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24351  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Mex-US arms trade on: July 09, 2009, 10:17:10 AM
Mexico: Economics and the Arms Trade
July 9, 2009
By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On June 26, the small Mexican town of Apaseo el Alto, in Guanajuato state, was the scene of a deadly firefight between members of Los Zetas and federal and local security forces. The engagement began when a joint patrol of Mexican soldiers and police officers responded to a report of heavily armed men at a suspected drug safe house. When the patrol arrived, a 20-minute firefight erupted between the security forces and gunmen in the house as well as several suspects in two vehicles who threw fragmentation grenades as they tried to escape.

When the shooting ended, 12 gunmen lay dead, 12 had been taken into custody and several soldiers and police officers had been wounded. At least half of the detained suspects admitted to being members of Los Zetas, a highly trained Mexican cartel group known for its use of military weapons and tactics.

When authorities examined the safe house they discovered a mass grave that contained the remains of an undetermined number of people (perhaps 14 or 15) who are believed to have been executed and then burned beyond recognition by Los Zetas. The house also contained a large cache of weapons, including assault rifles and fragmentation grenades. Such military ordnance is frequently used by Los Zetas and the enforcers who work for their rival cartels.

STRATFOR has been closely following the cartel violence in Mexico for several years now, and the events that transpired in Apaseo el Alto are by no means unique. It is not uncommon for the Mexican authorities to engage in large firefights with cartel groups, encounter mass graves or recover large caches of arms. However, the recovery of the weapons in Apaseo el Alto does provide an opportunity to once again focus on the dynamics of Mexico’s arms trade.

White, Black and Shades of Gray
Before we get down into the weeds of Mexico’s arms trade, let’s do something a little different and first take a brief look at how arms trafficking works on a regional and global scale. Doing so will help illustrate how arms trafficking in Mexico fits into these broader patterns.

When analysts examine arms sales they look at three general categories: the white arms market, the gray arms market and the black arms market. The white arms market is the legal, aboveboard transfer of weapons in accordance with the national laws of the parties involved and international treaties or restrictions. The parties in a white arms deal will file the proper paperwork, including end-user certificates, noting what is being sold, who is selling it and to whom it is being sold. There is an understanding that the receiving party does not intend to transfer the weapons to a third party. So, for example, if the Mexican army wants to buy assault rifles from German arms maker Heckler & Koch, it places the order with the company and fills out all the required paperwork, including forms for obtaining permission for the sale from the German government.

Now, the white arms market can be deceived and manipulated, and when this happens, we get the gray market — literally, white arms that are shifted into the hands of someone other than the purported recipient. One of the classic ways to do this is to either falsify an end-user certificate, or bribe an official in a third country to sign an end-user certificate but then allow a shipment of arms to pass through a country en route to a third location. This type of transaction is frequently used in cases where there are international arms embargoes against a particular country (like Liberia) or where it is illegal to sell arms to a militant group (such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym, FARC). One example of this would be Ukrainian small arms that, on paper, were supposed to go to Cote d’Ivoire but were really transferred in violation of U.N. arms embargoes to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Another example of this would be the government of Peru purchasing thousands of surplus East German assault rifles from Jordan on the white arms market, ostensibly for the Peruvian military, only to have those rifles slip into the gray arms world and be dropped at airstrips in the jungles of Colombia for use by the FARC.

At the far end of the spectrum is the black arms market where the guns are contraband from the get-go and all the business is conducted under the table. There are no end-user certificates and the weapons are smuggled covertly. Examples of this would be the smuggling of arms from the former Soviet Union (FSU) and Afghanistan into Europe through places like Kosovo and Slovenia, or the smuggling of arms into South America from Asia, the FSU and Middle East by Hezbollah and criminal gangs in the Tri-Border Region.

Nation-states will often use the gray and black arms markets in order to deniably support allies, undermine opponents or otherwise pursue their national interests. This was clearly revealed in the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s, but Iran-Contra only scratched the surface of the arms smuggling that occurred during the Cold War. Untold tons of military ordnance were delivered by the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba to their respective allies in Latin America during the Cold War.

This quantity of materiel shipped into Latin America during the Cold War brings up another very important point pertaining to weapons. Unlike drugs, which are consumable goods, firearms are durable goods. This means that they can be useful for decades and are frequently shipped from conflict zone to conflict zone. East German MPiKMS and MPiKM assault rifles are still floating around the world’s arms markets years after the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist. In fact, visiting an arms bazaar in a place like Yemen is like visiting an arms museum. One can encounter century-old, still-functional Lee-Enfield and Springfield rifles in a rack next to a modern U.S. M4 rifle or German HK93, and those next to brand-new Chinese Type 56 and 81 assault rifles.

There is often a correlation between arms and drug smuggling. In many instances, the same routes used to smuggle drugs are also used to smuggle arms. In some instances, like the smuggling routes from Central Asia to Europe, the flow of guns and drugs goes in the same direction, and they are both sold in Western Europe for cash. In the case of Latin American cocaine, the drugs tend to flow in one direction (toward the United States and Europe) while guns from U.S. and Russian organized-crime groups flow in the other direction, and often these guns are used as whole or partial payment for the drugs.

Illegal drugs are not the only thing traded for guns. During the Cold War, a robust arms-for-sugar trade transpired between the Cubans and Vietnamese. As a result, Marxist groups all over Latin America were furnished with U.S. materiel either captured or left behind when the Americans withdrew from Vietnam. LAW rockets traced to U.S. military stocks sent to Vietnam were used in several attacks by Latin American Marxist groups. These Vietnam War-vintage weapons still crop up with some frequency in Mexico, Colombia and other parts of the region. Cold War-era weapons furnished to the likes of the Contras, Sandinistas, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity movement in the 1980s are also frequently encountered in the region.

After the civil wars ended in places like El Salvador and Guatemala, the governments and the international community attempted to institute arms buy-back programs, but those programs were not very successful and most of the guns turned in were very old — the better arms were cached by groups or kept by individuals. Some of these guns have dribbled back into the black arms market, and Central and South America are still awash in Cold War weapons.

But Cold War shipments are not the only reason that Latin America is flooded with guns. In addition to the indigenous arms industries in countries like Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela has purchased hundreds of thousands of AK assault rifles in recent years to replace its aging FN-FAL rifles and has even purchased the equipment to open a factory to produce AK-103 rifles under license inside Venezuela. The Colombian government has accused the Venezuelans of arming the FARC, and evidence obtained by the Colombians during raids on FARC camps and provided to the public appears to support those assertions.

More than 90 Percent?
For several years now, Mexican officials have been making public statements that more than 90 percent of the arms used by criminals in Mexico come from the United States. That number was echoed last month in a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on U.S. efforts to combat arms trafficking to Mexico (see external link).

External Link
GAO report on arms trafficking to Mexico
(STRATFOR is not responsible for the content of other Web sites.)
According to the report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican officials in 2008. Out of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them, (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

This means that the 87 percent figure comes from the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by the Mexicans or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. The 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing.

In a response to the GAO report, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wrote a letter to the GAO (published as an appendix to the report) calling the GAO’s use of the 87 percent statistic “misleading.” The DHS further noted, “Numerous problems with the data collection and sample population render this assertion as unreliable.”

Trying to get a reliable idea about where the drug cartels are getting their weapons can be difficult because the statistics on firearms seized in Mexico are very confusing. For example, while the GAO report says that 30,000 guns were seized in 2008 alone, the Mexican Prosecutor General’s office has reported that between Dec. 1, 2005, and Jan. 22, 2009, Mexican authorities seized 31,512 weapons from the cartels.

Furthermore, it is not prudent to rely exclusively on weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing as a representative sample of the overall Mexican arms market. This is because there are some classes of weapons, such as RPG-7s and South Korean hand grenades, which make very little sense for the Mexicans to pass to the ATF for tracing since they obviously are not from the United States. The ATF is limited in its ability to trace weapons that did not pass through the United States, though there are offices at the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency that maintain extensive international arms-trafficking databases.

Mexican authorities are also unlikely to ask the ATF to trace weapons that can be tracked through the Mexican government’s own databases such as the one maintained by the Mexican Defense Department’s Arms and Ammunition Marketing Division (UCAM), which is the only outlet through which Mexican citizens can legally buy guns. If they can trace a gun through UCAM there is simply no need to submit it to ATF.

The United States has criticized Mexico for decades over its inability to stop the flow of narcotics into U.S. territory, and for the past several years Mexico has responded by blaming the guns coming from the United States for its inability to stop the drug trafficking. In this context, there is a lot of incentive for the Mexicans to politicize and play up the issue of guns coming from the United States, and north of the border there are U.S. gun-control advocates who have a vested interest in adding fuel to the fire and gun-rights advocates who have an interest in playing down the number.

Clearly, the issue of U.S. guns being sent south of the border is a serious one, but STRATFOR does not believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the claim that 90 percent (or more) of the cartels’ weaponry comes from the United States. The data at present is inclusive — the 90 percent figure appears to be a subsample of a sample, so that number cannot be applied with confidence to the entire country. Indeed, the percentage of U.S. arms appears to be far lower than 90 percent in specific classes of arms such as fully automatic assault rifles, machine guns, rifle grenades, fragmentation grenades and RPG-7s. Even items such as the handful of U.S.-manufactured LAW rockets encountered in Mexico have come from third countries and not directly from the United States.

However, while the 90 percent figure appears to be unsubstantiated by documentable evidence, this fact does not necessarily prove that the converse is true, even if it may be a logical conclusion. The bottom line is that, until there is a comprehensive, scientific study conducted on the arms seized by the Mexican authorities, much will be left to conjecture, and it will be very difficult to determine exactly how many of the cartels’ weapons have come from the United States, and to map out precisely how the black, white and gray arms markets have interacted to bring weapons to Mexico and Mexican cartels.

More research needs to be done on both sides of the border in order to understand this important issue.

Four Trends
In spite of the historical ambiguity, there are four trends that are likely to shape the future flow of arms into Mexico. The first of these is militarization. Since 2006 there has been a steady trend toward the use of heavy military ordnance by the cartels. This process was begun in earnest when the Gulf Cartel first recruited Los Zetas, but in order to counter Los Zetas, all the other cartels have had to recruit and train hard-core enforcer units and outfit them with similar weaponry. Prior to 2007, attacks involving fragmentation hand grenades, 40 mm grenades and RPGs were somewhat rare and immediately attracted a lot of attention. Such incidents are now quite common, and it is not unusual to see firefights like the June 26 incident in Apaseo el Alto in which dozens of grenades are employed.

Another trend in recent years has been the steady movement of Mexican cartels south into Central and South America. As noted above, the region is awash in guns, and the growing presence of Mexican cartel members puts them in contact with people who have access to Cold War weapons, international arms merchants doing business with groups like the FARC and corrupt officials who can obtain weapons from military sources in the region. We have already seen seizures of weapons coming into Mexico from the south. One notable seizure occurred in March 2009, when Guatemalan authorities raided a training camp in northern Guatemala near the Mexican border that they claim belonged to Los Zetas. In the raid they recovered 563 40 mm grenades and 11 M60 machine guns that had been stolen from the Guatemalan military and sold to Los Zetas.

The third trend is the current firearm and ammunition market in the United States. Since the election of Barack Obama, arms sales have gone through the roof due to fears (so far unfounded) that the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress will attempt to restrict or ban certain weapons. Additionally, ammunition companies are busy filling military orders for the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. As anyone who has attempted to buy an assault rifle (or even a brick of .22 cartridges) will tell you, it is no longer cheap or easy to buy guns and ammunition. In fact, due to this surge in demand, it is downright difficult to locate many types of assault rifles and certain calibers of ammunition, though a lucky buyer might be able to find a basic stripped-down AR-15 for $850 to $1,100, or a semiautomatic AK-47 for $650 to $850. Of course, such a gun purchased in the United States and smuggled into Mexico will be sold to the cartels at a hefty premium above the purchase price.

By way of comparison, in places where weapons are abundant, such as Yemen, a surplus fully automatic assault rifle can be purchased for under $100 on the white arms market and for about the same price on the black arms market. This difference in price provides a powerful economic incentive to buy low elsewhere and sell high in Mexico, as does the inability to get certain classes of weapons such as RPGs and fragmentation grenades in the United States. Indeed, we have seen reports of international arms merchants from places like Israel and Belgium selling weapons to the cartels and bringing that ordnance into Mexico through routes other than over the U.S. border. Additionally, in South America, a number of arms smugglers, including Hezbollah and Russian organized-crime groups, have made a considerable amount of money supplying arms to groups in the region like the FARC.

The fourth trend is the increasing effort by the U.S. government to stanch the flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico. A recent increase in the number of ATF special agents and inspectors pursuing gun dealers who knowingly sell to the cartels or straw-purchase buyers who obtain guns from honest dealers is going to increase the chances of such individuals being caught. This stepped-up enforcement will have an impact as the risk of being caught illegally buying or smuggling guns begins to outweigh the profit that can be made by selling guns to the cartels. We believe that these two factors — supply problems and enforcement — will work together to help reduce the flow of U.S. guns to Mexico.

While there has been a long and well-documented history of arms smuggling across the U.S.-Mexican border, it is important to recognize that, while the United States is a significant source of certain classes of weapons, it is by no means the only source of illegal weapons in Mexico. As STRATFOR has previously noted, even if it were possible to hermetically seal the U.S.-Mexican border, the Mexican cartels would still be able to obtain weapons from non-U.S. sources (just as drugs would continue to flow into the United States). The law of supply and demand will ensure that the Mexican cartels will get their ordnance, but it is highly likely that an increasing percentage of that supply will begin to come from outside the United States via the gray and black arms markets.
24352  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Desalinization plants in CA. on: July 09, 2009, 09:59:28 AM
Early next year, the Southern California town of Carlsbad will break ground on a plant that each day will turn 50 million gallons of seawater into fresh drinking water.

The $320 million project, which would be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, was held up in the planning stages for years. But a protracted drought helped propel the project to its approval in May -- a sign of how worried local authorities are about water supplies.

Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis and other elected officials have dodged environmentalists' objections to city plans to build a desalination plant.

"Water is going to be very short until you have a new source," said Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis. "And the only new source is desalination, I don't care what anybody says."

The desalination plant would use water that flows by gravity from the ocean across a manmade lagoon and into the facility through 10 large pumps. The plant would then blast it through a filter, extracting fresh water and leaving behind highly pressurized salty water. The process would provide enough water for 300,000 people each day.

Government agencies have opposed desalination because of the process's energy consumption. The desalination plant would use nearly twice as much energy as a wastewater-treatment plant available in Orange County. Environmental groups also object because fish and other organisms are likely to be sucked into the facility.

Parched State Seeks to Expand Water Supply "Eventually, people will have to realize, it's either fish or children," Mr. Lewis said.

Desalination is most commonly used in such places as Saudi Arabia and northern Africa, where fresh water is scarce.  But in Southern California, authorities are increasingly desperate. Huntington Beach, in Orange County, is planning to break ground on its own desalination plant in 2010. Another plant is in the works at Camp Pendleton, just north of Carlsbad, in San Diego County.

Since January 2008, Orange County has been using a $487 million groundwater-replenishment plant to recycle 70 million gallons of water each day. The city of Los Angeles is flirting with a plan to do the same.  Even at a time when budgets are strained, authorities are willing to push ahead on costly projects. The Camp Pendleton plant is expected to cost between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion; the Carlsbad plant will cost less because it is using a pre-existing power plant.

Half of the water in Southern California is imported from two sources: the State Water Project, which draws from the Sacramento River Delta in Northern California, and the Colorado River, which runs along the state's southeast border. Local authorities need to cobble together the rest from groundwater, recycled or surface water, and imports from elsewhere in the state.  But exports from the Colorado River were cut by half -- to nearly 180 billion gallons -- in 2003 because of drought. The levels have risen since then, but now come with a 20% higher price tag. Pumping from the State Water Project has been cut by 40% from 2006 levels.  Scientists and water authorities are pushing for more water recycling, conservation and water-use restrictions, as well as cleaning up the groundwater supply.  But increasingly they are also considering desalination.

"We don't encourage people to put in a desalination plant unless they need one -- unless they don't have any other options," said Lisa Henthorne, president of the International Desalination Association.

Officials in Carlsbad began discussing desalination in 1998 and planned to open the plant this year. But opposition was fierce.  The Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper -- two local environmental groups -- argue the plant would be disastrous for marine life, "killing everything that floats" near the plant's intake, said Surfrider's Joe Geever.

The permitting process continued for six years, and included 14 public hearings that ran a total of 170 hours and included five revisions to the plan.  Throughout the process, Scott Maloni, vice president for Poseidon Resources, which is developing the Carlsbad and Huntington Beach desalination plants, said he kept an eye on the situation. "No doubt that the drought played a role in the approval," he said.

"Hopefully Poseidon will be extremely successful," said Mr. Lewis, the Carlsbad mayor. "If they are, we'll see lots of these kinds of plants popping up all along the coast. If they're not, it's going to be a long road."

Write to Sabrina Shankman at

24353  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology on: July 09, 2009, 09:15:23 AM
Wouldn't birth control have a lot to do with it?

Also, are current behaviors shown to be evolutionarily successful?  Intuitively it seems to me that there is a correlation between them and birth rates of less than population maitainance.
24354  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Public Option Two-step on: July 09, 2009, 09:10:09 AM

Americans unschooled in liberal health-care politics may have trouble deciphering the White House's conflicting proclamations this week about a new government insurance program for the middle class. Allow us to translate: President Obama loves this so-called public option, but he needs to sell it in a shroud of euphemism and the appearance of "compromise."

On Monday, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told the Journal's Laura Meckler that the Administration would accept a health bill without a public option, as long as there is "a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest . . . The goal is non-negotiable; the path is." Progressives went bonkers, so on Tuesday Mr. Obama took a break from his Moscow trip to come out strongly in favor (again) of the new trillion-dollar entitlement. Meanwhile, New York's Chuck Schumer has been loudly suggesting that compromise is unnecessary given 60 Senate Democrats -- even as the likes of Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu back away.

The reason left-flank Democrats are so adamant about a public option is because they know it is an opening wedge for the government to dominate U.S. health care. That's also why the health-care industry, business groups, some moderates and most Republicans are opposed. Team Obama likes the policies of the first group but wants the political support of the second. And they're trying to solve this Newtonian problem -- irresistible forces, immovable objects -- by becoming less and less candid about the changes they really favor.

Mr. Emanuel echoes his boss and says a government health plan is needed to keep the private sector "honest," but then why don't we also need a state-run oil company, or nationalized grocery store chain? (Or auto maker? Never mind.) The real goal is to create a program backstopped by taxpayers that can exert political leverage over the market.

In its strongest version, the federal plan would receive direct cash subsidies, allowing it to undercut private insurers on consumer prices. This would quickly lead to "crowd out," the tendency of supposedly "free" public programs to displace private insurance. As a general rule, Congress has to spend $2 of taxpayer money to provide $1 in new benefits. More precise academic studies of expansions in Medicaid and the children's insurance program put the crowd-out effect somewhere between 25% and 60%.

Because this is so expensive, the public version Mr. Schumer favors would supposedly receive no special advantages. But this is meaningless when Democrats are planning to mandate the benefits that private insurers must provide, the patients they must accept, and how much they can charge. Oh, and a government plan would still have an implicit taxpayer guarantee a la Fannie Mae, giving it an inherent cost-of-capital advantage.

A few swing votes such as Maine's Olympia Snowe might accept a "trigger," in which a government-run plan would only come on line if certain targets aren't met, such as reducing costs. But that only delays the day of reckoning. Another pseudocompromise is North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad's idea to give the states seed money to set up health insurance co-ops. These plans would still be run under a federal charter and managed by a federal board, so they merely split the public option into 50 pieces.

The other goal of a new public plan is to force doctors and hospitals to accept below-cost fees. This is how Medicare tries to control costs today, but it's like squeezing a balloon: Lower reimbursements mean that providers -- especially hospitals -- must recoup their costs elsewhere, either by shifting costs onto private payers or with more billable tests and procedures. The only way costs can conceivably be managed via price controls is if government is running the whole show, which naturally leads to severe restrictions on care while medical innovation withers.

A rhetorical gong Mr. Obama has been banging a lot lately is the idea that the people pointing all this out are liars. "When you hear the naysayers claim that I'm trying to bring about government-run health care," he said in one speech, "know this: They're not telling the truth." He adds that opposition to a public option isn't "based on any evidence" and that it is "illegitimate" to argue that his program is "is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system."

So much for changing the political tone. Perhaps the President should check in with his more honest liberal allies. Jacob Hacker, now a professor of political science at Berkeley, came up with the intellectual architecture for the public option when he was a graduate student in the 1990s. "Someone once said to me, 'This is a Trojan horse for single payer,' and I said, 'Well, it's not a Trojan horse, right? It's just right there,'" Mr. Hacker explained in a speech last year. "I'm telling you, we're going to get there, over time, slowly."

The real question the political class is debating now is how slowly, or quickly, it takes to get there. And how they're best able to disguise this goal -- ideally as a "compromise."
24355  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rove: BO cannot be trusted with numbers on: July 09, 2009, 09:00:32 AM
In February, President Barack Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus bill while making lavish promises about the results. He pledged that "a new wave of innovation, activity and construction will be unleashed all across America." He also said the stimulus would "save or create up to four million jobs." Vice President Joe Biden said the massive federal spending plan would "drop-kick" the economy out of the recession.

But the unemployment rate today is 9.5% -- nearly 20% higher than the Obama White House said it would be with the stimulus in place. Keith Hennessey, who worked at the Bush White House on economic policy, has noted that unemployment is now higher than the administration said it would be if nothing was done to revive the economy. There are 2.6 million fewer Americans working than Mr. Obama promised.

The economy takes unexpected turns on every president. But what is striking about this president is how quickly he turns away from his promises. He rushed the stimulus through Congress saying we couldn't afford to wait. Now his administration is waiting to spend the money. Of the $279 billion allocated to federal agencies, only $56 billion has been paid out.

Mr. Biden has admitted that the administration "misread" the economy. But he explained that away on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday by saying the administration had used "the consensus figures and most of the blue chip indexes out there" to draw up its stimulus plan. That's not true.

The Blue Chip consensus is an average of some four dozen economic forecasts. In January, the consensus estimated that GDP for 2009 would shrink by 1.6% and that unemployment would top out at 8.3%. Team Obama assumed both higher GDP growth (it counted on a contraction of 1.2%) and lower peak unemployment (8.1%) than the consensus.

Instead of relying on the Blue Chip consensus, Mr. Obama outsourced writing the stimulus to House appropriators who stuffed it with every bad spending idea they weren't previously able to push through Congress. Little of it aimed to quickly revive the economy. More stimulus money will be spent in fiscal years 2011 through 2019 than will be spent this fiscal year, which ends in September.

On Sunday, Mr. Biden, backpedaling from his drop-kick comments, said that "no one anticipated, no one expected that the recovery package would in fact be in a position at this point of having to distribute the bulk of the money."

This fits a pattern. The administration consistently pledges unrealistic results that it later distances itself from. It has gotten away with it because the media haven't asked many pointed questions. That may not last as the debate shifts to health care.

The Obama administration wants a government takeover of health care. To get it, it is promising to wring massive savings out of the health-care industry. And it has already started to make cost-savings promises.

For example, the administration strong-armed health-care providers into promising $2 trillion in health savings. It got pharmaceutical companies to promise to lower drug prices for seniors by $80 billion over 10 years. The administration also trotted out hospital executives to say that they would voluntarily save the government $150 billion over 10 years.

None of this comes near to being true. On the promised $2 trillion, everyone admits that the number isn't built on anything specific -- it's an aspirational goal. On drug prices, a White House spokesman admitted that "These savings have not been identified at the moment." It is speculative that these cuts will actually be made, when they would begin, or whether they would reduce government health-care spending.

None of this will stop the administration from arguing that its "savings" will pay for Mr. Obama's $1.5 trillion health-care plans. By the time the real price tag emerges, it will be too late to do much more than raise taxes and curtail spending on urgent priorities, such as the military.

The stimulus package is a clear example of how Mr. Obama operates. He is attempting to employ the same tactics of bait-and-switch when it comes to health care, only on a much larger scale.

Mr. Obama has already created a river of red ink. His health-care plans will only force that river over its banks. We are at the cusp of a crucial political debate, and Mr. Obama's words on fiscal matters are untrustworthy. His promised savings are a mirage. His proposals to reshape the economy are alarming. And his unwillingness to be forthright with his numbers reveals that he knows his plans would terrify many Americans.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
24356  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / George Mason; Federalist 62 on: July 09, 2009, 08:33:14 AM
Freki-- ain't that the truth!

"Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens."

--George Mason, speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 17, 1788
"Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue; or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens." --Federalist No. 62
24357  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Grim assessment on: July 09, 2009, 03:01:06 AM
24358  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DLO 3 on: July 08, 2009, 11:47:48 PM
Ron and I hope to have our final edit on Friday.
24359  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The IDF, Intl law, Gaza on: July 08, 2009, 09:08:21 PM
Wednesday, July 8, 2009 International Law and Military Operations in Practice
Col. Richard Kemp -
[Watch the Video]
[Read the Full Transcript]

Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan Col. Richard Kemp told a
conference in Jerusalem on June 18, 2009:

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

The battlefield - in any kind of war - is a place of confusion and chaos, of
fast-moving action. In the type of conflict that the Israeli Defense Forces
recently fought in Gaza and in Lebanon, and Britain and America are still
fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, these age-old confusions and complexities
are made one hundred times worse by the fighting policies and techniques of
the enemy.

Islamist fighting groups study the international laws of armed conflict
carefully and they understand it well. They know that a British or Israeli
commander and his men are bound by international law and the rules of
engagement that flow from it. They then do their utmost to exploit what they
view as one of their enemy's main weaknesses. Their very modus operandi is
built on the correct assumption that Western armies will normally abide by
the rules, while these insurgents employ a deliberate policy of operating
consistently outside international law.

Civilians and their property are routinely exploited by these groups, in
deliberate and flagrant violation of international laws or reasonable norms
of civilized behavior. Protected buildings, mosques, schools, and hospitals
are used as strongholds. Legal and proportional responses by a Western army
will be deliberately exploited and manipulated in order to produce
international outcry and condemnation.

Hamas' military capability was deliberately positioned behind the human
shield of the civilian population. They also ordered, forced when necessary,
men, women and children from their own population to stay put in places they
knew were about to be attacked by the IDF. Israel was fighting an enemy that
is deliberately trying to sacrifice their own people, deliberately trying to
lure you into killing their own innocent civilians.

And Hamas, like Hizbullah, is also highly expert at driving the media
agenda. They will always have people ready to give interviews condemning
Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting

When possible the IDF gave at least four hours' notice to civilians to leave
areas targeted for attack. The IDF dropped over 900,000 leaflets warning the
population of impending attacks to allow them to leave designated areas. The
IDF phoned over 30,000 Palestinian households in Gaza, urging them in Arabic
to leave homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to

Many attack helicopter missions that could have taken out Hamas military
capability were cancelled if there was too great a risk of civilian
casualties in the area. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of
humanitarian aid into Gaza, even though delivering aid virtually into your
enemy's hands is to the military tactician normally quite unthinkable.
By taking these actions the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of
civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
24360  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strat:Air Bridge to Afg over Russia on: July 08, 2009, 03:41:53 PM
U.S.-Russian Summit: Building an Air Bridge to Afghanistan
Stratfor Today » July 7, 2009 | 1955 GMT
A formal agreement was signed July 6 in Moscow that will allow U.S. military transport flights to take a more direct route over Russian airspace to supply the U.S.-NATO war effort in Afghanistan. While it will shorten the supply line, however, the Russian concession will not widen it. Next will come negotiations over a potential Russian land route, which will entail even more political leverage from Moscow.

Related Special Topic Page
Special Summit Coverage
Related Links
Afghanistan, Pakistan: The Battlespace of the Border
Afghanistan: The Search for Safer Supply Routes
Pakistan: Trouble Along Another U.S.-NATO Supply Route
Pakistan: A Strike Against Supply Line Infrastructure
Special Report: U.S.-NATO, Facing the Reality of Risk in Pakistan (With STRATFOR Interactive map)
Afghanistan: The Russian Monkey Wrench
One tangible product of the U.S.-Russian summit is a deal signed July 6 that will permit some 4,500 flights per year by U.S. military aircraft through Russian airspace to supply the campaign in Afghanistan. Significantly, the deal includes flights transporting troops as well as military equipment and supplies (an existing agreement to use Turkmen airspace allows the transport of only non-lethal supplies such as food and spare parts, a common restriction).

The Russian agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, takes effect 60 days from the signing, will last for one year and can be renewed. Overflight fees will not be charged for the flights, which must not stop on Russian territory.

This is no small step for U.S. logistical efforts. Flights from the continental United States, roughly 12 per day, will now be able to fly over the North Pole and reach Afghanistan more quickly than flights going through Turkmen airspace. The Russian route shaves several thousand miles off the air bridge, and annual savings will amount to approximately $133 million. A more direct route is especially valuable as the United States moves more troops into Afghanistan. The total U.S. force in country is expected to double by the end of the year compared to 2008 levels, to some 68,000 troops.

But the U.S. air bridge to Afghanistan, whether it traverses Russian airspace or more circuitous routes, will not be able to accommodate much more traffic. The surge is straining already packed supply lines, not to mention the very vulnerable land routes through Pakistan. Most “lethal” military equipment and supplies (weapons, ammunition, etc.) and virtually all sensitive equipment must be flown in. And limited land routes will be even more strained when a new version of the “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” (MRAP) vehicle used in Iraq and now being modified with an all-terrain chassis is shipped to Afghanistan by sea and land (as it must be, though the first units may be delivered by air).

In other words, the Russian air-bridge concession will lessen the complications of supplying the Afghanistan campaign but it will not actually allow any additional volume, particularly as the surge progresses. Bulk fuel and food, for example, are simply consumed too fast on a daily basis to be supplied by air. Bringing in all of the various forms of fuel needed in Afghanistan on transport aircraft would require literally dozens of daily flights — so many that the major airfields in Afghanistan would likely lack the tarmac space necessary to receive and unload the shipments. As far as other consumables are concerned, some 90 container trucks carrying supplies for the campaign in Afghanistan currently cross the Afghan-Pakistani border each day.

The Kremlin has already agreed to allow the United States land access as well, but the details have yet to be worked out, and negotiations will take weeks, if not months, since routes would have to wind their way through long stretches of Central Asian as well as Russian territory.

Indeed, the land deal with Russia is the key, something the Kremlin knows all too well. As with the long-contentious (and resolved-for-now) issue of Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, Moscow can continue to manipulate negotiations by tugging on American vulnerabilities. Land route negotiations, in particular, could turn into a messy process that Moscow could politicize, making Russia even more of a key player in the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.
24361  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / George Will: Tincture of Lawlessness on: July 08, 2009, 02:46:52 PM
Tincture of Lawlessness
Obama's Overreaching Economic Policies

By George F. Will
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anyone, said T.S. Eliot, could carve a goose, were it not for the bones. And anyone could govern as boldly as his whims decreed, were it not for the skeletal structure that keeps civil society civil -- the rule of law. The Obama administration is bold. It also is careless regarding constitutional values and is acquiring a tincture of lawlessness.

In February, California's Democratic-controlled Legislature, faced with a $42 billion budget deficit, trimmed $74 million (1.4 percent) from one of the state's fastest-growing programs, which provides care for low-income and incapacitated elderly people and which cost the state $5.42 billion last year. The Los Angeles Times reports that "loose oversight and bureaucratic inertia have allowed fraud to fester."

But the Service Employees International Union collects nearly $5 million a month from 223,000 caregivers who are members. And the Obama administration has told California that unless the $74 million in cuts are rescinded, it will deny the state $6.8 billion in stimulus money.

Such a federal ukase (the word derives from czarist Russia; how appropriate) to a state legislature is a sign of the administration's dependency agenda -- maximizing the number of people and institutions dependent on the federal government. For the first time, neither sales nor property nor income taxes are the largest source of money for state and local governments. The federal government is.

The SEIU says the cuts violate contracts negotiated with counties. California officials say the state required the contracts to contain clauses allowing pay to be reduced if state funding is.

Anyway, the Obama administration, judging by its cavalier disregard of contracts between Chrysler and some of the lenders it sought money from, thinks contracts are written on water. The administration proposes that Chrysler's secured creditors get 28 cents per dollar on the $7 billion owed to them but that the United Auto Workers union get 43 cents per dollar on its $11 billion in claims -- and 55 percent of the company. This, even though the secured creditors' contracts supposedly guaranteed them better standing than the union.

Among Chrysler's lenders, some servile banks that are now dependent on the administration for capital infusions tugged their forelocks and agreed. Some hedge funds among Chrysler's lenders that are not dependent were vilified by the president because they dared to resist his demand that they violate their fiduciary duties to their investors, who include individuals and institutional pension funds.

The Economist says the administration has "ridden roughshod over [creditors'] legitimate claims over the [automobile companies'] assets. . . . Bankruptcies involve dividing a shrunken pie. But not all claims are equal: some lenders provide cheaper funds to firms in return for a more secure claim over the assets should things go wrong. They rank above other stakeholders, including shareholders and employees. This principle is now being trashed." Tom Lauria, a lawyer representing hedge fund people trashed by the president as the cause of Chrysler's bankruptcy, asked that his clients' names not be published for fear of violence threatened in e-mails to them.

The Troubled Assets Relief Program, which has not yet been used for its supposed purpose (to purchase such assets from banks), has been the instrument of the administration's adventure in the automobile industry. TARP's $700 billion, like much of the supposed "stimulus" money, is a slush fund the executive branch can use as it pleases. This is as lawless as it would be for Congress to say to the IRS: We need $3.5 trillion to run the government next year, so raise it however you wish -- from whomever, at whatever rates you think suitable. Don't bother us with details.

This is not gross, unambiguous lawlessness of the Nixonian sort -- burglaries, abuse of the IRS and FBI, etc. -- but it is uncomfortably close to an abuse of power that perhaps gave Nixon ideas: When in 1962 the steel industry raised prices, President John F. Kennedy had a tantrum and his administration leaked rumors that the IRS would conduct audits of steel executives, and sent FBI agents on predawn visits to the homes of journalists who covered the steel industry, ostensibly to further a legitimate investigation.

The Obama administration's agenda of maximizing dependency involves political favoritism cloaked in the raiment of "economic planning" and "social justice" that somehow produce results superior to what markets produce when freedom allows merit to manifest itself, and incompetence to fail. The administration's central activity -- the political allocation of wealth and opportunity -- is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption.
24362  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: July 08, 2009, 02:40:07 PM
Grateful for apparently successful dental surgery (laying foundation for two missing teeth).
24363  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Weekend cyber attacks bigger than intially admittted on: July 08, 2009, 02:37:24 PM
White House among targets of sweeping cyber attack - Yahoo! News

AP – An employee of Korea Internet Security Center works at a monitoring room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, …
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press Writer – 1 hr 1 min ago

WASHINGTON – The powerful attack that overwhelmed computers at U.S. and South Korean government agencies for days was even broader than initially realized, also targeting the White House, the Pentagon and the New York Stock Exchange.  Other targets of the attack included the National Security Agency, Homeland Security Department, State Department, the Nasdaq stock market and The Washington Post, according to an early analysis of the malicious software used in the attacks. Many of the organizations appeared to successfully blunt the sustained computer assaults.

The Associated Press obtained the target list from security experts analyzing the attacks. It was not immediately clear who might be responsible or what their motives were. South Korean intelligence officials believe the attacks were carried out by North Korea or pro-Pyongyang forces.

The attack was remarkably successful in limiting public access to victim Web sites, but internal e-mail systems are typically unaffected in such attacks. Some government Web sites — such as the Treasury Department, Federal Trade Commission and Secret Service — were still reporting problems days after the attack started during the July 4 holiday. South Korean Internet sites began experiencing problems Tuesday.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service, the nation's principal spy agency, told a group of South Korean lawmakers Wednesday it believes that North Korea or North Korean sympathizers in the South were behind the attacks, according to an aide to one of the lawmakers briefed on the information.

The aide spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the information. The National Intelligence Service — South Korea's main spy agency — said it couldn't immediately confirm the report, but it said it was cooperating with American authorities.
The attacks will be difficult to trace, said Professor Peter Sommer, an expert on cyberterrorism at the London School of Economics. "Even if you are right about the fact of being attacked, initial diagnoses are often wrong," he said Wednesday.
Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department, said the agency's U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team issued a notice to federal departments and other partner organizations about the problems and "advised them of steps to take to help mitigate against such attacks."

New York Stock Exchange spokesman Ray Pellecchia could not confirm the attack, saying the company does not comment on security issues.

Attacks on federal computer networks are common, ranging from nuisance hacking to more serious assaults, sometimes blamed on China. U.S. security officials also worry about cyber attacks from al-Qaida or other terrorists.

This time, two government officials acknowledged that the Treasury and Secret Service sites were brought down, and said the agencies were working with their Internet service provider to resolve the problem. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

Ben Rushlo, director of Internet technologies at Keynote Systems, said problems with the Transportation Department site began Saturday and continued until Monday, while the FTC site was down Sunday and Monday.

Keynote Systems is a mobile and Web site monitoring company based in San Mateo, Calif. The company publishes data detailing outages on Web sites, including 40 government sites it watches. 

According to Rushlo, the Transportation Web site was "100 percent down" for two days, so that no Internet users could get through to it. The FTC site, meanwhile, started to come back online late Sunday, but even on Tuesday Internet users still were unable to get to the site 70 percent of the time.

Web sites of major South Korean government agencies, including the presidential Blue House and the Defense Ministry, and some banking sites were paralyzed Tuesday. An initial investigation found that many personal computers were infected with a virus ordering them to visit major official Web sites in South Korea and the U.S. at the same time, Korea Information Security Agency official Shin Hwa-su said.
Associated Press writers Hyung-Jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Andrew Vanacore in New York; and Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.
24364  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Latin America on: July 08, 2009, 10:28:25 AM
"North Korea launches a missile and it takes Barack Obama and the UN five days to respond. Iran holds fraudulent elections, kills protesters and it takes weeks before Barack Obama can stand up and say that he is 'concerned' about the situation. Then the people of Honduras try to uphold their constitution and laws of the land from being trampled by a Chavez-wanna be and it takes Barack Obama one day to proclaim that this was not a legal coup." --radio talk-show host Neal Boortz

"There was an attempted coup in Honduras, but it was Zelaya who initiated it, not his opponents." --columnist Mona Charen

"If Honduras is hung out to dry, if America suspends trade and economic aid, the forces arrayed against liberty in Latin America will have won a major victory. On the other hand, if Honduras is not abandoned now, those Iran-supporting, America-hating, liberty-loathing forces will have suffered a major defeat." --columnist Dennis Prager
24365  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: White House open to deal on public option? on: July 08, 2009, 10:10:51 AM
WASHINGTON -- It is more important that health-care legislation inject stiff competition among insurance plans than it is for Congress to create a pure government-run option, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said.

"The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest," he said in an interview. "The goal is non-negotiable; the path is" negotiable.

President Barack Obama has campaigned vigorously for a full public option. But he's also said that he won't draw a "line in the sand" over this point. On Tuesday, the White House issued a statement reiterating his support for a public plan.

"I am pleased by the progress we're making on health care reform and still believe, as I've said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest," the president said in the statement. "I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals."

The jockeying over the public plan came as the Senate Finance Committee pushed for a bipartisan deal. To help pay for the package, the committee planned to announce an agreement Wednesday with hospitals and the White House for $155 billion over a decade in reductions to Medicare and charity-care payments for hospitals, according to a person familiar with the agreement. That will help pay for the legislation, expected to cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years.

One of the most contentious issues is whether to create a public health-insurance plan to compete with private companies.

Mr. Emanuel said one of several ways to meet Mr. Obama's goals is a mechanism under which a public plan is introduced only if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own. He noted that congressional Republicans crafted a similar trigger mechanism when they created a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare in 2003. In that case, private competition has been judged sufficient and the public option has never gone into effect.

The deal with the hospitals follows a similar agreement with brand-name drug companies. And insurance companies were talking to Senate negotiators about cuts worth at least $100 billion over 10 years, according to two officials with knowledge of the negotiations.

Congressional negotiators and the White House hope to lock in support from the industry groups, which are backing a health bill in general terms but have opposed past efforts.

Hospitals and insurers hope to gain some degree of control over cuts to their federal payments. In principle, a health-care overhaul could benefit both groups by raising the number of Americans who buy and have health insurance.

"They've made an assessment reform is going to happen, so it's better to be part of that than not," Mr. Emanuel said.

However, insurers, and most Republicans, strongly oppose creation of a government-run insurance option, saying it would ultimately drive them out of business. Most Democrats support a public option.

The president and his aides already have signaled a willingness to consider an alternative to a public plan under which a network of nonprofit cooperatives would compete with for-profit insurance companies. That is the leading idea in the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, meanwhile, has put forward its own version of a government-run plan, closer to what most liberals and the White House favor.

On Monday, Mr. Emanuel said the trigger mechanism would also accomplish the White House's goals. Under this scenario, a public plan would kick in under certain circumstances when competition was judged to be lacking. Exactly what circumstances would trigger the option would have to be worked out.

Some Democrats pushing for a vigorous public plan say the trigger idea isn't good enough. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in an interview, "If it's not there on day one, those of us who support a public option have a real problem with it."
24366  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Bring an apple instead on: July 08, 2009, 10:04:54 AM
Gun-rights advocates have won victories in several states in recent months allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons in public parks, taverns and their work places.

So it came as a surprise to Tennessee state Rep. Stacey Campfield that he couldn't persuade his colleagues to pass a law allowing students at public colleges to carry concealed firearms on campus. The bill died this spring in the Republican-controlled legislature -- one of 34 straight defeats nationwide for people who believe a gun wouldn't be out of place in a college student's knapsack.

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Associated Press
The shooting at Virginia Tech, where students observed its April 15 anniversary, mobilized supporters and opponents of campus-carry laws.
Raucous debates over the parameters of the Second Amendment have become a staple of the culture wars. But even on an issue as divisive as gun control, states may be nearing something resembling a national consensus: Guns don't belong in a college classroom.

In the two years since a Virginia Tech student shot and killed 32 students and professors, gun-rights advocates have failed to pass laws even in states strongly supportive of gun owners' rights, including Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Mississippi and Kentucky. In June, a bill died in the Texas legislature in the face of criticism from college administrators and student groups, who invoked the specter of students toting loaded weapons to booze-soaked campus parties.

Gun-control advocates tout what they label an unprecedented winning streak, noting that it comes at a time when even many Democrats are wary of alienating U.S. gun owners.

Proponents of the bills are pressing on, arguing that passing such laws could help prevent the next Virginia Tech-style massacre. Mr. Campfield said he intends to reintroduce his bill in the next Tennessee legislative session. His state, which had 6.21 million residents in 2008, has approved the sale of more than 2.6 million firearms and issued more than 231,000 handgun carry permits, according to state records. The bill is "coming back stronger next year," Mr. Campfield said.

Some gun-rights advocates predict Texas will eventually provide their first victory, saying the legislature had the votes to pass the bill but simply ran out of time. "If Texas were to pass it, we predict that it would catch on in other states," said Katie Kasprzak, director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

Only Utah expressly allows students at public universities to carry guns to class. The state passed such a law in 2004, before the Virginia Tech killings. Several states leave the decision up to schools. But only two schools in those states -- Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia and Colorado State University -- allow students to carry guns to class.

The push for legislation began in the immediate aftermath of the Virginia Tech killings. Ken Stanton, an engineering student there, helped found the first local chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, arguing it would allow students to defend themselves and prevent massacres from taking place. Within a year of the shooting, bills to expand the firearms-carrying rights of college students had been introduced in more than a dozen states.

But if the Virginia Tech shootings helped mobilize supporters of guns on campus, it also helped mobilize opponents. And some of the most vocal have been either victims of the shootings or people who lost loved ones.

Colin Goddard, a 21-year-old junior at the time, was shot four times in a classroom where his teacher and 11 fellow students were killed. Not long afterward, Mr. Goddard began speaking out against guns on campus, and he is now an intern at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.

Like other critics of these proposed bills, including many police departments, Mr. Goddard argues that a proliferation of firearms would simply add to the chaos during a shooting spree, making it impossible for police to distinguish between good guys and bad. He also says events unfolded at such a lighting pace during the shootings that even an armed student would have been powerless to prevent them.

"There were students dead in their chairs -- it happened that quick," he said. "I was shot before I really even knew what was going on."

Another former Virginia Tech student, John Woods, whose girlfriend was killed in the shootings, helped lead the fight this spring against the bill in Texas, where he is now a graduate student at the University of Texas.

In some states, legislators with strong gun-rights voting records have found themselves opposing these bills. This spring, Louisiana state Rep. Hollis Downs was one of 86 members of the Louisiana House to vote against allowing students with concealed-weapons permits to bring their guns onto the state's public campuses. The bill was defeated 86-18.

"I thought that the last thing that law enforcement needed was the fraternity militia to charge the building [in a shooting] with all guns blazing," said Mr. Downs, a Republican whose district includes Louisiana Tech University.
24367  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams on: July 08, 2009, 09:37:47 AM
"If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation."

--Samuel Adams, letter to Elbridge Gerry, November 27, 1780
24368  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Foreign troops to be in US DHS terrorism prevention exercise on: July 08, 2009, 02:48:28 AM

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National Level Exercise 2009 (NLE 09)

National Level Exercise 2009 (NLE 09) is scheduled for July 27 through July 31, 2009. NLE 09 will be the first major exercise conducted by the United States government that will focus exclusively on terrorism prevention and protection, as opposed to incident response and recovery.

NLE 09 is designated as a Tier I National Level Exercise. Tier I exercises (formerly known as the Top Officials exercise series or TOPOFF) are conducted annually in accordance with the National Exercise Program (NEP), which serves as the nation's overarching exercise program for planning, organizing, conducting and evaluating national level exercises. The NEP was established to provide the U.S. government, at all levels, exercise opportunities to prepare for catastrophic crises ranging from terrorism to natural disasters.

NLE 09 is a White House directed, Congressionally- mandated exercise that includes the participation of all appropriate federal department and agency senior officials, their deputies, staff and key operational elements. In addition, broad regional participation of state, tribal, local, and private sector is anticipated. This year the United States welcomes the participation of Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom in NLE 09.


NLE 09 will focus on intelligence and information sharing among intelligence and law enforcement communities, and between international, federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector participants.

The NLE 09 scenario will begin in the aftermath of a notional terrorist event outside of the United States, and exercise play will center on preventing subsequent efforts by the terrorists to enter the United States and carry out additional attacks. This scenario enables participating senior officials to focus on issues related to preventing terrorist events domestically and protecting U.S. critical infrastructure.

NLE 09 will allow terrorism prevention efforts to proceed to a logical end (successful or not), with no requirement for response or recovery activities.

NLE 09 will be an operations-based exercise to include: activities taking place at command posts, emergency operation centers, intelligence centers and potential field locations to include federal headquarters facilities in the Washington D.C. area, and in federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector facilities in FEMA Region VI, which includes the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.


Through a comprehensive evaluation process, the exercise will assess prevention and protection capabilities both nationally and regionally. Although NLE 09 is still in the planning stages, the exercise is currently designed to validate the following capabilities:

Intelligence/Information Sharing and Dissemination
Counter-Terrorism Investigation and Law Enforcement
Air, Border and Maritime Security
Critical Infrastructure Protection
Public and Private Sector Alert/Notification and Security Advisories
International Coordination


Exercises such as NLE 09 are an important component of national preparedness, helping to build an integrated federal, state, tribal, local and private sector capability to prevent terrorist attacks, and rapidly and effectively respond to, and recover from, any terrorist attack or major disaster that occurs.

The full-scale exercise offers agencies and jurisdictions a way to test their plans and skills in a real-time, realistic environment and to gain the in-depth knowledge that only experience can provide. Participants will exercise prevention and information sharing functions that are critical to preventing terrorist attacks. Lessons learned from the exercise will provide valuable insights to guide future planning for securing the nation against terrorist attacks, disasters, and other emergencies.

For more information about NLE 09, contact the FEMA News Desk: 202-646-4600.

FEMA leads and supports the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation, to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all hazards including natural disasters, acts of terrorism and other man-made disasters.
24369  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jobs? What jobs? on: July 07, 2009, 07:44:33 PM
second post
Democrats Admit That Their Cap and Trade Bill Is a Job Killer
By Peter Roff

In her remarks bringing the debate over the climate bill to a close, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California urged her colleagues to vote in favor of the cap and trade bill, saying the measure was about four things: "jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs."

She was right—the House-passed version of cap and trade is all about jobs: jobs lost, jobs never created, jobs sent overseas, and, unbelievably, jobs people will be paid for doing long after they cease to exist.

According to Friday's Washington Times, the legislation includes language that provides, should it become law, that people who lose their jobs because of it "could get a weekly paycheck for up to three years, subsidies to find new work and other generous benefits—courtesy of Uncle Sam."

How generous are these benefits? Well, according to the Times, "Adversely affected employees in oil, coal and other fossil-fuel sector jobs would qualify for a weekly check worth 70 percent of their current salary for up to three years. In addition, they would get $1,500 for job-search assistance and $1,500 for moving expenses from the bill's 'climate change worker adjustment assistance' program, which is expected to cost $4.2 billion from 2011 to 2019."

Instead of being a the source of millions of new jobs of "green jobs"—as House Democrats are fond of saying over and over again—the provision is a hidden admission that their effort is a job killer, not just a massive new tax on energy.

Building a safety net into the legislation is probably the responsible thing to do. The government is going to be directly responsible for the destruction of millions of jobs if the bill passed by the House becomes law—anywhere from a net loss of .5 percent of total jobs over the first 10 years, according to the liberal Brookings Institution, to 3 million by the year 2030, according to the industry-backed Coalition for Affordable American Energy. But wouldn't it be better to leave the jobs alone in the first place? It would certainly be cheaper.

24370  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cyberwar vs. Iranian nukes on: July 07, 2009, 07:28:48 PM
Last update - 18:06 07/07/2009     
Israel turns to cyberware to foil Iran nukes 
By Reuters 
Tags: Cyberwar, Israel News, Iran   

In the late 1990s, a computer specialist from the Shin Bet security service hacked into the mainframe of the Pi Glilot fuel depot north of Tel Aviv. It was meant to be a routine test of safeguards at the strategic site. But it also tipped off Israel to the potential such hi-tech infiltrations offered for real sabotage.

"Once inside the Pi Glilot system, we suddenly realized that, aside from accessing secret data, we could also set off deliberate explosions, just by programming a re-route of the pipelines," said a veteran of the Shin Bet drill.
So began a cyberwarfare project which, a decade on, is seen by independent experts as the likely new vanguard of Israel's efforts to foil Iran's nuclear ambitions. The appeal of cyber attacks was boosted, Israeli sources say, by the limited feasibility of conventional air strikes on the distant and fortified Iranian atomic facilities, and by U.S. reluctance to countenance another open war in the Middle East.

"We came to the conclusion that, for our purposes, a key Iranian vulnerability is in its on-line information," said one recently retired security cabinet member, using a generic term for digital networks. "We have acted accordingly."

Cyberwarfare teams nestle deep within Israel's spy agencies, which have rich experience in traditional sabotage techniques and are cloaked in official secrecy and censorship. They can draw on the know-how of Israeli commercial firms that are among the world's hi-tech leaders and whose staff are often veterans of elite military intelligence computer units.

"To judge by my interaction with Israeli experts in various international forums, Israel can definitely be assumed to have advanced cyber-attack capabilities," said Scott Borg, director of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, which advises various Washington agencies on cyber security.

Technolytics Institute, an American consultancy, last year rated Israel the sixth-biggest "cyber warfare threat", after China, Russia, Iran, France and extremist/terrorist groups".

The United States is in the process of setting up a "Cyber Command" to oversee Pentagon operations, though officials have described its mandate as protective, rather than offensive.  Asked to speculate about how Israel might target Iran, Borg said malware - a commonly used abbreviation for "malicious software" - could be inserted to corrupt, commandeer or crash the controls of sensitive sites like uranium enrichment plants. Such attacks could be immediate, he said. Or they might be latent, with the malware loitering unseen and awaiting an external trigger, or pre-set to strike automatically when the infected facility reaches a more critical level of activity.

As Iran's nuclear assets would probably be isolated from outside computers, hackers would be unable to access them directly, Borg said. Israeli agents would have to conceal the malware in software used by the Iranians or discreetly plant it on portable hardware brought in, unknowingly, by technicians.

"A contaminated USB stick would be enough," Borg said.

Ali Ashtari, an Iranian businessman executed as an Israeli spy last year, was convicted of supplying tainted communications equipment for one of Iran's secret military projects.  Iranian media quoted a security official as saying that Ashtari's actions "led to the defeat of the project with irreversible damage." Israel declined all comment on the case.

"Cyberwar has the advantage of being clandestine and deniable," Borg said, noting Israel's considerations in the face of an Iranian nuclear program that Tehran insists is peaceful.

"But its effectiveness is hard to gauge, because the targeted network can often conceal the extent of damage or even fake the symptoms of damage. Military strikes, by contrast, have an instantly quantifiable physical effect."

Israel may be open to a more overt strain of cyberwarfare. Tony Skinner of Jane's Defence Weekly cited Israeli sources as saying that Israel's 2007 bombing of an alleged atomic reactor in Syria was preceded by a cyber attack which neutralized ground radars and anti-aircraft batteries.

"State of War," a 2006 book by New York Times reporter James Risen, recounted a short-lived plan by the CIA and the Mossad to fry the power lines of an Iranian nuclear facility using a smuggled electromagnetic-pulse (EMP) device. A massive, nation-wide EMP attack on Iran could be affected by detonating a nuclear device at atmospheric height. But while Israel is assumed to have the region's only atomic arms, most experts believe they would be used only in a war of last resort.

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24371  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Wood Pellets on: July 07, 2009, 09:44:20 AM
Some of the fastest growing sources of renewable energy in the world are the wind, the sun -- and the lowly wood pellet.

European utilities are snapping up the small combustible pellets to burn alongside coal in existing power plants. As a global marketplace emerges to feed their growing appetite for pellets, the Southeastern U.S. is becoming a major exporter, with pellet factories sprouting in Florida, Alabama and Arkansas.

(Discuss: What energy source is most important for meeting future U.S. needs? Wood pellets -- cylinders of dried shredded wood that resemble large vitamins -- are the least expensive way to meet European renewable-energy mandates, utility executives and industry consultants say.)

Made from fast-growing trees or sawdust, pellets are a pricier fuel than coal, but burning them is a less-expensive way to generate electricity than using windmills or solar panels. Burning pellets releases the carbon that the trees would emit anyway when they die and decompose, so the process is widely regarded as largely carbon neutral. In contrast, carbon is locked away in coal and is only released once the coal is dug out of the earth and burned.

The wood-pellet market is booming because the European Union has rules requiring member countries to generate 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Europe imported €66.2 million (about $92.6 million) of pellets and other wood-based fuels in the first three months of 2009, up 62% from the same period a year earlier, according to the EU's statistical arm.

 Government mandates are essential to the increasing use of pellets in power generation, and the growing global pellet trade, experts say.

"You are looking at a totally artificial market," said Christian Rakos, chief executive of Propellets, an Austria-based trade group of pellet producers. "No power plant would consider using pellets for one minute if they didn't have to do it."

Still, Europe's eagerness for more pellets has turned the U.S. into an energy exporter. Until recently, there were only about 40 pellet factories in the U.S., which produced about 900,000 tons a year, mostly for heating homes.

But in May 2008, Green Circle Bio Energy Inc. opened a pellet plant in Cottondale, Fla., that produces 500,000 tons of pellets a year; it ships them by rail to the coast and then on to Rotterdam, Netherlands. The company, owned by Swedish concern JCE Group AB, wants to build another big plant in the U.S., said Olaf Roed, chief executive of Green Circle.

Another 500,000-ton facility in Selma, Ala., owned by Dixie Pellet LLC, also opened last year. And Phoenix Renewable Energy LLC plans to break ground next month on a 250,000-ton-a-year pellet plant in Camden, Ark., along with a 20-megawatt power plant run off tree scraps that will feed heat to the pellet plant. The $100 million facility's output for five years has been contracted to go to Europe, and Phoenix is working on another five facilities.

Pellets can either be made out of sawdust left over from lumber production or from soft-wood trees such as pine. These aren't growing in wild forests, but in industrial plantations where they can be harvested easily and often.

Photo Journal

Jason Henry for The Wall Street Journal
Green Circle employees race to repair one of the pellet mill's dies that give the pellets their compacted cylindrical shape at the plant in Cottondale, Fla., July 1.
At Green Circle's Florida facility, bark is stripped off the tree and burned to generate steam used in making the pellets. The tree itself is cut up in a wood chipper, dried and hammered into a powder, which is formed into pellets under very high pressure.

It is easy for these pellet plants to find raw material. The pulp and paper industry is declining, and the housing slump has sapped the need for hardwood. Forest owners are ecstatic that pellet plants are stepping in.

"We are irrationally exuberant," said Lee Laechelt, executive vice president of the Alabama Forest Owners Association.

Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Vietnam are also shipping pellets to Europe, as are Canada and South Africa, said Helmer Schukken, CEO of GF Energy BV, a Rotterdam-based trader.

Wood pellets are becoming the newest global commodity, with prices posted on an Amsterdam energy exchange, Mr. Schukken said. "It is becoming like trading coal."

That will make it easier for England's Drax Group PLC, which is installing equipment at its giant 4,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant in North Yorkshire to use pellets in place of coal for up to 10% of the fuel. Pellet makers say Drax is lining up contracts in the U.S. Other big buyers include Dutch power company Essent NV, which is being acquired by Germany's RWE AG, and French GDF Suez SA's Electrabel unit.

Of course, U.S. utilities may soon be as interested as their European counterparts in burning pellets instead of coal. California, which has a goal of producing 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, is looking at using wood products in coal plants.

If a federal renewable energy standard is approved, "we won't be shipping pellets overseas," said Phoenix Renewable Energy's development director, Steve Walker. "We'll be shipping them domestically."
24372  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Cheering the deficit on: July 07, 2009, 09:21:36 AM
A calm Sunday breakfast might have been ruined after a glance at The Washington Post's front page on June 14. A chart below the fold explained that under Obama's federal spending proposals, the United States would be required to borrow $9 trillion during the next decade. That's $9,000,000,000,000. The Post compared that, in today's dollars, to the financial burden of World War II: $3.6 trillion. That's not all of Obama's spending plan. That's only the part that's in the red.

Is it any wonder that a recent Gallup poll found more people disapprove rather than approve of Obama's handling of the deficit? But we've only just begun. Now President Obama wants to add another enormous chunk of government health-care spending. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the latest Democratic bill in the Senate would add another one trillion dollars to the budget over the next decade, and they suggest that's only a partial estimate.

Remember when the Democrats and their media allies wailed about how the Iraq war wastefully drove up the national debt? The Post's chart estimated that the Iraq war costs from 2003-2008 totaled $551 billion, a pittance compared to the massive load of debt the Democrats want to pass right now. And they want to pass it at breakneck speed, so just like the "stimulus" bill, it will become law before the public learns its manifold outrages.

Sadly, this Washington Post article notwithstanding, the news media aren't questioning the new health "reform" drive. They are enabling it.

ABC News has announced plans to put Barack Obama in prime time again from the White House to push his health-nationalizing agenda for an hour – and then another half-hour on "Nightline." ABC will broadcast live from the White House for "World News" and "Good Morning America," interviewing both Barack and Michelle Obama.

It's bad enough that NBC News just gave Obama two hours of fluffy promotion in prime time (followed quickly by two hours of prime-time fluff reruns). Now, ABC isn't going to promote how Obama buys hamburgers for the staff and has a cute puppy. They're going to help him sell his hard-left "Prescription for America."

Forget participation. ABC isn't allowing time even for any official Republican rebuttal. Republicans will have to hope they find a spot or two in the audience ABC News selects with the promise of "divergent opinions in this historic debate." ABC also promises the participation of their medical correspondent Dr. Tim Johnson, who's been a blatant cheerleader for a European-style "right" to health care.

This isn't unprecedented. ABC handed over two hours of morning air time after Columbine for Bill and Hillary Clinton to lament our country's gun culture in 1999. In 1994, NBC News offered the Clintons a two-hour special to promote Hillary-care, paid for by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a major supporter of socialized medicine. The Democrats always seem "overprivileged" when they want to sell their programs on network news.

Skepticism is warranted when ABC promises "divergent opinions," which probably means a debate between leftists, that people who want a single-payer socialist system will be granted the floor. If the past is prologue, if Charlie Gibson has any tough questions for Obama, he'll be asking him to explain why our ultraliberal president's too much of a conservative on health care. Gibson angered President Clinton during the 1999 Columbine special by insisting he wasn't enough of a gun-banner. He said a friend of Clinton's complained the Colorado high school shooting "seared the national conscience," and yet "the President had a chance to roar on gun control and he meowed."

More conservative White Houses have not been awarded a supportive network platform. Does anyone remember that ABC prime-time special that allowed President Bush to sell Social Security privatization in 2005? Or the two-hour 2006 prime-time Bush White House special promoting the War on Terror? Try not to laugh too hard at the impossibility of such a concept.

You can just hear the protests, can't you? "Why, we can't do that! We're journalists!"

In prime time, Barack Obama is overexposed and under-challenged. If ABC wants to add any sliver of credibility to all this freely offered air time, it will ask the president to defend adding ten trillion dollars to the national debt in the decade to come, and ask if the current government's priorities should really require a deficit three times the "investment" of World War II.
24373  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: July 07, 2009, 08:53:06 AM
Speaking to the American Medical Association last month, President Obama waxed enthusiastic about countries that "spend less" than the U.S. on health care. He's right that many countries do, but what he doesn't want to explain is how they ration care to do it.

Take the United Kingdom, which is often praised for spending as little as half as much per capita on health care as the U.S. Credit for this cost containment goes in large part to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, or NICE. Americans should understand how NICE works because under ObamaCare it will eventually be coming to a hospital near you.

* * *
Associated Press
President Barack Obama speaks about health care during a town hall meeting at Northern Virginia Community College last Wednesday.
The British officials who established NICE in the late 1990s pitched it as a body that would ensure that the government-run National Health System used "best practices" in medicine. As the Guardian reported in 1998: "Health ministers are setting up [NICE], designed to ensure that every treatment, operation, or medicine used is the proven best. It will root out under-performing doctors and useless treatments, spreading best practices everywhere."

What NICE has become in practice is a rationing board. As health costs have exploded in Britain as in most developed countries, NICE has become the heavy that reduces spending by limiting the treatments that 61 million citizens are allowed to receive through the NHS. For example:

In March, NICE ruled against the use of two drugs, Lapatinib and Sutent, that prolong the life of those with certain forms of breast and stomach cancer. This followed on a 2008 ruling against drugs -- including Sutent, which costs about $50,000 -- that would help terminally ill kidney-cancer patients. After last year's ruling, Peter Littlejohns, NICE's clinical and public health director, noted that "there is a limited pot of money," that the drugs were of "marginal benefit at quite often an extreme cost," and the money might be better spent elsewhere.

In 2007, the board restricted access to two drugs for macular degeneration, a cause of blindness. The drug Macugen was blocked outright. The other, Lucentis, was limited to a particular category of individuals with the disease, restricting it to about one in five sufferers. Even then, the drug was only approved for use in one eye, meaning those lucky enough to get it would still go blind in the other. As Andrew Dillon, the chief executive of NICE, explained at the time: "When treatments are very expensive, we have to use them where they give the most benefit to patients."

NICE has limited the use of Alzheimer's drugs, including Aricept, for patients in the early stages of the disease. Doctors in the U.K. argued vociferously that the most effective way to slow the progress of the disease is to give drugs at the first sign of dementia. NICE ruled the drugs were not "cost effective" in early stages.

Other NICE rulings include the rejection of Kineret, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis; Avonex, which reduces the relapse rate in patients with multiple sclerosis; and lenalidomide, which fights multiple myeloma. Private U.S. insurers often cover all, or at least portions, of the cost of many of these NICE-denied drugs.

NICE has also produced guidance that restrains certain surgical operations and treatments. NICE has restrictions on fertility treatments, as well as on procedures for back pain, including surgeries and steroid injections. The U.K. has recently been absorbed by the cases of several young women who developed cervical cancer after being denied pap smears by a related health authority, the Cervical Screening Programme, which in order to reduce government health-care spending has refused the screens to women under age 25.

We could go on. NICE is the target of frequent protests and lawsuits, and at times under political pressure has reversed or watered-down its rulings. But it has by now established the principle that the only way to control health-care costs is for this panel of medical high priests to dictate limits on certain kinds of care to certain classes of patients.

The NICE board even has a mathematical formula for doing so, based on a "quality adjusted life year." While the guidelines are complex, NICE currently holds that, except in unusual cases, Britain cannot afford to spend more than about $22,000 to extend a life by six months. Why $22,000? It seems to be arbitrary, calculated mainly based on how much the government wants to spend on health care. That figure has remained fairly constant since NICE was established and doesn't adjust for either overall or medical inflation.

Proponents argue that such cost-benefit analysis has to figure into health-care decisions, and that any medical system rations care in some way. And it is true that U.S. private insurers also deny reimbursement for some kinds of care. The core issue is whether those decisions are going to be dictated by the brute force of politics (NICE) or by prices (a private insurance system).

The last six months of life are a particularly difficult moral issue because that is when most health-care spending occurs. But who would you rather have making decisions about whether a treatment is worth the price -- the combination of you, your doctor and a private insurer, or a government board that cuts everyone off at $22,000?

One virtue of a private system is that competition allows choice and experimentation. To take an example from one of our recent editorials, Medicare today refuses to reimburse for the new, less invasive preventive treatment known as a virtual colonoscopy, but such private insurers as Cigna and United Healthcare do. As clinical evidence accumulates on the virtual colonoscopy, doctors and insurers will be able to adjust their practices accordingly. NICE merely issues orders, and patients have little recourse.

This has medical consequences. The Concord study published in 2008 showed that cancer survival rates in Britain are among the worst in Europe. Five-year survival rates among U.S. cancer patients are also significantly higher than in Europe: 84% vs. 73% for breast cancer, 92% vs. 57% for prostate cancer. While there is more than one reason for this difference, surely one is medical innovation and the greater U.S. willingness to reimburse for it.

* * *
The NICE precedent also undercuts the Obama Administration's argument that vast health savings can be gleaned simply by automating health records or squeezing out "waste." Britain has tried all of that but ultimately has concluded that it can only rein in costs by limiting care. The logic of a health-care system dominated by government is that it always ends up with some version of a NICE board that makes these life-or-death treatment decisions. The Administration's new Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research currently lacks the authority of NICE. But over time, if the Obama plan passes and taxpayer costs inevitably soar, it could quickly gain it.

Mr. Obama and Democrats claim they can expand subsidies for tens of millions of Americans, while saving money and improving the quality of care. It can't possibly be done. The inevitable result of their plan will be some version of a NICE board that will tell millions of Americans that they are too young, or too old, or too sick to be worth paying to care for.
24374  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson, 1775 on: July 07, 2009, 08:24:41 AM
"It behooves you, therefore, to think and act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail."

--Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1775
24375  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO goes to Moscow on: July 07, 2009, 01:02:55 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Obama Goes to Moscow
July 6, 2009
U.S. President Barack Obama left for Moscow on Sunday for his summit with Russian leaders. The meetings have both a personal and geopolitical dimension, and in this case the two intersect, at least for the short run. The Russians have let it be known through multiple channels that they view Obama as a weak leader. The Russians don’t have any idea what kind of leader Obama is, but they are trying to goad him.

The context for this, of course, is the famous summit between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961. Tradition has it that Kennedy came to the meeting unprepared and retreated in the face of pressure from Khrushchev. Khrushchev decided that Kennedy would be a weak adversary, and this caused Khrushchev to become more aggressive, culminating in the Cuban missile crisis. Whether it happened this way is subject to dispute, but it sets the stage for this summit. Obama has been compared to Kennedy. That is not a great comparison when dealing with the Russians, so Obama has to go to Moscow to prove he is no Kennedy.

As far as the Russians are concerned, the audience for this summit is not limited to the Americans. Russia is far more interested in the European — particularly the German — perception of the summit. If Obama comes across as too weak, the Russians can tell the Germans that he is a weak champion. If he comes across as too aggressive, they can tell the Germans that he is dragging them into another Cold War. At this point, the core of Russian strategy is to deepen tensions between the Americans and the Germans. The Russians are not betting on personalities to carry the day, but this is one step in the long resurrection process the Russians have put into play.

Obama has tried to open the summit with his own head games. After saying that former Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is too deeply enmeshed in Cold War thinking, the Americans started implying that President Dmitri Medvedev — Putin’s putative boss — was a much more reasonable person and that they were much more interested in dealing with him than with Putin. If Obama’s Achilles’ heel is Europe and the Europeans’ wariness of him, the Russian vulnerability might lie in the fact that Medvedev could be developing ambitions of his own. More likely, the vulnerability is in Putin’s nascent paranoia about Medvedev’s intentions. In either case, the Americans have tried to set up the meeting in such a way that Putin might feel excluded.

Such games have limited value, but they become more important as chances that the summit will achieve anything substantial decline. The Americans charged that Putin was enmeshed in Cold War thinking. The Russians shot back that it isn’t the Russians that are building the NATO bloc — the ultimate Cold War tool — and expanding it wherever it can go. Washington then said that on the key question of ballistic missile defense in Poland, the Russians must understand that the missiles would be there against Iran and not against Russia. The Russians, of course, understand this fully, though they might not agree with it. Their problem is not who the missiles are directed against, but that they would be present in Poland. And Obama’s problem is that if he gives them up without major concessions in return, he will appear exactly as he can’t afford to: weak.

Just before take-off, the Russians gave Obama a present: an offer to allow the United States to transport weapons across Russian territory to troops in Afghanistan. That is not a trivial concession, but it is not one the United States really needs at the moment, nor is the United States likely to want to become dependent on routes that could be closed easily.

Three major issues remain: U.S. relations with states of the former Soviet Union, the status of Poland as a forward U.S. base or a neutral zone, and Russian support for the U.S. stance on Iran.
24376  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: July 06, 2009, 10:20:59 PM
24377  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Honduras on: July 06, 2009, 10:18:54 PM
24378  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / WSJ on: July 06, 2009, 08:24:17 AM
Disculpen por favor el ingles del siguiente:

Hundreds of emails from Hondurans flooded my in-box last week after I reported on the military's arrest of President Manuel Zelaya, as ordered by the Supreme Court, and his subsequent banishment from the country.

Mr. Zelaya's violations of the rule of law in recent months were numerous. But the tipping point came 10 days ago, when he led a violent mob that stormed a military base to seize and distribute Venezuelan-printed ballots for an illegal referendum.

All but a handful of my letters pleaded for international understanding of the threat to the constitutional democracy that Mr. Zelaya presented. One phrase occurred again and again: "Please pray for us."

Associated Press
Raul Castro, left, Manuel Zelaya, center, and Hugo Chavez in Managua, Nicaragua, June 29.
Hondurans have good cause for calling on divine intervention: Reason has gone AWOL in places like Turtle Bay and Foggy Bottom. Ruling the debate on Mr. Zelaya's behavior is Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez, who is now the reigning international authority on "democracy."

Mr. Chávez is demanding that Mr. Zelaya be reinstated and is even threatening to overthrow the new Honduran president, Roberto Micheletti. He's leading the charge from the Organization of American States (OAS). The United Nations and the Obama administration are falling in line.

Is this insane? You bet. We have fallen through the looking glass and it's time to review how hemispheric relations came to such a sad state.

The story begins in 2004, when Mr. Chávez was still an aspiring despot and the U.S. pursued a policy of appeasement toward him. Not surprisingly, that only heightened his appetite for power.

Mr. Chávez had already rewritten the Venezuelan Constitution, taken over the judiciary and the national electoral council (CNE), militarized the government, and staked out an aggressive, anti-American foreign policy promising to spread his revolution around the hemisphere.

The Americas in the News
Get the latest information in Spanish from The Wall Street Journal's Americas page.
Many Venezuelans were alarmed, and the opposition had labored to collect signatures for a presidential recall referendum permitted under the constitution. As voting day drew near, Mr. Chávez behaved as if he knew his days were numbered. The European Union refused to send an observer team, citing lack of transparency. The OAS did send observers, and in the months and weeks ahead of the vote mission chief Fernando Jaramillo complained bitterly about the state's intimidation tactics against the population. Mr. Chávez gave OAS Secretary General César Gaviria an ultimatum: Either get Mr. Jaramillo out of the country or the referendum would be quashed. Mr. Chávez was appeased. Mr. Jaramillo was withdrawn.

The Carter Center was also invited to "observe," and former President Jimmy Carter was welcomed warmly by Mr. Chávez upon his arrival in Venezuela.

A key problem, beyond the corrupted voter rolls and government intimidation, was that Mr. Chávez did not allow an audit of his electronic voting machines. Exit polls showed him losing the vote decisively. But in the middle of the night, the minority members of the CNE were kicked out of the election command center. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Chávez claimed victory. There was never a credible audit of the paper ballots against the tallies in the voting machines.

Mr. Carter's approval notwithstanding, the proper U.S. and OAS response was obvious: The process had been shrouded in state secrets and therefore it was impossible to endorse or reject the results. Venezuelan patriots begged for help from the outside world. Instead, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, Roger Noriega, and the OAS blessed the charade.

There was never any explanation for the blind endorsement, but behind the scenes there were claims that Mr. Chávez threatened to call his militia to the streets and spill blood. The oil fields were to be burned. To this day, the opposition contends that the U.S. and Mr. Gaviria made a cold calculation that caving in to Mr. Chávez would avoid violence.

Predictably, Washington's endorsement of the flawed electoral process was a green light. Mr. Chávez grew more aggressive, emboldened by his "legitimate" status. He set about using his oil money to destabilize the Bolivian and Ecuadorean democracies and to help Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Argentina's Cristina Kirchner get elected. Soviet-backed Fidel Castro was able to intimidate his neighbors in the 1960s and '70s, and Mr. Chávez has done the same thing in the new millennium. This has given him vast power at the OAS.

Hondurans had the courage to push back. Now Chávez-supported agitators are trying to stir up violence. Yesterday afternoon airline service was suspended in Tegucigalpa when Mr. Zelaya tried to return to the country and his plane was not permitted to land. There were reports of violence between his backers and troops.

This is a moment when the U.S. ought to be on the side of the rule of law, which the Honduran court and Congress upheld. If Washington does not reverse course, it will be one more act of appeasement toward an ambitious and increasingly dangerous dictator.
24379  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Las eleciones de ayer on: July 06, 2009, 08:16:44 AM
?Comentarios sobre las eleciones de ayer?
24380  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yesterday's elections on: July 06, 2009, 08:15:28 AM
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's former ruling party made a strong comeback in midterm elections Sunday, defeating President Felipe Calderón's conservative party and setting the stage for more gridlock in a country already politically divided, early returns showed.

With roughly a third of the votes counted, the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won 35% of the vote compared with 27% for Mr. Calderón's National Action Party, or PAN, in the race for 500 congressional seats, 565 mayors and six governorships.

The biggest loser on the day was the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which came within a hair of winning the presidency in 2006. Early returns showed it winning just 12% of the vote. Smaller parties and blank votes made up the rest of the tally.

"It's a big victory for us and sets us up well for 2012" presidential elections, said PRI official Pedro Joaquin Coldwell.

Mr. Calderón congratulated the PRI and called on all parties to put aside their own interests and work for the country. "We have to be able to raise our heads and look beyond ... our party or personal interests," he said.

The PRI, written off by pundits after a third-place finish in the 2006 presidential vote, did well largely thanks to voter apathy and its well-oiled party machinery at the local level. If early returns held, the PRI was expected to gain more than 100 seats in the lower house at the expense of the PRD and PAN.

The election came at a time when Mexico seems down in the dumps. Mexico's economy has been one of the world's hardest hit from the global recession because of its reliance on the U.S. as a market for manufacturing exports. Mexico's economic output is expected to drop at least 5.5% this year compared with last year -- the biggest decline since the aftermath of the country's peso crash in 1995.

Adding to a sense of trouble, the country is in the grips of an all-out war between the government and drug cartels. The violence has claimed 12,000 lives since Mr. Calderón took power in December, 2006. Throw in the recent outbreak of the A/H1N1 flu, falling oil output, a steady stream of corruption scandals at all levels, and a struggling national soccer team -- and you get a recipe for malaise.

"I'm voting for the least bad option given our poor choices," said Ana Luisa Torres, a 57-year-old homemaker who was casting her ballot for Mr. Calderón's PAN. "Mexico is not doing well, and we aren't changing things here fast enough."

Another voter, 65-year-old retiree Luis Peña, said he voted for the PRI because the PAN "showed it doesn't know what to do with power."

As a sign of voter disillusion, as many as 7% of the ballots cast were left intentionally blank as a protest against all major parties. Leading intellectuals had organized the drive as a message to the parties to put aside rivalries.

Mexico's Green Party snared 7% of the votes, but not from any environmental proposal. Its campaign was based on support for instituting the death penalty.

Mr. Calderón's party would have suffered a bigger defeat were it not for his war on drug cartels, which has involved sending 45,000 army troops to various states. The drive remains popular among voters, despite the violence.

"Mexicans are willing to put up with the violence in the short term if they feel the government is dedicated to stopping the narcos," said Roy Campos, head of polling firm Consulta Mitofksy.

Analysts say the election outcome actually has more to do with the dynamics of Mexico's political system than a referendum on Mr. Calderón. Simply put, voters in Mexican midterm elections focus on local issues and candidates, and parties tend to revert to their historic average for results.

"When turnout is low for midterms, it benefits the PRI, because they have the biggest party structure in Mexico," says Luis de la Calle, a former Mexican trade official and political consultant.

The contest was a lot more quiet than the presidential election of 2006, which resulted in a vote that was "too close to call" for days. When Mr. Calderón was finally declared the winner, his losing opponent, Andres Manuel López Obrador of the PRD, refused to concede and took to the streets with his supporters.

In the time since, Mr. López Obrador has yet to call Mr. Calderon "president," and has alienated many voters with his hard-line stance. Squabbling between rival factions has also hurt the party.

Mr. López Obrador's antics have helped pave the way for the return of the PRI. Although the former ruling party has yet to change its stripes out of power and remains dominated by special interests and backroom deals, polls show it is no longer the least admired major party, as it was for several years. That dubious distinction now belongs to the PRD, Mr. Campos says.

After the vote, whether Mexico can get unstuck again will largely depend on the inner workings of the PRI, itself a collection of interests and different groups vying for power. Several key PRI leaders may decide that to compete effectively in the presidential vote of 2012, the party needs to show voters it can govern responsibly.

"There may be incentives for things to get better," says Mr. de la Calle. Mr. "Calderón will be under pressure to show he's not a lame duck, and PRI needs to show it can accomplish something."
24381  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Newt Gingrich on: July 06, 2009, 08:07:42 AM
Dear Marc,

Will you be around this Thursday night, July 9, for an hour? We ask because we'd like to invite you, and a few of your friends if they want, to join us for a live Tele-Townhall from 7-8pm EDT.

We'll be holding a special strategy session on a topic that's been central to our efforts recently - energy.

It is completely free; all you need to do is tell us what number to call, and be by the phone. I'll be talking for the first few minutes, and then I'll open it up to listen to your ideas and answer your questions.

You can sign up here:

In our fight for a real American energy policy, there are two big fronts right now.

One was revealed two weeks ago when the U.S. House passed the National Energy Tax. This vote was a clear sign of how far our opposition will go in trying to restrict and drive up the cost of American energy.

The second front is one we're very familiar with, especially after last summer's "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" campaign, and that is the effort to find and develop more American oil and natural gas.

This Tele-Townhall is especially timely because July 14 will mark the one year anniversary of President Bush lifting the executive ban on offshore drilling. Since the Obama administration has only taken us backwards since then, this is the time to re-launch our "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" campaign, and we want to talk with you specifically about how you can help in a simple way.

We have some serious work to do on energy, but we can succeed if we work together.

That's why we want you to join us on Thursday, July 9th from 7-8pm EDT, and we encourage you to invite some friends as well.

Again, here's the link to sign up:

Thank you, and we look forward to talking with you soon.

Your friend,

Newt Gingrich
General Chairman
American Solutions
24382  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton on: July 06, 2009, 07:56:17 AM
"When occasions present themselves, in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection."

--Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 71
24383  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: July 05, 2009, 09:51:57 PM
Hi Rachel:

George Gilder has quite a bit more going for him than a recommendation from Rush Limbaugh.

He was one of the house intellectuals of the Reagan Revolution, wrote a rather amazing book called "Wealth and Poverty" and then self taught himself high tech stuff to where he hangs out with multi-phds in stuff I don't even know how to describe.  He's made (and lost!) huge amounts of money advising in investments in high-tech stocks (including I might add making a lot of money for me, and then losing me quite a bit more). 

Anyway, I think you have dialed on a key weak link of his-- which is to have a clever insight and then to overuse it.  Nonetheless, the insight is, IMHO, exactly that.

24384  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Republic or Democracy on: July 05, 2009, 07:51:42 PM
America: Republic or Democracy?
24385  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: July 05, 2009, 03:30:22 PM
Good post.

"My main thought is that I don't believe with any certainty that a surge could or would have had the same success if only it had been ordered earlier.  The strategy and success was built on information/intelligence/knowledge on the ground that we didn't necessarily have earlier.  Unfortunately we didn't know who was blowing up Mosques and setting explosives for American troops until they blow up Mosques and set off road bombs, repeatedly, and until our troops developed relationships and trust with witnesses and civilians enough to tell us what they know about the insurgents and locations."

"The small footprint, 100,000 in a country of 25 million, limited our ability to get the job done, but a larger footprint might also have flailed away in the early insurgency. A larger footprint would have meant more targets early on for the enemy, possibly more loss of American life during the worst parts of the war, and perhaps more collateral Iraqi civilian damage, turning them even more against us.  In other words, to have gone stronger - earlier - with the wrong strategy would have had its own consequences."

MARC:  Please allow me to clarify that I was not saying that these additional troops that should have been raised should have been sent to Iraq.  My intended point was that we were using up too large of a % of our bandwidth on Iraq-- ESPECIALLY given the policies we were following viz the Russians.

"I blame others more than I blame Bush-Rumsfeld.  I blame our so-called allies who for the most part were absent, starting with Turkey who IIRC blocked a key entry/supply route right from the beginning.  I blame our domestic opposition who while troops were in harm's way were constantly sending the message that the American commitment was fragile and temporary.  Our troops fought through the domestic political bullshit bravely, but the enemy was certainly energized by it, causing more loss of life on both sides than was otherwise necessary.   And I blame our media for the same.  They overplayed the death toll and terror accomplishments of the enemy (was a ground war in the heart of the middle east supposed to be easy?) and they missing the real story line (Michael Yon was almost the sole exception to this) of what a brave, amazing, wonderful and historic accomplishment we were actually in the process of achieving by deposing this thug and leaving behind a republic if they choose to keep it.  JMHO."

We are in complete agreement.  I would give a medal of dishonor to the French in particular.
24386  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The American Creed/Limited Government on: July 05, 2009, 03:25:05 PM
A quick yip of guidance for this thread.  I'd like that this thread be FOR the articulation of the American Creed and the myriad examples to the contrary be placed more in threads such as Fascism; Poltical Economics; Programs; Tax Policy; etc.
24387  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Israel denies Saudi airspace clearance given on: July 05, 2009, 10:47:47 AM
Israel denies Saudis gave IDF airspace clearance for Iran strike 
By Haaretz Service 
Tags: Saudi Arabia, Mossad

Saudi Arabia has indicated to Israel that it would not protest use of its airspace by Israeli fighter jets in the event the government resolves to launch a military assault against Iran, according to a report which appeared in the British newspaper The Sunday Times.

The Prime Minister's office issued a statement in response Sunday morning, saying that "the Sunday Times report is fundamentally false and completely baseless."

According to The Sunday Times, Mossad chief Meir Dagan held secret meetings with Saudi officials, who gave their tacit approval to Israel's use of the kingdom's airspace.

"The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia," The Sunday Times quoted a diplomatic source as saying last week.

The report also quoted John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as saying that it would be "entirely logical" for Israeli warplanes to fly over Saudi Arabia en route to bombing nuclear targets in Iran.

Though any Israeli attack would be roundly condemned by Mideast leaders at the UN, Bolton said Arab leaders have privately expressed trepidation at the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

"None of them would say anything about it publicly but they would certainly acquiesce in an overflight if the Israelis didn't trumpet it as a big success," Bolton told The Sunday Times.
24388  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Green shoots" becoming yellow weeds? on: July 05, 2009, 09:27:48 AM
U.S. Job Report Suggests that Green Shoots are Mostly Yellow Weeds

Nouriel Roubini | Jul 2, 2009

The June employment report suggests that the alleged ‘green shoots’ are mostly yellow weeds that may eventually turn into brown manure. The employment report shows that conditions in the labor market continue to be extremely weak, with job losses in June of over 460,000. With the current rate of job losses, it is very clear that the unemployment rate could reach 10 percent by later this summer, around August or September, and will be closer to 10.5 percent if not 11 percent by year-end. I expect the unemployment rate is going to peak at around 11 percent at some point in 2010, well above historical standards for even severe recessions.

It’s clear that even if the recession were to be over anytime soon – and it’s not going to be over before the end of the year – job losses are going to continue for at least another year and a half. Historically, during the last two recessions, job losses continued for at least a year and a half after the recession was over. During the 2001 recession, the recession was over in November 2001, and job losses continued through August 2003 for a cumulative loss of jobs of over 5 million; this time we are already seeing more than 6 million job losses and the recession is not over.

The details of the unemployment report are even worse than the headline. Not only are there large job losses right now, but as a way of sharing the pain, firms are inducing workers to reduce hours and hourly wages. Therefore, when we’re looking at the effect of the labor market on labor income, we should consider that the total value of labor income is the product of jobs, hours, and average hourly wages – and that all three elements are falling right now. So the effect on labor income is much more significant than job losses alone.

The details also suggest that other aspects of the labor markets are worsening. If you include discouraged workers and partially-employed workers, the unemployment rate is already above 16 percent. If you consider also that temporary jobs are falling now quite sharply, labor market conditions are becoming worse. And the average duration of unemployment now is at an all-time high. So people not only are losing jobs, but they’re finding it harder to find new jobs. So every element of the labor market is worsening.

The unemployment rate rose only marginally from 9.4 percent to 9.5 percent, but that’s because so many people are discouraged that they exited the labor force voluntarily, and therefore are not counted in the official unemployment rate.

The other element of the report that must be considered is that, for the summer, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is still adding between 150,000 and 200,000 jobs based on the birth/death model. We know the distortions of the birth/death model – that in a recession jobs created within firms are much smaller than those created by firms that are dying. So that’s distorting downward the number of job losses. Based on the initial claims for unemployment benefits, it’s more likely that the job losses are closer to 600,000 per month rather than the figures officially reported.

These job losses are going to have a significant effect on consumer confidence and consumption in the months ahead. We’ve also seen extreme weakness in consumption. There was a boost in retail sales and real personal consumption-spending in January and February, sparked by sales following the holiday season, but the numbers from April, May, and now June are extremely weak in real terms. In April and May you saw a significant increase in real personal income only because of tax rebates and unemployment benefits. In April, there was a sharp fall in real personal spending, and in May the increase was only marginal in real terms.

This suggests that the most of the tax rebates are being saved rather than consumed. The same thing happened last year. Last year, with a $100 billion tax rebate, only thirty cents on the dollar were spent while seventy cents on the dollar were saved. Last year, people expected the tax rebate to stimulate consumption through September. Instead, there was an increase in April, May, and June, with the increase fizzling out by July.

This year it’s even worse. We have another $100 billion in tax rebates in the pipeline. But the numbers suggest that in April, real consumption fell. And in May it was practically flat. So this year households are even more worried than they were last year about jobs, income, credit cards and mortgages. Most likely only around 20 cents on the dollar – rather than 30 cents last year – of that increase of income is going to be spent. In any case, that increase in income is just temporary and is going to fizzle out by the summer. So you can expect a significant further reduction in consumption in the fall after the effects of the tax rebates fade.

The other important aspect of the labor market is that if the unemployment rate is going to peak around 11 percent next year, the expected losses for banks on their loans and securities are going to be much higher than the ones estimated in the recent stress tests. You plug an unemployment rate of 11 percent in any model of loan losses and recovery rates and you get very ugly losses for subprime, near-prime, prime, home equity loan lines, credit cards, auto loans, student loans, leverage loans, and commercial loans – much bigger numbers than what the stress tests projected.

In the stress tests, the average unemployment rate next year was assumed to be 10.3 percent in the most adverse scenario. We’ll be already at 10.3 percent by the fall or the winter of this year, and certainly well above that and close to 11% at some point next year.

So these very weak conditions in the labor market suggest problems for the U.S. consumer, but also significant increasing problems for the banking system as these sharp increases in job losses lead to further delinquencies on loans and securities and lower than expected recovery rates.

The latest figures – published this week - on mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures suggest a spike not only in subprime and near-prime delinquencies, but now also on prime mortgages. So the problems of the economy are significantly affecting the banking system. Even if for a couple of other quarters banks are going to use the new Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) rules and under-provisioning for loan losses to report better-than-expected results, by Q4, with unemployment rates above 10 percent, that short-term accounting fudging will have a significant impact on reported earnings.  And this will show the underlying weakness in the economy. So banks may fudge it for a couple of other quarters, but eventually the effects of very sharp unemployment rates and still sharply falling home prices are going to drag down earnings and have a sharp effect on losses and capital needs of the banks and of the entire financial system.

Essentially, the results today suggested that there are not as many green shoots.  These green shoots, as we’ve argued, are mostly yellow weeds that may even turn into brown manure if a double dip W-shaped recession occurs in 2010-2011. And it’s not just the employment situation. Real consumption and retail sales remain weak. Industrial production remains weak. The housing market, in terms of price adjustment, remains weak, even if the quantities - demand and supply - may be closer to bottoming out. Indeed, the inventory of unsold new homes is so large that you could stop producing new homes for almost a year to get rid of that inventory.  Moreover, about 50% of existing home sales are distressed sales (short sales and foreclosed homes).

The labor market conditions may have a significant effect on how long it takes for the housing market to bottom out. It’s already estimated that by the end of this year, there will be about 8.4 million people who have a mortgage who have lost jobs, and therefore have essentially little income. Therefore, the number of people who will have difficulties servicing their mortgages is going to rise very sharply.

Home prices have already fallen from their peak by about 27 percent. Based on our analysis, they are going to fall by at least another 40 percent, and more likely 45 percent, before they bottom out. They are still falling at an annualized rate of over 18 percent. That fall of at least 40-45% percent of home prices from their peak is going to imply that about half of all households that have a mortgage – about 25 million of the 51 million that have mortgages – are going to be underwater with negative equity in their homes, and therefore will have a significant incentive to just walk away from their homes.

The job market report is essentially the tip of the iceberg. It’s a significant signal of the weaknesses in the economy. It affects consumer confidence. It affects labor income. It affects consumption. It affects the willingness of firms to start increasing production. It has significant consequences of the housing market. And it has significant consequences, of course, on the banking system.

Overall, it’s an extremely weak report and suggests that weakness in the labor markets is going to continue, and that the recession is more likely to continue through the end of the year and the beginning of next year. It also suggests that recovery will be anemic, subpar, below trend. We are still estimating that U.S. growth next year is going to be 1 percent above the 2009 level, well below a potential growth rate of 3 percent.  This is because there is little deleveraging of households, corporate firms and financial institutions while there is a massive re-leveraging of the public sector with sharply rising deficits and debts as many of the private losses have been socialized.

There are also signs that there may be forces leading to a double-dip recession, sometime toward the second half of next year or towards 2011. If oil prices rise too much, too fast, too soon, that’s going to have a negative effect on trade and real disposable income in oil-importing countries (US, Europe, Japan, China, etc.). Also concerns about unsustainable budget deficits are high and are going to remain high, with growth anemic and unemployment rising. These deficits are already pushing long-term interest rates higher as investors worry about medium- to long-term stability. If these budget deficits are going to continue to be monetized, eventually, toward the end of next year, you are going to have a sharp increase in expected inflation - after three years of deflationary pressures - that’s going to push interest rates even higher.

For the time being, of course, there are massive deflationary pressures in the economy: the slack in the goods markets, with demand falling relative to supply-and-excess capacity. The rising slack in labor markets, which are controlling wages and labor costs and pushing them down, implies that deflationary pressures are going to be dominant this year and next year.

But eventually, large budget deficits and their monetization are going to lead – towards the end of next year and in 2011 – to an increase in expected inflation that may lead to a further increase in ten-year treasuries and other long-term government bond yields, and thus mortgage and private-market rates. Together with higher oil prices driven up in part by this wall of liquidity rather than fundamentals alone, this could be a double whammy that could push the economy into a double-dip or W-shaped recession by late 2010 or 2011. So the outlook for the US and global economy remains extremely weak ahead.  The recent rally in global equities, commodities and credit may soon fizzle out as an onslaught of worse- than-expected macro, earnings and financial news take a toll on this rally, which has gotten way ahead of improvement in actual macro data.

24389  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Inside Workers on: July 05, 2009, 09:20:27 AM
Inside Workers

By Tzvi Freeman
When you look at a human being, you see his hands working, his feet walking, his mouth talking. You don't see his heart, his brain, his lungs and kidneys. They work quietly, inside. But they are the essential organs of life.

The world, too, has hands and feet -- those who are making the news and effecting change. The heart, the inner organs, they are those who work quietly from the inside, those unnoticed. Those who do a simple act of kindness without knowing its reward.
24390  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Marriage on: July 04, 2009, 02:32:42 PM

That is a utterly remarkable piece.

Thank you for bringing it here.

24391  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North Korea on: July 03, 2009, 06:05:30 PM
Amen CCP.


  Any word on the sit rep with that NK tanker we are shadowing?
24392  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe on: July 03, 2009, 06:04:32 PM

You know I consider you a brother in arms, so forgive a moment of smart-assedness, but I gather your response means you are backing off your claim of the Russians opening bases in Latin America, and therefore acknowledging the point implicit in my question about how we might feel about a Russian base/alliance of mutual defense with Russia-- yes?

Turning to the situation in Georgia:  What you report is quite consistent with what I read in Stratfor and elsewhere.  Sucks for the Georgians!!!  And yes the Russkis are being their bad old KGB, imperialistic, butthole selves.  That said-- my question about Bush's judgment in getting us involved and getting the Georgians to rely upon us is questionable.   To harp on a point I have made several times before, in the 2004 election even his weenie opponent was calling for expanding the US military by 50,000 troops-- but Bush-Rumbo, still too proud to admit that what was going on in Iraq was more than a bunch of Saddamite remnants, refused to admit that we needed to expand our military.

I have nothing inherently against trying to knock out the Russkis as a major power while they were down, but it seems distinctly unsound to try it with all our bandwidth used up.  As best as I can tell, Bush showed very poor judgment here and left us badly overextended.
24393  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: July 03, 2009, 04:45:49 PM
Some news about the ongoing "Iran Caper"
Last update - 14:49 03/07/2009     
Israeli sub sails Suez sending message to Iran 
By Reuters 
Tags: Israel news, Suez, submarine   
An Israeli submarine sailed the Suez Canal to the Red Sea as part of a naval drill last month, defense sources said on Friday, describing the unusual maneuver as a show of strategic reach in the face of Iran.

Israel long kept its three Dolphin-class submarines, which are widely assumed to carry nuclear missiles, away from Suez so as not to expose them to the gaze of Egyptian harbormasters.

It was unclear when last month the vessel left the Mediterranean. One source said the voyage was planned for months and so was not related to unrest after the June 12 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom the Israelis see as promoting the pursuit of nuclear weapons to threaten them.

Sailing to the Gulf without using Suez would force the diesel-fueled Israeli submarines, normally based in the Mediterranean, to circumnavigate Africa - a weeks-long voyage.

That would have limited use in signaling Israel's readiness to retaliate should it ever come under an Iranian nuclear attack.

Shorter-term, the submarines' conventional missiles could also be deployed in any Israeli strikes on Iran's atomic sites, which Tehran insists have only civilian energy purposes.

A defense source said the Israeli navy held an exercise off Eilat last month and that a Dolphin took part, having traveled to the Red Sea port though Suez. Israel has a naval base at Eilat, a 10-km (6-mile) strip of coast between Egypt and Jordan, but officials say it has no submarine dock there.

"This was definitely a departure from policy," said the source, who declined to give further details on the drill or say whether the Dolphin had undergone Egyptian inspections in the canal, through which the submarine sailed unsubmerged.

A military spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the voyage, first reported on Friday by the Jerusalem Post.

Egyptian officials at Suez said they would neither confirm nor deny reports regarding military movements. One official said that if there was such a passage by Israelis in the canal, it would not be problematic as Egypt and Israel are not at war.

Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, but relations remain cool. However, Arab states that are allies of the United States appear to share some of Israel's concerns about non-Arab Iran's nuclear program.

Israel is assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, but does not discuss this under an "ambiguity" policy billed as deterring its enemies while avoiding provocations.

Another Israeli defense source with extensive naval experience said the drill "showed that we can far more easily access the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf, than before".

But the source added: "If indeed our subs are capable of doing to Iran what they are believed to be capable of doing, then surely this is a capability that can be put into action from the Mediterranean?"

Each German-made Dolphin has 10 torpedo tubes, four of them widened at Israel's request - to accommodate, some independent analysts believe, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. But there have been questions about whether these would have the 1,500-km
(1,000-mile) range needed to hit Iran from the Mediterranean.

Israel plans to acquire two more Dolphins early next decade. Naval analysts say this could allow it to set up a rotation whereby some of the submarines patrol distant shores while others secure the Israeli coast or dock to undergo maintenance.
24394  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe on: July 03, 2009, 12:03:50 PM
I saw about the joint exercises, but as far as the logic of the point goes, were they or we doing this first?

As far as opening bases goes, when?  Where?

You are a serious student of this part of the world (Georgia, etc) so I would be particularly glad to get your assessment of my additional questions/points.
24395  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Marriage on: July 03, 2009, 09:41:13 AM
Not a perfect fit for this thread, but I didn't know where else to put it.

Is marriage in the midst of the social equivalent of the financial meltdown? The first inkling -- the Bear Stearns moment, if you will -- came almost a year ago when the National Enquirer reported that John Edwards appeared to be the father of a love child. The full-scale crisis hit in the past weeks with les affaires Ensign, Sanford and (at least according to rumor) reality-show star Jon Gosselin. Adding to the sense of a Great Marital Depression was a much discussed article in the Atlantic by performer and writer Sandra Tsing Loh about her own infidelity and ultimate separation from her husband, titled "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

Yes, marriage is suffering a full-scale crisis of consumer confidence. Some say that marriage is an outdated institution. Others argue that humans are not designed for long-term monogamy, especially these days. "Our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77," Ms. Loh observes, "isn't the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?" Responding to Ms. Loh's article in the online magazine Double X, Kerry Howley proposed that we relieve ourselves of the ideal of permanence that has been a defining characteristic of the institution since men and women began tilling the earth. Ms. Loh, Ms. Howley noted, had been married for 20 years and produced two children. That's a pretty good run, isn't it? People change, life moves on, new love calls. And for skeptics who point out that children might quibble with this sort of deregulation, you could still argue, OK, give the kids 18 years and then you can call the whole thing off.

In any crisis, people tend to panic and forget basic facts. This meltdown is no exception. First and foremost, marital breakdown is not rampant across the land. It is concentrated among low-income and black couples. Americans seem to have a lot of trouble grasping this fact, probably because so much public space is taken up by politicians, celebrities and journalists with marriages on the skids. But in actuality, the divorce rate for college-educated women has been declining since 1980. Out-of-wedlock childbearing among the educated class remains rare. The bottom line is that higher-income, college-educated couples are far more likely to get married and stay married than their less-educated and lower-income peers. We shouldn't go so far as to call Ms. Loh and Mr. Sanford, if he decides to return to the heart he left in Buenos Aires, outliers. But they do nothing to clarify a key problem facing the country, which remains the apartheid state of marriage.

The seemingly reasonable notion that marriage is crashing because we're likely to live till 80 also doesn't hold up. The typical divorce is not of a midlife couple bored with finishing each other's sentences; it's of a twosome who have just written the last thank-you note for wedding gifts. More than one-fifth of marriages break up within five years. The median age at first divorce is 30.5 for males and 29 for females. The risk of break-up goes up after one year of marriage and peaks at 4½ years. That's right. A lot of Americans barely wait till the paint is dry in the new family room before setting out for more promising territory.

But if recent high-profile break-ups don't tell us much about our systemic failure, they do illustrate a paradox of marriage as it has evolved in the post-boomer era. On the one hand, despite their sophistication, the marrying classes still want love with a capital L. The New York Times nuptials pages, once simple status announcements about Muffy Branford marrying J.W.R. Witherspoon, now include details of how the couple met and found a full-tilt, love-of-my-life connection. People may admit that passion fades a bit, but soul-mate idealism is a defining part of contemporary marriage. So is the "relationship work" that is supposedly required to sustain it. On the other hand, the college-educated marrying kind believes -- correctly, judging from the considerable research on the subject -- that their children will be better off growing up with their father and mother in the house. In this sense, they take a practical view; marriage is an investment in their children's future.

The cruel joke for the good investor, though, is that the latter practical goal -- kids -- undermines the former idealistic one: love. Kids tend to decrease marital satisfaction, social scientists tell us. It starts with the first child and goes downhill from there. Yes, all couples, including the childless, find their ardor cooling over time. And couples with children still enjoy lots of things together, especially, as Arthur Brooks, the author of "Gross National Happiness," has quipped, "spending time away from kids."

But children take a toll on a twosome expecting to maintain an intense, soulful love bond. They suck up all the oxygen that used to be spent, um, communicating. Ms. Loh tells us that her husband is a "good man . . . a decent man." She just didn't feel the connection anymore. No doubt marrieds have long suffered after the thrill was gone and marriage was about the kids needing shoes or the grass requiring mowing; their disappointment gave birth to the "midlife crisis." But the disillusioned Soul Mater, his or her lofty dreams dashed, is especially vulnerable. It just wasn't supposed to be like this. We're different from our parents and grandparents. We don't have to compromise. We can leave. (Long pause.) Can't we?

It doesn't help that the Soul Mate seeker likely suffers from the American disease of restlessness. The essence of the marriage vow is to stay still. But as a group, Americans are an especially flighty bunch, always looking for a better opportunity, a bigger home, a second chance. We're no less fidgety in our mating habits, as Andrew Cherlin demonstrates in his recent book, "Marriage-Go-Round." Americans divorce and "repartner" far more than do people in other Western countries, either by remarrying or shacking up. True, the educated classes are less inclined to actually hop on the go-round. But that does not mean that they don't hear the barker calling: You can start over, you can do better.

Those who maintain that long-term, monogamous unions are at odds with nature are surely on to something. But it's worth remembering that the first human beings didn't spend 9 to 5 in an office cubicle or, for that matter, wear clothes. Marriage is a human invention designed to create order and some semblance of permanence out of natural chaos in order to rear the next generation.

One of the many ironies of the institution is that marriage seems more satisfying to those who no longer have children in the house. If people simply grew more tired of each other over time, then we would expect that couples unloading the Explorer at the college dorm would head directly to the lawyer's office. On the contrary, marital happiness increases once the kids are gone, despite the prospect of decades of dreary, pass-the-Maalox-dear evenings. A few years ago the AARP warned of a growing trend in "gray divorce"; others cautioned about the coming of "Viagra divorce," as older men came to realize that, with a little chemical help, they could restart their engines. Didn't happen. Empty-nesters still stay together for the duration, just as they did 40 years ago.

Perhaps it's the declining hormones of late middle age. Perhaps it's the joint pride of a difficult task completed. Maybe they're satisfied with their investment, after all.

Ms. Hymowitz is the author of "Marriage and Caste in America" and a contributing editor to City Journal.
24396  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: American History on: July 03, 2009, 09:31:41 AM
second post of the morning

'I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence." This statement from Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia in 1861 was no staff-manufactured line. It was an expression from a man filled with deep emotion at finding himself standing in the hall where a courageous band of rebels pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to a high and dangerous purpose -- American independence. We celebrate them on July Fourth.

Lincoln revered the Declaration and its ideals of liberty and equality. In an 1858 speech in Chicago, he said it was "the father of all moral principle" in the American republic, and its spirit "the electric cord . . . that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together."

He spent much time pondering the hardships endured by those who had fought for independence. In that speech he called them "iron men." As a boy, he read accounts of the patriots' battlefield struggles in Parson Weems's "Life of Washington" and thought, as he told the New Jersey state Senate in 1861, that "there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for."

Yet in Lincoln's time, the Declaration and its spirit was under attack. Proponents of slavery insisted that the Founders did not intend for the God-given right to liberty in the Declaration to apply to all people. The notion that "all men are created equal" was belittled by John C. Calhoun in 1848 as "the most false and dangerous of all political error."

The Declaration had its detractors abroad as well. Across Europe, members of privileged classes sneered at the thought of people ruling themselves. Many a nobleman viewed the Civil War as proof that the American democratic experiment would fail.

British statesman John Bright took them to task: "Privilege thinks it has a great interest in this contest, and every morning, with blatant voice, it . . . curses the American Republic. Privilege has beheld an afflicting spectacle for many years past. It has beheld thirty millions of men, happy and prosperous, without emperor, without king . . . Privilege has shuddered at what might happen to old Europe if this grand experiment should succeed."

Lincoln understood that if the American experiment of self-government were to succeed, the country must be saved on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. It was no accident that in the first sentence of the Gettysburg Address, he quoted the Declaration, reminding Americans that from the beginning the nation had been dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln also understood that the struggle over the Declaration was part of an eternal struggle between two principles at the basis of all government. "They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle," as he put it in one of his famous debates with Stephen A. Douglas. "The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings."

The struggle continues today. Terrorists and dictators hate the United States for its founding principles. They prefer to rob people of liberty, subjugate women, and spread their power by the sword. Yet America still has iron men and women who stand up to such tyrants. These iron men are now fighting on battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document in the same sense as the Constitution. No one talks about a law being "undeclarational," or opines about their "declarational rights." Yet it remains the first and in some ways most universal of our great founding documents. As Lincoln said in Philadelphia in February 1861, there is "something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time."

As long as the United States stands fast for the moral principles of July 4, 1776, we will continue to be the bulwark of freedom, the last best hope of earth.

Messrs. Bennett and Cribb are the authors of the "American Patriot's Almanac" (Thomas Nelson, 2008).
24397  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: July 03, 2009, 09:17:48 AM
Exactly so. angry
24398  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fall of Capitalism, Rise of Islam conference in Chicago on: July 03, 2009, 09:16:32 AM

So, who are these folks?
24399  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: American History on: July 03, 2009, 08:54:10 AM
Monday, July 1, was heavy and hot, and a full-scale summer storm passed through the city late in the morning. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania rose to speak. He knew he was endangering the respect in which he was broadly held, his "popularity," but he once again counseled caution: Slow down, separation from Britain is "premature," to declare independence now would be "to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper." When he sat down, "all was silent except for the rain that had begun spattering against the widows."

Then John Adams rose. He wished he had the power of the ancient orators of Greece and Rome, he said; surely they had never faced a question of greater human import.

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 He made, again, the case for independence. Now is the time, the facts are inescapable, the people are for it, we are not so much declaring as acknowledging reality. "Looking into the future [he] saw a new nation, a new time, all much in the spirit of lines he had written in a recent letter to a friend: '. . . We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.' " Outside the wind picked up and the storm struck hard with thunder and lightning. Storms had in the past unnerved Adams, but he spoke steadily, logically and compellingly for two hours.

After nine hours of debate, the voting commenced. The yeses were in the majority, but there were more noes than expected. Someone moved a final vote be taken the next morning. Adams and the rest hastily agreed.

That night word reached Philadelphia that the British fleet, a hundred ships, had been sighted off New York.

The next day, July 2, the final voting began. It went quickly. This was a pivotal moment in the political history of man. A creative, imaginative, historically conscious person in the middle of a thing so huge and full of consequence will try to notice things, to keep them forever in his eyes and pass them on. Here is a thing John Adams would never forget:

At 9 in the morning, just as the doors to the Congress were to be closed, "Caesar Rodney, mud spattered, 'booted and spurred,' made his dramatic entrance. The tall, thin Rodney—the 'oddest-looking man in the world,' Adams once described him—had been made to appear stranger still, and more to be pitied, by a skin cancer on one side of his face that he kept hidden behind a scarf of green silk. But, as Adams had also recognized, Rodney was a man of spirit, of 'fire.' Almost unimaginably, he had ridden eighty miles through the night, changing horses several times, to be there in time to cast his vote."

All of these quotes are from David McCullough's "John Adams." More on Mr. McCullough in a moment.

The vote was completed: 12 for independence, New York abstaining, no one opposing. "The break was made, in words at least: on July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, the American colonies declared independence. If not all 13 clocks had struck as one, twelve had, and with the others silent the effect was the same."

On July 3, Congress argued over the wording and exact content of the formal Declaration. An indictment of the slave trade was dropped. In all, Thomas Jefferson saw roughly 25% of what he'd written wind up on the floor.

On July 4, discussion ended, debate was closed, a vote on the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was called, and the results were as on July 2. Congress ordered the document be printed. They'd sign it in a month. For now, John Hancock and one other, Charles Thompson, fixed their signatures.

Those present thought the great day had been July 2—the vote for independence itself. John Adams, who'd emoted over the 2nd in letters to Abigail, didn't even mention the 4th , and Thomas Jefferson famously went shopping that afternoon for ladies' gloves.

But on the morning of July 5, the people of Philadelphia started getting their hands on independently printed copies of the Declaration, and the impact was electric: My God, look what they said yesterday—"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." And on the 6th, a local newspaper carried the text of what had been agreed upon on the 4th. And so the celebration of the Fourth of July as one of the signal moments in the history of human freedom, was born. And so we mark it still.

* * *

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David McCullough.
On David McCullough: Almost all the details in the above come from his "John Adams" and "1776". He is America's greatest living historian. He has often written about great men and the reason may be a certain law of similarity: He is one also. His work has been broadly influential, immensely popular, respected by his peers (Pulitzer Prizes for "Truman" and "John Adams," National Book Awards for "The Path Between the Seas" and "Mornings on Horseback") and by the American public. It is not often—it is increasingly rare—that the academy shares the views of the local dry cleaner, the student flying coach and the high school teacher, but all agree on Mr. McCullough, as they did half a century ago on, say, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. He is admired by normal people and esteemed by the intellectual establishment.

Why? Here are a few reasons. He has the eye of a gifted reporter and the depth of a historian. He sees and explains the true size of an incident or endeavor, he factors in, always, the fact that we are human, and he captures the detail that is somehow so telling—it was a scarf of green silk, not soft muslin, that Rodney wore to the vote on American independence. He writes like a dream, of course. He is broad gauged and has range—the Johnstown flood, the building of the Panama Canal, the founders.

Mr. McCullough betrays no need to be contrarian but is only too happy to knock down history's clichés, to wit George III, the mad doofus, who was in fact "tall and rather handsome" and played both the violin and piano. "His favorite composer was Handel, but he adored also the music of Bach." He rendered "quite beautiful architectural drawings," assembled a distinguished art collection, collected books that in time constituted "one of the finest libraries in the world," loved astronomy, was nonetheless practical, and had a gift for putting people at their ease. He impressed even crusty old Samuel Johnson, who after meeting him called him "the finest gentleman I have ever seen." As for the famous madness, he suffered not during the American Revolution but later in life from what appears to have been "prophyria, a hereditary disease not diagnosed until the twentieth century."

One can't know if Mr. McCullough is correct in his judgment here, or fully so. One can know he inspected the available data, pondered it, and attempted a fair-minded assessment. He is reliable. (Of how many can that be said?) And he loves America. His work has gone to explaining it to itself, to telling its story.

More Peggy Noonan
Read Peggy Noonan's previous columns.

And click here to order her new book, Patriotic Grace. Almost two years ago, I was lucky enough to tour Mount Vernon with a dozen people including him. (If I were David McCullough I would know the date and time. But I know the weather.) At the bottom of a stairway leading to the second floor, we chatted for a moment, and I asked him how he accounted in his imagination for the amazing fact of the genius cluster that founded our nation. How did so many gifted men, true geniuses, walk into history at the same time, in the same place, and come together to pursue so brilliantly a common endeavor? "I think it was providential," he said, simply.

Well, so do I. If you do too, it's part of what you're celebrating today.

Later, after dusk, an unforgettable moment. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, led by Gay Gaines, retiring after three years as one of its greatest regents—she'd worked herself like a rented mule to solidify and expand the operation—gave us dinner on a long table on the piazza, the veranda overlooking the unchanged Potomac. It is where President and Mrs. Washington dined. It was hot, and now dark, and David McCullough rose to speak of Washington, of his courage and leadership. A storm had been gathering all day. Now it broke, and as he spoke of Valley Forge there was, literally, a sudden roar of thunder, and lightning lit the clouds over the river. Mr. McCullough continued, with his beautiful voice, and we all got a chill: What kind of moment is this? What could we possibly have done to deserve it?

Nothing of course. Some gifts are just given.

That's what Mr. McCullough's work has been, a gift, one big enough for a nation. So thanks today to the memory of John and Tom and George, and old Ben, and John Dickinson, and Caesar Rodney too. Good work, gentlemen. You too, David.
24400  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Donors find a home on: July 03, 2009, 08:40:05 AM
BO seems to be within normal ranges on this:



The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has seen its share of luminaries in the ambassador's suite. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Senate Majority Leaders Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker and former House Speaker Tom Foley are among those who have brokered relations with a complex and critical ally in a region bristling with military and trade tensions.

 Obama Beholden to Campaign Donors?

WSJ's White House Correspondent Jonathan Weisman discusses President Obama's pick for the U.S. Ambassador post in Japan -- San Francisco Bay Area lawyer and Obama's chief Silicon Valley fundraiser John Roos, who has no diplomatic experience and no Japanese.
President Barack Obama's pick for the post is from a different mold: John Roos, a San Francisco Bay area lawyer, was the president's chief Silicon Valley fundraiser and contributions "bundler." He has no diplomatic experience.

Mr. Obama's choice of Mr. Roos, along with other political boosters -- from former investment banker Louis B. Susman, known as the "vacuum cleaner" for his fundraising prowess, to Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney -- has raised eyebrows among some who thought the president would extend his mantra of change to the diplomatic corps.

"We're not only insulting nations [that] we're appointing these bundlers to, we're risking U.S. diplomatic efforts in these key countries," said Craig Holman, a government-affairs lobbyist at watchdog group Public Citizen.

This tension can be traced back to Mr. Obama's claim during last year's campaign that President George W. Bush engaged in an "extraordinary politicization of foreign policy." Mr. Obama said he instead would ensure that hires are based on merit, rather than party or ideology. The American Academy of Diplomacy, an association of former diplomats, seized on the comments in lobbying him to lower the portion of ambassadors drawn from outside the foreign-service establishment to as little as 10% from the 30% average since President John F. Kennedy's tenure. (Mr. Bush's score was 33%.)

Foto caption: Entertainment executive Charles Rivkin is among major fund-raisers tapped for top ambassadorial postings.

Of the Obama administration's 55 ambassadorial nominees so far, 33 -- or 60% -- have gone to people outside the foreign-service ranks, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That ratio is almost certain to tilt back toward career diplomats as dozens of the remaining posts are filled.

"The president said in January that he would nominate extremely qualified individuals like Mr. Roos, former Congressman Tim Roemer, and Miguel Diaz, who didn't necessarily come up through the ranks of the State Department, but want to serve their country in important diplomatic posts," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Mr. Obama has chosen some diplomatic heavy hitters. Diplomacy experts have praised the experience of Christopher Hill, ambassador to Iraq; Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, ambassador to Afghanistan; and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice.

Representatives of Mr. Roos and other ambassadorial nominees said they wouldn't comment before confirmation, a customary position for all nominees, White House aides said.

Ronald E. Neumann, president of the Academy and a retired Foreign Service officer, cautioned that it is far too early to tell how the Obama lineup will look. When administrations turn over, the first ambassadors to leave their posts often are the prior president's political appointees; those spots are first to be filled, in turn, with new political appointees. Mr. Roos's predecessor in Tokyo, in fact, was a former business partner of Mr. Bush, although he had served as ambassador to Australia before the Japan post.

The president's slate of nominees thus far, Mr. Neumann said, "tells you it's not change, but it doesn't yet tell you what it is."

Mr. Obama's ambassadorial nominees include Kentucky Internet executive Matthew Barzun, an Obama fundraiser, for Sweden; Colorado businessman Vinai Thummalapally, the president's roommate at Occidental College, for Belize; and Howard W. Gutman, who pulled together a half million dollars in Obama contributions, for Belgium.

The Court of St. James's in London would get Mr. Susman, the former investment banker, who bundled at least $100,000 from donors for Mr. Obama's presidential run and $300,000 for his inauguration celebration, according to Public Citizen. Mr. Rooney, tapped for Ireland, threw his weight behind Mr. Obama ahead of the Pennsylvania primary. And Charles H. Rivkin, who if confirmed will be heading for Paris, is chief executive of entertainment company W!LDBRAIN Inc. and former president of Jim Henson Co., creator of the Muppets.

White House officials say the term "political appointee" often undersells a nominee's qualifications. Mr. Diaz, a professor at St. John's University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, may not have diplomatic experience, but he would be the first theologian to be U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Mr. Roemer, nominated as ambassador to India, also has no Foreign Service experience, but he was a prominent member of the 9/11 Commission.

Mr. Susman wasn't among the biggest fund-raisers for Mr. Obama, but he worked in Chicago at the epicenter of the Obama political apparatus. People familiar with his nomination attribute it to his role as an influential businessman and lawyer in the president's hometown.

Mr. Rivkin developed a connection with France and its language while his father was U.S. ambassador to Senegal and Luxembourg, both French-speaking countries, people familiar with the nomination say. Since 1968, the family has presented the annual Rivkin Award honoring constructive dissent in the Foreign Service. Mr. Gutman, a former Supreme Court clerk, served presidents of companies and countries for more than two decades at the Washington office of law firm Williams & Connolly.

The Swiss media aired some concerns about the choice of car-dealership magnate Don Beyer for the Geneva posting. The hope was for someone seasoned in financial issues, given White House pressure on Switzerland to make its banking system more transparent, according to Mr. Holman of Public Citizen.

Many in Japan, meanwhile, were surprised and even disappointed at the choice of Mr. Roos -- in part because it had been rumored in local media that the choice was to be Joseph Nye, a Harvard University professor of international relations and former assistant secretary of defense. Some commentators suggested the Roos nomination showed Mr. Obama's lack of interest in relations with Japan.

The Japanese now appear to be making the best of Mr. Roos's eventual arrival. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily said the U.S.-Japan relationship has grown so mature that it doesn't require a big name as a go-between.

A White House official offered Tokyo some reassuring words: "John Roos is very close to the president, and having that can be very important."

Write to Jonathan Weisman at and Yuka Hayashi at

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