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24251  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq-2 on: May 11, 2009, 10:58:47 AM
OMII forwards us this and comments:
5 U.S. soldiers killed in Baghdad
May 11, 2009 - 02:35:03

BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: Five U.S. soldiers were killed on Monday in a shooting inside a U.S. base in Baghdad, the U.S. army said.

“Five Multi-National Forces were killed in a shooting inside al-Houriya base in Baghdad at 2:00 p.m. on Monday (May 11),” the U.S. army said in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq news agency.  “The incident under investigation,” it added, without giving further details.

I become ever more convinced that Michael Yon was on Kool-Aid when he passed through Iraq.  I say that matter of factly, not to be disrespectful.  This country will not survive our departure.  I pray I am wrong.


In response I have asked if maybe we are leaving too quickly, too soon, and are throwing away what we finally accomplished.  I await his answer.

24252  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Reps and the Public Option on: May 11, 2009, 10:49:25 AM
So Democrats have declared their willingness to use a parliamentary tactic to force a far-reaching restructuring of U.S. health care through Congress on a partisan vote. Imagine if Tom DeLay had tried to do that on, say, Social Security. Would Democrats have rolled over?

On the one hand, President Obama and his party say they're hoping to strike a good-faith compromise on health care. On the other, they're threatening this "budget reconciliation" maneuver to coerce Republicans into rubber-stamping liberal policy. And if the GOP won't oblige, Democrats say they'll add a new multitrillion-dollar liability to the federal fisc anyway, using a process that was designed to cut spending and reduce the deficit.

The political game here is that Democrats want to use this threat to peel off a handful of GOP Senators before the bill comes to the floor in June. That would short-circuit this year's health-care debate before it begins. Their targets include the likes of Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, all of whom bowed to the Democrats in 2007 on expanding the state children's insurance program (Schip). But those were minor stakes compared to this year's battle, especially over the so-called public option for health insurance.

This new entitlement -- like Medicare but open to all ages and all incomes -- would quickly crowd out private insurance as people gravitated to heavily subsidized policies, eventually leading to a single-payer system. So Democrats are trying to seduce diffident Republicans with a Potemkin compromise. A "soft" public option would limit enrollment only to the uninsured or those employed by small businesses, or include promises that the plan will pay market rates. As recently proposed by Chuck Schumer, it would pay claims entirely with premiums and co-pays. But if the plan can't force down reimbursement rates through brute force, and doesn't get taxpayer dollars, why bother to "compete" with private plans?

The truth is Democrats know that any policy guardrails built this year can be dismantled once the basic public option architecture is in place. The White House strategy is to dilute it just enough to win over credulous Republicans. That is what has always happened with government health programs:

When Medicare was created in 1965, benefits were relatively limited and retirees paid a substantial percentage of the costs of their own care. But the clout of retirees has always led to expanding benefits for seniors while raising taxes on younger workers.

In 1965, Congressional actuaries expected Medicare to cost $3.1 billion by 1970. In 1969, that estimate was revised to $5 billion, and it actually came in at $6.8 billion. That same year, the Senate Finance Committee declared a Medicare cost emergency. In 1979, Jimmy Carter proposed limiting benefits, only to have the bill killed by fellow Democrats. Things have gotten worse since, and Medicare today costs $455 billion and rising.

Medicaid was intended as a last resort for the poor but now covers one-third of all long-term care expenses in the U.S. -- that is, it has become a middle-class subsidy for aging parents of the Baby Boomers. Its annual bill is $227 billion, and so far this fiscal year is rising by 17%.

Schip was pitched a decade ago as a safety net for poor kids, and some Republicans helped sell it as a free-market reform. But Schip is now open to families that earn up to 300% of the poverty level, or $63,081 for a family of four. In New York, you can qualify at 400% of poverty.

Any new federal health plan will inevitably follow the same trajectory, no matter how much Republican Senators might claim they've guaranteed otherwise. The Lewin Group consultants estimate that 119 million people who now have private insurance could potentially be captured by the government under the Obama public option. This is on top of the 90 million already in Medicare or Medicaid. This would guarantee a spending explosion that would over time lift federal outlays as a share of GDP into the upper 20% range or higher. Republicans would spend the rest of their days deciding whether to vote for tax increases to finance this, or stand accused of denying health care to the middle class.

This doesn't mean the die is cast. Democrats also know that durable reforms in America have typically passed with bipartisan majorities. They understand that a national health plan that passes on partisan lines could be pared back as unaffordable or unfair, the way the "catastrophic" health plan for seniors was repealed in 1989.

As New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg recently told us, Democrats also don't want their swing-state Senators to have to defend such a partisan process in the 2010 election. That's why they're eager for even the veneer of bipartisanship that three or four GOP Senators would provide. And that's why they're willing to threaten a procedural bludgeon to intimidate Republicans to provide that veneer.

This health-care debate isn't like the "stimulus" bill, which was largely about short-term spending and deficits. This one is about whether to turn 17% of the U.S. economy entirely and permanently into the arms of the government. For Republicans, this is about whether they still stand for anything at all.
24253  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on: May 11, 2009, 09:16:37 AM
"Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the spot of every wind. With such persons, gullability, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck."
Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Smith, December 8, 1822
24254  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq on: May 11, 2009, 09:14:55 AM
Holy f&$#!  A rocket just flew over our hooch and landed not too far away.  Pretty decent boom too.
They are telling us the rocket landed one street over from our hooch.  In some guy's garden.  He had apparently just finished planting his garden and grass.  Now it's all a mess.  And he's pissed!
Interestingly the whoosh sound associated with this one, which landed quite close, was only about 1/4 second (if that).  The  one that flew over in December was quite longer (seemed like 2 seconds or so).  That one landed much farther away.
I  guess the lesson might be if you hear only a very, very short whoosh, don't dither in hitting the deck. They make the most unmistakable whoosh kind of sound.

The security situation is so good that a friend of mine, and her whole unit, is having to leave Fallujah for a safer place.


MARC writing now:

Is President Obama throwing away what we have achieved in Iraq?
24255  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: May 09, 2009, 05:12:31 PM
The Pakistani army are readying for an urban battle unprecedented in the short history of its battle against the Taliban

Sana al Haq in Mingora and Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Saturday 9 May 2009 17.01 BST

The skiing season at Malam Jabba, Pakistan's only ski resort, is over. Yesterday the pistes echoed with the sound of explosions as fighter jets screamed overhead, part of the Pakistan military's intensifying campaign to dislodge the Taliban from the Swat Valley.

An hour's drive away in Mingora, the war-racked valley's main town, the Taliban and army are readying for an urban battle unprecedented in the short history of Pakistan's battle against the Taliban.

Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, today said the army was fighting for "the survival of the country", speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting.

The country's leaders, encouraged by the US, launched the full-scale offensive in Swat last week in order to halt the spread of Taliban control which had spread to districts within 60 miles of the capital. The battle has now been taken to the heart of the north-west region of the country which the Taliban has seized as its powerbase, and in particular to the beleaguered, frightened town of Mingora.

This once-bustling riverside community, nestled between orchards and rolling mountains, has become a hub of the dispossessed and the desperate. Since fighting erupted last Tuesday, following the collapse of a fragile peace deal, tens of thousands of frantic residents have fled, scrambling on to buses, cars and even rickshaws. They left behind a ghost city controlled by the Taliban, under siege from army mortar fire and helicopter gunship assaults, and tensed in the expectation of an army ground offensive that could lead to urban warfare reminiscent of Russian bids to clear Grozny, Chechnya, in 1999 and 2000.

At Mingora hospital yesterday embattled medics struggled to tend to dozens of residents injured by army shelling and stray gunfire. Riaz Khan, a 36-year-old teacher, his wife and two daughters occupied four of the beds, suffering shrapnel wounds to the arms and legs. His two other daughters were killed by an army mortar last week, he told an Associated Press reporter.

If, as expected, the army launches a major ground offensive to dislodge the Taliban, casualties are expected to rise on all sides. Yesterday the army said it had killed 55 fighters in clashes over the previous 24 hours. The Taliban have laid mines under bridges and along roads across the city. In some cases, wires trail from the bombs into houses where fighters, some fresh-faced teenagers, lie in wait.

Others have seized the tallest buildings, mounting rocket launchers on rooftops and taking cover behind water tanks. At the Continental Hotel, a former haunt of the local and foreign journalists, the rooms are occupied by fighters, the walls are pocked with bullet holes and many windows have shattered.

Education has always been a hot issue for the Taliban – last January they ordered the closure of all girls' schools – so it is perversely appropriate that the war is being fought between schools.On Thursday the Observer visited the Pamir building, which until recently housed the Educators School and College. It was filled with Taliban, their weapons trained on a contingent of soldiers located in a deserted school a few streets away.

The target is the last military bastion in the otherwise Taliban-controlled city, and the soldiers hunkered down inside also face fire from a second position: the Mullababa high school, on the far side of a desiccated riverbed. The army says that 15,000 members of the security forces are located in Swat, many under siege in two camps across the river Swat in Kanju village. One is located on the city golf course, where heavy artillery booms from the rutted greens; the other is inside an unused air strip that has been the target of several Taliban assaults.

The Taliban are bringing in fresh fighters, drawing others back from the Buner valley nearby, where they have been engaged in fierce combat for two weeks. To reach Mingora they pass along a mountain road that crosses the White Palace, a luxury hotel where the Queen stayed during a visit to Swat in 1961.

The army has scored some successes. Yesterday the body of Taliban commander Akbar Ali laid unclaimed in no man's land, a day after he was killed. An earlier rocket assault targeted Taliban fighters in a nearby emerald mine a few kilometres from the city. The mine was reopened a few months ago by Sirajuddin, a local commander with a scraggly gray beard whose previous job was as Taliban spokesman. He laid down strict rules – miners would pray at the appointed times, suffer the loss of an arm and a leg if they attempted to steal gemstones, and give one third of their takings to the Beit ul Mal, or Taliban treasury.

The mine provided rich, illicit pickings. One commander told the Observer he had sold half a million rupees worth of emeralds (£4,200) to a trader, one of about two dozen who came to the mine from Peshawar for a weekly auction. But the Taliban gravy train ground to a halt last Thursday when helicopter gunships pounded the mine, killing 35 militants, the army said.

On the plains to the south of the valley, in Mardan and Swabi districts, a humanitarian nightmare is brewing. More than 200,000 people have fled, another 300,000 are on the move or about to leave, according to the UN, adding to another 550,000 people displaced by earlier fighting in the tribal belt and Frontier province.

As aid workers rush to erect camps, supplies are limited and tempers quickly fray. Yesterday afternoon a riot briefly erupted in Sheikh Shahzad camp, near Mardan, as angry villagers looted UN supplies. Gilani appealed for international help with the ballooning humanitarian crisis that affects up to one million people, according to the UN. He promised the army would strive to end the crisis quickly – an outcome that appeared highly unlikely.

Not everyone has escaped. An unknown number of besieged residents remain trapped, unwilling or unable to leave their homes. Hunkered behind thin walls they survive with no electricity, dwindling water supplies and in fear of stray bombs and gunfire.

Those left behind fear what lies ahead. Reached by phone Khaista Bibi, 55, a resident, said she had hardly eaten in two days. "The situation seems impossible."
24256  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Panama on: May 09, 2009, 05:11:05 PM

Introduction – This article is written for the Ex-Pat who has legally become a resident of the Republic of Panama and wishes to acquire a firearm. We will walk you through the process. Tourists can not acquire firearms in Panama. You must have a residency or be a Pensionado. You do not need to retain a lawyer to purchase a gun. If you have permission to buy the firearm you can carry it concealed on your person, in your pocket or purse, in your vehicle etc. Certain buildings have a firearms prohibited sign on the entrance and of course you should obey these signs. Banks, airports, government offices have such signs. So there are no concealed carry permits in Panama, if you can buy the gun lawfully you can carry it concealed. Exposed carry of the firearm is not allowed and will cause police attention fast.

Types of Guns in Panama – You can buy handguns (semi-auto handguns, revolvers), rifles and shotguns. You can have hi-capacity magazines in any type gun, no restrictions. You can not have full-auto firearms. You can have semi-auto rifles and handguns. You can not have a silencer. Guns are costly in Panama, figure 50% higher than North America on name brand guns like Ruger, Sig Sauer, Smith, Remington, etc. Gun dealers generally do not have a large inventory in Panama. Expect to see 10 or so rifles and shotguns in stock and perhaps as many handguns. Many of the guns will be cheapies from Argentina and Russia. The dealer can order you what you want but expect a wait of 2-3 months or more then add in the time for the permission to buy the gun to go through.

The Gun Buying Process in Panama – First you go to the gun store and prove to them you are eligible to buy a firearm by way of Residency, Pensionado, etc. Next you select a gun and pay for it. Then the gun store will have you go to the bathroom and pee in a cup which is a medical sample cup. Then you will be given a form to take to a government health office for a finger prick blood test – DNA sample. Plan on a wait to get your blood sample. Next the gun store sends the paperwork through the police system. It goes to three departments and can take 6-10 weeks to clear. When it is complete you get the gun. More than one gun can be bought at the same time. You also get a gun permit which is a folded piece of green cardboard paper which a photo on it. You can enter up to 10 guns on the permit. Panama does not limit amount of guns so if you earn more than 10 guns an additional listing page will be provided for the permit. The police will take ballistic sample of a fired round.

Sawed off Shotguns and Short Barreled Rifles – These are legal in Panama. They are not sold that way but can be modified by a gunsmith to suit. Pistol grip shotguns with no shoulder stock are generally available in the stores with an 18” barrel and a large magazine underneath. Double barrel shotguns are available and of course can easily be shortened by a gunsmith; you could even add a choke so the short barrel groups tight. Short barrel rifles can also be created by a gunsmith but the purpose of this is hard to determine other than slightly reducing the barrel length on an assault rifle but in any event it is lawful. I guess some want to do it because they could not do so in their home country?

Ammo- No armor piercing ammo allowed. Hollow points, high speed light weight defensive rounds etc. are fine.

Firearm Importation into Panama – This is possible. Generally this appeals to Americans since they seem to have lots of firearms. You go to a gun store and get their assistance. You apply for an importation permit which is something like the same process for a purchase if you do not already have a permit. It is easier if you have a permit. Then you get permission to import the weapon into Panama. There can be problems and restrictions shipping a firearm from other countries like the USA which require the services of a licensed gun dealer able to export. You would Fed Ex the unloaded gun with paperwork from USA and Panama to Panama. Then you would hope for the best and that things sort themselves out before the gun rusts out in some non-climate controlled government warehouse somewhere. You will be required to pay an import duty which can be steep. A customs broker would be best source for costs on this, we do not know but a guess would be 50% of the value – is it new or used, etc. We are a law firm not a customs broker. If you have a question about bringing in some rare special gun like a Browning Safari Grade Rifle or a Heckler and Koch squeeze cocker handgun we really have no idea what the taxes will be. First become eligible for buy a gun and then retain a customs broker. Suggestion: Skip the importation process, buy a gun in Panama.

Ranges – There are an ample amount of indoor handgun ranges and outdoor ranges. No worries.

Knives – You can carry concealed knives. Do not carry an exposed sheath knife in the city – asking for trouble from the police. There are no blade size restrictions. You can carry butterfly knives, automatic knifes, gravity or flick knives, out the front knives, double edge folders (carry Band-Aids) whatever kind of knife. Most of the available knives are the cheapos, sometime you see a medium grade product like a Smith and Wesson knife. Bring your good knives with you, not in carry on. Do not take knives into government buildings, airports, banks and other restricted places. It will come up on the metal detector.

Pepper Spray – Readily available small canisters. No permits needed. Decent quality, not gourmet pepper spray but effective enough.

Swords, Tonfas, Batons, Billy Clubs, Staffs, Nunchukas – All readily available and not restricted.
24257  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews on: May 09, 2009, 04:50:16 PM
 cry cry cry
24258  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Libros de Cecilio Andrade on: May 09, 2009, 11:45:20 AM
24259  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: He was just an "aid" who was acting on his own accord on: May 09, 2009, 11:27:49 AM
Please move this to the "His Glibness" thread or the "Politics" thread.
24260  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: May 09, 2009, 11:25:59 AM
"Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that if they were stealing all the food from the store, management would
have called the police and at minimum, objected.  And no where could I find testament that they stole anything." 

Do you speak French so as to be able to find that testament?

Why would boycotters BUY the food?

"As for "Long live Palestine" it can mean many things; not just the destruction of Israel."

In this context, I think it is pretty clear that it means precisely the destruction of Israel.  For example PLO school books, despite having signed to the contrary in Oslo, still show Palestine as being from "river to sea".

"But for arguments sake, let's say the T-Shirt said, "Eliminate Israel, let Palestine rule". As absurd (for many reasons)
as this statement is, isn't this the right of a protestor to express their opinion about a political issue?"

Sure, but that's not the point here.

"For example my South Korean friends might approve of a T-Shirt that said, "Eliminate North Korea, let Seoul rule".
Probably, many on this forum would also support such a T-Shirt."

Actually I would suport the people of NK truly deciding.

"But one should not pick and choose when it comes to free speech or one day we may not have it."

Again, read again and see that no one here has called for anything against free speech.  Not sure where you are getting this  huh

Subject to confirmation by a competent French speaker, what we are noting here is the apparent intimidation of the store by an organized group going in and taking its products off the shelf-- I'm guessing without payment.
24261  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: May 09, 2009, 10:58:05 AM
Our webmaster tells me the Tribal listing update is now complete.  If there are any errors, please let me know.
24262  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: May 09, 2009, 10:10:48 AM
"Frankly, store management didn't care since the protestors were doing nothing wrong."

How many stores you know freely allow that sort of actiivty?  We are still waiting to here from someone who can say whether they were paying for the food they were taking.  What meaning do you put to their shirts' fronts "Long live Palestine"?   I think they are calling for the destruction of Israel.
24263  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government Programs, spending, budget process on: May 09, 2009, 10:07:18 AM
Glenn Beck reported last night that spending on devices to detect radioactivity for our harbors has been cut  rolleyes angry cry

Obama unveiled a budget Thursday with a 2010 price tag of $3.5 trillion financed with $1.2 trillion of new debt. For domestic agencies, that's a 9.3% spending hike over last year.

 Mr. Obama and his advisers know the public won't accept gigantic governmental expansions without at least some effort to pare the waste in Washington. So they scrubbed "line by line" through this historically huge budget and identified $16.7 billion of budget savings. This is less than a penny, about 0.47 cents, of savings out of every dollar Uncle Sam will spend this year. And these aren't real savings that will reduce debt, because Congress has already fixed the budget totals. Thus, each dollar saved from the African Development Foundation gets reallocated to some other foreign aid program.

To be fair, most of the 121 program "terminations, reductions and savings" that the President recommends make good sense, and we wish Congress godspeed in eliminating them. By all means have done with the Denali Job Training program (savings of $3 million) and USDA Public Broadcasting Grants ($5 million), and payments to high-income farmers ($58 million).

But Mr. Obama's war on government waste looks like a war on paper clips. Three-quarters of the cuts come from the national defense budget, not domestic agencies. Of the 10-year savings of $71 billion in entitlement programs -- now with a mind-numbing $62.9 trillion unfunded liability over the long-term -- one-third of the cutbacks aren't cuts at all. They are tax increases, mostly on the oil and gas industry.

One cut gives the word "savings" new meaning. The Obama budget will "save" taxpayers $290 million a year by increasing the IRS enforcement agency budget by $890 million. "Targeted enforcement resources more than pay for themselves," says the budget, in the first case of dynamic scoring by the Democrats since the Kennedy Administration.

Mr. Obama has scoffed at critics who complain these savings are inconsequential. "I guess that's considered trivial," he explained. "Outside of Washington [$17 billion] is still considered a lot of money." Yes, Mr. Obama himself signed a budget bill with 9,000 earmarks costing more than $13 billion and then justified the expenditure by declaring these levels of waste minor in the grand scheme of things.

We now live in a time when tens of billions of dollars has become a blip or rounding error in the federal budget. The Administration has said it's time to take action in reducing America's "$12 trillion American Express bill." We agree, but at this pace, with $16.7 billion of savings a year and even assuming no new debt, it will take centuries to pay off Uncle Sam's credit card.
24264  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia, Warsaw, Washington on: May 09, 2009, 10:00:50 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Russia's Shifting Relations with Washington and Warsaw
May 8, 2009
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday, discussing plans for Obama’s trip to Moscow in July. The relationship between Russia and the United States has been tense to say the least, although the Russians have introduced an interesting twist.

The last major meeting between American and Russian leaders came April 1 in London, when Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev met at the G-20 conference. That meeting went poorly.

The issues on the table at that time included NATO’s expansion to former Soviet states, U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans in Poland, nuclear reduction treaties and proposed NATO military supply routes to Afghanistan. The Russians entered that meeting convinced they had the upper hand: They believed the NATO expansion issue was locked away and the Americans would have to implore their permission in getting supplies to Afghanistan. Russian leaders believed they could force the United States into more complex negotiations and a compromise over Poland that would nix U.S. plans for a BMD installation and military assistance in Poland.

However, this was not the case.

Washington did not make a serious push for Moscow’s help on supply lines for Afghanistan; it also re-opened the issue of NATO’s relationship with Georgia and Ukraine, two former Soviet states. The Americans made it clear that the Polish issue would not be discussed. The only item on which Russia and the United States seemed to agree was the need to renegotiate strategic nuclear reduction treaties. Consequently, there were bitter tastes in many mouths after the April 1 meeting, and bickering between Russia and NATO has escalated during the past month:

Russia has blocked almost every move by Western governments to increase their influence in Central Asia.
Russia has more than doubled its troop presence in breakaway regions of Georgia, from just over 3,000 to more than 7,600.
NATO has initiated military exercises in Georgia, despite Russian troops’ presence just 20 miles from the location of the drills.
In response, Russia has threatened to call off NATO-Russian relations.
NATO officials in Brussels expelled Russian diplomats over a spy scandal that involved the imprisonment of an Estonian official; Russia in turn has expelled Canadian NATO officials.

From the outside, it would appear that the core issues between Moscow and Washington have been pushed back into the former Soviet sphere and NATO-Russian relations. For instance, Poland has been a central theme for Russia and the United States, with Moscow’s concerns about U.S. military plans there very apparent. Warsaw and Moscow have had a terrible relationship: This has been evident in energy cut-offs, trade embargoes, spy scandals, Poland’s blocking of Russian-EU relations and more. There has been undisguised contempt on both sides for years. Russia has not attempted to deal with Warsaw directly, but instead has pressured the United States to abandon independent and anti-Russian Poland.

This approach hasn’t worked.

It was significant, then, that Russia’s foreign minister spoke in positive terms this week about “improving Russian-Polish relations.” The day before leaving for Washington, and following a meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Radislaw Sikorski, Sergei Lavrov went so far as to call Poland “pragmatic” — a marked departure from the “hysterical” and “irrational” labels that Russia has used in discussing Poland in the past. He even noted that Moscow was looking to re-establish the Polish-Russian Committee — an intergovernmental body that has not convened since 2004, when relations between Moscow and Warsaw began to sour.

This change in rhetoric gives us pause. We do not believe that Poland is about to change its stance against Russia or for the United States. But the shift in tone by Russia indicates that Moscow is, at least temporarily, abandoning its tried-and-failed approaches of indirect pressure and threats — by telling the Poles instead that they may have options in forming an understanding with Russia.

Moscow is giving Warsaw an opportunity to change the tenor of relations. The timing of this shift was deliberate, designed to give Washington something to think about as Lavrov met with Obama. The hope appears to be that Russia can change things on the ground with Poland by offering a little honey instead of vinegar.

24265  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Reality Toys on: May 09, 2009, 09:51:06 AM
24266  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO to federalism-- Unions more important on: May 09, 2009, 09:39:15 AM
One of the biggest stories in politics earlier this year was about California's budget teetering on the edge of a $42-billion deficit abyss. It only staved off insolvency when its legislature ended three months of gridlock to pass a budget with steep tax hikes and spending cuts. Guess what the Obama Administration is doing? It is telling Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that it will revoke nearly $7 billion in federal stimulus money unless the state restores legislated wage cuts for unionized health-care workers.

Obama Administration to federalism: Drop dead.

In its budget deal, California agreed to $74 million in wage cuts for unionized home health-care workers. The Service Employees International Union huffed to the higher power in Washington, which duly agreed to hold California's stimulus hostage.

Governor Schwarzenegger has sent a letter asking the feds to reconsider, noting the cuts were taken in response to "an unprecedented fiscal crisis." Even now the state faces an estimated cash-flow problem of some $17 billion by July.

Restoring the union money will require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, a task in California somewhat akin to moving the Sierra Nevadas. Still, it's worth noting where the Obama team ranks the political authority of a legislative enactment by the state of California versus the political clout of a union.
24267  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: From the mighty ACORN comes massive vote fraud on: May 09, 2009, 09:32:37 AM
Democrats are split on how to deal with Acorn, the liberal "community organizing" group that deployed thousands of get-out-the-vote workers last election. State and city Democratic officials -- who've been contending with its many scandals -- are moving against it. Washington Democrats are still sweeping Acorn abuses under a rug.

On Monday, Nevada officials charged Acorn, its regional director and its Las Vegas field director with submitting thousands of fraudulent voter registration forms last year. Larry Lomax, the registrar of voters in Las Vegas, says he believes 48% of Acorn's forms "are clearly fraudulent." On Thursday, prosecutors in Pittsburgh, Pa., also charged seven Acorn employees with filing hundreds of fraudulent voter registrations before last year's general election.

Acorn spokesman Scott Levenson calls the Nevada criminal complaint "political grandstanding" and says that any problems were the actions of an unnamed "bad employee." But Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada's Democratic Attorney General, told the Las Vegas Sun that Acorn itself is named in the criminal complaint. She says that Acorn's training manuals "clearly detail, condone and . . . require illegal acts," such as requiring its workers to meet strict voter-registration targets to keep their jobs.

Other Democrats on the ground have complaints. Fred Voight, deputy election commissioner in Philadelphia, protested after Acorn (according to the registrar of voters and his own investigation) submitted at least 1,500 fraudulent registrations last fall. "This has been going on for a number of years," he told CNN in October. St. Louis Democrat Matthew Potter, the city's deputy elections director, had similar complaints.

Elsewhere, Washington state prosecutors fined Acorn $25,000 after several employees were convicted of voter registration fraud in 2007. The group signed a consent decree with King County (Seattle), requiring it to beef up its oversight or face criminal prosecution. In the 2008 election, Acorn's practices led to investigations, some ongoing, in 14 other states.

The stink is bad enough that some congressional Democrats have taken notice. At a March 19 hearing on election problems, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pressed New York Rep. Gerald Nadler, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to hold a hearing on Acorn. He called the charges against it "serious." Mr. Nadler agreed to consider the request.

Mr. Nadler's office now says there will be no hearing on Acorn because Mr. Conyers has changed his mind. Mr. Conyers's office released a statement on Monday saying that after reviewing "the complaints against Acorn, I have concluded that a hearing on this matter appears unwarranted at this time." A Democratic staffer told me he believes the House leadership put pressure on Mr. Conyers to back down. Mr. Conyers's office says it is "unaware" of any contacts with House leaders.

Then there's Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Last month, he voted for a committee amendment (to the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act) by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R., Minn.) to block groups indicted for voter fraud from receiving federal housing or legal assistance grants. Identical language was passed into law in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Mr. Frank now says he "had not read [the amendment] carefully" before backing it. He gutted the amendment on Thursday, claiming that the language Congress passed just last year is "a violation of the basic principles of due process."

A lot of money is at stake. In the stimulus bill passed by Congress, Acorn is eligible -- along with other activist groups -- to apply for $2 billion in funds to redevelop abandoned and foreclosed homes. Meanwhile, public records show that last spring the IRS filed three tax liens totaling almost $1 million against Acorn, most of which concerned employee withholding.

All of this infuriates Marcel Reid, who, along with seven other national Acorn board members, was removed last year after demanding an audit of the group's books. "Acorn has been hijacked by a power-hungry clique that has its own political and personal agendas," she told me. "We are fighting to take back the group."

Bertha Lewis, the head of Acorn, told me last year before their ouster that the "Acorn Eight" were "obsessed" and "confused." But Anita MonCrief, an Acorn whistleblower, says the problems run deep. Ms. MonCrief worked at Project Vote, an Acorn affiliate, in late 2007. She says its development director, Karen Gillette, told her she had direct contact with the Obama campaign and also told her to call Obama donors who had maxed out on donations to the candidate but who could contribute to Acorn. Project Vote calls her charges "absolutely false." (Ms. Gillette has declined comment.)

Acorn's relationship to the Obama campaign is a matter of public record. Last year, Citizens Consulting Inc., the umbrella group controlling Acorn, was paid $832,000 by the Obama campaign for get-out-the-vote efforts in key primary states. In filings with the Federal Election Commission, the campaign listed the payments as "staging, sound, lighting," only correcting them after reporters from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review revealed their true nature.

Mr. Obama distanced himself from the group's scandals last year, saying "We don't need Acorn's help." Nevertheless, he got his start as a community organizer at Acorn's side. In 1992, he headed a registration effort for Project Vote, an Acorn partner at the time. In 1995, he represented Acorn in a key case upholding the new Motor Voter Act -- the very law whose mandated postcard registration system Acorn workers use to flood election offices with bogus registrations.

But Acorn's registration tricks may soon be unnecessary. Congressional Democrats are backing a bill to mandate a nationwide data base to automatically register driver's license holders or recipients of government benefits.

This "would create an engraved invitation for voter fraud," says Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member, who points out that these lists are filled with felons and noncitizens who are ineligible to vote. Ironically, in light of its troubles with the law, Acorn was selected in March to assist the U.S. Census in reaching out to minority communities and recruiting census enumerators for the count next year.

As for the Nevada indictment, Acorn isn't worried. "We've had bad publicity before, and all it does is inform the community that we're here working for the community," Bonnie Greathouse, Acorn's head organizer in Nevada, assured the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week. "People always come forward to our defense. We're just community organizers, just like the president used to be."

Mr. Fund is a columnist for .

BTW, Glenn Beck has been going after ACORN with serious intent this week.  Very impressive.
24268  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Shore pressures on: May 09, 2009, 09:16:54 AM
GAROOWE, Somalia — Abshir Boyah, a towering, notorious Somali pirate boss who admits to hijacking more than 25 ships and to being a member of a secretive pirate council called “The Corporation,” says he’s ready to cut a deal.

Garoowe, where several prominent and many lesser Somali pirates make their homes.

The Pirate Chronicles
Islamic Backlash
This article is the first in a series exploring piracy and the social upheaval that has led to it.

Abshir Boyah, one of Somalia's best-known pirates. Facing intensifying naval pressure and a rising backlash on land, Mr. Bohah is now promising to quit the buccaneering business.

Facing intensifying naval pressure on the seas and now a rising backlash on land, Mr. Boyah has been shuttling between elders and religious sheiks fed up with pirates and their vices, promising to quit the buccaneering business if certain demands are met.
“Man, these Islamic guys want to cut my hands off,” he grumbled over a plate of camel meat and spaghetti. The sheiks seemed to have rattled him more than the armada of foreign warships patrolling offshore. “Maybe it’s time for a change.”

For the first time in this pirate-infested region of northern Somalia, some of the very communities that had been flourishing with pirate dollars — supplying these well-known criminals with sanctuary, support, brides, respect and even government help — are now trying to push them out.

Grass-roots, antipirate militias are forming. Sheiks and government leaders are embarking on a campaign to excommunicate the pirates, telling them to get out of town and preaching at mosques for women not to marry these un-Islamic, thieving “burcad badeed,” which in Somali translates as sea bandit. There is even a new sign at a parking lot in Garoowe, the sun-blasted capital of the semiautonomous region of Puntland, that may be the only one of its kind in the world. The thick red letters say: No pirates allowed.

Much like the violence, hunger and warlordism that has engulfed Somalia, piracy is a direct — and some Somalis say inevitable — outgrowth of a society that has languished for 18 years without a functioning central government and whose economy has been smashed by war.

But here in Garoowe, the pirates are increasingly viewed as stains on the devoutly Muslim, nomadic culture, blamed for introducing big-city evils like drugs, alcohol, street brawling and AIDS. A few weeks ago, Puntland police officers broke up a bootlegging ring and poured out 327 bottles of Ethiopian-made gin. In Somalia, alcohol is shunned. Such a voluminous stash of booze is virtually unheard of.

“The pirates are spoiling our society,” said Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud, Puntland’s new president. “We will crush them.”

In the past 18 months, Somali pirates have netted as much as $100 million hijacking dozens of ships and holding them ransom, according to international maritime groups. It will be exceedingly difficult for these men — or the local businesses that they support — to make that kind of money doing anything else in this beleaguered nation.

Still, the Puntland pirate bosses insist they are ready to call it quits, if the sheiks find jobs for their young underlings and help the pirates form a coast guard to protect Somalia’s 1,880-mile coastline from illegal fishing and dumping. These are longstanding complaints made by many Somalis, including those who don’t scamper up the sides of cargo ships, AK-47 in hand.

It is a stretch, to say the least, that the world would accept being policed by rehabilitated hijackers. But on Monday, Mr. Boyah and two dozen other infamous Puntland pirates, many driving Toyota Surfs, a light, fast sport utility vehicle that has become the pirate ride of choice, arrived at an elder’s house in Garoowe to make their case nonetheless.

“Negotiation is our religion,” said one pirate, Abdirizak Elmi Abdullahi.

Puntland officials acknowledge, grudgingly, that the pirates have helped them in a way: bringing desperately needed attention and aid.

“Sad but true,” said Farah Dala, Puntland’s minister of planning and international cooperation. “After all the suffering and war, the world is finally paying attention to our pain because they’re getting a tiny taste of it.”

Last month, after an American sea captain was kidnapped by Somali pirates, donor nations pledged more than $200 million for Somalia, in part to fight piracy.

Since then, foreign navies have increased their patrols and arrested dozens of pirates. Mr. Boyah conceded that business was getting riskier. But, he said, there are still plenty of merchant ships — and plenty of ocean.

“It’s like hunting out there,” Mr. Boyah said through an interpreter. “Sometimes you get a deer, sometimes you get a dik-dik,” a runty antelope common in Somalia.

Mr. Boyah, 43, was born in Eyl, a pirate den on the coast. He said he dropped out of school in third grade, became a fisherman and took up hijacking after illegal fishing by foreign trawlers destroyed his livelihood in the mid-1990s.

“He’s respected as a pioneer,” said Yusuf Hassan, the managing editor of Garoowe Online, a Somali news Web site.

When Mr. Boyah walked into a restaurant recently, he had to shake half a dozen hands before sitting at a plastic, fly-covered table with two foreign journalists.

“Ha!” he said, through a mouthful of spaghetti. “Me eating with white men. This is like the cat eating with the mice!”


The restaurant sat across from the presidential palace. Mr. Boyah cut right through a crowd of Puntland soldiers to enter. He is hard to miss, about 6 foot 4 and dangerously thin. Earlier, he had been sitting on a couch, thigh to thigh, next to a high-ranking police chief. The two joked — or maybe it was not a joke — that they were cousins.

In Garoowe, the pirates are seen as bringing big-city evils.  Hawo, left, with a friend, is the wife of the pirate Abshir Boyah, who says that he is thinking of giving up pirating.

Puntland’s last president, Mohamud Muse Hirsi, was a former warlord widely suspected of collaborating with pirates and voted out of office in January. The new president, Mr. Abdirahman, is a technocrat who had been living in Australia and came back with many Western-educated advisers — and an ambition to be Somalia’s first leader to do something substantive about piracy. He formed an antipiracy commission and even issued a “First 100 Days” report.
Yet, Puntland officials are doing precious little about the pirate kings under their noses — reluctant, perhaps, to provoke a war with crime lords backed by hundreds of gunmen. When asked why they weren’t arresting the big fish, Mr. Abdirahman said, “Rumors are one thing, but we need evidence.”

Indeed, it is hard to see exactly where all those millions went, at least here in Garoowe. There are some nice new houses and a few new hotels where pirates hang out, including one encased in barbed wire called “The Ladies’ Breasts.” Dozens of dusty Surfs prowl the streets. But not much else.

Mr. Boyah, who lives in a simple little house, explains: “Don’t be surprised when I tell you all the money has disappeared. When someone who never had money suddenly gets money, it just goes.”

He claims that his estimated take of several hundred thousand dollars disappeared down a vortex of parties, weddings, jewelry, cars and qat, the stimulating leaf that Somalis chew like bubble gum.

Also, because of the extended network of relatives and clansmen, “it’s not like three people split a million bucks,” he said. “It’s more like 300.”

Oh, Mr. Boyah added, he also gives 15 percent to charity, especially to the elderly and infirm. “I’d love to give them more,” he said. Over all, he seemed like a man on a genuine quest for redemption — or a very good liar.

“We know what we’re doing is wrong,” he said gravely. “I’m asking forgiveness from God, the whole world, anybody.”

And then his silver Nokia phone chirped yet again. He would not say what he needed to do, but it was time to go.
24269  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pelosi nailed on: May 08, 2009, 09:24:33 PM
What a _________________!!!  angry angry angry

Pelosi: I Was Told Interrogation Methods Were Lawful

The House speaker's statement came after CIA records showed Pelosi was briefed in September 2002 on the interrogation methods and appeared to contradict her claim last month that she was never told that waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques were being used.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted Friday that she was briefed only once about the "enhanced" interrogation techniques being used on terrorism suspects and that she was assured by lawyers with the CIA and the Department of Justice that the methods were legal.

Pelosi issued a statement after CIA records released this week showed that Pelosi was briefed in September 2002 on the interrogation methods. The briefings memo appeared to contradict the speaker's claims that she was never told that waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation methods were being used.

"We were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used," Pelosi said on April 23.

The emphasis seems to be on "were used," even though she conceded in a statement released Friday that she was told they would be used.

"As I said in my statement of December 9, 2007: 'I was briefed on interrogation techniques the (Bush) administration was considering using in the future. The administration advised that legal counsel for both the CIA and the Department of Justice had concluded that the techniques were legal,'" she said.

But even that statement is at odds with the official record of the briefings recorded in the CIA memo dated to Sept. 4, 2002. That memo says Pelosi received a "briefing on EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques), including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities and a description of particular EITs that had been employed."

Pelosi noted that the media had reported this week that CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote in a cover letter accompanying the briefings memo that "the descriptions provided by the CIA may not be accurate."

Pelosi is fighting back against accusations that she and other Democrats are being motivated by politics in their attempt to establish an independent commission to investigate officials and lawyers involved with the Bush-era interrogation programs.

Pelosi is just one of 65 lawmakers who received 40 briefings dealing with the subject. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for instance, was repeatedly briefed, as was Rep. Jane Harman, D-Valif., who took over Pelosi's spot on the House Intelligence Committee.

In addition, from the beginning of the program in 2002 until it became public in the fall of 2006, the House held 13 votes to authorize intelligence funding at which time no one objected or demanded changes to any intelligence programs.

The briefings took place in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. At the time, the CIA was getting actionable intelligence that helped disrupt several terrorist plots.

Lawmakers apparently didn't want to stop that. But when it became public, Pelosi and others shifted gears and started criticizing a program they had known about for years, claimed GOP strategist Brad Blakeman.

"Either the speaker has a veracity problem or an incompetence problem and it could be both," Blakeman told FOX News. "The fact of the matter is she was briefed and she was hoping that the top secret nature of these briefings would shield her from this information coming out."

Blakeman added that he trusts the notes made at the briefings more than Pelosi's memory.

Justice Department officials are not likely to recommend criminal charges against the three Bush administration lawyers who the wrote the memos approving the interrogation methods, but two could face disciplinary action from their state bar associations.
24270  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DB in the media on: May 08, 2009, 08:21:54 PM
Well, I am going by what Dog Rog says and he is American-- but he did visit a Euro Gathering IIRC so I cannot say which with certainty.
24271  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / TUF fighter in DB Gathering on: May 08, 2009, 03:10:08 PM
James Wilks, the Brit who won on TUF this week, has fought in 1-2 DB Gatherings.
24272  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WTF?!? on: May 08, 2009, 02:52:44 PM
Second post of day:

Contractor pleads guilty to Taliban shooting

By Matthew Barakat - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Feb 4, 2009 16:34:47 EST

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An Army contractor is facing up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of a handcuffed Taliban member who had just set one of the contractor’s colleagues on fire.

Don M. Ayala, 46, of New Orleans struck a plea bargain Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, avoiding murder charges that could have resulted in life in prison.

Ayala provided security on what the Army calls a Human Terrain Team, in which social scientists and anthropologists are embedded with combat brigades to help soldiers understand local culture.

On Nov. 4, Ayala and two other team members were on a walking patrol about 80 miles west of Kandahar, in a village called Chehel Gazi. Team member Paula Loyd was distributing candy to villagers and talking about gas prices with an Afghan man, Abdul Salam, when he lit a pitcher of fuel on fire and threw it on her.

According to court documents, Ayala helped arrest and subdue Salam, who was then placed in plastic restraints. Ayala kept a pistol pointed at Salam’s head as he continued to resist arrest.

After a few minutes, when Ayala learned how badly Loyd had been burned, Ayala shot Salam in the head, killing him instantly.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Loyd, 36, who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body and died from her injuries last month at an Army hospital in San Antonio.

Ayala’s case had been the first case in which federal prosecutors brought murder charges against a military contractor serving in Iraq or Afghanistan under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, the 2000 law that allows such prosecutions.

Ayala was employed by Strategic Analysis, Inc., an Arlington company working as a subcontractor for BAE Systems, which has its U.S. Headquarters in Rockville, Md.  Strategic Analysis did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.  Ayala had previously worked for contractors providing personal security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Ayala is scheduled for sentencing on May 8.

KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. civilian shot dead an Afghan civilian who tried to set fire to another American on Tuesday, the U.S. military said.

At least 4,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan this year, some 1,000 of them civilians. It is still rare though for foreign civilians to be directly engaged in the conflict.

The shooting occurred after an altercation, a U.S. military statement said.

"Reports indicate the local national was shot after pouring and igniting a flammable liquid on another U.S. civilian. The civilian sustained serious burns and was transported to the nearest coalition forces medical facility for treatment," it said.

Taliban insurgents said children had poured petrol on a female foreign soldier and set fire to her while she was searching homes in the town of Maiwand in the southern province of Kandahar.

"The soldier caught fire immediately after petrol was poured on her and then explosions were set off because of the ammunition on her," the Taliban said on their Web site.

"As a result the female soldier was killed instantly and a large number of other foreign soldiers were wounded," it said.

It was not possible to verify the conflicting reports, but the Taliban frequently exaggerate foreign troop casualties.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by David Fox)

24273  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: May 08, 2009, 02:28:32 PM
Email sent to webmaster.
24274  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Talked to death on: May 08, 2009, 02:18:43 PM
Second post of the day

FOR several years, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been trying to negotiate and reconcile with supposedly moderate elements of the Taliban to end the insurgency. This approach has failed every time. Thus it is puzzling to many Afghans that President Obama has also been talking about negotiating with “moderates.” Let’s hope that when the two men met in Washington this week, along with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, the idea of reaching out to the Islamic extremists was shelved once and for all.

After all, President Karzai’s efforts have simply revealed the weakness of the Afghan government and its international allies. Taliban spokesman have repeatedly demanded unacceptable conditions for talks, including the departure of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and the establishment of Shariah law.

Indeed, shortly after Mr. Obama raised the subject of reconciliation, the Taliban rejected his proposal, stating there were no extremists or moderate groups within their ranks. On this point at least, the Taliban are right. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, put it very clearly: “The Taliban were united under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar. All the fighters follow and obey orders of one central command. The existence of moderates and extremist elements within the rank and file of Taliban is wishful thinking of the West and the Afghan government.”

What can be the purpose of talks with the Taliban? These men deprive women of their rights, throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls, reject religious freedom and oppose constitutional democracy. They also threaten to kill any Afghans who have worked with Western militaries and nongovernmental groups or had other contact with foreigners.

Is it possible, as some have said, that the Taliban have mellowed since being toppled in 2001? Muhammad Ibrahim Hanafi, a top Taliban commander, answered that question in an interview in March with CNN: “Our law is still the same old law which was in place during our rule in Afghanistan.”

The more President Karzai and his Western allies talk about reconciliation, the farther their public support will plummet. I returned to Afghanistan in 2001 after more than two decades in America and founded a manufacturing company with the intention of using part of its profits to help young women get an education. In the early days, the discussions at our organization’s meetings were dominated by talk of building schools and other big plans. Lately, however, the main topic has been the future of us women in Afghanistan under another Taliban regime. We know that there is not, and will never be, any “moderate Taliban.” Extremists and ideologues do not compromise.

The atmosphere has been made worse by the president’s signing of a family law affecting Shiite Muslims that places restrictions on when a woman can leave her house and states the circumstances in which she is obliged to have sex with her husband. I was part of a group of civil-society representatives who recently met with President Karzai to express our concerns about the law; he replied that he hadn’t known the full details when he signed it and promised to “fight for us” to have it amended. We’ll see. But his later statement that “there are no reconciliation processes” going on with the Taliban, which seems at odds with the facts, did not inspire much hope.

The family law and other governmental efforts to appease religious extremists are having one effect that reminds me of the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of 1979: Afghanistan is being drained of the people who would be most effective at putting it back together. It seems as if every group of Afghans that attends training programs in the West now returns just a bit smaller. Last year, the accountant and the top administrator of my factory left for the Netherlands with their families. My new accountant recently went to Islamabad, Pakistan, to meet with German Embassy officials about a possible visa.

This is a far cry from the 1960s and ’70s, when many Afghans, including my father and five of my uncles, studied abroad on scholarships but returned to work in the government or to start businesses and create jobs. That sense of nationalism has disappeared; unless we rediscover it, Afghanistan will become a failed state.

The only “reconciliation” strategy that is going to work is one between the Kabul government and the Afghan people. The key is making changes at the community level. Many local mullahs and citizens who have tolerated the Taliban in the past are open to working with a government that can protect them and help them find livelihoods. The government and its allies can best weaken the insurgency by better protecting the population, organizing local citizens’ groups to cooperate on economic development, and hiring more people from every part of the country into the growing Afghan Army and police force.

This is the only way that the reconcilables will be separated from the irreconcilables. We need to understand where Afghanistan’s true moderates are to be found, and not look for them in leadership positions of one of the most repressive organizations on earth.

Hassina Sherjan is the president of Boumi, a manufacturer of decorative products for the home, and the director of Aid Afghanistan for Education, a nonprofit group.
24275  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Harlem Miracle on: May 08, 2009, 12:31:55 PM
The Harlem Miracle
Published: May 7, 2009
The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

That’s why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.

They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so many of our kids are dying — literally and figuratively.”

These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right. The Promise Academy does provide health and psychological services, but it helps kids who aren’t even involved in the other programs the organization offers.

To my mind, the results also vindicate an emerging model for low-income students. Over the past decade, dozens of charter and independent schools, like Promise Academy, have become no excuses schools. The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.

To understand the culture in these schools, I’d recommend “Whatever It Takes,” a gripping account of Harlem Children’s Zone by my Times colleague Paul Tough, and “Sweating the Small Stuff,” a superb survey of these sorts of schools by David Whitman.

Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.

They also smash the normal bureaucratic strictures that bind leaders in regular schools. Promise Academy went through a tumultuous period as Canada searched for the right teachers. Nearly half of the teachers did not return for the 2005-2006 school year. A third didn’t return for the 2006-2007 year. Assessments are rigorous. Standardized tests are woven into the fabric of school life.

The approach works. Ever since welfare reform, we have had success with intrusive government programs that combine paternalistic leadership, sufficient funding and a ferocious commitment to traditional, middle-class values. We may have found a remedy for the achievement gap. Which city is going to take up the challenge? Omaha? Chicago? Yours?
24276  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What a mom wants on: May 08, 2009, 11:27:13 AM
Around this time every year, we begin seeing state-of-motherhood reports that analyze how moms are faring. In our prosperous past, feel-good angles, like how much a mom's housework is worth, took center stage. But thanks to the struggling economy, this Mother's Day has seen a rise in more serious stories. Take, for example, the case of Eleanor Hemmert.

 In a recent segment on how the country's rising unemployment is affecting moms, "Good Morning America" gave viewers a glimpse into the life of Ms. Hemmert. Because male-dominated industries like finance, construction and manufacturing have been the hardest hit by the economic meltdown, men have experienced nearly 80% of the layoffs in the current recession. Ms. Hemmert's husband, Rick, is among them. To compensate for his lack of income, she has started spending as many as 14 hours a day at the office trying to close deals. In contrast, Rick, now the at-home parent, has taken up most of the tasks that used to belong to his wife -- cooking dinner, doing the laundry, and caring for the couple's 7-year-old daughter.

The role reversal caused by men's job losses is one byproduct of the economic downturn that has many news outlets, if not outright cheering, at least tentatively applauding. In her online column for Forbes, Elisabeth Eaves likened stay-at-home mothers re-entering the workforce to more-permanent Rosie the Riveters, commenting, "thanks to the recession, we may be at just such another socio-sexual inflection point." New York Times contributor Lisa Belkin wondered if women might finally become the majority of American workers, suggesting that such a development would be a "silver lining" in these dark times. One Salon writer celebrated the possibility that the "long-awaited redistribution of domestic labor might prove crucial in finally evening the professional playing field," while another wondered whether the financial crisis could turn out to be "accidentally feminist."

It isn't just the media promoting the idea that increasing numbers of mothers putting in more hours in paid work represents progress for women. Left-leaning think tanks, as well as the Obama administration, are also undertaking efforts to further the trend the recession began.

In mid-April, the Center for American Progress announced that it is teaming with the University of Southern California and Time Magazine to explore the impact the recession has had on women. While acknowledging that being the family breadwinner may be a burden to some mothers, Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the center and project co-editor, said that it can also be "an opportunity." On April 22 she informed Congress that the rising unemployment of men has provided many working moms much-needed domestic help.

That may seem a rather callous perspective to out-of-work men, but Ms. Boushey's take is perfectly appropriate to "A Woman's Nation," a venture that John Podesta, the CEO of the Center for American Progress, promises will consider "the central question of the role government, business, and faith organizations, as well as individual women and men should play in supporting women's role now in the workforce…. " Given how many of the center's former employees work for the Obama administration, it's little surprise how closely the project dovetails with a March 11 executive order forming a White House Council on Women and Girls that aims to increase women's employment in various male-dominated industries.

There's only one problem with all these efforts to support mom in her new financial-provider role, and Ms. Hemmert presents a stark picture of it. However empowered the media, the think tanks and the White House tell her she should be, she is profoundly unhappy to have changed places with her spouse. "I don't like coming home and seeing him in my apron," Ms. Hemmert says while watching her husband make dinner. She reacts with outright revulsion to the phrase "Mr. Mom," and her mouth hardens into a thin line when her husband explains that it isn't necessarily a man's job to earn a living for his family, that a man can also be "the person who handles children and sets up play dates."

Ms. Hemmert admits that she sees her own parental job as something separate and different from her husband's, and she not only resents him for usurping her role but has lost some respect for him. "I'm a woman, and I want to be a mother first," she states simply.

To be fair, many women who found themselves in Ms. Hemmert's position wouldn't experience the same level of displeasure and disappointment in their husbands that she expresses. But research indicates that most do share her desire to be a mother first and an earner second. And they, too, prefer a husband who's more interested in bringing home the bacon than in cooking it.

Virtually every reputable poll taken on mothers and work reveals that a strong majority of moms prefer to work part time or fewer hours. Reflecting the results of many other polling organizations, the Pew Research Center's most recent survey found that only 21% of mothers with children under the age of 18 say full-time employment is the ideal situation for them. The rest prefer either part-time work or not working at all. In contrast, fully 72% of fathers say a full-time job is the best option for them.

But Ms. Hemmert isn't just an everywoman in wanting to work fewer hours; she's also an everywoman in wanting her husband to take the lead in providing. In 2006, a University of Virginia study found that contrary to many feminists' preoccupation with equal division of household tasks, dishwashing men do not happy women make. Along with a spouse who offers affection, attention and empathy, what really makes women happy is one who earns at least two-thirds of the family income.

The study's authors, W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock, expressed surprise at finding that even self-described feminist women are happiest when their husbands do most of the breadwinning. Though the study resulted in a great deal of clamor among commentators who objected to its seemingly outdated conclusions, it differs little from the work of many evolutionary psychologists. David Buss, one of the founders of the field, conducted the largest investigation to date into the subject of human mating. After studying more than 10,000 subjects in 37 countries in the late 1980s, Mr. Buss and his team found that "women more than men in all 37 cultures valued mates with good financial prospects…."

Of course, this is one of those observations likely to elicit a "well, no kidding" from average people. The idea that most moms would rather not work full time and that most wives want their husbands to provide for their families is news only in the news business. Yet Capitol Hill continues to focus on women's employment. The House added a section to the Troubled Asset Relief Program that creates an "Office of Minority and Women Inclusion" to, among other things, ensure that companies receiving TARP money maintain an adequate (though unspecified) percentage of female workers.

If our media and our government really want to show support to mothers, they might consider actually listening to them. What they're saying is quite clear: If you want to help us, help the men we're married to.

Ms. Basham is the author of "Beside Every Successful Man: Getting the Life You Want by Helping Your Husband Get Ahead."
24277  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Give the Afg Army a bigger role on: May 08, 2009, 11:01:32 AM
I have no opinion on this, I offer it here simply as an interesting read.
Korengal Valley, Afghanistan

The only way to reach Viper Company of the 26th Regiment, First Infantry Division, is by helicopter. When I fly in, Capt. Jimmy Howell greets me. "I'm holding a shura [meeting of village elders]," he says. "We won't be shot at until they leave." The steep-sided Korengal Valley, 70 miles northeast of Kabul, is the scene of the war's fiercest fighting, claiming 57 American lives over the past three years.

Sure enough, an hour after the elders leave the shura, 30-millimeter shells strike the outpost. Cpl. Marc Madding, an Afghan army adviser, begins firing .50 caliber rounds at the enemy position, laughing as an Afghan soldier scurries from the latrine with shells bursting behind him. Capt. Howell adjusts mortar and artillery shells on the hillside, followed by an A-10 aircraft dropping 250-pound bombs. It's another afternoon in the Korengal, the hot spot in a district that's recorded some 1,990 similar engagements since mid-2005.

Overwhelming American firepower forced the wily fundamentalist insurgents to maintain a respectful distance. A few days earlier, an enemy unit had let down its guard and lost 15 combatants to a well-staged American ambush. Most of the fundamentalists killed were from villages that frequently receive food and medical aid from the U.S. Army outpost. The following day, an American soldier was killed outside a nearby village.

In what Rudyard Kipling called "the arithmetic of the frontier," fundamentalism and tribal hostility fuel persistent attacks, year after year, here in the Korengal. It's not well known stateside, but the Taliban are just one of many fundamentalist gangs waging war against our forces here. Like the U.S. Cavalry fighting the Apaches in the 19th century, it is problematical whether the Americans should push deeper into this treacherous valley or simply bottle up the local fighters.

Whatever the strategy in the Korengal, the broader war across eastern Afghanistan is showing signs of progress. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commanding Joint Task Force 101, has deployed his forces in a 300-mile swath that runs from south of Kabul northeast to the Pakistan border. Partnered with Afghan units in over 100 patrol bases along the populated river valleys, JTF 101 has driven the fundamentalist fighters back into the hills and blocked the infiltration routes from Pakistan. The price for an AK-47 rifle smuggled in from Pakistan has doubled in the past four months. For Maj. Gen. Schloesser, the art of command hinges on applying sufficient power to prevent sanctuaries inside the remote valleys without diverting too much power from the populated areas. The restrained military goal is to control the majority of the population around Kabul and to the east, not to pacify the entire region.

The next challenge is to gain control over the southern portion of the country. In the next few months, 10,000 American soldiers and marines will join NATO forces down south. The steady gains by JTF 101 showed that enemy fighters are not fanatics determined to die. Similarly, by the fall the Taliban will be driven back from the populated areas in the south, as they have been in the east.

But as long as Pakistan is a sanctuary, U.S. forces here will be on the strategic defensive, no matter how skillful their military tactics. We can't stay forever. The basic question is: How to consolidate the battlefield gains? That depends upon how the mission is defined. President Barack Obama has avoided promising to build a vibrant democratic nation. "The achievable goal," he said recently, "is to make sure it [Afghanistan] is not a safe haven for terrorists." Such a minimalist policy can be achieved in one of two ways.

The first is to apply the classic counterinsurgency model: After the military push the enemy from a populated area, the police take over, while government appointees provide honest governance and basic services. This approach pursues the expensive nation-building that Mr. Obama has not endorsed. It requires thousands of additional police trainers and hundreds of civilian advisers in the districts. These advisers also serve as watchdogs against corruption, acting as a shadow government to restrain officials prone to skimming and payoffs. It's a sound approach that is slow and expensive.

The second option is to expand the role of the Afghan army to act as the facilitators and watchdogs of governance. Today, American commanders like Capt. Howell routinely participate in shuras or councils. They can gradually hand off such governance-related tasks to Afghan officers.

To do so requires funding a military pension plan conditioned upon retiring a generation of superannuated senior Afghan officers and promoting the younger generation. Afghan battalions would remain in set locales for years instead of rotating every few months as many now do. By homesteading, the Afghan army would develop sources to make arrests or deals beyond our ken. Unlike the police, they could ward off retaliatory attacks. In a de facto way, the military -- the most respected institution in Afghanistan -- would become the real backbone connecting the locals to the central government.

The new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who commanded the NATO force there a few years ago. While lacking presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke's flamboyance and adulatory press, Gen. Eikenberry doesn't ruffle feathers and understands the political-military dynamic. In 2004, for instance, he deftly removed control over the fledgling Iraqi army from the incompetent Coalition Provisional Authority. As our ambassador in Kabul, he can facilitate an expanded managerial role for the military in government activities while fostering the civilian political process.

If that sounds like double-talk, it is. An activist Afghan military is reminiscent of earlier eras of shadow military influence in Turkey (or in Pakistan, Jordan, Mexico, Argentina, etc.). During internal strife, however, many governments have expanded the powers of their military. It should not be the job of America to build a European-style democracy in Afghanistan. The Afghan military is more trustworthy than either the police or the civilian bureaucracy.

Capt. Howell of Viper Company has been called out of the Korengal for a few days to receive the U.S. Army's highest award for leadership. Then it's back into the fray. There's a price we must pay to ensure the Taliban don't reclaim Afghanistan. But let's not add to the cost by expanding our national objectives. We can't manage the skein of tribal loyalties and jealousies. The fastest way to reduce the size of our involvement is to build up the Afghan Army and quietly encourage it to play an active, expansionist role in governance.

Mr. West, a former combat marine and assistant secretary of defense, reports frequently from Iraq and Afghanistan. His third book on the Iraq war, "The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq," was published last year by Random House.

24278  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Sound of Republican Silence on: May 08, 2009, 10:55:20 AM
Listen. That sound of silence? That's what's known as the united Republican response to President Barack Obama's drive to socialize health care.

The president has a plan, and he's laid it on the table. The industry groups that once helped Republicans beat HillaryCare are today sitting at that table. Unions are mobilized. A liberal umbrella group, Health Care for American Now, is spending $40 million to get a "public option," a new federal entitlement that would kill off private insurance. Democrats passed a budget blueprint that will allow them to cram through that "public option" with just 51 votes.

Republicans? They're trying to figure out what they think.

Well, not all of them. Earlier this week I ended up in the office of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, where the doctor was hosting North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr. The duo is, for the second time, crafting a comprehensive reform that would lower costs, cover the uninsured, and put Americans in control of their health care. And while the senators decline to talk GOP politics, their bill raises the multitrillion-dollar question: Will the party have the nerve or sense to coalesce behind some such conservative alternative to the Democratic product?

They'd better, because the days of Republicans winning these battles solely by spooking Americans are over. Phil Gramm, Harry and Louise might have scored with that approach in the 1990s, but the intervening years have brought spiraling costs and public unrest. Americans want a fix. Democrats promise one. The GOP can't tank the public option simply by complaining it will kill private insurance. The party has to finally elucidate how it plans to allow the private market to work.

Not that the senators don't think Republicans need to make clear to the country that the public option is, in Mr. Burr's words, "a fast track to a single-payer system." But they are also operating on the belief that Republicans must go beyond Band-Aid solutions to embrace, as Mr. Coburn puts it, a "complete transformation" of a system that is "structurally" flawed.

Their own bill overhauls the tax code, currently stacked in favor of corporate employees, to provide a tax credit to every American to purchase insurance. It expands health-savings accounts. It creates state health-insurance exchanges, where private insurers compete to cover Americans, including the uninsured. (This is partly modeled on the Medicare drug program, which has provided seniors with choice and held down costs.)

More broadly, it seeks to reorient financial incentives so that the system is no longer focused, as Mr. Coburn puts it, on "sick care," but on preventing the chronic diseases that eat 75% of health expenditures. These incentives would be used to lower costs and discourage insurers from cherry-picking patients. The bill also dives into Medicare and Medicaid reform.

Yet no small number of Senate Republicans are biding their time in Max Baucus land, waiting to see what the Democratic finance chairman produces as a "bipartisan" product. (Read: A bill the president wants.) This crowd has taken to heart Mr. Obama's accusation that they are the party of "no," and think it might be easier to be the party of Baucus, or the party of Baucus-lite, or the party of nothing whatsoever.

The White House is targeting folks like Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch and other Senate Republicans who back in 1997 voted for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which was pitched by Democrats at the time as a modest program to help poor kids. It has, of course, become exactly what Democrats always intended it to be: a ballooning federal entitlement that is today transferring middle-class children from private insurance onto the federal rolls. This might be thought of as a teachable moment. But now Republican "moderates" are all ears for the administration's soothing suggestions that perhaps the "public option" can be "structured" so as to protect private insurance. Uh-huh.

Another group of Republicans are still going 50 rounds over taxes -- namely, whether a deduction isn't a more principled and cleaner way than credits to equalize the tax treatment of insurance. This is a legitimate debate, but one that should've been had 10 years ago when Republicans were in the majority. While the GOP fiddled, Democrats focused the argument on "uninsureds," which has made a tax deduction (which would only cover those who pay taxes) even less politically palatable.

Over in the House time runs on, as the Republican leadership and a health-care working group continue to noodle over platforms, policies, egos and timing. Democrats intend to be debating their bill by June.

As for Messrs. Coburn and Burr, they spent a good half hour with me enthusiastically explaining why a competitive market would improve health, provide control and choice, lower costs, and tackle entitlements. It's a good pitch. If only the rest of America could hear the party make it.
24279  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The 911 families on: May 08, 2009, 10:52:47 AM
In February I was among a group of USS Cole and 9/11 victims' families who met with the president at the White House to discuss his policies regarding Guantanamo detainees. Although many of us strongly opposed Barack Obama's decision to close the detention center and suspend all military commissions, the families of the 17 sailors killed in the 2000 attack in Yemen were particularly outraged.

Over the years, the Cole families have seen justice abandoned by the Clinton administration and overshadowed by the need of the Bush administration to gather intelligence after 9/11. They have watched in frustration as the president of Yemen refused extradition for the Cole bombers.

Now, after more than eight years of waiting, Mr. Obama was stopping the trial of Abu Rahim al-Nashiri, the only individual to be held accountable for the bombing in a U.S. court. Patience finally gave out. The families were giving angry interviews, slamming the new president just days after he was sworn in.

The Obama team quickly put together a meeting at the White House to get the situation under control. Individuals representing "a diversity of views" were invited to attend and express their concerns.

On Feb. 6, the president arrived in the Roosevelt Room to a standing though subdued ovation from some 40 family members. With a White House photographer in his wake, Mr. Obama greeted family members one at a time and offered brief remarks that were full of platitudes ("you are the conscience of the country," "my highest duty as president is to protect the American people," "we will seek swift and certain justice"). Glossing over the legal complexities, he gave a vague summary of the detainee cases and why he chose to suspend them, focusing mostly on the need for speed and finality.

Many family members pressed for Guantanamo to remain open and for the military commissions to go forward. Mr. Obama allowed that the detention center had been unfairly confused with Abu Ghraib, but when asked why he wouldn't rehabilitate its image rather than shut it down, he silently shrugged. Next question.

Mr. Obama was urged to consult with prosecutors who have actually tried terrorism cases and warned that bringing unlawful combatants into the federal courts would mean giving our enemies classified intelligence -- as occurred in the cases of the al Qaeda cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and conspired to bomb New York City landmarks with ringleader Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh." In the Rahman case, a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators given to the defense -- they were entitled to information material to their defense -- was in Osama bin Laden's hands within hours. It told al Qaeda who among them was known to us, and who wasn't.

Mr. Obama responded flatly, "I'm the one who sees that intelligence. I don't want them to have it, either. We don't have to give it to them."

How could anyone be unhappy with such an answer? Or so churlish as to ask follow-up questions in such a forum? I and others were reassured, if cautiously so.

News reports described the meeting as a touching and powerful coming together of the president and these long-suffering families. Mr. Obama had won over even those who opposed his decision to close Gitmo by assuaging their fears that the review of some 245 current detainees would result in dangerous jihadists being set free. "I did not vote for the man, but the way he talks to you, you can't help but believe in him," said John Clodfelter to the New York Times. His son, Kenneth, was killed in the Cole bombing. "[Mr. Obama] left me with a very positive feeling that he's going to get this done right."

"This isn't goodbye," said the president, signing autographs and posing for pictures before leaving for his next appointment, "this is hello." His national security staff would have an open-door policy.

Believe . . . feel . . . hope.

We'd been had.

Binyam Mohamed -- the al Qaeda operative selected by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) for a catastrophic post-9/11 attack with co-conspirator Jose Padilla -- was released 17 days later. In a follow-up conference call, the White House liaison to 9/11 and Cole families refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the decision to repatriate Mohamed, including whether he would be freed in Great Britain.

The phrase "swift and certain justice" had been used by top presidential adviser David Axelrod in an interview prior to our meeting with the president. "Swift and certain justice" figured prominently in the White House press release issued before we had time to surrender our White House security passes. "At best, he manipulated the families," Kirk Lippold, commanding officer of the USS Cole at the time of the attack and the leader of the Cole families group, told me recently. "At worst, he misrepresented his true intentions."

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told German reporters that 30 detainees had been cleared for release. This includes 17 Chinese fundamentalist Muslims, the Uighurs, some of whom admit to having been trained in al Qaeda and Taliban camps and being associated with the East Turkistan Islamic Party. This party is led by Abdul Haq, who threatened attacks on the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing and was recently added to the Treasury Department's terrorist list. The Obama administration is considering releasing the Uighurs on U.S. soil, and it has suggested that taxpayers may have to provide them with welfare support. In a Senate hearing yesterday, Mr. Holder sidestepped lawmakers' questions about releasing detainees into the U.S. who have received terrorist training.

What about the terrorists who may actually be tried? The Justice Department's recent plea agreement with Ali Saleh al-Marri should be of grave concern to those who believe the Obama administration will vigorously prosecute terrorists in the federal court system.

Al-Marri was sent to the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001, by KSM to carry out cyanide bomb attacks. He pled guilty to one count of "material support," a charge reserved for facilitators rather than hard-core terrorists. He faces up to a 15-year sentence, but will be allowed to argue that the sentence should be satisfied by the seven years he has been in custody. This is the kind of thin "rule of law" victory that will invigorate rather than deter our enemies.

Given all the developments since our meeting with the president, it is now evident that his words to us bore no relation to his intended actions on national security policy and detainee issues. But the narrative about Mr. Obama's successful meeting with 9/11 and Cole families has been written, and the press has moved on.

The Obama team has established a pattern that should be plain for all to see. When controversy erupts or legitimate policy differences are presented by well-meaning people, send out the celebrity president to flatter and charm.

Most recently, Mr. Obama appeared at the CIA after demoralizing the agency with the declassification and release of memos containing sensitive information on CIA interrogations. He appealed to moral vanity by saying that fighting a war against fanatic barbarians "with one hand tied behind your back" is being on "the better side of history," even though innocent lives are put at risk. He promised the assembled staff and analysts that if they keep applying themselves, they won't be personally marked for career-destroying sanctions or criminal prosecutions, even as disbelieving counterterrorism professionals -- the field operatives and their foreign partners -- shut down critical operations for fear of public disclosure and political retribution in the never-ending Beltway soap opera called Capitol Hill.

It worked: On television, his speech looked like a campaign rally, with people jumping up and down, cheering. Meanwhile, the media have moved on, even as they continue to recklessly and irresponsibly use the word "torture" in their stories.

I asked Cmdr. Kirk Lippold why some of the Cole families declined the invitation to meet with Barack Obama at the White House.

"They saw it for what it was."

Ms. Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the National September 11 Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
24280  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ Stressed for success on: May 08, 2009, 10:47:36 AM
The Treasury released its bank "stress test" results late yesterday, and the good news is that the financial system has survived this very public undressing better than most analysts figured three months ago. We'd attribute the results much more to Adam Smith's continuing workout than to this public strip-tease, but we'll take relief wherever we can get it.

APStress-testing is what banks and their regulators are supposed to do as a matter of course, albeit more quietly. The current very loud and public effort was advertised to provide an extraordinary measure of transparency at a time when no one trusted bank books. Do markets trust them any better now? Judging by the run-up in bank stock prices from their oversold levels in January, they do. This is progress.

On the other hand, all we really have to go on is the word of the federal employees who looked at the banks and estimated their losses against certain economic assumptions. Did they go easier than they might have, and how much did they bend when the banks fought back? The Fed's overview yesterday claimed they ran a "deliberately stringent test" and pegged potential "adverse"-case losses at the 19 largest banks at $600 billion this year and next.

Yet markets are also full of reports that regulators showed more than a little forbearance, especially after it became clear that President Obama had no desire to go back to Congress to ask for more public money. With only $110 billion or so in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds left uncommitted, it's probably no coincidence that Treasury now sees new net bank capital needs as a manageable $75 billion.

And maybe that optimism will prove correct. Most banks are earning healthy profits again, thanks to a low cost of funds and steep yield curve. They're also taking steps to burn bad debt and clean up their balance sheets. Some banks that got too big during the boom are looking to sell some of their operations in order to raise cash. This is how a financial system shapes itself up under the market pressure of recession, with or without stress tests.

Not that there still aren't plenty of financial risks out there. On the credit side, commercial real estate is ugly and both home mortgage and credit card losses are a long way from receding. While the economy seems to be bottoming out at last, unemployment will keep rising for several months, which will mean more bank losses.

But our biggest question concerns interest-rate risk. Thanks to the Federal Reserve's emergency easing, short-term rates are close to zero. That can't last forever, and the longer the Fed keeps rates this low the more likely it is that rates will have to climb higher down the road to prevent inflation. Remember how the Fed's 1% rate of 2003-2004 rose to 5.25% by 2006 and what that did to housing prices and the cost of bank funds? Yet the Fed didn't disclose the interest-rate projections for 2010 and beyond that it built into its stress test models.

On the interest-rate point, by the way, one omen was yesterday's terrible 30-year Treasury bond auction. Treasury sold $14 billion of the securities, but investors demanded yields in mid-auction that were higher than forecast and bond prices fell the most since February. The 30-year yield hit 4.3%. With trillions of dollars in budget deficits still in the pipeline -- even before health care -- Treasury may find the world keeps demanding higher yields to offset the fear of potential inflation. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke didn't help on that score this week when he told Congress that it was too early to take liquidity out of the financial system because the economy was still too weak. By the time the economy is growing, it will be too late. Think 2004, again.

In the wake of the stress tests, the weaker banks will now have six months to raise private capital to fill the hole identified by Treasury. They'll be desperate to do so, because the alternative is that Treasury will force them to accept more public capital. This will include the conversion of Treasury's preferred stock, bought last year via the TARP, into common shares.

Under accounting rules, this gives the banks more "tangible common equity," the measure of capital favored by Treasury. Yet it provides not a penny more in actual capital to absorb losses. Meantime, the feds would suddenly own big chunks of those banks via common stock, the way they now are the largest shareholder in once-proud Citigroup. We've called this a back-door nationalization, and it means Congress looking over banker shoulders. The silver lining is that bank executives are now so appalled by this idea that they'll sell anything that moves to avoid such a fate.

As for the "stronger" banks, a major goal will be to flee as fast as possible from the TARP, also known as the Hotel Geithner. Banks can check in but it's a lot harder to check out. Treasury has set up major hurdles before a bank can escape, even if it wants to. Clearly banks at risk of failing can't be allowed to endanger the larger financial system, but banks that have adequate capital shouldn't be held hostage to the political worries of regulators.

The best that can be said about the stress tests is that they're over. Now the most urgent task is to get back to a financial system free of government guarantees, public capital and political control.
24281  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams on: May 08, 2009, 10:35:03 AM
"Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouraged by the Government. For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders."

--Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, 4 November 1775
24282  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: May 08, 2009, 09:05:28 AM
Dog Dan Farley most certainly is a member of the Tribe.  I'll ask our webmaster to take care of this right away.  Thanks for the catch.
24283  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Germany to ban paintball? on: May 08, 2009, 12:01:49 AM,,2-10-1462_2512787,00.htm

07/05/2009 16:19 - (SA)

Berlin - The German government wants to tighten gun laws and ban paintball games in response to a school shooting in which 16 people were killed in March, coalition sources said on Thursday.
Experts from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners had agreed to ban paintball games, in which players shoot at each other with pellets containing paint, the sources said.
The governing parties say games like paintball trivialise violence and risk lowering the threshold for committing violent acts, the sources said.
Infringements to the new rules, which the cabinet hopes to pass before a general election in September, could incur fines of up to €5 000, the sources said.
Previous incidents
A 17-year-old shot dead 15 people in the southwestern town of Winnenden, before killing himself in March, stunning many Germans and leading politicians to call for tighter gun rules.
The teenager had shot many of his victims in the head with his father's legally registered pistol. His father, a member of a shooting club, had 15 guns at home - fourteen were locked in a gun closet as required by law but the pistol was in the bedroom, officials have said.
Germany toughened its gun laws in 2002 after 19-year-old Robert Steinhauser shot dead 16 people, mainly teachers, and himself at a high school in the eastern German city of Erfurt.
The changes raised the minimum age for gun ownership to 21 from 18 and required gun buyers under 25 to present a certificate of medical and psychological health. Gun laws already required applicants to pass rigorous exams that can take up to a year.
The new rules would also grant authorities more rights in conducting checks with people owning guns, the sources said.
Sources in the SPD said the parties were also moving towards on agreement on the creation of a nationwide weapons register and were considering setting up biometric security locks for weapons stores.
- Reuter
24284  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government Programs on: May 07, 2009, 11:58:32 PM

Obama to cut slain officers program by nearly half

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration wants to cut almost in half a benefits program for the families of slain police and safety officers.
The president's proposed budget calls for cutting the Public Safety Officers' Death Benefits Program from $110 million to $60 million.
The Justice Department insisted no one would lose benefits.
"Any family member who is eligible for benefits under this program will receive them," said Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz.
Budget documents say the reduction is being made because "claims are anticipated to decrease," apparently because the number of officers killed in the line of duty has been decreasing.
The proposal is being made just days before Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to attend ceremonies in Washington honoring slain officers.
"It makes us kind of nervous. While we aren't panicking, it certainly has increased our concern, coming a week before National Police Week," said Suzie Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors, a group taking part in next week's events.
Sawyer said as long as the number of police and safety officers killed doesn't increase too much, the amount of money offered in the budget could be enough. And she noted that in the past, the government has found more money for the program when it needed more, such as following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The program pays benefits of more than $300,000 to the survivors of a safety officer killed in the line of duty.
There were 133 police officers killed in the line of duty last year, the lowest amount since 1960, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The group said killings of police officers are up 21 percent so far in 2009, compared to the same period the year before.
24285  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Little girls on: May 07, 2009, 05:03:11 PM
"If little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, when they grow up why do they taste like anchovies?"
24286  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: May 07, 2009, 03:50:26 PM
Its hard not to like someone who brings the informed and passionate loathing of the Clintons that Dick Morris does.  As a pollster he is in his element.  Political econ?  Well, methinks he sometimes confuses being on Fox with being an expert.

In this case though he is pretty much on the money-- sounds like he is channeling Glen Beck  cheesy

GB I think though is deeper and clearer on what's at stake here.  This is not what DM calls "compliant capitalism".  This is liberal fascism and is quite similar to the economics of Mussolini.
24287  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe on: May 07, 2009, 03:44:57 PM
I have sent the video to my mom, who speaks French very well, to ask what it says.  Somehow, I doubt they are paying for these products-- it seems rather contrary to the notion of a boycott  cheesy

I respect the point you make about boycotts, but I note the front of the shirts says what I think means "Long Live Palestine".  Somehow I doubt they are working for a two state solution , , ,
24288  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Citizens defend themselves/others. on: May 07, 2009, 01:42:31 PM
College Student Shoots, Kills Home Invader

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- A group of college students said they are lucky to be alive and they’re thanking the quick-thinking of one of their own. Police said a fellow student shot and killed one of two masked me who burst into an apartment.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Tom Jones met with one of the students to talk about the incident.

“Apparently, his intent was to rape and murder us all,” said student Charles Bailey.

Bailey said he thought it was the end of his life and the lives of the 10 people inside his apartment for a birthday party after two masked men with guns burst in through a patio door.

“They just came in and separated the men from the women and said, ‘Give me your wallets and cell phones,’” said George Williams of the College Park Police Department.

Bailey said the gunmen started counting bullets. “The other guy asked how many (bullets) he had. He said he had enough,” said Bailey.

That’s when one student grabbed a gun out of a backpack and shot at the invader who was watching the men. The gunman ran out of the apartment.

The student then ran to the room where the second gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Calvin Lavant, was holding the women.

“Apparently the guy was getting ready to rape his girlfriend. So he told the girls to get down and he started shooting. The guy jumped out of the window,” said Bailey.

A neighbor heard the shots and heard someone running nearby.

“And I heard someone say, ‘Someone help me. Call the police. Somebody call the police,’” said a neighbor.

The neighbor said she believes it was Lavant, who was found dead near his apartment, only one building away.

Bailey said he is just thankful one student risked his life to keep others alive.

“I think all of us are really cognizant of the fact that we could have all been killed,” said Bailey.

One female student was shot several times during the crossfire. She is expected to make a full recovery.

Police said they are close to making the arrest of the second suspect.
24289  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why haven't your heard about this from Pravda? on: May 07, 2009, 01:21:02 PM
College Student Shoots, Kills Home Invader

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- A group of college students said they are lucky to be alive and they’re thanking the quick-thinking of one of their own. Police said a fellow student shot and killed one of two masked me who burst into an apartment.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Tom Jones met with one of the students to talk about the incident.

“Apparently, his intent was to rape and murder us all,” said student Charles Bailey.

Bailey said he thought it was the end of his life and the lives of the 10 people inside his apartment for a birthday party after two masked men with guns burst in through a patio door.

“They just came in and separated the men from the women and said, ‘Give me your wallets and cell phones,’” said George Williams of the College Park Police Department.

Bailey said the gunmen started counting bullets. “The other guy asked how many (bullets) he had. He said he had enough,” said Bailey.

That’s when one student grabbed a gun out of a backpack and shot at the invader who was watching the men. The gunman ran out of the apartment.

The student then ran to the room where the second gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Calvin Lavant, was holding the women.

“Apparently the guy was getting ready to rape his girlfriend. So he told the girls to get down and he started shooting. The guy jumped out of the window,” said Bailey.

A neighbor heard the shots and heard someone running nearby.

“And I heard someone say, ‘Someone help me. Call the police. Somebody call the police,’” said a neighbor.

The neighbor said she believes it was Lavant, who was found dead near his apartment, only one building away.

Bailey said he is just thankful one student risked his life to keep others alive.

“I think all of us are really cognizant of the fact that we could have all been killed,” said Bailey.

One female student was shot several times during the crossfire. She is expected to make a full recovery.

Police said they are close to making the arrest of the second suspect.
24290  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Montana's 10th Amendment challenge on: May 07, 2009, 01:04:33 PM
The Second and Tenth Amendments
In what amounts to a serious Second and Tenth Amendment challenge to federal authority, the Montana Legislature passed and its Democrat governor signed a law which specifies that guns which are produced, sold and maintained within the state are exempt from federal regulations.

Essentially, Montana is setting up a Tenth Amendment challenge -- as soon as the first arrest is made for purchasing a gun without the user submitting to federal mandates such as background checks, licensing and registration, the state will assert its Tenth Amendment rights under our Constitution.

Other states are preparing similar legislation, but I would suggest one of them take the Tenth Amendment challenge a major step forward.

Let's see a state pass a law requiring that any and all federal authorities who wish to carry a firearm within the boundary of said state, must be in possession of a "right to carry" permit issued and authorized by that state's governor.

And speaking of "right to carry," in my home state of Tennessee, legislators are considering a bill to allow duly authorized carry permit holders to keep their weapons on their person in restaurants which serve alcohol (not to be confused with bars), similar to surrounding states.


The statists are protesting that doing so will undoubtedly lead to tragedy. However, one would be hard pressed to find any incident in any year when an authorized holder of a carry permit committed a felony with their weapon. By contrast, in the latest year of record, there were 13,470 fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers.

Now that is a tragedy. Perhaps they should not allow alcohol in bars...

Of course, this whole debate on federal versus state gun regulations and concealed carry permits is a straw man. Personally, my right-to-carry permit is the Second Amendment...
24291  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Congressman McClintock on the CA Initiatives on: May 07, 2009, 12:17:45 PM
McClintock on the Propositions

Here are Rep. McClintock's recommendations for the May 19th Special Election.

Prop 1A: Extend the Tax Increases. NO. This is the fig leaf that hides certain deficiencies suffered by the legislators who caved into pressure for the biggest tax increase in California's history. This measure EXTENDS the tax increases for up to two ADDITIONAL years in exchange for a spending limit that doesn't limit spending. The "spending limit" is laughable – it requires placing "unanticipated revenues" into a special fund that is then to be spent for a variety of additional purposes including education, debt service and health care. And since all funds are interchangeable, this merely allows funds spent for one purpose to be shifted for another. The bottom line: If you were against the tax increase, you're against Prop. 1A.

Prop 1B: Increases Public School Spending $9.3 Billion. NO. This is the classic J. Willington Wimpy approach to finance – "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." In exchange for not making certain mandated school payments over the next two years, this measure obligates $9.3 billion in supplemental payments in future years. But wait, it gets better. According to the Legislative Analyst, it's not entirely clear the bill will actually save money in the short term, but very likely it will cost much more in the future.

Prop 1C: Lottery rip-off. NO. This measure takes the Lottery revenue away from the schools, diverts it into the general fund to pay for $5 billion of new borrowing to balance the general fund, and then locks the general fund into making additional payments to the public schools in perpetuity. If this sounds like another of the infamous Schwarzenegger "After me, the flood" proposals, you're right.

Prop 1D: California Children and Families Rip-off. YES. This measure irresponsibly rips off an irresponsible rip-off, which in balance is probably a (barely) good thing. The Children and Families Fund (now called First 5) was the Rob Reiner disaster that raised tobacco taxes through the roof to pay for some highly dubious community programs. This slush fund has built up a sizeable reserve that Prop 1D filches for the general fund.

Prop 1E: Mental Health Funding Rip-Off. YES. This measure irresponsibly rips off another irresponsible rip-off, in this case the Mental Health Services Act that is funded by a 1 percent surcharge on upper-income wage earners and small businesses. Both 1D and 1E would require a more hardheaded appraisal of spending priorities, which is the only reason that would justify voting for them.

Prop 1F: No Raise Without a Balanced Budget. NO. What's not to like about a measure that says to the Legislature, "If you don't pass a balanced budget you won't get a raise?" My advice: beware any measure that puts a representative's self-interest ahead of the public interest. I'm afraid this would ultimately end up as a perverse incentive for legislators to pass higher and higher taxes in order to qualify for higher and higher salaries. We actually had a balanced budget device in the constitution that worked well: the Gann Spending Limit. We need to bring it back.
24292  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Team Kali Tudo on: May 07, 2009, 11:38:50 AM
Woof All:

An outstanding time was had by all at our initial session.  We identified and worked the four power lines of the Arfful Dodger chamber, then focused on the Dracula/Dodger. 

At my wife's request, the regular time is now Monday at 13:30.

The Adventure continues,
Guro Crafty
24293  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam Day in HI? on: May 07, 2009, 11:29:21 AM
HONOLULU -- Hawaii's state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday to celebrate "Islam Day" -- over the objections of a few lawmakers who said they didn't want to honor a religion connected to Sept. 11, 2001.
The Senate's two Republicans argued that a minority of Islamic extremists have killed many innocents in terrorist attacks.
"I recall radical Islamists around the world cheering the horrors of 9/11. That is the day all civilized people of all religions should remember," said Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings to the applause of more than 100 people gathered in the Senate to oppose a separate issue -- same-sex civil unions.
The resolution to proclaim Sept. 24, 2009, as Islam Day passed the Senate on a 22-3 vote. It had previously passed the House and now goes to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.
The bill seeks to recognize "the rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions" that Islam and the Islamic world have made. It does not call for any spending or organized celebration of Islam Day.
"We are a state of tolerance. We understand that people have different beliefs," said Sen. Will Espero, a Democrat. "We may not all agree on every single item and issue out there, but to say and highlight the negativity of the Islamic people is an insult to the majority" of believers "who are good law-abiding citizens of the world."
But Republican Sen. Sam Slom argued that the United States has become too sympathetic toward Islamic extremists.
"I don't think there's any country in the history of the world that has been more tolerant than the United States of America, and because of that tolerance, we've looked the other way a lot of times, and many thousands of our citizens have been killed by terrorists," said Slom, a Republican.
The lone Democrat voting against the bill opposed it on church-state separation fears.
24294  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Georgia, Russia, et al on: May 07, 2009, 11:20:03 AM
Geopolitical Diary: A Case of Georgian Deja Vu
May 6, 2009
STRATFOR is experiencing deja vu: Events in Georgia are calling to mind those that led up to the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi escalated yet again on Tuesday, when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed to have “thwarted” a Russian-backed coup from within the Georgian military and accused Russia of “massing up naval forces and warships in the sea off the coast” — all while Georgia was preparing for large (by its standards) military exercises in conjunction with NATO.

There have been other recent developments:

Since early April, Russia has increased its troop presence in Georgia’s breakaway regions from 3,000 to more than 7,600. Three months before the August war broke out, Russia had doubled its troop strength there from 1,500 to 3,000.
Russia has been accused of building up its naval presence off the coast of Abkhazia. In the months before the war, there were accusations that Russia was expanding that region’s ports.
Georgia and NATO will launch the next phase of NATO exercises in Vaziani on Wednesday — nearly the same exercises as the ones held at Vaziani three weeks before the Russo-Georgian war began.
Small-arms fire across the South Ossetian-Georgian border resumed in April. Last year, cross-border firing gave way to mortar attacks that precipitated Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia.
But while Russia may be ready for another round of conflict — or at least ready to create the illusion of another round, as a means of pressuring its smaller neighbor — there are other significant shifts under way in Georgia, and these are creating levels of pressure that Tbilisi has never before faced.

Political unrest in Georgia has reached a pitch not seen since the 2003 Rose Revolution that brought Saakashvili to power. Mass protests began in early April and have persisted, albeit with dwindling numbers of demonstrators, to the present. Saakashvili has seen members of his own inner circle break away and join the traditionally weak opposition. Moreover, the allegations that a coup plot was being hatched within the Georgian military signals that Saakashvili cannot rely on support from the military, which blames him for dragging the country into the war with Russia.

Typically, the inner workings of Georgian politics have no geopolitical significance, since these affairs have more to do with personalities than shifts in alignment toward the West or Russia. But right now, everything that provides outsiders with opportunities to influence Tbilisi matters, because Georgia is the cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy agenda toward the West and within the Caucasus. Georgia is Russia’s Achilles’ heel as Moscow attempts to re-establish its influence in all corners of the former Soviet region and create a geographic buffer between Russia and other global powers.

But Georgia’s relevance as that cornerstone is now being tested: Dynamics in the rest of the Caucasus region are shifting for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Turkey, a key member of NATO, is moving to normalize relations with Armenia, Georgia’s neighbor to the south. And that means that the three small states in the Caucasus — Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia itself — are re-evaluating their allegiances to NATO and Russia. Armenia, a Russian ally, is negotiating with Turkey; Azerbaijan, Turkey’s brother nation, is turning to Russia; and Turkey is balancing its relationship with all parties involved. If they could hold Armenia, balance Turkey and reconnect with Azerbaijan, the Russians would not need to worry about what happens with Georgia, which would be locked into the Soviet sphere by default.

And that brings us full circle to the sense of deja vu involving Russia and Georgia: namely, Moscow once again dominating Tbilisi. From the outside, all the circumstances today appear similar to those of August 2008, but upon closer inspection, Georgia is dealing with two other significant and destabilizing trends. Georgia has never been a stable country. Traditionally, it has faced challenges stemming either from Russia, from domestic political tensions or from its neighbors in the Caucasus — but never from all three at once.

The redefinition of Georgia is taking place, and forces largely beyond its control are remaking Tbilisi’s role in the region.
24295  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on: May 07, 2009, 11:06:53 AM

China has chosen short-term responses to the global economic crisis. While these may buy Beijing time, they only delay — and possibly undermine — real structural change. And that could portend a bigger Chinese crisis in the coming years.

China registered 6.1 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the first quarter of 2009, down from the 6.8 percent growth rate for the fourth quarter of 2008. While this may appear fairly robust compared to the 6.1 percent decline in GDP registered in the United States for the same quarter (a number that was a slight improvement over the 6.3 percent decline in the fourth quarter of 2008), comparing these numbers is not comparing apples to apples. The United States, along with many other countries, notes GDP changes from quarter to quarter (the Q1 number is in comparison to the preceding Q4), whereas China counts changes year on year (Q1 is in comparison to the previous Q1).

By some estimates, as measured comparable to the U.S. system of accounting, China’s economy sunk to zero growth in Q4 2008, or even went negative — and that decline continued into Q1 2009. But even looking just at the year-to-year numbers, Chinese economists have quietly admitted that at least 4 percentage points of their growth figure are attributable to government stimulus monies, and that economic growth was really in the 1 or 2 percent range, far below government targets. Other observers of Chinese statistics agree with the 4 or so percentage points attributable to stimulus, but also suggest that some 2 or 3 percentage points are also exaggerations reported up the chain from lower levels of the bureaucracy to avoid falling too short of central government expectations, meaning that growth again was at zero or negative in the first quarter.

Amid a global economic crisis, even zero percent growth is not all that bad. But it is a significant problem for the Chinese leadership, which has placed excessive importance on the specific growth numbers, in part due to concern that a flagging economy could stir social instability and in part due to Communist Party legitimacy being linked to economic growth these days.

Beijing’s response has been a reversion to the tried-and-true methods of:

supporting export industries,
encouraging, via rewards or threats, the maintenance of employment levels by companies (even if this is unprofitable, contributes to overproduction, and delays or avoids the weeding out of the weak and inefficient in the Chinese economy), and
large-scale state spending (directly from government coffers or indirectly through a loan surge from major state-backed banks) designed to boost infrastructure development and underwrite a rise in domestic consumption of large items like automobiles and major appliances.
These measures may give Beijing some control over China’s looming unemployment problem, which is something officials fear but are still far behind in addressing, with social security and health care initiatives still largely in the formative stages, rather than well developed in preparation for the combination of a sustained economic slowdown and an aging population. But Beijing largely has stalled or reversed initiatives from the past several years that were designed to reform the economy into a less redundant, more efficient and flexible system better able to adapt to global change. In short, China’s short-term solutions to the global economic crisis are buying time, but they are delaying, if not undermining, real structural change. And that could portend a bigger Chinese crisis in the coming years.

The Chinese Bank Spending Spree
In the first quarter of 2009, Chinese banks went on a massive state-mandated lending spree. The so-called big three — the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the China Construction Bank (CCB) and the Bank of China (BOC) — issued some 4.58 trillion yuan ($670 billion) in new loans during that quarter. Much of this purportedly was issued for major infrastructure projects as part of the government’s $586 billion stimulus package, though anecdotal reports suggest much went to state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The SOEs may have used the loans for market speculation, paying off earlier loans or maintaining payroll during the economic downturn rather than spending capital improvements and efficiency programs.

The first-quarter loans accounted for more than 90 percent of the initial government yearly loan targets, prompting concerns that after the initial flood of loans, liquidity would dry up for the rest of the year. But Chinese officials have now said new loans will not stop at the 5 trillion yuan (about $732 billion) target, and it has been suggested that total lending may be closer to 8 trillion or 9 trillion yuan (about $1.1 trillion or $1.3 trillion) for the year, and initial estimates put April new lending at 400 billion to 600 billion yuan (about $58 billion to $87 billion).

While lending has helped Chinese companies maintain employment levels during the economic slowdown, it also brings about renewed risks to the Chinese banking sector and undermines earlier nascent moves to try to drive Chinese businesses to be more profitable and efficient rather than to rely on state bailouts and loans to stay afloat. As the big three were issuing record quantities of new loans in the first quarter, their net profits were falling; the CCB reported an 18.2 percent decline for the quarter, and the BOC reported a 14.1 percent decline. Only the ICBC reported a net growth in profits (of some 6.2 percent), but according to the bank, this was due to a significant hike in fees and a dip in operating costs.

For each of the big three, loan interest makes up by far the bulk of operating income (79.5 percent for the ICBC, 77.5 percent for the CCB and 73 percent for the BOC). And the banks are noting narrowing margins on loan interest as the cause for their net profit declines. It is also likely that hidden within these numbers is a growing problem of loan repayment, particularly given reports of thousands of companies that have been shutting their doors since the fourth quarter of 2008 or turning unprofitable in the current economic environment.

While the lending spree is designed to give the economy a boost and maintain a system flush with liquidity to avoid the U.S.-style economic crunch, it is also increasing the risks of nonperforming loans (NPLs). This risks weakening the banks, which already were bailed out more than a decade ago to the tune of some $325 billion in transfer of bad debt to asset management corporations, thus cleaning the banks’ balance sheets.

It also reduces the pressure on Chinese companies (particularly state-owned companies) to reform their business practices and become more efficient and profitable rather than rely on government loans and incentives to operate. In addition, with most loans targeting state firms, China’s private companies remain on the back burner. This is another reversal of earlier initiatives to push for a greater role for the private sector aimed at making the system more susceptible to market forces, and thus more likely to weed out inefficient and outdated companies.

Avoiding the Oversupply Issue
One issue the government keeps coming back to (and keeps running away from just as quickly) is the massive oversupply of production in certain sectors of the Chinese economy. Much of the Chinese economy is made up of redundant, small, inefficient production facilities, the remnants of the old Mao-era encouragement of self-sufficient provinces and cities. Many of these redundancies remain because while inefficient on a national scale, they still provide employment, tax revenues and economic output numbers for the provincial and local officials. Few are willing to see their local industries shuttered to satisfy a national need to become more streamlined and efficient for the long run.

The new pressures building on China’s banks could not come at a worse time. In the mid-1990s, the run-up of bad debt was beginning to cause significant problems for the Chinese financial sector, and a bailout program was launched in 1999. The government took mounds of bad loans from the Chinese state banks, transferring them to new firms called asset management corporations (AMCs). In exchange, the AMCs issued bonds worth the full face value of the NPLs back to the banks, despite the fact that the NPLs were worth — at most — one-third of that. In one wave of the accounting wand, the state banks went from being anchored down by dud assets to being flush with cash.

Those bonds provided a huge boost to the banks’ balance sheets, as they were backed by China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, and so were as good as cash when determining how healthy the institutions were. This made the Chinese banks rather attractive with their initial public offerings, gaining foreign investment and expertise and limiting competition in the Chinese banking sector as it opened due to World Trade Organization regulations.

But the NPLs were never disposed of. These AMCs were supposed to follow the model of previous “bad bank” programs, disposing of the bad debt by forcing indebted firms to pay up or — if push came to shove — liquidating the firms for whatever salvageable assets might be sold off to pay the debt. But closing firms down, obviously, would mean adding to the ranks of the unemployed. So the AMCs instead simply held the bad debt — for 10 years — while the state banks used their shiny new cash-equivalent bonds to issue even more loans.

As 2009 rolls on, this strategy is coming back to haunt the government. The NPL bonds are structured so that the AMCs only need to pay interest, not principle and interest as with normal bonds. With the bond rates at approximately 2 percent, this has been a barely manageable task. (Remember, the AMCs have been disposing of very few actual dud companies, so their income has been tiny, though supplemented by some good assets also transferred at the time of their creation.) But all of the bonds in question are 10-year bonds, with the entire value of the principle due around the end of the year. Because very few NPLs actually have been disposed of, and because NPLs generally are worth less than one-third of their face value, the only way these bonds could be redeemed would be if the Ministry of Finance doled out the cash itself. After all, the AMCs were designed to do little more than simply hold the loans, not actually rehabilitate them.

When the Chinese economy was growing at double-digit rates, the banks could stay ahead of the potential problem of NPLs. But with the economy effectively stalling at the same time banks are being asked to significantly increase the issuance of new loans, a major problem may be brewing. This means one of three things has to happen:

The banks will have to write off these bonds, seeing a massive drop in their balance sheets.
The Ministry of Finance will have to step in and recapitalize.
The bonds will be rolled over, pushing the problem further out in the hopes that it either simply goes away or that the Chinese economy will have grown enough by that time to simply absorb the losses.
With the latter choice the most likely, and with the addition of some 5 trillion - 9 trillion yuan in new loans this year (with questionable performance on much of it), the Chinese are heading toward another future banking crisis. And the flight of foreign investors from Chinese banks certainly will not help this crisis.

In short, like many others, the Chinese are using short-term measures to deal with the current economic downturn. But these measures not only are building in renewed risks (like the compounding NPL problems), they also are reversing the small steps toward economic reform necessary for more stable and continued Chinese economic development. The government was able to boost domestic consumption in the first quarter of 2009, but this was primarily through coupons and incentives focused mainly on rural purchases of large appliances and automobiles. These are not sustainable efforts. Many Chinese economists have criticized the moves as building new dangers as rural consumers spend their meager savings on big-ticket items, leaving them with a car and refrigerator but no job or health insurance.

A Missed Opportunity
The surge in bank lending to Chinese companies, both for infrastructure projects and to cover old loans and payroll, also is not sustainable, particularly as bank profits fall, margins thin and the risk of a new surge in bad loans rises. And the strength of the Chinese economy remains undermined by allowing weak companies to be kept alive through loans and government incentives. The debate in Beijing is whether the financial crisis has offered China the opportunity to fundamentally make its economic system more profitable, efficient and able to adapt to changes in market forces, or whether the crisis is another moment when the government needs to do what it can to shore up the old system.

Beijing has chosen the latter path, which it deems less socially destabilizing, and thus greater government involvement in the economy will be expected. But the pent-up pressures on the Chinese economy, and on the Chinese leadership, are likely to be worse in the long run. And with the economy unlikely to return to double-digit growth anytime soon (if at all), the day of reckoning may come sooner rather than later.
24296  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Henninger on: May 07, 2009, 11:02:55 AM
The Republican Party's unending tale of woe sounds like a friend's account of sitting through the New York Yankees' 22-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians at the new Yankee Stadium April 18.

In the 14-run second inning, three Indians hit home runs into the right-field seats, including a grand-slam. One ball hit a woman in the head because the fans had stopped watching the game. A nasty fight broke out in the stands. After the fourth inning (16-2), the subway trains taking Yankee faithful back to Manhattan were packed. Republicans know the feeling.

Rookie President Barack Obama has been pounding policy after policy through the Republicans' hapless defense. His approval is out of the park. He's teeing up his first Supreme Court appointment. Al Franken -- in a "say-it-ain't-so" moment if ever there was one -- is close to giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority. And Republican voters are heading for the exits, with a puny 31% willing to tell a pollster they belong to the party.

During downturns in sports, three rules of thumb are: Don't panic, stay within your game, play to your strengths. This being politics, the Republicans naturally are violating all three.

Should Republicans return to Reaganism? Daniel Henninger explains. (May 7)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made headlines last weekend suggesting it's time for the party to get over its glory days: "I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [GOP] messaging. I mean, it's great, but it doesn't draw people toward your cause." Joyful Democratic bloggers put this more clearly in five tight words: GOP Needs to Forget Reagan.

Is this true?

The answer to that historic question is an apt subject this week as the GOP, looking for a path from the wilderness, says farewell at National Cathedral tomorrow to Jack Kemp, who remained a Reaganite to the end.

Jack Kemp, anyone who spent time around him will tell you, stayed on message. That message, like Reagan's, had a number of parts, but it is not possible to even guess how many times Jack Kemp summarized his explanations of that message in three words: "Work, save and invest." Republicans should think hard about building a governing philosophy on the foundation of those three words, ideas that most voters understand.

The full Kemp phrase, of course, was "incentives to work, save and invest." Those incentives were to be the result of a government willing to admit the social benefits of modesty -- in taxation and regulation of the economy. For now, the American public has elected an immodest government. This government says that circumstance forced it to spend $787 billion on stimulus. Its $3.5 trillion fiscal year 2010 budget, however, will by choice take spending to 25% of GDP next year.

Listen to Daniel Henninger's Wonder Land column, now available in audio format.
Last weekend, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor began a GOP "listening tour." What's to hear? People want what they always want: a job that will let them build a life and family. What they want from Republicans is leadership toward that goal.

Today Mr. Obama releases the details of his $3.5 trillion budget, his path to the same goal. Rather than drown as usual in this accounting morass, Republicans should contrast the Obama-Pelosi budget with the Reagan-Kemp philosophy of how a striving nation works, saves and invests.

Republicans can start by taking the time to read the first Obama budget document, "A New Era of Responsibility." The word "investment" occurs over 140 times in its 142 pages. But this "investment" isn't private capital invested in private start-ups, what Mr. Kemp constantly called "entrepreneurial capitalism" and what most parents hope their children will join. Mr. Obama's document genuflects to "the market economy," then argues that it won't endure unless we "sacrifice" (through tax increases) to make "overdue investments" (which literally only means public spending) on four explicit goals: green energy, infrastructure, public health care, and education.

This calls to mind the way Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry guided that economy from 1949 to 2001. The Obama-Rattner strategy for GM and Chrysler -- a rescue if the companies agree to the government's desire to build more small "green" cars, presumably sold with a large tax credit -- is industrial policy. Why be postwar Japan?

It is not conceivable that a Reagan or Kemp would have directed the U.S. economy's legendary energies into building hybrid cars, windmills and bullet trains. It would not have occurred to them that America's next Silicon Valley -- Apple, Intel and Oracle -- could grow out of "investments" listed in the federal budget. This would not have occurred to either man because their politics were rooted in the 300-year-old, singularly American tradition of individuals freely deciding how to spend their productive hours and money inside a public system that mainly provides security and safety.

Mr. Obama won the election and deserves time to see what his vision adds to the nation's productive life. If while it awaits that, the Republican Party can't renew what Reagan and Kemp gave them, its listening tour could last a very long time.
24297  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO broke it, now he owns it on: May 07, 2009, 10:41:32 AM
second post of the morning

On his second day in office, President Obama ordered the Pentagon to mothball Guantanamo within one year, purportedly to reclaim the "moral high ground." That earned applause from the anti-antiterror squadrons, yet it is now causing all kinds of practical and political problems in what used to be known as the war on terror.

 This mess grew even more chaotic this week, when Democrats refused the Administration's $50 million budget request to transfer some of the remaining 241 Gitmo detainees to a prison likely to be somewhere in the U.S. and perhaps to a new one built with taxpayer dollars. "What do we do with the 50 to 100 -- probably in that ballpark -- who we cannot release and cannot try?" Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently asked Congress.

The best answer is Gitmo. But the antiwar left wants terrorists treated like garden-variety criminals in the civilian courts or maybe military courts martial. The not-so-minor problem is that even states that send leftists to Congress don't want to host Gitmo-II. Think California, where Alcatraz could be an option. The abandoned San Francisco Bay prison has Gitmo's virtue of relative isolation -- but Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, claims it is a national treasure. The terrorist-next-door problem is also rising to a high boil in Kansas politics, given that Fort Leavenworth is being eyed too.

More urgently, the Administration risks losing all control once enemy combatants set foot on formal U.S. soil, which the courts could determine entitles the terrorists to the same Constitutional protections as U.S. citizens. One federal judge has already ordered that 17 detainees -- the Uighurs, a Chinese ethnic minority -- be released domestically. Another judge has ruled that the Supreme Court's 5-4 Boumediene decision, which granted detainees the right to file habeas petitions in U.S. courts, extends to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the military is holding three times as many prisoners as Guantanamo.

In his Boumediene dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts indicted the majority's "set of shapeless procedures to be defined by federal courts at some future date," and was he ever right. How will judges prevent the public disclosure of classified material? What about Miranda rights, or evidence obtained under battlefield conditions?

Such questions nearly scuttled the Justice Department's case against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, which flamed out last week with a sentence of only 15 years. According to the plea agreement, al-Marri entered the U.S. on September 10, 2001 on orders from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to begin research on chemical weapons and potential targets. Prosecutors were hampered by the possibility of disclosing intelligence sources and methods, as well as (yet another) political flare-up about interrogation and detention.

For these reasons and more, the Obama Administration has done a 180-degree turn on George W. Bush's military commissions. Mr. Obama called this meticulous legal process "an enormous failure" during his campaign and suspended it when he cashiered Gitmo, but now Mr. Gates says it is "still very much on the table." The Administration may soon announce that it will be reactivated, with a few torques to the rules of secrecy and evidence to attempt to appease the human-rights lobby.

The hardest Gitmo cases are those prisoners who are known to be dangerous or were actively involved in terror networks but haven't committed crimes per se. Others involve evidence that is insufficient for successful prosecutions but sufficient enough to determine that release or transfer would pose a grave security risk. Many of these detainees are Yemeni, and the Yemeni government is demanding that Washington repatriate them.

That would be an unmitigated disaster, whatever Yemen's promises of rehabilitation. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently reported that Yemen "is re-emerging as a jihadist battleground and potential regional base of operations for al Qaeda to plan internal and external attacks, train terrorists and facilitate the movement of operatives."

Terror groups have conducted some 20 attacks on U.S. or Western targets in Yemen, the most recent in September against the U.S. embassy, which killed six guards and four civilians. The recidivism rate of those detainees who the military has judged to be good candidates for release from Gitmo is already high, and the danger for the 90 or so Yemenis and others ought to be unacceptable.

Which brings us back to Gitmo's new location, if it ever gets one. Since 1987, the political system has been deadlocked over burying a negligible amount of nuclear waste deep within a remote mountain in Nevada, so it's hard to imagine how it will deal with a terrorist problem that is far more -- how to put it? -- radioactive. Safe to say that any new setting will not be in a 2012 swing state, and you don't have to be a cynic to wonder if it will have two Republican Senators. Mr. Obama could have avoided this mess had he kept his Gitmo options open, but to adapt a famous phrase, the President broke Guantanamo so now he owns the inmates.
24298  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams on: May 07, 2009, 09:22:14 AM
"t is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand....The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty."

--John Adams, letter to Zabdiel Adams, 21 June 1776

"If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave." --John Adams
24299  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: May 07, 2009, 09:05:30 AM
"Permanently expand the federal government by nearly 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over pre-recession levels;"

Huge deal that this is, I believe it understates the number-- and we need to remember that health care is about 15% of GDP.  Put the two together and we are looking at the feds being about 40% of GDP. angry

Our freedom,  our economy, our currency (i.e. our savings) are being destroyed before our very eyes.  cry cry cry
24300  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 06, 2009, 11:44:43 PM
 shocked angry shocked angry shocked angry

This is our CiC?  We are so fcuked , , ,
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