Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Health Insurance Mafia
on: April 14, 2008, 01:45:42 PM
The Health Insurance Mafia
By JONATHAN KELLERMAN
April 14, 2008; Page A15
Most discussions about the rising cost of health care emphasize the need to get more people insured. The assumption seems to be that insurance – rather than the service delivered by doctor to patient – is the important commodity.
But perhaps the solution to much of what currently plagues us in health care – rising costs and bureaucracy, diminishing levels of service – rests on a radically different approach: fewer people insured.
You don't need to be an economist to understand that any middleman interposed between seller and buyer raises the price of a given service or product. Some intermediaries justify this by providing benefits, such as salesmanship, advertising or transport. Others offer physical facilities, such as warehouses. A third group, organized crime, utilizes fear and intimidation to muscle its way into the provider-consumer chain, raking in hefty profits and bloating cost, without providing any benefit at all.
The health insurance model is closest to the parasitic relationship imposed by the Mafia and the like. Insurance companies provide nothing other than an ambiguous, shifty notion of "protection." But even the Mafia doesn't stick its nose into the process; once the monthly skim is set, Don Whoever stays out of the picture, but for occasional "cost of doing business" increases. When insurance companies insinuate themselves into the system, their first step is figuring out how to increase the skim by harming the people they are allegedly protecting through reduced service.
Insurance is all about betting against negative consequences and the insurance business model is unique in that profits depend upon goods and services not being provided. Using actuarial tables, insurers place their bets. Sometimes even the canniest MIT grads can't help: Property and casualty insurers have collapsed in the wake of natural disasters.
Health insurers have taken steps to avoid that level of surprise: Once they affix themselves to the host – in this case dual hosts, both doctor and patient – they systematically suck the lifeblood out of the supply chain with obstructive strategies. For that reason, the consequences of any insurance-based health-care model, be it privately run, or a government entitlement, are painfully easy to predict. There will be progressively draconian rationing using denial of authorization and steadily rising co-payments on the patient end; massive paperwork and other bureaucratic hurdles, and steadily diminishing fee-recovery on the doctor end.
Some of us are old enough to remember visiting the doctor and paying him/her directly by check or cash. You had a pretty good idea going in what the service was going to cost. And because the doctor had to look you in the eye – and didn't need to share a rising chunk of his profits with an insurer – the cost was likely to be reasonable. The same went for hospitals: no $20 aspirins due to insurance-company delay tactics and other shenanigans. Few physicians became millionaires, but they lived comfortably, took responsibility for their own business model, and enjoyed their work more.
Several years ago, I suffered a sports injury that necessitated an MRI. The "fee" for a 20-minute procedure was over $3,000. My insurance company refused to pay, so I informed the radiologist that I'd be footing the bill myself. Immediately, the "fee" was cut by two thirds. And the doctor was tickled to get it.
A few highly technical and complex procedures that need to amortize the purchase of extremely expensive hardware will be out of reach for any but the wealthiest patient. For that extremely limited category, insurance might work. A small percentage of indigent individuals won't be able to afford even low-cost procedures. For them, government-funded county facilities are the answer, because any decent society takes care of the weakest among us. But a hefty proportion of health-care services – office visits, minor surgeries – would be affordable to most Americans if the slice of the health-care dollar that currently ends up in the coffers of insurance companies was eliminated.
When I was in practice as a psychologist, I discussed fees up front with prospective patients, prior to their initial visit. People appreciated knowing what to expect and my bad debt rate was less than 1%. That allowed me to keep my charges reasonable and, on occasion, to lower them for less fortunate patients. And I loved my job because I was free to concentrate on what I went to school for: helping people, rather than filling out incomprehensible forms designed to discourage me from filing them in the first place.
Physicians and other providers need to liberate themselves from the Faustian bargain they've cut with the Mephistophelian suits who now run their professional lives. Because many doctors are loath to talk about money, they allowed themselves to perpetuate the fantasy that "insurance is paying." It isn't. There is no free lunch and no free physical exam.
If substantial numbers of health-care providers shook off the insurance monkey on their back, en masse, and the supply of providers was substantially increased by opening more medical schools, the result would be a more honest, cost-effective system benefiting everyone. Except the insurance companies.
Dr. Kellerman, clinical professor of pediatrics and psychology at USC's Keck School of Medicine, is the author of numerous crime novels and three books on psychology. His latest novel is "Compulsion" (Ballantine, 2008).
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / From PD/WSJ
on: April 14, 2008, 01:41:36 PM
The Whistle Blower and the Wind Surfer
Everyone knows that Barack Obama got caught on tape accusing Pennsylvania primary voters of being people who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them." What isn't well known is that his campaign tried to prevent Mayhill Fowler, the HuffingtonPost.com blogger who broke the story, from getting into the San Francisco mansion where the candidate made the remarks.
Unlike three other events Mr. Obama attended in the Bay Area on April 6 that were priced at the legal contribution limit of $2,300, the soiree at the home of developer Alex Mehran was priced at only $1,000 because it was pitched to donors who had already given to Team Obama. Ms. Fowler somehow snagged an invitation even though the well-known blogger had been turned away from a previous Obama fundraising event a couple of months earlier.
"There's a very basic [fundraiser] rule -- you don't let press in, and anyone with an interest in reporting shouldn't get in," an Obama source told the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper reports that "Obama campaign higher-ups were said to be livid, with fingers pointing at a local fundraising consultant for the slip-up."
They shouldn't be angry. In an age of citizen journalism -- when literally anyone can carry an MP3 recorder and cell phone video camera into an event -- nothing any longer is completely private. And it's not as if Ms. Fowler qualified as an Obama enemy. A previous donor to the Obama campaign, she paid her $1,000 to attend the San Francisco event. Last Friday, she candidly admitted to CNN: "I was not initially going to write about Senator Obama's remarks about Pennsylvanians, because, frankly, I didn't want to bring down the campaign. I gave it more thought and I decided that the remarks bothered me enough that I wanted to write them up."
That admission is a signal that Mr. Obama's remarks really do represent a problem for him since they disturbed even an ardent supporter enough for her to report them.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day I
"I used to think working class voters had conservative values because they were bitter about their economic circumstances -- welfare and immigrants were 'scapegoats,' part of the false consciousness that would disappear when everyone was guaranteed a good job at good wages. Then I left college...." -- Slate.com blogger Mickey Kaus, mocking Barack Obama's condescending attitude about working class voters, guns and religion.
Quote of the Day II
"Poor wording was not the problem; on the contrary, it was his precision that was so unfortunate, and his ability to pack half a dozen unintended insults into a single sentence uncanny. And in San Francisco, no less? Roger Ailes couldn't have planned it better, unless he'd maybe followed up the event with some impromptu windsurfing in the bay" -- columnist Melinda Henneberger, a former New York Times reporter, writing at Slate.com about Barack Obama's comments.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Seminar: 10/11-12 Guro Crafty in Bloomington IL
on: April 14, 2008, 10:38:01 AM
Dog Brothers Martial Arts Association Seminar/Featuring Guro Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny
Date: October 11 and 12th 2008
Location: Bloomington/Normal JKD Concepts
602 S Main St
Bloomington, Illinois 61701, USA
Lakan Guro Terry Crutcher
General Public: $175.00 Before July 1st 2008
$200.00 After July 1st 2008
Dog Brothers Martial Arts Association Members
$150.00 prior to July 1st 2008
$175.00 after July 1st 2008
Active Military and Law Enforcement
$125.00 prior to July 1st 2008
$150.00 after July 1st
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Moment of Truth in Iraq
on: April 14, 2008, 09:16:14 AM
Our soldiers are turning defeat and disaster into victory and hope. But we could still fumble—if the American people don’t hear the truth now. There remain serious perils in Iraq and this is a time for action.
To get the message out, please help me get Moment of Truth in Iraq stocked in bookstores, and especially in free libraries and military exchanges.
Here’s how: Please click on “Handout for Bookstores and Libraries” below. This will open a printable one-page handout that can be given to any local bookstore manager, librarian, or military exchange. (Or all three if you can.)
The handout will tell bookstores and libraries everything they need to order Moment of Truth in Iraq. But what will really motivate retailers and librarians is you, the reader, a member of their community, requesting the book.
So please click here and ask your bookstore, library, or military exchange to please stock Moment of Truth in Iraq today.
Moment of Truth in Iraq is available on Amazon.com. We have hit the Amazon top 50 before the book even hit stores or libraries.
Thank you for your help,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Our Founding Fathers:
on: April 14, 2008, 08:52:08 AM
"[T]he States can best govern our home concerns and the general
government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore...never to see
all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn
from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought
and sold at market."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Judge William Johnson, 12 June 1823)
Reference: Original Intent, Barton (261); original Memoir,
Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas
Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Taiwan
on: April 14, 2008, 01:59:21 AM
The plot thickens , , , Anyway, here's this:
Geopolitical Diary: Taiwan's Straitjacket
April 14, 2008
Taiwanese Vice President-elect Vincent Siew met Chinese President Hu Jintao Saturday on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2008. It was the first time Taiwan’s incoming government held a formal meeting with the Beijing regime. Siew gave a positive evaluation of his meeting with Hu — quite a contrast to outgoing President Chen Shui-bian’s typically provocative stance against Beijing. However, the meeting itself has not changed, nor will it change, the fundamental bilateral relationship. Not by one iota.
In fact, it is not really a bilateral relationship but a trilateral one. Taiwan remains sandwiched between the two largest geopolitical players of the Asia-Pacific region: China and the United States. Taipei has little if any room for maneuver within this trilateral framework. Despite Chen’s pro-independence posturing and rhetoric, Taipei has never been a free actor in this space between China and the United States. It is consigned to play the role of a pawn in the wider geopolitical interaction between its patron of choice, Washington, and its other aspiring patron, Beijing.
China will not tolerate Taiwan getting too close to the United States. Keeping alive the “one China” myth is important to the Chinese regime — Beijing’s legitimacy is predicated on its ability to hold together a far-flung and geographically diverse country with a strong central authority. Like Tibet, Taiwan is considered a linchpin in the carefully balanced social and political structure of mainland China. In truth, China stands next to no chance of successfully invading and forcibly reabsorbing Taiwan, given that its current naval capabilities are a generation or two behind those of the United States. However, Beijing does need to buffer itself against Washington’s growing influence in Asia — if not in military reality, then in domestic perception at least.
Likewise, the United States will not put up with a Taipei that pursues too close a relationship with China. While defending Taiwan’s democratic integrity plays well with the voters back home, a more fundamental reason behind Washington’s fierce protection of the island revolves around the security of maritime trade routes into and out of the Asia Pacific region. A key source of U.S. geopolitical power is its dominance over the world’s oceans, a supremacy that Washington will not give up voluntarily. That is why American airpower, missiles, submarines and surface vessels have never left Taiwan since the U.S. Navy’s seventh fleet first swept to the island’s rescue in 1950.
So long as China does not invade or physically reclaim Taiwan and Taipei does not formally declare independence, an uneasy half-truth is perpetuated, and both sides go about their business.
Politically and superficially, Siew’s visit to China marks a change from the previous Taiwanese regime. But geopolitically, just as Chen could talk but not walk Taiwan towards independence, neither will Siew or President-elect Ma Ying-jeou be able to change the dynamic. There might be some movement along the spectrum of possibilities between independence and reunification, but the geopolitical reality of the Taiwan Straits is that that movement will be narrow and constrained. Taiwan has nowhere to go.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iraqi Kurds threaten Iran
on: April 14, 2008, 01:47:12 AM
Kurdish rebels in Iraq threaten to attack Iran by Shwan Mohammed
Sun Apr 13, 7:26 AM ET
MOUNT QANDIL, Iraq (AFP) - A Kurdish rebel group based in northern Iraq threatened on Sunday to launch bomb attacks inside Iran if Tehran fails to halt anti-Kurdish policies in the Islamic country.
Pejak (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) warned it has the ability to "carry out bombings against Iranian forces" inside Iran.
Ronahi Ahmed, a member of Pejak's political bureau, told AFP from the group's hideout in Qandil mountain in northern Iraq that the rebels were ready for a long fight with Tehran.
"We can't stand handcuffed when Iran is chasing us on daily basis. We have the ability to confront Iran inside Tehran. We are not accepting any threat from anybody," she said.
"We don't accept the religious suppression that is being carried out by the Iranians. We totally reject it."
Ahmed said the group had recently attacked Iranian forces across the border.
"Last month our people were able to infiltrate Mahkook town in northwest Iran. They killed dozens of Iranian soldiers. In another incident in Iran's Miryuwan town our guerrillas killed six soldiers," she said.
"Iran should be aware that we have a long arm that can strike at significant places inside Iran, especially in the northwest reaching Tehran."
The Iranian military often shells Iraqi border villages in an attempt to flush out Kurdish guerrillas, sending residents fleeing from their homes.
Pejak is an anti-Iranian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish rebel movement fighting to carve out an independent state in southeastern Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has killed more than 37,000 people.
The PKK and Ankara's troops fought fierce battles in March inside Iraq after Turkey launched a ground offensive.
"If they (Iran) continue to follow the policy of (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, then the battle will be more severe and the region where we are staying will be hit by a war," Ahmed said.
Tehran alleges that Washington supports Pejak in its fight against Iran, but Ahmed denied the allegation.
"We have no relations with the Americans and Iran's claim that we have an alliance with America is not true. America does not back or fund us. We depend on supplies from our own people," she said.
Ahmed's statement comes as mystery still surrounds an explosion in a mosque in Iran's southern city of Shiraz on Saturday that killed 11 people and wounded at least 191.
Some officials insist the blast was accidental, but others said it could have been caused by a bomb.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China
on: April 13, 2008, 01:02:57 AM
Of course there are several good points in this piece GM, but IMHO there is a fair amount of hyperventilating too.
China's population is contracting due to the one child policy. The consequences of this unusual demographic remain to be seen, but are likely to be potent. How will the few young support the many old?
China is a toxic dump. The costs are staggering and have yet to be considered.
China's banking system is a giant ponzi scheme-- its bookkeeping is said by sources that seem responsible to me to be an utter fraud.
Freedom is seditious to a system like China and as Chinese mingle in the world, maintaining the old order is going to be a very good trick.
The dollar and the US were in worse shape in the Carter years than now.
The Japanese were feared to be taking over the world in the 80s, yet now they are fcuked-- in part due to demographics of few young supporting many old-- and China will have a worse hand in this regard than the Japanese.
Just some additional points to consider IMHO
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bush's overture
on: April 11, 2008, 02:47:40 PM
Geopolitical Diary: Bush's Overtures to Iran and a Message to the American Public
April 11, 2008
In his speech on Thursday morning, U.S. President George W. Bush made two clear overtures to Iran, signaling that an agreement over Iraq is possible. The first came as a choice to Tehran, saying it “can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic and cultural and religious ties, or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran. If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners.”
The second overture split al Qaeda from Iran, saying “Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century — al Qaeda and Iran.”
These two messages show that the United States does not consider negotiations with Iran to be off-limits — as it does regarding talks with al Qaeda — and that if Iran cooperates (i.e. negotiates with the United States), the issue of Iraq could be settled peacefully to more or less the mutual satisfaction of both Washington and Tehran.
In testimony to the U.S. Senate on April 8, Gen. David Petraeus issued the same kind of message, saying that Iran had a choice on how the situation in Iraq would progress and leaving the door open for cooperation. However, Bush and Petraeus continued to make it very clear that the United States would punish Iran if it chose to continue to support elements of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. Washington has by no means removed any threats of retaliation from the table. While the United States will pause its troop reductions in Iraq this summer to consolidate its gains and hedge its bets, the sustainment of the U.S. military force in Iraq will also resonate strongly in Tehran.
Bush and Petraeus’ statements seem to be responses to an Iranian Foreign Ministry announcement on April 8 that the United States wanted to start another round of talks with Iran. These negotiations have been taking place on and off for the past year. On April 7, al-Sadr announced that he might disband the Mehdi Army, which seems to indicate that Iran is willing to halt its violent meddling in Iraq – temporarily at least. And this might suggest that talks between Washington and Tehran are progressing.
However, too many deal-breakers are still on the table to call this conflict settled. Israel of late has issued warnings to Syria, Hezbollah and Iran and is conducting war exercises, suggesting that something is brewing in the Levant. Israel also is gearing up for an offensive against Hamas in Gaza. Another Mideast conflict in the midst of negotiations over Iran, while not necessarily devastating, would put a U.S.-Iranian deal in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the upcoming U.S. elections are looming: it would be in Iran’s best interest to reach a conclusion with Bush rather than try to negotiate a deal with an unknown quantity — the next American president.
Statements from Bush’s speech and in Petraeus’ testimony acknowledge that Iran is a significant stakeholder in Iraq. Without cooperation from the Iranians, Iraq has no chance of recovering. By insisting that the situation in Iraq has improved, Bush and Petraeus are implicitly saying that, so far, Iran is cooperating. Dual statements — despite all of their caveats — from the president and the U.S. commander in Iraq suggesting that Iran is cooperating with the United States is a significant improvement in rhetoric. This is a signal to Iran that Washington is willing to engage in a final settlement, and it is a signal to the American public to prepare for a more open dialogue between the two rivals. Progress with Iraq does not come without progress with Iran.
It will be interesting to watch Iran over the next few days to see how the leadership there responds to these overtures. More positive signals from Iran could mean that further negotiations are pending. The political situation between the United States and Iran is reflecting the situation on the ground — one that offers the opportunity of a tenable agreement over the future of Iraq.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Republicanos y Democratas
on: April 11, 2008, 01:21:51 PM
Las diferencias entre Republicanos Y Democratas
Una mujer que iba volando en un globo, de repente se dio cuenta de que estaba perdida. Ella
disminuyo poco a poco la altura del globo hasta que diviso a un hombre que iba montando a
-La mujer le grito: Por favor, podria usted ayudarme? Es que le prometi a un amigo que me iba a
encontrar con el hace una hora pero no tengo idea de donde estoy!
El hombre consulto su equipo GPS portable y le dijo: Usted esta en un globo de aire caliente, a
30 metros por encima de la tierra con una elevacion de 234 pies por encima del nivel del mar.
Usted esta a 31 grados y 14 minutos de latitud Norte y a 100 grados y 49 miunutos de longitud
-La mujer giro los ojos hacia el cielo en un gesto de impaciencia y le dijo: "Usted tiene que
-Si, yo lo soy, dijo el hombre. Y usted como lo sabe?
-Bueno, respondio la mujer del globo, porque todo lo que me ha dicho esta tecnicamente correcto,
pero no tengo idea de que hacer con su informacion y de todas maneras sigo perdida. Francamente,
su informacion no me ha servido de nada.
- Y usted tiene que ser Democrata le contesto el hombre.
-Si, yo soy Democrata, contesto la mujer,. Y usted como lo sabe?
-Bueno, dijo el hombre, Porque usted no sabe donde esta ni a donde va. Usted llego ahi impulsada
por el aire. Usted prometio a un amigo algo que no tiene idea de como cumplir, y usted espera
que YO la ayude a resolver su problema. Ademas, usted esta EXACTAMENTE en la misma posicion que estaba antes de que se encontrara conmigo pero de alguna manera ahora usted quiere que La CULPA sea mia.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yon: Lets Surge Some More
on: April 11, 2008, 09:42:06 AM
Let's 'Surge' Some More
By MICHAEL YON
April 11, 2008; Page A17
It is said that generals always fight the last war. But when David Petraeus came to town it was senators – on both sides of the aisle – who battled over the Iraq war of 2004-2006. That war has little in common with the war we are fighting today.
I may well have spent more time embedded with combat units in Iraq than any other journalist alive. I have seen this war – and our part in it – at its brutal worst. And I say the transformation over the last 14 months is little short of miraculous.
The change goes far beyond the statistical decline in casualties or incidents of violence. A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America. Iraqi special forces units took to the streets to track down terrorists who killed American soldiers. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in Iraq, and many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers. Yes, young Iraqi boys know about "GoArmy.com."
As the outrages of Abu Ghraib faded in memory – and paled in comparison to al Qaeda's brutalities – and our soldiers under the Petraeus strategy got off their big bases and out of their tanks and deeper into the neighborhoods, American values began to win the war.
Iraqis came to respect American soldiers as warriors who would protect them from terror gangs. But Iraqis also discovered that these great warriors are even happier helping rebuild a clinic, school or a neighborhood. They learned that the American soldier is not only the most dangerous enemy in the world, but one of the best friends a neighborhood can have.
Some people charge that we have merely "rented" the Sunni tribesmen, the former insurgents who now fight by our side. This implies that because we pay these people, their loyalty must be for sale to the highest bidder. But as Gen. Petraeus demonstrated in Nineveh province in 2003 to 2004, many of the Iraqis who filled the ranks of the Sunni insurgency from 2003 into 2007 could have been working with us all along, had we treated them intelligently and respectfully. In Nineveh in 2003, under then Maj. Gen. Petraeus's leadership, these men – many of them veterans of the Iraqi army – played a crucial role in restoring civil order. Yet due to excessive de-Baathification and the administration's attempt to marginalize powerful tribal sheiks in Anbar and other provinces – including men even Saddam dared not ignore – we transformed potential partners into dreaded enemies in less than a year.
Then al Qaeda in Iraq, which helped fund and tried to control the Sunni insurgency for its own ends, raped too many women and boys, cut off too many heads, and brought drugs into too many neighborhoods. By outraging the tribes, it gave birth to the Sunni "awakening." We – and Iraq – got a second chance. Powerful tribes in Anbar province cooperate with us now because they came to see al Qaeda for what it is – and to see Americans for what we truly are.
Soldiers everywhere are paid, and good generals know it is dangerous to mess with a soldier's money. The shoeless heroes who froze at Valley Forge were paid, and when their pay did not come they threatened to leave – and some did. Soldiers have families and will not fight for a nation that allows their families to starve. But to say that the tribes who fight with us are "rented" is perhaps as vile a slander as to say that George Washington's men would have left him if the British offered a better deal.
Equally misguided were some senators' attempts to use Gen. Petraeus's statement, that there could be no purely military solution in Iraq, to dismiss our soldiers' achievements as "merely" military. In a successful counterinsurgency it is impossible to separate military and political success. The Sunni "awakening" was not primarily a military event any more than it was "bribery." It was a political event with enormous military benefits.
The huge drop in roadside bombings is also a political success – because the bombings were political events. It is not possible to bury a tank-busting 1,500-pound bomb in a neighborhood street without the neighbors noticing. Since the military cannot watch every road during every hour of the day (that would be a purely military solution), whether the bomb kills soldiers depends on whether the neighbors warn the soldiers or cover for the terrorists. Once they mostly stood silent; today they tend to pick up their cell phones and call the Americans. Even in big "kinetic" military operations like the taking of Baqubah in June 2007, politics was crucial. Casualties were a fraction of what we expected because, block-by-block, the citizens told our guys where to find the bad guys. I was there; I saw it.
The Iraqi central government is unsatisfactory at best. But the grass-roots political progress of the past year has been extraordinary – and is directly measurable in the drop in casualties.
This leads us to the most out-of-date aspect of the Senate debate: the argument about the pace of troop withdrawals. Precisely because we have made so much political progress in the past year, rather than talking about force reduction, Congress should be figuring ways and means to increase troop levels. For all our successes, we still do not have enough troops. This makes the fight longer and more lethal for the troops who are fighting. To give one example, I just returned this week from Nineveh province, where I have spent probably eight months between 2005 to 2008, and it is clear that we remain stretched very thin from the Syrian border and through Mosul. Vast swaths of Nineveh are patrolled mostly by occasional overflights.
We know now that we can pull off a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. We know that we are working with an increasingly willing citizenry. But counterinsurgency, like community policing, requires lots of boots on the ground. You can't do it from inside a jet or a tank.
Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory – and a democracy in the Arab world – is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.
Mr. Yon is author of the just-published "Moment of Truth in Iraq" (Richard Vigilante Books). He has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Children told they are dogs during mosque visit
on: April 10, 2008, 08:56:55 PM
Second post of the day:
Children Told they are Dogs during Mosque Visit
THE HAGUE, 09/04/08 - A primary school in Amsterdam wished to provide its pupils with an understanding for other cultures. But during a visit to a mosque, the children were told they were dogs.
With a view to developing understanding and respect for other cultures among children, primary school De Horizon regularly organises outings to various religious organisations. The chairman of the El Mouchidine mosque told the children from group 7 (aged 10) and their chaperones however that non-Muslims are dogs.
In a letter to the children's parents, the school expresses its regret at the incident: "We are shocked that during the guided tour, the mosque's chairman told the children and chaperoning parents that non believers were dogs. We consider this statement as unacceptable since we allow our children to partake in this project to develop respect for freedom of religious choice".
In the meantime, the school's management has addressed the mosque on the undesirable behaviour of the chairman. Both parties will say nothing further on the matter. "We will resolve the matter amongst ourselves and I have no inclination whatsoever to discuss the matter with the media", as newspaper De Telegraaf quoted the school's spokesperson Mariet ten Berge. "We have been to the mosque before and it always went well".
Angry parents had sent the letter on to De Telegraaf but were reportedly rapped on the knuckles by the school's management. "The school wishes to play this down. That is precisely the problem", as one mother commented.http://www.nisnews.nl/public/090408_2.htm
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Blade Wounds by a Surgeon
on: April 10, 2008, 06:47:13 PM
Great post Tom, thank you for sharing it here.
Folks, Dog Dean is highly qualified in these matters, indeed I consider him to be a subject matter expert for Dog Brothers Martial Arts.
Concerning this matter of tourniquets, in addition to Dog Dean, my readings and conversations with those on the front lines of the War with Islamic Fascism tell me that a lot of folks are regarding tourniquets as Option A for serious bleeding, but speaking of these matters puts me WAY outside my lane and I leave proper discussion to Dog Dean and others qualified to an opinion in these matters.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: April 10, 2008, 10:26:42 AM
The Airline Bomb Plot
April 10, 2008; Page A14
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain brought their presidential campaigns to the Petraeus-Crocker hearings on Iraq this week. An Iraq-based reporter appearing on one of the cable networks in the evening said the hearings struck him as oddly decoupled from the daily reality of war for the Iraqi people and U.S. troops there. Yup, never hurts to pinch yourself hard on entering presidential campaign space right now.
The three candidates addressed Gen. David Petraeus in tones of high gravitas equal to the thin altitude of the American presidency. Sen. Obama colloquied with Gen. Petraeus about the status of al Qaeda in Iraq – asking whether the terrorist organization could "reconstitute itself" and said that he was looking for "an endpoint."
WSJ's Wonder Land columnist Dan Henninger discusses the disconnect between U.S. politics and global terrorism. (April 9)
Here's another hypothetical: Would this conversation be different today if in August 2006 seven airliners had taken off from Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport, bound for the U.S. and Canada and each carrying about 250 passengers, and then blew up over the Atlantic Ocean?
It is a hypothetical because, instead of the explosions, British prosecutors this week presented their case against eight Muslim men arrested in August 2006 and charged with conspiring to board and blow up those planes.
The details emerging from that case are quite remarkable and will be summarized shortly. Pause to reflect on the ebb and flow of public debate that has occurred over how free societies should order themselves after two airliners full of passengers knocked down the World Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11 in 2001.
The view that 9/11 "changed everything" did not hold up under the weight of our politics. Divisions re-emerged between Democrats and Republicans, in office and on the streets. These fights reignited over the Patriot Act, Guantanamo and the warrantless wiretap bill (or "FISA" revision). These arguers stopped to stare momentarily at their televisions when Islamic terrorists committed mass murder in the 2004 Madrid train bombing and the 2005 London subway bombing.
One sometimes gets the feeling that our policy debates over national security and the journalism that travels with them float, as it were, at 30,000 feet above the reality of the threat on the ground. A novelist or filmmaker, alert to the personal demons that drive modern terror, would with fiction better clarify what is at stake. Start with the details of the eight defendants now on trial in England.
The names of the accused plotters, all men in their 20s, are Abdullah Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar, Tanvir Hussain, Mohammed Gulzar, Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Khan, Waheed Zaman and Umar Islam. They lived around London, in Walthamstow, Leyton, Plaistow and Barking. Most are Pakistanis.
Abdullah Ahmed Ali was caught on a wiretap telling his wife that he wished to bring his baby son along on the suicide mission. She resists. His suicide video, intended to become public after the planes blew up and shown at trial, promises "floods of martyr operations against you" and "your people's body parts decorating the streets."
Waheed Zaman studied biomedical science at London Metropolitan University. In his video Zaman says, "I have been educated to a high standard. I could have lived a life of ease but instead chose to fight for the sake of Allah's Deen [religion]."
Umar Islam mocks complacent Brits: "Most of you too busy, you know, watching Home and Away and EastEnders, complaining about the World Cup, drinking your alcohol." This would be fascinating as one nut's reason for murder. It is instead the basis for an ideology to justify blowing up thousands.
The prosecution said a computer memory stick on one of the men at his arrest listed the targeted flights. They were: United Airlines Flight 931 to San Francisco; UA959 to Chicago; UA925 to Washington; Air Canada 849 to Toronto; AC865 to Montreal; American Airlines 131 to New York and AA91 to Chicago. The first flight would depart at 2:15 p.m., the last at 4:50 p.m., allowing all to be aloft and out of U.S. or British airspace when they fell.
The private intelligence-analysis agency, Stratfor, concludes from the trial that "al Qaeda remains fixated on aircraft as targets and, in spite of changes in security procedures since 9/11, aircraft remain vulnerable to attack."
The men planned to take the bomb pieces onboard for assembly: empty plastic bottles, a sugary drink powder, hydrogen peroxide and other materials to be detonated with the flash on disposable cameras.
The arrests of the men, who say they are innocent, were the result of broad and prolonged surveillance. For months, the suspects were bugged, photographed and wiretapped.
Here in the U.S., our politics has spent much of the year unable to vote into law the wiretap bill, which is bogged down, incredibly, over giving retrospective legal immunity to telecom companies that helped the government monitor calls originating overseas. Even granting there are Fourth Amendment issues in play here, how is it that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cannot at least say that class-action lawsuits against these companies are simply wrong right now?
Philip Bobbitt, author of the just released and thought-provoking book, "Terror and Consent," has written that court warrants are "a useful standard for surveillance designed to prove guilt, not to learn the identity of people who may be planning atrocities." Planning atrocities is precisely the point.
"Atrocity" is a cruel and ugly word, but it has come to define the common parameters of the world we inhabit. It is entertaining to watch the candidates trying to convince the American people of their ability to be presidential. It would be more than nice to know, before one of them turns into a real president this November, what they will do – or more importantly, will never do – to stop what those eight jihadists sitting in the high-security Woolwich Crown Court in London planned for seven America-bound airliners over the Atlantic Ocean.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sowell: Republicans and Blacks
on: April 10, 2008, 09:28:22 AM
Republicans And Blacks
By Thomas Sowell
April 10, 2008
If Senator John McCain needed to prove that he is a real Republican, he did it when he continued an old Republican tradition of utterly inept attempts to appeal to black voters.
Senator McCain was booed at a recent memorial on the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In typical Republican fashion, he tried to apologize but the audience was not buying it and let him know it.
Why would Senator McCain choose a venue where his rejection was virtually guaranteed? Not only did he not get his message out, the message that came out through the media is that this black audience rejected him, which is readily portrayed as if blacks in general rejected him.
The Republican strategy for making inroads into the black vote has failed consistently for more than a quarter of a century. Yet it never seems to occur to them to change their approach.
The first thing that they do that is foredoomed to failure is trying to reach blacks through the civil rights organizations and other institutions of the black establishment. The second proven loser is trying to appeal to blacks by offering the same kinds of things that Democrats offer-- token honors, politically correct rhetoric and welfare state benefits.
Blacks who want those things know that they can already get them from the Democrats. Why should they listen to Republicans who act like imitation Democrats?'
These are not the blacks whose votes Republicans have any realistic hope of getting. Nor do the Republicans need the votes of all blacks. If just 20 percent of blacks begin voting Republican, the Democrats are lost.
The question then is how to have a shot at getting the votes of those blacks who are not in thrall to the current black "leaders" and who on many issues may be conservative.
First of all, you don't get their votes by approaching them from the left, when that is neither their orientation nor yours. Issuing stamps honoring Paul Robeson and Kwanzaa are not the way to reach those blacks whom Republicans have any realistic chance of reaching.
Trying to reach blacks through civil rights organizations that are totally hostile to your message is like a quarterback trying to throw a pass to a receiver surrounded by opposing defenders. That just leads to a lot of interceptions and touchdowns for the other team.
That is essentially what has been happening to the Republicans, as far as the black vote is concerned, for decades on end. Someone once said that a method which fails repeatedly may possibly be wrong.
The truth is something that can attract people's attention, if only for its novelty in politics. There is no need for Republicans to try to pose as saviors of blacks. Democrats do that and they have more experience doing it.
A sober presentation of the facts-- "straight talk," if you will-- gives Senator McCain and Republicans their best shot at a larger share of the votes of blacks. There is plenty to talk straight about, including all the things that the Democrats are committed to that work to the disadvantage of blacks, beginning with Democrats' adamant support of teachers' unions in their opposition to parental choice through vouchers.
>> Continued -- Page 1 2
The teachers' unions are just one of the sacred cow constituencies of the Democratic Party whose agendas are very harmful to blacks.
Black voters also need to be told about the tens of thousands of blacks who have been forced out of a number of liberal Democratic California counties by skyrocketing housing prices, brought on by Democratic environmentalists' severe restrictions on the building of homes or apartments.
The black population of San Francisco, for example, has been cut in half since 1970-- and San Francisco is the very model of a community of liberal Democrats, including green zealots who are heedless of the consequences of their actions on others.
Then there are the effects of tort lawyers in raising prices, liberal judges turning criminals loose and other influential Democratic Party constituencies whose effects on blacks are strictly negative.
Where should these and other messages be delivered to blacks, if not through the existing black organizations?
That message can be delivered as part of televised speeches addressing other major issues facing the country. It can be delivered as part of advertisements in the general media and separately in advertisements in newspapers, magazines and television programs with a black audience.
Logistics are not the problem. Insistence on following a repeatedly failed game plan is.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: April 10, 2008, 09:16:04 AM
Sent to me by someone who has seen interesting things in Pak and Afg.
It's Payback Time
Times of India, India
9 Apr 2008
In 1994 when Pakistani officials decided to create a dreadful monster called the Taliban, they didn't bother to estimate its impact on their own society.
In fact, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI) militaristic policies, which consisted of bleeding the Indian army in Kashmir and turning Afghanistan into their virtual fifth province, have blinded them to the consequences.
Their ill-conceived strategy has failed once again. Consequently, the Indian military has emerged stronger from the long conflict in Kashmir and the coalition forces have assisted Afghans to liberate Kabul from the grasp of the Taliban.
Eventually, Pakistan has become the biggest loser because the same radical movements, which its military leaders have created, threaten its very existence.
In the spring of 1992, the communist regime fell and Ahmad Shah Massoud's forces entered Kabul. Pakistani officials instructed their trusted man and surrogate Gulbudin Hekmatyar (leader of Hezb-e-Islami), who had just been appointed the prime minister of the newly established coalition government in Kabul, to burn down the city.
From 1992 to 1994, the Afghan capital became a living hell. Despite intensive efforts, Hekmatyar's forces were stuck in the southern and eastern parts of Kabul and were unable to make significant progress. Pakistani authorities decided to shift their support from Hekmatyar to a then-unknown radical movement — the Taliban.
Along with the ISI the late Benazir Bhutto and Nasrullah Babar — then respectively the prime minister and interior minister of Pakistan — are also to blame because the movement was created under their direct watch.
Few politicians in Pakistan and in the rest of the world ever questioned Pakistan's dangerous policy of purposely nurturing a radical Islamist group.
In September 1995, Colonel Imam (a senior ISI official), with impunity and consent of western officials who had an interest in the Turkmen pipeline project, personally led Taliban forces to capture Herat, which is the largest city in western Afghanistan.
In 1996 when Bin Laden's airplane landed in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, no alarm went off in the capitals of the West.
When the Taliban were beating women, destroying schools, and holding public executions, Pakistani officials were trying to convince the rest of the world by saying that Afghanistan was a backward, fragmented, and ethnically divided country which needed an iron hand to stabilise it.
Today, the same ills that destroyed Afghanistan plague Pakistan. Pakistani society today has become fundamentally divided. The home to Pakistan's intellectuals and moderate middle class is Punjab and Sindh, while radicalism, terrorism and poverty thrive in the Pashtun heartland and in Baluchistan province.
Up to the present moment, Pakistan's military authorities have favoured radical Islamist groups at the expense of moderate and democratic movements.
For example, President Musharraf didn't hesitate to jail lawyers who protested in favour of rule of law and democracy but appeased murderous radical Islamists and Taliban leaders under the phony Pashtun code of conduct enforced in the tribal area.
Until now, Pakistani authorities have been able to avoid a full confrontation with local Taliban groups for fear of alienating Pashtuns who constitute over 15 per cent of Pakistan's popu-lation, but are intentionally over-represented up to 25 per cent in Pakistan's army.
Despite continuous pressure from the US, Pakistan's military authorities have resisted bringing their Punjabi elite units to the tribal battlegrounds against the Pashtun radical movements.
Instead, they heavily relied on militia forces from the tribal zone to secure the area. Pakistani leaders rigorously want to avoid a rift and direct confrontation between Punjabis and Pashtuns.
Indeed, there is a real risk that the "war on terror" in Pakistan might transform into a full war for autonomy or independence of Pashtun tribes from Islamabad.
Pakistani authorities have broken the status quo in the tribal zone by promoting radical Islam and extremist religious leaders at the expense of traditional tribal leaders and institutions.
Pakistan's policy in the tribal zone has been a continuation of former British colonial policy, which consisted of keeping Pashtun tribes economically dependent, politically fragmented, and intellectually backward.
The government in Islamabad has continued to subsidise them and bribe their leaders, instead of creating a sustained economy and providing modern education.
The ageing Al-Qaida leaders and Afghan veterans of the Soviet war are ceding leadership to much younger and emerging local Taliban leaders.
Baitullah Mehsud is the best example of the new leaders, who want to set the agenda rather than follow anyone's orders.
Despite the efforts of ISI and Pakistani religious leaders to force him to fight against "infidel troops" in Afghanistan, Mehsud persisted with his goal to take the battle to Islamabad instead of Kabul.
Many fellow Afghans praise him for taking on Pakistani forces. Indeed, Pakistani authorities created Taliban to protect their interests in Afghanistan and in Kashmir, but are now faced with uncalculated consequences, which seriously threaten Pakistan's own existence.
The newly elected civilian leaders will have a hard time setting right the mistakes committed by the military over more than three decades.
(The writer served as a special assistant to late Ahmad Shah Massoud, Afghanistan's former defence minister.)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iraqi ambassador
on: April 10, 2008, 08:54:11 AM
Bicycle races? Those small details can be so telling , , ,
And here's the Iraqi ambassador in today's WSJ on the big picture:
Iraq's National Identity Is Alive and Growing
By SAMIR SUMAIDA'IE
April 10, 2008
Five years after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power, Iraq and the U.S. face important choices for their future relationship – choices that will have profound long-term ramifications for both countries.
Iraq, freed from a ruthless dictatorship, has chosen plurality, democracy and federalism as a system of government. It is struggling to implement them against a formidable set of internal and external challenges. The leaders of the new Iraq must further demonstrate resolve to defend their choices and rise above parochial interests.
Having intervened and committed itself so deeply, the U.S. is debating the level and cost of its engagement. I submit that it cannot afford to lose this fight to its enemies. The destinies of the U.S. and Iraq have become intertwined and their national interests very closely linked.
The big test for Iraq is to find the necessary internal accommodations between competing political interests, enabling the country to keep outside interference at bay and ensure its internal cohesion and national unity. The big test for the U.S. is to maintain its resolve while adjusting its tactics and policies to achieve success in Iraq.
Those who see only serious problems within the Iraqi government and society miss the point. Iraqis are the first to admit to their shortcomings. What is important is that they are determined to overcome them. They also know it will be a long and painful process of incremental progress, punctuated by setbacks.
Those who argue that Iraq is fractured and hopelessly broken – a Humpty Dumpty that can never be put together again – are wrong. Many countries have experienced great difficulties and emerged united and strong. Iraqi national identity has been weakened, but it is alive and kicking, and will embarrass all of those who rushed to write its obituary.
A year ago some people were convinced that Iraq was sliding into a civil war. It was precisely the sense of Iraqi national identity that helped to avert it.
Others considered Iraq lost to terrorists and militias. Again, it was the sense of national identity, as well as a tradition of tolerance, that made the communities in Al Anbar and elsewhere rise up against al Qaeda. This same sense of national identity was behind the widespread rejection of proposals to carve up the country into federal regions on a sectarian basis.
The convulsions of a society battered by decades of brutality and deprivation are all too evident. But the resilience, tenacity and commitment to national unity are no less evident. The glass may be half-empty, but it is also half full and filling up. Slowly perhaps, but surely. The achievements which Iraqis have accomplished under fire spanning the security, economic and political spheres stand as a testimony to their determination to succeed.
Yet the challenges the Iraqi government still faces are daunting. In addition to fighting terrorists and extremists, the government needs to reform its security forces and bureaucracy, purging them of sectarian discrimination and debilitating corruption. Only by doing this will it be able to deliver better services to its citizens and obtain full legitimacy.
Today, the world is facing a new and dangerous threat of international extremism and terrorism. The epicenter of this confrontation is Iraq. The new enemy is harder to defeat because it is not confined to a state, though some states are involved in its creation and promotion. It is diffused throughout many societies. But this enemy can and must be defeated. As the struggles of the last century shaped our world, this struggle will shape the world for generations to come.
This is not to say that this struggle is simple: the good versus the bad. It is complex. In Iraq, there are many layers of competing visions, interests and political objectives existing simultaneously. The people of Iraq were traumatized for decades. They are as vulnerable to the worst elements among them as they are to external forces. But there are enough of them with the will to fight for their future and their country.
This was demonstrated by the recent events in Basra, where the Iraqi government decided to pursue outlaws and armed militias engaged in criminal activities and the terrorizing of communities. It was a brave attempt given the circumstances, and was supported by all the political groups in Iraq except for the Sadrists. This was Round One. The fight will continue.
The salvation of Iraqis and the interests of the U.S. coincide. They lie in the defeat of the terrorists and extremists, and the frustration of the ambitions of all those who want this joint American-Iraqi endeavor to fail. This endeavor is costly, in every sense. But failure would be immeasurably costlier. That is why we need to build a long-term strategic alliance, and to make it work. It is in this context that we must look at the current negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq to reach a Status of Forces Agreement and a Strategic Framework Agreement.
After a bumpy learning curve, the U.S. has started to do things better in Iraq. The surge, applying the counterinsurgency principles of Gen. David Petraeus, has produced tangible results. It is not time to give up.
Mr. Sumaida'ie is Iraq's ambassador to the United States.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Several days worth 2
on: April 10, 2008, 08:46:25 AM
"The Declaration of Independence...[is the] declaratory charter
of our rights, and the rights of man."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Samuel Adams Wells, 12 May 1821)
Reference: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition,
Lipscomb and Bergh, eds., vol. 15 (200)
"That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular
arrangements of the powers of society, or, in other words, that
form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial
and exact execution of the laws, is the best of republics."
-- John Adams (Thoughts on Government, 1776)
Reference: The Works of John Adams, Charles Adams, ed., 194
“Remember, that Time is Money.” —Benjamin Franklin
"Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions
of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice
-- Alexander Hamilton (Federalist No. 15)
Reference: Hamilton, Federalist No. 15.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: April 10, 2008, 08:32:16 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Iranian Escalation and the Saudi Connection
April 8, 2008
Syria decided on Tuesday to postpone releasing the findings of its investigation into the Feb. 12 assassination of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyah just as Iranian media outlet, Fars News Agency, reported through its Persian language service that Syrian authorities had detained a Saudi Arabian intelligence official for allegedly participating in the assassination. According to the Fars report, the Saudi official’s Syrian girlfriend bought the two vehicles used in the bombing that killed Mughniyah. We are also told that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a top Saudi national security official, masterminded the operation.
While Damascus is refraining from officially implicating Riyadh in the assassination, the Iranians have decided to escalate matters with the Saudis, their chief rivals in the Arab/Muslim world.
In fact, the conflicts in both Iraq and Lebanon (and to a lesser degree in the Israeli-Palestinian theatre) represent a struggle between the Saudis and Iranians for influence over the predominantly Arab Middle East. However, this struggle did not begin with the rise of Iran and the Arab Shia when the Baathist regime was ousted in Iraq at the hands of the United States nearly five years ago.
Instead, the Saudi-Iranian rivalry truly began at the foundation of the Islamic republic in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Up until that point, Saudi Arabia saw itself as the virtually unchallenged leader of the Arab/Islamic world. Saudi Arabia claimed unrivaled status as the preeminent nation-state in the largely Sunni Islamic world, given that its founding principle was Islam (albeit Wahhabi) coupled with the fact that that the Kaaba was housed in Mecca while the Mosque of the Prophet was located in Medina.
Alongside its identity as an Islamic state, Saudi Arabia is also a pro-western country with the largest oil resources in the Middle East. More importantly it was a key U.S. ally in the region. But, the autocratic nature of the regime coupled with its western alignment made Saudi Arabia a target of resentment among emerging radical Islamists. The establishment of a radical Islamist (though Shiite) regime in Iran, which overthrew the pro-western Iranian monarchy of the Shah, led to the rise of the worst Saudi nightmare — a regional state with comparable energy resources and a much larger military force. This new power challenged Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world by employing a radical brand of Islam that appeared more attractive to the Arab/Muslim masses who were disillusioned with what they perceived as the moribund version of official Islam promoted by a corrupt Saudi regime.
For the longest time, the Saudis took comfort from the fact that the Persian and Shiite character of the clerical regime in Tehran would stifle an Iranian challenge.
Another key factor that kept the Saudis comfortable was the fact that Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein. This created a buffer separating the Iranians from the Arabian Peninsula. Furthermore, Iraq (a Shiite majority state dominated by the Sunni minority) kept Iran occupied with eight years of war and forced the newly formed Islamic republic to temper its regional ambitions. Tehran therefore reached an informal and uncomfortable accommodation of sorts with Riyadh.
The most that the Iranians were able to do was help create Hezbollah in Lebanon and align with Syria. It was not until the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which removed a major threat to the Iranians, that Tehran was presented with an opportunity to revisit its regional ambitions by empowering pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia in Baghdad. As a result, the return of the Iranian/Shiite threat has been the single largest security nightmare for the Saudis.
Realizing that there is not much that can be done to check Iranian gains in Iraq, the Saudis are trying to strike back in the Levant by creating a coalition against Hezbollah while forcing Syria out of the Iranian orbit. Here is where Saudi and Israeli interests converge. A behind the scenes cooperation has emerged between the two with Prince Bandar playing a key role. This collaboration would explain why the Iranians linked him to the Mugniyah assassination. Emboldened by their growing influence in Iraq, the Iranians now feel that they can afford to up the ante with the Saudis, and hence the leak via Fars.
It is unlikely that the Iranians or the Saudis will come to blows because of these rising tensions, but their rivalry has just intensified. To what degree the Saudis can play the Persian/Shiite card against Tehran and how far the Iranians can exploit Saudi alignment with the United States and Israel against Riyadh in this race for regional domination remains to be seen. From Washington’s point of view, so long as it exists, this conflict is perfect and one that it can use to advance its own regional interests.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wall of Silence Broken
on: April 10, 2008, 05:03:16 AM
Wall of silence broken at state's Muslim public school
By KATHERINE KERSTEN, Star Tribune
Last update: April 9, 2008 - 12:45 PM
Recently, I wrote about Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights. Charter schools are public schools and by law must not endorse or promote religion.
Evidence suggests, however, that TIZA is an Islamic school, funded by Minnesota taxpayers.
TIZA has many characteristics that suggest a religious school. It shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is "establishing Islam in Minnesota." The building also houses a mosque. TIZA's executive director, Asad Zaman, is a Muslim imam, or religious leader, and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief.
Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves halal food - permissible under Islamic law -- and "Islamic Studies" is offered at the end of the school day.
Zaman maintains that TIZA is not a religious school. He declined, however, to allow me to visit the school to see for myself, "due to the hectic schedule for statewide testing." But after I e-mailed him that the Minnesota Department of Education had told me that testing would not begin for several weeks, Zaman did not respond -- even to urgent calls and e-mails seeking comment before my first column on TIZA.
Now, however, an eyewitness has stepped forward. Amanda Getz of Bloomington is a substitute teacher. She worked as a substitute in two fifth-grade classrooms at TIZA on Friday, March 14. Her experience suggests that school-sponsored religious activity plays an integral role at TIZA.
Arriving on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, she says she was told that the day's schedule included a "school assembly" in the gym after lunch.
Before the assembly, she says she was told, her duties would include taking her fifth-grade students to the bathroom, four at a time, to perform "their ritual washing."
Afterward, Getz said, "teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day," was preparing to lead prayer. Beside him, another man "was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet as the students entered."
"The prayer I saw was not voluntary," Getz said. "The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred."
Islamic Studies was also incorporated into the school day. "When I arrived, I was told 'after school we have Islamic Studies,' and I might have to stay for hall duty," Getz said. "The teachers had written assignments on the blackboard for classes like math and social studies. Islamic Studies was the last one -- the board said the kids were studying the Qu'ran. The students were told to copy it into their planner, along with everything else. That gave me the impression that Islamic Studies was a subject like any other."
After school, Getz's fifth-graders stayed in their classroom and the man in white who had led prayer in the gym came in to teach Islamic Studies. TIZA has in effect extended the school day -- buses leave only after Islamic Studies is over. Getz did not see evidence of other extra-curricular activity, except for a group of small children playing outside. Significantly, 77 percent of TIZA parents say that their "main reason for choosing TIZA ... was because of after-school programs conducted by various non-profit organizations at the end of the school period in the school building," according to a TIZA report. TIZA may be the only school in Minnesota with this distinction.
Why does the Minnesota Department of Education allow this sort of religious activity at a public school? According to Zaman, the department inspects TIZA regularly -- and has done so "numerous times" -- to ensure that it is not a religious school.
But the department's records document only three site visits to TIZA in five years -- two in 2003-04 and one in 2007, according to Assistant Commissioner Morgan Brown. None of the visits focused specifically on religious practices.
The department is set up to operate on a "complaint basis," and "since 2004, we haven't gotten a single complaint about TIZA," Brown said. In 2004, he sent two letters to the school inquiring about religious activity reported by visiting department staffers and in a news article. Brown was satisfied with Zaman's assurance that prayer is "voluntary" and "student-led," he said. The department did not attempt to confirm this independently, and did not ask how 5- to 11-year-olds could be initiating prayer. (At the time, TIZA was a K-5 school.)
Zaman agreed to respond by e-mail to concerns raised about the school's practices. Student "prayer is not mandated by TIZA," he wrote, and so is legal. On Friday afternoons, "students are released ... to either join a parent-led service or for study hall." Islamic Studies is provided by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, and other "nonsectarian" after-school options are available, he added.
Yet prayer at TIZA does not appear to be spontaneously initiated by students, but rather scheduled, organized and promoted by school authorities.
Request for volunteers
Until recently, TIZA's website included a request for volunteers to help with "Friday prayers." In an e-mail, Zaman explained this as an attempt to ensure that "no TIZA staff members were involved in organizing the Friday prayers."
But an end run of this kind cannot remove the fact of school sponsorship of prayer services, which take place in the school building during school hours. Zaman does not deny that "some" Muslim teachers "probably" attend. According to federal guidelines on prayer in schools, teachers at a public school cannot participate in prayer with students.
In addition, schools cannot favor one religion by offering services for only its adherents, or promote after-school religious instruction for only one group. The ACLU of Minnesota has launched an investigation of TIZA, and the Minnesota Department of Education has also begun a review.
TIZA's operation as a public, taxpayer-funded school is troubling on several fronts. TIZA is skirting the law by operating what is essentially an Islamic school at taxpayer expense. The Department of Education has failed to provide the oversight necessary to catch these illegalities, and appears to lack the tools to do so. In addition, there's a double standard at work here -- if TIZA were a Christian school, it would likely be gone in a heartbeat.
TIZA is now being held up as a national model for a new kind of charter school. If it passes legal muster, Minnesota taxpayers may soon find themselves footing the bill for a separate system of education for Muslims.http://www.startribune.com/local/17406054.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Heathrow Plot Trial
on: April 10, 2008, 04:57:47 AM
The Heathrow Plot Trial: Retrospection and Implications
April 9, 2008
Graphic for Terrorism Intelligence Report
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
The trial of eight men accused of participating in a 2006 plot to bomb a series of airline flights began April 3 in London. The men are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and preparing acts of terrorism in connection with the plot, which allegedly called for using liquid explosives to bring down at least seven planes flying from London’s Heathrow Airport to cities in the United States and Canada.
The trial is expected to last several months, but several interesting facts already have emerged regarding the plot and the people accused of participating in it. Although a considerable amount of media attention has been focused on the revelation that two Air Canada flights (one to Montreal and one to Toronto) were among the first seven flights targeted — the others were United Airlines flights to Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, and American Airlines flights to Chicago and New York — perhaps the most interesting revelation has been the alleged role of Mohammed Gulzar.
Gulzar reportedly flew into the United Kingdom in July 2006 using a fraudulent identity. His means of travel and his role in the conspiracy suggest he was an operational commander who had been sent from abroad to assist the grassroots plotters with their attack plans. The involvement of an operational commander sent by the al Qaeda core leadership and charged with working with grassroots operatives to orchestrate an attack is what we consider the al Qaeda 1.0 operational model.
When combined with other indicators, Gulzar’s role and travel pattern seem to confirm the involvement of the al Qaeda core leadership in the plot. The participation of the core organization sheds new light on the behavior of the core al Qaeda leaders in 2006, and gives us some insight into plots they might still be planning.
As we noted after the Heathrow plot came to light, the scheme shared several themes with other thwarted or successful al Qaeda plots, including the choice of aircraft as targets, the notion of multiple, simultaneous strikes and the use of modular improvised explosive devices, which would have been smuggled aboard the aircraft in carry-on luggage. Moreover, whoever was involved in planning the operation shared al Qaeda’s penchant for “thinking big.”
As originally conceived, al Qaeda’s 2001 “planes operation” was to involve the simultaneous hijackings of 10 aircraft departing from both the East and West Coasts of the United States. Nine of the aircraft were to be either blown up in-flight or slammed into targeted buildings. The 10th plane was to be landed at a U.S. airport and, after all the adult male passengers were killed, a speech was to be delivered outlining al Qaeda’s grievances with the United States. Al Qaeda’s apex leaders — Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef — eventually agreed to a scaled-down version of the planes operation involving four aircraft, which was carried out Sept. 11, 2001.
The West Coast portion of the plan was spun off as a separate operation that was to have occurred in October 2001, but which reportedly was postponed several times for various reasons. This operation, also known as the Library Tower Plot, was compromised and disrupted in 2002.
These themes also were evidenced in the plot to bomb American Airlines Flight 63 in December 2001. In that plan, Richard Reid successfully smuggled his “shoe bomb” aboard the aircraft. The attempt failed only because Reid tried to light the bomb’s fuse in the passenger cabin (rather than a more secluded area, such as a restroom) and was stopped by a flight attendant and passengers.
The 2006 Heathrow plot, however, bears the strongest resemblance to Operation Bojinka, which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, along with his nephew Abdel Basit, helped to plan and finance while living in Manila, the Philippines, in the mid-1990s. The tactical similarities include the targeting of multiple U.S.-flagged aircraft traveling to the United States, the use of modular explosive devices — which were to be assembled in-flight after operatives accessed their carry-on baggage — and the use of liquid explosives.
The scope of the Heathrow plot also highlights another theme common in al Qaeda plots: a tendency to think big. This theme, which was reflected in the original planes operation and in Bojinka, was also the undoing of al Qaeda attacks such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Millennium Bomb Plot and an attempted strike against the USS The Sullivans off the coast of Yemen in January 2000. Indeed, the scope of the Heathrow plot and the need to include many people in its execution is likely what opened the door for a British government informant to penetrate the group and learn of the plans.
A close look at the details emerging from the trial of Gulzar and the seven other suspects also reveals other recurring themes, including the use of document fraud. Gulzar entered the United Kingdom on July 18, 2006, using a fraudulent South African passport in the name of Altaf Ravat. He reportedly was traveling with his new wife and, in order to secure a visa, alleged that he was on his honeymoon. The pair even spent a couple of days in Mauritius after leaving South Africa in order to make the honeymoon cover appear more convincing. As a British citizen, Gulzar had the right to a British passport and thus could have traveled to the United Kingdom using his own identity. The only reason to commit document fraud was to conceal his identity.
As seen in past cases involving operational commanders such as Basit and Ahmed Ressam, it is fairly common for operational commanders to commit passport fraud. In fact, recovered al Qaeda operation manuals encourage using fraudulent documents to hide one’s identity, enter a country illegally or continue to stay in a country after a legitimate visa has expired. Basit had more than a dozen aliases that we know of, including the well-known fraudulent Iraqi passport in the name of Ramzi Yousef — the name by which many people still mistakenly refer to him. Gulzar’s use of South Africa as a source of fraudulent documents and a transit point to Europe also exemplifies a trend we have been watching for some time now.
When British police arrested Gulzar on Aug. 9, 2006, he told them his name was Altaf Ravat and produced his South African documents. It was only after running fingerprint checks that they determined — two days after his arrest — that he really was a British citizen named Mohammed Gulzar. When questioned by police, Gulzar admitted he was not on his honeymoon, though he then said he was a missionary with the Tablighi Jamaat and was in the United Kingdom on a proselytizing mission.
As seen in past attacks — the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the attack on the USS Cole, the East Africa embassy bombings and others that followed the al Qaeda 1.0 operational model — the operational planner does not intend to be killed or captured. He flees and lives to fight another day. In operations in which an operative plans to be killed, such as 9/11 and the July 7, 2005 London attacks, there is no need for him to hide his true identity. Gulzar’s use of a fraudulent identity suggests he intended to flee after the attack. This theory is supported by the fact that British authorities recovered a number of videotapes containing the wills and suicide declarations of various members of the alleged cell, but they did not recover such a video featuring Gulzar.
Fitting the Pieces Together
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and when we use it to plug the 2006 Heathrow plot into the big picture of al Qaeda behavior during that time, we can begin to make some assumptions as to the extent of the core leadership’s involvement.
According to court testimony, the British government began to monitor many of the men allegedly involved in the plot shortly after the July 7, 2005 London attacks. It also has been reported that, like Mohammed Siddique Khan, several of the men involved in the 2006 plot had traveled to Pakistan and received training at jihadist camps. It also appears that Gulzar was sent by the core al Qaeda leadership to London in July 2006 to supervise the execution of this plot. Judging from past cases, Gulzar’s preparation for the travel to London likely began several months prior to his actual arrival in the United Kingdom. Also judging from past cases, a plan of this magnitude, involving so many aircraft, almost certainly would have to have been approved by the al Qaeda apex leadership. The leadership probably also provided the funding for the operation, including the more than $271,000 in cash the group reportedly paid for the flat they purchased in London, where the improvised explosive mixtures were to be manufactured.
If those assumptions are indeed true, then this plot may very well be one of the operations Osama bin Laden was referencing in his Jan. 19, 2006, message when he said, “The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because of failure to break through your security measures. The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes the minute they are through (with preparations), with God’s permission.”
The preparations for this attack also had picked up momentum by mid-2006 when the al Qaeda core leadership was undertaking what we referred to at the time as a media blitz. Indeed, just as the traffic from this blitz was beginning to slow down, As-Sahab released a video titled, “Will of the Knights of the London Raid (Part 2),” which contained the last will of London bomber Shehzad Tanweer. This video was released one day before the anniversary of the July 7 attacks and 12 days before Gulzar arrived in the United Kingdom.
Nine days after Gulzar’s arrival, and two weeks before the arrests were made, As-Sahab released a video featuring al-Zawahiri. The backdrop featured three large photographs: one of Mohammed Atef (al Qaeda’s senior military chief who was killed in Afghanistan in late 2001), one of 9/11 operational commander Mohammed Atta and one of the burning World Trade Center towers.
In the video, al-Zawahiri discussed a lecture Atef gave in 2000 to al Qaeda trainees about Palestine. According to his recounting, Atta — who was among the trainees — asked, “What is the way to defeat the attack on Palestine?” Al-Zawahiri supplied his own answer in the video, saying the nation that produced the 19 “who shook America” is “capable of producing double that number.”
It could be a coincidence that a large plot involving aircraft — nearly twice as many as were hijacked on 9/11 — was thwarted only two weeks after this video surfaced. But we are not big believers in coincidence — nor do we believe there are obvious (or even hidden) messages in every al Qaeda message. However, to our minds the July 27 tape was a clear message meant to be viewed in retrospect — that al Qaeda was behind the Heathrow airline plot.
The Continuing Fixation
More than anything, the current trial is a reminder of three things. First, had the first wave of attacks successfully taken down the planes, it would have been very difficult to determine how the explosive devices had been smuggled aboard the aircraft. This means it is entirely possible the same tactic would have been used in subsequent waves of attacks.
Second, for some reason in 2006 the al Qaeda leadership’s eagerness for a spectacular attack appears to have trumped their perceived need for moderation. It was the moderation of people like Mohammed Atef that reined in the enthusiasm of the group’s idealists (men such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and caused them to scale down the 2001 planes operation to less than half its original size — a measure that improved operational security and assisted in the 9/11 plot’s eventual success.
Finally, al Qaeda remains fixated on aircraft as targets and, in spite of changes in security procedures since 9/11, aircraft remain vulnerable to attack.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Sergeant Solution
on: April 09, 2008, 07:51:29 PM
The Sergeant Solution
By ROBERT H. SCALES
April 8, 2008; Page A21
Today Gen. David Petraeus testifies in front of Congress. He will note the progress being made in Iraq thanks to his new counterinsurgency strategy and the "surge." He will also remind everyone that much remains to be done, as the recent battle in Basra demonstrated.
But no matter what he says, it is clear that the writing is on the wall. The bulk of American ground forces will be leaving Iraq. The only question is how many and how fast.
The first group of soldiers from the new Iraqi army prepare to graduate in 2003.
After we leave, the Iraqis will have to shoulder the burden of maintaining stability in their country. How well prepared they are for this task will depend on how strong the Iraqi army's noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps is when we leave. NCOs, sergeants and corporals, provide a center of gravity for effective fighting forces and often lead small units. They will be vital to sustaining the Iraqi army through the battles ahead.
As a flurry of facts and figures buzz through the air on Capitol Hill today, keep in mind the Army adage that armies are best built from the bottom up, squad by squad, platoon by platoon. Winning wars is not a test of numbers or materiel so much as it is a test of will. The side that wins is the side that wants most to win, and has young soldiers willing to die to secure victory. In good armies, the will to win is set by example, by junior leaders, sergeants and lieutenants, who lead from the front.
The most encouraging news from the battlefield recently is that Iraqi leadership at the small unit level is improving. Sadly, finding effective young officers in wartime is a brutal process, as it requires testing them in action. The American Army in the Civil War experienced a similar baptism of fire, at a cost of more than half a million dead.
NCOs are the backbone of the American Army. But strong NCOs, who take a leadership role, are an alien concept in areas of the world ruled by strict hierarchies. The Iraqi army is no exception.
In Saddam's military, sergeants were only expected to hold formations, account for equipment and march soldiers from one place to another. Officers made all of the decisions. That's why Saddam had so many of them – and why his army was not as flexible as it needed to be. Gen. Petraeus is trying to change the old-Iraqi-army culture, and he must if the Iraqis are to have a robust military with depth and staying power on the battlefield.
At Gen. Petraeus's urging, last year the Iraqis started divisional schools for NCOs. About 10% of each basic training class is sent to three additional weeks of instruction to learn to be corporals, the first rung of the NCO leadership ladder. Successful corporals attend a five-week course, where they learn how to take care of soldiers and the details of leading small units in close combat.
The most senior course teaches sergeants to lead platoons, learning skills formerly reserved for captains and majors. Many newly minted NCOs depart from these schools directly into combat, where they learn to get better in the harsh classroom of real war.
This process of "on the job training" among small units in combat has been made more efficient with the addition of American military training teams. These are squad-sized units embedded in Iraqi combat battalions and brigades.
Experience has shown that the surest way to quickly increase the competency of small unit leaders and their men is to have direct, hands-on instruction in the field by American NCOs. In such a setting, our NCOs demonstrate professionalism and a "take charge" attitude while fighting side by side with their Iraqi counterparts. Our NCOs teach by doing.
Today there are only 5,000 of these embedded trainers in the field. As the Iraqis head into combat without American partner units, they will probably need more training teams to embed with them. How many? That is a decision that has not yet been made. But a consensus among senior officers engaged in this program suggests that the number of trainers must be doubled, perhaps even tripled if the new Iraqi army is to be successful.
The postsurge strategy should not be focused solely on creating an Iraqi army in the image of our own. The Iraqis only have to be better than their enemies. And there is a danger in committing the blood, treasure and time necessary to train and a large Iraqi army. Wars are not won by the bigger force, but by intangibles. Leadership, courage, adaptability, integrity, intellectual agility and allegiance ultimately determine who wins wars.
Major Gen. Scales (Ret.), a former commandant of the Army War College, is president of Colgen Inc., a defense consulting firm.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Mystery
on: April 09, 2008, 07:48:04 PM
A Mystery in the Middle East
By George Friedman
The Arab-Israeli region of the Middle East is filled with rumors of war. That is about as unusual as the rising of the sun, so normally it would not be worth mentioning. But like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, such rumors occasionally will be true. In this case, we don't know that they are true, and certainly it's not the rumors that are driving us. But other things — minor and readily explicable individually — have drawn our attention to the possibility that something is happening.
The first thing that drew our attention was a minor, routine matter. Back in February, the United States started purchasing oil for its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The SPR is a reserve of crude oil stored in underground salt domes. Back in February, it stood at 96.2 percent of capacity, which is pretty full as far as we are concerned. But the U.S. Department of Energy decided to increase its capacity. This move came in spite of record-high oil prices and the fact that the purchase would not help matters. It also came despite potential political fallout, since during times like these there is generally pressure to release reserves. Part of the step could have been the bureaucracy cranking away, and part of it could have been the feeling that the step didn't make much difference. But part of it could have been based on real fears of a disruption in oil supplies. By itself, the move meant nothing. But it did cause us to become thoughtful.
Also in February, someone assassinated Imad Mughniyah, a leader of Hezbollah, in a car bomb explosion in Syria. It was assumed the Israelis had killed him, although there were some suspicions the Syrians might have had him killed for their own arcane reasons. In any case, Hezbollah publicly claimed the Israelis killed Mughniyah, and therefore it was expected the militant Shiite group would take revenge. In the past, Hezbollah responded not by attacking Israel but by attacking Jewish targets elsewhere, as in the Buenos Aires attacks of 1992 and 1994.
In March, the United States decided to dispatch the USS Cole, then under Sixth Fleet command, to Lebanese coastal waters. Washington later replaced it with two escorts from the Nassau (LHA-4) Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), reportedly maintaining a minor naval presence in the area. (Most of the ESG, on a regularly scheduled deployment, is no more than a few days sail from the coast, as it remains in the Mediterranean Sea.) The reason given for the American naval presence was to serve as a warning to the Syrians not to involve themselves in Lebanese affairs. The exact mission of the naval presence off the Levantine coast — and the exact deterrent function it served — was not clear, but there they were. The Sixth Fleet has gone out of its way to park and maintain U.S. warships off the Lebanese coast.
Hezbollah leaders being killed by the Israelis and the presence of American ships off the shores of Mediterranean countries are not news in and of themselves. These things happen. The killing of Mughniyah is notable only to point out that as much as Israel might have wanted him dead, the Israelis knew this fight would escalate. But anyone would have known this. So all we know is that whoever killed Mughniyah wanted to trigger a conflict. The U.S. naval presence off the Levantine coast is notable in that Washington, rather busy with matters elsewhere, found the bandwidth to get involved here as well.
With the situation becoming tense, the Israelis announced in March that they would carry out an exercise in April called Turning Point 2. Once again, an Israeli military exercise is hardly interesting news. But the Syrians apparently got quite interested. After the announcement, the Syrians deployed three divisions — two armored, one mechanized — to the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley, the western part of which is Hezbollah's stronghold. The Syrians didn't appear to be aggressive. Rather, they deployed these forces in a defensive posture, in a way walling off their part of the valley.
The Syrians are well aware that in the event of a conventional war with Israel, they would experience a short but exciting life, as they say. They thus are hardly going to attack Israel. The deployment therefore seemed intended to keep the Israelis on the Lebanese side of the border — on the apparent assumption the Israelis were going into the Bekaa Valley. Despite Israeli and Syrian denials of the Syrian troop buildup along the border, Stratfor sources maintain that the buildup in fact happened. Normally, Israel would be jumping at the chance to trumpet Syrian aggression in response to these troop movements, but, instead, the Israelis downplayed the buildup.
When the Israelis kicked off Turning Point 2, which we regard as a pretty interesting name, it turned out to be the largest exercise in Israeli history. It involved the entire country, and was designed to test civil defenses and the ability of the national command authority to continue to function in the event of an attack with unconventional weapons — chemical and nuclear, we would assume. This was a costly exercise. It also involved calling up reserves, some of them for the exercise, and, by some reports, others for deployment to the north against Syria. Israel does not call up reserves casually. Reserve call-ups are expensive and disrupt the civilian economy. These appear small, but in the environment of Turning Point 2, it would not be difficult to mobilize larger forces without being noticed.
The Syrians already were deeply concerned by the Israeli exercise. Eventually, the Lebanese government got worried, too, and started to evacuate some civilians from the South. Hezbollah, which still hadn't retaliated for the Mughniyah assassination, also claimed the Israelis were about to attack it, and reportedly went on alert and mobilized its forces. The Americans, who normally issue warnings and cautions to everyone, said nothing to try to calm the situation. They just sat offshore on their ships.
It is noteworthy that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak canceled a scheduled visit to Germany this week. The cancellation came immediately after the reports of the Syrian military redeployment were released. Obviously, Barak needed to be in Israel for Turning Point 2, but then he had known about the exercise for at least a month. Why cancel at the last minute? While we are discussing diplomacy, we note that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Oman — a country with close relations with Iran — and then was followed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. By itself not interesting, but why the high-level interest in Oman at this point?
Now let's swing back to September 2007, when the Israelis bombed something in Syria near the Turkish border. As we discussed at the time, for some reason the Israelis refused to say what they had attacked. It made no sense for them not to trumpet what they carefully leaked — namely, that they had attacked a nuclear facility. Proving that Syria had a secret nuclear program would have been a public relations coup for Israel. Nevertheless, no public charges were leveled. And the Syrians remained awfully calm about the bombing.
Rumors now are swirling that the Israelis are about to reveal publicly that they in fact bombed a nuclear reactor provided to Syria by North Korea. But this news isn't all that big. Also rumored is that the Israelis will claim Iranian complicity in building the reactor. And one Israeli TV station reported April 8 that Israel really had discovered Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which it said had been smuggled to Syria.
Now why the Bush administration wouldn't have trumpeted news of the Syrian reactor worldwide in September 2007 is beyond us, but there obviously were some reasons — assuming the TV report is true, which we have no way of establishing. In fact, we have no idea why the Israelis are choosing this moment to rehash the bombing of this site. But whatever their reason, it certainly raises a critical question. If the Syrians are developing a nuclear capability, what are the Israelis planning to do about it?
No one of these things, by itself, is of very great interest. And taken together they do not provide the means for a clear forecast. Nevertheless, a series of rather ordinary events, taken together, can constitute something significant. Tensions in the Middle East are moving well beyond the normal point, and given everything that is happening, events are moving to a point where someone is likely to take military action. Whether Hezbollah will carry out a retaliatory strike or Israel a pre-emptive strike in Lebanon, or whether the Israelis' real target is Iran, tensions systematically have been ratcheted up to the point where we, in our simple way, are beginning to wonder whether something has to give.
All together, these events are fairly extraordinary. Ignoring all rhetoric — and the Israelis have gone out of their way to say that they are not looking for a fight — it would seem that each side, but particularly the Americans and Israelis, have gone out of their way to signal that they are expecting conflict. The Syrians have also signaled that they expect conflict, and Hezbollah always claims there is about to be conflict.
What is missing is this: who will fight whom, and why, and why now. The simple explanation is that Israel wants a second round with Hezbollah. But while that might be true, it doesn't explain everything else that has happened. Most important, it doesn't explain the simultaneous revelations about the bombing of Syria. It also doesn't explain the U.S. naval deployment. Is the United States about to get involved in a war with Hezbollah, a war that the Israelis should handle themselves? Are the Israelis going to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad — and then wind up with a Sunni government, or worse, an Israeli occupation of Syria? None of that makes a lot of sense.
In truth, all of this may dissolve into nothing much. In intelligence analysis, however, sometimes a set of not-fully-coherent facts must be reported, and that is what we are doing now. There is no clear pattern; there is no obvious direction this is taking. Nevertheless, when we string together events from February until now, we see a persistently escalating pattern of behavior. In fact, what we can say most clearly is that there is escalation, without being able to say what is the clear direction of the escalation or the purpose.
We would like to wrap this up with a crystal clear explanation and forecast. But we can't. The motives of the various actors are opaque; and taken separately, the individual events all have quite innocent explanations. We are not prepared to say war is imminent, nor even what sort of war there would be. We are simply prepared to say that the course of events since February — and really since the September 2007 attack on Syria — have been startling, and they appear to be reaching some sort of hard-to-understand crescendo.
The bombing of Syria symbolizes our confusion. Why would Syria want a nuclear reactor and why put it on the border of Turkey, a country the Syrians aren't particularly friendly with? If the Syrians had a nuclear reactor, why would the Israelis be coy about it? Why would the Americans? Having said nothing for months apart from careful leaks, why are the Israelis going to speak publicly now? And if what they are going to say is simply that the North Koreans provided the equipment, what's the big deal? That was leaked months ago.
The events of September 2007 make no sense and have never made any sense. The events we have seen since February make no sense either. That is noteworthy, and we bring it to your attention. We are not saying that the events are meaningless. We are saying that we do not know their meaning. But we can't help but regard them as ominous.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Petaeus Effect
on: April 08, 2008, 09:43:18 PM
The Petraeus Effect
April 8, 2008; Page A20
As General David Petraeus briefs Congress this week on Iraq, it's clear his surge has achieved remarkable results. The most crucial is that the U.S. can no longer be defeated militarily in Iraq, which could not be said a year ago. The question now is whether Washington will squander these gains by withdrawing so quickly that we could still lose politically.
Sixteen months after President Bush ordered the change in strategy, the surge has earned a place among the most important counteroffensives in U.S. military annals. When it began, al Qaeda dominated large swaths of central Iraq, Baghdad was a killing zone, Sunni and Shiites were heading toward civil war, and the Iraqi government was seen as a failure.
A U.S. soldier on patrol in Mosul, northwest of Baghdad.
The Washington consensus – as promoted by the James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group – portrayed retreat as the only option. "This war is lost," declared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in April, thus telling U.S. soldiers they were risking their lives for nothing. As late as September, Hillary Clinton had the nerve to lecture General Petraeus in a Senate hearing that "the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief."
Today, al Qaeda has been cleared from all but the northern reaches of Anbar and Diyala Provinces, Iraqis feel safe enough to resume normal lives, Sunni sheikhs are working with coalition forces, and the long process of Sunni-Shiite political reconciliation has begun. The surge seized the offensive from the enemy so rapidly that it deserves to be studied for years as an example of effective counterinsurgency.
Yes, this progress has also required some luck and Iraqi help. Al Qaeda in Iraq overplayed its hand with a brutality that turned the Sunnis against them. Four years of war had made Iraqis tired of violence, and Sunnis began to understand that they couldn't win a civil war against the Shiites but could use the Americans as leverage to negotiate a better bargain. Some 90,000 Sunnis are now working with the U.S. as part of the "Sons of Iraq" movement.
None of this would have been possible, however, if Iraqis had not seen that the U.S. was committed to protect them. General Petraeus and his chief deputy, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, pursued a strategy that secured the population while going on offense against al Qaeda. U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into neighborhoods and lived among Iraqis, who in turn began to supply valuable intelligence about the terrorists. Faster than even the surge's architects hoped, the strategy led to far less violence.
While Democrats still claim political progress is possible only if the U.S. leaves Iraq, the surge has proved the opposite. Better security required a larger U.S. presence, which in turn has made Iraqis feel more secure about compromise. The political progress has been especially significant at the local level, with greater cooperation from tribal leaders and local councils, most Sunnis saying they'll participate in provincial elections this fall, and more oil money flowing to the provinces from Baghdad.
Much remains to be done, of course, and a premature U.S. withdrawal would put these gains at risk. Al Qaeda must still be swept from Mosul and upper Diyala, with the same U.S.-Iraqi troop strategy that worked in Baghdad. Terrorist entry routes West of Mosul from Syria also need to be stopped. And as we've learned in the last two weeks, Iraq Security Forces aren't able by themselves to impose a monopoly of force on Basra and the Shiite South.
Iraqi troops have made progress as a fighting force, but they still require U.S. help for the toughest operations. Though poorly planned, the Basra offensive showed that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is finally willing to fight Shiite gangs. The U.S. media have portrayed the battle mainly as an intra-Shiite feud and thus another example of budding "civil war." But the fight is also about Iran's attempts to stir trouble and weaken the Maliki government in favor of Iran's allies.
The U.S. has been reluctant to help in Basra, which has been British turf as part of the coalition. But the U.S. has a national interest in resisting Iranian influence, and Basra is a crucial front in that effort. As for the Brits, their failure to engage in counterinsurgency has left the Basra vacuum to be filled by Iranian-backed "special groups." The British made the same strategic mistake that former U.S. Iraq commanders George Casey and John Abizaid made in 2006 in Baghdad. The U.S. will have to deploy one or more brigades to Basra to help the Maliki government assert its control.
* * *
The five U.S. surge brigades are scheduled to return home in July, and one question Congress should ask General Petraeus is whether that pace makes him uneasy. He's under enormous Pentagon pressure, especially from the Army, to send those troops home. But if, say, three brigades could help solidify the surge's gains by staying another few months, the General should say so. One of Mr. Bush's mistakes in this war has been deferring too much to Pentagon brass who have always had one eye on the Iraq exit.
Americans are understandably impatient with the war, but we have sacrificed too much, and made too much progress in the last year, not to finish the task. The surge has prevented a humiliating military defeat, and now is the time to sustain that commitment to achieve a political victory.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Slavery, Terrorism and Islam
on: April 07, 2008, 04:27:00 PM
This piece aggressively articulates what many fear is the case:
Adapted from Dr. Peter Hammond's book: Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The
Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat. WWW.frontline.org.za/books_videos/sti.ht
Islam is not a religion nor is it a cult. It is a complete system. Islam has
Religious, legal, political, economic and military components. The religious
Component is a beard for all the other components. Islamization occurs
When there are sufficient Muslims in a country to agitate for their so-called
"religious rights." When politically correct and culturally diverse Societies
Agree to "the reasonable" Muslim demands for their "religious
Rights," they also get the other components under the table. Here's how it
Works (percentages source CIA: The World Fact Book (2007)).
As long as the Muslim population remains around 1% of any given country
They will be regarded as a peace-loving minority and not as a threat to anyone.
In fact, they may be featured in articles and films, stereotyped for their
United States -- Muslim 1.0%
Australia -- Muslim 1.5%
Canada -- Muslim 1.9%
China -- Muslim 1%-2%
Italy -- Muslim 1.5%
Norway -- Muslim 1.8%
At 2% and 3% they begin to proselytize from other ethnic minorities and
Disaffected groups with major recruiting from the jails and among street
Denmark -- Muslim 2%
Germany -- Muslim 3.7%
United Kingdom -- Muslim 2.7%
Spain -- Muslim 4%
Thailand -- Muslim 4.6%
From 5% on they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their
Percentage of the population. They will push for the introduction of halal
(clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs
For Muslims. They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature
It on their shelves -- along with threats for failure to comply. (United States).
France -- Muslim 8%
Philippines -- Muslim 5%
Sweden -- Muslim 5%
Switzerland -- Muslim 4.3%
The Netherlands -- Muslim 5.5%
Trinidad & Tobago -- Muslim 5.8%
At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to
Rule themselves under Sharia, the Islamic Law. The ultimate goal of Islam
Is not to convert the world but to establish Sharia law over the entire world.
When Muslims reach 10% of the population, they will increase lawlessness
As a means of complaint about their conditions (Paris -- car-burnings). Any
Non-Muslim action that offends Islam will result in uprisings and threats
(Amsterdam -- Mohammed cartoons).
Guyana -- Muslim 10%
India -- Muslim 13.4%
Israel -- Muslim 16%
Kenya -- Muslim 10%
Russia -- Muslim 10-15%
After reaching 20% expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad militia formations,
Sporadic killings and church and synagogue burning:
Ethiopia -- Muslim 32.8%
At 40% you will find widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks and
Ongoing militia warfare:
Bosnia -- Muslim 40%
Chad -- Muslim 53.1%
Lebanon -- Muslim 59.7%
From 60% you may expect unfettered persecution of non-believers and other
Religions, sporadic ethnic cleansing (genocide), use of Sharia Law as a
Weapon and Jizya, the tax placed on infidels:
Albania -- Muslim 70%
Malaysia -- Muslim 60.4%
Qatar -- Muslim 77.5%
Sudan -- Muslim 70%
After 80% expect State run ethnic cleansing and genocide:
Bangladesh -- Muslim 83%
Egypt -- Muslim 90%
Gaza -- Muslim 98.7%
Indonesia -- Muslim 86.1%
Iran -- Muslim 98%
Iraq -- Muslim 97%
Jordan -- Muslim 92%
Morocco -- Muslim 98.7%
Pakistan -- Muslim 97%
Palestine -- Muslim 99%
Syria -- Muslim 90%
Tajikistan -- Muslim 90%
Turkey -- Muslim 99.8%
United Arab Emirates -- Muslim 96%
100% will usher in the peace of "Dar-es-Salaam" -- the Islamic House of
Peace -- there's supposed to be peace because everybody is a Muslim:
Afghanistan -- Muslim 100%
Saudi Arabia -- Muslim 100%
Somalia -- Muslim 100%
Yemen -- Muslim 99.9%
"Before I was nine I had learned the basic canon of Arab life. It was me
Against my brother; me and my brother against our father; my family against
My cousins and the clan; the clan against the tribe; and the tribe against
The world and all of us against the infidel. -- Leon Uris, "The Haj"
It is good to remember that in many, many countries, such as France, the
Muslim populations are centered around ghettos based on their ethnicity.
Muslims do not integrate into the community at large. Therefore, they
exercise more power than their national average would indicate.
Adapted from Dr. Peter Hammond's book: Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The
Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat..
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / New Ascencions
on: April 07, 2008, 02:13:22 PM
Let the Howl Go Forth:
On April 4, 5, and 6 in commemoration of the First "Dog Brothers Tribal Gathering" 20 years ago in Acu Canyon Park in San Juan Capistrano (a.k.a. the Rumble at Ramblas) we held a similar three day stickfight. It was heavily filmed and will be the culmination of a movie on the Dog Brothers; more on this in another thread soon.
It was a truly extraordinary three days. At the moment I am deep in the altered space that comes after a Gathering so if I miss any names please let me know (and blame Lonely Dog and Red Dog too, who sit at my elbow as I type) :
Dog Eric Bryant
Dog Dean Webster
Dog Randall Gregory
Dog Kase ______ (we need to look up the last name)
New Candidate Dog Brothers
Teddy "C-Tahiti Dog" Moux
New Dog Brothers:
and a very special ascension:
New Member of the Council of Elders:
The Adventure continues!
Guiding Force of the Dog Brothers
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Dates of Dog Brothers Gatherings of the Pack
on: April 07, 2008, 01:41:28 PM
Just a quick yip from the altered state that comes after a Gathering.
This year's Gathering schedule is a year of transition. After consultation with Lonely Dog, I have what we intend to be the schedule from here forward:
August 10: Open Gathering-- location yet to be determined
September 27: The Swiss Gathering (As always, in Bern)
2009 and forward:
Late April/Early May: The Dog Brothers Tribal Gathering. This is a two day happening. Subject to confirming certain matters, it will be again held in the secret location
August/Sept: The Swiss Gathering: Please post about your preferences in this thread.
Mid/late November: The Open Gathering
The Adventure continues!
Guiding Force of the Dog Brothers
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD WSJ
on: April 07, 2008, 11:46:13 AM
The reason for Clinton strategist Mark Penn's departure from the campaign last night was ostensibly his conflict of interest in representing the government of Colombia's position in favor of a trade treaty while his candidate, Hillary Clinton, was a fierce opponent of the same trade agreement.
In reality, Mr. Penn had to go because the Clinton campaign needs a new strategy. The latest polls show Barack Obama's massive saturation ad buys in Pennsylvania are working. He is now tied with Mrs. Clinton in that state's April 22 primary. Hillary has perhaps one more Hail Mary pass in her and Mr. Penn wasn't the man to execute it.
That job will now go to Geoff Garin, a respected pollster and a man with a reputation for digging candidates out of holes they've put themselves in. In 2001, he helped craft the message that enabled Mark Warner to be elected governor of Virginia, a state that hadn't voted Democratic for president in a quarter century. Many of the leading Democrats in the Senate, from Dick Durbin to Chuck Schumer, have relied on Mr. Garin's advice.
Of course, Mr. Garin would be the first to admit that some candidates are beyond help. In 2004, he was the pollster for General Wesley Clark's ill-fated presidential campaign, an effort that no amount of resuscitation could save.
-- John Fund
Not Ready for Prime Time
First Barack Obama's economic adviser is caught telling the Canadian government not to worry about the candidate's threats to renegotiate Nafta. Now Hillary Clinton's top campaign adviser has been caught dividing his time between promoting a free trade treaty with Colombia and promoting a presidential candidate who opposes the same treaty.
Mark Penn, who resigned over the weekend, was not only top dog behind Hillary Clinton's presidential run but also served as president and CEO of Burson-Marsteller, among the world's biggest PR agencies. One of his firm's clients was the government of Colombia, a U.S. ally that has been fighting successfully against a narco-insurgency and serving as a counterexample to the failing radicalism of Hugo Chavez. As such, Mr. Penn saw it as appropriate to meet with the Colombian ambassador to the U.S. on March 31 -- that is, until the union heavyweights in the Democratic camp got wind of the meeting. Then suddenly it was an "error in judgment" and Mr. Penn said so in a public apology.
That's a lousy way to treat a client, especially an honorable one with an honorable cause. "The Colombian government considers this a lack of respect to Colombians, and finds this response unacceptable," the government said as it fired Burson-Marsteller. Colombia also said it would "continue its efforts to obtain a favorable vote on the pending Free Trade Agreement with the United States, for greater wellbeing and prosperity for all."
Perhaps in their upcoming debate in Philadelphia, someone will ask both candidates which of their many messages on trade is the one we're supposed to believe. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton, who likes to paint Barack Obama as too naive and untested to be trusted with the nation's affairs, might hold up a mirror.
-- Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Quote of the Day I
"Audiences project onto [Barack Obama] the personal qualities and political positions they want in a president. They look at Obama and see their hopes and dreams. Glamour is more than beauty or stage presence. You can't generate it just by having a wife who dresses like Jackie Kennedy. Glamour is a beautiful illusion -- the word glamour originally meant a literal magic spell -- that promises to transcend ordinary life and make the ideal real.... Too much information breaks the spell. So does obvious effort. That's why glamour is so rare in contemporary politics. In post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America, skeptical voters demand full disclosure of everything from candidates' finances to their medical records, and spin-savvy accounts of backstage machinations dominate political coverage. Obama's glamour gives him a powerful political advantage. But it also poses special problems for the candidate and, if he succeeds, for the country" -- Virginia Postrel, writing in The Atlantic magazine.
Quote of the Day II
"There is growing evidence that liberals are losing ground among blacks. In 1972, only one in ten of African-Americans identified themselves as conservative. Today, nearly 30% African-Americans publicly and openly identify themselves as conservative. Not Republican, mind you, but conservative" -- Christopher Alan Bracey, author of "Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice."
His Promised Land Was America
Charlton Heston, who died over the weekend at age 84, once had impeccable credentials for acceptance in Hollywood circles. In addition to his acting talent, Mr. Heston served as a six-term president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute. He backed John F. Kennedy for president in 1960 and three years later accompanied Martin Luther King on his famous March on Washington.
But Mr. Heston began to feel that liberalism lost its moorings in the turbulent '60s and in 1972 he broke with his fellow actors and attended his first Republican convention, explaining to reporters he wanted to be at a place where they "didn't spell America with a 'k.'" He later became a staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan and told Britain's Daily Telegraph in 1989: "Today, I am about as right-wing as a man can be." But he spurned appeals to enter politics, saying: "I'd rather play a senator than be one."
In Hollywood his political conversion did not go unnoticed. He was shunned in many circles when he became president of the National Rifle Association, a job he said was consistent with his "record of supporting civil rights." Blogger Ed Morrissey notes the irony of how "Hollywood turned its back on one of its biggest icons for the sin of supporting gun rights" at the same time the industry was churning "out more and more films dedicated to mass shootings and indiscriminate violence."
-- John Fund
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Turning Point
on: April 07, 2008, 11:42:22 AM
Second post of the day
Israel and its neighbors
Geopolitical Diary: An Israeli 'Turning Point'
April 7, 2008 | 0312 GMT
Israel launched a major, nationwide military exercise on Sunday. Scheduled to last five days, it is designed to simulate air and missile attacks against Israel, including “unconventional” weapons — which we would assume refers to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The exercise will test Israel’s ability to protect its population and maintain continuity of government and military decision-making in the event of such an attack.
The Israelis have emphasized that the simulation is not an attempt to raise tensions in the region, nor a cover for an attack against either Lebanon or Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday, “The goal of the exercise is to check the authorities’ ability to carry out their duty in times of emergency and for preparing the home front for various scenarios. There is nothing else hidden behind it.”
The code name of the exercise is Turning Point 2, a choice that bears some scrutiny because code names have become public relations tools. From Operation Peace for Galilee (Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982) to Urgent Fury (the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983) to Iraqi Freedom, the code names selected by Western countries have less to do with the desire for security than the desire for a clear message. (Turning Point 1 was a much smaller exercise that took place last year. However, given rumors flying around the region right now, anything called “Turning Point” will raise eyebrows, even if it was used before.)
Thought was given by the Israelis to the name “Turning Point.” That choice was intended to deliver a message, and deliver it to two audiences. One audience is the Israeli public. The other is Israel’s adversaries, ranging from Hamas and Hezbollah to Syria and Iran. That a message is being delivered along with the exercise is clear. The meaning of the message, however, is more opaque.
“Turning point,” as Winston Churchill used it in World War II, is that moment in which the trend of the war shifts away from one side and toward another. It is a decisive moment, a point of rectification. From the Israeli standpoint, there would appear to be three conflicts that need to be rectified. The first is the Israeli confrontation with Hamas in Gaza, where an extended stalemate appears to be in place. The second is Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah. The Israeli-Hezbollah encounter of 2006 defined a balance between Israeli and Hezbollah forces that is unsatisfactory to Israel. Many Israelis would argue the need for a turning point there — a reinitiation of conflict to change the outcome of 2006 — and Hezbollah has been claiming that this is Israel’s intent. The third of Israel’s conflicts has been in its relations with Iran. Israel has asserted that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon and delivery system that will threaten Israel. An elimination of that threat through offensive, defensive or combined efforts would certainly be a turning point.
The Israelis may have in mind one or more of these actions taking place simultaneously. A combined action in Gaza and the Bekaa Valley would represent an attempt to achieve a turning point in the Israeli strategic position. Either or both of those offensives might trigger missile attacks using chemical weapons. Therefore any operation that would be intended as a turning point in the regional conflict might well contain a defensive scenario against a large-scale chemical attack against Israel from weapons deployed in Lebanon or possibly Syria.
The Israelis could also be conducting a necessary exercise for implementing defensive warfighting scenarios under unknown circumstances. They might have chosen the code name simply to jangle nerves in the region. However, over the past weeks we have seen everything from U.S. Sixth Fleet naval vessels moving close to the Lebanese coast, to very convincing reports of Syrian troop movements along the Lebanese border. Jangling the nerves of the region seems superfluous.
The name might simply mean that from this moment forward, Israel is ready for unconventional air and missile attack. Or it could be intended as a signal that Israel is interested in a broader turning point. Either way, code names are not casually chosen and the code name for the largest anti-WMD defensive exercise that Israel has ever undertaken was not pulled out of a jar.
“Turning Point” is an interesting choice.
And this from a few days ago:
Israel, Syria: Military Posturing and Rumors of Troop Movements
Stratfor Today » April 4, 2008 | 2154 GMT
HAITHAM MUSSAWI/AFP/Getty Images
Syrian soldiers in Lebanon loading a tank in 2005Summary
Officials in both Syria and Israel continued to state that unusual Syrian troop movements have not been occurring. Indications suggest that Syria has in fact been engaging in military posturing, however, as both countries probe each other while regional tensions escalate over Israeli plans for a new conflict with Hezbollah.
Israeli and Syrian military officials continue to deny that any unusual Syrian troop movements have been taking place since April 3. In a defense briefing, Israeli Military Intelligence officials added that Syria had not mobilized its reserve forces. Stratfor sources earlier said three Syrian divisions had been sent to the Lebanese border near the western Bekaa Valley.
Despite the denials, a number of indicators suggest Syria has indeed been engaged in some military posturing over the past couple days.
According to a Lebanese military source with ties to the Syrian regime, the Syrians sent three divisions (two armored and one mechanized) along the Lebanese-Syrian-Israeli border. Two of the divisions were redeployed from the Golan Heights, where Syria maintains three forward divisions by the cease-fire line, to positions near the western Bekaa Valley. Though the Syrian military is not in stellar shape, these units tend to be somewhat more proficient than the rest of the regular army. Syria reportedly redeployed another armored division from Dira (near the Jordanian border) to positions near the western Bekaa Valley.
The predominately offensive armored divisions are reportedly positioned behind the mechanized division. Our source indicates that Damascus is attempting to portray these tactics — in part through unit disposition — as a defensive posture. But the deployment of three divisions to the border is hardly defensive in nature — and it is unlikely Israel will read these as defensive moves.
Though the Israelis are making a strong effort to deny that any such action is taking place, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s cancellation of his trip to Germany (citing “scheduling problems”) the same day as the reports on the Syrian military buildup probably was not coincidental. Moreover, a Sudanese news agency cited Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem as saying April 4 that Syria is preparing for an Israeli attack and further contention with the United States, but has chosen peace as its strategic option. The same day, the daily Al Hayat reported that Syria and Israel were in back-channel discussions involving talk of a possible truce, as well as warnings from both sides against instigating a military confrontation.
As Stratfor has discussed, following the failure of the March 29-30 Arab League summit, Syria was expected to turn more aggressive. Damascus has closely eyed Israel’s preparations for a military offensive against Hezbollah, a military organization in Lebanon. Syria wants to undermine Israeli confidence that the Syrians would remain on the sidelines of an Israeli-Hezbollah rematch.
The Syrians are not delusional about their severe military disadvantage vis-a-vis the Israel Defense Forces and what would be an assured Syrian defeat if Damascus followed through with its threat to enter any Israeli-Hezbollah fight. Damascus also knows the Israelis would much rather have the Syrians stay out of the conflict and ensure the stability of the al Assad government. But by such military maneuvers, the Syrians hope to give Israel some pause in its planning, and open a back door for negotiations.
The flurry of apparent diplomatic and military activity in the past two days suggests the Israelis and Syrians are trying to probe each other as regional tensions continue to escalate about whether Israeli plans a new conflict with Hezbollah. While neither side can be certain of the other’s intentions, such military posturing is part and parcel of this diplomatic game.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Colombia
on: April 07, 2008, 11:27:59 AM
Democrats play politics with trade. America may end up paying the price.
April 7, 2008
Trade legislation debates are usually about dry-as-dust topics like reciprocity and dumping. But sometimes they really matter. Take the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which the Bush administration will send to Congress this week. If Congress rejects it, the loss wouldn't be just measured in dollors or pesos. It could have profound geopolitical effects that would hurt the U.S.
Colombia is a democratic ally of the U.S. in a tough neighborhood. Alvaro Uribe, its president, has been battling a left-wing insurgency that has used kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking in an attempt to overthrow his government. An impressive body of evidence shows the insurgents, known as the FARC, have been encouraged and financed by Venezuela's strongman, Hugo Chavez. Mr. Chavez, who already has allies in charge of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, would love to extend his influence in Latin America.
The trade agreement shouldn't be controversial. Colombia's economy is doing well, with growth rates of some 6% a year, and more than 90% of its exports to the U.S. already are duty-free under previous agreements. The new proposed trade pact would strip dozens of high tariffs Colombia erects to restrict the flow of U.S. goods and services in.
American unions demanded that the agreement incorporate labor and environmental standards. They got their wish, but that wasn't enough for some unions, which leaned on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to make opposition to the agreement a theme of their presidential campaigns.
* * *
Although Mrs. Clinton has long been a fierce critic of the accord, it was revealed last week that her top strategist Mark Penn was hired by the Colombian government to push the agreement through. Mr. Penn promptly called a recent meeting he had with Colombian officials on the agreement an "error in judgment" and promptly left their employ. Yesterday he quit the campaign too.
The agreement's supporters held out hope for Mr. Obama. But faced with a critical primary in heavily unionized Pennsylvania later this month, Mr. Obama took the occasion of his speech before the AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia last week to announce that he too would oppose it. "The violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements," he said.
But in truth, the Uribe government has made great strides in reducing violence in Colombia. Since 2001, the number of kidnappings has dropped by over 80%, acts of terror are down over 75%, and the murder rate associated with trade unionists is down almost 80%.
President Uribe made clear how disappointed he was that the Democratic front-runner had chosen domestic politics over geopolitical stability: "I deplore the fact that Sen. Obama . . . should be unaware of Colombia's efforts," he said in a statement. "I think it is for political calculations that he is making a statement that does not correspond to Colombia's reality."
The simple truth is that the opposition to the trade agreement--from the Democratic presidential contenders to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi--has nothing to do with reality. Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, admitted as much recently: "It's not the substance on the ground--it's the politics in the air."
* * *
There was another period when raw politics was allowed to trump what many in Congress privately admitted was common sense. In the spring of 1930, as the economic downturn set off by the previous year's stock market crash set in, Congress was debating the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill that sought to raise U.S. import barriers to record levels.
Most of the leading economists of the day opposed Smoot-Hawley. A front-page New York Times headline on May 5, 1930, read: "1,028 Economists Ask Hoover to Veto Pending Tariff Bill." But for entirely selfish and shortsighted reasons, both Congress and President Hoover went along with the protectionist hysteria. As a result, the Great Depression was probably deepened and extended for years.
Today, another no-brainer trade vote is before Congress. The foreign-policy benefits of the agreement are immense and the economic costs are minimal. "This is a test of whether the Democratic Congress is ready to accept the responsibilities of the majority," says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.
Everyone plays politics with trade. But there are times when the stakes are too important. The Colombia agreement is another example of when politics must take a back seat for a larger good. We certainly know how Hugo Chavez is rooting for the congressional vote to turn out.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: April 07, 2008, 11:25:56 AM
Tremendamente interestsante Omar. Siempre recibo tus informes aqui con ganas. Gracias.
Lamentamente, la gran mayoria de mis fuentes de informacion son en ingles. Aqui hay uno mas, sobre PEMEX.
Playing Monopoly in Mexico
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
April 7, 2008; Page A12
Felipe Calderón won the July 2006 presidential election by convincing Mexicans he was the candidate who could bring about 21st-century living standards. A more robust economy was not just a Calderón campaign promise, it was the campaign promise.
To deliver, Mr. Calderón knew he would have to confront the nation's monster monopolies, which gorge themselves on privilege at consumer expense. The poster child of this practice is the state-owned oil giant, Pemex.
Americas Columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady comments on why oil-rich Mexico can't maximize its oil production. (April 7)
Now, 16 months into Mr. Calderón's government, the effort toward even limited reform at Pemex is in serious trouble. To understand why, do as Deep Throat famously advised Bob Woodward and "follow the money." Despite the myths, the reason Pemex is considered a sacred cow has much less to do with nationalism than with who benefits from its monopoly power.
Over the past decade, Mexico has wisely diversified away from oil production as the principal source of national income. But oil remains an important source of financing for the government. In 2006, the petroleum contribution to the federal budget was $43.9 billion, or 37%.
That income stream is in no way guaranteed in perpetuity. At the end of last month, Mr. Calderón's government released a 130-page study that found existing wells are drying up faster than new ones are coming on stream. Bottom line: Pemex production, as Energy Minister Georgina Kessel put it, has "fallen constantly" in the past three years. It's not that the oil is not there any longer. Reserves are plentiful. But they are not being exploited. As a result, she said, Mexico has "left on the table income of around $10 billion annually, almost three times the annual budget of 'oportunidades' [the government's social program targeting the poor], the principal tool in combating poverty."
In December 2006, daily output dropped below three million barrels per day for the first time since 2001, and it is expected to continue to shrink. By 2012 the minister says that production is forecast to drop by 800,000 barrels a day at its principal wells. By 2018 daily output will be down 1.5 million barrels.
THE AMERICAS IN THE NEWS
Get the latest information in Spanish from The Wall Street Journal's Americas page.This dismal performance means that, as a global competitor, Pemex is losing out. The company is now the 11th-largest oil company in the world, having fallen from the No. 6 spot in 2004. "While other countries are enriching themselves through deep-water oil wells, our country simply wastes the opportunity and runs the risk of losing it," Ms. Kessel said.
Pemex is also incapable of serving the local market. "Today, four out of every 10 liters of gasoline consumed in the country are imported," Ms. Kessel said. At a Mexico-Norway energy conference last year, the Energy Ministry reported that gasoline demand is expected to grow annually by 3.9% over the next 10 years. Without new refinery capacity, Mexico will need to import 415,000 barrels a day by 2015. This is not good news for Americans facing rising prices. U.S. refining capacity is already overtaxed. The ministry says petrochemical imports are also expected to grow rapidly because the Mexican industry has "a disintegrated production chain, high production costs, low competitiveness and low levels of investment."
How to reverse this and turn Mexico into the booming oil country that it should be? That's easy: Allow private-property rights. Wildcatters would turn the country into a gusher of black gold. Mexican wealth would shoot up.
Such heresies cannot even be whispered in Mexico – though not because the Mexican people can't be convinced that there is a better way to run things. The reason is because the guardians of the status quo – politicians, suppliers and labor – would suffer if competition hit the market. Private Mexican contractors who "supply" Pemex are used to business transactions tied to political connections. If there were multiple buyers in competition with one another, those political profit margins would evaporate. Private-sector oil companies vying for returns would care about how much suppliers were charging. Competition would reduce the incentives for graft, and payrolls would have to be justified so the labor union would also lose power. The last special interest to want any of this change is Congress, where many members act as middlemen between Pemex and the contractor. As a famous member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) once explained it: "A politician who is poor is a poor politician."
Still, without new investment Mexico will bid good-bye to its legacy as a world-class oil producer, and to the income that accompanies that status. So the government is looking for a way to allow the private sector into the oil industry without relinquishing the monopoly. As the Energy Ministry's report noted, all national petroleum companies now collaborate with third parties as a way to boost competitiveness.
Three months ago, congressional support for changes that would have allowed private-sector investment in distribution, refining and deep water exploration seemed within reach, because the PRI appeared ready to side with Mr. Calderón and his PAN party. Then it emerged that Mr. Calderón's interior minister signed Pemex contracts for his family business while working at the Energy Ministry. The interior minister says he did nothing wrong. But PRI leadership now says it will not support reform. What it really means is that now it has leverage to demand some new power in return for helping the Calderón government, caught in a scandal, to achieve a political victory.
Ironically, if the PRI blocks reform, it will preserve the very practices it now feigns outrage about. Considering the party's long history of corruption, it is difficult to see its objections as anything more than contract envy.
Meanwhile, Mr. Calderón warned last week that time is running short and the government must act "before it's too late." On the other hand, if the PRI wants to run Pemex into the ground, maybe Mr. Calderón should stand back and let it happen. It may be the only way to starve the most voracious of Mexican dinosaurs.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: RIP: Charlton Heston
on: April 07, 2008, 11:17:01 AM
Charlton Heston on the culture war
February 16, 1999
Harvard Law School
Forum February 16, 1999
I remember my son when he was five, explaining to his kindergarten class what his father did for a living. 'My Daddy,' he said, 'pretends to be people.' There have been quite a few of them. Prophets from the Old and New Testaments, a couple of Christian saints, generals of various nationalities and different centuries, several kings, three American presidents, a French cardinal and two geniuses, including Michelangelo. If you want the ceiling re-painted I'll do my best. There always seem to be a lot of different fellows up here. I'm never sure which one of them gets to talk. Right now, I guess I'm the guy.
As I pondered our visit tonight it struck me: if my Creator gave me the gift to connect you with the hearts and minds of those great men, then I want to use that same gift now to re-connect you with your own sense of liberty … your own freedom of thought ... your own compass for what is right.
Dedicating the memorial at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said of America, 'We are now engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.'
Those words are true again. I believe that we are again engaged in a great civil war, a cultural war that's about to hijack your birthright to think and say what resides in your heart. I fear you no longer trust the pulsing lifeblood of liberty inside you ... the stuff that made this country rise from wilderness into the miracle that it is.
Let me back up. About a year ago I became president of the National Rifle Association, which protects the right to keep and bear arms. I ran for office, I was elected, and now I serve ... I serve as a moving target for the media who've called me everything from 'ridiculous' and 'duped' to a 'brain-injured, senile, crazy old man'. I know ... I'm pretty old ... but I sure thank the Lord ain't senile.
As I have stood in the crosshairs of those who target Second Amendment freedoms, I've realized that firearms are not the only issue. No, it's much, much bigger than that. I've come to understand that a cultural war is raging across our land, in which, with Orwellian fervor, certain acceptable thoughts and speech are mandated.
For example, I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963 -– long before Hollywood found it fashionable. But when I told an audience last year that white pride is just as valid as black pride or red pride or anyone else's pride, they called me a racist.
I've worked with brilliantly talented homosexuals all my life. But when I told an audience that gay rights should extend no further than your rights or my rights, I was called a homophobe.
I served in World War II against the Axis powers. But during a speech, when I drew an analogy between singling out innocent Jews and singling out innocent gun owners, I was called an anti-Semite.
Everyone I know knows I would never raise a closed fist against my country. But when I asked an audience to oppose this cultural persecution, I was compared to Timothy McVeigh.
From Time magazine to friends and colleagues, they're essentially saying, 'Chuck, how dare you speak your mind. You are using language not authorized for public consumption!'
But I am not afraid. If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys-subjects bound to the British crown.
In his book, 'The End of Sanity,' Martin Gross writes that 'blatantly irrational behavior is rapidly being established as the norm in almost every area of human endeavor. There seem to be new customs, new rules, new anti-intellectual theories regularly foisted on us from every direction. Underneath, the nation is roiling. Americans know something, without a name is undermining the nation, turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong. And they don't like it.'
Let me read a few examples. At Antioch college in Ohio, young men seeking intimacy with a coed must get verbal permission at each step of the process from kissing to petting to final copulation ... all clearly spelled out in a printed college directive.
In New Jersey, despite the death of several patients nationwide who had been infected by dentists who had concealed their AIDS -- the state commissioner announced that health providers who are HIV-positive need not ... need not ... tell their patients that they are infected.
At William and Mary, students tried to change the name of the school team 'The Tribe' because it was supposedly insulting to local Indians, only to learn that authentic Virginia chiefs truly like the name.
In San Francisco, city fathers passed an ordinance protecting the rights of transvestites to cross-dress on the job, and for transsexuals to have separate toilet facilities while undergoing sex change surgery.
In New York City, kids who don't speak a word of Spanish have been placed in bilingual classes to learn their three R's in Spanish solely because their last names sound Hispanic.
At the University of Pennsylvania, in a state where thousands died at Gettysburg opposing slavery, the president of that college officially set up segregated dormitory space for black students.
Yeah, I know ... that's out of bounds now. Dr. King said 'Negroes.' Jimmy Baldwin and most of us on the March said 'black.' But it's a no-no now.
For me, hyphenated identities are awkward ... particularly 'Native-American.' I'm a Native American, for God's sake. I also happen to be a blood-initiated brother of the Miniconjou Sioux. On my wife's side, my grandson is a thirteenth generation Native American ... with a capital letter on 'American.'
Finally, just last month ... David Howard, head of the Washington D.C. Office of Public Advocate, used the word 'niggardly' while talking to colleagues about budgetary matters. Of course, 'niggardly' means stingy or scanty. But within days Howard was forced to publicly apologize and resign.
As columnist Tony Snow wrote: 'David Howard got fired because some people in public employ were morons who (a) didn't know the meaning of niggardly,' (b) didn't know how to use a dictionary to discover the meaning, and (c) actually demanded that he apologize for their ignorance.'
What does all of this mean? It means that telling us what to think has evolved into telling us what to say, so telling us what to do can't be far behind. Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me: Why did political correctness originate on America's campuses? And why do you continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who're supposed to debate ideas, surrender to their suppression?
Let's be honest. Who here thinks your professors can say what they really believe? It scares me to death, and should scare you too, that the superstition of political correctness rules the halls of reason.
You are the best and the brightest. You, here in the fertile cradle of American academia, here in the castle of learning on the Charles River, you are the cream. But I submit that you, and your
counterparts across the land, are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge.
And as long as you validate that ... and abide it ... you are-by your grandfathers' standards-cowards. Here's another example. Right now at more than one major university, Second Amendment scholars and researchers are being told to shut up about their findings or they'll lose their jobs. Why? Because their research findings would undermine big-city mayor's pending lawsuits that seek to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from firearm manufacturers.
I don't care what you think about guns. But if you are not shocked at that, I am shocked at you. Who will guard the raw material of unfettered ideas, if not you? Who will defend the core value of academia, if you supposed soldiers of free thought and expression lay down your arms and plead, 'Don't shoot me.'
If you talk about race, it does not make you a racist. If you see distinctions between the genders, it does not make you a sexist. If you think critically about a denomination, it does not make you anti-religion. If you accept but don't celebrate homosexuality, it does not make you a homophobe.
Don't let America's universities continue to serve as incubators for this rampant epidemic of new McCarthyism. But what can you do? How can anyone prevail against such pervasive social subjugation?
The answer's been here all along. I learned it 36 years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., standing with Dr. Martin Luther King and two hundred thousand people.
You simply ... disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely. But when told how to think or what to say or how to behave, we don't. We disobey social protocol that stifles and stigmatizes personal freedom.
I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr. King ... who learned it from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great man who led those in the right against those with the might.
Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that Disobedient spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a war in Viet Nam.
In that same spirit, I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and onerous law that weaken personal freedom.
But be careful ... it hurts. Disobedience demands that you put yourself at risk. Dr. King stood on lots of balconies. You must be willing to be humiliated ... to endure the modern-day equivalent of
the police dogs at Montgomery and the water Cannons at Selma. You must be willing to experience discomfort. I'm not Complaining, but my own decades of social activism have taken their toll on me. Let me tell you a story.
A few years back I heard about a rapper named Ice-T who was selling a CD called 'Cop Killer' celebrating ambushing and murdering police officers. It was being marketed by none other than Time/Warner, the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the world. Police across the country were outraged. Rightfully so-at least one had been murdered. But Time/Warner was stonewalling because the CD was a cash cow for them, and the media were tiptoeing around it because the rapper was black. I heard Time/Warner had a stockholders meeting scheduled in Beverly Hills. I owned some shares at the time, so I decided to attend.
What I did there was against the advice of my family and colleagues. I asked for the floor. To a hushed room of a thousand average American stockholders, I simply read the full lyrics of 'Cop Killer'-every vicious, vulgar, instructional word.
I GOT MY 12 GAUGE SAWED OFF
I GOT MY HEADLIGHTS TURNED OFF
I'M ABOUT TO BUST SOME SHOTS OFF
I'M ABOUT TO DUST SOME COPS OFF...
It got worse, a lot worse. I won't read the rest of it to you. But trust me, the room was a sea of shocked, frozen, blanched faces. The Time/Warner executives squirmed in their chairs and stared at their shoes. They hated me for that. Then I delivered another volley of sick lyric brimming with racist filth, where Ice-T fantasizes about sodomizing two 12-year old nieces Of Al and Tipper Gore. SHE PUSHED HER BUTT AGAINST MY ....'
Well, I won't do to you here what I did to them. Let's just say I left the room in echoing silence. When I read the lyrics to the waiting press corps, one of them said 'We can't print that.' 'I know,' I replied, 'but Time/Warner ís selling it.'
Two months later, Time/Warner terminated Ice-T's contract. I'll never be offered another film by Warners, or get a good review from Time magazine. But disobedience means you must be willing to act, not just talk.
When a mugger sues his elderly victim for defending herself ... jam the switchboard of the district attorney's office. When your university is pressured to lower standards until 80% of the students graduate with honors ... choke the halls of the board of regents. When an 8-year-old boy pecks a girl's cheek on the playground and gets hauled into court for sexual harassment ... march on that school and block its doorways. When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays you ... petition them, oust them, banish them. When Time magazine's cover portrays millennium nuts as deranged, crazy Christians holding a cross as it did last month ... boycott their magazine and the products it advertises.
So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.
If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / We must have dangerous old men
on: April 07, 2008, 11:12:21 AM
"Your father may be a servant, but he is still a warrior--and a more dangerous one than you. The father, being past that age in which biology makes us vicious, guides the son or neighbor to protect society rather than to rend it."http://grimbeorn.blogspot.com/2004_05_30_grimbeorn_archive.html#1086194075582633
I was reading an article the other day, in the local newspaper, about an elderly Korean gentleman who has moved into town and opened a martial arts studio. He chastened the reporter who had come to interview him not to suggest that the martial arts were 'all about fighting.' "No!" he said. "The purpose is social harmony."
That is exactly right. The secret of social harmony is simple: Old men must be dangerous.
Very nearly all the violence that plagues, rather than protects, society is the work of young males between the ages of fourteen and thirty. A substantial amount of the violence that protects rather than plagues society is performed by other members of the same group. The reasons for this predisposition are generally rooted in biology, which is to say that they are not going anywhere, in spite of the current fashion that suggests doping half the young with Ritalin.
The question is how to move these young men from the first group (violent and predatory) into the second (violent, but protective). This is to ask: what is the difference between a street gang and the Marine Corps, or a thug and a policeman? In every case, we see that the good youths are guided and disciplined by old men. This is half the answer to the problem.
But do we not try to discipline and guide the others? If we catch them at their menace, don't we put them into prisons or programs where they are monitored, disciplined, and exposed to "rehabilitation"? The rates of recidivism are such that we can't say that these programs are successful at all, unless the person being "rehabilitated" wants and chooses to be. And this is the other half of the answer: the discipline and guidance must be voluntarily accepted. The Marine enlists; the criminal must likewise choose to accept what is offered.
The Eastern martial arts provide an experience very much like that of Boot Camp. The Master, like the Drill Instructor, is a disciplined man of great personal prowess. He is an exemplar. He asks nothing of you he can't, or won't, do himself--and there are very many things he can and will do that are beyond you, though you have all the help of youth and strength. It is on this ground that acceptance of discipline is won. It is the ground of admiration, and what wins the admiration of these young men is martial prowess.
Everyone who was once a young man will understand what I mean. Who could look forward, at the age of sixteen or eighteen, to a life of obedience, dressed in suits or uniforms, sitting or standing behind a desk? How were you to respect or care about the laws, or the wishes, of men who had accepted such a life? The difficulty is compounded in poor communities, where the jobs undertaken are often menial. How can you respect your father if your father is a servant? Would you not be accepting a place twice as low as his? Would you not rather take up the sword, and cut yourself a new place? Meekness in the old men of the community unmakes the social order: it encourages rebellion from the young.
The traditional martial arts tend to teach young men to undertake flashy and impressive, but not terribly effective, fighting techniques. Only as you grow older do the masters of the art teach you the real secrets--the subtle, quick, physically simple ways in which the human body can be destroyed. In this way, the old retain their power over the young--although they lack the speed and strength, they have in discipline in training more than enough to maintain the order. Social harmony is maintained in the dojo: the young revere the old, and seek to emulate them. Your father may be a servant, but he is still a warrior--and a more dangerous one than you. The father, being past that age in which biology makes us vicious, guides the son or neighbor to protect society rather than to rend it. It is not particularly different in the military.
If we would have a stable society, we must have dangerous old men. This means that, if you are yourself on your way to becoming an old man, you have a duty to society to begin your preparations. The martial arts are not the only road--my own grandfather did it through a simple combination of physical strength, personal discipline, and an accustomed habit of going armed about his business. There was never a more impressive figure--or, at least, there was never a boy more impressed than was I.
The martial virtues are exactly the ones needed. By a happy coincidence, having a society whose members adhere to and encourage those virtues makes us freer as well--we need fewer police, fewer courts, fewer prisons, fewer laws, and fewer lawyers. This is what Aristotle meant when he said that the virtues of the man are reflected in the society. Politics and ethics are naturally joined.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our Lives, Our Fortunes, our Sacred Honor
on: April 07, 2008, 11:04:00 AM
Our Lives, our Fortunes, our sacred Honor
From Patriot Post Vol. 07 No. 27; Published 3 July 2007 | Print Email PDF
OIF---A new dawn "Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!" --George Washington
Our nation began with these stirring words in the Declaration of Independence: "When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." Now, 231 years later, they still ring true.
We may envision the Founders as rash, rowdy rebels. Not so. Already accomplished in fields of endeavor, they were settled in character and reputation. They deemed their decision necessary, and their first thought was of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." They were men of purpose and principle, who well understood the peril of choosing to declare independence from Great Britain. Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote to John Adams, "Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the House when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe to what was believed by many at that time to be our death warrants?"
The Founders reasoned that the colonials were compelled to the separation, outlining a detailed list of particulars describing the King of Great Britain's "long train of abuses and usurpations" that could end only in an intended "absolute despotism" and "establishment of absolute tyranny over these states." They appealed that the free citizens they represented therefore had both a right and a duty "to alter their former systems of government" and "to provide new guards for their future security."
They further explained, "In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people." They had been patient, measured and restrained in responding to the incursions on their freedoms but could be so no longer.
The central passage of the Declaration's opening is the document's most famous, suggesting the form of government truly fit for a free people: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
The Founders sought liberty, not license -- rather than a loosening of restraints, a freedom to pursue right. The objective was citizens' safety and happiness, later called "the common defense," "the general welfare," and the "blessings of liberty." The mottos of the American Revolution were "No King but King Jesus!" and "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."
Given their experiences with a leader who had violated the laws supposed to control his own conduct as much as theirs, the Founders sought to avoid the instability of democracy or of oligarchy, in which one or a handful of people can overturn the foundations by a simple vote or decree. Fisher Ames warned, "The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty." John Witherspoon referred to pure democracy as "very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage." The Founders ultimately chose a constitutional democratic republic -- based on the foundation of the reliable rule of law, responsive to the people's "consent of the governed" through representation of the citizens, predicated on the virtue of the people.
The colonists came to these shores with a learned tradition of liberty, and this new land offered a manner of living that further taught freedom. Our performance in upholding this heritage is mixed. We are divided as a nation, no longer pressing toward unity and allegiance to shared principles. Facile commentary lauds comity as the antidote for what the Founders derided as faction, applauding the elitist establishment fetish for bipartisanship. But they are exactly wrong. Indeed, bipartisanship today is more akin to factionalism than are those adhering to the two major political parties out of principle.
There remains one crucial question: What are we willing to risk to salvage the heritage our Founders handed down to us? Our warriors in the field have demonstrated that they stand in the direct line from our Patriot Founders -- prepared to sacrifice all in service. Many activist citizens gave time, effort and resources to turn aside the Senate's recent attempts to foist a dangerous change in immigration laws on the nation. But the United States as a nation is not as secure as at its tenuous beginnings.
The signers of the Declaration concluded their treatise, "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.... And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Do we citizens, inheritors of the Republic bequeathed us, still stand ready to hazard even half so much?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rest in Peace
on: April 07, 2008, 10:52:50 AM
Charlton Heston on the 2nd Amendment
February 11, 1997
National Press Club
February 11, 1997
Today I want to talk to you about guns: Why we have them, why the Bill of Rights guarantees that we can have them, and why my right to have a gun is more important than your right to rail against it in the press.
I believe every good journalist needs to know why the Second Amendment must be considered more essential than the First Amendment. This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the right to keep and bear arms is not archaic. It's not an outdated, dusty idea some old dead white guys dreamed up in fear of the Redcoats. No, it is just as essential to liberty today as it was in 1776. These words may not play well at the Press Club, but it's still the gospel down at the corner bar and grill.
And your efforts to undermine the Second Amendment, to deride it and degrade it, to readily accept diluting it and eagerly promote redefining it, threaten not only the physical well-being of millions of Americans but also the core concept of individual liberty our founding fathers struggled to perfect and protect.
So now you know what doubtless does not surprise you. I believe strongly in the right of every law-abiding citizen to keep and bear arms, for what I think are good reasons.
The original amendments we refer to as the Bill of Rights contain 10 of what the constitutional framers termed unalienable rights. These rights are ranked in random order and are linked by their essential equality. The Bill of Rights came to us with blinders on. It doesn't recognize color, or class or wealth. It protects not just the rights of actors, or editors, or reporters, but extends even to those we love to hate. That's why the most heinous criminals have rights until they are convicted of a crime.
The beauty of the Constitution can be found in the way it takes human nature into consideration. We are not a docile species capable of co-existing within a perfect society under everlasting benevolent rule.
We are what we are. Egotistical, corruptible, vengeful, sometimes even a bit power-mad. The Bill of Rights recognizes this and builds the barricades that need to be in place to protect the individual.
You, of course, remain zealous in your belief that a free nation must have a free press and free speech to battle injustice, unmask corruption and provide a voice for those in need of a fair and impartial forum.
I agree wholeheartedly -- a free press is vital to a free society. But I wonder: How many of you will agree with me that the right to keep and bear arms is not just equally vital, but the most vital to protect all the other rights we enjoy?
I say that the Second Amendment is, in order of importance, the first amendment. It is America's First Freedom, the one right that protects all the others. Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of redress of grievances, it is the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute capacity to live without fear. The right to keep and bear arms is the one right that allows 'rights' to exist at all.
Either you believe that, or you don't, and you must decide.
Because there is no such thing as a free nation where police and military are allowed the force of arms but individual citizens are not. That's a 'big brother knows best' theater of the absurd that has never bode well for the peasant class, the working class or even for reporters.
Yes, our Constitution provides the doorway for your news and commentary to pass through free and unfettered. But that doorway to freedom is framed by the muskets that stood between a vision of liberty and absolute anarchy at a place called Concord Bridge. Our revolution began when the British sent Redcoats door to door to confiscate the people's guns. They didn't succeed: The muskets went out the back door with their owners.
Emerson said it best:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
King George called us "rabble in arms." But with God's grace, George Washington and many brave men gave us our country. Soon after, God's grace and a few great men gave us our Constitution. It's been said that the creation of the United States is the greatest political act in history. I'll sign that.
In the next two centuries, though, freedom did not flourish. The next revolution, the French, collapsed in bloody Terror, then Napoleon's tyranny. There's been no shortage of dictators since, in many countries. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Castro, Pol Pot. All these monsters began by confiscating private arms, then literally soaking the earth with the blood of ten and tens of millions of their people. Ah, the joys of gun control.
Now, I doubt any of you would prefer a rolled up newspaper as a weapon against a dictator or a criminal intruder. Yet in essence that is what you have asked our loved ones to do, through the ill-contrived and totally naive campaign against the Second Amendment.
Besides, how can we entrust to you the Second Amendment when you are so stingy with your own First Amendment?
I say this because of the way, in recent days, you have treated your own -- those journalists you consider the least among you. How quick you've been to finger the paparazzi with blame and to eye the tabloids with disdain. How eager you've been to draw a line where there is none, to demand some distinction within the First Amendment that sneers 'they are not one of us.' How readily you let your lesser brethren
take the fall, as if their rights were not as worthy, and their purpose not as pure, and their freedom not as sacred as yours.
So now, as politicians consider new laws to shackle and gag paprazzi, who among you will speak up? Who here will stand and defend them? If you won't, I will. Because you do not define the First Amendment. It defines you. And it is bigger than you -- big enough to embrace all of you, plus all those you would exclude. That's how freedom works.
It also demands you do your homework. Again and again I hear gun owners say, how can we believe anything that anti-gun media says when they cannot even get the facts right? For too long you have swallowed manufactured statistics and fabricated technical support from anti-gun organizations that wouldn't know a semi-auto from a sharp stick. And it shows. You fall for it every time.
Thats why you have very little credibility among 70 million gun owners and 20 million hunters and millions of veterans who learned the hard way which end the bullet comes out. And while you attacked the amendment that defends your homes and protects your spouses and children, you have denied those of us who defend all the Bill of Rights a fair hearing or the courtesy of an honest debate.
If the NRA attempts to challenge your assertions, we are ignored. And if we try to buy advertising time or space to answer your charges, more often than not we are denied. How's that for First Amendment freedom?
Clearly, too many have used freedom of the press as a weapon not only to strangle our free speech, but to erode and ultimately destroy the right to keep and bear arms as well. In doing so you promoted your profession to that of constitutional judge and jury, more powerful even than our Supreme Court, more prejudiced than the Inquisition's tribunals. It is a frightening misuse of constitutional right, and I pray that you will come to your senses and see that these abuses are curbed.
As a veteran of World War II, as a freedom marcher who stood with Dr. Martin Luther King long before it was fashionable, and as a grandfather who wants the coming century to be free and full of promise for my grandchildren, I am troubled.
The right to keep and bear arms is threatened by political theatrics, piecemeal lawmaking, talk-show psychology, extreme bad taste in the entertainment industry, an ever-widening educational chasm in our schools and a conniving media, that all add up to cultural warfare against the idea that guns ever had, or should now have, an honorable and proud place in our society.
But all our rights must be delivered into the 21st century as pure and complete as they came to us at the beginning of this century. Traditionally the passing of that torch is from a gnarled old hand down to an eager young one. So now, at 72, I offer my gnarled old hand.
I have accepted a call from the National Rifle Association of America to help protect the Second Amendment. I feel it is my duty to do that. My mission and vision can be summarized in three simple parts.
First, before we enter the next century, I expect to see a pro-Second Amendment president in the White House.
Secondly, I expect to build an NRA with the political muscle and clout to keep a pro-Second Amendment congress in place.
Third is a promise to the next generation of free Americans. I hope to help raise a hundred million dollars for NRA programs and education before the year 2000. At least half of that sum will go to teach American kids what the right to keep and bear arms really means to their culture and country.
We have raised a generation of young people who think that the Bill of Rights comes with their cable TV. Leave them to their channel surfing and they'll remain oblivious to history and heritage that truly matter.
Think about it -- what else must young Americans think when the White House proclaims, as it did, that 'a firearm in the hands of youth is a crime or an accident waiting to happen'? No -- it is time they learned that firearm ownership is constitutional, not criminal. In fact, few pursuits can teach a young person more about responsibility, safety, conservation, their history and their heritage, all at once.
It is time they found out that the politically correct doctrine of today has misled them. And that when they reach legal age, if they do not break our laws, they have a right to choose to own a gun -- a handgun, a long gun, a small gun, a large gun, a black gun, a purple gun, a pretty gun, an ugly gun -- and to use that gun to defend themselves and their loved ones or to engage in any lawful purpose they desire without apology or explanation to anyone, ever.
This is their first freedom. If you say it's outdated, then you haven't read your own headlines. If you say guns create only carnage, I would answer that you know better. Declining morals, disintegrating families, vacillation political leadership, an eroding criminal justice system and social morals that blur right and wrong are more to blame -- certainly more than any legally owned firearm.
I want to rescue the Second Amendment from an opportunistic president, and from a press that apparently can't comprehend that attacks on the Second Amendment set the stage for assaults on the First.
I want to save the Second Amendment from all these nitpicking little wars af attrition -- fights over alleged Saturday night specials, plastic guns, cop killer bullets and so many other made-for-prime-time non-issues invented by some press agent over at gun control headquarters -- that you guys buy time and again.
I simply cannot stand by and watch a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States come under attack from those who either can't understand it, don't like the sound of it or find themselves too philosophically squeamish to see why it remains the first among equals: Because it is the right we turn to when all else fails.
That's why the Second Amendment is America's first freedom.
Please, go forth and tell the truth. There can be no free speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest, no freedom to worship you god, no freedom to speak your mind, no freedom from fear, no freedom for your children and for theirs, for anybody, anywhere without the Second Amendment freedom to fight for it.
If you don't believe me, just turn on the news tonight. Civilizations veneer is wearing thinner all the time.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Scientist changes mind
on: April 07, 2008, 10:26:49 AM
THE scientist who led the team that cracked the human genome is to publish a book explaining why he now believes in the existence of God and is convinced that miracles are real.
Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, claims there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries bring man “closer to God”.
His book, The Language of God, to be published in September, will reopen the age-old debate about the relationship between science and faith. “One of the great tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion have to be at war,” said Collins, 56.
“I don’t see that as necessary at all and I think it is deeply disappointing that the shrill voices that occupy the extremes of this spectrum have dominated the stage for the past 20 years.”
For Collins, unravelling the human genome did not create a conflict in his mind. Instead, it allowed him to “glimpse at the workings of God”.
“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.
“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”
Collins joins a line of scientists whose research deepened their belief in God. Isaac Newton, whose discovery of the laws of gravity reshaped our understanding of the universe, said: “This most beautiful system could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”
Although Einstein revolutionised our thinking about time, gravity and the conversion of matter to energy, he believed the universe had a creator. “I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details,” he said. However Galileo was famously questioned by the inquisition and put on trial in 1633 for the “heresy” of claiming that the earth moved around the sun.
Among Collins’s most controversial beliefs is that of “theistic evolution”, which claims natural selection is the tool that God chose to create man. In his version of the theory, he argues that man will not evolve further.
“I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says.
“Scientifically, the forces of evolution by natural selection have been profoundly affected for humankind by the changes in culture and environment and the expansion of the human species to 6 billion members. So what you see is pretty much what you get.”
Collins was an atheist until the age of 27, when as a young doctor he was impressed by the strength that faith gave to some of his most critical patients.
“They had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance,” he said. “That was interesting, puzzling and unsettling.”
He decided to visit a Methodist minister and was given a copy of C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which argues that God is a rational possibility. The book transformed his life. “It was an argument I was not prepared to hear,” he said.
“I was very happy with the idea that God didn’t exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away.”
His epiphany came when he went hiking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. He said: “It was a beautiful afternoon and suddenly the remarkable beauty of creation around me was so overwhelming, I felt, ‘I cannot resist this another moment’.”
Collins believes that science cannot be used to refute the existence of God because it is confined to the “natural” world. In this light he believes miracles are a real possibility. “If one is willing to accept the existence of God or some supernatural force outside nature then it is not a logical problem to admit that, occasionally, a supernatural force might stage an invasion,” he says.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: April 07, 2008, 10:08:43 AM
JENIN - "When you see Zakariya, maybe you'll be surprised, but he looks like just any other Palestinian man now. Without armed men, without a weapon, just an ordinary guy," related an acquaintance of Zakariya Zubeidi, until not long ago the commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in Jenin.�
Though Zubeidi is no longer hiding from the Israel Defense Forces, for a number of hours the people at the theater where he works tried to find him. Zubeidi didn't answer his mobile phone even when the commander of the Palestinian security forces in Jenin, Suleiman Umran, called him. In the end, a woman who works at the theater explained that he usually sleeps late and maybe that's what he was doing.�
In the past, Zubeidi used to show up briefly at his house, in the Jenin refugee camp, together with his wanted colleagues, before disappearing for fear that Israelis would ambush him. The only reminder of those days are the framed pictures of the "martyrs" killed recently in the camp, and the huge poster of Saddam Hussein posted in one of the alleys leading to Zubeidi's home. The door is opened by his son Mohammed, who immediately summons his father. He comes down in sandals and a black T-shirt, and promises that in a few minutes he will come to the theater offices. Zubeidi arrives in his officer's "battle" jacket and mountaineering shoes, but without a weapon and without his erstwhile colleagues�
What are you doing these days?�
Zubeidi: "Nothing special. We've shut down the Al-Aqsa brigades and I haven't yet received a full pardon from Israel. I'm at home a bit, at the theater a bit."�
Why haven't you received a pardon?�
"They lied to us, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The PA promised us that after we spent three months in PA facilities and if we didn't get involved in actions, we would receive a pardon. The three months ended and nothing happened. We still need to sleep at the headquarters of the security organizations. They promised us jobs and they haven't materialized either. Some of us are getting a salary of NIS 1,050 a month. What can you do with that? Buy Bamba for your children? They lied to everyone, they made a distinction between those who were really in the Al-Aqsa Brigades, whom they screwed, and groups that called themselves by that name, but in fact were working on behalf of the PA."�
So why have you stopped?�
"In part because of the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. Look, it's perfectly clear to me that we won't be able to defeat Israel. My aim was for us, by means of the 'resistance' [code for terror attacks], to get a message out to the world. Back in Abu Amar's day [the nom de guerre of Yasser Arafat], we had a plan, there was a strategy, and we would carry his orders."�
In effect, are you saying what Amos Gilad and intelligence always said, that Arafat planned everything?�
"Right. Everything that was done in the intifada was done according to Arafat's instructions, but he didn't need to tell us the things explicitly. We understood his message."�
And today there is no leadership?�
"Today I can say explicitly: We failed entirely in the intifada. We haven't seen any benefit or positive result from it. We achieved nothing. It's a crushing failure. We failed at the political level - we didn't succeed in translating the military actions into political achievements. The current leadership does not want armed actions, and since the death of Abu Amar, there's no one who is capable of using our actions to bring about such achievements. When Abu Amar died, the armed intifada died with him."�
What happened? Why did it die?�
"Why? Because our politicians are whores. Our leadership is garbage. Look at Ruhi Fatouh, who was president of the PA for 60 days, as Yasser Arafat's replacement. He smuggled mobile phones. Do you understand? We have been defeated. The political splits and schisms have destroyed us not only politically - they have destroyed our national identity. Today there is no Palestinian identity. Go up to anyone in the street and ask him, 'Who are you?' He'll answer you, 'I'm a Fatah activist,' 'I'm a Hamas activist,' or an activist of some other organization, but he won't say to you, 'I am a Palestinian.' Every organization flies its own flag, but no one is raising the flag of Palestine."�
Are you, who used to be a symbol of the intifada, saying, "We have been defeated, we have failed, the intifada is dead?"�
"Even Gamal Abdel Nasser admitted his defeat, so why not me? Come on, I'll tell you something. On Saturday there was a ceremony to mark the killing of one of our martyrs. They asked me to say a few words. What could I say? I can no longer promise that we will follow in the martyr's footsteps, as is customary, because I would be lying. So then one of the heads of Fatah came over to me and said, 'We are following in the footsteps of the martyrs, we are continuing the resistance.' And I told him that he is a liar.�
"I feel that they have abandoned us, the Al-Aqsa activists. They have left us behind and forgotten us. We are marching in the direction of nowhere, toward total ruin. The Palestinian people is finished. Done for. Hamas comes on the air on its television station and says 'Fatah is a traitor.' That is to say, 40 percent of the nation are traitors. And then Fatah does the same thing and you already have 80 percent traitors."�
Is that why you are at home?�
"I got tired. When you lose, what can you do? We, the activists, paid the heavy price. We've had family members killed, friends. They demolished our homes and we have no way of earning a living. And what is the result? Zero. Simply zero. And when that's the result, you don't want to be a part of it any more. Lots of other people, as a result of the frustration, and because Fatah doesn't have a military wing any more, have joined the Islamic Jihad. Those activists are still willing to pay the price.�
"And look at what the PA does to those who are keeping at it. If a PA person is killed in a battle with the Israelis, the stipend paid to his family will amount to NIS 250 a month, even though he had been earning about NIS 2,000. Why? So that he won't even think about carrying out terror attacks. This is the only plan that the PA has these days: Israeli security. The security of the occupation before the security of [Palestinian] citizens.�
"When an occupation jeep comes into a refugee camp, the PA doesn't do anything, and if someone shoots at the jeep, they'll go and arrest him immediately. Today the president of the Palestinian people is General Dayton [Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator]. They're all working for him, he is the boss. A PA no longer exists."�
Zubeidi relates that for him, the theater is a refuge from the bleak political reality that the Palestinians are facing. "Here there's no politics, no religion. I still feel free here." From time to time he talks with Tali Fahima [the Israeli woman who spent time in prison for her contacts with Zubeidi], and Jewish friends come to visit him at the theater. As to the future of the region, Zubeidi's forecast is very grim.�
"Abu Mazen's mistake," he says, referring to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, "is that he is gambling everything on the negotiations. And what happens if the talks fail? What is his plan then? I'm telling you that if by the end of 2008 a Palestinian state isn't established, there is going to be a war here. Not against Israel, or between Hamas and Fatah, but against the PA. The citizens are going to throw the PA out of here. Today the PA is doing what Dayton and Israel are telling it to do, but at the end of the year, when Israel doesn't give the Palestinians a state, the PA is going to be thrown out. There's going to be an all-out war here, for control of the West Bank."�
Zubeidi is not the only one who's feeling pessimistic about the future of the PA. Similar remarks can be heard everywhere in the West Bank these days. Senior American and Israeli officials who have spoken recently with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are saying that his despair is obvious. Some of Fayyad's bitterness derives from Israel's scornful attitude toward the PA. However, it appears that Fayyad is frustrated to the same extent by the endless conflict with Fatah people, who urge him to appoint cabinet ministers from their movement and at the same time are lying in wait for him to fail.�
Some of the criticism of Fayyad's government, which has no Fatah people, is justified. The Palestinian prime minister, his many successes notwithstanding, is by no means a miracle worker, nor can he by himself change the face of the reality. The group of cabinet ministers he has appointed are considered technocrats, for better or worse, and they are not succeeding in implementing a substantial change in the government sector.�
The heads of the Tanzim, the senior Fatah people who were supposed to have become the organization's leaders of the future, are also making little effort to conceal their despair. They watch as their movement marches toward annihilation: without real reforms, without substantive change, but with endless talk about elections in Fatah and a war on corruption. Even the heads of some of the security organizations are critical of the stuttering actions of the PA against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank. And while Hamas indirectly conducts indirect negotiations with Israel on a cease-fire, the PA, as Zubeidi says, has "zero achievements" to show: limping negotiations, Israeli unwillingness to help, corruption and the absence of reforms. In the view of some Tanzim people, the PA is on a sure path to disintegration. Not in a swift and sharp way, but rather in a prolonged process, at the end of which it will disappear from the West Bank and will be replaced by the Israeli occupation and Hamas. Nearly the only scenario that could change the face of things is, of course, a political agreement or a framework agreement between the PA and Israel. But who can trust the Israelis?http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/971604.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Lieberman & Graham: Iraq and its costs
on: April 07, 2008, 09:59:41 AM
Iraq and Its Costs
By JOE LIEBERMAN and LINDSEY GRAHAM
April 7, 2008; Page A13
When Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress tomorrow, he will step into an American political landscape dramatically different from the one he faced when he last spoke on Capitol Hill seven months ago.
This time Gen. Petraeus returns to Washington having led one of the most remarkably successful military operations in American history. His antiwar critics, meanwhile, face a crisis of credibility – having confidently predicted the failure of the surge, and been proven decidedly wrong.
As late as last September, advocates of retreat insisted that the surge would fail to bring about any meaningful reduction in violence in Iraq. MoveOn.org accused Gen. Petraeus of "cooking the books," while others claimed that his testimony, offering evidence of early progress, required "the willing suspension of disbelief."
Gen. Petraeus will be the first to acknowledge that the gains in Iraq have come at a heavy price in blood and treasure. We mourn the loss and pain of the civilians and service members who have been killed and wounded in Iraq, but adamantly believe these losses have served a noble cause.
No one can deny the dramatic improvements in security in Iraq achieved by Gen. Petraeus, the brave troops under his command, and the Iraqi Security Forces. From June 2007 through February 2008, deaths from ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad have fallen approximately 90%. American casualties have also fallen sharply, down by 70%.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has been swept from its former strongholds in Anbar province and Baghdad. The liberation of these areas was made possible by the surge, which empowered Iraqi Muslims to reject the Islamist extremists who had previously terrorized them into submission. Any time Muslims take up arms against Osama bin Laden, his agents and sympathizers, the world is a safer place.
In the past seven months, the other main argument offered by critics of the Petraeus strategy has also begun to collapse: namely, the alleged lack of Iraqi political progress.
Antiwar forces last September latched onto the Iraqi government's failure to pass "benchmark" legislation, relentlessly hammering Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as hopelessly sectarian and unwilling to confront Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Here as well, however, the critics in Washington have been proven wrong.
In recent months, the Iraqi government, encouraged by our Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has passed benchmark legislation on such politically difficult issues as de-Baathification, amnesty, the budget and provincial elections. After boycotting the last round of elections, Sunnis now stand ready to vote by the millions in the provincial elections this autumn. The Iraqi economy is growing at a brisk 7% and inflation is down dramatically.
And, in launching the recent offensive in Basra, Mr. Maliki has demonstrated that he has the political will to take on the Shiite militias and criminal gangs, which he recently condemned as "worse than al Qaeda."
Of course, while the gains we have achieved in Iraq are meaningful and undeniable, so are the challenges ahead. Iraqi Security Forces have grown in number and shown significant improvement, but the Basra operation showed they still have a way to go. Al Qaeda has been badly weakened by the surge, but it still retains a significant foothold in the northern city of Mosul, where Iraqi and coalition forces are involved in a campaign to destroy it.
Most importantly, Iran also continues to wage a vicious and escalating proxy war against the Iraqi government and the U.S. military. The Iranians have American blood on their hands. They are responsible, through the extremist agents they have trained and equipped, for the deaths of hundreds of our men and women in uniform. Increasingly, our fight in Iraq cannot be separated from our larger struggle to prevent the emergence of an Iranian-dominated Middle East.
These continuing threats from Iran and al Qaeda underscore why we believe that decisions about the next steps in Iraq should be determined by the recommendations of Gen. Petraeus, based on conditions on the ground.
It is also why it is imperative to be cautious about the speed and scope of any troop withdrawals in the months ahead, rather than imposing a political timeline for troop withdrawal against the recommendation of our military.
Unable to make the case that the surge has failed, antiwar forces have adopted a new set of talking points, emphasizing the "costs" of our involvement in Iraq, hoping to exploit Americans' current economic anxieties.
Today's antiwar politicians have effectively turned John F. Kennedy's inaugural address on its head, urging Americans to refuse to pay any price, or bear any burden, to assure the survival of liberty. This is wrong. The fact is that America's prosperity at home and security abroad are bound together. We will not fare well in a world in which al Qaeda and Iran can claim that they have defeated us in Iraq and are ascendant.
There is no question the war in Iraq – like the Cold War, World War II and every other conflict we have fought in our history – costs money. But as great as the costs of this struggle have been, so too are the dividends to our national security from a successful outcome, with a functioning, representative Iraqi government and a stabilized Middle East. The costs of abandoning Iraq to our enemies, conversely, would be enormous, not only in dollars, but in human lives and in the security and freedom of our nation.
Indeed, had we followed the path proposed by antiwar groups and retreated in defeat, the war would have been lost, emboldening and empowering violent jihadists for generations to come.
The success we are now achieving also has consequences far beyond Iraq's borders in the larger, global struggle against Islamist extremism. Thanks to the surge, Iraq today is looking increasingly like Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare: an Arab country, in the heart of the Middle East, in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims – both Sunni and Shiite – are rising up and fighting, shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers, against al Qaeda and its hateful ideology.
It is unfortunate that so many opponents of the surge still refuse to acknowledge the gains we have achieved in Iraq. When Gen. Petraeus testifies this week, however, the American people will have a clear choice as we weigh the future of our fight there: between the general who is leading us to victory, and the critics who spent the past year predicting defeat.
Mr. Lieberman is an Independent Democratic senator from Connecticut. Mr. Graham is a Republican senator from South Carolina.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Clintons' $109 Million
on: April 07, 2008, 09:42:27 AM
Clinton Tax Lessons
April 7, 2008; Page A12
New York Senator Hillary Clinton and her husband spend a lot of time on the Presidential trail deploring the "wealthy" and "well-connected." As their newly released tax records for 2000 to 2007 show, they know of whom they speak.
The former, and perhaps future, first couple earned $109 million over the past eight years, putting them among the top .01% of taxpayers. Apparently the Bush years haven't been a Depression era for everyone. The bulk of the Clintons' income came from speech-making ($51.9 million) and book-writing ($29.6 million), and it's hard to begrudge their desire to cash in on the Presidency after toiling for so many years in public service. The Clintons are hardly unique in showing that in today's Washington you can do very, very well after you've done good.
Senator Hillary Clinton
We can also now understand why the couple took so long to release their returns, and are still reluctant to release other information. Their political status has given them access to wealthy folks who've helped make them rich. For example, Mr. Clinton raked in as much as $15 million working as an adviser and rainmaker for billionaire financier Ron Burkle's Yucaipa firm. We're not sure what advice Mr. Clinton gave but it must have been fabulous. The former President also took in $3.3 million in consulting fees from InfoUSA CEO Vinod Gupta, who has also helped fund Mrs. Clinton's White House bid. These are not opportunities that fall into every American's lap.
Meanwhile, the Clintons also made liberal use of the charitable deduction, claiming $10.2 million in charitable giving over the eight years. Intriguingly, nearly all the donations went to the Clinton Family Foundation, which has disbursed only half the money. The Clintons can thus use the foundation for, er, strategic giving, such as the $100,000 it donated last year to a local South Carolina library – the day after Mrs. Clinton debated in that key primary state. There are other examples of such politically targeted philanthropy, and it's worth noting that most of the foundation's disbursements came only after Mrs. Clinton announced her Presidential run.
Similar conflict-of-interest questions apply to the separate William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, for which the couple has so far refused to release a list of donors. Such a list could contain more of the likes of Canadian mining tycoon Frank Giustra, who took Mr. Clinton along on a trip to Kazakhstan as a character reference, won a Kazakh mining concession, and gave more than $30 million to the foundation. The Clintons have an obligation to let voters see who their foundation donors are.
Like other Americans during this tax season, the Clintons have also had to endure the complexity of the tax code. Their 2006 return alone totaled 67 pages. While they can afford a smart accountant to sift through all those forms, would it be too optimistic to think Mrs. Clinton might be inspired by her tax experience to promote tax reform?
Alas, yes. Senator Clinton's main tax proposal is to repeal the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, raising rates to the levels of the Clinton Presidency. "We didn't ask for George Bush's tax cuts. We didn't want them, and we didn't need them," Mrs. Clinton explained.
With friends like Mr. Burkle, clearly they didn't. But her higher tax rates wouldn't merely hit those who make $109 million; they'd soak middle-class families that make $100,000 or $200,000 a year and hardly feel "rich." If the former first lady feels so strongly that she should pay more taxes, we suggest she lay off the middle class and instead write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the difference between the Clinton and Bush tax rates. She and her husband can afford it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Several days worth
on: April 07, 2008, 09:25:23 AM
I've fallen a bit behind here with the run-up to our just completed "3 Day Gathering of the Pack", so here are several days worth of posts:
“f industry and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out.” —James Madison
“How can limited government and fiscal restraint be equated with lack of compassion for the poor? How can a tax break that puts a little more money in the weekly paychecks of working people be seen as an attack on the needy? Since when do we in America believe that our society is made up of two diametrically opposed classes—one rich, one poor—both in a permanent state of conflict and neither able to get ahead except at the expense of the other? Since when do we in America accept this alien and discredited theory of social and class warfare? Since when do we in America endorse the politics of envy and division?” —Ronald Reagan
"Stability in government is essential to national character and
to the advantages annexed to it, as well as to that repose and
confidence in the minds of the people, which are among the chief
blessings of civil society."
-- James Madison (Federalist No. 37, 11 January 1788)
Reference: The Federalist
“The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.” —Samuel Adams
“Facts are stubborn things.” —John Adams
"The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the
introduction of legislative balances and checks; the institution
of courts composed of judges holding their offices during good
behavior; the representation of the people in the legislature by
deputies of their own election... They are means, and powerful
means, by which the excellences of republican govenrment may be
retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided."
-- Alexander Hamilton (Federalist No. 9, 1787)
"The convention have done well, therefore, in so disposing of
the power of making treaties, that although the President must,
in forming them, act by the advice and consent of the Senate,
yet he will be able to manage the business of intelligence in
such a manner as prudence may suggest."
-- John Jay (Federalist No. 64, 7 March 1788)
Reference: The Federalist
“Public affairs go on pretty much as usual: perpetual chicanery and rather more personal abuse than there used to be.” —John Adams
"Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a
noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and
blood of their ancestors; and capacity, if wisely improved, and
faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity
all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of
liberty, property, religion, and independence."
-- Joseph Story (Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833)
Reference: Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 718.
"Children should be educated and instructed in the principles
-- John Adams (Defense of the Constitutions, 1787)
Reference: The Learning of Liberty, Prangle and Prangle (96);
original The Works of John Adams, C.F. Adams, ed., vol. 6 (168)
“I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic.” —James Madison
"If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it
be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150 lawyers,
whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, & talk
by the hour? That 150 lawyers should do business together ought
not to be expected."
-- Thomas Jefferson (Autobiography, 1821)
Reference: Jefferson: Writings, Peterson ed., Library of America
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bird Flu: Human to Human in Pakistan?
on: April 07, 2008, 01:36:48 AM
First case of human-to-human transmission of bird flu confirmed in Pakistan
April 6 : A report by BBC News has confirmed the first case of human-to-human transmission of bird flu in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s north-west and southern regions were hit by bird flu last year. Thousands of birds were culled to control the spread of the disease.
Tests carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) have now shown that bird flu killed some members of a family in north-west Pakistan late last year.
This is the first confirmation of people dying from bird flu in the country, with the samples collected from the family in Peshawar testing positive.
According to Dr Mukhtiar Zaman Afridi, head of the isolation ward for avian flu patients at Khyber Teaching Hospital in Peshawar, a poultry worker in Peshawar apparently passed the disease on to members of his family.
“The worker, whose name is being withheld on the request of the WHO, was brought to the hospital with avian flu symptoms on 29 October 2007,” he said.
Though this worker has fully recovered since then, on 12 November, his elder brother was brought in with similar symptoms. He died a week later.
On 21 November, two more brothers of the same worker came down with bird flu.
“One of them died on 28 November, while the other has recovered,” said Dr Afridi.
Apart from the poultry worker, none of the others was found to have had any direct contact with sick or dead poultry.
Genetic sequencing tests performed by WHO laboratories in Egypt and the US on samples collected from three of the four brothers established human-to-human transmission.
Serum taken from all three was found to have been infected by the H5N1 avian influenza virus.
Though a WHO report said that the tests suggest “limited human-to-human transmission,” it adds, however, that this “outbreak did not extend into the community, and appropriate steps were taken to reduce future risks of human infections.” (ANI)http://www.ebiologynews.com/4229.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Health Care fib
on: April 06, 2008, 10:27:39 AM
April 5, 2008
Ohio Hospital Contests a Story Clinton Tells
By DEBORAH SONTAG
Over the last five weeks, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has featured in her campaign stump speeches the story of a health care horror: an uninsured pregnant woman who lost her baby and died herself after being denied care by an Ohio hospital because she could not come up with a $100 fee.
The woman, Trina Bachtel, did die last August, two weeks after her baby boy was stillborn at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio. But hospital administrators said Friday that Ms. Bachtel was under the care of an obstetrics practice affiliated with the hospital, that she was never refused treatment and that she was, in fact, insured.
“We implore the Clinton campaign to immediately desist from repeating this story,” said Rick Castrop, chief executive officer of the O’Bleness Health System.
Linda M. Weiss, a spokeswoman for the not-for-profit hospital, said the Clinton campaign had never contacted the hospital to check the accuracy of the story, which Mrs. Clinton had first heard from a Meigs County, Ohio, sheriff’s deputy in late February.
A Clinton spokesman, Mo Elleithee, said candidates would frequently retell stories relayed to them, vetting them when possible. “In this case, we did try but were not able to fully vet it,” Mr. Elleithee said. “If the hospital claims it did not happen that way, we respect that.”
The sheriff’s deputy, Bryan Holman, had played host to Mrs. Clinton in his home before the Ohio primary. Deputy Holman said in a telephone interview that a conversation about health care led him to relate the story of Ms. Bachtel. He never mentioned the name of the hospital that supposedly turned her away because he did not know it, he said.
Deputy Holman knew Ms. Bachtel’s story only secondhand, having learned it from close relatives of the woman. Ms. Bachtel’s relatives did not return phone calls Friday.
As Deputy Holman understood it, Ms. Bachtel had died of complications from a stillbirth after being turned away by a local hospital for her failure to pay $100 upfront.
“I mentioned this story to Senator Clinton, and she apparently took to it and liked it,” Deputy Holman said, “and one of her aides said she’d be using it at some rallies.”
Indeed, saying that the story haunted her, Mrs. Clinton repeatedly offered it as a dire example of a broken health care system. At one March rally in Wyoming, for instance, she referred to Ms. Bachtel, a 35-year-old who managed a Pizza Hut, as a young, uninsured minimum-wage worker, saying, “It hurts me that in our country, as rich and good of a country as we are, this young woman and her baby died because she couldn’t come up with $100 to see the doctor.”
Mrs. Clinton does not name Ms. Bachtel or the hospital in her speeches. As she tells it, the woman was turned away twice by a local hospital when she was experiencing difficulty with her pregnancy. “The hospital said, ‘Well, you don’t have insurance.’ She said, ‘No, I don’t.’ They said, ‘Well, we can’t see you until you give $100.’ She said, ‘Where am I going to get $100?’
“The next time she came back to the hospital, she came in an ambulance,” Mrs. Clinton continued. “She was in distress. The doctors and the nurses worked on her and couldn’t save the baby.”
Since Ms. Bachtel’s baby died at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital, the story implicitly and inaccurately accuses that hospital of turning her away, said Ms. Weiss, the spokeswoman for O’Bleness Memorial said. Instead, the O’Bleness health care system treated her, both at the hospital and at the affiliated River Rose Obstetrics and Gynecology practice, Ms. Weiss said.
The hospital would not provide details about the woman’s case, citing privacy concerns; she died two weeks after the stillbirth at a medical center in Columbus.
“We reviewed the medical and patient account records of this patient,” said Mr. Castrop, the health system’s chief executive. Any implication that the system was “involved in denying care is definitely not true.”
Although Mrs. Clinton has told the story repeatedly, it first came to the attention of the hospital after The Washington Post cited it as a staple of her stump speeches on Thursday. That brought it to the attention of The Daily Sentinel in Pomeroy, Ohio, which published an article on Friday.
Neither paper named the hospital or challenged Mrs. Clinton’s account.