Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison
on: April 10, 2009, 10:15:00 AM
"It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society."
--James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, 1785
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stockton CA
on: April 09, 2009, 09:09:05 PM
Citizens Militia Forming In Stockton
To me this article ties into others posted about the hollowing out and de-legitimizing of the state.
Notice that the reporter actually treats the group seriously, no laughing behind his hand, cheap shots, etc.
Concerned resident aims to form armed militia to patrol Stockton
By David Siders
Record Staff Writer
April 07, 2009 6:00 AM
STOCKTON - A retired truck driver and Vietnam War veteran said Monday that he is forming an armed militia - mostly men with rifles and armbands, four to a car - to patrol Stockton this summer, when at least 43 police officers are to be laid off.
Alan Pettet, 66, said he has recruited 18 men, most of whom are ex-military. He said the militia will train at a firing range and "activate" if the city lays off any officer, as it intends by July 1.
The likelihood of an armed militia materializing is uncertain - there are legal concerns, and posturing to influence City Hall is not uncommon - but for a neighborhood activist even to advance such a proposal was indicative of frustration about Stockton's awful budget forecast. The City Council is expected by July 1, the start of fiscal 2009-10, to order police layoffs and spending reductions citywide to balance a general fund budget that is otherwise expected to be $31million in deficit by June 2010.
Pettet, a midtown neighborhood activist who has a Desert Eagle pistol, said militiamen will detain suspected criminals and call police to arrest them. They will wear armbands and will patrol in a car marked by a magnetic sign, he said.
"It's going to be 'Stockton Armed Militia,'" Pettet said. "'SAM' for short."
Neither the Police Department nor the city administration was impressed.
"We are not at the point that we need to have armed militias patrolling Stockton," Vice Mayor Kathy Miller said.
Mayor Ann Johnston said, "Oh, no no no no, no no no. ... We don't want armed citizens out there who are not trained."
That it is illegal in most circumstances in California to carry a loaded firearm in one's car did not disturb Pettet.
"If you look under the Constitution, a militia can be formed," he said. "Watch and see. Who's going to stop us?"
Attorney and anti-blight activist Ron Stein, who is a friend of Pettet's and has been advising him, said the militia will conform to state law, perhaps by having members seek permits to carry concealed handguns.
"You've got to do what you've got to do," Stein said.
Pettet said the militia will bill the city $350 per hour for its services. City Attorney Ren Nosky said he knew of no legal basis requiring the city to pay such a bill. Nosky had other reservations, too.
"I just don't know if that's in the best interest of these gentlemen, from a safety perspective," he said. "We have a concern about the level of training that these gentlemen have, if any, especially in light of the firearms that they say they're going to be carrying."
Police encourage people to report crimes and form Neighborhood Watch groups, said Officer Pete Smith, a department spokesman. To form a militia is "taking it to another level," he said.
"It's ill advised," he said.
Stockton's violent crime rate is among the highest in the state. Stein and Pettet are critical of a budget proposal by City Manager Gordon Palmer that would require laying off at least 43 of the city's 403 police officers.
"We've got to protect ourselves," Stein said. "We are in the wild, wild West when you take people who are supposed to protect us off the street."
The telephone number Pettet is using for the militia is that of midtown's Safe Neighborhood Action Group, a group formed in the 1990s.
"You've reached the Safe Neighborhood Action Group," a recording at that number said. "Helping to protect Stockton citizens from their mayor and City Council."
Contact reporter David Siders at (209) 943-8580 or
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US Navy budget
on: April 09, 2009, 03:49:10 PM
Part 4: The 2010 U.S. Defense Budget and The Future of the Fleet
Stratfor Today » April 9, 2009 | 1010 GMT
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled his department’s proposed 2010 defense budget on April 6. His additions and cuts from the budget included a series of decisions on the focus of shipbuilding in the years ahead. Gates has emphasized the U.S. Navy’s long-recognized need to improve its mission and functionality in the littoral regions of the world. As a result, Gates is pushing the acceleration of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program — ships that have a multi-mission functionality and are particularly attractive to the current Pentagon leadership. Overall, the shifts will help define the shape of the future U.S. surface combatant fleet.
Among the proposed changes to the Pentagon’s 2010 budget that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates laid out April 6 was a series of significant decisions that will affect U.S. shipbuilding and the shape of the surface fleet in the years ahead.
If there was a theme to these changes, it was prioritizing the littoral, near-shore environment over the ‘blue water’ — the open ocean — and proven, affordable ship designs over ambitious, new and long-term designs. The shifts include:
Slowing the rate at which an aircraft carrier is built by one year, to five years. This build cycle will ultimately reduce the size of the U.S. carrier fleet from 11 to a still-impressive 10.
Delaying the next-generation guided missile cruiser, a long-range program to replace a mainstay of the blue-water fleet.
Pushing forward with the already-planned truncation of the enormously over budget and delayed DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer, which will be limited to three very expensive hulls or less — effectively making the ships technology demonstrators.
Restarting Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) guided missile destroyer production. Widely considered one of the most capable and successful warship designs in the world today, the last units are still being completed.
Accelerating the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, which consists of two designs (the Pentagon has yet to select one) intended to employ interchangeable “mission modules,” so that one hull can support a variety of missions — from anti-submarine warfare to hunting mines or supporting special forces. These smaller, faster, more agile ships, as their name implies, will often be used closer to shore, freeing larger, more expensive ships designed to operate in the blue water from the potentially treacherous near-shore environment.
The first three are consistent with Gates’ priorities for the Pentagon as a whole. Some of the high-end technology for the next-generation Ford-class aircraft carrier is already creating concerns about the program’s timeline, and though the aircraft carrier continues to be a critical element of U.S. power projection, it is difficult to overstate the extent to which America already has utter dominance in carrier-based aviation.
The DDG-1000 is, in part, now acting as a technology demonstrator for the next-generation cruiser. Both are high-end, expensive warships expanding American naval capability largely in areas where the U.S. already enjoys a considerable lead. Delaying or slowing the next-generation cruiser program does not kill research and development, but it shifts resources and attention to more immediate needs — ones that address the slowly emerging refocus of the U.S. Navy.
The United States remains the undisputed dominant power in the world’s oceans, and while potential regional competitors from China to India to Russia are enhancing their own naval capability and working on systems to counter or at least lessen the U.S. lead, the U.S. Navy still remains the dominant force in the blue-water realm. The department has long recognized the need to push into the littorals and better function there, though many of its initiatives — like LCS and what ultimately became the DDG-1000, faltered.
The proposed defense budget would put the department’s money back into LCS and the Arleigh Burke restart. Not only are the additional Arleigh Burke hulls attractive because they are upgradeable to ballistic missile defense capability capable of addressing the new anti-ship ballistic missile threat from China, but the fabrication process is now highly refined (with some 60 hulls) and the ships have a multi-mission functionality that is particularly attractive to the current Pentagon leadership.
Photo by U.S. Navy courtesy of Lockheed-Martin
The USS Freedom (LCS-1)But the more important shift in terms of the shape of the fleet is the LCS. By accelerating acquisition in 2010, Gates is clearly committing to the program. LCS promises to expand the Navy’s global presence — with more ships in more places — as LCS will be one tool in allowing more dispersed operations. (The LCS program is expected to eventually entail 55 hulls.) Indeed, such lower-tier efforts like expanding international cooperation on maritime security could see further improvements in the overall security of the environment.
The LCS is also one of the first ships designed from the start to integrate unmanned systems into its operations, from unmanned helicopters to unmanned surface and underwater vessels, designed to carry out reconnaissance and assist in operations at sea — providing new types of functionality for the Navy in much the same way that unmanned aerial vehicles have revolutionized intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(click image to enlarge)
Overall, the shifts in priorities will hardly endanger U.S. naval dominance in the near-term. But naval dominance is of absolutely fundamental importance for American geographic and geopolitical security. And as STRATFOR has noted in this series, such dominance does not maintain itself. Though they will not be a threat tomorrow, countries like China are seeking to expand their sphere of influence on the high seas, and the world’s oceans are too valuable for too many countries to think that the current American lead — even in blue water — cannot be eroded.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Red Alert for Georgia
on: April 09, 2009, 09:49:26 AM
April 8, 2009 | 1943 GMT
Georgian opposition politicians making a statement in Tbilisi on March 27Summary
Georgian opposition movements have planned mass protests for April 9, mostly in Tbilisi but also around the country. These protests could spell trouble for President Mikhail Saakashvili. The Western-leaning president has faced protests before, but this time the opposition is more consolidated than in the past. Furthermore, some members of the government are expected to join in the protests, and Russia has stepped up its efforts to oust Saakashvili.
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 8, 2009
Opposition parties inside Georgia are planning mass protests for April 9, mainly in the capital city of Tbilisi but also across the country. The protests are against President Mikhail Saakashvili and are expected to demand his resignation. This is not the first set of rallies against Saakashvili, who has had a rocky presidency since taking power in the pro-Western “Rose Revolution” of 2003. Anti-government protests have been held constantly over the past six years. But the upcoming rally is different: This is the first time all 17 opposition parties have consolidated enough to organize a mass movement in the country. Furthermore, many members of the government are joining the cause, and foreign powers — namely Russia — are known to be encouraging plans to oust Saakashvili.
The planned protests in Georgia have been scheduled to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Soviet crackdown on independence demonstrators in Tbilisi. The opposition movement claims that more than 100,000 people will take to the streets — an ambitious number, as the protests of the past six years have not drawn more than 15,000 people. But this time around, the Georgian people’s discontent is greatly intensified because of the blame placed on Saakashvili after the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008. Most Georgians believe Saakashvili pushed the country into a war, knowing the repercussions, and into a serious financial crisis in which unemployment has reached nearly 9 percent.
Georgia’s opposition has always been fractured and so has only managed to pull together sporadic rallies rather than a real movement. But the growing discontent in Georgia is allowing the opposition groups to finally overcome their differences and agree that Saakashvili should be removed. Even Saakashvili loyalists like former Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze and former Georgian Ambassador to the United Nations Irakli Alasania have joined the opposition’s cause, targeting Saakashvili personally. The problem now is that opposition members still do not agree on how to remove the president; some are calling for referendums on new elections, and some want to install a replacement government to make sure Saakashvili does not have a chance to return to power. But all 17 parties agreed to start with large-scale demonstrations in the streets and go from there.
If the movement does inspire such a large turnout, it would be equivalent to the number of protesters that hit the streets at the height of the Rose Revolution, which toppled the previous government and brought Saakashvili into power in the first place.
Saakashvili and the remainder of his supporters are prepared, however, with the military on standby outside of Tbilisi in order to counter a large movement. During a demonstration in 2007, Saakashvili deployed the military and successfully — though violently — crushed the protests. But that demonstration consisted of 15,000 protesters; it is unclear if Saakashvili and the military could withstand numbers seven times that.
(click image to enlarge)
There is also concern that protests are planned in the Georgian secessionist region of Adjara, which rose up against and rejected Saakashvili’s government in 2004 after the Rose Revolution. This region was suppressed by Saakashvili once and has held a grudge ever since, looking for the perfect time to rise up again. Tbilisi especially wants to keep Adjara under its control because it is home to the large port of Batumi, and many of Georgia’s transport routes to Turkey run through it. If Adjara rises up, there are rumors in the region that its neighboring secessionist region, Samtskhe-Javakheti, will join in to help destabilize Saakashvili and the government. Georgia already officially lost its two northern secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russian occupation during the August 2008 war and is highly concerned with its southern regions trying to break away.
These southern regions, like the northern ones, have strong support from Russia; thus, Moscow is square in the middle of tomorrow’s activities. Russia has long backed all of Georgia’s secessionist regions, but has had difficulty penetrating the Georgian opposition groups in order to organize them against Saakashvili. Though none of the 17 opposition groups are pro-Russian, STRATFOR sources in Georgia say Russian money has been flowing into the groups in order to nudge them along in organizing the impending protests.
Russia has a vested interest in breaking the Georgian government. Russia and the West have been locked in a struggle over the small Caucasus state. That struggle led to the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war, after which Moscow felt secure in its control over Georgia. Since Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama met April 1 and disagreed over a slew of issues, including U.S. ballistic missile defense installations in Poland and NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia, Russia is not as secure and is seeking to consolidate its power in Georgia. This means first breaking the still vehemently pro-Western Saakashvili. This does not mean Russia thinks it can get a pro-Russian leader in power in Georgia; it just wants one who is not so outspoken against Moscow and so determined to invite Western influence.
The April 9 protests are the point at which all sides will try to gain — and maintain — momentum. The 2003 Rose Revolution took months to build up to, but the upcoming protests are the starting point for both the opposition and Russia — and opposition movements in Georgia have not seen this much support and organization since the 2003 revolution. April 9 will reveal whether or not things are about to get shaken up, if not completely transformed, in Georgia.
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): April 8, 2009
April 8, 2009 | 2035 GMT
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Georgian political youth group at a rally in Tbilisi on April 8Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.
Related Special Topic Page
Red Alert: A Possible Revolution Simmering in Georgia
April 9 may see the first real movement against the Georgian government since it came to power in the 2003 pro-Western “Rose Revolution.” This is not an anti-Western movement to change the regime, but a movement to oust President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has been blamed for getting Georgia into the August 2008 war with Russia. The Georgian opposition — made up of 17 typically fractious parties — wants to have a government in place that can at least work with the Russians, since they currently occupy the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which make up 20 percent of the country).
The 17 opposition parties have organized for the first time and claim that they will have 100,000 people hit the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi — the largest number of demonstrators since the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili is prepared, however; there are reports that the Georgian military has already deployed outside Tbilisi in order to counter the demonstrations. But the Georgian military consists of only approximately 21,000 active soldiers, and most of them are deployed on the borders of the northern Russian-occupied secessionist regions.
There are also rumors of demonstrations spreading across the country, with one possible in the secessionist region of Adjara. Adjara was the scene of an anti-Rose Revolution uprising just after Saakashvili took power, though the new president forcefully brought the region under control. Russia’s influence in the situation is being seen, though Moscow typically has trouble working with the moderately anti-Russian opposition movements. Reports of Russian money flowing in to help organize Thursday’s demonstrations, and Russian support for Georgian secessionist movements, put Russia in the thick if things.
If this is a true revolution against the government, it will take time to build up. The April 9 protests will show whether or not the opposition can gain momentum. Going into this possibly country-breaking event, there are several questions STRATFOR is asking:
Can the opposition actually get 100,000 people on the streets of Tbilisi?
What are the movement’s plans if it does get such large numbers on the streets?
How will the much-smaller military clamp down on the capital to ensure more protesters don’t move into Tbilisi?
Where is the Georgian military deployment pulling from — particularly in the case of the troops on the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia — in order to protect the capital?
Will Saakashvili finally give in to the opposition?
Are the southern secessionist regions of Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti prepared to join in the uprising?
Are the northern secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia planning on taking advantage of the Georgian government and military’s preoccupation?
Is this a ploy for Russia to move back into the country?
Is the West prepared to intervene — either overtly or covertly — to support Saakashvili?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / America the patsy
on: April 09, 2009, 09:40:02 AM
America The Patsy?
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, April 08, 2009 4:20 PM PT
National Security: Russia tells the U.S. not to worry about a nuclear Iran and not to punish nuclear North Korea. Fidel Castro wants to help the president, Russia's "new comrade." Are we being set up?
Some of the most obvious threats to life and liberty in the historical record were, at the time they were happening, vehemently denied by those in positions of decision-making.
Isolationists and pacifists believed that Hitler's imperialism could be appeased by territorial gains. During the early Cold War, American Soviet spy Alger Hiss' integrity was vouched for by U.S. officials reaching a level as high as future Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.
Those, such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, suggesting that Hiss was only one of a massive group of Communist spies within the U.S. government were targeted (in McCarthy's case literally targeted for elimination by the CIA, as noted in Pulitzer-winning journalist Tim Weiner's book "Legacy of Ashes"), marginalized, even ruined.
M. Stanton Evans' 2007 book "Blacklisted by History" convincingly and meticulously exonerated McCarthy on most counts, but in other such episodes scholarly review has been unnecessary. Three decades of the ugly reality of Islamist revolution in Iran, for instance, have indelibly discredited the belief in 1979 by Andrew Young, the Carter administration's United Nations ambassador, that the Ayatollah Khomeini was "some kind of a saint."
Today, it takes willful blindness not to recognize Iran as the greatest threat to life and freedom in the world. Tehran is apparently now on the verge of announcing that it has mastered the final, most technically challenging stage of nuclear fuel production: the industrial-scale enrichment of uranium, which allows nuclear fuel to be generated in large quantities.
The Islamofascist regime in Iran has denied inspectors from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency access to its Arak heavy water reactor, which could be geared to produce plutonium from spent uranium fuel rods.
Yet we heard soothing words this week from Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak.
"I don't see any threat to the United States coming from Iran anytime soon," he told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — ironically, the organization Hiss was president of when Whittaker Chambers testified in 1948 that he and Hiss committed espionage together.
In a similar vein, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "any threat of sanction" against North Korea in response to its Sunday launch of a multistage rocket over Japan, a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, "would be counterproductive."
More talk for a regime possessing as many as eight nuclear warheads after it sends up a missile reaching twice as far as anything it has launched previously?
Clearly, Russia wants to lull us into complacency regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among hostile regimes. Do Moscow and other adversaries of the free world sense an uncommon opportunity in the year 2009?
With an unprecedented financial crisis battering the West's economic system, and a man of the left in the White House, is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's description of Barack Obama as "my new comrade" more than a clever sound bite?
Ailing Cuban dictator Castro, having granted an audience to members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday, seemed to share Medvedev's sentiment, asking, "How can we help President Obama?"
When longtime foes of the world's lone superpower behave in such fashion, it isn't because they've been converted to the cause of world peace; it is because they see a chance to change the dangerous global power game in their favor — and at our expense.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, always unguarded in expressing himself, claimed this week on a visit to Beijing that "the power of the U.S. empire has collapsed."
"Every day, the new poles of world power are becoming stronger: Beijing, Tokyo, Tehran," he said. "It's moving toward the East and toward the South."
Toward danger and away from security would be a more accurate description.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO goes for amnesty
on: April 09, 2009, 09:38:31 AM
While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.
Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.
Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.
He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.
“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.
But with the economy seriously ailing, advocates on different sides of the debate said that immigration could become a polarizing issue for Mr. Obama in a year when he has many other major battles to fight.
Opponents, mainly Republicans, say they will seek to mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs.
Democratic legislative aides said that opening a full-fledged debate this year on immigration, particularly with health care as a looming priority, could weigh down the president’s domestic agenda.
Debate is still under way among administration officials about the precise timing and strategy. For example, it is unclear who will take up the Obama initiative in Congress.
No serious legislative talks on the issue are expected until after some of Mr. Obama’s other priorities have been debated, Congressional aides said.
Just last month, Mr. Obama openly recognized that immigration is a potential minefield.
"I know this is an emotional issue; I know it’s a controversial issue,” he told an audience at a town meeting on March 18 in Costa Mesa, Calif. “I know that the people get real riled up politically about this."
But, he said, immigrants who are long-time residents but lack legal status “have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows.”
The White House is calculating that public support for fixing the immigration system, which is widely acknowledged to be broken, will outweigh opposition from voters who argue that immigrants take jobs from Americans. A groundswell among voters opposed to legal status for illegal immigrants led to the defeat in 2007 of a bipartisan immigration bill that was strongly supported by President George W. Bush.
Administration officials said that Mr. Obama’s plan would not add new workers to the American work force, but that it would recognize millions of illegal immigrants who have already been working here. Despite the deep recession, there is no evidence of any wholesale exodus of illegal immigrant workers, independent studies of census data show.
Opponents of legalization legislation were incredulous at the idea that Mr. Obama would take on immigration when economic pain for Americans is so widespread.
“It just doesn’t seem rational that any political leader would say, let’s give millions of foreign workers permanent access to U.S. jobs when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration. Mr. Beck predicted that Mr. Obama would face “an explosion” if he proceeded this year.
“It’s going to be, ‘You’re letting them keep that job, when I could have that job,’ ” he said.
In broad outlines, officials said, the Obama administration favors legislation that would bring illegal immigrants into the legal system by recognizing that they violated the law, and imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense. The legislation would seek to prevent future illegal immigration by strengthening border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, while creating a national system for verifying the legal immigration status of new workers.
But administration officials emphasized that many details remained to be debated.
Opponents of a legalization effort said that if the Obama administration maintained the enforcement pressure initiated by Mr. Bush, the recession would force many illegal immigrants to return home. Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it would be “politically disastrous” for Mr. Obama to begin an immigration initiative at this time.
Anticipating opposition, Mr. Obama has sought to shift some of the political burden to advocates for immigrants, by encouraging them to build support among voters for when his proposal goes to Congress.
That is why Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Mr. Obama’s hometown, Chicago, has been on the road most weekends since last December, traveling far outside his district to meetings in Hispanic churches, hoping to generate something like a civil rights movement in favor of broad immigration legislation.
Mr. Gutierrez was in Philadelphia on Saturday at the Iglesia Internacional, a big Hispanic evangelical church in a former warehouse, the 17th meeting in a tour that has included cities as far flung as Providence, R.I.; Atlanta; Miami; and San Francisco. Greeted with cheers and amens by a full house of about 350 people, Mr. Gutierrez, shifting fluidly between Spanish and English, called for immigration policies to preserve family unity, the strategic theme of his campaign.
At each meeting, speakers from the community, mainly citizens, tell stories of loved ones who were deported or of delays and setbacks in the immigration system. Illegal immigrants have not been invited to speak.
Mr. Gutierrez’s meetings have all been held in churches, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, with clergy members from various denominations, including in several places Muslim imams. At one meeting in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, officiated.
One speaker on Saturday, Jill Flores, said that her husband, Felix, an immigrant from Mexico who crossed the border illegally, had applied for legal status five years ago but had not been able to gain it even though she is an American citizen, as are their two children. Now, Ms. Flores said, she fears that her husband will have to leave for Mexico and will not be permitted to return for many years.
In an interview, Mr. Gutierrez rejected the idea that the timing is bad for an immigration debate. “There is never a wrong time for us,” he said. “Families are being divided and destroyed, and they need help now.”
Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / IBD: Fire and Ice
on: April 09, 2009, 09:32:26 AM
Fire And Ice
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, April 08, 2009 4:20 PM PT
Climate Change: An ice shelf in Antarctica begins to break apart, and the global warming hysterics immediately blame human activities for the crackup. Is it possible that there is some other cause?
Read More: Global Warming
The Wilkins Ice Shelf, a 25-mile bridge that once covered about 6,000 square miles, has split off from the Antarctic coast. Floating untethered, the Connecticut-size ledge — a mere 0.39% of all Antarctic ice — could eventually melt as it drifts northward toward warmer waters.
Naturally, activists both in and out of the scientific community, the media and political figures on the left blame human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide for warming the Earth, particularly the Antarctic peninsula, where temperatures have increased 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years.
Before we panic, there are a few things we should remember that will help us to put this less-than-catastrophic event in perspective.
First, the melting of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, or any other ice shelf, will not raise ocean levels. Antarctica has lost seven shelves in the last two decades and there have been no disastrous effects. Ice displaces more volume than water because water expands when it freezes. There is no net gain in water when an ice shelf or iceberg melts, or, in other words, contracts.
Second, much of Antarctica, particularly near the South Pole, has been through a recent cooling trend.
According to NASA: "Although Antarctica warmed around the perimeter from 1982 to 2004, where huge icebergs calved and some ice shelves disintegrated, it cooled closer to the pole."
Satellite images show that between 1981 and 2007, there was more warming than cooling in Antarctica. But the warming appears to have been modest.
Third, there's an active volcano beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. A little more than a year ago, the British Antarctic Survey noted, "Heat from the volcano creates melt-water that lubricates the base of the ice sheet and increases the flow toward the sea."
That volcano is on the southernmost edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a chain of volcanoes that continue through the Antarctic Peninsula, which the Wilkins Shelf had been attached to, down the continent's west side. Maybe the news is the fact that more Antarctic ice hasn't melted, not that a relatively small shelf has torn away from the coast.
The mainstream media has its global warming narrative, though, and it's not going to abandon its commitment to one-sided journalism. Exploring the possibility that climate variations are beyond man's CO2 emissions is not a service they're willing to perform.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IBD: Israeli BMD
on: April 09, 2009, 09:27:58 AM
Israel Steps It Up
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, April 08, 2009 4:20 PM PT
Defense: On the same day a plot to supply Iran with nuclear materials is revealed, Israel conducts a missile defense test. Nothing concentrates the mind quite so wonderfully as the threat of imminent extinction.
Read More: Military & Defense
On Tuesday, word came that the Manhattan district attorney's office had smashed a plot to smuggle nuclear weapons materials to Iran through unwitting New York banks. A 118-count indictment accuses Chinese financier Lei Feng Wei of setting up fake companies to hide that he was selling millions of dollars in potential nuclear materials to Tehran.
As the New York Daily News reports, among the materials involved were 33,000 pounds of a specialized aluminum alloy used almost exclusively in long-range missile production, 66,000 pounds of tungsten copper plate used in missile guidance systems, and 53,900 pounds of maraging steel rods, a super-hard metal used in uranium enrichment and to make the casings for nuclear bombs.
We have commented on Iran's cooperation with North Korea on missile technology. The pledge by Iran's mad Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map remains in full force.
Unlike the U.S., Israel is moving full speed ahead on missile defense, and even if Iran's missile threat went away tomorrow, Israel's determination to defend itself would not.
The Israelis aren't waiting for missile defense to be proven "cost-effective." They know the cost of defending themselves against nuclear missile attack pales in comparison to the cost of losing a nation.
As Lei's indictment was announced, the Israeli air force conducted its 17th test, a successful one, of its newly upgraded Arrow 2 missile defense system. It hit a Blue Sparrow missile, modified to mimic an incoming Iranian Shahab-3 missile, fired from an F-15.
The test was conducted jointly by the IAF and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. It was the first Arrow test in conjunction with a high-powered American X-band radar deployed in Israel's Negev desert. X-band was a parting gift to Israel from President Bush.
The Jerusalem Post reports that an Arrow interceptor was launched from the Palmahim air base after the target missile was detected. The target missile carried a multiple warhead with radar-evading capabilities that Iran does not possess.
Iran is working hard to improve its missile capabilities. In November, it successfully test-fired the Sajjil, a solid-fueled high-speed missile with a range of 1,250 miles. It recently showed its global reach with the launching of its Omid satellite.
In January 2007, Germany's Bild magazine reported that Iran had bought 18 BM-25 land-mobile missiles from North Korea. The BM-25 is a variation of the Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile, with a range of 1,800 miles.
According to Uzi Rubin, former head of the Arrow anti-missile program, the BM-25 "is a nuclear missile. . . . There is no other warhead for this other than a nuclear warhead."
The Arrow project is being jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and Chicago-based Boeing, which recently saw its airborne laser missile-defense system put on hold. Several operational Arrow missile batteries have already been deployed.
"This was the most advanced version of the Arrow weapons system in terms of the ability to perform the type of intercept that would be necessary to destroy a ballistic missile target," said Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.
Israel has now "deployed a layered defense," he added. This is something the U.S. needs but which recent budget cuts prevent.
Israel is also developing a defense against short-range Katyusha and Qassam rockets called Iron Dome, which uses an early-warning system known as Red Dawn.
While the U.S. dawdles on its own missile defense, Israel isn't waiting until its enemies' missiles are proven and cost-effective.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Electricity grid penetrated
on: April 09, 2009, 09:22:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.
The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.
"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," said a senior intelligence official. "So have the Russians."
The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn't target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official said, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."
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Environment: Will a Smart Grid Repel Attacks?Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet.
Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said. He added, "If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on."
Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.
"Over the past several years, we have seen cyberattacks against critical infrastructures abroad, and many of our own infrastructures are as vulnerable as their foreign counterparts," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told lawmakers. "A number of nations, including Russia and China, can disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure."
Officials cautioned that the motivation of the cyberspies wasn't well understood, and they don't see an immediate danger. China, for example, has little incentive to disrupt the U.S. economy because it relies on American consumers and holds U.S. government debt.
But protecting the electrical grid and other infrastructure is a key part of the Obama administration's cybersecurity review, which is to be completed next week. Under the Bush administration, Congress approved $17 billion in secret funds to protect government networks, according to people familiar with the budget. The Obama administration is weighing whether to expand the program to address vulnerabilities in private computer networks, which would cost billions of dollars more. A senior Pentagon official said Tuesday the Pentagon has spent $100 million in the past six months repairing cyber damage.
U.S. Intelligence Detects Cyber Spies
WSJ's Intelligence Reporter Siobhan Gorman says that Intelligence officials have found cyber spies lurking in the U.S. electrical infrastructure.
Overseas examples show the potential havoc. In 2000, a disgruntled employee rigged a computerized control system at a water-treatment plant in Australia, releasing more than 200,000 gallons of sewage into parks, rivers and the grounds of a Hyatt hotel.
Last year, a senior Central Intelligence Agency official, Tom Donahue, told a meeting of utility company representatives in New Orleans that a cyberattack had taken out power equipment in multiple regions outside the U.S. The outage was followed with extortion demands, he said.
The U.S. electrical grid comprises three separate electric networks, covering the East, the West and Texas. Each includes many thousands of miles of transmission lines, power plants and substations. The flow of power is controlled by local utilities or regional transmission organizations. The growing reliance of utilities on Internet-based communication has increased the vulnerability of control systems to spies and hackers, according to government reports.
The sophistication of the U.S. intrusions -- which extend beyond electric to other key infrastructure systems -- suggests that China and Russia are mainly responsible, according to intelligence officials and cybersecurity specialists. While terrorist groups could develop the ability to penetrate U.S. infrastructure, they don't appear to have yet mounted attacks, these officials say.
It is nearly impossible to know whether or not an attack is government-sponsored because of the difficulty in tracking true identities in cyberspace. U.S. officials said investigators have followed electronic trails of stolen data to China and Russia.
Russian and Chinese officials have denied any wrongdoing. "These are pure speculations," said Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman at the Russian Embassy. "Russia has nothing to do with the cyberattacks on the U.S. infrastructure, or on any infrastructure in any other country in the world."
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Wang Baodong, said the Chinese government "resolutely oppose
any crime, including hacking, that destroys the Internet or computer network" and has laws barring the practice. China was ready to cooperate with other countries to counter such attacks, he said, and added that "some people overseas with Cold War mentality are indulged in fabricating the sheer lies of the so-called cyberspies in China."
Utilities are reluctant to speak about the dangers. "Much of what we've done, we can't talk about," said Ray Dotter, a spokesman at PJM Interconnection LLC, which coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia. He said the organization has beefed up its security, in conformance with federal standards.
In January 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved new protection measures that required improvements in the security of computer servers and better plans for handling attacks.
Last week, Senate Democrats introduced a proposal that would require all critical infrastructure companies to meet new cybersecurity standards and grant the president emergency powers over control of the grid systems and other infrastructure.
Specialists at the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit research institute, said attack programs search for openings in a network, much as a thief tests locks on doors. Once inside, these programs and their human controllers can acquire the same access and powers as a systems administrator.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation on Tuesday warned its members that not all of them appear to be adhering to cybersecuirty requirements. Read the letter.
The White House review of cybersecurity programs is studying ways to shield the electrical grid from such attacks, said James Lewis, who directed a study for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has met with White House reviewers.
The reliability of the grid is ultimately the responsibility of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., an independent standards-setting organization overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The NERC set standards last year requiring companies to designate "critical cyber assets." Companies, for example, must check the backgrounds of employees and install firewalls to separate administrative networks from those that control electricity flow. The group will begin auditing compliance in July.
—Rebecca Smith contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Gorman at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Naivete invites aggression
on: April 09, 2009, 09:18:36 AM
By DAVID LEWIS SCHAEFER
In response to North Korea's rocket launch, President Barack Obama has committed the U.S. to reducing our supply of nuclear weapons, urged the passage of a ban on nuclear weapons testing, and through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, proposed scaling back our missile-defense program. In short, Mr. Obama apparently believes that the chief lesson to be learned from Pyongyang's missile launch is the need for more arms-control initiatives.
As a means of reducing the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear war, this makes no sense. Once a country passes a minimal threshold, there is no reason to suppose that increasing its nuclear arsenal heightens the likelihood of its use. The only means of deterring rogue states from using (or more likely, threatening to use) nuclear weapons once they have acquired them are first, the capacity to threaten a much more massive response, and second, an effective program of missile defense.
Reducing our nuclear arsenal only gives outlaw states (including China) the incentive to increase theirs, to try to rival ours. And eliminating nuclear-weapons testing reduces the reliability of our arms and hence their effectiveness as a deterrent.
Mr. Obama's flight to arms control demonstrates the persistence of a dangerous illusion of the 20th century -- the notion that reducing a democratic nation's armaments is a means of mitigating the threat of war. Here's some of the history:
- Beginning in 1906, Britain cut back an ambitious program of naval construction, begun under a previous administration, in the hope of thereby avoiding an "arms race" with Germany. But the change in British policy actually encouraged Germany's Adm. Alfred von Tirpitz to redouble his efforts to build a navy that would rival Britain's. This perception of British weakness may well have buttressed the confidence that led the Germans to launch World War I.
- The Washington Naval Conference of 1922 set limits on battleship construction by the U.S., Japan, Britain, France and Italy. But as a result, Japan instead focused on building other kinds of warships, paving the way for Pearl Harbor.
- Britain's policy of restraint in military production during the 1930s -- combined with the refusal of British and French governments to send forces to turn back Hitler's then weak army when it violated the Versailles Treaty by remilitarizing the Rhineland in 1936 -- did not placate Hitler. It only whetted the dictator's appetite, generating what Winston Churchill called the "unnecessary war," World War II, which might never have occurred had the Western allies maintained their armaments and a firm policy during the years that led up to it.
- The U.S. signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks antiballistic missile treaties with the Soviet Union in 1972, expecting they would produce a "stable" balance and ultimately a reduction in nuclear armaments. Instead the Soviets continued their race for nuclear superiority, as summed up in congressional testimony by Jimmy Carter's Defense Secretary Harold Brown in 1979: "[W]hen we build, they build. When we cut, they build." As President Ronald Reagan observed in a 1985 radio address on the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program the Soviets never accepted the "innocent" American notion "that being mutually vulnerable to attack was in our common interest."
- As soon as the Soviets signed the 1972 convention banning the manufacture of biological weapons, they immediately (secretly) ramped up their production of such weapons.
- The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire were brought about not by arms reductions, but by Reagan's unwillingness to give up work on SDI. Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev recognized the Soviets simply lacked the means to compete.
The likelihood that reducing America's strategic forces is going to elicit reciprocal behavior from our antagonists is nil. Nor will anything short of forceful sanctions (such as the George W. Bush administration applied, but then withdrew, against North Korean financial assets), have any effect in halting their march towards nuclear status.
In the words of the Joan Baez antiwar song from the 1960s: When will they ever learn?
Mr. Schaefer is professor of political science at College of the Holy Cross.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: DA Morgenthau exposes Iranian efforts
on: April 09, 2009, 09:14:33 AM
There's good news, and some really bad news, about Iran's efforts to evade U.S. sanctions and infiltrate the U.S. financial system.
The good news is that Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's indictment this week of the Chinese firm LIMMT and its principal Li Fang Wei exposed some of Iran's illicit transactions. The bad news is that Tehran wasn't seeking U.S. currency simply as a safe haven in a turbulent market. The mullahs wanted dollars to buy critical ingredients in the production of long-range missiles and atomic warheads. And Mr. Morgenthau says they got them.
The veteran prosecutor tells us that the illegal arms trade at the heart of his 118-count indictment has provided Iran with the capability to field a new generation of missiles by the end of this year, accurate at a range of 1,300 miles. He reports that his investigation also shows that Iran has acquired technology for atomic weapons that could be ready soon after that.
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Tehran's Strip Club — 01/12/09
We told you in January about Tehran's use of British banks to conduct "stripping" transactions. Barred from the United States, Iranian banks paid U.K. firms like Lloyds TSB Group to transfer money to correspondent banks in New York while concealing that Iran was the true source of the funds. Lloyds employees had stopped the practice in 2004, though it was not discovered by U.S. law enforcers until 2007. In January, Lloyds agreed to a $350 million fine and promised to cooperate with Mr. Morgenthau's office and the U.S. Justice Department in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement. The bank could otherwise be charged for violating the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act, under which the U.S. has sanctioned Iran.
The big remaining question has been what Tehran was doing with the money it was converting into dollars in U.S. banks. As Mr. Morgenthau continued his investigation, gaining cooperation from banks in the U.S. and around the world, the discovery of the alleged LIMMT transactions showed another pathway into the U.S. banking system apart from the stripping transactions.
And Mr. Morgenthau says his investigation confirmed suspicions that Iran was shopping for missile parts -- such as high-strength aluminum alloys and tungsten copper plates. Many of the items were manufactured in China, none in the U.S. The indictment says LIMMT, which has been under U.S. Treasury sanctions since 2006 for its role in the spread of WMD, set up a series of front companies to sell weapons to subsidiaries of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, with payments routed through U.S. banks.
Given the aggressive U.S. sanctions and the fact that no Americans appear to have been involved in the purchases, one might wonder why the rogues alleged to be on each end of this transaction were determined to do business via U.S. financial institutions. The answer is that while some transactions were conducted in euros, the dollar is still the currency of choice for global arms dealers.
LIMMT might have asked banks in London or Hong Kong to clear a transaction in dollars, but such requests are rare and would have attracted attention. That left New York, where American banks helped spot the allegedly illegal arms trade. In fact, some transactions between LIMMT and the Iranian military were also blocked by overseas banks with no obligation to do so. Seeing that LIMMT was listed on an alert from Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, these unnamed good Samaritans blocked some payments that originated in Iran.
Of course, the cooperation from banks around the world is merely the silver lining in this case. Thanks to Mr. Morgenthau's aggressive prosecution, we see again the lengths Tehran is going to acquire weapons to threaten the world.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Will Islam return BO's respect?
on: April 09, 2009, 09:10:35 AM
Today is Holy Thursday for Christians and the start of Passover for Jews. This week was an opportune time for President Barack Obama to visit Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, which has been both a Byzantine church and Islamic mosque. In Turkey he spoke of seeking engagement with Islam based on "mutual respect."
The subject of this column is the status of minority faith groups, mostly Christian, living inside Islamic countries. That status is poor. In some cases it verges on extinction, after centuries of coexistence with Islam. So it is useful to review what Mr. Obama said of his goals for living with Islam:
"I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. . . .
"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith. . . . Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them."
Islam must show respect for Christian minorities, says Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger. (April 9)
This is an eloquent description of ecumenical civility. In reality, the experience of Arab Christians living now amid majority Islamic populations is often repression, arrest, imprisonment and death.
Coptic Christians in Egypt have been singled out for discrimination and persecution. Muslim rioters often burn or vandalize their churches and shops.
In Turkey, the Syriac Orthodox Church (its 3,000 members speak Aramaic, the language of Christ) is battling with Turkish authorities over the lands around the Mor Gabriel monastery, built in 397.
Pakistan's recent peace deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley puts at risk the 500 Christians still trying to live there. Many fled after Islamic extremists bombed a girls' school late last year. Pakistan has never let them buy land to build a church.
Listen to Daniel Henninger's Wonder Land column, now available in audio format.
In 1995, the Saudis were allowed to build a mosque in Rome near the Vatican, but never reciprocated with a Christian church in their country. Saudi Arabia even forbids private worship at home for some one million Christian migrant workers.
In Iraq, the situation for small religious minorities has become dire. Reports emerge regularly of mortal danger there for groups that date to antiquity -- Chaldean-Assyrians, the Yazidis and Sabean Mandaeans, who revere John the Baptist. Last fall the Chaldean-Assyrian archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped and murdered. Some Iraqi Christians believe the new government won't protect them, and talk of moving into a "homeland" enclave in Nineveh. Penn State Prof. Philip Jenkins, author of "The Lost History of Christianity," calls the Iraq situation "a classic example of a church that is killed over time."
In short, the "respect" Mr. Obama promised to give Islam is going only in one direction. And he knows that.
Candidate Obama last fall sent a letter to Condoleezza Rice expressing "my concern about the safety and well-being of Iraq's Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities." He asked what steps the U.S. was taking to protect "these communities of religious freedom." Candidate Obama said he wanted these groups represented in Iraq's governing institutions. Does President Obama believe these things?
A Bush official who worked on this problem in Iraq told me there is a school of thought that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki understands that these ancient groups are Iraq's "connective tissue," and that weaving them formally into the system could be a basis for binding together his fractured nation. If these harmless peoples can't coexist, who can?
Mr. Obama's designated ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, has been criticized for subordinating human-rights issues with North Korea. That would be a mistake in the Middle East. The willingness of Islamic governments to formally protect these small Christian groups should be a litmus test of their bona fides on larger political issues.
If Islam won't let its leaders give basic rights to a handful of ancient Christians, there is no hope for what Mr. Obama proposed this week in Turkey. What his special envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, wishes to achieve with Israel and its neighbors will also fail, again.
An established network of smart people exists to help Mr. Obama here, starting with the Vatican of Pope Benedict XVI and its diplomatic outreach efforts to senior Islamic clerics. The widely connected Anglican Vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, also happens to be director of the little-known Religious Sectarian project for the U.S. Department of Defense. There are many others.
Mr. Obama should make formalized tolerance of Christian sects in the Middle East the basis for arriving at what he called "common ground" with Islam. As will be noted in churches in the rest of the world this weekend, that "common ground" was first walked in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The next hostage crisis
on: April 09, 2009, 09:07:08 AM
President Obama may have dodged a hostage crisis on the high seas yesterday, thanks to the bravery, quick thinking and good fortune of the 20-man American crew of the Maersk Alabama. But unless his Administration moves quickly to show that pirates, rogue states -- and even a few rogue judges -- will pay a fearsome price for taking U.S. citizens hostage, a similar drama can't be far off.
APAs we went to press, the crew of the Maersk Alabama had regained control of their U.S.-flagged, 17,000-ton unarmed merchant ship, though its seems Captain Richard Phillips was still being held by Somali pirates. The ship had been bound for Mombasa, Kenya, carrying a cargo of emergency food when it came within 300 miles of Somalia's coastline. It is one of at least 50 ships to have been attacked by Somali-based pirates in the past three months. But it is the first U.S.-flagged vessel to have been hijacked in years, and perhaps decades.
Why has Somalia become the 21st-century version of the 17th-century West Indies? The usual answer is that it's a failed state, unhappily situated near a major shipping lane where all kinds of criminality can thrive.
In fact, piracy is making a comeback because the world has largely allowed it. The owners of captured vessels have been willing to pay multimillion dollar ransoms to recover the ships, 16 of which and 200 crew members are currently in pirate hands. Restrictive or ambiguous rules of engagement -- a bequest of the Law of the Sea Treaty -- create further difficulties for navies trying to prevent piracy. Western states have also been wary of trying captured pirates in their own courts, choosing instead to remand them to Kenya's jurisdiction.
As for the U.S., too often the operative language in dealing with pirates has been "no controlling legal authority," in part because, until now, all of the hijacked ships have operated under foreign flags. The case of the Maersk Alabama was (or would have been) clearly different. Still, the price the civilized world has paid for dispensing with the old Ciceronian wisdom that pirates were hostis humani generis -- enemies of the human race -- can probably now be counted in billions of dollars.
We don't advocate reverting to Roman methods (e.g., crucifixion) for dealing with pirates, though the Administration could apply the Stephen Decatur standard by bombing the Somali pirate city of Eyl. U.S. law is clear that pirates who attack U.S. flag ships deserve at least 10 years in prison. But treating captured pirates as enemy combatants unworthy of Geneva Convention protections would help in cases where pirates attack foreign-flagged ships and international law is now more ambiguous.
A similar attitude might guide the Obama Administration in its dealings with other states that have, or seek, to take Americans captives. North Korea seized two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, last month on the Chinese border and says it intends to put them on trial for "espionage." Iran also uses hostage-taking as an instrument of state policy, including the British sailors seized in Iraqi waters in 2007, American academic Haleh Esfandiari the same year and, most recently, American journalist Roxana Saberi, whom the Iranians also accuse of espionage and who is now being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Then again, why look so far afield? As we wrote yesterday, a Spanish judge may soon order arrest warrants for six Bush Administration officials on dubious charges under the preposterous theory of "universal jurisdiction." So far, however, the Obama Administration hasn't spoken a word in their defense. If the U.S. government won't protect American citizens from the legal anarchy of postmodern Europe, how can we expect it to protect American sailors from the premodern anarchy of Somalia, much less the tyrannies of Tehran and Pyongyang?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / VA Bill of Rights
on: April 09, 2009, 08:55:41 AM
"[R]eligion, or the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and this is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other."
--Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16, June 12, 1776
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Quality care metrics
on: April 08, 2009, 05:05:51 PM
The coming clusterfcuk gathers momentum:
By JEROME GROOPMAN and PAMELA HARTZBAND
The Obama administration is working with Congress to mandate that all Medicare payments be tied to "quality metrics." But an analysis of this drive for better health care reveals a fundamental flaw in how quality is defined and metrics applied. In too many cases, the quality measures have been hastily adopted, only to be proven wrong and even potentially dangerous to patients.
Martin KozlowskiHealth-policy planners define quality as clinical practice that conforms to consensus guidelines written by experts. The guidelines present specific metrics for physicians to meet, thus "quality metrics." Since 2003, the federal government has piloted Medicare projects at more than 260 hospitals to reward physicians and institutions that meet quality metrics. The program is called "pay-for-performance." Many private insurers are following suit with similar incentive programs.
In Massachusetts, there are not only carrots but also sticks; physicians who fail to comply with quality guidelines from certain state-based insurers are publicly discredited and their patients required to pay up to three times as much out of pocket to see them. Unfortunately, many states are considering the Massachusetts model for their local insurance.
How did we get here? Initially, the quality improvement initiatives focused on patient safety and public-health measures. The hospital was seen as a large factory where systems needed to be standardized to prevent avoidable errors. A shocking degree of sloppiness existed with respect to hand washing, for example, and this largely has been remedied with implementation of standardized protocols. Similarly, the risk of infection when inserting an intravenous catheter has fallen sharply since doctors and nurses now abide by guidelines. Buoyed by these successes, governmental and private insurance regulators now have overreached. They've turned clinical guidelines for complex diseases into iron-clad rules, to deleterious effect.
One key quality measure in the ICU became the level of blood sugar in critically ill patients. Expert panels reviewed data on whether ICU patients should have insulin therapy adjusted to tightly control their blood sugar, keeping it within the normal range, or whether a more flexible approach, allowing some elevation of sugar, was permissible. Expert consensus endorsed tight control, and this approach was embedded in guidelines from the American Diabetes Association. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which generates report cards on hospitals, and governmental and private insurers that pay for care, adopted as a suggested quality metric this tight control of blood sugar.
A colleague who works in an ICU in a medical center in our state told us how his care of the critically ill is closely monitored. If his patients have blood sugars that rise above the metric, he must attend what he calls "re-education sessions" where he is pointedly lectured on the need to adhere to the rule. If he does not strictly comply, his hospital will be downgraded on its quality rating and risks financial loss. His status on the faculty is also at risk should he be seen as delivering low-quality care.
But this coercive approach was turned on its head last month when the New England Journal of Medicine published a randomized study, by the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society Clinical Trials Group and the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group, of more than 6,000 critically ill patients in the ICU. Half of the patients received insulin to tightly maintain their sugar in the normal range, and the other half were on a more flexible protocol, allowing higher sugar levels. More patients died in the tightly regulated group than those cared for with the flexible protocol.
Similarly, maintaining normal blood sugar in ambulatory diabetics with vascular problems has been a key quality metric in assessing physician performance. Yet largely due to two extensive studies published in the June 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, this is now in serious doubt. Indeed, in one study of more than 10,000 ambulatory diabetics with cardiovascular diseases conducted by a group of Canadian and American researchers (the "ACCORD" study) so many diabetics died in the group where sugar was tightly regulated that the researchers discontinued the trial 17 months before its scheduled end.
And just last month, another clinical trial contradicted the expert consensus guidelines that patients with kidney failure on dialysis should be given statin drugs to prevent heart attack and stroke.
These and other recent examples show why rigid and punitive rules to broadly standardize care for all patients often break down. Human beings are not uniform in their biology. A disease with many effects on multiple organs, like diabetes, acts differently in different people. Medicine is an imperfect science, and its study is also imperfect. Information evolves and changes. Rather than rigidity, flexibility is appropriate in applying evidence from clinical trials. To that end, a good doctor exercises sound clinical judgment by consulting expert guidelines and assessing ongoing research, but then decides what is quality care for the individual patient. And what is best sometimes deviates from the norms.
Yet too often quality metrics coerce doctors into rigid and ill-advised procedures. Orwell could have written about how the word "quality" became zealously defined by regulators, and then redefined with each change in consensus guidelines. And Kafka could detail the recent experience of a pediatrician featured in Vital Signs, the member publication of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Out of the blue, according to the article, Dr. Ann T. Nutt received a letter in February from the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission on Clinical Performance Improvement informing her that she was no longer ranked as Tier 1 but had fallen to Tier 3. (Massachusetts and some private insurers use a three-tier ranking system to incentivize high-quality care.) She contacted the regulators and insisted that she be given details to explain her fall in rating.
After much effort, she discovered that in 127 opportunities to comply with quality metrics, she had met the standards 115 times. But the regulators refused to provide the names of patients who allegedly had received low quality care, so she had no way to assess their judgment for herself. The pediatrician fought back and ultimately learned which guidelines she had failed to follow. Despite her cogent rebuttal, the regulator denied the appeal and the doctor is still ranked as Tier 3. She continues to battle the state.
Doubts about the relevance of quality metrics to clinical reality are even emerging from the federal pilot programs launched in 2003. An analysis of Medicare pay-for-performance for hip and knee replacement by orthopedic surgeons at 260 hospitals in 38 states published in the most recent March/April issue of Health Affairs showed that conforming to or deviating from expert quality metrics had no relationship to the actual complications or clinical outcomes of the patients. Similarly, a study led by UCLA researchers of over 5,000 patients at 91 hospitals published in 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the application of most federal quality process measures did not change mortality from heart failure.
State pay-for-performance programs also provide disturbing data on the unintended consequences of coercive regulation. Another report in the most recent Health Affairs evaluating some 35,000 physicians caring for 6.2 million patients in California revealed that doctors dropped noncompliant patients, or refused to treat people with complicated illnesses involving many organs, since their outcomes would make their statistics look bad. And research by the Brigham and Women's Hospital published last month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates that report cards may be pushing Massachusetts cardiologists to deny lifesaving procedures on very sick heart patients out of fear of receiving a low grade if the outcome is poor.
Dr. David Sackett, a pioneer of "evidence-based medicine," where results from clinical trials rather than anecdotes are used to guide physician practice, famously said, "Half of what you'll learn in medical school will be shown to be either dead wrong or out of date within five years of your graduation; the trouble is that nobody can tell you which half -- so the most important thing to learn is how to learn on your own." Science depends upon such a sentiment, and honors the doubter and iconoclast who overturns false paradigms.
Before a surgeon begins an operation, he must stop and call a "time-out" to verify that he has all the correct information and instruments to safely proceed. We need a national time-out in the rush to mandate what policy makers term quality care to prevent doing more harm than good.
Dr. Groopman, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and Dr. Hartzband are on the staff of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Donnelly and Schmitt
on: April 08, 2009, 05:01:25 PM
Third post of the day:
By THOMAS DONNELLY and GARY SCHMITT
On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a significant reordering of U.S. defense programs. His recommendations should not go unchallenged.
In the 1990s, defense cuts helped pay for increased domestic spending, and that is true today. Though Mr. Gates said that his decisions were "almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books," the broad list of program reductions and terminations suggest otherwise. In fact, he tacitly acknowledged as much by saying the budget plan represented "one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity" -- the "necessity" of course being the administration's decision to reorder the government's spending priorities.
However, warfare is not a human activity that directly awards virtue. Nor is it a perfectly calculable endeavor that permits a delicate "balancing" of risk. More often it rewards those who arrive on the battlefield "the fustest with the mostest," as Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest once put it. If Mr. Gates has his way, U.S. forces will find it increasingly hard to meet the Forrest standard. Consider a few of the details of the Gates proposals:
- The termination of the F-22 Raptor program at just 187 aircraft inevitably will call U.S. air supremacy -- the salient feature, since World War II, of the American way of war -- into question.
The need for these sophisticated, stealthy, radar-evading planes is already apparent. During Russia's invasion of Georgia, U.S. commanders wanted to fly unmanned surveillance aircraft over the region, and requested that F-22s sanitize the skies so that the slow-moving drones would be protected from Russian fighters or air defenses. When the F-22s were not made available, likely for fear of provoking Moscow, the reconnaissance flights were cancelled.
As the air-defense and air-combat capabilities of other nations, most notably China, increase, the demand for F-22s would likewise rise. And the Air Force will have to manage this small fleet of Raptors over 30 years. Compare that number with the 660 F-15s flying today, but which are literally falling apart at the seams from age and use. The F-22 is not merely a replacement for the F-15; it also performs the functions of electronic warfare and other support aircraft. Meanwhile, Mr. Gates is further postponing the already decades-long search for a replacement for the existing handful of B-2 bombers.
- The U.S. Navy will continue to shrink below the fleet size of 313 ships it set only a few years ago. Although Mr. Gates has rightly decided to end the massive and expensive DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer program, there will be additional reductions to the surface fleet. The number of aircraft carriers will drop eventually to 10. The next generation of cruisers will be delayed, and support-ship projects stretched out. Older Arleigh Burke destroyers will be upgraded and modernized, but at less-than-needed rates.
The good news is that Mr. Gates will not to reduce the purchases of the Littoral Combat Ship, which can be configured for missions from antipiracy to antisubmarine warfare. But neither will he buy more than the 55 planned for by the previous Bush administration. And the size and structure of the submarine fleet was studiously not mentioned. The Navy's plan to begin at last to procure two attack submarines per year -- absolutely vital considering the pace at which China is deploying new, quieter subs -- is uncertain, at best.
- Mr. Gates has promised to "restructure" the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, arguing that the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have called into question the need for new ground combat vehicles. The secretary noted that the Army's modernization plan does not take into account the $25 billion investment in the giant Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles. But it's hard to think of a more specialized and less versatile vehicle.
The MRAP was ideal for dealing with the proliferation of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq. But the FCS vehicle -- with a lightweight yet better-protected chassis, greater fuel efficiency and superior off-road capacity -- is far more flexible and useful for irregular warfare. Further, the ability to form battlefield "networks" will make FCS units more effective than the sum of their individual parts. Delaying modernization means that future generations of soldiers will conduct mounted operations in the M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles designed in the 1970s. Finally, Mr. Gates capped the size of the U.S. ground force, ignoring all evidence that it is too small to handle current and future major contingencies.
- The proposed cuts in space and missile defense programs reflect a retreat in emerging environments that are increasingly critical in modern warfare. The termination of the Airborne Laser and Transformational Satellite programs is especially discouraging.
The Airborne Laser is the most promising form of defense against ballistic missiles in the "boost phase," the moments immediately after launch when the missiles are most vulnerable. This project was also the military's first operational foray into directed energy, which will be as revolutionary in the future as "stealth" technology has been in recent decades. The Transformational Satellite program employs laser technology for communications purposes, providing not only enhanced bandwidth -- essential to fulfill the value of all kinds of information networks -- but increased security.
Mr. Gates justifies these cuts as a matter of "hard choices" and "budget discipline," saying that "[E]very defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk . . . is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in." But this calculus is true only because the Obama administration has chosen to cut defense, while increasing domestic entitlements and debt so dramatically.
The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop. But what is true for the wars we're in -- that numbers matter -- is also true for the wars that we aren't yet in, or that we simply wish to deter.
Mr. Donnelly is a resident fellow and Mr. Schmitt is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. They are co-editors of "Of Men and Materiel: the Crisis in Military Resources" (AEI, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Was this torture?
on: April 08, 2009, 04:55:12 PM
4th Infantry Division gives signed photo of Saddam to South Park creators
South Park creators given signed photo of Saddam Hussein
Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, were given a signed photo of Saddam Hussein by US marines after the former Iraqi leader was shown their movie in prison.
By Chris Irvine
Last Updated: 10:30PM BST 07 Apr 2009
During his captivity, US marines forced Saddam, who was executed in 2006, to repeatedly watch the move South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut, which shows him as gay, as well as the boyfriend of Satan. He was also regularly depicted in a similar manner during the TV series.
The admission comes with the show's 13th season already running in the US. It will celebrate its 12th anniversary later this year.
The show, which satirises a wide range of topics, including religion, sexuality and mental illness, has won a number of awards including three Emmys for Outstanding Animated Programme.
Recent episodes have seen Barack Obama using his Presidential victory as a way to steal jewels from Washington in an Oceans 11-style heist.
It also recently depicted the United States Treasury as deciding economic measures by cutting the head off a chicken and letting it run on a game show style board, landing on a decision.
Stone, 37, said both he and Parker, 39, were most proud of the signed Saddam photo, given to them by the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.
He said: "We're very proud of our signed Saddam picture and what it means. Its one of our biggest highlights.
"I have it on pretty good information from the marines on detail in Iraq that they showed Saddam the movie.
"Over and over again – which is a pretty funny thought.
"That's really adding insult to injury."http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/news...m-Hussein.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nevermind LOL
on: April 08, 2009, 12:29:25 PM
US crew reportedly takes over ship from pirates
2 mins ago
WASHINGTON – The crew of a U.S.-flag ship seized by pirates off Somalia is believed to have retaken the vessel, the Pentagon said Wednesday, even as a shaken national security establishment confronted troubling questions about the hostage-taking at high sea.
Capt. Joseph Murphy, an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told The Associated Press the Department of Defense that his son Shane, the second in command on the ship, had called him to say the crew had regained control.
"The crew is back in control of the ship," a U.S. official said at midday, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on the record. "It's reported that one pirate is on board under crew control — the other three were trying to flee," the official said. The status of the other pirates was unknown, the official said, but they were reported to "be in the water."
The crew apparently contacted the private shipping that it works for. That company, Maersk, scheduled a noon news conference in Norfolk, Va, defense officials said.
Somali pirates today hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 20 American crew members onboard, hundreds of miles from the nearest American military vessel in some of the most dangerous waters in the world.
The 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama was carrying emergency relief to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was hijacked, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Copenhagen-based container shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk. It was the sixth ship seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates who are operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.
The company confirmed that the U.S.-flagged vessel has 20 U.S. nationals onboard.
Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said that it was the first pirate attack "involving U.S. nationals and a U.S.-flagged vessel in recent memory." She did not give an exact timeframe.
When asked how the U.S. Navy plans to deal with the hijacking, Campbell said: "It's fair to say we are closely monitoring the situation, but we will not discuss nor speculate on current and future military operations."
It was not clear whether the pirates knew they were hijacking a ship with American crew.
"It's a very significant foreign policy challenge for the Obama administration," said Graeme Gibbon Brooks, managing director of the British company Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service Ltd. "Their citizens are in the hands of criminals and people are waiting to see what happens."
Brooks and other analysts interviewed by the AP declined to speculate on whether American military forces might attempt a rescue operation. A senior Navy official in Washington said the Obama administration was talking to the shipping company to learn "the who, what, why, where and when" of the hijacking.
The U.S. Navy confirmed that the ship was hijacked early Wednesday about 280 miles (450 kilometers) southeast of Eyl, a town in the northern Puntland region of Somalia.
U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen said the closest U.S. ship at the time of the hijacking was 345 miles (555 kilometers)away.
"The area, the ship was taken in, is not where the focus of our ships has been," Christensen told The Associated Press by phone from the 5th Fleet's Mideast headquarters in Bahrain. "The area we're patrolling is more than a million miles in size. Our ships cannot be everywhere at every time."
Somali pirates are trained fighters who frequently dress in military fatigues and use speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades. Far out to sea, their speedboats operate from larger mother ships.
Most hijackings end with million-dollar payouts. Piracy is considered the biggest moneymaker in Somalia, a country that has had no stable government for decades. Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, said pirates took up to $80 million in ransoms last year.
A NATO official said from Brussels that the alliance's five warships were patrolling the Gulf of Aden at the time of attack.
"That's where most of the shipping goes through and we can provide most of the protection in that vital trade route," said the official who asked not to be identified under standing rules.
The official said the taking of the crude-filled Saudi supertanker Sirius Star also happened in open water far off the Somali coastline. The Sirius Star was released in January,
NATO has five warships that patrol the region alongside three frigates from the European Union. The U.S. Navy normally keeps between five to 10 ships on station off the Somali coast. The navies of India, China, Japan, Russia and other nations also cooperate in the international patrols.
NATO sees piracy as a long-term problem and is planning to deploy a permanent flotilla to the region this summer.
On March 29, a NATO supply ship itself came under attack by Somali pirates who appear to have mistaken it for a merchant ship. The crew quickly overcame the attackers, boarded their boat and captured seven.
This is the second time that Somali pirates have seized a ship belonging to the privately held shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk. In February 2008, the towing vessel Svitzer Korsakov from the A.P. Moller-Maersk company Svitzer was briefly seized by pirates.
Before this latest hijacking, Somali pirates were holding 14 vessels and about 200 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on the defense budget
on: April 08, 2009, 12:00:07 PM
Second post of the morning.
Part 2: The 2010 U.S. Defense Budget and BMD
Stratfor Today » April 8, 2009 | 1213 GMT
When U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled his department’s proposed 2010 defense budget on April 6, one of the changes — not unexpected — was a realignment of funding for ballistic missile defense (BMD). Gates wants to focus on more mature BMD technologies that can deal with missile launches from “rogue” countries like Iran and North Korea.
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a four-part special report on the U.S. defense budget for 2010.
Among U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ proposed changes to the 2010 U.S. defense budget, announced on April 6, were a series of increases and cuts in ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs. Taken as a whole, these adjustments mark a significant shift in the nature of BMD deployment, including an overall cut of $1.4 billion from the Missile Defense Agency. These cuts are consistent with President Barack Obama’s platform of being committed to “proven, cost-effective” BMD, and are being touted as enabling the programs to focus on the threat of missile launches from “rogue” countries like Iran and North Korea.
BMD is essentially a defensive weapons system designed to intercept ballistic missiles. Ballistic missile interception can theoretically be done at three periods of the missile’s flight: in the terminal phase (as it descends towards the earth), in midcourse, and in the boost phase (right after launch). Current technology permits the interception at the midcourse and terminal phases, but boost-phase interception has proved to be much more difficult, mainly because of the extremely short period of time it allows to detect, acquire and track the missile and plot an intercept before it enters the later phases of flight (more about this below).
In laying out Gates’ funding priorities, the budget favors the more mature technologies of terminal-phase and midcourse interception, which are either already fielded or in the process of being fielded. But this comes at the cost of boost-phase and other more ambitious technological development programs — including space-based assets — which would require longer-term funding and support before tangible results could be achieved.
For Gates, these more long-range programs have been pushed forward too aggressively, before the technology could mature. They are more high-risk by nature and, for Gates, an inefficient and an inappropriate allocation of funds given the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there are technical reasons for these choices, Gates has more in mind than just a sheet of specifications and test results.
(click image to enlarge)
There are four mature BMD systems that are operational or in the process of being made operational: Aegis/Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD).
The Aegis/SM-3 system is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles during parts of the ascent and descent phases. This system has already been deployed on 18 American guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, and two Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces warships and is operationally proven (though as an anti-satellite weapon rather than a BMD interceptor). The Aegis/SM-3 has been one of the most successful BMD programs in the U.S. inventory, and Gates’ proposal would increase funding for the SM-3 program and upgrade an additional six warships with the system (double the three announced earlier this year for the Atlantic fleet).
The THAAD system is mobile (designed to be deployed anywhere in the world) and is capable of intercepting a ballistic missile in its final midcourse descent and in its terminal phase, both inside and outside the atmosphere. The first THAAD battery — Alpha Battery of the 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Fort Bliss in Texas — was activated last year and is in the process of being fully equipped. Meanwhile, testing continues at the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii (a test there in March marked the system’s latest success). After poor test performance in the 1990s, the program restarted testing in 2005 and has shown marked improvement. It is now considered technologically mature.
A THAAD launcherThe Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) system is a terminal-phase intercept system that was operationally deployed and successfully used in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is also currently operational at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is slated for deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic, although deployment of the system is encumbered by the requirement for fixed facilities, including concrete silos.
Gates curtailed funding for additional GMD interceptors in Alaska but made no comment on the much more politically complicated issue of deploying them to Europe. With his 2010 budget, of course, Gates has entered into a domestic battle with Congress over the future shape and orientation of the entire Department of Defense, not just BMD. Although part of that reorientation, the European GMD effort will be decided in the context of larger negotiations with Russia and policy choices made by the Obama Cabinet as a whole.
But taken as a whole (and even without a GMD deployment in Europe), this combination of technologies offers a tiered BMD capability in the later phases of ballistic flight. It is this sort of layered, overlapping combination of capabilities that is considered necessary to provide a truly reliable BMD shield. In addition, for the most part, these are the programs on which other countries like Japan and Israel have been cooperating with the United States.
The impetus for pursuing boost-phase intercept capability is by no means gone, however. Midcourse and terminal phase interceptions are fraught with their own challenges, including the possibility of having to deal with decoys in the latter part of the midcourse phase and multiple independently targetable or maneuverable re-entry vehicles. Additionally, debris from a successful intercept in the terminal phase may still hit the area being targeted by those who launched the missile.
Thus, it remains desirable for the Pentagon to seek technology that will push the intercept point closer to the time and place of launch, if not on the actual territory of the country launching the missile. The boost phase is when the missile is both at its slowest in the trajectory and the most visible, given the unmistakable infrared signature of the engine plume. Also, if the missile is intercepted in this phase, the debris falls far from the intended target.
As alluded to earlier, however, intercepting a missile during its boost phase is extremely difficult. At most, the boost phase lasts only a few minutes, and terrestrial-based interceptors also need time to boost to altitude as well (acceleration is a key design consideration). Additionally, interceptors and sensors must be based relatively close to the area from which the missile is launched, so their positioning is highly dependent on the accessibility of territory or waters nearby.
U.S. Air Force
An artist’s rendering of two Airborne LasersThe problem of reaction speed in the boost phase is so challenging that it has been one of the principal drivers for directed energy weapons — lasers — dating all the way back to the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In its latest incarnation, the Airborne Laser (ABL) has only now — after a quarter century of experimentation — begun to show potential for operational utility. In Gates’ 2010 budget, however, funding for a second ABL airframe was cut and the program was reduced to more of a long-term research and development effort.
These technical challenges will still be explored, but if Gates has his way, operational fielding of a boost-phase interceptor will be delayed — perhaps significantly — and some programs previously under consideration may never see the light of day as a weapons system. After all, if the concern is the current “rogue” threat from North Korea and Iran, then the ballistic missiles targeted would be highly vulnerable to air strikes while still on the launch pad.
In a larger sense, Gates does not see the more advanced challenges of BMD as near-term problems. They are all desirable capabilities in the long run, but Gates has made his tenure about choices and priorities. His funding proposals for BMD reflect choices to field only mature programs while taking $1.4 billion from the Missile Defense Agency budget to put toward the current fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this is a fight that Gates considers not only the current one but also the kind in which American forces will be engaged in the foreseeable future.
Next: The 2010 defense budget and the fighter mix
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: April 08, 2009, 11:48:26 AM
Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate
-Leaders Divided on Whether to Focus On Conventional or Irregular Combat
By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 6, 2009; Page A01
A war that ended three years ago and involved not a single U.S. soldier has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon, one that could alter how the U.S. military fights in the future.
When Israel and Hezbollah battled for more than a month in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the result was widely seen as a disaster for the Israeli military. Soon after the fighting ended, some military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.
Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe. "I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico.
A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.
"The Lebanon war has become a bellwether," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. "If you are opposed to transforming the military to fight low-intensity wars, it is your bloody sheet. It's discussed in almost coded communication to indicate which side of the argument you are on."
U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns. Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.
"From 2000 to 2006 Hezbollah embraced a new doctrine, transforming itself from a predominantly guerrilla force into a quasi-conventional fighting force," a study by the Army's Combat Studies Institute concluded last year. Another Pentagon report warned that Hezbollah forces were "extremely well trained, especially in the uses of antitank weapons and rockets" and added: "They well understood the vulnerabilities of Israeli armor."
Many top Army officials refer to the short battle almost as a morality play that illustrates the price of focusing too much on counterinsurgency wars at the expense of conventional combat. These officers note that, before the Lebanon war, Israeli forces had been heavily involved in occupation duty in the Palestinian territories.
"The real takeaway is that you have to find the time to train for major combat operations, even if you are fighting counterinsurgency wars," said one senior military analyst who studied the Lebanon war for the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Currently, the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented Army units from conducting such training.
Army generals have also latched on to the Lebanon war to build support for multibillion-dollar weapons programs that are largely irrelevant to low-intensity wars such as those fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 30-page internal Army briefing, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior Pentagon civilians, recently sought to highlight how the $159 billion Future Combat Systems, a network of ground vehicles and sensors, could have been used to dispatch Hezbollah's forces quickly and with few American casualties.
"Hezbollah relies on low visibility and prepared defenses," one slide in the briefing reads. "FCS counters with sensors and robotics to maneuver out of contact."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to stake out a firm position in this debate as soon as today, when he announces the 2010 defense budget. That document is expected to cut or sharply curtail weapons systems designed for conventional wars, and to bolster intelligence and surveillance programs designed to help track down shadowy insurgents.
"This budget moves the needle closer to irregular warfare and counterinsurgency," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "It is not an abandonment of the need to prepare for conventional conflicts. But even moving that needle is a revolutionary thing in this building."
The changes reflect the growing prominence of the military's counterinsurgency camp -- the most prominent member of which is Petraeus -- in the Pentagon. President Obama, whose strategy in Afghanistan is focused on protecting the local population and denying the Islamist radicals a safe haven, has largely backed this group.
The question facing defense leaders is whether they can afford to build a force that can prevail in a counterinsurgency fight, where the focus is on protecting the civilian population and building indigenous army and police forces, as well as a more conventional battle.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's top officer in the Pentagon, has said it is essential that the military be able to do both simultaneously. New Army doctrine, meanwhile, calls for a "full spectrum" service that is as good at rebuilding countries as it is at destroying opposing armies.
But other experts remain skeptical. "The idea that you can do it all is just wrong," said Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. Soldiers, who are home for as little as 12 months between deployments, do not have enough time to prepare adequately for both types of wars, he said.
Biddle and other counterinsurgency advocates argue that the military should focus on winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and only then worry about what the next war will look like. Some in this camp say that the threat posed by Hezbollah is being inflated by officers who are determined to return the Army to a more familiar past, built around preparing for conventional warfare.
Another question is whether the U.S. military is taking the proper lessons from the Israel-Hezbollah war. Its studies have focused almost exclusively on the battle in southern Lebanon and ignored Hezbollah's ongoing role in Lebanese society as a political party and humanitarian aid group. After the battle, Hezbollah forces moved in quickly with aid and reconstruction assistance.
"Even if the Israelis had done better operationally, I don't think they would have been victorious in the long run," said Andrew Exum, a former Army officer who has studied the battle from southern Lebanon. "For the Israelis, the war lasted for 34 days. We tend to forget that for Hezbollah, it is infinite."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Somali pirates seize US flag ship
on: April 08, 2009, 10:32:39 AM
No doubt our President will , , , well, what will he do?
Sorry, no URL.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP)
Somali pirates on Wednesday hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 21 crew members aboard, a diplomat and a U.S. Navy spokesman said.
The Kenya-based diplomat identified the vessel as the 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama and said all the crew members are American. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The U.S. Navy confirmed that a U.S. flagged ship with 21 members of crew was hijacked early Wednesday off the eastern coast of Somalia.
Spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen said the attacked happened in the early hours of the morning hours, about 280 miles (450 kilometers) northeast of Eyl, a town in the northern Puntland region of Somalia.
Christensen said there were U.S. citizens aboard the ship, but he did not say how many. He declined to release the name of the ship until the family members of the crew are notified.
He said the ship was operated by the Danish company Maersk, which deals with the U.S. Department of Defense. Christensen said the vessel was not working under a Pentagon contract when hijacked.
Maersk Kenya Managing Director Rolf Nielsen said the company was still verifying reports of the hijacking. An U.S. embassy spokeswoman was not immediately able to confirm the incident.
Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program said the ship was taken about 400 miles (640 kilometers) from the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
The vessel is the sixth to be seized within a week and the first with an all-American crew.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Turk reporter writes
on: April 07, 2009, 10:49:47 AM
For the record I do not agree with some of this article, but think it worth reading:
rkey in Full
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMy SpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy ASLI AYDINTASBAS
Published: April 6, 2009
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AS a Turkish journalist who for years covered the United States, I’ve spent the last few days repeatedly answering the inevitable question from my fellow Turks: “Does Washington see Turkey as a moderate Islamic republic?” That description may sound like a compliment to American ears. But in Turkey, it is an outright insult.
Since 2004, when the “moderate Islamic” formulation was innocently introduced by Colin Powell, the American secretary of state at the time, Turks have believed that Washington values Turkey’s religious identity over its secular democracy — that it would rather Turkey become a conservative American ally in the Muslim world than evolve into a European democracy.
“Who describes Belgium or Britain as a moderate Christian country?” people ask here. In a nation where the religion-versus-state debate is the hottest topic, secularists have elevated the “moderate Islam” controversy to an all-encompassing theory.
They claim that Washington supports — or, at least, that the George W. Bush administration supported — the Islamic-oriented government of the Justice and Development Party so that it might serve as a compliant model to the rest of the Muslim world. (Paradoxically, Islamic fundamentalists also hate the term “moderate Islam,” assuming that it implies a watered-down version of religion.)
Even if the “moderate Islam” conspiracy theorists were off base, it is true that ever since Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003, Washington has viewed Turkey as a simplistic duality: pious masses led by the Justice and Development Party against the small secular elite and the military. As Americans banked on the government’s electoral majority, they lost touch with the rest of the population.
No doubt President Obama was briefed, just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was before she came here last month, to never speak of “moderate Islam.” And he hasn’t so far. In fact, he has done the opposite. The new American president — whose dark skin and Muslim middle name of Hussein have made him a folk hero here — went out of his way on Monday to acknowledge Turkey’s plurality in all its colors, and telling Europe that in welcoming Turkey it would gain “by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith.”
Mr. Obama’s visit to Ankara was a carefully calibrated series of messages and symbolic gestures that spoke to Turkey’s different segments. He met with the government leadership as well as opposition leaders from secular, nationalist and Kurdish parties. He pledged to support “Ataturk’s vision of Turkey as a modern and prosperous democracy," as he wrote in the guestbook at the mausoleum of the founder of secular Turkey.
In our eternal identity crisis, we Turks have lately been thinking only in opposites — that you are either secular or religious, Kurd or Turk, European or Middle Eastern. It took a young foreign leader on his first visit here to remind us that we are all of those things, and much more.
It wasn’t all roses, of course. In his speech to Parliament, President Obama urged Ankara to face up to the mass killings of Armenians in 1915, something most voters here object to.
And Mr. Obama’s brief mention in Parliament that Turkey should undertake further democratic reforms seemed insufficient. Since 2007, Prime Minister Erdogan has become more authoritarian, lashing out at his critics, suing journalists and alienating liberal Turks who once supported him. Last Sunday, voters in municipal elections delivered a serious warning: the party’s overall support fell to 39 percent, from 47 percent two years ago. The elections revealed a divided map, four different Turkeys: the liberal coastline, the conservative inland, the ultra-nationalist middle and the Kurdish nationalist southeast. The Justice and Development Party will grow when it embraces all Turkey’s colors and shrink as it denies them.
It is wonderful that the president reminded Europeans that Turkey’s place is in Europe. But let’s hope he also reminds Turks that getting there requires more tolerance and reform. This trip will undoubtedly improve America’s popularity in the Muslim world — with Mr. Obama’s scheduled visit to the Blue Mosque here on Tuesday likely resonating far beyond Turkey’s borders. But so far, it has been all about us — our own democracy struggling between Europe and Islam.
Asli Aydintasbas is a former Ankara bureau chief of the newspaper Sabah.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The End of Philosophy
on: April 07, 2009, 10:46:16 AM
The End of Philosophy
Published: April 6, 2009
Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.
One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”
Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.
As Steven Quartz of the California Institute of Technology said during a recent discussion of ethics sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, “Our brain is computing value at every fraction of a second. Everything that we look at, we form an implicit preference. Some of those make it into our awareness; some of them remain at the level of our unconscious, but ... what our brain is for, what our brain has evolved for, is to find what is of value in our environment.”
Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know.
Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.
In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and ... moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”
The question then becomes: What shapes moral emotions in the first place? The answer has long been evolution, but in recent years there’s an increasing appreciation that evolution isn’t just about competition. It’s also about cooperation within groups. Like bees, humans have long lived or died based on their ability to divide labor, help each other and stand together in the face of common threats. Many of our moral emotions and intuitions reflect that history. We don’t just care about our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals. We also care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions. We are all the descendents of successful cooperators.
The first nice thing about this evolutionary approach to morality is that it emphasizes the social nature of moral intuition. People are not discrete units coolly formulating moral arguments. They link themselves together into communities and networks of mutual influence.
The second nice thing is that it entails a warmer view of human nature. Evolution is always about competition, but for humans, as Darwin speculated, competition among groups has turned us into pretty cooperative, empathetic and altruistic creatures — at least within our families, groups and sometimes nations.
The third nice thing is that it explains the haphazard way most of us lead our lives without destroying dignity and choice. Moral intuitions have primacy, Haidt argues, but they are not dictators. There are times, often the most important moments in our lives, when in fact we do use reason to override moral intuitions, and often those reasons — along with new intuitions — come from our friends.
The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions. It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.
Finally, it should also challenge the very scientists who study morality. They’re good at explaining how people make judgments about harm and fairness, but they still struggle to explain the feelings of awe, transcendence, patriotism, joy and self-sacrifice, which are not ancillary to most people’s moral experiences, but central. The evolutionary approach also leads many scientists to neglect the concept of individual responsibility and makes it hard for them to appreciate that most people struggle toward goodness, not as a means, but as an end in itself.
Bob Herbert is off today.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Salt
on: April 07, 2009, 10:39:09 AM
Suppose you wanted to test the effects of halving the amount of salt in people’s diets. If you were an academic researcher, you’d have to persuade your institutional review board that you had considered the risks and obtained informed consent from the participants.
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Do you want New York’s mayor and health commissioner leading a nationwide initiative to halve the salt in your food? Join the discussion.
Go to TierneyLab »
Throwing the Book at Salt. Kim Severson, N.Y. Times, 2009.
NYC Starts a Nationwide Initiative. N.Y.C. Department of Health.
The (Political) Science of Salt Gary Taubes, Science, 1998.
A Call for Higher Standards of Evidence for Dietary Guidelines." Marantz PR, Bird ED, Alderman MH. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2008.
Effects of Low Sodium Diet Versus High Sodium Diet." G. Jürgens, N.A.Graudal, Cochrane Collaboration, 2003.
The Influence of Dietary Sodium on Blood Pressure. Norman K. Hollenberg, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2006.
Salt Craving: The Psychobiology of Pathogenic Sodium Intake." M.J. Morris, E.S. Na, A.K. Johnson. Physiology & Beahvior, 2008.
Reducing the Public Health Burden From Elevated Blood Pressure Levels. S. Havas, E. Roccella, C. Lenfant. American Journal of Public Health, 2004.
More From Dr. Frieden. Diner's Journal, New York Times, 2009.
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You might, for instance, take note of a recent clinical trial in which heart patients put on a restricted-sodium diet fared worse than those on a normal diet. In light of new research suggesting that eating salt improves mood and combats depression, you might be alert for psychological effects of the new diet. You might worry that people would react to less-salty food by eating more of it, a trend you could monitor by comparing them with a control group.
But if you are the mayor of New York, no such constraints apply. You can simply announce, as Michael Bloomberg did, that the city is starting a “nationwide initiative” to pressure the food industry and restaurant chains to cut salt intake by half over the next decade. Why bother with consent forms when you can automatically enroll everyone in the experiment?
And why bother with a control group when you already know the experiment’s outcome? The city’s health commissioner, Thomas R. Frieden, has enumerated the results. If the food industry follows the city’s wishes, the health department’s Web site announces, “that action will lower health care costs and prevent 150,000 premature deaths every year.”
But that prediction is based on an estimate based on extrapolations based on assumptions that have yet to be demonstrated despite a half-century of efforts. No one knows how people would react to less-salty food, much less what would happen to their health.
Dr. Frieden has justified the new policy by pointing to the “compelling evidence” for the link between salt and blood pressure. It’s true that lowering salt has been shown to lower blood pressure on average, but that doesn’t mean it has been demonstrated to improve your health, for a couple of reasons.
First, a reduced-salt diet doesn’t lower everyone’s blood pressure. Some individuals’ blood pressure can actually rise in response to less salt, and most people aren’t affected much either way. The more notable drop in blood pressure tends to occur in some — but by no means all — people with hypertension, a condition that affects more than a quarter of American adults.
Second, even though lower blood pressure correlates with less heart disease, scientists haven’t demonstrated that eating less salt leads to better health and longer life. The results from observational studies have too often been inconclusive and contradictory. After reviewing the literature for the Cochrane Collaboration in 2003, researchers from Copenhagen University concluded that “there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake.”
A similar conclusion was reached in 2006 by Norman K. Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School. While it might make sense for some individuals to change their diets, he wrote, “the available evidence shows that the influence of salt intake is too inconsistent and generally too small to mandate policy decisions at the community level.”
In the past year, researchers led by Salvatore Paterna of the University of Palermo have reported one of the most rigorous experiments so far: a randomized clinical trial of heart patients who were put on different diets. Those on a low-sodium diet were more likely to be rehospitalized and to die, results that prompted the researchers to ask, “Is sodium an old enemy or a new friend?”
Those results, while hardly a reason for you to start eating more salt, are a reminder that salt affects a great deal more than blood pressure. Lowering it can cause problems with blood flow to the kidneys and insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Salt deprivation might also darken your mood, according to recent research by Alan Kim Johnson and colleagues at the University of Iowa. After analyzing the behavior and brain chemistry of salt-deprived rats, the psychologists found that salt, like chocolate and cocaine, affected reward circuitry in the brain, and that salt-deprived rats exhibited anhedonia, a symptom of depression characterized by the inability to enjoy normally pleasurable activities.
Dr. Frieden has predicted that people “won’t notice the difference” if salt is gradually reduced, but how can he be sure? What if they respond by eating more food, or a different mix of foods and stimulants? What if the food industry turns to salt substitutes that cause new health problems? “We have no way of knowing the health effects of eating less salt, yet we’re supposed to forge ahead with this new policy that affects the whole population,” said Michael Alderman, an expert in hypertension at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Like other critics, he has compared the antisalt campaign to the campaign against fat that began several decades ago.
That antifat campaign, like the antisalt campaign, was endorsed by prominent groups and federal agencies before the campaigners’ theory was tested in rigorous trials. It too seemed quite logical — in theory.
But in practice the results were dismal, as demonstrated eventually by clinical trials and by the expanding waistlines of Americans. People followed the advice in the “food pyramid” to reduce the percentage of fat in the diet, but they got more obese, perhaps because they ate so many other ingredients in foods with “low fat” labels.
You might think that experience would inspire caution among public health officials, but instead they seem to be gaining confidence. When Dr. Frieden and Mr. Bloomberg decided several years ago that trans fats were dangerous, they didn’t simply issue a warning or a set of voluntary guidelines. They insisted on outlawing trans fats in New York’s restaurants.
At the time, it seemed extraordinary for a city to be forbidding its diners to order a legal food product, particularly given the scientific uncertainties about trans fats and the possible harms resulting from the ban (see TierneyLab at nytimes.com/tierneylab).
But that local restaurant policy now seems fairly modest by comparison with Mr. Bloomberg’s and Dr. Frieden’s plans for salt. Soon, wherever you live, wherever you eat, you could be part of their experiment.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq reports
on: April 07, 2009, 10:13:31 AM
So, I have been asked several times what changes I have seen in Iraq since the changeover on January 1st. Well at this point I have a couple of thoughts:
I sense that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police are starting to feel their oats. Not just here in Bahgdad but in the other places I have been. With the U.S. military stepping ever more back into the shadows I see the Iraqis coming out and testing the waters ever more.
For example, two months back a convoy of Iraqi Army soldiers was driving past an American security post at the main terrorism courthouse in the country. One soldier let off a round into the air.
Yesterday morning I saw 4 Iraqi Army vehicles (3 SUVs and a pickuup truck) on a joint military base outside of Baghdad driving at least 55 MPH on the military base that used to be exclusively a Coalition Forces base. The speed limit there is 20 MPH.
Yesterday afternoon in Baghdad I saw a 4 vehicle Iraqi police convoy come flying into a traffic circle intimidating all the other vehicles already in the circle. One Iraqi on one of the vehicles made a gesture of shooting at an American Blackhawk that happened to be passing by.
There have been other little incidents like this I have seen. It's almost like they now know they can do shit without getting shot like they would have this time last year. And every day they seem to test the waters just a little more.
I cannot help but wonder if we have simply replaced one group of military and police thugs with another group of thugs.
I find myself starting to wonder when the first "friendly" fire incident will occur where they unlooad into a vehicle (not U.S. military of course because they ain't that brave) carrying Americans.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Adams; Washington; many more
on: April 07, 2009, 01:47:56 AM
"Let the pulpit resound with the doctrine and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear of the dignity of man's nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God... Let it be known that British liberties are not the grants of princes and parliaments."
--John Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765
"The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position."
--George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
"I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others; this, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home." --George Washington
"If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions."
--James Madison, letter to Edmund Pendleton, 21 January 1792
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth -- and listen to the song of that syren, till she transforms us into beasts." --Patrick Henry
Indeed, in the words of Thomas Paine, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
On that note, I turn to just four of our Founders for their eternal wisdom in respect to the troubles of their day, and ours.
"We should never despair, our situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new exertions and proportion our efforts to the exigency of the times. ... The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. ... It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn. ... The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations. ... [T]he propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained."
"Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom. ... If we suffer [the minds of young people] to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives. ... The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families... How is it possible that Children can have any just Sense of the sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their Mothers live in habitual Infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant Infidelity to their Mothers? ... We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. ... The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People ... they may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. ... A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever."
"The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys. ... The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife. ... We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. ... The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale. ... If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy. ... I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious. ... The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. ... [A] wise and frugal government...shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government. ... Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question."
"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents... If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions. ... The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. ... There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."
"Of all the dispositions and habits which least to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness -- these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. ... Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths...? Let us with caution indulge the opposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." --George Washington
"It has ever been my hobby-horse to see rising in America an empire of liberty, and a prospect of two or three hundred millions of freemen, without one noble or one king among them. You say it is impossible. If I should agree with you in this, I would still say, let us try the experiment, and preserve our equality as long as we can."
--John Adams, letter to Count Sarsfield, 3 February 1786
"The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all citizens." --Thomas Jefferson
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia moves to defense
on: April 07, 2009, 01:41:20 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Russia Moves From Offense to Defense
April 6, 2009
Related Special Topic Page
A World Redefined: The Global Summits
U.S. President Barack Obama capped a conference-filled tour of Europe on Sunday with a speech at the EU-U.S. summit in Prague, Czech Republic, where he discussed nuclear disarmament the unity of Europe and the United States within NATO.
More importantly, Obama finally made a statement that we had been expecting: The United States will stand firm on its commitment to deploy a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in central Europe. This marks a shift from his position during the election campaign, when he said he would reconsider the Bush administration’s stance on the issue. Obama chose his words carefully in explaining his decision: He said that as long as a threat from Iran persists, the United States intends to move forward with its BMD plans — but should the Iran threat be eliminated, the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe would be removed. The key is that Obama recognizes there are other reasons for BMD. There was no need to elaborate on these reasons, since his speech came the same day that North Korea attempted to launch a satellite into space.
Considering that his speech was delivered in the Czech Republic — one of two countries that Obama praised for showing courage in their decisions to host aspects of the BMD system — it was clear that the main audience for his remarks was Russia.
The past week of meetings — particularly the sit-down between Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev — clearly showed just how far each country could push the other. The Russians came into the week feeling confident that they could push Washington to back off its commitment to BMD in Europe. They also felt comfortable about success in achieving other goals, like getting the United States to bend on nuclear arms reduction treaties and NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia.
However, not only did the meeting between Obama and Medvedev not go as expected, but it now appears that Moscow’s worst nightmares are coming true.
Russia’s concerns about the BMD program are well known. Not only would the program give the United States a military presence in Poland – a former Warsaw Pact state — but it also would mean Washington would help to build up Poland’s own military forces. Russia then would have a new (and vehemently anti-Russian) military threat to contend with to its west; moreover, that force would stand between Russia and its more traditional European foe, Germany. But there are also deeper, longer-range Russian concerns about the implications of BMD.
This highly complicates the security situation on Russia’s European frontier and limits how far west Russia can expand its influence as part of its overall resurgence.
But the BMD announcement is just one part of the United States’ plan to counter that resurgence. During the week of summits in Europe, Washington also made sure that Russian leaders knew their former demands — particularly regarding NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia — had not been settled. A membership plan was not agreed for these states during the NATO summit on April 3 and 4, but the conference’s closing statement made it clear that the door was still wide open for their eventual inclusion in the alliance.
Many European heavyweights, like France and Germany, are opposed to pushing Russia further on the NATO expansion issue, but — as the Russians know well from the color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia — the United States does not need its NATO allies to pursue and support Ukraine or Georgia independently. In essence, the United States has moved the sphere of play between Washington and Moscow from central Europe back into the former Soviet states.
Russia is not taking this shift lightly. Moscow had a long list of options to consider if the summits did not go well, and it is now beginning to make its moves. Moscow had an opportunity to remind Europe of its energy dependence on Russia, it took the next step in pushing the United States out of Central Asia, and set in motion a reversal in the Ukrainian government. Russia also is forming a plan to shake up the Georgian government this week.
Though these moves are significant and important, they are still confined to the former Soviet sphere. From the outside, it looks as if the Russians are about to run out of time to solidify their position on real Western turf and are assuming a more defensive posture to protect their hold over former Soviet territory. But both the Russians and the Americans know Moscow has the upper hand in this area, and it won’t take much to finish this part of the game.
The next issue to watch, then, is Turkey. It is part of the United States’ plans to counter Russia, and Obama has begun a two-day visit to this NATO state. At the same time, Ankara could be working out a deal with Armenia — a state that is allied with Russia — in a move that could tip the balance of power in the Caucasus. Moscow needs to watch and counter the larger threat coming from the U.S. moves here, on Russia’s southern flank. Since Moscow has leverage of its own with Turkey, Ankara is a wild card.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe
on: April 07, 2009, 01:18:25 AM
On behalf of the Council of Elders:
Several ascensions and some new members of the tribe coming out of the 2009 DB Tribal Gathering. No doubt I have forgotten some names-- if anyone spots a missing name please let me know.
1) Ascending from Candidate Dog Brother to full Dog Brother:
2) Ascending to Candidate Dog Brother
3) Entering into the lists of the Tribe
"Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact" (c)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / And then the fight started
on: April 06, 2009, 09:55:51 PM
My wife sat down on the couch next to me as I was flipping channels.
She asked, "What's on TV?"
I said, "Dust."
And then the fight started.
========== ========= ========= ========= ========= =========
My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary.
She said, "I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about 3 seconds."
I bought her a scale.
And then the fight started.
============ ========= ========= ========= ========= =========
When I got home last night, my wife demanded that I take her someplace expensive...
So I took her to a gas station...
And then the fight started.
============ ========= ========= ========= ========= =========
My wife and I are watching "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" while we were in bed.
I turned to her and said, "Do you want to have sex?"
"No," she answered.
I said, "Is that your final answer?"
She didn't even look at me this time, simply saying, "Yes."
So I said, "Then I'd like to phone a friend."
And then the fight started....
=========== ========= ========= ========= ========= =========
I took my wife to a restaurant. The waiter, for some reason, took my order first.
'I'll have the strip steak, medium rare, please.'
He said, 'Aren't you worried about the mad cow?'
'Nah, she can order for herself.'
And then the fight started...
=========== ========= ========= ========= ========= =========
A woman is standing nude, looking in the bedroom mirror. She is not happy with what she sees and says to her husband, 'I feel horrible; I look old, fat and ugly. I really need you to pay me a compliment.'
The husband replies, 'Your eyesight's darn near perfect.'
And then the fight started...
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO's strategy
on: April 06, 2009, 07:26:26 PM
Turkey and Obama’s Deeper Game
But it was not simply a matter of domestic politics. It is becoming clear that Obama is playing a deeper game. A couple of weeks before the meetings, when it had become obvious that the Europeans were not going to bend on the issues that concerned the United States, Obama scheduled a trip to Turkey. During the EU meetings in Prague, Obama vigorously supported the Turkish application for EU membership, which several members are blocking on grounds of concerns over human rights and the role of the military in Turkey. But the real reason is that full membership would open European borders to Turkish migration, and the Europeans do not want free Turkish migration. The United States directly confronted the Europeans on this matter.
During the NATO meeting, a key item on the agenda was the selection of a new alliance secretary-general. The favorite was former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Turkey opposed his candidacy because of his defense on grounds of free speech of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish magazine. NATO operates on consensus, so any one member can block just about anything. The Turks backed off the veto, but won two key positions in NATO, including that of deputy secretary-general.
So while the Germans won their way at the meetings, it was the Turks who came back with the most. Not only did they boost their standing in NATO, they got Obama to come to a vigorous defense of the Turkish application for membership in the European Union, which of course the United States does not belong to. Obama then flew to Turkey for meetings and to attend a key international meeting that will allow him to further position the United States in relation to Islam.
The Russian Dimension
Let’s diverge to another dimension of these talks, which still concerns Turkey, but also concerns the Russians. While atmospherics after the last week’s meetings might have improved, there was certainly no fundamental shift in U.S.-Russian relations. The Russians have rejected the idea of pressuring Iran over its nuclear program in return for the United States abandoning its planned ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The United States simultaneously downplayed the importance of a Russian route to Afghanistan. Washington said there were sufficient supplies in Afghanistan and enough security on the Pakistani route such that the Russians weren’t essential for supplying Western operations in Afghanistan. At the same time, the United States reached an agreement with Ukraine for the transshipment of supplies — a mostly symbolic gesture, but one guaranteed to infuriate the Russians at both the United States and Ukraine. Moreover, the NATO communique did not abandon the idea of Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to NATO, although the German position on unspecified delays to such membership was there as well. When Obama looks at the chessboard, the key emerging challenge remains Russia.
The Germans are not going to be joining the United States in blocking Russia. Between dependence on Russia for energy supplies and little appetite for confronting a Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat to Germany, the Germans are not going to address the Russian question. At the same time, the United States does not want to push the Germans toward Russia, particularly in confrontations ultimately of secondary importance and on which Germany has no give anyway. Obama is aware that the German left is viscerally anti-American, while Merkel is only pragmatically anti-American — a small distinction, but significant enough for Washington not to press Berlin.
At the same time, an extremely important event between Turkey and Armenia looks to be on the horizon. Armenians had long held Turkey responsible for the mass murder of Armenians during and after World War I, a charge the Turks have denied. The U.S. Congress for several years has threatened to pass a resolution condemning Turkish genocide against Armenians. The Turks are extraordinarily sensitive to this charge, and passage would have meant a break with the United States. Last week, they publicly began to discuss an agreement with the Armenians, including diplomatic recognition, which essentially disarms the danger from any U.S. resolution on genocide. Although an actual agreement hasn’t been signed just yet, anticipation is building on all sides.
The Turkish opening to Armenia has potentially significant implications for the balance of power in the Caucasus. The August 2008 Russo-Georgian war created an unstable situation in an area of vital importance to Russia. Russian troops remain deployed, and NATO has called for their withdrawal from the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There are Russian troops in Armenia, meaning Russia has Georgia surrounded. In addition, there is talk of an alternative natural gas pipeline network from Azerbaijan to Europe.
Turkey is the key to all of this. If Ankara collaborates with Russia, Georgia’s position is precarious and Azerbaijan’s route to Europe is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States and also manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under U.S. auspices, the Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.
From the American point of view, Europe is a lost cause since internally it cannot find a common position and its heavyweights are bound by their relationship with Russia. It cannot agree on economic policy, nor do its economic interests coincide with those of the United States, at least insofar as Germany is concerned. As far as Russia is concerned, Germany and Europe are locked in by their dependence on Russian natural gas. The U.S.-European relationship thus is torn apart not by personalities, but by fundamental economic and military realities. No amount of talking will solve that problem.
The key to sustaining the U.S.-German alliance is reducing Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas and putting Russia on the defensive rather than the offensive. The key to that now is Turkey, since it is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to get to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. If Turkey — which has deep influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle East and the Balkans — is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on the defensive and a long-term solution to Germany’s energy problem can be found. On the other hand, if Turkey decides to take a defensive position and moves to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is locked into Russian-controlled energy for a generation.
Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.
This is why Obama’s most important speech in Europe was his last one, following Turkey’s emergence as a major player in NATO’s political structure. In that speech, he sided with the Turks against Europe, and extracted some minor concessions from the Europeans on the process for considering Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Why Turkey wants to be an EU member is not always obvious to us, but they do want membership. Obama is trying to show the Turks that he can deliver for them. He reiterated — if not laid it on even more heavily — all of this in his speech in Ankara. Obama laid out the U.S. position as one that recognized the tough geopolitical position Turkey is in and the leader that Turkey is becoming, and also recognized the commonalities between Washington and Ankara. This was exactly what Turkey wanted to hear.
The Caucasus is far from the only area to discuss. Talks will be held about blocking Iran in Iraq, U.S. relations with Syria and Syrian talks with Israel, and Central Asia, where both countries have interests. But the most important message to the Europeans will be that Europe is where you go for photo opportunities, but Turkey is where you go to do the business of geopolitics. It is unlikely that the Germans and French will get it. Their sense of what is happening in the world is utterly Eurocentric. But the Central Europeans, on the frontier with Russia and feeling quite put out by the German position on their banks, certainly do get it.
Obama gave the Europeans a pass for political reasons, and because arguing with the Europeans simply won’t yield benefits. But the key to the trip is what he gets out of Turkey — and whether in his speech to the civilizations, he can draw some of the venom out of the Islamic world by showing alignment with the largest economy among Muslim states, Turkey.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Battlefield injustice
on: April 06, 2009, 06:34:00 PM
Is that documentation sufficient for you to acknwledge that a fair case can be made?
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Friday, April 03, 2009 4:20 PM PT
War On Terror: A federal court says that even those held in Afghanistan must also be tried in American courts. Why not? After all, if there is no global war on terror, how can anybody be prisoners of that war?
Read More: Global War On Terror | Judges & Courts
Although the "war on terror" no longer exists, we still have the "overseas contingency operation" in Afghanistan. They are still shooting at us and we are still shooting at them.
We are still capturing and holding what used to be called enemy combatants or even that more archaic term — prisoners of war.
Now a federal judge has ruled that where detainees are captured or held, not what they were trying to do, namely kill Americans, is paramount.
Whatever the proper term for them is now, U.S. District Judge John Bates decided Thursday that those not captured in Afghanistan but being held there are endowed, like their Gitmo counterparts, with the same inalienable rights as the American citizens they were sworn to kill.
That includes the right to challenge their incarceration in American courts.
After the Supreme Court ruled last year that Guantanamo detainees had the legal right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts, four detainees captured outside Afghanistan being held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan thought they had a get-out-of-jail-free card. After that ruling, petitions were filed on their behalf in a U.S. district court.
The Obama administration took the position that Bagram Air Force Base, where some 600 jihadists are currently held, differed from Gitmo in that Bagram is located in an active war zone even if Gitmo is technically U.S. territory where the U.S. Constitution holds sway. That was when the war on terror was still called a war.
Judge Bates rejected this when he ruled that non-Afghan detainees captured outside that country and moved to Bagram should also have access to U.S. courts to prevent the U.S. from being able to "move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain them indefinitely."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., rightly called the decision "dangerous and naive," and said it puts troops in harm's way for judges to micromanage distant wars.
"Using this logic, in World War II it would not have allowed us to capture Nazi operatives anywhere but in Germany," Graham said.
Ironically, at a time when foreign laws and treaties seem to be finding their way into U.S. court rulings, both the Supreme Court ruling and Judge Bates' ruling seem to fly in the face of Article 84 of the Geneva Conventions, which says prisoners of any stripe captured in a war shall not get tried in civil courts.
In short, we're in violation of the Geneva Conventions here.
Bates' ruling affects only three of the four who challenged their detention at Bagram. He reserved judgment on Haji Wazir because he is an Afghan citizen.
The other three are from outside Afghanistan. Fadi al Magaleh and Amin al Bakri are from Yemen. Redha al-Najar is from Tunisia. All say they were captured outside Afghanistan.
Bates argued that it is "one thing to detain those captured on a surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram" but that it "is quite another to apprehend people in foreign countries — far from any Afghan battlefield — and then bring them to a theatre of war, where the Constitution arguably may not reach."
But how can there be a battlefield if there is no war?
"Overseas contingency operations," like war, are hell. They are not crime scenes where U.S. troops should be required to read their opponents their rights, take witness testimony, gather evidence and remember where they were on a particular afternoon.
We would ask, what part of "global war on terror" does Judge Bates not understand?
The entire globe is an active theater of war, and where prisoners are captured or held makes no difference. But this is the nonsense you get when an administration plays word games after actively opposing the military tribunals where these matters should be settled.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / ALERT
on: April 06, 2009, 01:22:56 AM
·11250 Waples Mill Road · Fairfax, Virginia 22030 ·800-392-8683http://www.nraila.org/Legislation/Fe...d.aspx?id=4713
Mexican Drug Violence--Anti-Gunners Lead Witness Friday, April 03, 2009 As we continue to report, Congress has jumped into the topic of Mexican border violence with both feet, having held 10 different Subcommittee and Full Committee hearings on the topic, with more coming. It has also become clear that anti-gun politicians and groups are intent on using this issue to advance new gun laws.
In the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Drugs and Crime, Sen. Dianne Feinstein renewed her attacks on gun owners' rights. During her remarks, she stated that there are over 2,000 guns smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. each day. But when she tried to elicit support for that number from a representative from the BATFE, he responded that the number was much lower. Senator Feinstein was clearly unhappy that he would not endorse her anti-gun sound bite.
Feinstein also repeated the claim that 90% of seized guns are from American sources (please see related story below). In fact, it is unknown where most of the arms possessed by the cartels originate. According to the BATFE 90% of the firearms traced are from American sources, but BATFE only traces 25% of the guns seized by Mexican authorities. The remaining 75% of guns seized along with all the firearms remaining in the hands of the cartels are of unknown origin. The fact that only 25% of the guns seized are traced raises a significant question: Why has the Mexican government not requested traces on the remaining 75%? Could it be because those guns are far less likely to have originated in America? Could it be that the Mexican authorities do not want it known where these guns come from? Could it be that it benefits the Mexican government to continue to blame U.S. gun laws to divert attention away from the rampant corruption of local governments and police forces? Could it be all of the above?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also entered the debate, traveling to Mexico and taking the opportunity to blame American gun laws. She called for a renewal of the semi-auto ban, and even trumpeted the ban's illusory impact: "And there's no doubt in my mind that the 10 years we had an assault weapons ban in America was one of the tools that helped to drive down the crime rate."
Perhaps if Clinton had read the congressionally mandated study performed by the Urban Institute (http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/aw_final.pdf
) she would know it showed that the ban couldn't possibly have had much impact on crime because "the banned guns were never used in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders" before the ban.
In another development that will not please the gun ban crowd, the leader of the Border Patrol Union, T.J. Bonner, said he was "underwhelmed" by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's plans to secure the border and went on to debunk the idea that Mexican violence is caused by American guns: "The U.S. has more weapons but we don't have that kind of violence in our streets," he said.
American gun owners know that that the real solution to the border violence is to actually secure the border. Shifting the focus to gun laws is nothing more than a calculated attack on our Second Amendment rights.
For more information on the hearings, please go to www.nraila.org
Find this item at: http://www.nraila.org/Legislation/Fe...indow.print();
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: April DB Tribal Gathering
on: April 06, 2009, 12:48:57 AM
From the newly christened "Scotty Dog" (many thanks to Guro C for letting me use your Laptop)
If you've been on the forum for more than the last 12 months, you may be aware of my post this time last year, lamenting the fact that my head wasn't hard enough to allow me to fight for more than one day (again, thanks for all who looked after me). This weekend was a big deal for me as not only did I get to see if I had the bottle to get up for a second day's fighting (it was hard) but I finally got to fight in Temecula (and tast the dirt, but thankfully not the horse poo)
Thanks to all I fought, apologies to those I didn't and thanks for the good times & beers.
Remember Margaritas are EVIL!!!!!
PS Ryan, remember you owe me a fight
From the new C-Sleazy Dog Dominic. (Thx to Lonely for the name which could not be more precise in describing my personality... bastard!
Thank you all for showing me such a great time and some of the toughest fights i ever had.
Hope to see many of you at the european gathering next summer! (Switzerland is a nice place in July! Specialy from the 24th to the 26th!)
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / SIJO ADRIANO D. EMPERADO PASSES:
on: April 05, 2009, 12:11:21 PM
It is with a heavy heart that I must convey this message to the Martial Art Ohana's around the World.
I received a phone call this morning from Grand Master Greg Harper of Harper KAJUKENBO.
"SIJO passed away last night, around Midnight"
Sijo will be missed by all but his "Legend" will forever be immortalized by those he touched.
Sincerely and with respect always,
Kajukenbo SIFU Dean "C-Kaju Dog" Webster
Sijo Emperado, GM Gumataotao, GM Harper, ME....
More news to follow as information becomes available.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Boskins: $163,000 per tax paying family
on: April 05, 2009, 10:04:56 AM
Finally, what of the claim not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year? Even ignoring his large energy taxes, Mr. Obama must reconcile his arithmetic. Every dollar of debt he runs up means that future taxes must be $1 higher in present-value terms. Mr. Obama is going to leave a discounted present-value legacy of $6.5 trillion of additional future taxes, unless he dramatically cuts spending. (With interest the future tax hikes would be much larger later on.) Call it a stealth tax increase or ticking tax time-bomb.
What does $6.5 trillion of additional debt imply for the typical family? If spread evenly over all those paying income taxes (which under Mr. Obama's plan would shrink to a little over 50% of the population), every income-tax paying family would get a tax bill for $163,000. (In ten years, interest would bring the total to well over $200,000, if paid all at once. If paid annually over the succeeding ten years, the tax hike per year would average almost $26,000.) That's in addition to his explicit tax hikes. While the future tax time-bomb is pushed beyond Mr. Obama's budget horizon, and future presidents and Congresses will decide how it will be paid, it is likely to be paid by future income tax hikes as these are general fund deficits.
We can get a rough idea of who is likely to pay them by distributing this $6.5 trillion of future taxes according to the most recent distribution of income-tax burdens. We know the top 1% or 5% of income-taxpayers pay vastly disproportionate shares of taxes, and much larger shares than their shares of income. But it also turns out that Mr. Obama's massive additional debt implies a tax hike, if paid today, of well over $100,000 for people with incomes of $150,000, far below Mr. Obama's tax-hike cut-off of $250,000 (over $130,000 in ten years and over $16,000 a year if paid annually over the following ten years). In other words, a middle-aged two-career couple in New York or California could get a future tax bill as big as their mortgage.
While Mr. Obama's higher tax rates are economically harmful, some of his tax policies deserve wide support, e.g., permanently indexing the alternative minimum tax. Ditto some of the spending increases, including the extension of unemployment benefits, given the severe recession.
Neither a large deficit in a recession nor a small increase from the current modest level in the debt to GDP ratio is worrisome. And at a 50% debt-to-GDP ratio, with nominal GDP growing 4% (the CBO out-year forecast), deficits of 2% of GDP would not be increasing the debt burden relative to income.
But what is not just worrisome but dangerous are the growing trillion dollar deficits in the latter years of the Obama budget. These deficits are so large for a prosperous nation in peacetime -- three times safe levels -- that they would cause the debt burden to soar toward banana republic levels. That's a recipe for a permanent drag on growth and serious pressure on the Federal Reserve to inflate, not the new era of rising prosperity that Mr. Obama and his advisers foresee.
Mr. Boskin is a professor of economics at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO gets nuke policy backwards
on: April 05, 2009, 01:20:36 AM
President Obama met Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in London this week, and you'd have thought topics like the financial crisis and Iran would have more than filled the conversation. But when a U.S. President meets his Russian counterpart, the reflex left from the Cold War is always to sign another arms control deal. So here we go again.
APThe Obama Administration wants to replace the soon-to-expire 1991 START treaty with a new regime that would set a ceiling of 1,000 nuclear warheads apiece for the U.S. and Russia. That would dramatically cut the two countries' existing number of operational weapons, both strategic and nonstrategic, from a current estimated total of about 4,100 for the U.S. and 5,200 for Russia. It would also exceed the terms agreed by the Bush Administration in the 2002 Moscow Treaty, which committed each side to reduce their arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 strategic warheads by 2012.
As we learned in the 1970s, the devil of arms control often lies in the technical arcana of warheads and delivery systems, so we'll await the text before pronouncing judgment. But the devil of arms control also lies in the overall concept, with its implicit assumption that the weapons themselves are inherently more dangerous than the intentions of those who develop and deploy them.
We would have thought this thinking was discredited after the Second Lateran Council outlawed the use of crossbows in 1139, or after the Hague Convention of 1899 banned aerial bombardment, or after the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war. Nope. Mr. Obama has set the ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, and as one of his first official acts he pledged to "stop the development of new nuclear weapons."
What Mr. Obama wants to kill specifically is the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which the Bush Administration supported over Congressional opposition, and which Mr. Obama now opposes despite the support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the military. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told us this week that "we do need a new warhead." When we asked about Mr. Obama's views on the warhead, the Admiral said, "You would have to ask him."
The RRW is not, in fact, a new weapon; it has been in development for several years and is based on the W89 design tested in the 1980s. It is said to be a remarkably safe and long-lasting warhead, a significant consideration given the gradual physical deterioration of the current U.S. arsenal, particularly the mainstay W76.
The irony is that Mr. Obama's opposition is making substantial reductions in the total U.S. arsenal that much riskier. In the absence of actual testing, which hasn't happened in the U.S. since 1992, the only real hedge against potentially defective weapons is a larger arsenal. Naturally, arms-control theologians are instead urging the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and ban the production of weapons grade uranium and plutonium.
The thinking here is that somehow the American example will get Russia, as well as North Korea, Pakistan and perhaps Iran, to reject nuclear weapons. In fact, a U.S. nuclear arsenal that is diminished in both quantity and quality would be an incentive for these countries to increase their nuclear inventories, since the door would suddenly be opened to reach strategic parity with the last superpower. Mr. Medvedev, for one, recently announced Russia would pursue "large-scale rearmament" of its army and navy, including nuclear arsenals.
France also plans to deploy new sea-based nuclear missiles next year, even as it reduces the overall size of its arsenal. The French understand that a credible nuclear deterrent requires modern and reliable weapons. The Obama Administration should understand that the best security for both the U.S. and the allies that rely on our nuclear umbrella lies in an unchallengeable arsenal, and not an invitation to the world's Mahmoud Ahmadinejads to compete on equal terms.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Afg: Spousal rape
on: April 02, 2009, 10:58:12 PM
Critics assail Afghan law that 'legalizes rape'
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Fisnik Abrashi, Associated Press Writer 1 hr 3 mins ago
KABUL – A new Afghan law makes it legal for men to rape their wives, human rights groups and some Afghan lawmakers said Thursday, accusing President Hamid Karzai of signing the legislation to bolster his re-election prospects. Critics worry the legislation undermines hard-won rights for women enacted after the fall of the Taliban's strict Islamist regime.
The law — which some lawmakers say was never debated in parliament — is intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shiite community, which makes up about 20 percent of this country of 30 million people. The law does not affect Afghan Sunnis.
One of the most controversial articles stipulates the wife "is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires."
"As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," Article 132 of the law says. "Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband."
One provision also appears to protect the woman's right to sex inside marriage saying the "man should not avoid having sexual relations with his wife longer than once every four months."
The law's critics say Karzai signed the legislation in the past month only for political gains several months before the country's presidential election.
The United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM, said the law "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband." "The law violates women's rights and human rights in numerous ways," a UNIFEM statement said.
The U.S. is "very concerned" about the law, said State Department spokesman Robert Wood. "We urge President Karzai to review the law's legal status to correct provisions of the law that limit or restrict women's rights."
Wood added that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had met with female Afghan lawmakers in The Hague and had assured them that "women's rights are going to be paramount in this administration's foreign policy, not an afterthought."
Canada's Defense Minister Peter MacKay said he will use this week's NATO summit to put "direct" pressure on his Afghan counterparts to abandon the legislation.
The issue of women's rights is a continuous source of tension between the country's conservative establishment and more liberal members of society. The Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 banned women from appearing in public without a body-covering burqa and a male escort from her family.
Much has improved since then. Millions of girls now attend school and many women own businesses. Of 351 parliamentarians, 89 are women.
But in this staunchly conservative country, critics fear those gains could easily be reversed.
Fawzia Kufi, a lawmaker who opposed the legislation, said several of its articles undermine constitutional and human rights of women as equals and take the country backward.
"All the efforts that were made in the last seven years to enhance women's rights will be undermined," Kufi said.
Karzai has not commented on the law. A spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the president is "aware of the discussion surrounding the law, and is looking into the matter."
Brad Adams, the Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the law is a "dramatic setback for women's rights."
"It directly contradicts the freedoms enshrined in the Afghan constitution and the international conventions that Afghanistan has signed up to that guarantee the rights of women," Adams said.
Safia Sidiqi, a lawmaker from Nangarhar province who condemned the legislation, said she cannot remember parliament debating or even voting on the law and she does not know how it came to be signed by Karzai. She called for the law to be recalled to parliament for debate.
"It is impossible in a two-month session for parliament to pass a law more than 200 pages long," she said of the 263-page law.
Sayed Hossain Alemi Balkhi, a Shiite lawmaker involved in drafting it, defended the legislation saying it gives more rights to women than even Britain or the United States does. He said the law makes women safer and ensures the husband is obliged to provide for her.
As Karzai seeks re-election later this year, he is courting voters in the Shiite community, Kufi said. Women voters are presumed to vote as their husbands do.
"Women's basic freedoms are being sacrificed for the political and electoral gain of a few parliamentarians," Human Rights Watch's Adams said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Manawan attack
on: April 02, 2009, 05:47:08 PM
IMPLICATIONS OF THE MANAWAN ATTACK
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
On March 31, Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),
called The Associated Press and Reuters to claim responsibility for the March 29
attack against a Pakistani police academy in Manawan, which is near the eastern
Pakistani city of Lahore and the Indian border. The attack had been previously
claimed by a little-known group, Fedayeen al-Islam (FI), which also took
responsibility for the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008.
Mehsud has also released an Urdu-language audio message claiming responsibility for
the Manawan attack as well as a failed March 23 attack on the headquarters of the
Police Special Branch in Islamabad. Mehsud, whom authorities claim was behind the
March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, also warned that there
would be additional attacks all across the country in retaliation for U.S. drone
strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Area. He even threatened to launch
attacks in Washington, D.C.
It is not clear at this point if the two claims of responsibility for the Manawan
attack are indeed contradictory. If FI is an independent group, it is possible that
it was working with Mehsud in the assault on the police academy. However, it is also
quite possible that FI is either part of the larger TTP (which is an umbrella group
with many factions) or perhaps just a nom de guerre used by the TTP to claim certain
attacks. When a reporter asked about the FI claim, Mehsud refused to comment. Two
things can be ascertained from this: that Mehsud's organization has the ability to
conduct these attacks, and that a major jihadist figure like Mehsud has no real need
to claim the attacks of others to bolster his reputation. In fact, lying about such
a thing would hurt his well-established reputation.
It is a good bet, therefore, that the TTP was in fact involved in the Manawan
attack. The odds are even greater when one considers the intelligence reports from a
few days prior to the attack: that Mehsud had dispatched a group of 22 operatives
from his base in South Waziristan, through the town of Mianwali in southwestern
Punjab, to conduct attacks in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Pakistani authorities were
actively searching for those operatives when the attack occurred in Manawan.
While STRATFOR has already published a political assessment of the Manawan attack,
we believe it might also be interesting to look at the incident from a protective
intelligence standpoint and examine the tactical aspects of the operation in more
Sequence of Events
The attack on the police academy in Manawan happened at approximately 7:20 a.m. on
March 29 as more than 800 unarmed police cadets were on the parade field for their
regularly scheduled morning training. Witness reports suggest that there were 10
attackers who scaled the back wall of the academy and began to attack the cadets.
Part of the attack team reportedly was dressed in police uniforms, while the rest
reportedly wore shalwar kameez (traditional Pakistani dress). Several members of the
team also wore suicide belts, and at least some of them carried large duffle bags
(similar to those carried by the assailants in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and
the March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore). The gunmen reportedly
engaged the cadets with hand grenades and fire from assault rifles. As the gunmen
raked the parade ground, many of the cadets reportedly fled the compound or
barricaded themselves in various rooms inside the facility. Because the bulk of the
people at the academy were cadets and not trained police, they were not issued
The armed guards at the academy were able to offer some resistance, but the attack
team was able to make its way across the parade ground and into the barracks, where
the attackers established defensive positions, apparently with the hope of
initiating a prolonged hostage situation. Reports are conflicting as to how many
hostages they were actually able to seize and control inside the barracks.
The Pakistani police and military responded aggressively to the attack. Within about
30 minutes, officers from the Elite Force -- a highly trained branch of the Punjab
Police responsible for counterterrorism -- reportedly had surrounded the barracks
building. By 9 a.m., paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and Pakistani army troops began
to arrive. Many of the wounded cadets were evacuated from the parade ground using
armored personnel carriers (APCs) to protect them from the attackers' fire. The
attackers apparently attempted to use grenades to attack the APCs, but were met with
heavy suppressive fire from the security forces. Pakistani forces also apparently
used tear gas against the attackers, as well as APCs and helicopter gunships.
Eventually, the Elite Force went room to room to clear the barracks building of
attackers. By 4 p.m., the siege had ended, with six of the attackers captured and
four killed. (Three of the four reportedly killed themselves using suicide belts.)
Despite initial reports of high casualties, it now appears that only eight police
officers or cadets were killed in the attack, with more than 90 others wounded.
While armed assaults against paramilitary forces, convoys and other targets are
common along the border with Afghanistan, this attack was only the second such
attack in Lahore. Terrorist attacks in Pakistan have more commonly been committed by
suicide bombers, and it appears that Mehsud's group may have embraced a change in
tactics, perhaps influenced by the success of Mumbai. (However, as we will discuss
below, this latest attack, like the attack on the cricket team, was far from a
First, it must be recognized that jihadist attacks on police recruits are not
uncommon. We have seen attacks on police training and recruiting centers in Iraq and
Afghanistan, among other countries, and we have also seen them before in Pakistan.
On July 15, 2007, a suicide bomber attacked a police recruitment center in Dera
Ismail Khan, killing 26 people and wounding 35. The victims were at the center to
take medical and written tests for entering the police force.
A training center like the one in Manawan provides an unusually large concentration
of targets. The more than 800 cadets at the academy were a far larger group of
police than is normally found in the police stations scattered throughout the
country. The training center was also a far softer target than a traditional police
station, where all the officers are armed. From media reports, it appears that there
were only seven armed guards on duty at the academy at the time of the attack. The
instructors allegedly were armed only with lathis (long canes commonly used by
police in India and Pakistan). The academy's rigid training schedule also provided a
highly predictable target, as the attackers knew the cadets would be on the parade
field from 7-8 a.m. every day.
With so many potential targets on the parade field and in the barracks, and with so
many attackers, it is amazing that there were only eight people killed in this
attack (one-fourth the death toll of the April 2007 Virginia Tech shooting). This is
an indication that the Manawan attackers were not nearly as well trained in
marksmanship as the assault team that conducted the November Mumbai attacks, in
which 10 gunmen killed 173 people. The 10 heavily armed Manawan assailants did not
even succeed in killing one victim each in a situation akin to shooting fish in a
From a military standpoint, such a formation of massed people in the open would have
been far more effectively targeted using mortars and crew-served machine guns, so it
can also be argued that the attack was poorly planned and the attackers improperly
equipped to inflict maximum casualties. Even so, it is quite amazing to us that
attackers armed with assault rifles and grenades did not kill one victim apiece.
Of course, one thing that helped contain the carnage was the response of Pakistani
security personnel and their efforts to evacuate the wounded under fire. While not
exactly practicing what are known in the United States as "active shooter
procedures", the Elite Force officers did quickly engage the attackers and pin them
down until more firepower could be brought to bear. The Elite Force also did a
fairly efficient job of clearing the barracks of attackers. The Pakistani response
ensured that the incident did not drag on like the Mumbai attacks did. The Elite
Force went in hard and fast, and seemingly with little regard for the hostages being
held, yet their decisive action proved to be very effective, and the result was that
a minimum number of hostages were killed.
There were some significant differences from the situation in Mumbai. First, there
was only one crime scene to deal with, and the Pakistani authorities could focus all
their attention and resources there. Second, the barracks building was far smaller
and simpler than the hotels occupied in the Mumbai attacks. Third, Manawan is far
smaller and more isolated than Mumbai, and it is easier to pin the attackers down in
a city of that size than in a larger, more densely populated city such as Mumbai.
Finally, there were no foreign citizens involved in the hostage situation, so the
Pakistani authorities did not have to worry about international sensibilities or
killing a foreign citizen with friendly fire. They were able to act aggressively and
not worry about distractions -- or the media circus that Mumbai became.
Perhaps the most important thing to watch going forward will be the response of the
Pakistani people to these attacks. In his claim of responsibility, Mehsud said the
Manawan attack was in direct response to the expanding U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle
(UAV) campaign in Pakistan. Mehsud threatened that there would be more militant
attacks in Pakistan and the United States if the UAV attacks did not stop. Clearly,
Mehsud is feeling the heat from these attacks, and although he claims he is ready to
be martyred, his bravado is belied by the fact that he is taking such extraordinary
measures to try to halt the UAV campaign. He obviously fears the UAV strikes, not
only for what they can do to him, but for what they can do to degrade his
When the Elite Force completed the clearing of the barracks, several officers came
out on the roof of the building, shouted "God is great" and fired celebratory shots
into the air (something that is anathema to Western police and military forces).
Many of the people gathered outside the academy joined in the shouting and loudly
cheered the Elite Force. This sentiment was widely echoed in the Pakistani media.
Although the Manawan attack was intended to demoralize Pakistani security forces, it
may have just the opposite effect. The bravery and dedication exhibited by the
Pakistani police and soldiers who responded to the attack may instead serve to steel
their will and instill professional pride. Mehsud's recent threats, along with the
militant attacks, may also work to alienate him from people who had been supportive
of -- or at least ambivalent toward -- him and the jihadists.
Up until 2003, the Saudi public, and many in the government, pretty much turned a
blind eye to the actions of jihadists in Saudi Arabia as long as the jihadists were
concentrating their attacks on targets outside the kingdom. But when the jihadists
declared war on the Saudi royal family and began to conduct attacks against targets
inside the kingdom that resulted in the deaths of ordinary Saudis, the tide of
public opinion turned against them and the Saudi government reacted aggressively,
smashing the jihadists. Similarly, it was the brutality of al Qaeda in Iraq that
helped turn many Iraqi Sunnis against the jihadists there. Indeed, an insurgency
cannot survive long without the support of the people. In the case of Pakistan, that
also goes for the support of Inter-Services Intelligence and the army. The TTP, al
Qaeda and their Kashmiri militant allies simply cannot sustain themselves without at
least the tacit support of Pakistan's intelligence apparatus and army. If these two
powerful establishments ever turn against them, the groups will be in serious peril.
Pakistan has long been able to control the TTP and al Qaeda more than it has. The
country has simply lacked the will, for a host of reasons. It will be interesting to
watch and see if Mehsud's campaign serves to give the Pakistani people, and the
authorities, the will they need to finally take more serious steps to tackle the
jihadist problem. Having long battled deep currents of jihadist thought within the
country, the Pakistani government continues to face serious challenges. But if the
tide of public support begins to turn against the jihadists, those challenges will
become far more manageable.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Warren
on: April 02, 2009, 04:38:22 PM
"It is necessary for every American, with becoming energy to endeavor to stop the
dissemination of principles evidently destructive of the cause for which they have
bled. It must be the combined virtue of the rulers and of the people to do this, and
to rescue and save their civil and religious rights from the outstretched arm of
tyranny, which may appear under any mode or form of government."
--Mercy Warren, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Laffer
on: April 02, 2009, 04:08:14 PM
By ARTHUR B. LAFFER
In most cases, people who inherit wealth are lucky by an accident of birth and really don't "deserve" their inheritance any more than people who don't inherit wealth. After all, few of us get to choose our parents. It's also arguable that inherited wealth sometimes induces slothfulness and overindulgence. But the facts that beneficiaries of inheritances are just lucky and that the actual inheritance may make beneficiaries less productive don't justify having an estate tax.
Chad CroweThese same observations about serendipitous birth can be made for intelligence, education, attractiveness, health, size, gender, disposition, race, etc. And yet no one would suggest that the government should remove any portion of these attributes from people simply because they came from their parents. Surely we have not moved into Kurt Vonnegut's world of Harrison Bergeron.
President Barack Obama has proposed prolonging the federal estate tax rather than ending it in 2010, as is scheduled under current law. The president's plan would extend this year's $3.5 million exemption level and the 45% top rate. But will this really help America recover from recession and reduce our growing deficits? In order to assess the pros and cons of the estate tax, we should focus on its impact on those who bequeath wealth, not on those who receive wealth.
Advocates of the estate tax argue that such a tax will reduce the concentrations of wealth in a few families, but there is little evidence to suggest that the estate tax has much, if any, impact on the distribution of wealth. To see the silliness of using the estate tax as a tool to redistribute wealth, realize that those who die and leave estates would be taxed just as much if they bequeathed their money to poor people as they would if they left their money to rich people. If the objective were to redistribute, surely, an inheritance tax (a tax on the recipients) would make far more sense than an estate tax.
Indeed, from a societal standpoint, inheritance is an unmitigated good. Passing on to successive generations greater health, wealth and wisdom is what society in general, and America specifically, is all about. Imagine what America would look like today if our forefathers had been selfish and had left us nothing. We have all benefited greatly from a history of intergenerational American generosity. But just being an American is as much an accident of birth as being the child of wealthy parents. If you are an American, it's likely because ancestors of yours chose to become Americans and also chose to have children.
In its most basic form, it's about as silly an idea as can be imagined that America in the aggregate can increase the standards of living of future generations by taxing individual Americans for passing on higher standards of living to future generations of Americans of their choice. Clearly, taxing estates at death will induce people who wish to leave estates to future generations to leave smaller estates and to find ways to avoid estate taxes. On a conceptual level, it makes no sense to tax estates at death.
Study after study finds that the estate tax significantly reduces the size of estates and, as an added consequence, reduces the nation's capital stock and income. This common sense finding is documented ad nauseam in the 2006 U.S. Joint Economic Committee Report on the Costs and Consequences of the Federal Estate Tax. The Joint Economic Committee estimates that the estate tax has reduced the capital stock by approximately $850 billion because it reduces incentives to save and invest, has excessively high compliance costs, and results in significant economic inefficiencies.
Today in America you can take your after-tax income and go to Las Vegas and carouse, gamble, drink and smoke, and as far as our government is concerned that's just fine. But if you take that same after-tax income and leave it to your children and grandchildren, the government will tax that after-tax income one additional time at rates up to 55%. I especially like an oft-quoted line from Joseph Stiglitz and David L. Bevan, who wrote in the Greek Economic Review, "Of course, prohibitively high inheritance tax rates generate no revenue; they simply force the individual to consume his income during his lifetime." Hurray for Vegas.
If you're rich enough, however, you can hire professionals who can, for a price, show you how to avoid estate taxes. Many of the very largest estates are so tax-sheltered that the inheritances go to their beneficiaries having paid little or no taxes at all. And all the costs associated with these tax shelters and tax avoidance schemes are pure wastes for the country as a whole and exist solely to circumvent the estate tax. The estate tax in and of itself causes people to waste resources.
Again, a number of studies suggest that the costs of sheltering estates from the tax man actually are about as high as the total tax revenues collected from the estate tax. And these estimates don't even take into account lost output, employment and production resulting from perverse incentives. This makes the estate tax one of the least efficient taxes. And yet for all the hardship and expense associated with the estate tax, the total monies collected in any one year account for only about 1% of federal tax receipts.
It is important to realize that less than half of the estates that must go through the burden of complying with the paperwork and reporting requirements of the tax actually pay even a nickel of the tax. And the largest estates that actually do pay taxes generally pay lower marginal tax rates than smaller estates because of tax shelters. The inmates really are running the asylum.
In 1982, Californians overwhelmingly voted to eliminate the state's estate tax. It seems that even in the highest taxed state in the nation there are some taxes voters cannot abide. It shouldn't surprise anyone that ultra-wealthy liberal Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, supporter of the estate tax and lifetime resident of Ohio, where there is a state estate tax, chose to die as a resident of Florida, where there is no state estate tax. Differential state estate-tax rates incentivize people to move from state to state. Global estate tax rates do the same thing, only the moves are from country to country. In 2005 the U.S., at a 47% marginal tax rate, had the third highest estate tax rate of the 50 countries covered in a 2005 report by Price Waterhouse Coopers, LLP. A full 26 countries had no "Inheritance/Death" tax rate at all.
In the summary of its 2006 report, the Joint Economic Committee wrote, "The detrimental effects of the estate tax are grossly disproportionate to the modest amount federal revenues it raises (if it raises any net revenue at all)." Even economists in favor of the estate tax concede that its current structure does not work. Henry Aaron and Alicia Munnell concluded, "In short, the estate and gift taxes in the United States have failed to achieve their intended purposes. They raise little revenue. They impose large excess burdens. They are unfair."
For all of these reasons, the estate tax needs to go, along with the step-up basis at death of capital gains (which values an asset not at the purchase price but at the price at the buyer's death). On purely a static basis, the Joint Tax Committee estimates that over the period 2011 through 2015, the static revenue losses from eliminating the estate tax would be $281 billion, while the additional capital gains tax receipts from repeal of the step-up basis would be $293 billion.
To counter the fact that economists such as I obsess about the deleterious effects of the estate tax, advocates of the estate tax note with some pride that 98% of Americans will never pay this tax. Let's make it 100%, and I'll get off my soapbox.
Mr. Laffer is the chairman of Laffer Associates and co-author of "The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy -- If We Let It Happen" (Threshold, 2008).
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A19