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.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: Rand Studysay Military green energy program useless
on: January 25, 2011, 08:02:46 AM
The United States would derive no meaningful military benefit from increased use of alternative fuels to power its jets, ships and other weapons systems, according to a government-commissioned study by the RAND Corporation scheduled for release Tuesday.
The report also argued that most alternative-fuel technologies were unproven, too expensive or too far from commercial scale to meet the military’s needs over the next decade.
In particular, the report argued that the Defense Department was spending too much time and money exploring experimental biofuels derived from sources like algae or the flowering plant camelina, and that more focus should be placed on energy efficiency as a way of combating greenhouse gas emissions.
The report urged Congress to reconsider the military’s budget for alternative-fuel projects. But if such fuels are to be pursued, the report concluded, the most economic, environmentally sound and near-term candidate would be a liquid fuel produced using a combination of coal and biomass, as well as some method for capturing and storing carbon emissions released during production.
The findings by the nonprofit research group, which grew out of a directive in the 2009 Defense Authorization Act calling for further study of alternative fuels in military vehicles and aircraft, are likely to provoke much debate in Washington.
The Obama administration has directed billions of dollars to support emerging clean-energy technologies even as Congress has been unwilling to pass any sort of climate or renewable energy legislation.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is seeking to improve the military’s efficiency and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels over the coming decade, devoting $300 million in economic stimulus financing and other research money toward those goals.
RAND’s conclusions drew swift criticism from some branches of the military — particularly the Navy, which has been leading the foray into advanced algae-based fuels.
“Unfortunately, we were not engaged by the authors of this report,” said Thomas W. Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of energy for the Navy. “We don’t believe they adequately engaged the market,” he said, adding, “This is not up to RAND’s standards.”
The analysis has also irked environmental groups and biofuels proponents, who argued that RAND had underestimated the commercial viability of algae and overestimated the availability and efficacy of carbon capture and storage technology.
The Air Force is engaged in extensive testing of biofuel blends in its aircraft, and the Navy received 20,000 gallons of algae-based fuel for testing and certification from the California company Solazyme last summer. Solazyme signed a contract with the Defense Department to deliver another 150,000 gallons this year.
Proponents of these endeavors argue that the military, with its substantial buying power, can help spur the expansion of renewable fuel markets into the civilian sphere.
“This would not be the first example of a military-driven research project where the civilian benefit far outweighs the military benefit,” said Paul Winters, a spokesman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington. “Witness the Internet,” he said.
Mr. Hicks of the Navy also took issue with the notion that there was no military benefit to the pursuit of oil alternatives.
“We are doing this because there are energy security issues at play,” he said. “Every barrel of oil we can replace with something that’s produced domestically, the better we are as a nation, and the more secure and more independent we are.”
In the report, however, James T. Bartis, a senior policy researcher at RAND and the lead author of the analysis, argued that while the military consumes substantial amounts of liquid fuels — about 340,000 barrels each day — this accounts for less than 2 percent of the nation’s total use, which is estimated to be 19 million barrels a day.
As such, the greenhouse-gas benefits arising from the military’s efforts along these lines are likely to be minuscule. The authors argued that both the Defense Department and Congress should “reconsider whether defense appropriations should continue to support the development of advanced alternative fuel technologies.”
Further, the report said that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required that any alternative and synthetic fuels bought by federal agencies for “mobility-related use” must have lower greenhouse gas emissions — or at least no greater — than those of conventional fuels.
The full life-cycle emissions of many plant-based fuel alternatives are still not fully understood, Mr. Bartis argued — particularly the degree to which they cause, directly or indirectly, changes in land use around the globe.
Alternative fuels made from plants also compete with food crops for land. Producing just 200,000 barrels of such fuels a day — or about 1 percent of total oil consumption in the United States — would require an area “equal to about 10 percent of the croplands currently under cultivation in the United States,” Mr. Bartis said.
The most promising alternative fuels, according to the report, are those derived from what is known as the Fischer-Tropsch process, a method developed almost a century ago by Germany for turning coal into a liquid fuel. The method is still in limited use in a handful of countries, and it can be used with a variety of feedstocks — coal, natural gas, even biomass.
The conversion process, however, is extremely energy-intensive, and when coal is used, it produces vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide — far more than conventional fuels.
But a blend of coal and sustainably produced biomass as feedstocks, combined with carbon-capture technology, could be a viable low-carbon alternative, the report said.
Meanwhile, other advanced fuels like those derived from algae are far from commercially ready, RAND said. “Large investments in research and development will be required before confident estimates can be made regarding production costs and environmental impacts,” the authors said.
RAND’s findings rankled industry and environmental groups.
Brian Siu, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he was still analyzing the report, but he called coal-based fuels a nonstarter. “Any liquid coal deployment would increase coal mining beyond today’s levels,” he said. “That would drive more mountaintop removal, groundwater contamination, biodiversity loss and other mining impacts.”
In an e-mail, Mary Rosenthal, the executive director of the Algal Biomass Organization, a trade group, said the report’s characterization of algae as a mere research topic was “both demeaning and patently false.”
“We have more than 100 companies, academic institutions and national laboratories working to develop the algae-to-fuels industry,” she said. “We believe algae commercialization is far closer than RAND suggests.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: Smiles
on: January 25, 2011, 07:57:29 AM
In the middle of a phone call four years ago, Paula Niedenthal began to wonder what it really means to smile. The call came from a Russian reporter, who was interviewing Dr. Niedenthal about her research on facial expressions.
“At the end he said, ‘So you are American?’ ” Dr. Niedenthal recalled.
Indeed, she is, although she was then living in France, where she had taken a post at Blaise Pascal University.
“So you know,” the Russian reporter informed her, “that American smiles are all false, and French smiles are all true.”
“Wow, it’s so interesting that you say that,” Dr. Niedenthal said diplomatically. Meanwhile, she was imagining what it would have been like to spend most of her life surrounded by fake smiles.
“I suddenly became interested in how people make these kinds of errors,” Dr. Niedenthal said. But finding the source of the error would require knowing what smiles really are — where they come from and how people process them. And despite the fact that smiling is one of the most common things that we humans do, Dr. Niedenthal found science’s explanation for it to be weak.
“I think it’s pretty messed up,” she said. “I think we don’t know very much, actually, and it’s something I want to take on.”
To that end, Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues have surveyed a wide range of studies, from brain scans to cultural observations, to build a new scientific model of the smile. They believe they can account not only for the source of smiles, but how people perceive them. In a recent issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, they argue that smiles are not simply the expression of an internal feeling. Smiles in fact are only the most visible part of an intimate melding between two minds.
“It’s an impressive, sophisticated analysis,” said Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist at Northwestern University.
Psychologists have studied smiles carefully for decades, but mostly from the outside. When the zygomaticus major muscles in our cheeks contract, they draw up the corners of our mouths. But there’s much more to a smile than that.
“A smile is not this floating thing, like a Cheshire Cat,” said Dr. Niedenthal. “It’s attached to a body.” Sometimes the lips open to reveal teeth; sometimes they stay sealed. Sometimes the eyes crinkle. The chin rises with some smiles, and drops in others.
Cataloging these variations is an important first step, said Dr. Niedenthal, but it can’t deliver an answer to the enigma of smiles. “People like to make dictionaries of the facial muscles to make a particular gesture, but there’s no depth to that approach,” she said.
Some researchers have tried to move deeper, to understand the states of mind that produce smiles. We think of them as signifying happiness, and indeed, researchers do find that the more intensely people contract their zygomaticus major muscles, the happier they say they feel. But this is far from an iron law. The same muscles sometimes contract when people are feeling sadness or disgust, for example.
The link between feelings and faces is even more mysterious. Why should any feeling cause us to curl up our mouths, after all? This is a question that Darwin pondered for years. An important clue, he said, is found in the faces of apes, which draw up their mouths as well. These expressions, Darwin argued, were also smiles. In other words, Mona Lisa inherited her endlessly intriguing smile from the grinning common ancestor she shared with chimpanzees.
Primatologists have been able to sort smiles into a few categories, and Dr. Niedenthal thinks that human smiles should be classified in the same way. Chimpanzees sometimes smile from pleasure, as when baby chimps play with each other. but chimpanzees also smile when they’re trying to strengthen a social bond with another chimpanzee.
Dr. Niedenthal thinks that some human smiles fall into these categories as well. What’s more, they may be distinguished by certain expressions. An embarrassed smile is often accompanied by a lowered chin, for example, while a smile of greeting often comes with raised eyebrows.
Chimpanzees sometimes smile not for pleasure or for a social bond, but for power. A dominant chimpanzee will grin and show its teeth. Dr. Niedenthal argues that humans flash a power grin as well — often raising their chin so as to look down at others.
“ ‘You’re an idiot, I’m better than you’—that’s what we mean by a dominant smile,” said Dr. Niedenthal.
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But making a particular facial expression is just the first step of a smile. Dr. Niedenthal argues that how another person interprets the smile is equally important. In her model, the brain can use three different means to distinguish a smile from some other expression.
One way people recognize smiles is comparing the geometry of a person’s face to a standard smile. A second way is thinking about the situation in which someone is making an expression, judging if it’s the sort where a smile would be expected.
But most importantly, Dr. Niedenthal argues, people recognize smiles by mimicking them. When a smiling person locks eyes with another person, the viewer unknowingly mimics a smile as well. In their new paper, Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues point to a number of studies indicating that this imitation activates many of the same regions of the brain that are active in the smiler.
A happy smile, for example, is accompanied by activity in the brain’s reward circuits, and looking at a happy smile can excite those circuits as well. Mimicking a friendly smile produces a different pattern of brain activity. It activates a region of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex, which distinguishes feelings for people with whom we have a close relationship from others. The orbitofrontal cortex becomes active when parents see their own babies smile, for example, but not other babies.
If Dr. Niedenthal’s model is correct, then studies of dominant smiles should reveal different patterns of brain activity. Certain regions associated with negative emotions should become active.
Embodying smiles not only lets people recognize smiles, Dr. Niedenthal argues. It also lets them recognize false smiles. When they unconsciously mimic a false smile, they don’t experience the same brain activity as an authentic one. The mismatch lets them know something’s wrong.
Other experts on facial expressions applaud Dr. Niedenthal’s new model, but a number of them also think that parts of it require fine-tuning. “Her model fits really well along the horizontal dimension, but I have my doubts about the vertical,” said Dr. Galinsky. He questions whether people observing a dominant smile would experience the feeling of power themselves. In fact, he points out, in such encounters, people tend to avoid eye contact, which Dr. Niedenthal says is central to her model.
Dr. Niedenthal herself is now testing the predictions of the model with her colleagues. In one study, she and her colleagues are testing the idea that mimicry lets people recognize authentic smiles. They showed pictures of smiling people to a group of students. Some of the smiles were genuine and others were fake. The students could readily tell the difference between them.
Then Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues asked the students to place a pencil between their lips. This simple action engaged muscles that could otherwise produce a smile. Unable to mimic the faces they saw, the students had a much harder time telling which smiles were real and which were fake.
The scientists then ran a variation on the experiment on another group of students. They showed the same faces to the second group, but had them imagine the smiling faces belonged to salesclerks in a shoe store. In some cases the salesclerks had just sold the students a pair of shoes — in which they might well have a genuine smile of satisfaction. In other trials, they imagined that the salesclerks were trying to sell them a pair of shoes — in which case they might be trying to woo the customer with a fake smile.
In reality, the scientists use a combination of real and fake smiles for both groups of salesclerks. When the students were free to mimic the smiles, their judgments were not affected by what the salesclerk was doing.
But if the students put a pencil in their mouth, they could no longer rely on their mimicry. Instead, they tended to believe that the salesclerks who were trying to sell them shoes were faking their smiles — even when their smiles were genuine. Likewise, they tended to say that the salesclerks who had finished the sale were smiling for real, even when they weren’t. In other words, they were forced to rely on the circumstances of the smile, rather than the smile itself.
Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues have also been testing the importance of eye contact for smiles. They had students look at a series of portraits, like the “Laughing Cavalier” by the 17th-century artist Frans Hals. In some portraits the subject looked away from the viewer, while in others, the gaze was eye to eye. In some trials, the students looked at the paintings with bars masking the eyes.
The participants rated how emotional the impact of the painting was. Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues found, as they had predicted, that people felt a bigger emotional impact when the eyes were unmasked than when they were masked. The smile was identical in each painting, but it was not enough on its own. What’s more, the differences were greater when the portrait face was making direct eye contact with the viewer.
Dr. Niedenthal suspects that she and other psychologists are just starting to learn secrets about smiles that artists figured out centuries ago. It may even be possible someday to understand why Mona Lisa’s smile is so powerful. “I would say the reason it was so successful is because you achieve eye contact with her,” said Dr. Niedenthal, “and so the fact that the meaning of her smile is complicated is doubly communicated, because your own simulation of it is mysterious and difficult.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: Using Right Hemispere
on: January 25, 2011, 07:41:48 AM
When inexperienced chess players sit down to play against experts, they probably wonder what it is that makes the experts so good that it seems they are almost playing a different game. New research suggests that one difference is that the experts use more of their brains.
In a study in the current issue of the journal PLoS One, a team of scientists in Germany showed experts and novices simple geometric objects and simple chess positions and asked the subjects to identify them.
Reaction times were measured and brain activity was monitored using functional M.R.I. scans. On the identification of the geometric objects, the subjects performed the same, showing that the chess experts had no special visualization skills. When the subjects were shown the chess positions, the experts identified them faster.
Focusing on an element of an earlier study on pattern and object recognition by chess experts, the researchers had expected to see parts of the left hemispheres of the experts’ brains — which are involved in object recognition — react more quickly than those of the novices when they performed the chess tasks. But the reaction times were the same.
What set the experts apart was that parts of their right brain hemispheres — which are more involved in pattern recognition — also lit up with activity. The experts were processing the information in two places at once.
The researchers also found that when the subjects were shown the chess diagrams, the novices looked directly at the pieces to recognize them, while the experts looked on the middle of the boards and took everything in with their peripheral vision.
One of researchers, Merim Bilalic, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said in an interview that the way the experts’ brains handled the chess tasks was more efficient. The study also showed that expertise is an acquired skill, not an innate one. “It tells you a very sobering message,” he said. “It tells you there are no shortcuts to expertise.”
In another study, reported Friday in Science, researchers at the Riken Brain Science Institute in Japan sought to discover which regions of the brain gave experts in shogi, a game similar to chess, their insights.
The scientists recruited beginning, intermediate and professional players. The subjects were shown different types of shogi positions and problems as well as chess diagrams, Chinese chess diagrams and photographs. They were asked to answer questions about each image and to solve some of the shogi positions, and their answers were timed.
The shogi experts reacted no more strongly to the chess and Chinese chess diagrams than amateurs, indicating that their expertise was highly specialized.
As in the German study, the subjects’ brain activity was monitored using functional M.R.I. scans. The researchers found that there were two regions of the professionals’ brains that were excited consistently when they were asked to solve the shogi problems.
One was the precuneus, which is in the superior parietal lobule, where perception and high-level thinking occur. The other area was the caudate nucleus, which is in the subcortical region.
The same areas were activated in the intermediate players’ brains only when they were familiar with the patterns and had a reasonably good idea of how to solve the problems. The same areas were almost never activated in the brains of the beginners.
The significant role of the caudate nucleus was, at least on its surface, surprising because it is part of the basal ganglia, which, the researchers write, “is thought to be responsible for the formation and execution of habit” and for “goal directed behavior.” Put another way, idea generation in the caudate nucleus is “quick and implicit,” as opposed to conscious.
So, it seems, becoming a good chess or shogi player and wanting to win is habit-form
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT/ POTH: Artic Fence
on: January 25, 2011, 07:27:59 AM
Pravda on the Hudson, humbled by the postings on this forum,
takes a more responsible tone in its coverage
Judging by the weather, the world seems to have flipped upside down.
For two winters running, an Arctic chill has descended on Europe, burying that continent in snow and ice. Last year in the United States, historic blizzards afflicted the mid-Atlantic region. This winter the Deep South has endured unusual snowstorms and severe cold, and a frigid Northeast is bracing for what could shape into another major snowstorm this week.
Yet while people in Atlanta learn to shovel snow, the weather 2,000 miles to the north has been freakishly warm the past two winters. Throughout northeastern Canada and Greenland, temperatures in December ran as much as 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Bays and lakes have been slow to freeze; ice fishing, hunting and trade routes have been disrupted.
Iqaluit, the capital of the remote Canadian territory of Nunavut, had to cancel its New Year’s snowmobile parade. David Ell, the deputy mayor, said that people in the region had been looking with envy at snowbound American and European cities. “People are saying, ‘That’s where all our snow is going!’ ” he said.
The immediate cause of the topsy-turvy weather is clear enough. A pattern of atmospheric circulation that tends to keep frigid air penned in the Arctic has weakened during the last two winters, allowing big tongues of cold air to descend far to the south, while masses of warmer air have moved north.
The deeper issue is whether this pattern is linked to the rapid changes that global warming is causing in the Arctic, particularly the drastic loss of sea ice. At least two prominent climate scientists have offered theories suggesting that it is. But others are doubtful, saying the recent events are unexceptional, or that more evidence over a longer period would be needed to establish a link.
Since satellites began tracking it in 1979, the ice on the Arctic Ocean’s surface in the bellwether month of September has declined by more than 30 percent. It is the most striking change in the terrain of the planet in recent decades, and a major question is whether it is starting to have an effect on broad weather patterns.
Ice reflects sunlight, and scientists say the loss of ice is causing the Arctic Ocean to absorb more heat in the summer. A handful of scientists point to that extra heat as a possible culprit in the recent harsh winters in Europe and the United States.
Their theories involve a fast-moving river of air called the jet stream that circles the Northern Hemisphere. Many winters, a strong pressure difference between the polar region and the middle latitudes channels the jet stream into a tight circle, or vortex, around the North Pole, effectively containing the frigid air at the top of the world.
“It’s like a fence,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a researcher in Camp Springs, Md., with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
When that pressure difference diminishes, however, the jet stream weakens and meanders southward, bringing warm air into the Arctic and cold air into the midlatitudes — exactly what has happened the last couple of winters. The effect is sometimes compared to leaving a refrigerator door open, with cold air flooding the kitchen even as warm air enters the refrigerator.
This has happened intermittently for many decades. Still, it is unusual for the polar vortex to weaken as much as it has lately. Last winter, one index related to the vortex hit its lowest wintertime value since record-keeping began in 1865, and it was quite low again in December.
James E. Overland, a climate scientist with NOAA in Seattle, has proposed that the extra warmth in the Arctic Ocean could be heating the atmosphere enough to make it less dense, causing the air pressure over the Arctic to be closer to that of the middle latitudes. “The added heat works against having a strong polar vortex,” he said.
But Dr. Overland acknowledges that his idea is tentative and needs further research. Many other climate scientists are not convinced, saying that a two-year span, however unusual, is not much on which to base a new theory. “We haven’t got sufficient insight to make definitive claims,” said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at a company called Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Mass., has spotted what he believes is a link between increasing snow in Siberia and the weakening of the polar vortex. In his theory, the extra snow is creating a dense, cold air mass over northern Asia in the late autumn, setting off a complex chain of cause and effect that ultimately perturbs the vortex.
Dr. Cohen said in an interview that the rising Siberian snow might, in turn, be linked to the decline of Arctic sea ice, with the open water providing extra moisture to the atmosphere — much as the Great Lakes produce heavy snows in cities like Buffalo and Syracuse. He is publishing seasonal forecasts based on his work, supported by the National Science Foundation. Those forecasts correctly predicted the recent harsh winters in the midlatitudes. But Dr. Cohen acknowledges, as does Dr. Overland, that some of his ideas are tentative and need further research.
The uncertainty about what is causing the strange winters highlights a core difficulty of climate science. While mainstream researchers are sure that greenhouse gases released by humans are warming the Earth, they acknowledge being on shakier ground in trying to predict the regional effects of that change. It is entirely possible, they say, that some regions will cool temporarily, because of disruption of the atmospheric and oceanic circulation, even as the Earth warms over all.
Bloggers who specialize in raising doubts about climate science have gleefully pointed to the recent winters in the United States and Europe as evidence that climatologists must be mistaken about a warming trend. These commentators have not been as eager to write about the strange warmth in parts of the Arctic, a region that scientists have long predicted will warm more rapidly than the planet as a whole.
Without doubt, the winter weather that began and ended 2010 was remarkable. Two of the 10 largest snowstorms in New York City history occurred last year, including the one that disrupted travel right after Christmas. The two snowstorms that fell on Washington and surrounding areas within a week in February had no known precedent in their overall impact on the region, with total accumulations of 40 inches in some places.
But the winters were not the whole story. Even without them, 2010 would have gone down as one of the strangest years in the annals of climatology, thanks in part to a weather condition known as El Niño, which dumped heat from the Pacific Ocean into the atmosphere early in the year. Later, the ocean surface cooled, a condition known as La Niña, contributing to heavy rainfall in many places.
Despite cooling from La Niña, newly compiled figures show that 2010 was among the two warmest years in the historical record. It featured a heat wave in Russia, all-time high temperatures in at least 17 countries, the hottest summer in New York City history, and devastating floods in Pakistan, China, Australia, the United States and other countries.
“It was a wild year,” said Christopher C. Burt, a weather historian for Weather Underground, an Internet site.
Still, however erratic the weather may have become, it is not obvious to most people how global warming could lead to frigid winters. Many scientists are hesitant to back such assertions, at least until they gain a better understanding of what is going on in the Arctic.
In interviews, several scientists recalled that in the decade ending in the mid-1990s, the polar vortex seemed to be strengthening, not weakening, producing mild winters in the eastern United States and western Europe.
At the time, some climate scientists wrote papers attributing that change to global warming. Newspapers, including this one, printed laments for winter lost. But soon after, the apparent trend went away, an experience that has made many researchers more cautious.
John M. Wallace, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, wrote some of the earlier papers. This time around, he said, it will take a lot of evidence to convince him that a few harsh winters in London or Washington have anything to do with global warming.
“Just when you publish something and it looks like you’re seeing a connection,” Dr. Wallace said, “nature has a way of humbling us.”
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizen-Police interactions
on: January 24, 2011, 10:48:04 PM
Either we need to go back to the old days where "men" meant "men" or "men and women" or we need some new fg pronouns to avoid the tediousness of "his or her" e.g. the Chinese third person singular pronoun is "ta" and simply means "he" or "she" without specifying which.
The irritation for me for example is that a phrase such as "our fighting men and women" gives equal billing as if women were equal in numbers and danger, whereas "our fighting men" can be seen as excluding those women who do serve in harm's way, albeit not in tip of the spear combat units.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: UAW
on: January 24, 2011, 11:04:01 AM
The top priority for the United Auto Workers this year is to organize one of the foreign, or so-called "transplant," car makers. That makes perfect sense—for the UAW. Their rich labor contracts and stifling work rules helped bring low Detroit's Big Three, so the union needs new dues-paying members.
We've long believed companies get the unions they deserve, but in this case it's worth noting that the UAW isn't confident enough to play by normal labor-organizing rules. New UAW chief Bob King has set out 11 "principles" that he says car makers must embrace or the UAW will "expose" them as "human rights violators." Yes, like dictatorships.
This is no idle intimidation, especially with the union's political allies manning key labor jobs in Washington. The threat is also backed with at least $60 million from the union's $800 million strike fund. With fewer than 400,000 members, down from 1.5 million in 1979, the union can afford to raid that fund since it isn't likely to strike the weakened GM, Ford or Chrysler anytime soon.
Mr. King's principles start by repeating the well-established ban on employer intimidation for union activity, but then go much further. He also wants car makers to give up their right to discuss unionization on company grounds "unless the UAW is invited to participate." In effect, the UAW wants companies to give up their right to free speech even in their own workplaces. Meanwhile, unions are free to visit employee homes whenever they wish.
The union chief is also demanding that "an impartial, third party" resolve "any disagreements" over the conduct of the organizing campaign. The National Labor Relations Board currently plays this role, but the UAW seems to want companies to agree to a separate judicial body and waive their rights under the law.
Last but not least audaciously, Mr. King sneaks in unionization by "card check." Not even the last Congress's Democratic supermajority passed this Big Labor priority. But the UAW principles commit companies to unionize if a majority of workers sign union cards, forgoing a secret ballot election. All the UAW would have to do to allow card check is claim a "history of anti-union activities" at the target company. It would also oblige arbitration on a first labor contract, if six months after a union is formed the two sides can't agree. This was also part of the card check bill that died quietly last year.
The UAW is making these demands because it knows how hard it will be to organize the 88,000 or so workers at Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and other foreign-owned plants. The union has tried and failed before, most notably in its repeated attempts to organize Nissan's plant in Smyrna, Tennessee and Toyota's in Georgetown, Kentucky. These companies have for the most part built plants in business-friendly Southern states and showed employees that a nonunion job paid on par with UAW wages is better over the long term than a union presence that makes the company uncompetitive.
The UAW hasn't announced its first target, which might be the politically vulnerable Toyota or a new arrival like Kia or VW. The political campaign is already under way, and last week the UAW sent a thousand members to lobby Congress for support.
As much as GM and Chrysler, the UAW was also bailed out by the Bush and Obama Administrations in 2008-2009. And Mr. King's principles do acknowledge that the union should learn from that failure and build "relations with employers based upon a foundation of respect, shared goals and a common mission." But you wouldn't know that from the bullying way it has begun its latest organizing campaign.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: China's next buying spree
on: January 24, 2011, 10:58:44 AM
I think this author misses fails to discuss some key points e.g. Chinese governmental control of the purchased companies towards geopolitical ends, but the piece does inform nonetheless.
By CHARLES WOLF JR.
From 2007 through the first half of this year, Chinese buyers—state, private and in between—acquired 400 companies located outside of the country. The acquisitions span a wide range: mining companies in Australia, Vietnam and South America; oil and gas companies in Africa and the Middle East; banking, financial services and insurance companies in Europe; and electronics, telecommunications and lab testing companies in the U.S. The total cost? $86 billion.
That may sound like a big number, but in fact it's relatively small. The number of companies at play in global cross-border M&A markets during this period exceeded 12,400, with acquisition costs of more than $1.3 trillion. China's share of the total number was 3.2%, and its share of total acquisition value was 6.6%. China ranks sixth in both number of deals and in acquisition value: behind the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Japan, though just ahead of the United Arab Emirates. Cross-border acquisitions by U.S. investors numbered over 5,000 (42.1% of all transactions), and nearly $400 billion by value (30.1% of aggregate value).
China's acquisitions beyond its borders are also modest compared with foreign investors' acquisitions within China. Currently, China's annual cross-border acquisitions are about half of annual foreign direct investments in the country.
What is significant about China's acquisitions over the past few years is the change they represent from the negligible amounts in the past. Prior to 2007, nearly all China's foreign investments involved buying U.S. debt, along with lesser purchases of euro and yen debt. China currently holds more than $1.6 trillion of U.S. government debt and an additional $1 trillion of non-U.S. government debt and other assets.
It didn't used to be in the business of acquiring foreign companies. That's changed, and I expect that China's acquisitions will at least double in the next five years, and perhaps quadruple by 2020.
There are three principal drivers behind this forecast. First is China's extraordinarily high rate of domestic savings—above 45% of GDP. As long as this rate appreciably exceeds China's not-quite-so-high rate of domestic investment (about 35% of GDP), China will have a large global trade surplus, regardless of fluctuations in its exchange rate. This surplus, together with China's net receipts from other sources—including earnings from its prior foreign investments, the excess of inbound versus outbound investment, and remittances from Chinese residents abroad—will generate a current account surplus of $300 billion to $350 billion annually. This will provide a ready source of financing for foreign acquisitions.
Second, China has shifted its focus away from investing in U.S. government debt. While it will continue to invest in such holdings, the investments will be much smaller than in the past. China is aiming to strengthen the renminbi's role as a potential international reserve, thus it will be less willing to shore up the dollar by purchasing large amounts of U.S. government debt. The result is that it will use its surplus to acquire foreign companies.
The third and perhaps strongest driver of a growing Chinese role in international M&A markets is Beijing's interest in acquiring foreign companies that possess one or more of the following characteristics: rich holdings of natural resources, high-technology or emergent technologies, and financial know-how and close connections with other financial institutions. Because of the recession, such acquisitions may be available at more attractive prices than usual.
If this forecast is accurate, it will have significant consequences for China and global markets.
Externally, China will be a more active and influential player in global M&A markets. In some cases, China may exercise its financial leverage to successfully challenge competing bidders from other dominant countries. This competition could help integrate China more fully into the global economy.
China's prominence could also lead to increased tension with host countries, especially in light of the marked disparities between the restrictions that it imposes on foreign investors' acquisitions within China and the looser ones usually applied on China's acquisitions abroad. Demands for equivalent and reciprocal treatment shouldn't come as a surprise.
Yet such demands can be expected to evoke strong resistance within China, especially if reciprocal treatment is sought in fields like energy, natural resources, rare earths, chemicals and infrastructure that are dominated by large state-owned companies such as Sinopec, Cnooc and Chinalco.
China's foreign acquisitions will have other repercussions within China. Experience gained from corporate governance in companies it acquires abroad may be a good influence on the often obscure governance practices of Chinese companies. More diligent governance practices—like independent audits and transparent executive compensation—are likely to be met with favor from China's Securities Regulatory Commission, but resistance from corporate management. But if the more advanced governance practices prevail, it would be beneficial for China and the rest of the world.
Mr. Wolf holds the distinguished corporate chair in international economics at the RAND Corporation and is a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: State Bankruptcy Law proposal
on: January 24, 2011, 10:46:27 AM
By E.J. MCMAHON
As states struggle with enormous deficits and exploding pension costs, some analysts are urging Congress to enact a law enabling states to declare bankruptcy the way municipalities can under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code. This is a bad idea. A state bankruptcy provision could create more problems than it solves.
Bankruptcy proponents understandably worry that states such as California and Illinois are so deep in the hole they may end up petitioning Congress for federal relief. To forestall this possibility, the argument goes, even the threat of bankruptcy would give governors and legislators a powerful new weapon for forcing concessions from recalcitrant public employee unions.
Yet state officials committed to cutting costs already have options for putting the squeeze on their unions. One is the threat of mass layoffs, which most governors can impose unilaterally. Governors and legislators also can prospectively freeze wages or even cut them through involuntary furloughs, as California and several other states did over the past two years.
True, management (i.e., taxpayers) often starts from a weak position in contract talks with government unions. But governors and legislators have the power to change that, too—because the bargaining rights of state and local government unions are primarily a matter of state law.
By reopening their collective bargaining statutes, state officials can narrow the terms of future negotiations—restricting compulsory arbitration, say, or taking retiree health insurance off the table and making it a management prerogative. They can also pressure unions by revoking privileges such as the employer-collected dues checkoff. They can even eliminate future union contracts.
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.This is not as unlikely as it may sound. At least 18 states already outlaw collective bargaining with some categories of government employees; Virginia and North Carolina prohibit it for all public workers. Two newly elected Republican governors, Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio, have threatened to dismantle their state bargaining statutes if unions fail to make concessions.
For constitutional reasons, any federal law enabling state bankruptcy would have to be voluntary, meaning states would have to invite federal judges to play tough with their unions. But if Gov. Jerry Brown and the California legislature are unwilling to rewrite their collective bargaining rules—signed into law by Mr. Brown himself, 33 years ago—why assume they would plead with a federal judge to do it for them?
It's more likely that a state like California would pursue bankruptcy if powerful unions and other budget-dependent interest groups saw this as a way to deflect some of the pain to bondholders. California is one of the states that constitutionally guarantees its general obligation debt, and whose bondholders are now seemingly untouchable. That could change with a bankruptcy option.
Such an option would certainly rattle the bond market—which bankruptcy proponents see as a good thing. Yet this ignores the potential for collateral damage and disruption. While bond spreads might get wider for the most troubled states, the enactment of a state bankruptcy law is likely to raise the cost of borrowing for all municipal issuers.
Much of the talk about state bankruptcy has centered on the solvency threat posed by unfunded public pension liabilities of as much as $3 trillion, according to an estimate by Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University. This is truly a significant concern, complicated in some cases by state constitutions that make it impossible to claw back unaffordable benefits for current workers.
However, while most public pension liabilities are pooled in statewide, off-budget trust funds, they largely reflect the cost of retirement benefits promised to teachers, cops and firefighters—who mainly work for municipalities, not state governments. This raises another complication: Could a judge in a state bankruptcy proceeding interfere with the pension obligations of localities?
A growing number of states are finally starting to get serious about pension reform. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who confronts one of the nation's worst pension underfunding problems, is using the prospect of insolvency to push for significant pension reductions. Bankruptcy could complicate this task. If Mr. Christie somehow persuaded a Democrat-dominated state legislature to join him in asking a federal judge to reduce pensions, New Jersey's unions might be that much quicker to seek a federal bailout.
The focus of state bankruptcy advocates on employee compensation costs is somewhat misplaced. More than half of all state expenditures go to Medicaid, K-12 public school aid and other transfer payments. These are the areas—not current pension bills or debt service—that have been the prime source of unsustainable and unaffordable spending growth in state budgets.
The biggest state budget gaps will never be closed until politicians use the tools they already have to challenge the overweening power of public employee unions. Meanwhile, Washington can help by lifting some of the burdens it imposes on the states. Converting Medicaid into a block grant, for example, would remove one big excuse governors now have for failing to do more to control their health-care costs. By giving states more flexibility to deal with this program and other federal mandates, Congress will have greater justification for telling governors to fix their own problems.
Mr. McMahon is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and its Albany-based Empire Center for New York State Policy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Another adjustment to the model
on: January 24, 2011, 10:32:04 AM
A hearty "Amen!" from me on that as well, and I am sure BBG will agree when he returns-- that was a fine meaty quote you shared there Tricky.
Concerning "consensus". A German MD internet friend of mine recently wrote that " 'Consensus' means there is no definitive proof" or something like that.
Anyway, this today from todays Pravda on the Beach/LATimes, which actually runs counter to its biases and therefor gets a hat tip of respect from me:
Predictions that climate change will drive trees and plants uphill, potentially slashing their range to perilous levels, may be wrong, suggests a new study that found vegetation in California actually crept downhill during the 20th century.
The research, published in the Jan. 21 issue of the journal Science, challenges widely held assumptions about the effect of rising temperatures on shrubs and trees that play a critical role in mountain environments.
Various studies in recent years have predicted that to survive global warming, mountain plant communities will march to higher elevations in search of cooler temperatures — and, if they are unable to do so quickly enough, could perish.
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But comparing data from the early and late 20th century, authors of the Science paper found that despite warming, many plant species in California mountain ranges are growing at lower elevations than they did 80 years ago. The scientists attributed the shift to a wetter climate in Central and Northern California, which offset the effect of higher temperatures.
The lesson, said coauthor John Abatzoglou, a University of Idaho assistant geography professor, is that "we'd be remiss if we just focus on temperature," in forecasting the influence of climate change on plant life. "This might mean species extinction rates may not be as dire as predicted."
Climate warming models have consistently indicated that California will get hotter. But modeling has been less certain about the effect on total precipitation. Some models suggest the state will grow wetter — if less snowy. Some suggest it will grow drier.
The researchers were careful to say that the rise in precipitation in much of California over the last century could be a function of natural variability and have no link to the effects of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.
For whatever reason, Abatzoglou said the Sierra was 5% to 10% wetter in the final half of the 1900s than in the first half, allowing tree and shrub species to take hold at lower elevations.
Comparing historic vegetation data from 1905 to 1935 to information gathered from 1975 to 2005 by researchers and federal agencies, the study found that about five dozen species had on the whole migrated downhill an average of about 264 feet.
Researchers relied in part on a treasure trove of botanical information collected in the 1920s and '30s as part of a broad-ranging survey of California wild lands directed by U.S. Forest Service silviculturist Albert Wieslander. Partly funded by New Deal programs, it includes records from about 14,000 plots, hand-drawn maps and several thousand photographs that document timber stand conditions.
"These data sets provide us with an unprecedented view" of the large-scale changes in plant distribution that have occurred over the last 75 years in California, said coauthor Solomon Dobrowski, an assistant forest management professor at the University of Montana.
Those shifts, he said, were driven by changes in water availability rather than in average annual temperature, which rose about 1 degree across the state during that period.
Implications of the findings extend beyond California. Globally, "many locations north of the 45-degree latitude have experienced increased precipitation over the last century," Dobrowski said. "And global climate models generally predict these locations [will] become wetter over the next century."
If it turns out that California does grow drier with global warming, "We would expect things to turn a corner and start moving uphill," he said.
Even if they don't, the effect of climate change on mountain environments could be complex. Insects are more sensitive to temperature and are likely to move uphill, Dobrowski said. And if the plants they eat and pollinate are shifting downhill, that could be an issue.
"We can't oversimplify the problem in terms of biological communities," he said.
Connie Millar, a U.S. Forest Service research ecologist who is studying climate change's effects on alpine ecosystems, said the Science paper demonstrated that global modeling results can't just be uniformly applied. "There are surprises at regional and local scales," she said, adding that land managers needed to take that into account in planning how to deal with climate change.
For instance, if valued plant communities are moving out of public lands at higher elevations into private property downhill, they will be more vulnerable to development and more in need of open space corridors connecting them to protected areas.
Millar's research in the Eastern Sierra and the Great Basin has also found that tree lines are moving down rather than up, although for slightly different reasons. They are shifting down slope into drainages that are cooler, and coincidentally, moister.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson on Pravda on the Beach
on: January 24, 2011, 07:10:26 AM
The NYT on the Los Angeles Times:
LOS ANGELES — Big city newspapers all across the country have suffered one indignity after another in the last few years. But few of them have been as hard hit — or gotten as much grief for it — as The Los Angeles Times.
Here in the city that has always strived to show how a sense of sophistication lies beneath the silicone and the superficial, The Times has joined the city’s impossible freeway traffic as a unifying force of complaint.
On a recent weekday evening, Edie Frère, owner of a stationery store in the city’s quaint Larchmont Village section, wistfully recalled reading The Times as a young girl, captivated by the old Hollywood starlets and socialites who graced the society pages.
“We need a paper that’s more, and this is less,” said Ms. Frere, 66. “I think it’s just not a world-class paper, no matter how you cut it. It used to be a world-class paper.”
Never mind that The Times is considered a front-runner to win a Pulitzer Prize this year for its coverage of city officials in Bell who gave themselves enormous salaries, a story that tapped into a growing national outrage over wasteful government spending. Or that it still maintains, despite all the bloodletting since the paper was bought in 2000 by the Tribune Company, 13 foreign bureaus, more than any other large metropolitan daily except The Washington Post. Or that it is the only big city daily that still employs a battalion of correspondents stationed in cities across the country.
In the sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, hair salons and studio lots of this sprawling metropolis, the notion that The Times remains one of the best newspapers still in business is a foreign one.
“When I came here back in ’74, it would take me all day to read the paper. Now it takes me 10 minutes — tops,” said Quintin Cheeseborough, 57, who is self-employed and comes to the Los Angeles Central Library occasionally to read The Times. On a recent morning, he was reading The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, but not The Los Angeles Times.
Since The Times was sold to Tribune, its newsroom staff has been cut in half. For many Angelenos, the downsizing is just one more sign that their city is losing stature. Add it to the list of other ego-bruising blows, like the loss of its professional football team, the flight of Fortune 500 companies from the city limits and a failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“We don’t even have a football team. So what does that tell you?” said Mr. Cheeseborough, a note of resignation in his voice.
The Times’s weekday circulation has been nearly halved since 2000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, falling to just over 600,000 — a far steeper rate of decline than at many other big dailies like The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press and The Washington Post.
To identify where all the local harrumphing comes from, it helps to understand just how closely the rise of The Times is associated with the rise of Los Angeles as a capital of culture and commerce.
The paper’s founding families, the Otises and the Chandlers, used their fledgling publication to push for the development that helped give rise to modern Los Angeles. Water was first piped into the San Fernando Valley because they arranged for it. Los Angeles Harbor was built in part because of their backing.
Not that everyone shares such a dim view of the paper. Bill Mullins, 55, an equipment clerk at the city’s Central Library, said that despite the cutbacks, he still thinks The Times invests in the kind of journalism most news organizations have eliminated.
“The L.A. Times will do stuff that I love, like a story on a Los Angeles boy who went to Iraq. And it will start on the front page and jump to Page 12, and then take up all of Page 13,” Mr. Mullins said. “I mean, you can’t get that kind of stuff in three minutes on NBC or ABC.”
Still, seeing the paper sold to a bottom-line-driven corporate owner from Chicago was a major blow to many here. Even Mr. Mullins said that he thought the sale to Tribune would be the paper’s “death knell.” And what Tribune did to local coverage after acquiring the paper only reinforced those concerns. Times bureaus and printing facilities in Orange County and the San Fernando Valley once employed hundreds of people to publish separate editions, each with a locally tailored front page.
John S. Carroll, a former Times executive editor, recalled that each of those operations was like a separate paper. “It was like going to a newspaper in a medium-size city,” Mr. Carroll recalled of visiting there. “It was really something.”
Those operations are no more. Breaking local news no longer appears on the front page, because to save money it moved up its deadlines and moved late-breaking local, national and foreign news to a separate section.
The paper’s absence in the community is felt in ways beyond what it no longer covers. The Chandler family, apart from its role in city commerce and politics, was also a cultural force in Los Angeles.
“The intertwinement with the community was much greater when the Chandlers owned the paper, with their charitable contributions, their contributions to the arts,” said Leo Wolinsky, who left the paper in 2008 after holding a number of top jobs there, including executive editor. “If you walk around downtown L.A., The Los Angeles Times and the Chandler name is on everything. When the Tribune Company came, that got cut back severely.”
More than just cutbacks have left many Angelenos with a dim view of their paper. Under its current publisher, Eddy W. Hartenstein — a former DirecTV chief executive who became the fourth publisher under Tribune — The Times has run a number of ads on its front page and on the fronts of other sections that many here felt cheapened the paper. One ad that ran last summer, for a King Kong feature at Universal Studios, declared: “Universal Studios Hollywood Partially Destroyed.”
That ad prompted outrage from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who took the highly unusual step of writing a letter to Tribune’s chairman, Samuel Zell, accusing him of making “a mockery of the paper’s mission.”
Mr. Hartenstein, who through a spokeswoman said he would “pass” on a request to be interviewed for this article, defended the ad at the time, saying it met the paper’s standards. Mr. Hartenstein appears somewhat aware that he has some community relations mending to do. He wrote a letter to readers on Dec. 26 saying that the paper would remain committed to hard-hitting local coverage. But that is a complicated task.
Harvey Levine, 48, a television stage manager who lives on the city’s West Side, ended his subscription after unread copies began piling up at home. “The L.A. Times should be the paper that I trust and go to daily, and it’s not,” said Mr. Levine, a native of Canada who as a young man dreamed of a career in Hollywood and bought copies of the weekend Times in Toronto.
“I know they have a lot of really good writers and they win lots of awards, but I thought it just wasn’t enough,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fed subsidies to fed unions
on: January 24, 2011, 06:55:40 AM
Not the most highbrow of websites, but the argument seems sound enough:http://townhall.com/columnists/LuritaDoan/2011/01/24/federal_government_unions_looting_american_taxpayers/page/full/
Lines are being drawn and the fight to reduce overly generous pay and benefits to government employees at the federal, state, and local level is underway. Not too surprisingly, public employee unions are gearing up, rallying government employees, and exerting pressure to maintain the generous pay and benefits that has loaded government with unsustainable debt. Public employee unions are, even now, pressing the Obama Administration for additional benefits and power.
President Obama, either unwilling, or perhaps unable, to bring long-overdue accountability to powerful public employee unions, has instead issued guidance requiring greater Union representation and input into federal agency decision making. Obama's decision will likely embolden union bosses to think they can escape accountability and an honest review of benefits, salary, and pensions of government employees.
Perhaps it is time to send a different message. President Obama, like many Americans, is probably unaware that the federal government actually subsidizes federal government employee union operations. In fact, the federal government provides unions with free office space, pays for union member time and picks up travel and per diem costs. These “perks” represent a tax that has never been approved by American taxpayers--perks which operate at a level below the radar of Congress and well below the radar of the IRS. These hidden “perks” provided to government employee unions cost American taxpayers millions of dollars annually.
According to official data, federal employees currently spend some 2.9 million official work hours, at government expense, engaging in collective bargaining and union activities, representing a taxpayer cost of approximately $120 million. But the taxpayer costs and subsidizes to public employee unions is much higher than the official report because government does not account for all the expenses related to union activity.
Federal government unions are, in essence, running a business within the federal government. As we begin the debate over the proper role (if any) unions should have in government, one step Americans should all be able to agree upon is that taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize union activities.
Many Americans may be unaware that unions exist in every federal agency. In fact, most agencies have several unions competing for employee participation and funding which means that federal agencies are subsidizing the costs for several unions at the same time!
These federal agency union representatives have a large presence in Washington, DC, the seat of the federal government. But, most federal locations throughout the United States also have a union representative. So, for example, in a city, such as Kansas City, where the federal complex houses multiple government agencies, there will be multiple federal union representatives, from each federal union, within each federal agency, all at the same building location.
Why is this important?
Federal government union representatives are actually federal employees. They hold GS ranks and civil service status, and actually have federal jobs that they were employed to perform. Their union duties are, supposedly, performed over and above the requirements of their regular day job. However, because of the pernicious and growing power of federal unions, oftentimes, union duties often are performed in lieu of their job. Paid time off from regular government duties is allowed, in most federal agencies, for the union representative to solicit federal employees (i.e. market services), to attend union meetings (i.e. work for an entity other than their government employer) or travel to have “face time” with their union bosses in DC. All at taxpayer expense.
In addition, union representatives often request and are provided with office space that is more expansive than is warranted by their GS rank or than their federal job duties require. The cost of this additional square footage is also paid for by the American taxpayer, and is paid for at each federal agency, for each federal union representative, for each federal union. Federal government union representatives total thousands of federal employees, all billing their time, travel and per diem, for non-government related work, to the American taxpayer.
Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the federal government union representatives sometimes seem to operate under the mistaken belief that they were hired by the government to work for the union—and that union work is more important than the federal job they were hired to perform.
Unions seem, at best, indifferent to the performance of government and are exclusively concerned with pay and benefits of union workers. Therein lies another irony for the American taxpayer. Unions are organized to negotiate against employers, but, since the federal government is the employer, and since the American people pay for the federal government, then, technically, federal government employee unions might be construed as organizing against the American people.
It is time to bring some accountability to public employee unions. A good first step would be for Congress to get a grip on the proliferation of benefits for unions in the federal government, whose activities are an additional burden on federal taxpayers. Congress should change federal policies on payment of travel, per diem and office space for federal government union employees.
Better yet, perhaps President Obama should take the lead.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / $160m and counting to FM lawyers
on: January 24, 2011, 06:27:23 AM
Since the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxpayers have spent more than $160 million defending the mortgage finance companies and their former top executives in civil lawsuits accusing them of fraud. The cost was a closely guarded secret until last week, when the companies and their regulator produced an accounting at the request of Congress.
The bulk of those expenditures — $132 million — went to defend Fannie Mae and its officials in various securities suits and government investigations into accounting irregularities that occurred years before the subprime lending crisis erupted. The legal payments show no sign of abating.
Documents reviewed by The New York Times indicate that taxpayers have paid $24.2 million to law firms defending three of Fannie’s former top executives: Franklin D. Raines, its former chief executive; Timothy Howard, its former chief financial officer; and Leanne Spencer, the former controller.
Late last year, Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas and now chairman of the oversight subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, requested the figures from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It is the regulator charged with overseeing the mortgage finance companies and acts as their conservator, trying to preserve the company’s assets on behalf of taxpayers.
“One of the things I feel very strongly about is we need to be doing everything we can to minimize any further exposure to the taxpayers associated with these companies,” Mr. Neugebauer said in an interview last week.
It is typical for corporations to cover such fees unless an executive is found to be at fault. In this case, if the former executives are found liable, the government can try to recoup the costs, but that could prove challenging.
Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government in September 2008, their losses stemming from bad loans have mounted, totaling about $150 billion in a recent reckoning. Because the financial regulatory overhaul passed last summer did not address how to resolve Fannie and Freddie, Congress is expected to take up that complex matter this year.
In the coming weeks, the Treasury Department is expected to publish a report outlining the administration’s recommendations regarding the future of the companies.
Well before the credit crisis compelled the government to rescue Fannie and Freddie, accounting irregularities had engulfed both companies. Shareholders of Fannie and Freddie sued to recover stock losses incurred after the improprieties came to light.
Freddie’s problems arose in 2003 when it disclosed that it had understated its income from 2000 to 2002; the company revised its results by an additional $5 billion. In 2004, Fannie was found to have overstated its results for the preceding six years; conceding that its accounting was improper, it reduced its past earnings by $6.3 billion.
Mr. Raines retired in December 2004 and Mr. Howard resigned at the same time. Ms. Spencer left her position as controller in early 2005. The following year, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, then the company’s regulator, published an in-depth report on the company’s accounting practices, accusing Fannie’s top executives of taking actions to manipulate profits and generate $115 million in improper bonuses.
The office sued Mr. Raines, Mr. Howard and Ms. Spencer in 2006, seeking $100 million in fines and $115 million in restitution. In 2008, the three former executives settled with the regulator, returning $31.4 million in compensation. Without admitting or denying the regulator’s allegations, Mr. Raines paid $24.7 million and Mr. Howard paid $6.4 million; Ms. Spencer returned $275,000.
Fannie Mae also settled a fraud suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission without admitting or denying the allegations; the company paid $400 million in penalties.
Lawyers for the three former Fannie executives did not respond to requests for comment. A company spokeswoman did not return a phone call or e-mail seeking comment.
In addition to the $160 million in taxpayer money, Fannie and Freddie themselves spent millions of dollars to defend former executives and directors before the government takeover. Freddie Mac had spent a total of $27.8 million. The expenses are significantly larger at Fannie Mae.
Legal costs incurred by Mr. Raines, Mr. Howard and Ms. Spencer in the roughly four and a half years prior to the government takeover totaled almost $63 million. The total incurred before the bailout by other high-level executives and board members was around $12 million, while an additional $18 million covered fees for lawyers for Fannie Mae officials below the level of executive vice president. Many of these individuals are provided lawyers because they are witnesses in the matters.
Employment contracts and company by-laws usually protect, or indemnify, executives and directors against liabilities, including legal fees associated with defending against such suits.
After the government moved to back Fannie and Freddie, the Federal Housing Finance Agency agreed to continue paying to defend the executives, with the taxpayers covering the costs.
But indemnification does not apply across the board. As is the case with many companies, Fannie Mae’s by-laws detail actions that bar indemnification for officers and directors. They include a person’s breach of the duty of loyalty to the company or its stockholders, actions taken that are not in good faith or intentional misconduct.
Richard S. Carnell, an associate professor at Fordham University Law School who was an assistant secretary of the Treasury for financial institutions during the 1990s, questions why Mr. Raines, Mr. Howard and others, given their conduct detailed in the Housing Enterprise Oversight report, are being held harmless by the government and receiving payment of legal bills as a result.
“Their duty of loyalty required them to put shareholders’ interests ahead of their own personal interests,” Mr. Carnell said. “Had they cared about the shareholders, they would not have staked Fannie’s reputation on dubious accounting. They defied their duty of loyalty and served themselves. At a moral level, they don’t deserve indemnification, much less payment of such princely sums.”
Asked why it has not cut off funding for these mounting legal bills, Edward J. DeMarco, the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said: “I understand the frustration regarding the advancement of certain legal fees associated with ongoing litigation involving Fannie Mae and certain former employees. It is my responsibility to follow applicable federal and state law. Consequently, on the advice of counsel, I have concluded that the advancement of such fees is in the best interest of the conservatorship.”
If the former executives are found liable, they would be obligated to repay the government. But lawyers familiar with such disputes said it would be difficult to get individuals to repay sums as large as these. Lawyers for Mr. Raines, for example, have received almost $38 million so far, while Ms. Spencer’s bills exceed $31 million.
These individuals could bring further litigation to avoid repaying this money, legal specialists said.
Although the figures are not broken down by case, the largest costs are being generated by a lawsuit centering on accounting improprieties that erupted at Fannie Mae in 2004. This suit, a shareholder class action brought by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, is being heard in federal court in Washington. Although it has been going on for six years, the judge has not yet set a trial date. Depositions are still being taken in the case, suggesting that it has much further to go with many more fees to be paid.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Jack LaLanne
on: January 24, 2011, 12:08:05 AM
Fitness Guru Jack LaLanne Dies at 96
Published January 23, 2011
Feb. 20, 1980: Jack LaLanne pumps iron in the gym in his home in Hollywood, Calif.
LOS ANGELES -- Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru who inspired television viewers to trim down, eat well and pump iron for decades before diet and exercise became a national obsession, died Sunday. He was 96. LaLanne died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia Sunday afternoon at his home in Morro Bay on California's central coast, his longtime agent Rick Hersh said.
LaLanne ate healthy and exercised every day of his life up until the end, Hersh said.
"I have not only lost my husband and a great American icon, but the best friend and most loving partner anyone could ever hope for," Elaine LaLanne, LaLanne's wife of 51 years and a frequent partner in his television appearances, said in a written statement.
He maintained a youthful physique and joked in 2006 that "I can't afford to die. It would wreck my image."
Former "Price is Right" host Bob Barker credited LaLanne's encouragement with helping him to start exercising often.
"He never lost enthusiasm for life and physical fitness," the 87-year-old Barker told The Associated Press on Sunday. "I saw him in about 2007 and he still looked remarkably good. He still looked like the same enthusiastic guy that he always was."
LaLanne (pronounced lah-LAYN') credited a sudden interest in fitness with transforming his life as a teen, and he worked tirelessly over the next eight decades to transform others' lives, too.
"The only way you can hurt the body is not use it," LaLanne said. "Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it's never too late."
His workout show was a television staple from the 1950s to the '70s. LaLanne and his dog Happy encouraged kids to wake their mothers and drag them in front of the television set. He developed exercises that used no special equipment, just a chair and a towel.
He also founded a chain of fitness studios that bore his name and in recent years touted the value of raw fruit and vegetables as he helped market a machine called Jack LaLanne's Power Juicer.
When he turned 43 in 1957, he performed more than 1,000 push-ups in 23 minutes on the "You Asked For It" television show. At 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco -- handcuffed, shackled and towing a boat. Ten years later, he performed a similar feat in Long Beach harbor.
"I never think of my age, never," LaLanne said in 1990. "I could be 20 or 100. I never think about it, I'm just me. Look at Bob Hope, George Burns. They're more productive than they've ever been in their whole lives right now."
Fellow bodybuilder and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger credited LaLanne with taking exercise out of the gymnasium and into living rooms.
"He laid the groundwork for others to have exercise programs, and now it has bloomed from that black and white program into a very colorful enterprise," Schwarzenegger said in 1990.
In 1936 in his native Oakland, LaLanne opened a health studio that included weight-training for women and athletes. Those were revolutionary notions at the time, because of the theory that weight training made an athlete slow and "muscle bound" and made a woman look masculine.
"You have to understand that it was absolutely forbidden in those days for athletes to use weights," he once said. "It just wasn't done. We had athletes who used to sneak into the studio to work out. It was the same with women. Back then, women weren't supposed to use weights. I guess I was a pioneer," LaLanne said.
The son of poor French immigrants, he was born in 1914 and grew up to become a sugar addict, he said. The turning point occurred one night when he heard a lecture by pioneering nutritionist Paul Bragg, who advocated the benefits of brown rice, whole wheat and a vegetarian diet.
"He got me so enthused," LaLanne said. "After the lecture I went to his dressing room and spent an hour and a half with him. He said, 'Jack, you're a walking garbage can."'
Soon after, LaLanne constructed a makeshift gym in his back yard. "I had all these firemen and police working out there and I kind of used them as guinea pigs," he said.
He said his own daily routine usually consisted of two hours of weightlifting and an hour in the swimming pool.
"It's a lifestyle, it's something you do the rest of your life," LaLanne said. "How long are you going to keep breathing? How long do you keep eating? You just do it."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Dan and Jon, and a daughter, Yvonne.
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/01/23/fitness-guru-jack-lalanne-dies/#ixzz1Bvfo4J3u
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: No Better Southern Man
on: January 23, 2011, 12:40:06 PM
Disunion follows the Civil War as it unfolded.
The featureless flat plains of West Tennessee seemed an unlikely locale to harbor a “Southern Black Republican.” But his political opponents routinely hung this epithet — and worse — on Rep. Emerson Etheridge. That’s because, unlike many Southern antisecessionists in early 1861, Etheridge continued to proclaim unconditional loyalty to the Union. Even worse, he ridiculed the idea that the Republican Party intended to interfere with slavery. Secessionists and Southern Rights supporters sputtered in frustration. Etheridge, they said, had fallen into “the depths of disgrace and infamy.” He appealed only to the “ignorant and blind lick-spittles” rather than to “the slaveholding and enlightened portion of the people.”
A 40-something widower with two young daughters, Etheridge had an easy charisma and a compelling speaking voice. His young colleague, Robert Hatton, newly elected to represent an adjacent district, quickly developed a fast friendship with Etheridge. “If he was a woman,” Hatton gushed to his wife, Sophia Hatton, “you would be certain we were dead in love with each other. . . . We eat together, walk to and from the Capitol together, sit in the House together, room by each other, [and] are alike in politics, in religion, and our feelings and sympathies.” Both stubbornly shunned alcohol and the other vices of Washington life.
Library of Congress
Rep. Emerson Etheridge of TennesseeEtheridge’s personality and oratorical power made him a natural leader of the close to two dozen members of the House of Representatives who called themselves the “Southern Opposition.” All were former Whigs, almost all from the Upper South. The opposition bloc held the balance of power in the House, which was closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. And they used that influence during the first few months of 1861 to keep the Upper South from seceding – a fact that explodes any notion of the white South as a unified region hellbent on leaving the Union.
Etheridge made one of his most important speeches against secession on the floor of the House on Wednesday, Jan. 23. He charged that secessionists had fabricated a mass delusion: “Thousands believe honestly that Lincoln and his cohorts are coming down to apply the torch and the knife to the dwellings and people of the South.” But that was just baseless hysteria, he said; Republicans had already renounced “any desire or any power to interfere with slavery in the States of this Union.” He scorned the idea that the South needed to expand slavery to the territories, or that the North had defaulted on its obligation to return fugitive slaves. The evils that secessionists pretended to fear were flimsy or imaginary.
Just then a thin, reedy voice demanded, “I merely wish to know whether the gentleman is speaking on the side of the North or the South?” The interruption came from Shelton Leake, a Virginia disunionist.
Etheridge shot back immediately: “I am speaking on a side that has few representatives on this floor. I am speaking on the side of my country!” A reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial described Etheridge’s retort as a “clincher”—“The noble, exalted tone and emphasis in which this was uttered, rang through the hall.” A resounding applause rang through the galleries.
The speech struck people outside the Capitol as well: a groundswell of support soon developed in the free states to find a position in Lincoln’s cabinet for Etheridge. His “unswerving patriotism” and his “sterling, practical qualities” stood out, said one such advocate. “No better Southern man could be found.”
Etheridge wasn’t alone. His address opened the floodgates to a torrent of Southern Unionist speeches in late January and early February. Few of his allies in Congress were quite so ready as he to give the Republican Party a clean bill of health, but they heartily agreed that secession was a virulent epidemic that would sicken or kill its host. It threatened to ignite a civil war that would destroy slavery. Rammed through with hot haste, it confronted the Upper South with an outrageous fait accompli. Just as delegates from the Deep South were meeting in Montgomery, Ala., to organize the Confederate government, Robert Hatton charged that disunionists were “practically our enemies, as truly as the most unprincipled fanatics of the North.”
Members of the Southern Opposition bloc pleaded with Republicans to take steps that might reassure nervous white Southerners. Most wanted to see the Crittenden Compromise approved, which promised to protect slavery in territories south of 36° 30´, including those “hereafter acquired.” Rep. John A. Gilmer of North Carolina reasoned that secessionists clamored for protection not because it was “really valuable to the South,” or injurious to the North, but rather in the hope that Republicans “will refuse it, and by your refusal, they hope the South will be inflamed to the extent of breaking up this Government.” The most stringent protection for slavery in the territories would be no more likely to create additional slave states, Gilmer insisted, than “the drying up of the Mississippi could be secured by act of Congress.”
But no Republican could countenance Kentucky Sen. John J. Crittenden’s insidious formula. To do so might open the door to a slave empire in the Caribbean and Central America — and much more immediately, they feared, it would tear apart the Republican party. Conciliatory Republicans instead offered to admit all existing territory south of 36° 30´ into the Union as the slave state of New Mexico, and to amend the Constitution to forbid interference with slavery in the states where it already existed. Abraham Lincoln passed word that he could live with these concessions — and so did some Southern Unionists. Forget about “hereafter acquired,” they suggested. Give us New Mexico and the constitutional amendment, and we can hold the Upper South.
Civil War Timeline
An unfolding history of the Civil War with photos and articles from the Times archive and ongoing commentary from Disunion contributors.
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.Voters in the Upper South had their say in February 1861. In state after state, starting with Virginia on February 4, emphatic popular majorities opposed secession. This outcome resulted in part from a massive mailing of pro-Union speeches. Night after night, Hatton reported to his wife, he and other Southern Unionists in Congress stayed up late franking thousands of copies of their oratory for free postal delivery. When given the opportunity to do so, voters in North Carolina and Tennessee even opposed letting a state convention meet. But Unionist victories were conditional, based on the assumption that Republicans would offer concessions and, most of all, that the incoming administration would not use armed force against the Deep South.
When Lincoln took his oath of office on March 4, eight slave states, home to two-thirds of white Southerners, remained in the Union. An uneasy peace prevailed. Tennessee Congressman Horace Maynard beseeched Republicans to act cautiously. “Believe me,” he pleaded, “the moment you wage war, you array the entire South, as one man, in behalf of the portion that is attacked. It is as when a brother is assailed, all his brethren rush to his rescue, not stopping to inquire whether, in the contest, he be right or wrong.” Maynard exaggerated. His home region of East Tennessee would not follow the secessionist lead once the war started, and Maynard himself ended up an unconditional Unionist and a Republican. But Maynard, on balance, knew much about how the future would unfold.
Library of Congress
Rep. Robert Hatton, in Confederate Army uniformOf course, when push came to shove in the Upper South, and its citizens no longer could avoid the dread matter of choosing sides in a war, slavery did much to determine the outcome. Though Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia all seceded, regions with few slaves resisted. Although Emerson Etheridge owned 10 slaves, most of the voters in his district owned none. He stayed loyal to the Union and many of his constituents volunteered for the Union Army. But regions with more substantial slaveholdings — even Whig-Opposition enclaves that had stoutly resisted secession before mid-April — suddenly gave way and embraced the Confederacy.
On the other hand, Robert Hatton represented part of the fertile Cumberland Basin, where many families held slaves. Seventeen men, women and children were listed as his property on the slave schedule of the 1860 census. Notwithstanding Hatton’s pre-war Unionism, he volunteered to organize a regiment for the Confederate army and was promoted to command a brigade. On the last day of May 1862, at the battle of Seven Pines east of Richmond, Va., General Hatton was instantly killed by enemy fire while leading his troops across an open field.
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Sources: Cincinnati Commercial, Jan. 26 and Jan. 28, 1861; Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, Second Session; James Vaulx Drake, “Life of General Robert Hatton, Including His Most Important Public Speeches; Together, with Much of his Washington and Army Correspondence“; Daniel W. Crofts, “Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes/POTH: Free Market CIA
on: January 23, 2011, 12:25:14 PM
WASHINGTON — Duane R. Clarridge parted company with the Central Intelligence Agency more than two decades ago, but from poolside at his home near San Diego, he still runs a network of spies.
Over the past two years, he has fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class.
Hatching schemes that are something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy,” Mr. Clarridge has sought to discredit Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar power broker who has long been on the C.I.A. payroll, and planned to set spies on his half brother, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in hopes of collecting beard trimmings or other DNA samples that might prove Mr. Clarridge’s suspicions that the Afghan leader was a heroin addict, associates say.
Mr. Clarridge, 78, who was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal and later pardoned, is described by those who have worked with him as driven by the conviction that Washington is bloated with bureaucrats and lawyers who impede American troops in fighting adversaries and that leaders are overly reliant on mercurial allies.
His dispatches — an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports — have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck.
For all of the can-you-top-this qualities to Mr. Clarridge’s operation, it is a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.
It also shows how the outsourcing of military and intelligence operations has spawned legally murky clandestine operations that can be at cross-purposes with America’s foreign policy goals. Despite Mr. Clarridge’s keen interest in undermining Afghanistan’s ruling family, President Obama’s administration appears resigned to working with President Karzai and his half brother, who is widely suspected of having ties to drug traffickers.
Charles E. Allen, a former top intelligence official at the Department of Homeland Security who worked with Mr. Clarridge at the C.I.A., termed him an “extraordinary” case officer who had operated on “the edge of his skis” in missions abroad years ago.
But he warned against Mr. Clarridge’s recent activities, saying that private spies operating in war zones “can get both nations in trouble and themselves in trouble.” He added, “We don’t need privateers.”
The private spying operation, which The New York Times disclosed last year, was tapped by a military desperate for information about its enemies and frustrated with the quality of intelligence from the C.I.A., an agency that colleagues say Mr. Clarridge now views largely with contempt. The effort was among a number of secret activities undertaken by the American government in a shadow war around the globe to combat militants and root out terrorists.
The Pentagon official who arranged a contract for Mr. Clarridge in 2009 is under investigation for allegations of violating Defense Department rules in awarding that contract. Because of the continuing inquiry, most of the dozen current and former government officials, private contractors and associates of Mr. Clarridge who were interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Clarridge declined to be interviewed, but issued a statement that likened his operation, called the Eclipse Group, to the Office of Strategic Services, the C.I.A.’s World War II precursor.
“O.S.S. was a success of the past,” he wrote. “Eclipse may possibly be an effective model for the future, providing information to officers and officials of the United States government who have the sole responsibility of acting on it or not.”
A Pentagon spokesman, Col. David Lapan, declined to comment on Mr. Clarridge’s network, but said the Defense Department “believes that reliance on unvetted and uncorroborated information from private sources may endanger the force and taint information collected during legitimate intelligence operations.”
Whether military officials still listen to Mr. Clarridge or support his efforts to dig up dirt on the Karzai family is unclear. But it is evident that Mr. Clarridge — bespectacled and doughy, with a shock of white hair — is determined to remain a player.
On May 15, according to a classified Pentagon report on the private spying operation, he sent an encrypted e-mail to military officers in Kabul announcing that his network was being shut down because the Pentagon had just terminated his contract. He wrote that he had to “prepare approximately 200 local personnel to cease work.”
In fact, he had no intention of closing his operation. The very next day, he set up a password-protected Web site, afpakfp.com, that would allow officers to continue viewing his dispatches.
A Staunch Interventionist
From his days running secret wars for the C.I.A. in Central America to his consulting work in the 1990s on a plan to insert Special Operations troops in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, Mr. Clarridge has been an unflinching cheerleader for American intervention overseas.
Typical of his pugnacious style are his comments, provided in a 2008 interview for a documentary now on YouTube, defending many of the C.I.A.’s most notorious operations, including undermining the Chilean president Salvador Allende, before a coup ousted him 1973.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, things have to be changed in a rather ugly way,” said Mr. Clarridge, his New England accent becoming more pronounced the angrier he became. “We’ll intervene whenever we decide it’s in our national security interests to intervene.”
“Get used to it, world,” he said. “We’re not going to put up with nonsense.”
He is also stirred by the belief that the C.I.A. has failed to protect American troops in Afghanistan, and that the Obama administration has struck a Faustian bargain with President Karzai, according to four current and former associates. They say Mr. Clarridge thinks that the Afghan president will end up cutting deals with Pakistan or Iran and selling out the United States, making American troops the pawns in the Great Game of power politics in the region.
Mr. Clarridge — known to virtually everyone by his childhood nickname, Dewey — was born into a staunchly Republican family in New Hampshire, attended Brown University and joined the spy agency during its freewheeling early years. He eventually became head of the agency’s Latin America division in 1981 and helped found the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center five years later.
In postings in India, Turkey, Italy and elsewhere, Mr. Clarridge, using pseudonyms that included Dewey Marone and Dax Preston LeBaron, made a career of testing boundaries in the dark space of American foreign policy. In his 1997 memoir, he wrote about trying to engineer pro-American governments in Italy in the late 1970s (the former American ambassador to Rome, Richard N. Gardner, called him “shallow and devious”), and helping run the Reagan administration’s covert wars against Marxist guerrillas in Central America during the 1980s.
He was indicted in 1991 on charges of lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-contra scandal; he had testified that he was unaware of arms shipments to Iran. But he was pardoned the next year by the first President George Bush.
Now, more than two decades after Mr. Clarridge was forced to resign from the intelligence agency, he tries to run his group of spies as a C.I.A. in miniature. Working from his house in a San Diego suburb, he uses e-mail to stay in contact with his “agents” — their code names include Willi and Waco — in Afghanistan and Pakistan, writing up intelligence summaries based on their reports, according to associates.
Mr. Clarridge assembled a team of Westerners, Afghans and Pakistanis not long after a security consulting firm working for The Times subcontracted with him in December 2008 to assist in the release of a reporter, David Rohde, who had been kidnapped by the Taliban. Mr. Rohde escaped on his own seven months later, but Mr. Clarridge used his role in the episode to promote his group to military officials in Afghanistan.
In July 2009, according to the Pentagon report, he set out to prove his worth to the Pentagon by directing his team to gather information in Pakistan’s tribal areas to help find a young American soldier who had been captured by Taliban militants. (The soldier, Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, remains in Taliban hands.)
Four months later, the security firm that Mr. Clarridge was affiliated with, the American International Security Corporation, won a Pentagon contract ultimately worth about $6 million. American officials said the contract was arranged by Michael D. Furlong, a senior Defense Department civilian with a military “information warfare” command in San Antonio.
To get around a Pentagon ban on hiring contractors as spies, the report said, Mr. Furlong’s team simply rebranded their activities as “atmospheric information” rather than “intelligence.”
Mr. Furlong, now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general, was accused in the internal Pentagon report of carrying out “unauthorized” intelligence gathering, and misleading senior military officers about it. He has said that he became a scapegoat for top commanders in Afghanistan who had blessed his activities.
As for Mr. Clarridge, American law prohibits private citizens from actively undermining a foreign government, but prosecutions under the so-called Neutrality Act have historically been limited to people raising private armies against foreign powers. Legal experts said Mr. Clarridge’s plans against the Afghan president fell in a gray area, but would probably not violate the law.
Intelligence of Varying Quality
It is difficult to assess the merits of Mr. Clarridge’s secret intelligence dispatches; a review of some of the documents by The Times shows that some appear to be based on rumors from talk at village bazaars or rehashes of press reports.
Others, though, contain specific details about militant plans to attack American troops, and about Taliban leadership meetings in Pakistan. Mr. Clarridge gave the military an in-depth report about a militant group, the Haqqani Network, in August 2009, a document that officials said helped the military track Haqqani fighters. According to the Pentagon report, Mr. Clarridge told Marine commanders in Afghanistan in June 2010 that his group produced 500 intelligence dispatches before its contract was terminated.
When the military would not listen to him, Mr. Clarridge found other ways to peddle his information. For instance, his private spies in April and May were reporting that Mullah Muhammad Omar, the reclusive cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, had been captured by Pakistani officials and placed under house arrest. Associates said Mr. Clarridge believed that Pakistan’s spy service was playing a game: keeping Mullah Omar confined but continuing to support the Afghan Taliban.
Both military and intelligence officials said the information could not be corroborated, but Mr. Clarridge used back channels to pass it on to senior Obama administration officials, including Dennis C. Blair, then the director of national intelligence.
And associates said that Mr. Clarridge, determined to make the information public, arranged for it to get to Mr. Thor, a square-jawed writer of thrillers, a blogger and a regular guest on Mr. Beck’s program on Fox News.
Most of Mr. Thor’s books are yarns about the heroic exploits of Special Operations troops. In interviews, he said he was once embedded with a “black special ops team” and helped expose “a Taliban pornography/murder ring.”
On May 10, biggovernment.com — a Web site run by the conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart — published an “exclusive” by Mr. Thor, who declined to comment for this article.
“Through key intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mr. Thor wrote, “I have just learned that reclusive Taliban leader and top Osama bin Laden ally, Mullah Omar, has been taken into custody.”
Just last week, he blogged about another report — unconfirmed by American officials — from Mr. Clarridge’s group: that Mullah Omar had suffered a heart attack and was rushed to a hospital by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.
“America is being played,” he wrote.
Taking on Afghan Leaders
Mr. Clarridge and his spy network also took sides in an internecine government battle over Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Khandahar Provincial Council.
For years, the American military has believed that public anger over government-linked corruption has helped swell the Taliban’s ranks, and that Ahmed Wali Karzai plays a central role in that corruption. He has repeatedly denied any links to the Afghan drug trafficking.
According to three American military officials, in April 2009 Gen. David D. McKiernan, then the top American commander in Afghanistan, told subordinates that he wanted them to gather any evidence that might tie the president’s half brother to the drug trade. “He put the word out that he wanted to ‘burn’ Ahmed Wali Karzai,” said one of the military officials.
In early 2010, after General McKiernan left Afghanistan and Mr. Clarridge was under contract to the military, the former spy helped produce a dossier for commanders detailing allegations about Mr. Karzai’s drug connections, land grabs and even murders in southern Afghanistan. The document, provided to The Times, speculates that Mr. Karzai’s ties to the C.I.A. — which has paid him an undetermined amount of money since 2001 — may be the reason the agency “is the only member of the country team in Kabul not to advocate taking a more active stance against AWK.”
Ultimately, though, the military could not amass enough hard proof to convince other American officials of Mr. Karzai’s supposed crimes, and backed off efforts to remove him from power.
Mr. Clarridge would soon set his sights higher: on President Hamid Karzai himself. Over the summer, after the Pentagon canceled his contract, Mr. Clarridge decided that the United States needed leverage over the Afghan president. So the former spy, running his network with money from unidentified donors, came up with an outlandish scheme that seems to come straight from the C.I.A.’s past playbook of covert operations.
There have long been rumors that Hamid Karzai uses drugs, in part because of his often erratic behavior, but the accusation was aired publicly last year by Peter W. Galbraith, a former United Nations representative in Afghanistan. American officials have said publicly that there is no evidence to support the allegation of drug use.
Mr. Clarridge pushed a plan to prove that the president was a heroin addict, and then confront him with the evidence to ensure that he became a more pliable ally. Mr. Clarridge proposed various ideas, according to several associates, from using his team to track couriers between the presidential palace in Kabul and Ahmed Wali Karzai’s home in Kandahar, to even finding a way to collect Hamid Karzai’s beard clippings and run DNA tests. He eventually dropped his ideas when the Obama administration signaled it was committed to bolstering the Karzai government.
Still, associates said, Mr. Clarridge maneuvered against the Karzais last summer by helping promote videos, available on YouTube, purporting to represent the “Voice of Afghan Youth.” The slick videos disparage the president as the “king of Kabul” who regularly takes money from the Iranians, and Ahmed Wali Karzai as the “prince of Kandahar” who “takes the monthly gold from the American intelligence boss” and makes the Americans “his puppet.”
The videos received almost no attention when they were posted on the Internet, but were featured in July on the Fox News Web site in a column by Mr. North, who declined to comment for this article. Writing that he had “stumbled” on the videos on the Internet, he called them a “treasure trove.”
Mr. Clarridge, his associates say, continues to dream up other operations against the Afghan president and his inner circle. When he was an official spy, Mr. Clarridge recalled in his memoir, he bristled at the C.I.A.’s bureaucracy for thwarting his plans to do maximum harm to America’s enemies. “It’s not like I’m running my own private C.I.A.,” he wrote, “and can do what I want.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ban people, not guns?
on: January 23, 2011, 12:13:14 PM
From today's POTH. Comments?
WITH the Tucson shootings still in the news, there’s a good chance President Obama will discuss gun control in his speech. How he does it could mean progress or stalemate on the issue.
The President’s Speech
What Should the President Say?
Politicians, journalists and experts in various fields share what issues they would like addressed in the President’s State of the Union speech.
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.Over the last few weeks, gun-control advocates have focused on banning the type of high-capacity clips that the police say was used by the man accused in the Tucson shootings, Jared Loughner. But even timely efforts to ban particular kinds of weapons face long odds politically, and historically have less success in reducing crime.
To get something done with a skeptical Congress, the president ought to shift the focus from the instruments of violence to the perpetrators by calling for a substantial increase in the number of people who are listed by the F.B.I. as barred from purchasing guns.
This year, the government will conduct about 14 million background checks on prospective firearm buyers. Only about 200,000, or just over 1 percent, will be denied permission to buy.
What’s more, while the F.B.I. database, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, has nearly 6.5 million records of prohibited buyers, two-thirds are simply the names of undocumented immigrants, who as a group constitute just 1 percent of those who were denied a gun.
In contrast, the entire prohibited-buyer database holds just 2,092 names of drug abusers, and only one of every 5,000 prospective buyers in 2010 was denied for reasons of mental instability.
A big part of the problem is that people who should be on the list, like those diagnosed with severe mental-health problems, are often left off, either because of bureaucratic hurdles or because several states are slow to report them to the federal government. According to a report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, New Jersey submitted just eight names in 34 months from 2008 to 2010, compared with 60,677 from Texas.
The president should therefore call for several additions to the database: names on the terrorist watch list, military recruits who fail drug tests and patients ordered to undergo mental-health treatment, if their doctor or family requests they be added. He should also demand that reluctant states supply court records on mentally incapacitated residents.
An approach aimed at the person, not the gun, has a real chance of winning bipartisan support.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: January 22, 2011, 09:54:51 PM
Only if we put that choice to them.
Any comments from anyone on the substance of the article? I always appreciate the Indian POV on Pakistan; the Indians (at least the pieces forwarded to me by my Hindu friend) always seem to have much more knowledge and insight into what is going on there whereas BO (and Bush too for that matter) just seems to be coyote to the various roadrunners of the region.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / New fines
on: January 22, 2011, 09:54:05 PM
Sent by a not always reliable internet friend, but it sounds plausible:
Drive carefully my friends
California Traffic Tickets Fines Effective 01/06/2011
BE VERY CAREFUL OUT THERE!
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES HAS AN ARTICLE ON THE SUBJECT:
"FLOORING IT ON CAR FINES". PASS IT ON TO YOUR FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES!
HUGE California Traffic Tickets Fines Effective 01/06/2011
Please be extremely careful in your driving and car registration & insurance
matters. State of California is broke and they are trying hard to squeeze
all of us hard to collect money.
Effective immediately, if you do not stop at the red light, be ready to pay
$436 in fines or if you pass a school bus with flashing red signals, you
will be charged $616. The state of California is going for blood, so be
extra careful in driving, You cannot afford messing with them. I have been
hearing that Highway Patrols are under pressure to issue a lot more tickets
than last year with at least 30% increase in fines over 2009, so beware of
radar guns, highway and traffic cameras installed everywhere and the tougher
enforcement of parking rules.
Just for your info, the next time you park in the handicapped zone, even for
a minute, you will be looking at almost $ 1000 in parking tickets , so it'd
better be worth it.
California needs money, so pay close attention to the rules of the road!
Traffic Ticket Fines (Effective 01/06/2011)
VC 12814.6 $214 Failure to obey license provisions.
VC 14600(A) $214 Failure to notify DMV of address change
within 10 days
Note: The fine may be reduced with valid proof of correction.
VC 16028(A) $796 Failure to provide evidence of financial
Note: This fine may be reduced with proof of insurance on or after the
VC 21453(A) $436 Failure to stop at a red signal.
VC 22349 $214 Unsafe speed, 1 to 15 miles over the limit.
VC 22350 $328 Unsafe speed, 16 to 25 miles over the limit.
VC 22450 $214 Failure to stop at a stop sign.
VC 22454(A) $616 Passing a school bus with flashing red signals.
VC 23123(A) $148 Driving while using a wireless phone not
hands free, first offense .
VC 23123(B) $256 Driving while using a wireless phone not
hands free, each subsequent offense.
VC 23123.5 $148 Driving while using a wireless device to
send, read or write text.
VC 23124 $148 Minor driving while using a wireless phone.
VC 22500 $976 Parking in a bus loading area.
VC 22507(A) $976 Violation of disabled parking provisions,
VC 22507(B) $1876 Violation of disabled parking provisions,
VC 26708 $178 Unlawful material on vehicle windows.
VC 27150 $178 Adequate muffler required.
VC 27315 $148 Mandatory use of seat belts.
VC 27360 $436 Mandatory use of passenger child restraints.
Note: This fine may be reduced by completing a court authorized child seat
diversion program .
VC 27400 $178 Headsets or Earplugs covering both ears.
VC 27803 $178 Violation of motorcycle safety helmet
VC 34506 $616 Commercial Driver - Log book violation.
VC 4000 $256 No evidence of current registration.
Note: The fine may be reduced with valid proof of correction.
VC 4159 $178 Notify DMV of change of address within 10
Note: The fine may be reduced with valid proof of correction.
VC 5200 $178 Proper display of license plates.
Note: The fine may be reduced with valid proof of correction.
VC 9400 $178 Commercial weight fees due.
Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. -- Voltaire
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An Indian analysis: Pakistan's Multiple Crises
on: January 22, 2011, 06:47:30 PM
Note the interesting comments on Indian Muslims at the end too.
MONDAY, JANUARY 10, 2011
Pakistan Multiple Crises
Two to three years has been the average life span of elected governments in Pakistan ever since Z A Bhutto was PM from 1973 to 1977. His daughter Benazir alternated with her rival Nawaz Sharif from 1988 till 1999 when the Mian Sahib was overthrown by yet another saviour in Khaki, General Pervez Musharraf. And both former Prime Ministers were forced into exile.
Thus, going by past precedents the present combine of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani would now seem to have run out of its allotted time. Several crises confront the PPP led government and there are no easy solutions, quite a few outside the range of the PPP leadership's capabilities to solve them.
The Commissar and the General
Apart from the ongoing turmoil in FATA and the tussle between the US and the Pak Army over North Waziristan is well known. An exasperated US administration finds itself unable to push the Pakistan Army led by Gen Kayani into launching operations in North Waziristan as it prepares for its draw down of forces later in the year. Each time the Americans press this issue or launch their drone attacks they slip in their popularity rating among the Pakistanis and each time Gen Kayani stonewalls he shines as a patriot.
The General has been driving a hard bargain with the Americans successfully as he silently strengthens his hold both on the system and the armed forces. Quite obviously, General Kayani has an agenda that goes beyond just refurbishing the image of the Army with generous assistance from the US. A professional Army does not need three year extensions in service to its Chief beyond the stipulated term unless the agenda is wider and political or ominously, even military and strategic.
Setting aside the economic crisis that engulfs Pakistan, there are two other crises that are brewing a political crisis in Islamabad and an ethnic-religious crisis in Karachi of grave dimensions that no one really wants to talk about.
A Political Crisis Unfolds
Zardari and Gilani are resigned to having to deal with an over bearing Army since this is the way of political life in Pakistan. But they have other disadvantages compared to their main political rival, Mian Nawaz Sharif and his PML (N) or even their ally the MQM led by Altaf Hussain both of who command personal loyalties and have strong cadre based parties.
Nawaz controls the Punjab, while Altaf controls Karachi. Gilani and Zardari are comparative lightweights in the PPP and do not command that kind of respect that these two do within their parties and people. Nawaz is a Punjabi, has close links with the Saudis and the Jamaat Islami, which has a following in the Pak Army. He himself has strong right wing religious leanings, which endears him to a section of the Army and the religious parties. Yes his attempts to manipulate the Army in the past despite being originally a protigi of the Army, and his religious leanings would make him unacceptable to the Army and the US.
In a free and fair election, Nawaz could possibly sweep Punjab and he who wins Punjab rules Pakistan. This is possibly Kayani's threat to the Americans at this juncture a few months before they plan their pull out. In the present crisis, perhaps Nawaz himself would not want to take over the reins of office so it suits him to see the government further weakened. He would rather wait it out unless an election is thrust upon him.
The MQM's Complaints
The MQM crisis is somewhat different. While the world's attention has been focused on the war in FATA against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the NWFP (Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa) ethnic and religious violence has been increasing alarmingly in Karachi. The MQM has for years complained and feared that the ingress of Pushtuns from the frontier many of whom are Talibanised would tilt the balance away from them while the activities of religious parties like the Deobandi parties like Lashkar e Jhangvi would further erode its hold in urban Sindh especially Karachi and Hyderabad. There is another complication in that politically the Mohajirs support the MQM, the Sindhis support the PPP and the Pushtun support the Awami National Party. The latter two invariably combine against the MQM.
Politically motivated targeted killings in Karachi have been increasing alarmingly. The Daily Times of Lahore reported that last year about 780 people were killed in ethnic, religious and political violence in Karachi which is similar to the suicide killings in the NWFP (797) and more than in the rest of the country (427). While the MQM may have its own political objectives in complaining to Gilani about the worsening law and order situation in Karachi the fact is that the metropolis has become a hot bed of rivalries between various competing and conflicting interests with strong overtones of a Talibanised culture and MQM fears it may have to cede ground to Wahhabi-Salafi beliefs brought in by more and more Pushtun leaving their homes for Karachi. Islamabad's failure to redress the MQM's complaints is the real reason for the threat of MQM to walk out although it is camouflaged in economic demands to bring in support from the Sindhis as well. To make matters worse for the MQM, its leaders have been trading insults with the PML (N) leadership. Consequently, the political situation looks very uncertain and the PPP looks extremely weak. And enter General Kayani centre stage?
The Assassination and the Islamic Fundamentalist Fervour
There is another development that could make the Army even more indispensible to the situation in today's Pakistan - the assassination of Salman Taseer the Punjab Governor and a close ally and friend of President Zardari, by one of his own guards for his opposition to Blasphemy Laws. It is not the first time that the religious right has resorted to punish those opposed to its creed. While Pakistan's liberal elite may mourn Taseer's death a wide section of the religious right has actually approved the killing.
The comments that were visible on Twitter and Facebook supporting the assassin were a chilling indicator of the direction Pakistan had taken in recent years. Killing for religion is frightening enough but the reaction that has been visible is even more frightening. The diktat by the Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan that no Muslim should attend Taseer's funeral sends a chill down every liberal spine.
The JASP is the largest body of the Barelvi group and considerate moderate in comparison to the Deobandhi-Wahhabi-Salafi Sunnis. Gen Zia's dream has become Pakistan's nightmare. The message to the liberal elite is - shut up and put up. The comment by the well known Pakistani commentator Cyril Almeida that, "Conservative forces are not just on a roll in Pakistan, they're pretty dominant. And liberal forces are not just on the back foot, but, really, they are extinguished," sums up the despondency and the gravity.
This is not the first time that a prominent Pakistani leader has been assassinated by suspected Islamic hardliners or attempts have been made. Benazir was killed by three years ago at the second attempt. They almost succeeded in killing Gen Musharraf in 2003 when he turned his back to the Taliban and some religious extremists in response to American demands. Then there were several attacks on the symbols of Pak power since September 11, 2001 including the Army and obviously the rot had set in but all this was swept away in the larger interest of preserving the peace and fighting the larger American war.
In the midst of all this one would continue to have doubts about Pakistani leadership's commitment to fight terror. It is believed that, the well-known senior Pakistani terrorist Qari Saifullah Akhtar from the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami with links to both the ISI and Al Qaeda was released from custody in early in December 2010. He had been taken into custody in August 2010 for trying to recruit five Americans for Al Qaeda when they had visited Pakistan in November 2009.
Qari Akhtar has a colourful jihadi history. Qari and the HUJI have been very close to the Taliban and Al Qaeda; he was involved along with some jihadi Army officers in an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Gen Abdul Waheed Kakkar in 1995 and over throw the government in 1995. Released in 1996, Akhtar fled to Afghanistan and then plotted the assassination of General Musharraf in 2003; he fled again to the UAE, deported in 2004 and released from custody again in 2007; was suspected to have been involved in the abortive attempt on Benazir in October 2007; detained in February 2008 and released in June 2008; and he was one of the main conspirators in the attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in September 2008.
The ease with which Akhtar has been able to change residence only adds to suspicions that when the trail gets too hot the Pakistani establishment pulls in its assets for the trail to go cold and then release them when it is considered safe. This happens ever so often to Lashkar e Tayyaba leader Hafiz Saeed and the Jaish e Mohammed leader Maulana Masood Azhar.
Some of us worry that this could have an adverse reaction in India. There is an overreaction in some sections about intolerance in India. We must learn to trust the Indian Muslim instead of assuming he will be influenced by events and thought processes or ideologies in Pakistan. In so doing we challenge his intelligence and doubt his loyalties. In Pakistan they demanded the funeral of Taseer be boycotted because he was a liberal, in India the Indian Muslim leaders refused to allow the killers of Mumbai 26/11 be buried on Indian soil because they were terrorists. That is the difference between them and us.
True there is a fringe element in India as in most democratic societies but it does not endanger the state in the manner it has in Pakistan where it is no longer a fringe element but may well have become mainstream. In fact, extreme belief has been state sponsored in Pakistan; not so in India. The trick is to marginalise the extreme fringe but not to frighten the mainstream. Reaction here tends to lose touch with Indian realities and creates more discord. Careless off the cuff remarks are more responsible for this sort of thing and do not make for responsible commentary. By Vikram Sood(ANI)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tea Party in NH
on: January 22, 2011, 03:04:05 PM
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Sat, January 22, 2011 -- 3:44 PM ET
Tea Party Supporter Chosen to Lead New Hampshire Republicans
Jack Kimball, a Tea Party activist who ran for governor of
New Hampshire last year, was selected on Saturday to be the
new chairman of the Republican party in the state. He
defeated Juliana Bergeron, who had the backing of John H.
Sununu, the former governor and departing party chairman.
With the state's first-in-the-nation primary just over a year
away, Mr. Kimball's victory could further strengthen the role
of Tea Party members and possibly influence how presidential
candidates approach the state in the coming months.
Traditionally, party chairmen in New Hampshire remain neutral
in presidential primaries. But Mr. Kimball said recently that
the new party chairman should let presidential candidates
know that New Hampshire Republicans want their party to "get
back to its conservative values and stay there."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude
on: January 22, 2011, 02:54:41 PM
Grateful for the two nice young purples I rolled with last night. Grateful for wonderful times with my children. Grateful the boss let us rearrange the living room furniture so we have play room-- including playing with Conrad's "Kinect" game (It's like Wii, but much, much better). Grateful for coming to a difficult decision about someone.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science
on: January 22, 2011, 02:45:14 PM
Not sure why you put that in this thread
Anyway, with his permission here are some comments from Dr. Tricky Dog (PhD in Physics):
Indeed a fascinating consequence - I hadn't heard of this result previously. What is semantically challenging though is the meaning of "reality does not exist when we are not observing it". Words like "reality", "exist" and "observing" are somewhat misleading when their physics meaning is compared to our lay meaning. What do we think someone is saying when that is said? You have to have deep specialists knowledge to attach correct meaning to the words.
The problem with quantum mechanical contexts is that they are so anti-intuitive that it is difficult to talk about them at all (and still
make any sense). The implications are subtle at best. Particularly as none of these QM effects have been shown to apply at macroscopic scales - they get washed out on the way to big - observations about grains of sand don't apply to beaches.
And yet tremendously fascinating stuff. The closer we look at the fabric of reality, the more we come to the conclusion that there are no threads in the fabric. At least, not in the conventional sense.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Conflict of interest; Roads in the Constitution
on: January 22, 2011, 12:25:24 AM
I saw that BD. I could be wrong but my initial reaction is typical liberal/progressive hypocrisy. Where are they when the libs meet with the ACLU et al?
Returning to whether the C. grants the Federal Govt the right to build roads, etc. this passage from "A Patriot's History of the United States" by Schweikart and Allen (recommended by Glenn Beck
) on page 233 says
"Like Calhoun and other disaffected Jacksonians, Harrison had once stood with the Democrats, and shared their states' rights sentiments. Also like Calhoun, he thought the federal government well within its constitutional rights to improve harbors, build roads, and otherwise fund internal improvements."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Let us shed a tear
on: January 21, 2011, 09:08:28 PM
Updated Keith Olbermann, the highest-rated host on MSNBC, announced abruptly on the air Friday night that he is leaving “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” immediately.
The host, who has had a stormy relationship with the management of the network for some time, especially since he was suspended for two days last November, came to an agreement with NBC’s corporate management late this week to settle his contract and step down.
In a closing statement on his show, Mr. Olbermann said simply that it would be the last edition of the program. He offered no explanation other than on occasion, the show had become too much for him.
Mr. Olbermann thanked his viewers for their enthusiastic support of a show that had “gradually established its position as anti-establishment.”
In a statement, MSNBC said : “MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”
MSNBC announced that “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” would replace “Countdown” at 8 p.m., with “The Ed Show” with Ed Schultz taking Mr. O’Donnell’s slot at 10 p.m. Mr. Olbermann did not discuss any future plans, but NBC executives said one term of his settlement will keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time.
NBC executives said the move had nothing to do with the impending takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast.
Mr. Olbermann had signed a four-year contract extension in 2008 for an estimated $30 million. He hosted “Countdown” at 8 p.m. since 2003 and it became the foundation of the channel’s surge to status as the second-ranked news channel on cable television, after Fox News, surpassing the one-time leader CNN.
Mr. Olbermann’s outspoken, and sometimes controversial, support of liberal positions and Democratic candidates redefined MSNBC from a neutral news channel to one with that openly sought to offer viewers on the left their own voice, much as Fox News has done so successfully for an audience of viewers with conservative opinions.
Mr. Olbermann challenged Fox News publicly on numerous occasions, especially the top-rated cable host Bill O’Reilly, whom he regularly tweaked and frequently placed in the top circle of infamy on a segment Mr. Olbermann called “The Worst Person in the World.”
Ratings for his show grew, though he never really approached the level of popularity Mr. O’Reilly has achieved. But he helped grow the MSNBC liberal brand by his frequent invitations to one guest, Rachel Maddow, who was eventually offered her own show on MSNBC.
Ms. Maddow became the 9 p.m. host following Mr. Olbermann and has built such a successful show that some NBC executives felt less concerned about losing Mr. Olbermann as the signature star of the network.
According to several senior network executives, NBC’s management had been close to firing Mr. Olbermann on previous occasions, most recently in November after he revealed that he had made donations to several Democratic candidates during the 2010 congressional elections — one of them, coincidentally, was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who has been the subject of many of his recent shows after being shot in an assassination attempt in Tucson on Jan. 8.
The top MSNBC executive, Phil Griffin, said the donations had violated NBC News standards and ordered Mr. Olbermann suspended. His fans responded with a petition to reinstate him that attracted over 250,000 signatures. Mr. Olbermann returned two days later. In his response he said the rules on donations had been “inconsistently applied.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bear Bryant
on: January 21, 2011, 05:21:24 PM
It Don't Cost Nuthin'
At a Touchdown Club meeting many years ago, Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant told the following story:
I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player, and I was having trouble finding the place.
Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said "Restaurant." I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I'm the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, "What do you need?"
I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today?
He says, "You probably won't like it here. Today we're having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread. I'll bet you don't even know what chitlins are, do you?"(small intestines of hogs prepared as food in the deep South)
I looked him square in the eye and said, "I'm from Arkansas , and I've probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I'm in the right place."
They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, "You ain't from around here then?"
I explain I'm the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I'm here to find whatever that boy's name was, and he says, "Yeah I've heard of him, he's supposed to be pretty good." And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.
As I'm paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I'd been there. I was so new that I didn't have any yet. It really wasn't that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I'd get him one.
I met the kid I was looking for later that afternoon and I don't remember his name, but do remember I didn't think much of him when I met him.
I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn't forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, "Thanks for the best lunch I've ever had."
Now let's go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I'm back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y'all remember, (and I forget the name, but it's not important to the story), well anyway, he's got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he's got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some others while I'm down there.
Two days later, I'm in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it's this kid who just turned me down, and he says, "Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?"
And I said, "Yes I sure do." And he says OK, he'll come.
And I say, "Well son, what changed your mind?"
And he said, "When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn't going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn't playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y'all met."
Well, I didn't know his granddad from Adam's housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, "You probably don't remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he's had hung in that place ever since. That picture's his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him..."
"My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that's everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I'm going to."
I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don't cost nuthin' to be nice. It don't cost nuthin' to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breaking your word to someone.
When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he's still running that place, but it looks a lot better now. And he didn't have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that would make Dreamland proud. I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don't think I didn't leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.
I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they're out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn't cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.
Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Stratfor: Be prepared!
on: January 21, 2011, 02:23:53 PM
Those of you in the DBMA Association will recognize below in what Stratfor calls "the flyaway pack" what we call the BOB "the Bug Out Bag/Bin" and may remember the vid-clip wherein I show the contents of my BOB for my truck. I have an everyday Bin in my truck which includes a serious trauma kit as well as a first aid kit, basic tools, rope, duct tape, baby powder (if you have ever been stuck in a stopped LA freeway for a few hours on a hot day you will understand) toothbrush and paste, turkey jerky, a siphon, etc.
Forgive me the moment of advertising but in the coming months you will be seeing a major expansion of what we offer on our website in this regard.
Last week we saw the government collapse in Tunisia, and we’ve seen previous issues of a security nature, such as the earthquake in Haiti as well as the Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, and we thought it would be a good time to discuss the importance of ex-pats having a plan in the event of a country collapse.
As an ex-pat, when you arrive in the country, the first thing you should do is register with your respective foreign embassy. In essence, the U.S. has a system called the Warden program, which alerts you to local security issues as well as provides a communications network in times of trouble. The notification process for the Warden system is an umbrella notification from the local U.S. Embassy to specific people in the community known as wardens. If you think of this in concept of a spoke and a hub, where the notifications are pushed out to the local warden representative, who in turn makes a broadcast to those individuals that he or she are responsible for.
For emergency notification purposes from a communications standpoint, think about the use of message text capabilities that at times still operate when you’re unable to get a cellular connection, as well as satellite phones. It’s very important to have a flyaway kit or a backpack that you have prepared, that you can grab and go, that’s going to contain U.S. currency, local currency, food, water, a communications device such as a satellite phone, maps, and possibly even a weapon, depending upon your location. These items can be very hopeful in assisting you in getting out of the country.
One other aspect to think about is in event of the airports closing, which happens, you need to have other routes of travel to get out, such as boat, roads or trains perhaps, and that’s going to vary depending upon the geography and the nature of your country that you’re operating in as an ex-pat. At times, your local friends in the community may be able to help you either get out of the contrary or safe haven for periods of time, but again, that’s going to depend upon the country that you’re in and the risk that they may take by safe-having you. What I have seen historically over the years is individuals fail to make a plan and then there’ll be some sort of collapse of government or major terrorist attack, and at that point it’s too late. From your perspective as an ex-pat, you have to have some sort of gauge as to when you think it’s time to grab your kit and go.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Peyton Quinn
on: January 21, 2011, 02:03:24 PM
My friend Peyton Quinn, author of the witty and wise "Bouncer's Guide to Barroom Brawling" is one of the originals of the reality-based self-defense movement (e.g. the developer of the "Bulletman") and the Head of the RMCAT (Rocky Mountain something) based in Colorado.
Here is a recent piece of his-- sorry for the weird formatting:
The Visual Cortex: Why sometimes we see what is not there, and sometimes miss what is there.
I have some cats and occasionally out of the corner of my eye I will think I see one for an instant, but then I turn and see it is just a black t-shirt on the floor. But for that flash of an instant I actually 'saw' an image of my black cat.
If you give it some thought surely all of you have had such an experience. That is where you momentarily identified something visually, often in your peripheral vision, and then an instant later you realized it was not what you thought you saw at first.
We must keep in mind that the act of vision actually occurs exclusively inside the total darkness of the human skull and brain. All the visual data from our eyes, which our only windows to the outside world of sight, are interpreted, identified and defined by our visual cortex. But there is even more to it than this.
As children we begin to develop the "pattern recognition" of things. That is a quick identification of people's faces, other objects, food etc. These patterns are then stored in the neural nets of our visual cortex and this is how we quickly recognize objects and people etc.
It is during this critcal childhood period that we develop right or left eye dominace, or right or left handedness or leggedness etc. I make sure to observe RMCAT attendnats for which is the dominat eye, leg and hand.
To give a good example of how this works there are cases where children (under the age of six especially) lost there vision, but it was restored many years later and in some cases as much as 40 years later.
In these cases the people have to then learn to "see". That is their 'vision is restored' but they can't identify anything or recognize anyone yet. They can't yet organize the images into any meaningful or coherent pattern. This is because their "bank of images" stored in their visual cortex has not had any real and coherent "deposits" made in it because their vision was lost at such an early age
While it is true that we can identify things we have never seen before this is achieved largely through interpolation of things we have already seen before. And sometimes we can get it wrong too.
An experienced homicide detective some years ago allowed me to read his reports of several witnesses testimony to a violent, criminal act they had seen. It was apparent to me that each whiteness told a somewhat different story, and some told a very different story about what they thought they had seen. The detective then told me: "Peyton, if 10 people witness an act of violence, then you will get 10 different stories"
Having laid out this basic conceptual foundation of visual perception let's now look at its practical impact on self-defense and environmental awareness.
From a training point of view if you have never seen a person pull a gun or knife on you, then you might not 'see them' pull a gun or knife on you immediately if they do so for real. The same goes for the 'sucker punch'.
In our RMCAT classes I have seen such blatant examples of this and yet it still can truly surprise me! For example in the scenario based firearms course me and a co-instructor were walking out from behind the Shoji wall for a scenario with an attendant.The course had already gone through the legal module and so they knew the conditions necessary for them to even lawfully present (display) their gun.
This particular time my co-instructor's blank firing pistol accidentally fell out of his belt where it was concealed in the small of his back. This was not 20 feet from the student. Yet that student did not even see or respond to this and my co-instructor calmly turned around and picked up the pistol and slipped it back into his belt.Now since most shootings occur in dim light we were training in dim light too but even so the video showed it so clearly that the student could not imagine how or why he did not see it when he later watched that video. He was flabbergasted.
In the portal of safety drill in the Hand to Hand fighting course we also see something similar. In this drill the student has a soft bat and he or she is to only produce the bat and strike at the instructor's hand when the instructor produces a large bowie knife for an 'attack'.
I have seen police and even very well known martial arts people totally miss the large shiny Bowie knife being drawn on them from 10 feet away. Now part of this is because they were adrenalized and thus tended to 'tunnel into the face' of the person who might be verbally threatening them.
But there is also the fact that they have never had an irate person come up to them and draw a big bowie knife on them before either. So they did not immediately 'see it" happen. Their visual cortex may not have an 'instant decode' for this drawing of a bowie knife in this context.
Keep in mind that even 'missing' seeing the knife for a half second can be critical or might I say 'fatal' in real situation.
Let's look at this idea further. A boxer trains under adrenal stress. He learns to 'duck a shot' in training because of being previously hit by some shots.
This is "State Dependent Learning'. His 'non-self-aware' mind sees the preceding cues that indicate the punch is coming and his 'body' ducks reflexively.
Because he is adrenalized to some degree, and more so when he is hit in his early training, his visual cortex has stored the images of what precedes the impact of the blow. This can be a shoulder dip, the footwork of his opponent etc. The boxer might not be able to really articulate all these cues that his body responds to because they are not acted on by his self-aware mind.
But realize this is because these visual cues are no longer need to be processed in the self aware mind at all, they become instant 'reflexes' of the adrenal mind. You don't need to 'think' to jerk your hand of a hot stove. This is how we train at RMCAT,through state dependent leaqrning, you just don't get hit as hard as a boxer!
Now consider professional boxers a bit further for a moment.
Let's ignore the fact that you can't hit somebody in the head with a closed fist and not break the bones in your hands without the protection of tapped hands and a boxing glove. And even then almost all the 'great boxers' have broken bones in their hands in the prize ring.
Putting that aside though, the boxing training method is far superior to the Asian martial arts training methodology. This is largely because of this very dynamic, adrenal stress driven development of full power striking and the automatic reflex evasion of blows.
I think I can safely say that the average Western trained boxer (be it in an actual fight or an athletic contest) will defeat the average Asian methodology trained martial arts person. It isn't the 'techniques" that are important here at all, it is the training methodology.
But let's be frank, how many martial arts people are willing to undergo the rigors of Western boxing training? The answer is some, but not many.
Consequently, adrenal stress, scenario based training has some very significant advantages over any other training methodology for self-defense.
First the reflex is developed through this adrenal stress conditioning. It a real attack it will thus be the adrenal mind that responds and not the self-aware mind. Hence the response is instant like a boxer slipping a blow.
Second, the adrenal stress driven scenarios begin to establish new 'patterns in the visual cortex' of any impending attack or the 'attack in progresses'. Keep in mind a 'verbal woof' imitates the fight.
These cues are mainly visual but they are also auditory. And adrenal stress scenario based training allows these cues to have been 'seen' and heard before and thus 'recognized' and linked to an instant and effective motor response.
You will much more likely spot a 'sucker punch' coming if you have been sucker punched before. Likewise, after adrenal stress scenario based training you will spot the knife, the gun, the stick the 'tire iron attack' and much earlier and thus have a decent chance to avoid it.
Look at this on the very simplest level, 'It is hard to avoid something you have never seen before'.
Yet I know that we can legitimately expand on this concept great too.
Because as we increase our personal awareness, that is both an awareness of our 'external environment' and our 'internal environment' we have also enhance our entire ability and depth of perceptions of the 'world' and the people in it.
Consider that for 22 years now I have seen RMCAT attendants come back after a year or several years (17% of all rmcat attendats do come back in 3 years or less) and they are better, and at times very much better than when they left the course the first time, years ago. Yet they did no training at all in between.
My theory is it takes at least 3 months or more for the new neural nets to form and 'fire fully and properly" that are aquiered during the adrenal stress training. So when they come back, all the new neural pathways are a "go" and fire the needed motor responce (knee strike, a duck of a blow, etc) immediattely and powerfully in the new scenarios. So naturally they fight better and even de-escallte better.
Our external environment might include our noting raised voices signaling a potential physical conflict. Alternatively it might be a particular facial expression of someone we are negotiating with in business that tips us off to something we would otherwise miss perceiving. Or it could be something less subtle that we spot immediately, like the pistol in the hand of the 'determined man' just walking into the fast food place we are at.
Our internal environment is our 'gut feeling'. With increased awareness we learn to trust our gut feelings too. We can do so partly because we have learned to cultivate and polish those perceptions that we call our 'gut feeling'. My maxim here is "If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt, something isn't right, now be quite alert for what that is!"
The human brain's operation is almost mystical in its power. All the computer power on the planet harnessed all at once does not match the computational power or speed of the human brain. Yet as we see, the brain can 'get it wrong' sometimes.
Remember our previous article on the size of the moon for example. Our brain sees at as being larger on the horizon, but smaller in the higher night sky. But this is an illusion of the brain's processing. If you measure both moon's appearances, even by holding your finger tip to the width of the apparent image, then you will see that though it looks huge on the horizon or small when high in the sky, your finger measures the same width in either case.
Yet is quite 'obvious" that the moon is apparently much larger and more yellow when on the horizon and yet smaller and whiter in the high night sky right?
Yes, this condition is apparent at once but this is only an illusion and your brain has "got it wrong". Your visual cortex has thus been totally and convincingly 'fooled into seeing what is not there'.
An important part of self-defense training, and in fact, personal self-improvement in general is learning to re-train your brain to immediately see things just as they are. This means forgoing all denial and seeing with a 'non-reactive' mind or as the Japanese call it "mushien' which means 'no mind' or 'one mind'.