several international ISPs are offering dial-up access to the
Internet to get protesters online, since phone service is still
operational. It's slow, but it still works--the hard part is getting the
access numbers without an Internet connection to find them.
Unfortunately, such dial-up numbers can also be fairly easily shut down
by the Egyptian government, so you could also try returning to FidoNet
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FidoNet>--a distributed networking system
for BBSes that was popular in the 1980s. FidoNet is limited to sending
only simple text messages, and it's slow, but it has two virtues: Users
connect asynchronously, so the network traffic is harder to track, and
any user can act as the server, which means that even if the government
shuts down one number in the network, another one can quickly pop up to
take its place.
You could also take inspiration from groups that are working to create
an ad-hoc communications network into and out of Egypt using Ham Radio
<http://werebuild.eu/wiki/Egypt/Main_Page#Hamradio>, since the signals
are rarely tracked and extremely hard to shut down or block. Most of
these efforts are still getting off the ground, but hackers are already
cobbling together ways to make it a viable form of communication into
and out of the country.
Always Be Prepared
In the land of no Internet connection, the man with dial-up is king.
Here are a few gadgets that you could use to prepare for the day they
cut the lines.
Given enough time and preparation, your ham radio networks could even be
adapted into your own ad-hoc network using Packet Radio
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packet_radio>, a radio communications
protocol that you can use to create simple long-distance wireless
networks to transfer text and other messages between computers. Packet
Radio is rather slow and not particularly popular (don't try to stream
any videos with this, now), but it's exactly the kind of networking
device that would fly under the radar.
In response to the crisis in Egypt, nerds everywhere have risen to call
for new and exciting tools for use in the next government-mandated
shutdown. Bre Pettis, founder of the hackerspace NYC Resistor
<http://www.nycresistor.com/> and creator of the Makerbot
<http://www.makerbot.com/> 3D printer, has called for "Apps for the
a quick and easy way to set up chats on a local network so you can talk
with your friends and neighbors in an emergency even without access to
the Internet. If his comments are any indication, Appocalypse apps may
be headed your way soon.
Tons of cool tech are also just waiting to be retrofitted for these
purposes. David Dart's Pirate Box <http://wiki.daviddarts.com/PirateBox>
is a one-step local network in a box originally conceived for file
sharing and local P2P purposes, but it wouldn't take much work to adapt
the Pirate Box as a local networking tool able to communicate with other
pirate boxes to form a compact, mobile set of local networks in the
event of an Internet shutdown.
Whether you're in Egypt or Eagle Rock, you rely on your Internet access
to stay in touch with friends and family, get your news, and find
information you need. (And read PCWorld, of course.) Hopefully with
these apps, tools, and techniques, you won't have to worry about
anyone--even your government--keeping you from doing just that.
/Patrick Miller hopes he isn't first against the wall when the
revolution comes. Find him on Twitter
have a working Internet connection, anyway. /
/David Daw is an accidental expert in ad-hoc networks since his
apartment gets no cell reception. Find him on Twitter
<http://twitter.com/#%21/DavidHDaw/> or send him a ham radio signal. /http://www.pcworld.com/printable/article/id,218155/printable.html
We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once. --
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Egypt
on: January 29, 2011, 11:54:02 AM
Egypt gets its own thread for obvious reasons.
I begin by noting how utterly vapid most of the coverage we are seeing is. An internet friend is recommendinghttp://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/
I have no idea whether he has lost his fg mind and am in Vancouver for a seminar at the moment, but perhaps one of us can take a look and report back whether it is worth the time.
RED ALERT: MUBARAK NAMES FORMER AIR FORCE CHIEF AS NEW EGYPTIAN PM
Egypt's former air force chief and minister for civil aviation, Ahmed Shafiq, has
been designated the new prime minister by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and
tasked to form the next Cabinet, Al Jazeera reported Jan. 29. The announcement comes
shortly after Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was appointed vice
president, a position that has been vacant for the past 30 years.
Mubarak is essentially accelerating a succession plan that has been in the works for
some time. STRATFOR noted in December 2010 that a conflict was building between the
president on one side and the old guard in the army and the ruling party on the
other over Mubarak's attempt to create a path for his son Gamal to eventually
succeed him. The interim plan Mubarak had proposed was for Suleiman to become vice
president, succeed Mubarak and then pass the reins to Gamal after some time. The
stalwart members of the old guard, however, refused this plan. Though they approved
of Suleiman, they knew his tenure would be short-lived given his advanced age.
Instead, they demanded that Shafiq, who comes from the air force -- the most
privileged branch of the military from which Mubarak himself also came -- be
designated the successor. Shafiq is close to Mubarak and worked under his command in
the air force. Shafiq also has the benefit of having held a civilian role as
minister of civil aviation since 2002, making him more palatable to the public.
Mubarak may be nominally dissolving the Cabinet, ordering an army curfew and now
asking Shafiq to form the next government, but the embattled president is not the
one in charge. Instead, the military appears to be managing Mubarak's exit, taking
care not to engage in a confrontation with the demonstrators while the political
details are being sorted out.
Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
RED ALERT: HAMAS AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
The following is a report from a STRATFOR source in Hamas. Hamas, which formed in
Gaza as an outgrowth of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), has an interest in
exaggerating its role and coordination with the MB in this crisis. The following
information has not been confirmed. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of concern
building in Israel and the United States in particular over the role of the MB in
the demonstrations and whether a political opening will be made for the Islamist
organization in Egypt.
The Egyptian police are no longer patrolling the Rafah border crossing into Gaza.
Hamas armed men are entering into Egypt and are closely collaborating with the MB.
The MB has fully engaged itself in the demonstrations, and they are unsatisfied with
the dismissal of the Cabinet. They are insisting on a new Cabinet that does not
include members of the ruling National Democratic Party.
Security forces in plainclothes are engaged in destroying public property in order
to give the impression that many protesters represent a public menace. The MB is
meanwhile forming people's committees to protect public property and also to
coordinate demonstrators' activities, including supplying them with food, beverages
and first aid.
Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: Q4 GDP first estimate
on: January 28, 2011, 12:28:52 PM
The first estimate for Q4 real GDP growth is 3.2% at an annual rate To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
The first estimate for Q4 real GDP growth is 3.2% at an annual rate, slightly lower than the consensus expected.
The largest positive contributions to the real GDP growth rate were net exports, which added 3.4 points to the real GDP growth rate, and personal consumption, which increased at a 4.4% annual rate.
The weakest component of real GDP, by far, was inventories, which alone reduced the real GDP growth rate by 3.7 points.
The GDP price index increased at a 0.3% annual rate in Q4. Nominal GDP – real GDP plus inflation – rose at a 3.4% rate in Q4 and is now up 4.2% versus a year ago.
Implications: Real GDP grew at a 3.2% annual rate in Q4. This was slightly lower than the consensus (3.5%), but significantly lower than our much publicized forecast of 5.4%, which was the highest forecast in the consensus survey. But don’t throw us out as being those crazy optimists just yet. Our forecast was largely based on a key insight about how the government (mis)measures oil prices, so we predicted net exports would add 3.3 points to the GDP growth rate, much higher than anyone else. And guess what? Net exports added 3.4 points to the GDP growth rate! And because we were so bullish on trade, we predicted real final sales (real GDP excluding inventories) would grow at a 7.1% annual rate, the fastest pace since 1984. And, guess what? Real final sales came in at exactly that 7.1% growth rate! Where we were off, was with government spending (much weaker than we had expected), personal consumption and home building (stronger than we expected) and inventories (substantially below both our forecast and the consensus). Inventories alone subtracted 3.7 points from real GDP growth. In other words, manufacturers and retailers underestimated consumer demand and ran down inventories dramatically in the fourth quarter. Anecdotal reports suggest that low inventory levels are having a cost in the form of lost sales. Moreover, prices are not likely to be slashed to reduce excess inventories after the holidays. What this means is that there is more room for production increases in 2011 and inflation will continue to move higher. Our original forecast of 4% real GDP growth this year is probably too low. Real consumer spending grew at a 4.4% annual rate in Q4, the fastest in almost five years, while business investment continued to advance and home building increased without any assistance from homebuyer tax-credits.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Lebanon
on: January 28, 2011, 09:05:31 AM
Looks like it may be a busy day on this thread!
Plenty of POTH commentary mingled in this piece-- Marc
ALMOST exactly six years after the Cedar Revolution led to a rapid withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the United States’ dream that it could use this fragile country as a launching pad for a New Middle East — one with a decidedly pro-American bent — has seemingly collapsed.
One could argue that it crumpled at exactly 11:58 a.m. on Tuesday, when a Christian member of the Lebanese Parliament from the Bekaa Valley named Nicola Fattoush strode into the presidential palace and cast his ballot against Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Mr. Hariri is the son of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister whose assassination in February 2005 is the basis for soon-to-be-expected indictments by the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Although the new prime minister, Najib Mikati, didn’t need Mr. Fattoush’s support to defeat Saad Hariri — the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah and the Parliament’s largest single bloc of Christians, headed by Gen. Michel Aoun, along with some Sunni Muslim and Druze members, provided the numerical edge — Mr. Fattoush’s vote held particular significance. Not only had he been an ally of Saad Hariri’s, but he had just days before received a widely publicized visit from the United States ambassador, Maura Connelly, in his home district.
That a small-time figure known for his political horse-trading would spurn a superpower’s attempt to retain his vote for its man provides an exclamation point on just how poorly Washington’s policy of “maximalism” — applying sporadic bouts of pressure on its allies while refusing to sincerely negotiate with its adversaries — has fared in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole. The Obama administration is going to need a very different approach when it comes to dealing with the “new” Lebanon.
Unfortunately, though, such a change will be far more difficult today than it would have been just six years ago, when Hezbollah had its political back against the wall, lacking support outside its Shiite base and the insurance of Syrian troops in the country.
In April of that year, Hezbollah went so far as to send one of its affiliated politicians, Trade Hamade, to meet with State Department officials to work out a modus vivendi. He left Washington empty-handed: the Bush administration believed that American influence was on the rise in Lebanon and that Hezbollah could be cornered into agreeing to disarmament before any substantive negotiations.
Instead of undermining Hezbollah’s political support by broadening alliances with pro-American figures in Lebanon and addressing the concerns held by many Lebanese — the sentiment that Israel still occupied Lebanese territory in the south, that there were Lebanese in Israeli jails and that the country needed a stronger national defense — the Bush administration cultivated a narrow set of local allies and pursued a “with us or against us” strategy aimed at eliminating Hezbollah. Sadly, it took this policy less than a year to result in a botched Israeli invasion that killed and wounded thousands of Lebanese citizens and gave Hezbollah unprecedented popularity in the region.
(MARC: At the time I posted here of the grave historical error that IMO Israel was committing by pulling up short.)
Today, Syria has regained much of its hegemony in the country — this time without the cost of stationing troops — and is again at the center of regional politics. Hezbollah’s military capacity, by all accounts, has soared, and many of its leaders seem to harbor the dangerous belief that they can decisively win a “final” confrontation with Israel. The Party of God has also deftly maintained and even expanded its political alliances — including one with about half the Christians in the country — that gave it the power to change the government this week by constitutional means.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Hezbollah has largely succeeded in undermining the legitimacy of the United Nations tribunal in the Arab and Islamic worlds. In this effort it had unintentional American help. As a recent report from the International Crisis Group put it, the manner in which the investigation was established, “pushed by two Western powers with clear strategic objectives” — the United States and France — “contaminated” the process.
So, what can the United States do to reverse Hezbollah’s new momentum? Its options are limited. Given the change of government, Congress may well try to cut off all aid to Lebanon and the Lebanese Army. The Obama administration will likely reiterate its support for the tribunal and push for any indictments of Hezbollah figures. But neither step would have much of an impact on Hezbollah’s core calculations or desires.
Hezbollah will continue to increase its military power, edging ever closer to what Israeli officials have called a “redline” of capabilities that would prompt Israel to mount a major “pre-emptive” attack. Such a move would, as it was in 2006, be devastating for Lebanon, probably for Israel and certainly for United States interests in the region, not least because Hezbollah would likely survive and even gain new adherents among those affected by Israeli strikes on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian areas.
Still, there is a way for Washington to stake out a reasonable, nonviolent alternative: by pushing for the immediate revival of peace talks between Syria and Israel. Eleven years ago, a peace agreement between the two countries that would have included the disarmament of Hezbollah fell apart, largely because the Israeli prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, found it too politically difficult to hand over to Syria the last few hundred yards of shoreline around the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee bordering the Golan Heights.
Although a new deal on the Golan would not lead to the end of Hezbollah in the immediate term, it would contain the movement’s ability and desire to use violence, as Syria would need to commit to cutting off the supply routes by which Iranian (and Syrian) weapons are now smuggled into Lebanon. Militarily weakened, and without Syrian or much domestic political backing to continue in its mission to liberate Jerusalem, Hezbollah would find it extremely difficult to threaten Israel’s northern border.
Certainly some Israelis see the benefits of such a deal. Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and national security adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told an interviewer recently that on his first day on the job, he recommended that Mr. Olmert make a deal with Syria because it would “change the security situation in the Middle East.” He said he still believed that.
When asked if a pullout might create a threat to Israel along the Golan, Mr. Mizrahi answered: “Our chief of staff doesn’t think so. Our head of intelligence, military intelligence, doesn’t think so ... the best Israeli generals are saying we can negotiate it, so I believe them.”
Would pressuring Israel into a full withdrawal from the Golan be politically difficult for President Obama? Surely — as it would be for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But given the alternatives for Lebanon, Israel and the United States, anything less would be merely setting up temporary roadblocks to an impending regional disaster.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Another one from POTH
on: January 28, 2011, 08:35:24 AM
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Demonstrators in Egypt have protested against rising prices and stagnant incomes, for greater freedom and against police brutality. But religion, so often a powerful mobilizing force here, has so far played little role.
That may be about to change.
With organizers calling for demonstrations after Friday prayer, the political movement will literally be taken to the doorsteps of the nation’s mosques. And as the Egyptian government and security services brace for the expected wave of mass demonstrations, Islamic groups seem poised to emerge as wildcards in the growing political movement.
Reporters in Egypt said on Friday that, after rumors swept Cairo late Thursday that the authorities planned to throttle the protesters' communications among themselves, access to the Internet, text messaging services and Twitter was not possible on Friday morning in Cairo, Alexandria and possibly other cities.
Heightening the tension, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organized opposition group in the country, announced Thursday that it would take part in the protest. The support of the Brotherhood could well change the calculus on the streets, tipping the numbers in favor of the protesters and away from the police, lending new strength to the demonstrations and further imperiling President Hosni Mubarak’s reign of nearly three decades.
“Tomorrow is going to be the day of the intifada,” said a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood here in Egypt’s second largest city, who declined to give his name because he said he would be arrested if he did. The spokesman said that the group was encouraging members of its youth organization — roughly those 15 to 30 years old — to take part in protests.
But Islam is hardly homogeneous, and many religious leaders here said Thursday that they would not support the protests, for reasons including scriptural prohibitions on defying rulers and a belief that democratic change would not benefit them. “We Salafists are not going to participate in any of the demonstrations tomorrow,” said Sheik Yasir Burhami, a leading figure among the fundamentalist Salafists in Alexandria.
While the largest demonstrations have taken place in the capital, Cairo, and the most chaos Thursday was to be found in Suez, Alexandria has been a focal point for past protests. The beating death of a young businessman named Khaled Said last year led to weeks of demonstrations against police brutality and calls to overhaul the security services.
The city on the Mediterranean, long Egypt’s gateway to the outside world, has mirrored the country’s steady erosion over decades of authoritarian rule. It has gone from being a cosmopolitan showcase to a poor, struggling city that evokes barely a vestige of its former grandeur. The New Year’s bombing of a Coptic church here was a reminder of the direction of the city, identified by European intelligence services as a hub for radicalizing students who come to study Arabic. Many of the most radical Salafists — those who would support the use of violence — were arrested by the government after the bombing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sheik Gaber Kassem, leader of the mystic Sufi community here, said the Sufis were discouraging their followers from taking part in the demonstrations, which the government has deemed illegal.
“We are going to be in the mosque and we’re going to be in front of the mosque, but we are not going to march in the streets,” said Mr. Kassem, adding that they were in favor of freedom of expression and had taken part in legal protests Tuesday, but that they were against the violence and chaos that were likely on Friday.
Relative calm prevailed here on Thursday, as activists said they were preparing for Friday’s demonstrations. With riot police and plainclothes security personnel watching, dozens of lawyers protested in front of the courthouse, calling for two of their colleagues who had been arrested at Tuesday’s demonstration to be set free and shouting, “People, people, take to the streets.”
Hamid Said, 29, who founded the Nasar Center for Human Rights in Alexandria, said that to date the protests here had not been led by Muslim groups, as the government claimed. “You did not have the Muslim Brotherhood protesting here, you had normal people protesting against their problems,” said Mr. Said, a lawyer who said he had been arrested five times since 2008, but never detained for more than a few days.
Mr. Said cited political oppression and police brutality as the leading causes of frustration among the people. He said that he had once applied for a position for which he was well qualified, but that he lost out to the son of a government minister.
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, a Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar, said that many conservative Muslims would not support a secular politician like Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “ElBaradei and the others, they have no connection to religion. If Hosni Mubarak goes, they will replace him with someone else like him,” said Abu Omar, who came to prominence after it was disclosed that he had been kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency from Milan in 2003.
Religious leaders like Mr. Kassem said they could not rule out that many of their followers would join the protests.
The spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria said that efforts by the government to hinder groups from gathering, like blocking access to social networking sites, would no longer be effective.
“It’s already clear that we will go out tomorrow. The message is already out,” he said. “Tomorrow all the Egyptians are going to be on the streets.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wikileaks
on: January 28, 2011, 08:31:43 AM
Agreed that the risks of "One man, one vote, one time" are considerable. So too are the risks of being married to bastards when the day comes , , ,
Anyway, FWIW here's POTH excerpts from Wikileaks:
WASHINGTON — It was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first meeting as secretary of state with President Hosni Mubarak, in March 2009, and the Egyptians had an odd request: Mrs. Clinton should not thank Mr. Mubarak for releasing an opposition leader from prison because he was ill.
In fact, a confidential diplomatic cable signed by the American ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, advised Mrs. Clinton to avoid even mentioning the name of the man, Ayman Nour, even though his imprisonment in 2005 had been condemned worldwide, not least by the Bush administration.
The cable is among a trove of dispatches made public by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks that paint a vivid picture of the delicate dealings between the United States and Egypt, its staunchest Arab ally. They show in detail how diplomats repeatedly raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers, and kept tabs on reports of torture by the police.
But they also reveal that relations with Mr. Mubarak warmed up because President Obama played down the public “name and shame” approach of the Bush administration. A cable prepared for a visit by Gen. David H. Petraeus in 2009 said the United States, while blunt in private, now avoided “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years.”
This balancing of private pressure with strong public support for Mr. Mubarak has become increasingly tenuous in recent days. Throngs of angry Egyptians have taken to the streets and the White House, worried about being identified with a reviled regime, has challenged the president publicly.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Mubarak as a partner but said he needed to undertake political and economic reforms. In an interview posted on YouTube, Mr. Obama said neither the police nor the protesters should resort to violence. “It is very important,” he added, “that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances.”
It is not known what Mrs. Clinton said to Mr. Mubarak in their first meeting, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. But she set the public tone afterward, when she was asked by an Arab television journalist about a State Department report critical of Egypt’s human rights record.
“We hope that it will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered, that we all have room for improvement,” Mrs. Clinton said, adding that Mr. Mubarak and his wife, Suzanne, were friends of her family, and that it was up to the Egyptian people to decide the president’s future.
The cables, which cover the first year of the Obama presidency, leave little doubt about how valuable an ally Mr. Mubarak has been, detailing how he backed the United States in its confrontation with Iran, played mediator between Israel and the Palestinians and supported Iraq’s fledgling government, despite his opposition to the American-led war.
Privately, Ambassador Scobey pressed Egypt’s interior minister to free three bloggers, as well as a Coptic priest who performed a wedding for a Christian convert, according to one of her cables to Washington. She also asked that three American pro-democracy groups be granted formal permission to operate in the country, a request the Egyptians rejected.
However effusive the Americans were about Mr. Mubarak in public, the cables offered a less flattering picture of Egypt’s first lady, Suzanne Mubarak. During a visit to the Sinai, one reported, she commandeered a bus that had been bought with money from the United States Agency for International Development and that had been meant to carry children to school.
Egyptian state security was concerned enough about American activities in Sinai, according to another cable, that it surreptitiously recorded a meeting between diplomats and members of a local council.
Yet many more of the cables describe collaboration between the United States and Egypt. In her 2009 visit, Mrs. Clinton was trying to revive the moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Mubarak was central to this: the cables detail his efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israelis and the militant group Hamas in Gaza, as well as American pressure on him to curb the smuggling of weapons to Hamas from Egypt through tunnels.
Mrs. Clinton was also laying out Mr. Obama’s rationale for engaging Iran — an overture, the cables report, that Mr. Mubarak predicted would fail. A May 2009 cable before Mr. Mubarak’s first visit to the Obama White House noted that Egyptian officials told a visiting American diplomat, Dennis B. Ross, that “we should prepare for confrontation through isolation.”
Like other Arab leaders, Mr. Mubarak is depicted in the cables as obsessed with Iran, which he told American diplomats was extending its tentacles from “the Gulf to Morocco” through proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. He views these groups — particularly Hamas, a “brother” of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood — as a direct threat to his own rule.
In a meeting with General Petraeus on June 29, 2009, Mr. Mubarak said the Iranian government wanted to establish “pockets” of influence inside Egypt, according to a cable. General Petraeus told him the United States was responding to similar fears among Persian Gulf states by deploying more Patriot missiles and upgrading its F-16 fighter jets stationed in the region.
Despite obvious American sympathy for Mr. Mubarak’s security concerns, there is little evidence that the diplomats believed the president, now 82, was at risk of losing his grip on power. The May 2009 cable noted that riots over bread prices had broken out in Egypt in 2008 for the first time since 1977. And it said the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood had prompted the government to resort to “heavy-handed tactics against individuals and groups.”
But the cable, again signed by Ambassador Scobey, portrayed Mr. Mubarak as the ultimate survivor, a “tried and true realist” who would rather “let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole.”
“During his 28-year rule,” the cable said, “he survived at least three assassination attempts, maintained peace with Israel, weathered two wars in Iraq and post-2003 regional instability, intermittent economic downturns, and a manageable but chronic internal terrorist threat.”
Another cable, dated March 2009, offered a pessimistic analysis of the prospects for the “April 6 Movement,” a Facebook-based group of mostly young Egyptians that has received wide attention for its lively political debate and helped mobilize the protests that have swept Egypt in the last two days. Leaders of the group had been jailed and tortured by the police. There were also signs of internal divisions between secular and Islamist factions, it said.
The United States has defended bloggers with little success. When Ambassador Scobey raised several arrests with the interior minister, he replied that Egypt did not infringe on freedom of the press, but that it must respond when “people are offended by blogs.” An aide to the minister told the ambassador that The New York Times, which has reported on the treatment of bloggers in Egypt, was “exaggerating the blogger issue,” according to the cable.
American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.
Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.” They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.
To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.
Still, Mr. Mubarak generally views broader reforms as an invitation to extremism. “We have heard him lament the results of earlier U.S. efforts to encourage reform in the Islamic world,” said a cable, noting that he often invoked the shah of Iran — a secular leader who came under pressure from Washington, only to be replaced by an even more repressive, hostile government.
Even the private encounters with Mr. Mubarak have layers of sensitivity. While Mrs. Clinton was advised to steer clear of mentioning Ayman Nour, the cable signed by Ambassador Scobey suggested she might broach the topic of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American author and critic of Mr. Mubarak who fled Egypt after being found guilty of defaming the country.
“If you have any one-on-one opportunity with President Mubarak,” the ambassador wrote, “you may wish to suggest that annulling these cases and allowing him to return to Egypt would also be well received by the new administration.”
It is not clear whether Mrs. Clinton did so.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / One Gurkhas and one Kukri vs. 40 Train robber-rapists
on: January 28, 2011, 08:01:28 AM
Lone Nepali Gorkha who subdued 40 train robbers-bishnu-shrestha
Written by Hamrosite
Friday, 14 January 2011 19:58
Lone Nepali Gorkha who subdued 40 train robbers
POKHARA, Jan 13: Gorkha soldiers have long been known the world over for their valor and these khukuri-wielding warriors winning the British many a battle have become folklore.
A retired Indian Gorkha soldier recently revisited those glory days when he thwarted 40 robbers, killing three of them and injuring eight others, with his khukuri during a train journey. He is in line to receive three gallantry awards from the Indian government.
Slave girl Morgiana in the Arabian Nights used her cunning to finish off Ali Baba´s 40 thieves, but Bishnu Shrestha of Baidam, Pokhara-6 did not have time to plot against the 40 train robbers. He, however, made good use of his khukuri to save the chastity of a girl and hundreds of thousands in loot.
Shrestha, who was in the Maurya Express to Gorakhpur from Ranchi on September 2 while returning home following voluntary retirement from the Indian army--saved the girl who was going to be raped by the robbers in front of her helpless parents, and in doing so won plaudits from everybody.
The government of Nepal decided to provide special honor to the Indian Gorkha soldier who fought as many as 40 bandits in a train with nothing but a khukuri, and thwarted them from robbing passengers and raping a minor.
“He will be provided a special honor for doing Nepal proud at international stage,” Finance Minister Surendra Raj Pandey said after the cabinet meeting on Thursday. The government, however, has yet to declare what the honor would comprise of and when will it be given.
The Indian government is to decorate Shrestha with its Sourya Chakra, Bravery Award and Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Medal and the 35-year-old is leaving for India Saturday to receive the first of the awards on the occasion of India´s Republic Day on January 26.
“The formal announcement of the awards will be made on Republic Day and on Independence Day on August 15,” said Shrestha, whose father Gopal Babu also retired from the same 7/8 Platoon of the Gorkha Regiment around 29 years ago.
His regiment has already given him a cash award of Indian rupees 50,000, and decided to terminate his voluntary retirement. He will get the customary promotion after receiving the medals. The Indian government will also announce a cash bounty for him and special discounts on international air tickets and domestic train tickets.
The band of about 40 robbers, some of whom were travelling as passengers, stopped the train in the Chittaranjan jungles in West Bengal around midnight. Shrestha-- who had boarded the train at Ranchi in Jharkhand, the place of his posting--was in seat no. 47 in coach AC3.
“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers,” Shrestha recalled. The soldier had somehow remained a silent spectator amidst the melee, but not for long. He had had enough when the robbers stripped an 18-year-old girl sitting next to him and tried to rape her right in front of her parents. He then took out his khukuri and took on the robbers.
“The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister´,” Shrestha recalled. “I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister,” he added. He took one of the robbers under control and then started to attack the others. He said the rest of the robbers fled after he killed three of them with his khukuri and injured eight others.
During the scuffle he received serious blade injury to his left hand while the girl also had a minor cut on her neck. “They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn´t open fire,” he surmised.
The train resumed its journey after some 20 minutes and a horde of media persons and police were present when it reached Chittaranja station. Police arrested the eight injured dacoits and recovered around 400,000 Indian rupees in cash, 40 gold necklaces, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops and other items that the fleeing robbers dropped in the train.
Police escorted Shrestha to the Railways Hospital after the rescued girl told them about his heroic deed. Mainstream Indian media carried the story. The parents of the girl, who was going for her MBBS studies, also announced a cash award of Indian rupees 300,000 for him but he has not met them since.
“Even the veins and arteries in my left hand were slit but the injury has now healed after two months of neurological treatment at the Command Hospital in Kolkata,” he said showing the scar. “Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier; taking on the dacoits in the train was my duty as a human being,” said the Indian army nayak, who has been given two guards during his month-long holidays in Nepal.
“I am proud to be able to prove that a Gorkha soldier with a khukuri is really a handful. I would have been a meek spectator had I not carried that khukuri,” he said.
He still finds it hard to believe that he took on 40 armed robbers alone. “They may have feared that more of my army friends were traveling with me and fled after fighting me for around 20 minutes,” he explained.
Meanwhile Shrestha is finding it difficult to reach out to all those who intend to honor him for his courageous act. He has already been honored by around a dozen private firms, mothers´ groups, local political leaders and schools, while many are preparing to honor him. Some firms from Kathmandu have also invited him for felicitation.
“My son is finding it difficult to manage time to accept all the honors,” said Shrestha´s elated father Gopal Babu who had also retired around 29 years ago from the same 7/8 Platoon of the Gorkha Regiment, that his son served. “We had never thought that he would be honored at this scale,” Gopal Babu expressed his happiness.
Agni Air, Rastriya Paropakar Mahasangh, Shantipatan Tole Sudhar Samiti, Miteri Mothers´ Group, ward committees of the Nepali Congress and Communist Part of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, Tal Barahi Higher Secondary School and others have already honored him. “He could not travel to Kathmandu due to lack of time,” his father said.
On most occasions he was felicitated with shawl (khada), vermillion, dhaka topi and given certificates. Agni Air has given him an honorary life membership and announced a limetime free air travel. “Some of my friends from India even called me to congratulate for his bravery. Everybody should honor such brave persons,” said Sushil Basnet of Agni Air.
The soldier was happy about all the appreciation he has received from different quarters and thanked the media for covering the news. “The Indian media brought the incident to light and the Nepali media too gave it due importance. I may have even been sent to jail on the charge of robbery had the girl and the Indian media not come forward to my support,” Shrestha said. “I was hardly recognized even in Baidam. Now the whole country knows me.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Low Tigris water levels= no electricity
on: January 28, 2011, 07:56:42 AM
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Record low water levels at Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam have ground turbines there to a halt, amplifying a power shortage that led to riots last summer, a top official said on Thursday.
Adel Mahdi, advisor to the electricity minister, said water levels at the Mosul dam on the Tigris River had fallen to 298 metres (977 feet) above sea level.
"It is the first time since 1984 when the dam was built that water levels have fallen this low," Mahdi told AFP.
"The installed power generation capacity of Mosul's hydroelectric plant is 1,175 megawatts, but the current production is zero, because the turbines need a minimum water level of 307 metres (1,007 feet) to operate," he added.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Egypt
on: January 27, 2011, 11:58:24 PM
A 'Day of Rage' Turns All Eyes to the Egyptian Military
With tensions running high in Egypt ahead of the planned Jan. 28 “Day of Rage,” a street agitation campaign organized by the multi-faceted opposition, speculation is rising in the country and internationally over the regime’s next moves. The regime faces a very basic dilemma. After three decades of emergency rule in which Cairo’s iron fist was sufficiently feared to keep dissent contained, the wall of fear is crumbling. The task at hand for the ruling National Democratic Party, the military and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is to rebuild that wall as quickly as possible and to spread enough fear among those Egyptians who are gathering the courage to come out into the streets in protest.
Preparations to rebuild the wall of fear have begun. Internet access and cell networks are cutting out in major cities while the more technologically savvy Egyptian youth are advising each other on how to circumvent the state censures and remain online. Anonymous, 26-page glossy documents are also being distributed in Cairo containing a basic how-to guide for the Friday protestors. Pre-emptive round-ups were reportedly underway on Thursday night in an attempt to take some of the wind out of Friday’s demonstrations. So far, the security forces deployed consist of uniformed local police, plainclothes police and Central Security Forces (black-clad paramilitaries equipped with riot gear). Though these security forces have been working long hours over the past three days, Egypt still appears to have plenty of police resources to throw at this crisis.
“If the Egyptian security apparatus does not succeed in transforming the Day of Rage into a Day of Fear, the trigger for army intervention will not be far off.”
While the streets are being readied downtown, heavy discussions are taking place just a few miles away in the presidential palace and the central military high command in greater Cairo. STRATFOR sees two key trends developing so far. One in which the Mubarak name is being gradually de-linked from the core of regime and another where the military is gaining a much larger say in the governance of the state.
Among the more revealing statements made by the NDP coming out of the Jan. 27 meeting, which also included security officials, was the following: “The NDP is not the executive, just a party, and itself reviews the performance of the executive.” A report from the Egyptian daily, Al Mesryoon, also claimed that during a Jan. 25 Cabinet meeting, an unnamed minister called for Mubarak to appoint a vice president from the military, resign as president of the NDP and cancel all plans to have his son, Gamal, succeed him as president.
This report has not been verified, but it fits into a trend that STRATFOR has been tracking over the past several months in which the military and old guard of the ruling party have been heavily pressuring the elder Mubarak to give up on his plans to have his son succeed him, arguing that ‘one of their own’ from the military needed to take the helm to lead the country through this precarious period of Egyptian history. STRATFOR also cannot help but wonder why both Mubarak and his son have been mysteriously quiet and absent from the public eye throughout the crisis, especially as rumors have run abound on Gamal allegedly fleeing the country, gold being smuggled out of the country and funds being transferred to overseas banks.
Over the next 24 hours, the military’s moves are critical to watch. Cairo is obviously the center of activity, but our eyes will also be on the city of Suez. Suez has been the scene of intense protests over the past three days, with police and fire stations being raided and firebombed by demonstrators and three demonstrators killed in protests. This is the only city we know of thus far where STRATFOR sources have reported that the military is deploying alongside the police in an effort to restore calm. Civil-military relations are traditionally the strongest in Suez, the historic scene of battle for Egypt, where soldiers are still viewed by many as unsung heroes. If the military succumbs to the protestors in Suez, control of Cairo then comes into serious question.
This is still an exercise in scenario building. Even the most hardcore opposition protestors on the street will admit that the reality of the situation is that the army remains in control. Amid all the unknowns, one thing is near certain: If the Egyptian security apparatus does not succeed in transforming the Day of Rage into a Day of Fear, the trigger for army intervention will not be far off.
The Strategic Implications of Instability in Egypt
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Egyptian government on Wednesday to engage in political, economic and social reforms as part of an effort to heed to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people. Clinton’s statement came a day after the Middle East’s largest Arab state experienced its most extensive protest demonstrations in 34 years. Unlike the unrest in 1977, these protests were not about the price of bread; rather the agitators are seeking the ouster of the Egyptian government — at a time when the regime is already in a state of transition, given that President Hosni Mubarak is at an advanced age and is ailing.
For three decades, the Mubarak government has sustained Egypt’s status as an ally of the United States and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty — a position that was realized during the days of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat. It was under Sadat that Cairo moved away from its opposition to Washington, which was the hallmark of the regime presided over by Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was also the founder of the modern Egyptian republic. The key American concern is that when all is said and done, Cairo will remain pro-Western and at peace with Israel.
“The problem with democratic reforms is that they can potentially bring to power political forces that at the very least do not define their country’s national interest in line with U.S. strategic interests in the region.”
It is not certain that a post-Mubarak Egypt will necessarily become hostile to the United States and Israel. But it is also not certain that status quo will be sustained in a post-transition Egypt. What exactly will happen will be based on the ability (or the lack thereof) of the Egyptian military to ensure that there are no fundamental changes in policy — regardless of whether or not the current ruling National Democratic Party is in power.
Washington realizes that the public discontent within Egypt and the region creates for a very tricky situation that the Egyptian military may or may not be able to manage. The United States cannot come out and openly oppose the drive toward democratic governance, mainly for public relations purposes. But Washington doesn’t want to be caught in a situation akin to a 1979 Iran when the Shah fell, bringing to power a regime that has emerged as the biggest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the region.
The options for the Egyptian government are to work with the military while trying to manage reforms to placate the masses. The problem with democratic reforms is that they can potentially bring to power political forces that at the very least do not define their country’s national interest in line with U.S. strategic interests in the region. As it is, the United States is struggling to deal with an Iran empowered because of the collapse of the Baathist regime in Iraq.
At a time when Iran is projecting power across Mesopotamia and into the Levant, a less than stable Egypt will massively amplify the United States’ Middle East problems. Regime change in Egypt also has implications for the stability in other major countries in the region such as Israel, Syria, Jordan and Yemen. It is this gravity of the situation that would explain why Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Wednesday issued a very odd statement in which he expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of the Egyptian state to handle the public uprising.
The United States and much of the rest of the world will be watching how the Egyptian government manages the protests, the military and the succession question. Thus, everything depends on whether or not there will be regime change in Egypt.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: January 27, 2011, 10:47:20 PM
I would offer for our consideration another line of analysis here.
Bush sought to get us out of the supporting bastards because they were our bastards line of policy e.g. look out how well Kissinger's embrace of the Shah worked out. I suppose we could blame the moron Carter, but does that not evade the central question presented?
Did not Hamas' victory in Gaza meant that Israel could finally take a hard line?
Was not one of the core premises of the Iraq War to enable democracy? Yes the Dems have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but what if we had not thrown away the success of the Surge? Would we not be esconced on Iran's western border with Iraq as a beacon of the possible for the Arab (Muslim) world?
I lack the knowledge to opine on the implications of the MB taking over in Egypt, but as Stratfor points out, geopolitics are geopolitics and Sunni and Shia (Iran) seem to be oil and water. I do think policies based upon backing unpopular bastards have their risks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Welcome to Ya
on: January 27, 2011, 10:40:13 PM
A hearty woof of welcome to my friend who is posting under the name "Ya". I think we will find him an interesting and knowledgeable contributor on a wide range of subjects. His first post in on the Afg-Pak thread-- a post of a mere 206 page book. GM, you may have met your match
in volume, though I suspect you will find considerable overlap in your lines of thought.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / California or Texas
on: January 27, 2011, 10:35:06 PM
The Governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail.
A coyote jumps out and attacks the Governor's dog, then bites the Governor.
1. The Governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie "Bambi" and then realizes he should stop because the coyote is only doing what is natural.
2. He calls animal control. Animal Control captures the coyote and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it.
3. He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases.
4. The Governor goes to hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and on getting his bite wound bandaged.
5. The running trail gets shut down for 6 months while Fish & Game conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is now free of dangerous animals.
6. The Governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a "coyote awareness program" for residents of the area.
7. The State Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world.
8. The Governor's security agent is fired for not stopping the attack. The State spends $150,000 to hire and train a new agent with additional special training re: the nature of coyotes.
9. PETA protests the coyote's relocation and files a $5 million suit against the State.
The Governor of Texas is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A Coyote jumps out and attacks his dog.
1. The Governor shoots the coyote with his State-issued pistol and keeps jogging. The Governor has spent $0.50 on a .45 ACP hollow point cartridge.
2. The Buzzards eat the dead coyote.
And that, my friends, is why California is broke and Texas is not.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Nice shooting; is there a backstory?
on: January 27, 2011, 02:18:16 PM
By ZAHID HUSSAIN
LAHORE, Pakistan—A U.S. consular official shot dead two armed men Thursday as they tried to rob him in a crowded street in the central Pakistani city of Lahore, triggering a public protest in a nation where anti-Americanism is fierce.
A pedestrian also was killed when hit by another car that came to rescue the diplomat as he was being chased by a crowd.
Police later detained the American, who wasn't identified by name.
"The man said he fired in self-defense," Umar Saeed, a senior police officer in Lahore, was quoted as saying by local media.
Scores of people protested and burnt tires outside the police station where the American man was held. Television footage showed the man's white Honda car, with a civilian registration number plate, riddled with bullets and the windshield smashed.
One eyewitness told GEO TV network that the American fired after the armed men, who were riding a motorbike, tried to stop his car.
One of the alleged robbers died on the spot while the second succumbed to injuries in a local hospital.
It was unclear whether the attackers had any links to militant Islamist groups that have mounted attacks across Pakistan in the past two years.
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad confirmed that a U.S. consular employee was involved in an incident in Lahore without providing further details.
Mr. Saeed said police officials were investigating the incident.
It wasn't clear whether any case was registered against the U.S. official, who customarily should be covered by diplomatic immunity from any legal action in Pakistan.
The incident fueled anti-American rhetoric as some local television channels called for an investigation into why the American was armed.
There have been several incidents in the past where U.S. diplomatic cars were stopped by the security agencies in Lahore and Islamabad and searched for weapons.
A section of Pakistan's media has been fanning anti-American sentiment, accusing U.S. diplomats of being involved in spying.
Western diplomats in Pakistan are supposed to follow strict security guidelines while traveling because of threats from rising militant violence.
Lahore, which is the country's second-largest city, has in the past couple of years been hit by a series of terrorist attacks that have left hundreds of people dead.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor intel guidance for Egypt
on: January 27, 2011, 02:15:16 PM
Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.
Let’s use the Iranian rising of 1979 as a model. It had many elements involved, from Communists, to liberals to moderate Muslims, and of course the radicals. All of them were united in hating the Shah, but not in anything else.
The Western press did not understand the mixture and had its closest ties with the liberals, for the simple reason that they were the most Western and spoke English. For a very long time they thought these liberals were in control of the revolution.
For its part, the intelligence community did not have good sources among the revolutionaries but relied on SAVAK, the Shah’s security service, for intelligence. SAVAK neither understood what was happening, nor was it prepared to tell CIA. The CIA suspected the major agent was the small Communist party, because that was the great fear at that time — namely, that the Soviets were engineering a plot to seize Iran and control the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, Western human rights groups painted the Shah as a monster, and saw this as a popular democratic rising. Western human rights and democracy groups, funded by the U.S. government and others, were standing by to teach people like Bani Sadr to create a representative democracy.
Bani Sadr was the first post-Shah president. He was a moderate Islamist and democrat; he also had no power whatsoever. The people who were controlling the revolution were those around the Ayatollah Khomeini, who were used by the liberals as a screen to keep the United States quiet until the final moment came and they seized control.
It is important to understand that the demonstrations were seen as spontaneous, but were actually being carefully orchestrated. It is also important to understand that the real power behind the movement remained opaque to the media and the CIA, because they didn’t speak English and the crowds they organized didn’t speak English, and none of the reporters spoke Farsi (nor did a lot of the intelligence agency people). So when the demonstrations surged, the interviews were with the liberals who were already their sources, and who made themselves appear far more powerful than they were — and who were encouraged to do so by Khomeini’s people.
It was only at the end that Khomeini ran up the Jolly Roger to the West.
Nothing is identical to the past, but Iran taught me never to trust a revolutionary who spoke English; they will tend to be pro-Western. When the masses poured into the streets — and that hasn’t happened in Egypt yet — they were Khomeini supporters who spoke not a word of English. The media kept interviewing their English-speaking sources and the CIA kept up daily liaison meetings with SAVAK — until the day they all grabbed a plane and met up with their money in Europe and the United States. The liberals, those who weren’t executed, also wound up in the United States, teaching at Harvard or driving cabs.
Let’s be very careful on the taxonomy of this rising. The Western human rights groups will do what they can to emphasize its importance, and to build up their contacts with what they will claim are the real leaders of the revolution. The only language these groups share with the identified leaders is English, and the funding for these groups depends on producing these people. And these people really want to turn Egypt into Wisconsin. The one thing I can guarantee is that is not what is going on.
What we have to find out is who is behind this. It could be the military wanting to stage a coup to keep Gamal Mubarak out of power. They would be doing this to preserve the regime, not to overthrow it. They could be using the demonstrations to push their demands and perhaps pressure Hosni Mubarak to leave voluntarily.
The danger is that they would be playing with fire. The demonstrations open the door for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is stronger than others may believe. They might keep the demonstrations going after Hosni leaves, and radicalize the streets to force regime change. It could also be the Muslim Brotherhood organizing quietly. Whoever it is, they are lying low, trying to make themselves look weaker than they are — while letting the liberals undermine the regime, generate anti-Mubarak feeling in the West, and pave the way for whatever it is they are planning.
Our job now is to sort through all the claimants and wannabees of this revolution, and find out who the main powers are. These aren’t spontaneous risings and the ideology of the people in the streets has nothing to do with who will wind up in power. The one thing to be confident of is that liberal reformers are the stalking horse for something else, and that they are being used as always to take the heat and pave the way.
Now, figure out who is really behind the demonstrations and we have a game.
Read more: Intelligence Guidance: The Situation in Egypt | STRATFOR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury
on: January 27, 2011, 02:03:44 PM
Not disagreeing, but balancing out with intellingent counter POV:
New orders for durable goods declined 2.5% in December To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
New orders for durable goods declined 2.5% in December, coming in well below the consensus expected increase of 1.5%. Excluding transportation, orders increased 0.5%, falling short of the consensus expected gain of 0.9%. Orders are up 6.9% versus a year ago, 11.5% excluding transportation.
The overall decline in orders in December was mostly due to transportation equipment, specifically civilian aircraft/parts (which are extremely volatile from month to month). Other major categories of new orders were mixed.
The government calculates business investment for GDP purposes by using shipments of non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft. That measure rose 1.7% in December (2.0% including upward revisions to prior months). These orders increased at a 6.4% rate in Q4 versus the Q3 average.
Unfilled orders fell 0.4% in December but are up at a 3.2% annual rate in the past three months.
Implications: Today's headlines on durable goods orders and unemployment claims were disappointing. However, the details of the durables report and extenuating circumstances on claims suggest the case for robust economic growth remains intact. Almost all the weakness in orders was due to civilian aircraft, which are extremely volatile and which hit a 20-year low in December. Including revisions to prior months, new orders for durable goods excluding transportation rose 1.5%. Meanwhile, shipments of “core” capital goods (which exclude civilian aircraft and defense) showed a strong gain in December, rising 1.7% after a 1.4% increase in November. We expect orders for durable goods to move higher in 2011 as firms are loaded with cash earning near zero percent interest and capacity utilization is approaching long-term norms. In other news this morning, new claims for unemployment insurance rose 51,000 last week to 454,000. The four-week moving average is now 429,000. Continuing claims for regular state benefits rose 94,000 to 3.99 million. Initial claims that would have been filed the prior week were delayed due to unusual southern snowstorms. The true underlying trend is likely near the 4-week moving average. On the housing front, pending home sales – contracts on existing homes – rose 2.0% in December. With three strong months in a row now, existing home sales, which are counted at closing, should continue to gain in January.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Taranto
on: January 27, 2011, 02:01:43 PM
By JAMES TARANTO
(Best of the tube tonight: We'll be on Fox News Channel's "Hannity" tonight as part of the "Great American Panel." The program starts at 9 p.m. ET, and we'll be on in the latter half hour. A repeat airs at midnight ET.)
America's liberal left is preoccupied with salacious fantasies of political violence. These take two forms: dreams of leftist insurrection, and nightmares of reactionary bloodshed. The "mainstream" media ignore or suppress the former type of fantasy and treat the latter as if it reflected reality. This produces a distorted narrative that further feeds the left's fantasies and disserves those who expect the media to provide truthful information.
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, socialist author Barbara Ehrenreich defends socialist sociologist Frances Fox Piven, who has recently been criticized, most prominently by Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck, for advocating violence in the service of left-wing aims.
Ehrenreich claims that Piven was merely urging "economically hard-pressed Americans" to "organize a protest at the local unemployment office." In fact, as we noted Monday, what Piven urged in the pages of The Nation was--these are her words--"something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece."
Glenn Reynolds has repeatedly reminded us what those Greek riots looked like, quoting a Wall Street Journal account from last May:
At the same time, tens of thousands of protesters marched through Athens in the largest and most violent protests since the country's budget crisis began last fall. Angry youths rampaged through the center of Athens, torching several businesses and vehicles and smashing shop windows. Protesters and police clashed in front of parliament and fought running street battles around the city.
Witnesses said hooded protesters smashed the front window of Marfin Bank in central Athens and hurled a Molotov cocktail inside. The three victims died from asphyxiation from smoke inhalation, the Athens coroner's office said. Four others were seriously injured there, fire department officials said.
Ehrenreich was writing for the L.A. Times's opinion page, and she is entitled to her opinion, but she is not entitled to her own facts. The heading "opinion" is not a license to tell outright lies.
The dishonesty of Ehrenreich's piece is shocking, but it isn't even the most bizarre thing about it. She begins by bemoaning the absence of grass-roots activism in America:
Why are Americans such wusses? Threaten the Greeks with job losses and benefit cuts and they tie up Athens, but take away Americans' jobs, 401(k)s, even their homes, and they pretty much roll over. Tell British students that their tuition is about to go up and they take to the streets; American students just amp up their doses of Prozac.
Ehrenreich's explanation is America has become "a tyranny of the heavily armed." Americans don't get politically involved because they're afraid of getting shot. The implication is that if only the government would take away Americans' guns, Americans would be able to grab their Molotov cocktails and rise up against the government, or for the government, or something.
But wait. How has it escaped Ehrenreich's notice that the past two years have seen the greatest flowering of grass-roots democracy in America since the civil rights movement? We refer, of course, to the Tea Party movement. To be sure, you won't see any Molotov cocktails at a Tea Party gathering. You may see some guns--a normal part of life in most of America--but they will be borne lawfully and not used violently.
Since the Tea Party advocates individualism and not socialism, we may assume that Ehrenreich strongly disapproves of it (as does her pal Piven). But to bemoan the dearth of grass-roots activism in America without even acknowledging the Tea Party's existence suggests a detachment from reality bordering on the clinical.
Even odder, many on the left have advanced a false narrative in which the Tea Party is violent. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg did so in a column last week, in which he was still trying to justify the media's falsely blaming the right for the attempted murder of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Hertzberg claims that the shooting "took place amid a two-year eruption of shocking vituperation and hatred, virtually all of it coming from people who call themselves conservatives," and that "these realities, and not the malevolence of liberal opportunists, were why, in the immediate aftermath of the crime, the 'national conversation' focussed on the nation's poisonous political and rhetorical climate."
This is bunk. The "two-year eruption of shocking vituperation and hatred" is a media myth, promulgated in two primary ways:
Peace-loving Oregon leftists wish for Sarah Palin's death, April 24, 2010.
.The first is by seeking out the most extreme expressions by Tea Party activists and sympathetic politicians and portraying them as if they were typical. This is in sharp contrast to the way left-wing political rallies are covered. Extreme and violent rhetoric is at least as easy to find there if you look--Michael Bowers has put together a photo gallery of "Left-Wing Hatred"--but the mainstreamers seldom look. During the Bush years, "antiwar" rallies were routinely depicted as nothing more than forums for wholesome, patriotic dissent.
The second is by presenting innocuous rhetoric from the right as if it were something sinister or dangerous. The most famous example--cited by Hertzberg, naturally--is the SarahPAC map of targeted districts, including Giffords's, which many on the left hoped had incited the man who shot her. Palinoiacs denounced the map as "violent" when it first came out last March, notwithstanding that the visual metaphor of a target is about as common in political campaigns of both parties as cartoons on the pages of Hertzberg's magazine.
Similarly, as we noted Jan. 12, Paul Krugman, the New York Times's most dishonest columnist, characterized as "eliminationist rhetoric" Rep. Michele Bachmann's comment that she wanted her constituents to be "armed and dangerous." In context, it turned out that she wanted them to be "armed" with information--a poor choice of words, but no more eliminationst than Barack Obama's comment in June 2008: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." At the time, the New York Times characterized this part of "Mr. Obama's efforts to show he can do more than give a good speech."
Hertzberg is saying no more than that liberal journalists like himself are justified in perpetuating the myth of conservative violence because they promulgated it in the first place.
Perhaps he is right that it is not the product of opportunism but rather of sincerely held prejudice. But would it be a defense of, say, Theodore Bilbo or Joseph McCarthy to say that they sincerely believed the prejudices and falsehoods they espoused? What's more, Bilbo and McCarthy were politicians. Why is it so hard for journalists to remember that their job is to tell the truth?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Trials of Gitmo
on: January 27, 2011, 01:49:32 PM
So maybe we aren't reading our friends in the liberal media as carefully as we should. Earlier this month several media sources reported that the Obama Administration will soon resume trying Guantanamo detainees in military tribunals, almost a year to the day after the prison was supposed to have been closed for good. Yet somehow we missed the avalanche of commentary denouncing "kangaroo courts," "legal black holes" and all the other epithets once reserved for the Bush Administration when it was doing precisely the same thing. Critics in Europe are also notably silent.
That said, we welcome evidence of liberal maturity in the war on terror, and in the last two years the Administration has been growing up faster than expected. The decision to resume the tribunals was forced by the Democratic Congress's decision in December to forbid the Pentagon from spending money to transfer Gitmo's remaining detainees to the U.S. mainland.
Barring that option, the Administration's only choices were to re-open the tribunals, hold the prisoners indefinitely without trial, or otherwise let them go. Given that the recidivism rate of released Gitmo detainees is estimated at 25%, we'd say the Administration is choosing wisely.
And justly. Among the first detainees likely to be tried in the tribunals is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the Saudi mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed. The relatives of Nashiri's victims deserve a verdict.
And the American people deserve a trial that won't be turned into a legal farce, which is what nearly happened last year in New York when terrorist Ahmed Ghailani was acquitted of 284 of the 285 counts held against him. This week Ghailani received a life sentence on that charge, saving the Administration from what might have been a major embarrassment.
Still, it's worth noting that even as the Administration prepares to try some 30 detainees, it also plans to hold another 50 without trial. We won't hold our breath awaiting the outpouring of liberal outrage. But we do breathe a sigh of relief that President Obama has seen the wisdom of his predecessor's ways.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Patriot response to BO's SOTU
on: January 27, 2011, 12:27:41 PM
2011 SOTU: The Patriot Response
"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible [and] not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear." --George Washington
Barack Hussein Obama delivered his third State of the Union address this week. The good news: We can remove this man and his dangerously inept Leftist regime in two years.
The bad news: He still has two years left, and according to his ObamaPrompter, he intends to stay the course toward economic implosion.
By way of decoding Obama's message to America, Reps. Paul Ryan and Michelle Bachmann provided good rebuttals. However, they were constrained by certain standards of collegiality, so I have taken the liberty of providing The Patriot Post's unvarnished response to select excerpts of the SOTU.
First, some general observations:
1. Obama is the least qualified person to be president in any room he enters, so he looked particularly juvenile and incompetent at the House chamber podium.
2. Obama is still making political fodder of the Tucson tragedy, eager for another undignified pep rally like the "memorial service" he headlined at the University of Arizona. There, he was constantly cheered by sycophantic students whom he never once attempted to silence in due respect for what should have been a solemn occasion. For the record, in the 24 hours prior to Obama's SOTU, there were 11 law enforcement officers wounded or killed by sociopathic products of Socialist policies ... but they received no mention on Tuesday night.
3. The "date-night" seating arrangements were a great touch, particularly with serious men like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sitting next to that bucktoothed moron, Al Franken (D-MN).
Here is the abbreviated version of the SOTU: "I want ... I believe ... I've seen ... I've heard ... I said ... I will be ... I'm asking ... I don't know ... I challenge ... I urge ... I set ... I know ... I'm proposing ... I ask ... I took ... I made ... I would ... I intend ... I've ordered ... I will not ... I've heard ... I am eager ... I'm not ... I'm not ... I'm not ... I am ... I've proposed ... I care ... I recognize ... I'm willing ... I've proposed ... I created ... I don't agree ... I am prepared ... I hear ... I will submit ... I ask ... I will veto ... I will travel ... I call on all ... I know ... I stand..."
For a more in-depth analysis, what follows are Barack Obama claims with The Patriot's rebuttals, keeping in mind that nothing Obama proposed has an authorizing provision in our Constitution:
Barack Obama: "We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. ... That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future. ... We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time."
The Patriot's Response: Obama's objective to socialize our economy is completely antithetical to "winning the future." After $850 billion in Keynesian "stimulus" spending, unemployment is higher than when Obama took office, and our national debt has grown by almost three TRILLION dollars, now bumping up against the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling just enacted in December. Here's a real stimulus plan: Reduce taxes and regulations, which will grow the economy, which will increase tax revenues, which will provide more government funding for legitimate expenditures.
BO: "To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I've ordered a review of government regulations."
TPR: This administration, which has implemented record government regulations, will now consider removing just a few of them but only if such revisions would not affect "values that are difficult or impossible to quantify, including equity, human dignity, fairness, and distributive impacts." Obama's taxes and regulations have, to this point, demoted our great nation to ninth place in Heritage Foundation's 2011 Index of Economic Freedom.
BO: "At stake right now is not who wins the next election -- after all, we just had an election."
TPR: Election, what election? As the Left is so fond of trying to forget.
BO: "Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and let's move forward."
TPR: Clearly, Obama lost the battle in last November's election. Losers always say things like "let's move forward."
BO: "Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same."
TPR: Bold words for a prez who has outspent all his predecessors, and who is now proposing more "stimulus spending," though he dared not use that term this time around, lest it be confused with the last colossal heap of Recovery.gov waste.
BO: "Our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet."
TPR: And all this time we thought it was Al Gore.
BO: "We will make sure this is fully paid for ... and pick projects based on what's best for the economy, not politicians."
TPR: Obama is not interested in "what's best for the economy"; he's interested in picking economic "winners."
BO: "Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren't even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed."
TPR: And the answer is ... YES! Start by eliminating the Department of Education and its unconstitutional mandates. Encourage school choice and privatization. Sit back and watch education standards rise.
BO: "This is our generation's Sputnik moment."
TPR: Whoever wrote that line for the ObamaPrompter needs a one-way ticket into space.
BO: "I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the [tax] system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. ... In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code."
TPR: How about eliminating the U.S. tax code altogether and replacing it with a flat or national sales tax? Of course, our voluminous tax code is the hammer that Democrats use to control the free market, reward their friends, and punish their enemies. They're not about to lay down that hammer.
BO: "If you have ideas about how to improve [ObamaCare] by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you."
TPR: You mean like he "listened" during the original ObamaCare debate? Repeal it. Take that and work with it.
BO: "Invest ... investing ... investments ..."
TPR: As mentioned earlier, this is ObamaSpeak for unrestrained unconstitutional spending, in a year that the Congressional Budget Office projects a whopping $1.5 trillion deficit. The preamble for Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform concluded: "After all the talk about debt and deficits, it is long past time for America's leaders to put up or shut up. The era of debt denial is over, and there can be no turning back." Obama threw those commissioners under the train.
BO: "Let's make sure that we're not [cutting government programs for] our most vulnerable citizens. ... If we truly care about our deficit, we simply can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts. ... We should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success."
TPR: Ah, yes, redistributing wealth is always about "promoting America's success."
BO: "We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable. We should give them a government that's more competent and more efficient. We can't win the future with a government of the past. ... In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government."
TPR: This is ObamaSpeak for further centralization of government power.
BO: "And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. And America's moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity. And because we've begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America's standing has been restored."
TPR: So, Obama embarked on a worldwide apology tour, bowing to foreign dictators, and now "America's standing is restored"?
BO: "Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren't buried under a mountain of debt."
TPR: (Feel free to add your own rebuttal here, but don't mention the Red Chinese!)
BO: "We will argue about everything. The costs. The details. The letter of every law. Of course, some countries don't have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don't want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn't get written."
TPR: One of Obama's fundamental transformations of the U.S. Obama has never hidden his admiration for countries that "don't have this problem."
BO: "And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country."
TPR: Obama begrudgingly delivered this tribute to the longest standing ovation of the evening.
BO: "Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love."
TPR: No standing ovation for gays in the military.
BO: "We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. ... We share common hopes and a common creed."
TPR: Apparently the original Constitution we use has been replaced with a "new and improved version" Obama uses.
Finally, Obama proclaimed, "It makes no sense."
This was the only thing Obama said that actually made sense.
Evaluating Obama's SOTU performance, commentator Charles Krauthammer summed it up best: "This is a president who can give great speeches, and has. This was not one of them."
But Obama's speech was not designed to impress savvy political analysts and serious-minded Patriots. It was designed to play to popular polls, and it played well.
Commentator Mark Levin had this observation: "Obama was trying to deliver a 'best of' moment in his State of the Union Address, yet it looks as if he tried plagiarizing past speeches from Reagan and JFK. We know that Obama is an ideologue and his positions on cap and trade, entitlements, social security, et al., are not going to change, no matter how moderate he desperately tries to appear. Obama's future for America will deliver us misery and poverty; it's not progressive, it's regressive. Why is it that liberals continue to mess up words like, 'Social, justice, and reform?'"
For the record, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's rebuttal said all that needed to be said in just a few minutes. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has far more credibility and a far better grasp of our nation's fiscal peril than does Obama. Here are some excerpts:
"These budget debates are not just about the programs of government; they're also about the purpose of government. ... The principles that guide us are anchored in the wisdom of the Founders; in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence; and in the words of the American Constitution. They have to do with the importance of limited government; and with the blessing of self-government. We believe government's role is both vital and limited... We believe, as our Founders did, that 'the pursuit of happiness' depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government. ... Whether sold as 'stimulus' or repackaged as 'investment,' [Democrats'] actions show they want a federal government that controls too much; taxes too much; and spends too much in order to do too much. ... Our nation is approaching a tipping point. ... We need to chart a new course. ... We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy and create millions of new jobs and opportunities for all people, of every background, to succeed and prosper. Under this approach, the spirit of initiative -- not political clout -- determines who succeeds. ... We need to reclaim our American system of limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and sound money, which has blessed us with unprecedented prosperity. And it has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed. That's the real secret to job creation -- not borrowing and spending more money in Washington. Limited government and free enterprise have helped make America the greatest nation on earth."
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Publisher, The Patriot Post
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The importance of speaking English properly
on: January 27, 2011, 12:14:34 PM
On his 74th birthday, a man got a gift certificate from his wife. The
certificate paid for a visit to a medicine man living on a nearby reservation
who was rumored to have a wonderful cure for erectile dysfunction. After
being persuaded, he drove to the reservation, handed his ticket to the
medicine man, and wondered what he was in for. The old man handed a potion to him,
and with a grip on his shoulder, warned,
'This is a powerful medicine. You take only a teaspoonful, and then say
'1-2-3.' When you do, you will become more manly than you have ever been in
your life, and you can perform as long as you want."
The man was encouraged. As he walked away, he turned and asked, "How do I
stop the medicine from working?"
"Your partner must say '1-2-3-4,'" he responded, "but when she does, the
medicine will not work again until the next full moon."
He was very eager to see if it worked so he went home, showered, shaved,
took a spoonful of the medicine, and then invited his wife to join him
in the bedroom. When she came in, he took off his clothes and said,
"1-2-3!" Immediately, he was the manliest of men.
His wife was excited and began throwing off her clothes, and then she
asked, "What was the 1-2-3 for?"
And that, my friends, is why we should never end our sentences with a
preposition, because we could end up with a dangling participle.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters
on: January 27, 2011, 12:03:33 PM
It was yesterday or the day before that Glenn was discussing something (I haven't seen the whole broadcast yet) about which I had not heard previously: Working from memory here, apparently in September 2010 (i.e. during the height of the election compaign) a hard lefty with a huge trail of his leftness attempted to assassinate a Democratic governor with a knife-- only he mis-identified his target and instead stabbed the Dean of the university that had invited the governor to speak.
You never heard of that? Me neither-- until GB.
IMHO GB is a remarkable man in search of Truth for the good of America. The powers that be fear him-- and they should.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Old Hickory's Ghost
on: January 27, 2011, 10:24:16 AM
Its POTH, so caveat lector.
Americans have always obsessed over their nation’s history, even when there wasn’t much to obsess over. The founding generation had barely passed on before politicians began scrambling to claim their legacy – and at no time was that more true than during the Secession Crisis. Secessionists claimed to be emulating the revolutionaries’ struggle for liberty against a tyrannical central government, while Northerners were determined not to let disloyal rebels tear down the noble republic the founders had created.
But the dynamics of secession also drew attention to a more recent historical event – the Nullification Crisis of 1833 – and brought back to the center of debate that most controversial of early Americans, Andrew Jackson. Conflicting interpretations of his legacy tell a lot about how the North and South – and Democrats and Republicans within the North – saw the crisis.
Library of Congress
A portrait of President Andrew Jackson, along with his famous quotation from the Nullification Crisis, “The Union must and shall be preserved.” CLICK TO ENLARGE.The tumult of the Jacksonian era was still fresh in America’s collective mind. He was the last president to serve two terms, and much had changed during his 13 years on the national political scene. When he first ran for president in 1824, there was only one national party, and Americans, taught by the founders to distrust parties as the tools of ambitious demagogues, relished the absence of partisan conflict. By the time Jackson left office in 1837, national politics was dominated by a thriving two-party system. The underlying reasons for this change were numerous, but the immediate catalyst was the impulsive, provocative Indian- and British-fighter from Tennessee.
To his supporters, “Old Hickory” was the quintessential Washington outsider: a tough, bold Westerner with patience for neither political maneuvering nor legalistic hairsplitting, a triumphant warrior who pursued corrupt politicians and elite bankers and industrialists with the same grim-faced resolve which had brought him victory over Indians, the Spanish and the British. To these “Democrats,” as his new party was called, Jackson was the champion of the common man, and they followed him into battle against powerful centralized government and the would-be aristocrats who sought to profit from it.
His enemies said Jackson was a loose cannon, a hot-tempered demagogue who shamelessly courted the masses with no thought to constitutional principles or the rule of law. They denounced him as an aspiring “King Andrew I” and styled themselves “Whigs” in emulation of the American Revolutionaries, who in their own fight for liberty had labeled themselves after the British opponents of absolute monarchy.
Muddying the Democratic purity of Jackson’s memory was the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and ‘33, in which the explosive executive displayed the unyielding decisiveness that his followers admired but also revealed the limits of his support for state rights. When the South Carolina legislature responded to a new protective tariff by “nullifying” it (that is, declaring it unconstitutional and therefore void), Jackson issued a blistering proclamation in which he condemned nullification as a treasonous attack on the Union. Privately vowing to lead an army into South Carolina himself and hang the nullifiers, he sent arms to local unionist military forces, reinforced the navy detachment at Charleston Harbor, made arrangements to collect import taxes at the harbor’s forts and requested that Congress give him whatever authority he needed to make South Carolina back down.
Jackson also worked behind the scenes for compromise (although in the end it was legislation negotiated by his rivals Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun that enabled South Carolina to stand down without losing face). Nevertheless, it was his resolute public stance for the Union that frustrated, resentful Northerners seized upon during the Secession Crisis. Ironically, Republicans, most of them former Whigs, were vociferous in their call for a strong Jacksonian response to secession, while most Northern Democrats – citing Jacksonian ideals of respect for local government and condemnation of antislavery agitation – called for compromise.
Northerners likewise summoned Jackson’s memory as a standard which their own president was failing miserably to meet. In the wake of Major Robert Anderson’s daring transfer to Fort Sumter, James Buchanan’s comparative impotence led Northerners to moan, “Oh, for an hour of Old Hickory!”
On Jan. 8, the anniversary of Jackson’s triumph at New Orleans, state and local leaders across the North ordered commemorations – a common practice, but one that took on thick political overtones in this climate. In Massachusetts the newly inaugurated governor, John Andrew, ordered 100 guns fired on Boston Common to honor both the Battle of New Orleans and Major Anderson. In Chicago, Mayor John Wentworth ordered business suspended so that people might gather to express their devotion to the Union, with cannons firing and bells tolling throughout the day. In Auburn, N.Y., home of procompromise leader William H. Seward, a hundred guns were fired “in honor of the memory of General Jackson as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and as the defender of the Union against nullification and treason.”
Even Jackson’s bitterest opponents rallied around him. In the 1820s and ’30s, General Winfield Scott had wrangled with Jackson both professionally and politically, their feud at one point nearly resulting in a duel. But in mid-December, with South Carolina’s secession looming, Scott pointedly reminded Buchanan of Jackson’s vigorous actions in 1833, emphasizing Jackson’s view that he was merely defending the government, “but that if So. Carolina attacked [federal officials] it would be So. C. that made war upon the U. States.”
Scott was far from alone: Despite the large number of former Whigs among their ranks, it was Republicans especially who embraced Jackson’s legacy. Party newspapers reprinted the Nullification Proclamation, praising its forceful response to South Carolina’s treason. Over and again editors, speakers and correspondents urged their leaders to take “a firm Jackson stand” against secession and hoped that Lincoln would be “another Jackson.”
The president-elect himself was closely examining Jackson’s record. In the 1830s, echoing the warnings of arch-Whig Henry Clay that a “military chieftain” like Jackson had no place in a republic, the young Lincoln had warned against the rise of “an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon.” But in composing his strategy against secession, Lincoln turned to the Old Hero’s Nullification Proclamation. Its ideas would be prominent in his Inaugural Address in March, including its claim that the Union predated the states, its insistence that no nation has within its fundamental law a provision for its own destruction, its emphasis on the obligations imposed by the president’s oath of office, and its declaration that any use of federal force would represent not aggression but self-defense.
Democrats, who blamed Republicans for the crisis and urged compromise with the South, struggled to maintain a claim on their party’s founding father. Democratic newspapers pointed out that not only Jackson but Whig idol Henry Clay had sought to defuse the situation through concessions, and they tried to align Republicans, with their state-level resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law, with South Carolina’s 1833 stand. “If nullification be odious in South Carolina,” demanded the Daily Ohio Statesman, “is it not equally so in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Ohio?”
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.The entire debate bore little, of course, on the actual question of the Secession Crisis. Few Northerners considered how closely the new crisis actually paralleled the earlier one. Indeed, there were a number of fundamental differences between the two, prominent among them three decades of mounting sectional tension, which had made Southern defensiveness stronger and more widespread while desensitizing Northerners to disunion threats.
But the most important difference stemmed from the strategy of Southern radicals. The chief reason South Carolina nullifiers backed down in 1833 was their realization that none of the other slave states supported them. But they also saw how Jackson’s forcefulness frightened and alienated those same moderate Southerners. In 1860 the radicals did not wait for cooperation among the slave states; rather, South Carolina’s secession was calculated to generate momentum that would either carry the rest of the South out of the Union along with it or pressure the federal government to carry through on the forceful response that Jackson had only threatened, thereby winning over the less-committed slave states.
It succeeded brilliantly in doing both. Over the next six weeks, despite varying levels of secession feeling, every other cotton state followed the Palmetto State’s example. And when the tidal wave of disunion broke against Unionist majorities in the Upper South, the mere existence of the seven-state Deep South Confederacy would impel Lincoln’s April decision to reinforce Fort Sumter, sparking open conflict. Once he called on the remaining states to help suppress the Deep South’s rebellion, four more slave states, including all-important Virginia, seceded and joined the new Confederacy.
In other words, it was neither Republicans nor Northern Democrats who had learned the most important lessons of Andrew Jackson and the Nullification Crisis: that honor belonged to the fire-eating radicals who controlled his erstwhile opponent, the South Carolina state government.
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Russell McClintock, a history teacher at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Mass., is the author of “Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession.” He is writing a biography of Stephen A. Douglas.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nader: Fannie and Freddie stockholders
on: January 26, 2011, 12:00:33 PM
Well, Ralph Nader is really low on my list as a general rule, but here he describes a situation worth consideration.
By RALPH NADER
I have long fought against the systemic disempowerment of investors in large public corporations, but the mistreatment of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders, including me, is uniquely reprehensible.
For decades Fannie and Freddie behaved like other large, publicly held financial corporations. They were profit-seeking companies, listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). They displayed an unfettered drive for greater sales, profits, executive bonuses and stock options for the top brass. Their shareholders received dividends and rising stock values.
These so-called government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) dominated the secondary mortgage market. The implied government backstop slightly lowered their borrowing costs in return for a poorly enforced obligation to facilitate a mortgage market for lower-income home buyers. Otherwise, the GSE moniker meant little, since everybody knew that, like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street giants, Washington viewed them as "too big to fail."
With the onset of the subprime mortgage collapse, Fannie and Freddie went down with the rest of the financial industry. The federal government moved into high bailout gear during the latter half of 2008 with three distinct rescue models for Wall Street and Detroit.
One model provided capital and credit lines to Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase and AIG, leaving their shareholders beaten down but intact to start recovering value.
The second model dispatched General Motors into a well-orchestrated, stunningly quick bankruptcy process. While the bankruptcy court treated the common shareholders like flotsam and jetsam, GM emerged well subsidized and tax-privileged with a clean balance sheet under temporary ownership by the U.S. and Canadian governments and the United Auto Workers.
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.The third model placed Fannie and Freddie under an indeterminate conservatorship scheme that kept but abused its common shareholders, who had already lost up to 99% of their investment. Neither vanquished nor given an opportunity to recover, the institutional and individual shareholders are trapped in limbo.
Here is how the scheme congealed. In return for providing an open credit line, the government received warrants to buy up to 79.9% of the GSEs' common stock for $0.00001 per share. The government's share stayed under 80% to avoid forcing the liabilities of these two behemoths onto the government's books. Treasury achieved this by having the common shareholders nominally own the other 20%.
Here's the rub: The zombie common shareholders have no rights or remedies against Fannie and Freddie, both operationally active companies, or their regulator—the Federal Housing Finance Agency. FHFA ordered the Fannie and Freddie boards and executives to suspend communications with shareholders and abolish the annual stockholders meeting.
In 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Fannie and Freddie investors that the companies "are adequately capitalized." Moreover, another regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (Ofheo), assured investors—including many mutual funds, pension trusts and small banks—of the soundness of their investment.
Fannie Mae's then-Senior Vice President Chuck Greener, backed by his then-CEO Daniel Mudd, said, "We are maintaining a strong capital base, building reserves for credit losses and generating solid reserves as our business continues to serve the market." That was on July 11, 2008.
These former officials (both have since left Fannie Mae) should have known better. On Sept. 8, 2008, when Treasury announced the conservatorship, the GSEs' common stock dropped to pennies and the shareholders realized they were misled.
Such statements by private executives controlling a publicly traded corporation should have prompted a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. Such was the betrayal of trust of investors who were told for years that putting their money in these GSEs was second only to investing in Treasury bonds.
Still, some faithful shareholders, including me, held on, believing that they might have a chance to recover something—as did their counterparts in Citigroup, AIG and the rest of the rescued.
Then came the cruelest and most unnecessary diktat of all. On June 16, 2010, the FHFA directed Fannie and Freddie to delist their common and preferred stock from the NYSE. The exchange did not demand this move. True, Fannie had dropped slightly below the $1 per share threshold stipulated by NYSE rules, but the Big Board is quite flexible with time either to get back over $1 or to allow companies to offer a reverse stock split. Freddie was comfortably over the $1 level. Why delist with one irresponsible stroke of the government's pen and destroy billions of dollars of remaining shareholder value? This move took the shares down to the range of 30 cents, chasing away many institutional holders.
FHFA Director Edward J. DeMarco said: "A voluntary delisting at this time simply makes sense and fits with the goal of a conservatorship to preserve and conserve assets." What nonsense! Real people were affected. As always, shareholders were powerless to challenge management practices, and they were treated like bureaucratically useful apparitions whose last clinging value could be shredded arbitrarily without due process.
In the next few weeks, the Obama administration is sending Congress its proposals regarding the future of the GSEs. The common shareholders of Fannie and Freddie need to organize and make their voices heard in Washington. Clearly, they should have a say in how Fannie and Freddie are managed—in the board room and in Congress—from here onward. It would be the equitable thing to do given the unprecedented delisting, political manipulations and discriminatory abuses heaped on GSE investors.
Mr. Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us" (Seven Stories Press, 2009).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dershowitz
on: January 26, 2011, 11:55:59 AM
By ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ
Although I have opposed Israel's civilian settlements in the West Bank since 1973, I strongly believe that the United States should veto a resolution currently before the U.N. Security Council that would declare illegal "all Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory." This condemnatory resolution is being supported by all members of the Security Council other than the U.S. So it will pass unless the U.S. exercises its veto power.
There is a big difference between a government action being unwise, which the Israeli policy is, and being illegal, which it is not. Indeed, the very Security Council resolution on which proponents of the condemnation rely makes it clear that the legal status of Israel's continued occupation isn't settled.
Passed in 1967, Resolution 242 (which I played a very small role assisting then-U.N. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg in drafting) calls for Israel to return "territories" captured during its defensive war of 1967. The words "all" and "the" were proposed by those who advocated a complete return, but the U.S. and Great Britain, which opposed that view, prevailed.
Even partial return of captured territories is conditioned on "termination of all claims of belligerency" and "acknowledgment of the sovereignty . . . of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."
Resolution 242 does not mention the rights of nonstates, such as the Palestinian Authority, Hamas or Hezbollah, the latter two of which do not accept the conditions of the resolution. (Nor do Iran and several other states in the region.) It would be wrong for the Security Council retroactively to rewrite Resolution 242, which is the foundation for a two-state solution—Israel and Palestine—44 years after it was enacted.
But the real reason the U.S. should veto this ill-conceived resolution is that it is inconsistent with U.S. policy, which has long advocated a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has put it: "We continue to believe strongly that New York is not the place to resolve the longstanding conflict."
A negotiated resolution will require the Palestinian Authority to acknowledge that some of the land captured by Israel from Jordan, after Jordan attacked Israel, rightfully belongs to Israel. These areas include the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and the Western Wall—which were illegally captured by Jordan in its aggressive and unlawful 1948 war calculated to undo the U.N.'s decision to divide the area into Jewish and Arab homelands. Additionally, there will have to be land swaps that recognize the realities on the ground. Areas such as Ma'ale Adumim and Gilo, for example, have become integral parts of Jewish Jerusalem.
Finally, Resolution 242 explicitly requires that Israel have "secure and recognized boundaries," an implicit recognition that its pre-1967 boundaries were neither secure nor recognized. Some territorial adjustments will be essential if Israel is to remain more secure than it was in the lead-up to the 1967 war.
The Palestinian Authority seems to understand at least some of these realities, as reflected in the recent disclosure of 1,600 internal documents by Al Jazeera. In one 2008 document, Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie is quoted proposing that Israel annex all settlements in Jerusalem, with the exception of the Jewish areas of Har Homa and part of the Old City of Jerusalem. Some on the Security Council, however, clearly don't understand.
The current draft of the proposed resolution condemns "all Israeli settlement activities." Read literally, this condemnation would extend to the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, and those areas that even the Palestinian Authority concedes must remain under Israeli control. Israel will not, and should not, return "all" such territories. The U.S. does not believe it should, nor do reasonable Palestinians.
So what then is the purpose of the utterly unrealistic resolution now under consideration? It simply gives cover to those Palestinians who do not want to sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. It is also a stalking horse for the Palestinian effort to secure a further U.N. resolution unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood—a result that neither Israel nor the U.S. would recognize.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to negotiate without any preconditions. He promises generous proposals, which could lead to Palestinian statehood relatively quickly. The Palestinian Authority, however, has set preconditions to any negotiations, most specifically a second freeze on all West Bank and East Jerusalem construction. While I favor such a freeze, I do not believe that it should be a precondition to negotiations.
Let serious discussions begin immediately about the borders of the two states. As soon as the borders are decided, Israel will stop building in all areas beyond them. This is the only way toward peace. A Security Council resolution unilaterally deciding the central issue of the negotiations will only make matters worse.
Mr. Dershowitz is a law professor at Harvard. His latest novel is "The Trials of Zion" (Grand Central Publishing, 2010).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: New single family homes
on: January 26, 2011, 11:31:40 AM
I acknowledge what you just posted and the gravity of its implications, yet there also is this:
New single-family home sales increased 17.5% in December To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
New single-family home sales increased 17.5% in December, coming in at a 329,000 annual rate, blowing away the consensus expected pace of 300,000.
Sales were up in the West, Midwest, and South, but down in the Northeast.
At the current sales pace, the months’ supply of new homes (how long it would take to sell the homes in inventory) fell to 6.9 in December from 8.4 in November. The drop in the months’ supply was mainly due to the faster selling pace. The number of homes for sale fell 5,000 to 190,000, down 66.8% versus the peak in 2006 and the lowest level of new homes in inventory since 1968.
The median price of new homes sold was $241,500 in December, up 8.5% from a year ago. The average price of new homes sold was $291,400, up 4.7% versus last year.
Implications: New home sales jumped 17.5% in December, the biggest percentage gain since 1992, coming in well above consensus expectations. The increase was mostly due to stronger sales in the West. Outside the West, sales were up only slightly. It is important to note that new home inventories are still declining and are already at levels not seen since the late 1960s. As inventories keep falling, homebuilders will eventually need to start building more homes. Given a growing population, the pace of new home sales should roughly triple over the next several years to about 950,000. On the price front, the median price of new homes sold rose to $241,500 in December, coming in at the highest level since April 2008. This was probably influenced by the large increase of sales in the West where homes are usually priced higher. Median new home prices are up 8.5% versus a year ago. In other recent housing news, the Case-Shiller index, a measure of home prices in the 20 largest metro areas, dipped 0.5% in November (seasonally-adjusted) versus a consensus expected decline of 0.8%. Prices are down 1.6% in the past year, but still up 1.2% versus the cycle low in May 2009. The FHFA index, a price measure for homes financed by conforming mortgages, was unchanged in November but down 4.3% in the past year. In the factory sector, the Richmond Fed index, a measure of manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic, came in at +18 in January versus +25 in December. Although lower, the Richmond index still signals strong growth in manufacturing activity.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB: 20 held on smuggling charges
on: January 26, 2011, 11:28:16 AM
It is POTB so caveat lector. That said, not a pretty set of facts. What implications?
20 arrested in gun smuggling case
Federal authorities indict the men on charges of buying hundreds of weapons in Arizona and conspiring to sell them to drug cartels in Mexico.
A cache of weapons are seized in a federal sting. According to the indictment, legal gun dealers sold serveral weapons to a single buyer, often in one day. (Matt York, AP / January 24, 2011)
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
January 25, 2011, 8:48 p.m.
In a case aimed at stemming the flow of U.S. weapons to the Mexican drug war, federal authorities indicted 20 men Tuesday on charges of buying an estimated 700 weapons in Arizona and conspiring to transfer them across the border, chiefly to the Sinaloa drug cartel.
The arrests, carried out by at least 100 federal agents, began early Tuesday, the latest crackdown targeting an international trafficking network that authorities say has seen as many as 60,000 weapons seized in Mexico and traced to U.S. sources.
"The massive size of this operation sadly exemplifies the magnitude of the problem: Mexican drug lords go shopping for war weapons in Arizona," Dennis Burke, U.S. attorney in Arizona, said in a statement.
Officials at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the case demonstrates the need to include long-barreled weapons in the requirement for gun sellers to report multiple weapon sales to a single buyer. The proposal has been opposed by the National Rifle Assn. and many gun owners as an inappropriate reach of federal authority.
Gun advocates say many of the weapons in the hands of Mexican drug traffickers were acquired from weapons stocks officially supplied by the U.S. government to Mexico and other Latin American countries.
The case involves the relatively common use of "straw purchasers," legal residents of the state who buy the weapons from licensed gun dealers and certify that they are for their own use, but end up selling the guns to the drug cartels.
None of those charged in the indictments are licensed gun dealers. But the indictments identify a number of Arizona dealers that legally supplied large quantities of weapons to individual buyers, often in a single day.
One of the defendants, Uriel Patino, for example, purchased 26 AK-47 rifles from Lone Wolf Trading Co. in Glendale, Ariz., on March 26; 10 more on June 2 from the same outlet; 16 on July 8; and 12 on Aug. 5 — in addition to purchasing a number of other weapons.
In all these cases, according to the indictment, Patino signed a federal form certifying that he was not buying the weapons for someone else, a requirement that is prominently featured on Lone Wolf's website.
But on Aug. 8, federal agents found all 12 of the AK-47s purchased Aug. 5 concealed in a stove and a television in what was an apparent attempt to smuggle them into Mexico through the border crossing at Lukeville, Ariz.
A few months earlier, on Feb. 20, law enforcement agents intercepted an Isuzu Rodeo on the Tohono O'odham Nation territory in southeastern Arizona that was loaded with 37 AK-47s purchased by Patino between Jan. 15 and Feb. 13.
The federal firearms bureau announced in December that it was proposing to require an estimated 8,500 gun dealers along the southwestern U.S. border to provide notice of multiple rifle sales, but gun advocates have said it is an attempt to blame lawful gun dealers for border enforcement problems and the violence in Mexico.
"This is just a shallow excuse to engage in a sweeping firearms registration scheme," Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's chief executive and executive vice president, wrote on the organization's website.
Tom Mangan, spokesman for the firearms bureau in Phoenix, said officials are hopeful the regulation will go through.
"It's not prohibiting; it's not infringing upon a purchaser's right to buy guns," he firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB: Killing of 9 year old girl
on: January 26, 2011, 11:22:59 AM
Its Pravda on the Beach (LA Times) so caveat lector; that said this case seems quite awful.
Mother describes border vigilante killings in Arizona
Gina Gonzalez says her 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores, pleaded for her life. Opening arguments begin in the trial of Shawna Forde of the Minutemen movement, who is accused in the killing of the girl and her father.
By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times
January 25, 2011, 8:55 p.m.
Reporting from Tucson —
As her mother tells it, 9-year-old Brisenia Flores had begged the border vigilantes who had just broken into her house, "Please don't shoot me."
But they did — in the face at point-blank range, prosecutors allege, as Brisenia's father sat dead on the couch and her mother lay on the floor, pretending that she too had been killed in the gunfire.
Even as this city continues to mourn the victims in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, another tragedy took center stage Tuesday, as opening arguments began in the trial of a member of a Minutemen group accused of killing Brisenia and her father, Raul Flores Jr.
Prosecutors allege that in May 2009, Shawna Forde decided to strike an odd alliance with drug dealers in southern Arizona: Forde would help the traffickers ransack their rivals' houses for stashes of drugs and cash, which could then fund her fledgling group, Minutemen American Defense.
She and another border vigilante, dressed in uniforms, identified themselves as law enforcement officers before bursting into the Flores home, prosecutors allege. If convicted, Forde could face the death penalty.
That second member of Forde's group is scheduled to go on trial next month, as is the alleged drug dealer with whom prosecutors say the Minutemen collaborated. But on Tuesday it was the turn of the woman who prosecutors contend masterminded the attack.
"Shawna Forde organized and planned this event," prosecutor Kellie L. Johnson told a Pima County Superior Court jury.
Forde's trial was almost delayed by the Giffords shooting. Her attorneys questioned whether an accused murderer allegedly driven by right-wing passions could get a fair trial here. The man charged in the Giffords rampage left behind a trail of writings with no coherent ideology, but Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik set off a national firestorm by insisting that Arizona's conservative politics played a role in that attack.
Forde's lawyer, Kevin Larson, told jurors that there is no evidence she was in the Flores house during the attack.
"The state will present to you absolutely no witnesses that will put her in that home on May 30," Larson said. He said his client was simply guilty of being "an exaggerator extraordinaire" for boasting of her plans to rob drug smugglers.
Forde spent several years as a bit player in the national Minutemen movement, a loose-knit affiliation of groups that believe that if the federal government cannot secure the border, armed citizens should do the job.
Prosecutors say that in April 2009, Forde told two members of the movement in Denver that she had linked up with drug dealers in the tiny town of Arivaca, Ariz., just north of the Mexican border and about 50 miles southwest of Tucson. She proposed helping the dealers raid a rival's house, which would be full of drug profits she could steal, prosecutors allege.
The plan so alarmed the members, prosecutors say, that they contacted the FBI. But Larson said it was such an obviously outlandish idea that the FBI did nothing with it.
On Tuesday, Johnson and Brisenia's mother, Gina Gonzalez, outlined the chilling sequence of events in the attack.
Shortly before 1 a.m. on May 30, 2009, Gonzalez was woken by her husband, who told her that police seemed to be at the door. The two went to the front room, where their daughter Brisenia was sleeping on the couch so she could be close to her new dog.
There were two people in camouflage outside — a short, heavyset woman who did all the talking and a tall man carrying a rifle and pistol, his face blackened by greasepaint, Gonzalez said. The woman told them they were accused of harboring fugitives and needed to open the door.
Once the pair were inside, the man —identified by authorities as Jason Bush — told Flores, "Don't take this personal, but this bullet has your name on it," Gonzalez testified Tuesday.
According to testimony, Bush shot Flores, then Gonzalez. Gonzalez was hit in the shoulder and leg and slumped to the floor. She testified that she played dead as she heard Bush pump more bullets into her husband as Brisenia woke up.
"Why did you shoot my dad?" the girl asked, sobbing, according to Gonzalez's testimony. "Why did you shoot my mom?"
Gonzalez said she heard Bush slowly reload his gun and that he then ignored Brisenia's pleas and fired.
More men entered the house and ransacked the place. After they left, Gonzalez called 911. On a tape of the recording, played for the jury Tuesday, she suddenly realized that the attackers were returning, and crawled to the kitchen to grab her husband's gun.
Prosecutors say Bush came back in and fired on Gonzalez, who returned fire and apparently hit him, forcing him to retreat.
Gonzalez testified that the woman in the house looked like Forde, but she said she couldn't definitively say it was her "because I don't know her personally." She failed to identify Forde in a police lineup after the shooting.
Forde had Gonzalez's wedding ring and jewelry with her when she was arrested days after the shooting, authorities say. Shortly after her arrest, members of the Minutemen movement disavowed her, saying they did not trust her and that she had stayed on its email@example.com
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT/POTH: antibiotics in cows, milk?
on: January 26, 2011, 11:08:34 AM
Each year, federal inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue.
But the testing plan met with fierce protest from the dairy industry, which said that it could force farmers to needlessly dump millions of gallons of milk while they waited for test results. Industry officials and state regulators said the testing program was poorly conceived and could lead to costly recalls that could be avoided with a better plan for testing.
In response, the F.D.A. postponed the testing, and now the two sides are sparring over how much danger the antibiotics pose and the best way to ensure that the drugs do not end up in the milk supply.
“What has been served up, up to this point, by Food and Drug has been potentially very damaging to innocent dairy farmers,” said John J. Wilson, a senior vice president for Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy cooperative. He said that that the nation’s milk was safe and that there was little reason to think that the slaughterhouse findings would be replicated in tests of the milk supply.
But food safety advocates said that the F.D.A.’s preliminary findings raised issues about the possible overuse of antibiotics in livestock, which many fear could undermine the effectiveness of drugs to combat human illnesses.
“Consumers certainly don’t want to be taking small amounts of drugs every time they drink milk,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group. “They want products that are appropriately managed to ensure those drug residues aren’t there, and the dairy farmer is the one who can control that.”
The F.D.A. said that it would confer with the industry before deciding how to proceed. “The agency remains committed to gathering the information necessary to address its concern with respect to this important potential public health issue,” it said in a statement.
The concerns of federal regulators stem from tests done by the Department of Agriculture on dairy cows sent to be slaughtered at meat plants. For years, those tests have found a small but persistent number of animals with drug residues, mostly antibiotics, that violate legal limits.
The tests found 788 dairy cows with residue violations in 2008, the most recent year for which data was available. That was a tiny fraction of the 2.6 million dairy cows slaughtered that year, but regulators say the violations are warning signs because the problem persists from year to year and some of the drugs detected are not approved for use in dairy cows.
The question for the F.D.A. is whether cows that are producing milk also have improper levels of such drugs in their bodies and whether traces of those drugs are getting into the milk.
Regulators and veterinarians say that high levels of drugs can persist in an animal’s system because of misuse of medicines on the farm.
That can include exceeding the prescribed dose or injecting a drug into muscle instead of a vein. Problems can also occur if farmers do not follow rules that require them to wait for a specified number of days after administering medication before sending an animal to slaughter or putting it into milk production.
“F.D.A. is concerned that the same poor management practices which led to the meat residues may also result in drug residues in milk,” the agency said in a document explaining its plan to the industry. In the same document, the F.D.A. said it believed that the nation’s milk supply was safe.
Today, every truckload of milk is tested for four to six antibiotics that are commonly used on dairy farms. The list includes drugs like penicillin and ampicillin, which are also prescribed for people. Each year, only a small number of truckloads are found to be “hot milk,” containing trace amounts of antibiotics. In those cases, the milk is destroyed.
But dairy farmers use many more drugs that are not regularly tested for in milk. Regulators are concerned because some of those other drugs have been showing up in the slaughterhouse testing.
Federal officials have discussed expanded testing for years. But industry executives said that it was not until last month that the F.D.A. told them it was finally going to begin.
The agency said that it planned to test milk from about 900 dairy farms that had repeatedly been caught sending cows to slaughter with illegal levels of drugs in their systems.
It said it would test for about two dozen antibiotics beyond the six that are typically tested for. The testing would also look for a painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug popular on dairy farms, called flunixin, which often shows up in the slaughterhouse testing.
The problem, from the industry’s point of view, is the lengthy time it takes for test results.
The tests currently done for antibiotics in milk take just minutes to complete. But the new tests could take a week or more to determine if the drugs were present in the milk.
Milk moves quickly onto store shelves or to factories where it is made into cheese or other products. The industry worried that, under the F.D.A. plan, by the time a load of milk was found to be contaminated, it could already be in consumers’ refrigerators, and that could lead to recalls.
One Northeast cooperative, Agri-Mark, sent a letter to its members last month instructing them to dump milk if it had been tested by the F.D.A. “Agri-Mark must ensure that all of our milk sales, cheese, butter and other products are in no danger of recall,” the letter said.
Other industry executives said that processing plants would refuse to take any milk from a farm that had been tested until the results showed it was drug-free, meaning farmers could end up dumping milk for a week or more while waiting.
The F.D.A. plan was also criticized by state officials that regulate the dairy industry.
In a sharply worded Dec. 29 letter, the top agriculture officials of 10 Northeastern states, including New York and Pennsylvania, which are both leading dairy producers, told the F.D.A. that its plan was badly flawed. Among other problems, the letter said, forcing farmers to dump large quantities of milk could create environmental problems.
The F.D.A. said it would consider the regulators’ comments as it reviewed its testing plan.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Death Culture came to them
on: January 26, 2011, 10:57:20 AM
"Few things rile me more than demands that pro-lifers -- especially those motivated by their faith -- keep out of politics. Quite the contrary, many did just that, quietly going to church and reading their Bibles, until one day they awoke to learn the Supreme Court had passed Roe v. Wade ... and the hellacious assault was on. They entered pro-life activism reluctantly, as a reaction to what was thrust upon their culture and country. The last thing they wanted was to get involved in politics. The Death Culture came to them." --author and columnist Paul Kengor
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IDB
on: January 26, 2011, 10:55:16 AM
"We're glad to see House Republicans pushing the Spending Reduction Act of 2011, which would trim $2.5 trillion from the budget over the next decade. It's a nice start, but not nearly enough. It's great to see so many undeserving, wasteful programs finally face the ax. But that's just what the Republicans' new plan to return the U.S. to fiscal responsibility would do. ...
The GOP bill would lower spending on 'non-defense, non-homeland security and non-veterans programs' to 2008 levels. That includes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bankrupt mortgage giants, which would no longer be under government control. The federal work force would be cut 15% through attrition, another major saving. All good, we say. But let's do the math. In the last two years alone, we've put up deficits of $2.7 trillion. In perspective, the proposed $2.5 trillion in cuts over a decade come to $250 billion a year. Our deficit will average $1.33 trillion a year for the next 10 years -- $13.3 trillion, total, according to the Congressional Budget Office. So even with the GOP's cuts, we'll still have $1 trillion a year in deficits. Even with all this cutting, we come up well short. ...
The GOP has done yeoman's work, taking a first whack at bringing our budget back into balance. But without entitlement reform, spending will continue to soar -- and we'll watch our debts surge from about $14 trillion today to $23 trillion or more in just 10 years. Cuts won't come easy, but they have to be made. The GOP plan is a decent down payment, but more cutting remains to be done." --Investor's Business Daily
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: January 26, 2011, 10:51:42 AM
Emanuel is a man I hold in low regard, but JDN's point about service seems fair to me.
That said, I am not sure we are tracking well this point about statutory interpretation:
"We agree with the candidate that his service constituted "business of the
United States" and thus that this exception applies to him. We
disagree, however, with his position that the exception saves his
candidacy. In our view, the exception embodied by section 3-2 of
the Election Code applies only to voter residency requirements, not
No. 1-11-003322 to candidate residency requirements."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Taranto
on: January 25, 2011, 08:47:49 AM
By JAMES TARANTO
In the olden days, Frances Fox Piven was a cutting-edge social theorist of the hard left. In a 1977 book, she and her husband, Richard Cloward, argued "that the poor and unemployed are so isolated from the levers of power in America that their greatest potential impact is to withhold 'quiescence in civil life: they can riot,' " as Stanley Kurtz reports in National Review Online:
At the heart of the book, Cloward and Piven luxuriously describe instances of "mob looting," "rent riots," and similar disruptions, egged on especially by Communist-party organizers in the 1930s. Many of those violent protests resulted in injuries. A few led to deaths. The central argument of Poor People's Movements is that it was not formal democratic activity but violent disruptions inspired by leftist organizers that forced the first great expansion of the welfare state.
Toward the end of the book, when Cloward and Piven describe their own work with the National Welfare Rights Organization, they treat the violent urban rioting of the Sixties as a positive force behind that era's expansion of the welfare state
Piven is now in the autumn of life, 78 and widowed nearly a decade. But she still dreams of revolution, as evidenced by this article in the Jan. 10 issue of the soft-core hard-left periodical The Nation:
Before people can mobilize for collective action, they have to develop a proud and angry identity and a set of claims that go with that identity. They have to go from being hurt and ashamed to being angry and indignant. . . .
An effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees.
The first paragraph of this passage could describe the Tea Party movement. But the Tea Party is nonviolent, and the second paragraph makes clear that is not what Piven has in mind. In fact, Piven has nothing but scorn for the Tea Party, which is the subject of a bigoted rant she delivered last month, which you can hear on Glenn Beck's site TheBlaze.com:
These voters . . . are older. . . . They're white, they're all white. . . . These are the people in American society--and you know, they are always there. . . . For them, change is for the worse. After all, there's an African-American in the White House. That's sort of beyond their cultural experience. The American population is darkening. That's also beyond their experience. . . . And you know, I don't have any data on this, but I am absolutely sure that sex is very important in what is happening to older people.
No doubt the Tea Party's individualistic orientation also makes it anathema to the superannuated socialist. Piven has gained a degree of notoriety of late thanks to Beck, who has frequently and harshly criticized her ideas on his radio and TV shows. In a Saturday news story, the New York Times reported that "her name has become a kind of shorthand for 'enemy' on Mr. Beck's Fox News Channel program."
A three-part, 15-letter, five-syllable name is "shorthand" for a five-letter word? As we shall see, that isn't the only thing the Times got backward about this story.
This passage in the Times story sums up the Piven-Beck ruckus:
Her assertions that "an effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece," and that "protesters need targets, preferably local and accessible ones," led Mr. Beck to ask on Fox this week, "Is that not inciting violence? Is that not asking for violence?" Videos of fires in Greece played behind him.
"That is not a call for violence," Ms. Piven said Friday of the references to riots. "There is a kind of rhetorical trick that is always used to denounce movements of ordinary people, and that is to imply that the massing of people itself is violent."
It must be said that the answer to Beck's question is no. Piven is not inciting violence.
Piven: "Sex is very important."
.The legal standard for incitement was spelled out by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio. A local Ku Klux Klan leader was convicted of "criminal syndicalism" for "advocat[ing] . . . the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform."
Brandenburg had been filmed at a KKK rally, where he said: "We're not a revengent organization, but if our president, our Congress, our Supreme Court, continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it's possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken." He also spoke of his desire to "return" blacks--to whom he referred by a now-unprintable six-letter slur--to Africa and Jews to Israel.
In a unanimous unsigned opinion, the justices overturned Brandenburg's conviction: "The constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."
There was no risk of imminent lawless action when Piven wrote her piece in The Nation. It is highly unlikely that the magazine's readers are numerous and energetic enough to stage an actual riot. Thus Piven, like Brandenburg, was merely advocating violence, not inciting it. She crossed no legal line.
She did, however, cross a moral line. In the past few weeks we've heard a lot, especially from the Times, about the dangers of violent rhetoric. Most examples of such "rhetoric" consist of innocuous metaphors: a political action committee's map of districts whose congressmen are targeted for defeat, or a representative's urging her constituents to be "armed" with information. Piven's statement that "protesters need targets," taken on its own, would fall into this category. But her endorsement of European-style riots constitutes actual violent rhetoric.
The Times, however, inverts the story. In the paper's telling, Piven, the advocate of violence, is the victim; Beck, her critic, is the villain. The headline reads: "Spotlight From Glenn Beck Brings a CUNY Professor Threats."
James Taranto on Piven and the Times.
.Piven claims to have received at least three threatening emails, which an editorial in The Nation quotes (warning: obscene language at link). None include a direct threat, but all are hostile and offensive, and two wish her dead. It is wrong to send such foul communications, and if police conclude that any of these are true threats, the senders should be prosecuted. Neither the Times nor The Nation reports that such a determination has been made.
Years ago, we covered a Ku Klux Klan rally in New York. The 16 Klansmen who showed up were vastly outnumbered by the scores of police on the scene to protect them from thousands of angry counterprotesters. The event must have cost the taxpayers a bundle, but that is the price we pay for freedom of speech, even morally repugnant speech. If Piven is genuinely under threat, the New York City Police Department should provide her with extra protection.
But the idea that Beck is to blame for these alleged threats is baseless. That is why the Times makes this accusation only indirectly, through insinuation and innuendo, consistent with its recent journalistic modus operandi. Indeed, what exactly is Beck supposed to have done wrong here? There is no allegation that anything he has said about Piven or her ideas is untrue, save for her denial in the Times that she has advocated violence, which is contradicted by her own quote in the previous paragraph.
Nor is there any claim that Beck has advocated threats against Piven. Quite the contrary, the Times reports that his website has suppressed them:
One such threat, published as an anonymous comment on The Blaze, read, "Somebody tell Frances I have 5000 roundas ready and I'll give My life to take Our freedom back." (The spelling and capitalizing have not been changed.)
That comment and others that were direct threats were later deleted, but other comments remain that charge her with treasonous behavior.
Now, "treasonous behavior" is strong language, but it reminded us of something we read in 2009:
So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.
But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.
And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn't help thinking that I was watching a form of treason--treason against the planet.
That was Paul Krugman, star columnist of the New York Times. Glenn Beck's website enforces on its commenters a standard of civility comparable to the standard the Times imposes on staff columnists for its op-ed page. That may be an indictment of Beck, but it is not one that the Times can credibly hand up.
(We should note here that Beck's TV program appears on Fox News Channel, which, like The Wall Street Journal and this website, is owned by News Corp. His radio show and TheBlaze.com have no connection to News Corp.)
The Times story on the Beck-Piven conflict is in furtherance of a public relations campaign launched last week by a group styling itself the Center for Constitutional Rights. Its press release announcing the effort accomplishes a Times-like inversion in the very headline: "CCR Appeals to Fox News President for Help in Silencing Glenn Beck Misinformation Campaign Against Progressive Professor."
They may not agree with what you say, but they'll fight to the death for your right to remain silent.
And the New York Times will cheer them on in that fight. Why is a newspaper that has been posturing as the scourge of violent rhetoric now siding with a purveyor of such rhetoric, and blatantly slanting the news as it does so? Because her opponent is a prominent media figure from outside the old media establishment. Because Glenn Beck is a threat to the authority of the New York Times.
Don't Know Much About History
Last week was the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. It was also the 70th anniversary of FDR's third inaugural, the 30th anniversary of Reagan's first, and the 10th anniversary of George W. Bush's first. But the JFK myth still looms large, especially since people who were children at the time of his assassination are now at the peak of their influence, so it's not surprising that the media would focus on his semicentennial.
Nor is it surprising, two weeks after the attempted assassination of a politician, that media figures would draw unwarranted parallels between JFK and Gabrielle Giffords, between 1963 and 2011. It's an easy, lazy thing to do.
NewsBusters.org criticizes ABC News's Christiane Amanpour for doing just that, but misses her worst howler, in a question to Jean Kennedy Smith, JFK's sister and only surviving sibling:
A family bound tightly together by power and later, grief. John F. Kennedy was assassinated less than three years after his inauguration, in November 1963. His brother, Bobby, in 1968. Two acts of political violence so traumatic that the country has never fully recovered. It's an episode eerily relevant today in the wake of the assassination attempt against Gabrielle Giffords less than two weeks ago. A congresswoman was targeted. No matter what the reason, how would you describe the atmosphere, the political atmosphere today in the country?
In truth, "the political atmosphere" in 1968--when Robert F. Kennedy became the last sitting member of Congress to be assassinated in the U.S.--was vastly different from that in 1963. The 4½ years between JFK's and RFK's assassinations had seen a series of momentous events: the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the rise of the New Right, Barry Goldwater's landslide defeat, the assassination of Malcolm X, the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, the creation of Medicare, the declaration of War on Poverty, the rise of the Black Power movement, the escalation of the Vietnam War, the rise of the antiwar movement, Lyndon B. Johnson's withdrawal from the 1968 presidential race, the assassination of Martin Luther King, race riots in various American cities.
No doubt this list is less than all-inclusive. Does Amanpour mean to suggest that the political climate today is similar to that in 1963 or 1968? That the distinction doesn't even seem to have occurred to her shows you just how lazy the parallel is.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Accusations unfounded
on: January 25, 2011, 08:42:57 AM
By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR.
AND LEE A. CASEY
Last week, liberal activists at Common Cause called on the United States Justice Department to investigate Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for a supposed ethical lapse.
The case at issue is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), involving an unflattering film about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton distributed by a conservative nonprofit corporation in 2008. The Supreme Court ruled that limits on corporate spending unconnected to any candidate's campaign were unconstitutional.
Common Cause took exception and is now seeking to overturn the decision. In a letter to the Justice Department, the group claims that Justices Scalia and Thomas, who voted with the majority of the Court to strike down the challenged spending limits, violated ethical rules requiring a judge to "disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
The reason: Both justices purportedly attended (Mr. Scalia in 2007 and Mr. Thomas in 2008) "invitation-only" programs sponsored at least in part by the Koch family, owners of Koch Industries and frequent supporters of free-market and libertarian causes. Neither justice, the letter claimed, had disclosed any travel reimbursements by the Kochs.
Common Cause got its facts wrong. The Justices did not disclose reimbursements by the Kochs because they were actually the guests of the nonpartisan Federalist Society (a regular sponsor of public debates and speeches on legal and policy issues), which they did report.
Neither justice attended the conference. Both spoke at a dinner hosted separately from the conference. And neither spoke about the First Amendment, let alone restrictions on corporate spending. Mr. Scalia discussed international law, while Mr. Thomas delivered a speech on his recent memoir and life story.
Mr. Scalia's speech took place in January 2007, nearly a year before Citizens United was filed in the federal courts. Mr. Thomas spoke in January 2008, a few weeks after the case was filed but well before it reached the Supreme Court in 2009.
UCommon Cause's letter to the Justice Department is just the latest salvo in a long campaign by left-wing groups to intimidate conservative judges, academics and activists. For years, groups like Common Cause have assailed nonprofits that provide judges, lawyers and students with education in economics, law and American history. They have pushed for onerous disclosure regulations and even proscriptions against judges attending conferences sponsored by groups with corporate donors. The goal, of course, is to restore the monopoly on such educational forums to the law schools and the more reliably left-leaning American Bar Association.
Just this month, liberals sought to manufacture a controversy over Justice Scalia's speech to the House Tea Party Caucus. His topic: the constitutional limits of Congress's powers and those of the court. Although it is difficult to think of a more appropriate topic on which a justice might speak, the New York Times called it "outlandish" and "dismaying."
Of course, conservative judges aren't the only ones who give speeches. Justice Stephen Breyer, for instance, spoke recently at a private retreat for members of the House Judiciary Committee.
Such engagements are appropriate and healthy. Judges are not, and should not behave as, members of a cloistered religious order. They are citizens and voters as well as powerful public officials, and they should participate in the greater society on which their decisions often have a profound impact.
This would be impossible if the rule championed by Common Cause were adopted. Attendance of educational and professional events by members of the federal judiciary is common and has never been held as a basis for recusal. Judicial decisions, especially those of the Supreme Court, may have any number of effects on any number of groups. Recusal ordinarily is required only when a judge has a direct and personal economic interest in one of the parties to a case.
Common Cause's letter isn't only an unfair attack on two Supreme Court justices. It is an assault on the judiciary and an effort to silence conservative voices.
Messrs. Rivkin and Casey served in the Department of Justice during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Origins of Public Sector Unions
on: January 25, 2011, 08:39:17 AM
By FRED SIEGEL
The turbulent years of the 1960s and '70s are best known by the headline-grabbing civil rights and women's rights movements. But there was another "rights" movement, largely overlooked, that has also had a profound effect on American life. The looming public-pension crisis that threatens to bankrupt city, county and state governments had its origins in those same years when public employees, already protected by civil-service rules, gained the right to bargain collectively.
Liberals were once skeptical of public-sector unionism. In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia warned against it as an infringement on democratic freedoms that threatened the ability of government to represent the broad needs of the citizenry. And in a 1937 letter to the head of an organization of federal workers, FDR noted that "a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable."
Private-sector union leaders were also divided. George Meany, the president of the AFL-CIO from 1955-1979 who came out of the building trades, argued that it was "impossible to bargain collectively with the government." Private unionists more generally worried that rather than winning a greater share of profits, public-sector labor would be extracting taxes from a public that included their own workers. But in the late 1950s, with the failure of the labor movement's organizing campaign in the South, Meany's own executive council insisted on the necessity of winning the right to organize public employees.
The first to seize on the political potential of government workers was New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner. The mayor's father, a prominent New Deal senator, had authored the landmark 1935 Wagner Act, which imposed on private employers the legal duty to bargain collectively with the properly elected union representatives of their employees. Mayor Wagner, prodded by Jerry Wurf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (Afscme), gave city workers the right to bargain collectively in 1958.
Running for re-election in 1961, Mayor Wagner was opposed by the old-line party bosses of all five boroughs. He turned to a new force, the public-sector unions, as his political machine. His re-election resonated at the Kennedy White House, which had won office by only the narrowest of margins in 1960.
Ten weeks after Wagner's victory, Kennedy looked to mobilize public-sector workers as a new source of Democratic Party political support. In mid-January 1962, he issued Executive Order 10988, which gave federal workers the right to organize in unions.
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The scene in downtown Manhattan during a sanitation workers' strike, 1968.
.Two young and militant public-sector unionists, Al Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers and Wurf of Afscme, both strong supporters of the still nascent civil rights movement, seized the opportunity. Shanker saw both teachers and African-Americans as second-class citizens fighting the old-line political bosses. He'd also called a brief teachers strike in 1960. Shanker called another strike in 1962 that shifted the balance of power from principals to teachers, where it has remained down to the present.
In 1958, there had been but 15 public-employee strikes nationwide, involving a handful of workers. By 1968, after the old guard in Afscme had been deposed by the so-called young Turks led by Wurf, more than 200,000 union members, mostly in local and state government, were involved in 254 strikes.
In 1968, amid rioting, civil rights and antiwar protests, Martin Luther King Jr. backed an Afscme strike by poorly paid, mostly African-American sanitation men in Memphis, Tenn. After King's tragic assassination, the city quickly settled with the union.
In the 1970s, government-worker unions became a political venue for New Leftist, feminist and black activists hoping to carry on in the militant spirit of the 1960s. The divisions within organized labor over the Vietnam War allowed Wurf and his allies to take on the declining private unions of the AFL-CIO, whose leader Meany backed the war. Wurf made himself a key player in George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign, and public employees have had a lead role in Democratic Party politics ever since.
Public-employee unionism seemed to be moving from success to success—Afscme was gaining a thousand (mostly female) workers a week—until the summer of 1975. At that point there was a surge in strikes, and the government unions began to threaten Democratic officeholders.
On July 1, 1975, New York sanitation workers walked off the job, allowing garbage to pile up in the streets of a Gotham already in the throes of fiscal crisis. In short order, cops objecting to furloughs imposed by the city's liberal Democratic Mayor Abe Beame shut down the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, with marchers carrying signs that read "Cops Out, Crime In" and "Burn City Burn."
On that same July 1, 76,000 Pennsylvania state workers went on strike against liberal Democratic Gov. Milton Shapp's austerity measures. Afscme's leader in Pennsylvania, Gerald MacIntee, told his members "Let's go out and close down this God-damned state." And in Seattle, the fireman's union initiated a recall ballot on July 1 directed against the one-time union favorite, Mayor Wes Uhlman, who held back pay hikes in the midst of rising deficits.
Mr. Uhlman narrowly survived and he, like Beame and Shapp, calmed the situation by largely caving in to the striker's demands. But a line had been crossed: With New York's near-bankruptcy a visible marker, the peril posed by public-sector unionism became a problem for Democrats as well as Republicans.
The fiscal burden of public-employee unions briefly became visible again in the early '80s, when many warned of a looming public-pension crisis. That crisis was averted by the stock market boom that began in 1982-83 and lasted until 2007-08. It is now back with a vengeance.
Restraining the immense clout that government-employee unions have accumulated over the past half-century will be difficult, but not impossible. Civil rights for African-Americans and women was a fulfillment of the universalist American promise as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Collective bargaining by public employees was not rooted in deep-seated American tradition.
Instead, the decision to grant this privilege was a political decision designed to enhance the power of a pressure group whose interests, even many liberals assumed, would be at odds with those of the general public. Political decisions can be reversed.
Mr. Siegel is a scholar in residence at St. Francis College and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: To guarantee or not to guarantee, that is the question
on: January 25, 2011, 08:35:49 AM
A push by Republican lawmakers to scale back government backing for home mortgages is meeting resistance from the housing industry, a longtime ally of the party.
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Rep. Jeb Hensarling said Fannie and Freddie's role should be transferred to the private sector.
.In recent months, banking executives and mortgage investors from groups including the Financial Services Roundtable, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts have met with Republican lawmakers and their staffs to press them on the need for a permanent government role in guaranteeing mortgages.
But many Republicans blame government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for fueling the housing bubble that helped spark the financial crisis, and some new members of Congress want government to take a smaller role in the economy. That has some lawmakers pledging to resist any effort to revamp the U.S.'s system of housing finance that would leave taxpayers exposed to losses.
"I know the industry is here, and they are saying we need a government guarantee," said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.), now chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, at a September hearing.
"If I were the industry, I would be doing the same thing because I would love to make loans and if they failed, let the taxpayers make up the loss," Mr. Bachus said. "That's a pretty sweet deal."
Since the 1930s, the federal government has backed the housing market through Fannie Mae and, later, Freddie Mac. The two firms bundle mortgages into securities that are sold to investors, who are then protected against any losses if borrowers default.
That support, the housing industry argues, is key to lenders' willingness to offer the traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at low rates.
The Obama administration is due by mid-February to issue a proposal to overhaul Fannie and Freddie, which have been under government control since 2008. Officials are likely to present two or more approaches, including one with a limited but explicit government guarantee of securities backed by certain types of mortgages, and another with no such guarantees. Democrats generally support the guarantees to preserve wide availability of the 30-year mortgage.
Many investors and the housing industry argue that guarantees are needed to ensure the availability of home loans during downturns, when private lenders retreat. Under several proposals, the mortgage industry would pay the government fees for support, much as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. collects fees from banks to handle failures.
If investors in mortgage-backed securities don't have that government guarantee, they will demand higher interest rates and some may not invest at all, said Jeremy Diamond, managing director of Annaly Capital Management, who has met with GOP staff. His message to lawmakers considering full-scale privatization: "You will end up with a mortgage market that is smaller, less liquid and more expensive."
The idea of any kind of government guarantee raises the hackles of many in the GOP, especially members sympathetic to the tea-party movement, which made a mantra of opposing bailouts.
"You're going to be setting the housing industry, who have traditionally had a tremendous influence on the Republican Party, against the tea party," said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Last week, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the House's fourth-ranking Republican, said he would introduce legislation to transfer Fannie and Freddie's role to the private sector within five years with no future guarantees. "My goal is to get the taxpayer off the dime," he said.
Critics say reformulating the system to look like the FDIC wouldn't relieve taxpayers of the burden because the government isn't likely to charge enough for the insurance protection, resulting in a rerun of the government's takeover of Fannie and Freddie, which has cost taxpayers $134 billion.
"The government's guarantee eliminates an essential element of market discipline—the risk aversion of investors," said a paper released last week by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "So the outcome will be the same: the underwriting standards will deteriorate, regulation of issuers will fail and taxpayers will take losses once again."
In the months ahead, GOP lawmakers—especially those who remain cautious about privatization—are likely to face a lobbying blitz from home builders, community bankers, real-estate agents and other businesses in their home districts that depend on federal housing support.
Community banks, for example, will likely argue that they would face higher costs to originate mortgages.
The burden on the industry is to "show that the risk to the taxpayer is going to be minimized," said Paul Leonard, chairman of the Financial Services Roundtable's Housing Policy Council.
Write to Nick Timiraos at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: The coming Clusterfcuk
on: January 25, 2011, 08:21:45 AM
Where to next? And when?
For NASA, as it attempts to squeeze a workable human spaceflight program into a tight federal budget, the answers appear to be “somewhere” and “not anytime soon.”
When the space shuttles are retired this year — and only one flight remains for each of the three — NASA will no longer have its own means for getting American astronauts to space.
What comes next is a muddle.
The program to send astronauts back to the moon, known as Constellation, was canceled last year.
In its place, Congress has asked NASA to build a heavy-lift rocket, one that can go deep into space carrying big loads. But NASA says it cannot possibly build such a rocket with the budget and schedule it has been given.
Another crucial component of NASA’s new mission — helping commercial companies develop space taxis for taking astronauts into orbit — is getting less money than the Obama administration requested. Companies like Boeing and SpaceX that are interested in bidding for the work do not yet know whether they can make a profitable venture of it.
When it comes to the future of NASA, “it’s hard at this point to speculate,” Douglas R. Cooke, associate administrator for NASA’s exploration systems mission directorate, said in an interview.
A panel that oversees safety at NASA took note of the uncertainty in its annual report, released this month. “What is NASA’s exploration mission?” the members of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel asked in their report.
The panel added: “It is not in the nation’s best interest to continue functioning in this manner. The Congress, the White House, and NASA must quickly reach a consensus position on the future of the agency and the future of the United States in space.”
A nagging worry is that compromises will leave NASA without enough money to accomplish anything, and that — even as billions of dollars are spent — the future destination and schedule of NASA’s rockets could turn out to be “nowhere” and “never.”
In that case, human spaceflight at NASA would consist just of its work aboard the International Space Station, with the Russians providing the astronaut transportation indefinitely.
“We’re on a path with an increasing probability of a bad outcome,” said Scott Pace, a former NASA official who now directs the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.
A NASA study, completed last month, came up with a framework for spaceflight in the two next decades but deferred setting specific destinations, much less timetables for getting there. One of the study’s conclusions was that trying to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 — as President Obama had challenged the agency to do in a speech last April — was “not prudent,” because it would be too expensive and narrow.
Instead, the study advocated a “capability-driven framework” — developing elements like spacecraft, propulsion systems and deep-space living quarters that could be used and reused for a variety of exploration missions.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the fight is less of a conflict of grand visions than a squabble over dollars and the design details of a rocket.
Last fall, in passing an authorization act for NASA, which laid out a blueprint for the next three years, Congress called for NASA to start work on the heavy-lift rocket. It also said that the design should be based on available technologies from the existing space shuttles and from Constellation; that the rocket should be ready by the end of 2016, and that NASA could have about $11.5 billion to develop it.
At the time, Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who helped shape the NASA blueprint, said, “If we can’t do it for that, then we ought to question whether or not we can build a rocket.”
The blueprint, signed into law by President Obama in October, gave NASA 90 days to explain how it would build the rocket.
Two weeks ago, the agency told Congress that it had decided on preferred designs for the rocket and the crew capsule for carrying astronauts, but could yet not fit them into the schedule and constraints.
“All our models say ‘no,’ ” said Elizabeth Robinson, NASA’s chief financial officer, “even models that have generous affordability considerations.”
She said NASA was continuing to explore how it might reduce costs.
A couple of days after receiving the report, Senator Nelson said he had talked to the NASA administrator, Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., and “told him he has to follow the law, which requires a new rocket by 2016.” He added, “And NASA has to do it within the budget the law requires.”
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The track record for large aerospace development projects, both inside and outside of NASA, is that they almost always take longer and cost more than initially estimated. If costs for the heavy-lift rocket swell, the project could, as Constellation did, divert money from other parts of NASA.
Thus, many NASA observers wonder how the agency can afford to finance both the heavy-lift rocket and the commercial space taxis, which are supposed to begin flying at about the same time.
“They’re setting themselves up again for a long development program whose completion is beyond the horizon,” James A. M. Muncy, a space policy consultant, said of the current heavy-lift design. “The question is, what does Congress want more? Do they want to just want to keep the contractors on contract, or do they want the United States to explore space?”
He called the situation at NASA “a train wreck,” one “where everyone involved knows it’s a train wreck.”
Constellation, started in 2005 under the Bush administration, aimed to return to the moon by 2020 and set up a base there in the following years. But Constellation never received as much money as originally promised, which slowed work and raised the overall price tag.
When Barack Obama was running for president, he said he supported the moon goal. But after he took office, he did not show much enthusiasm for it. His request for the 2010 fiscal year did not seek immediate cuts in Constellation but trimmed the projected spending in future years.
The administration also set up a blue-ribbon panel, led by Norman Augustine, a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, to review the program. The panel found that Constellation could not fit into the projected budget — $100 billion over 10 years — and would need $45 billion more to get back on track. Extending the space station five years beyond 2015 would add another $14 billion, the group concluded.
The panel could not find an alternative that would fit, either. It said that for a meaningful human spaceflight program that would push beyond low-Earth orbit, NASA would need $128 billion — $28 billion more than the administration wanted to spend — over the next decade.
If the country was not willing to spend that much, NASA should be asked to do less, the panel said.
Last February, when unveiling the budget request for fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration said it wanted to cancel Constellation, turn to commercial companies for transportation to low-Earth orbit and invest heavily in research and development on technologies for future deep-space missions.
The Obama budget requested more money for NASA — but for other parts of the agency like robotic science missions and aviation. The proposed allotment for human spaceflight was still at levels that the Augustine committee had said were not workable.
In pushing to cancel Constellation, one Obama administration official after another called it “unexecutable,” so expensive that it limped along for years without discernible progress.
“The fact that we poured $9 billion into an unexecutable program really isn’t an excuse to pour another $50 billion into it and still not have an executable program,” said James Kohlenberger, chief of staff of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, at a news conference last February.
At the same news conference, Lori Garver, NASA’s deputy administrator, noted that Constellation, without a budget increase, would not reach the moon until well after the 2020 target. “The Augustine report made it clear that we wouldn’t have gotten to beyond low Earth orbit until 2028 and even then would not have the funding to build the lander,” she said. But with the new road map, NASA may not get to its destinations any faster. As for the ultimate goal of landing people on Mars, which President Obama said he wanted NASA to accomplish by the mid-2030s, it is even slipping further into the future.