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24601  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Samuel Adams 1781 on: May 25, 2011, 08:21:28 AM

"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual - or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country." --Samuel Adams, in the Boston Gazette, 1781

24602  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on Netanyahu's speech on: May 24, 2011, 06:05:43 PM
Some points in here with which I distinctly disagree, others make sense:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress on May 24 spending a lot of his time on the threat posed by Iran and explaining the reason why Israel has not been able to proceed on the peace path outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama and the presidents before him.

The gist of Netanyahu’s argument was that, while Israel is ready to make very painful concessions in this peace deal, it is the Palestinians that have been blocking the peace process. He also maintained that Jerusalem will not be divided and that Israel will not make large concessions on its security or on the borders of a future Palestinian state.

A great deal of attention has been paid to a very specific line in Obama’s speech from last week, where he said the borders of Israel and Palestine will be based on the lines of 1967 with mutually agreed swaps. This was portrayed by much of the media as a major U.S. policy shift and led Netanyahu to declare to the Israeli lobby in Washington that those 1967 borders are indefensible.

There is absolutely nothing groundbreaking in what Obama actually said. The 1967 lines refer to the borders before the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and basically went beyond the border outlined in the 1949 armistice between Israel and Arab states.

Obama is not saying that the 1967 lines will be the exact same borders of a two-state solution; he is saying negotiations need to be held for those mutually agreed swaps that would deal with the very contentious issues of East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements. Obama said he was explicit in what he meant, but no matter which way you look at this issue, this is an issue that remains very much clouded in controversy. The only new aspect to Obama’s roadmap for peace was perhaps the urgency in which he is conveying his message. This does not change the fact that Israel is very unlikely to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, especially at a time when the Palestinians are in a fledgling unity government that includes Hamas, which refuses still recognize Israel’s right to exist. As Netanyahu put it, he declared Hamas the Palestinian version of al Qaeda and called on Fatah to rip up its agreement with Hamas if it wants to negotiate seriously with Israel.

Now, the biggest challenge to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in the surrounding environment to the conflict itself. Egypt is undergoing a very shaky political transition, and the military regime there is also trying to keep a lid on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Jordan meanwhile is facing much higher levels of political pressure from its Islamist opposition, and the Syrians are throwing all of their effort into putting down a country-wide uprising. Meanwhile, the threat of a third Palestinian intifada continues to loom.

The past 33 years of Israeli history have been largely quiescent, for Israeli standards. Now, Israel faces threats on nearly all of its frontiers. Obama argued that this very uncertainty in the region is exactly why Israel cannot afford to delay the peace process any longer, and why both Israel and the United States should avoid ending up on the wrong side of history, as he put it. This is a point that Israel will likely strongly disagree with. It also brings up a much more important question, one that we addressed in this week’s “Geopolitical Weekly,” of whether there really is a true “Arab Spring” capable of bringing about democratic revolutions that would be friendly to U.S., much less Israeli, interests.

Meanwhile, as Netanyahu emphasized in his speech, a big focus for Israel, and what arguably should be the focus for the United States, concerns Iran, where the United States has yet to devise and effective strategy to counterbalance the Iranians that are waiting to fill a power vacuum in Iraq following the U.S. withdrawal. That remains a key point the Obama presidency must address, and it is largely one that is ignored by the effects of the Arab Spring.

24603  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Baraq and the Arab Spring on: May 24, 2011, 05:52:49 PM
Some distinct gaps here e.g. that candidate BO sedulously worked to undermine the efforts GF sees him as now supporting but as always an interesting analysis:


May 24, 2011 | 0902 GMT

Obama and the Arab Spring
By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech last week on the Middle East. Presidents make many speeches. Some are meant to be taken casually, others are made to address an immediate crisis, and still others are intended to be a statement of broad American policy. As in any country, U.S. presidents follow rituals indicating which category their speeches fall into. Obama clearly intended his recent Middle East speech to fall into the last category, as reflecting a shift in strategy if not the declaration of a new doctrine.

While events in the region drove Obama’s speech, politics also played a strong part, as with any presidential speech. Devising and implementing policy are the president’s job. To do so, presidents must be able to lead — and leading requires having public support. After the 2010 election, I said that presidents who lose control of one house of Congress in midterm elections turn to foreign policy because it is a place in which they retain the power to act. The U.S. presidential campaign season has begun, and the United States is engaged in wars that are not going well. Within this framework, Obama thus sought to make both a strategic and a political speech.

Obama’s War Dilemma
The United States is engaged in a  broad struggle against jihadists. Specifically, it is engaged in a war in Afghanistan and is in the terminal phase of the Iraq war.

The Afghan war is stalemated. Following the death of Osama bin Laden, Obama said that the Taliban’s forward momentum has been stopped. He did not, however, say that the Taliban is being defeated. Given the state of affairs between the United States and Pakistan following bin Laden’s death, whether the United States can defeat the Taliban remains unclear. It might be able to, but the president must remain open to the possibility that the war will become an extended stalemate.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, but that does not mean the conflict is over. Instead, the withdrawal has opened the door to Iranian power in Iraq. The Iraqis lack a capable military and security force. Their government is divided and feeble. Meanwhile, the Iranians have had years to infiltrate Iraq. Iranian domination of Iraq would open the door to  Iranian power projection throughout the region. Therefore, the United States has proposed keeping U.S. forces in Iraq but has yet to receive Iraq’s approval. If that approval is given (which looks unlikely), Iraqi factions with clout in parliament have threatened to renew the anti-U.S. insurgency.

The United States must therefore consider its actions should the situation in Afghanistan remain indecisive or deteriorate and should Iraq evolve into an Iranian strategic victory. The simple answer — extending the mission in Iraq and increasing forces in Afghanistan — is not viable. The United States could not pacify Iraq with 170,000 troops facing determined opposition, while the 300,000 troops that Chief of Staff of the Army Eric Shinseki argued for in 2003 are not available. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine how many troops would be needed to guarantee a military victory in Afghanistan. Such surges are not politically viable, either. After nearly 10 years of indecisive war, the American public has little appetite for increasing troop commitments to either war and has no appetite for conscription.

Obama thus has limited military options on the ground in a situation where conditions in both war zones could deteriorate badly. And his political option — blaming former U.S. President George W. Bush — in due course would wear thin, as Nixon found in blaming Johnson.

The Coalition of the Willing Meets the Arab Spring
For his part, Bush followed a strategy of a coalition of the willing. He understood that the United States could not conduct a war in the region without regional allies, and he therefore recruited a coalition of countries that calculated that radical Islamism represented a profound threat to regime survival. This included Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan, and Pakistan. These countries shared a desire to see al Qaeda defeated and a willingness to pool resources and intelligence with the United States to enable Washington to carry the main burden of the war.

This coalition appears to be fraying. Apart from the tensions between the United States and Pakistan, the unrest in the Middle East of the last few months apparently has undermined the legitimacy and survivability of many Arab regimes, including key partners in the so-called coalition of the willing. If these pro-American regimes collapse and are replaced by anti-American regimes, the American position in the region might also collapse.

Obama appears to have reached three conclusions about the Arab Spring:

It represented a genuine and liberal democratic rising that might replace regimes.
American opposition to these risings might result in the emergence of anti-American regimes in these countries.
The United States must embrace the general idea of the Arab risings but be selective in specific cases; thus, it should support the rising in Egypt, but not necessarily in Bahrain.
Though these distinctions may be difficult to justify in intellectual terms, geopolitics is not an abstract exercise. In the real world, supporting regime change in Libya costs the United States relatively little. Supporting an uprising in Egypt could have carried some cost, but not if the military was the midwife to change and is able to maintain control. (Egypt was more an exercise of regime preservation than true regime change.) Supporting regime change in Bahrain, however, would have proved quite costly. Doing so could have seen the United States lose a major naval base in the Persian Gulf and incited spillover Shiite protests in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province.

Moral consistency and geopolitics rarely work neatly together. Moral absolutism is not an option in the Middle East, something Obama recognized. Instead, Obama sought a new basis for tying together the fraying coalition of the willing.

Obama’s Challenge and the Illusory Arab Spring
Obama’s conundrum is that there is still much uncertainty as to whether that coalition would be stronger with current, albeit embattled, regimes or with new regimes that could arise from the so-called Arab Spring. He began to address the problem with an empirical assumption critical to his strategy that  in my view is questionable, namely, that there is such a thing as an Arab Spring.

Let me repeat something I have said before: All demonstrations are not revolutions. All revolutions are not democratic revolutions. All democratic revolutions do not lead to constitutional democracy.

The Middle East has seen many demonstrations of late, but that does not make them revolutions. The 300,000 or so demonstrators concentrated mainly in Tahrir Square in Cairo represented a tiny fraction of Egyptian society. However committed and democratic those 300,000 were, the masses of Egyptians did not join them along the lines of what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 and in Iran in 1979. For all the media attention paid to Egypt’s demonstrators, the most interesting thing in Egypt is not who demonstrated, but the vast majority who did not. Instead, a series of demonstrations gave the Egyptian army cover to carry out what was tantamount to a military coup. The president was removed, but his removal would be difficult to call a revolution.

And where revolutions could be said to have occurred, as in Libya, it is not clear they were democratic revolutions. The forces in eastern Libya remain opaque, and it cannot be assumed their desires represent the will of the majority of Libyans — or that the eastern rebels intend to create, or are capable of creating, a democratic society. They want to get rid of a tyrant, but that doesn’t mean they won’t just create another tyranny.

Then, there are revolutions that genuinely represent the will of the majority, as in Bahrain. Bahrain’s Shiite majority rose up against the Sunni royal family, clearly seeking a regime that truly represents the majority. But it is not at all clear that they want to create a constitutional democracy, or at least not one the United States would recognize as such. Obama said each country can take its own path, but he also made clear that the path could not diverge from basic principles of human rights — in other words, their paths can be different, but they cannot be too different. Assume for the moment that the Bahraini revolution resulted in a democratic Bahrain tightly aligned with Iran and hostile to the United States. Would the United States recognize Bahrain as a satisfactory democratic model?

The central problem from my point of view is that the Arab Spring has consisted of demonstrations of limited influence, in non-democratic revolutions and in revolutions whose supporters would create regimes quite alien from what Washington would see as democratic. There is no single vision to the Arab Spring, and the places where the risings have the most support are the places that will be least democratic, while the places where there is the most democratic focus have the weakest risings.

As important, even if we assume that democratic regimes would emerge, there is no reason to believe they would form a coalition with the United States. In this, Obama seems to side with the neoconservatives, his ideological enemies. Neoconservatives argued that democratic republics have common interests, so not only would they not fight each other, they would band together — hence their rhetoric about creating democracies in the Middle East. Obama seems to have bought into this idea that a truly democratic Egypt would be friendly to the United States and its interests. That may be so, but it is hardly self-evident — and this assumes democracy is a real option in Egypt, which is questionable.

Obama addressed this by saying we must take risks in the short run to be on the right side of history in the long run. The problem embedded in this strategy is that if the United States miscalculates about the long run of history, it might wind up with short-term risks and no long-term payoff. Even if by some extraordinary evolution the Middle East became a genuine democracy, it is the ultimate arrogance to assume that a Muslim country would choose to be allied with the United States. Maybe it would, but Obama and the neoconservatives can’t know that.

But to me, this is an intellectual abstraction. There is no Arab Spring, just some demonstrations accompanied by slaughter and extraordinarily vacuous observers. While the pressures are rising, the demonstrations and risings have so far largely failed, from Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was replaced by a junta, to Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia by invitation led a contingent of forces to occupy the country, to Syria, where Bashar al Assad continues to slaughter his enemies just like his father did.

A Risky Strategy
Obviously, if Obama is going to call for sweeping change, he must address the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Obama knows this is the graveyard of foreign policy: Presidents who go into this rarely come out well. But any influence he would have with the Arabs would be diminished if he didn’t try. Undoubtedly understanding the futility of the attempt, he went in, trying to reconcile an Israel that has no intention of returning to thegeopolitically vulnerable borders of 1967 with a Hamas with no intention of publicly acknowledging Israel’s right to exist — with Fatah hanging in the middle. By the weekend, the president was doing what he knew he would do and was switching positions.

At no point did Obama address the question of Pakistan and Afghanistan or the key issue: Iran. There can be fantasies about uprisings in Iran, but 2009 was crushed, and no matter what political dissent there is among the elite, a broad-based uprising is unlikely. The question thus becomes how the United States plans to deal with Iran’s emerging power in the region as the United States withdraws from Iraq.

But Obama’s foray into Israeli-Palestinian affairs was not intended to be serious; rather, it was merely a cover for his broader policy to reconstitute a coalition of the willing. While we understand why he wants this broader policy to revive the coalition of the willing, it seems to involve huge risks that could see a diminished or disappeared coalition. He could help bring down pro-American regimes that are repressive and replace them with anti-American regimes that are equally or even more repressive.

If Obama is right that there is a democratic movement in the Muslim world large enough to seize power and create U.S.-friendly regimes, then he has made a wise choice. If he is wrong and the Arab Spring was simply unrest leading nowhere, then he risks the coalition he has by alienating regimes in places like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia without gaining either democracy or friends.
24604  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 24, 2011, 05:37:11 PM
The wittiness of the lo-flo toilets is noted, as is the failure to note that in point of fact , , , they got the wrong apartment.
24605  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China on: May 24, 2011, 05:04:24 PM
The Crafty Doctrine was formulated in the context of Afpakia.  Pakistan having a patron in China, perhaps giving it a seaport, is a major new variable.
24606  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Now that's funny on: May 24, 2011, 01:48:27 PM
24607  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 24, 2011, 01:44:08 PM
When it wasn't reasonable to wait for a warrant grin

And if I remember correctly the suspect did not know the police were after him.  He simply went home.   The risk of destruction of evidence was triggered by the knock.
The police could have waited while sending for a warrant.  Oh wait!  Maybe they couldn't have gotten one (on the dealing charge) because they had only a 50% (or less if there were more than two apartments) chance of giving the judge the right address , , ,  rolleyes  Is a 50% chance of getting the right place a sufficient % for you?
24608  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: May 24, 2011, 01:33:22 PM
Doug:  I recorded the Wallace interview of Cain and finally got to watch it.  Not knowing the phrase "right of return" is pretty discouraging.  I respect the point about not having intel on Afghanistan, but not to have something to say at all e.g. about basic thoughts concerning the Islamo-fascist threat is really discouraging.  Also from a former Fed chairman I would have expected more articulate economic commentary. 

Maybe as he gets a bit warmed up he will do better and become worthy of the VP slot , , ,

Viz Pawlenty:  That sounds like a real good start!
24609  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: May 24, 2011, 01:26:16 PM
Yup.  Just look at all that spare bandwidth we have. 

Any predictions on how BO will respond?

This discussion might better belong on the US-China thread , , ,
24610  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: New single-family homes nicely up in April on: May 24, 2011, 01:23:57 PM
New single-family home sales rose 7.3% in April To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 5/24/2011

New single-family home sales rose 7.3% in April, coming in at a 323,000 annual rate, beating the consensus expected pace of 300,000.

Sales were up in all major regions of the country.
At the current sales pace, the months’ supply of new homes (how long it would take to sell the homes in inventory) fell to 6.5 in April from 7.2 in March. The decline in the months’ supply was due to both the faster pace of sales and lower inventories, which fell 5,000 from last month, hitting the lowest level on record, since at least 1963.
The median price of new homes sold was $217,900 in April, up 4.6% from a year ago. The average price of new homes sold was $268,900, down 0.6% versus last year.
Implications:  New home sales rose 7.3% in April, beating consensus expectations for the second straight month.  And for the first time since August 2007, sales increased in all four major regions of the country, showing that the gain in sales was widespread and not confined to one area. On top of that, the level of new homes in inventory fell to the lowest level on record, since at least 1963. While this is all very good news, it does not necessarily signal the start of a consistent upward trend. Sales remain in the range we have seen since last May, and the new home market still faces two major challenges. With such a large number of existing homes on the market, many of which are like new or are in foreclosure and steeply discounted, the new home market isn’t as attractive to buyers. Credit conditions also remain very tight, despite low mortgage rates, particularly for buyers who don’t have very good credit scores and a 20% down-payment. So while housing is clearly beginning to recover, these issues will keep the pace of recovery subdued for the time being. We expect new home sales to eventually increase substantially, but it will take several years to fully recover. In other news this morning, the Richmond Fed index, a measure of manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic, dropped to -6 in May from +10 in April. While this number was a disappointment, it is not consistent with other manufacturing indicators that show continued growth in manufacturing.
24611  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 24, 2011, 10:45:26 AM
How do you negotiate with someone who stated purpose is serve as Allah's servant by killling you and yours?
24612  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: European “Gathering of the Pack” 2011 on: May 24, 2011, 10:41:53 AM
Very sorry to hear that PD.  Speaking from extensive personal experience, some of the toughest tests of our path come when we are injured.  Now is when you can show how much our path gives by keeping your mind right.
24613  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 24, 2011, 10:38:51 AM
There are LOTS of circumstances well within the law which will induce people to start moving around when there is a loud knocking on the door of "Its the police!!!

As noted, there was time for a warrant.

" here the suspects would not have anticipated police discovery but for the knock.  The police could have posted officers outside the apartment while obtaining a warrant for entry because there was “very little risk” that the evidence would have been destroyed while awaiting a warrant."

24614  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 24, 2011, 10:18:29 AM
"In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg contends that the Court’s decision “arms police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases”; in a largely rhetorical question, she also asks whether our homes will actually remain secure “if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity[.]”  To maintain the protections of the Fourth Amendment, she argues, the exigent circumstances must exist “when the police come on the scene, not subsequent to their arrival, prompted by their own conduct.”

"Justice Ginsburg notes that if the police had not knocked, no evidence would have been destroyed; she emphasizes that even the Court’s opinion concedes that “[p]ersons in possession of valuable drugs are unlikely to destroy them unless they fear discovery by the police,” and here the suspects would not have anticipated police discovery but for the knock.  The police could have posted officers outside the apartment while obtaining a warrant for entry because there was “very little risk” that the evidence would have been destroyed while awaiting a warrant."

24615  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 24, 2011, 01:32:11 AM
I've not had the time to digest CCP's post, but I will note that I get a bit testy on the meme that seems to float on the wind about mixed loyalty and Jews.


Israel and Obama’s Radical Past

Israel and Obama’s Radical Past

May 20, 2011 10:05 A.M.

By Stanley Kurtz 

Does President Obama’s radical past tell us anything significant about his stance on Israel today? Perhaps more important, do the radical alliances of Obama’s Chicago days raise a warning flag about what the president’s position on Israel may be in 2013, should he safely secure reelection? Many will deny it, but I believe Obama’s radical history speaks volumes about the past, present, and likely future course of his policy on Israel.

The Los Angeles Times has long refused to release a videotape in its possession of a farewell dinner, attended by Obama, for scholar and Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi. Obama spoke warmly of his friendship for Khalidi at that event. Unfortunately, the continuing mystery of that video tape has obscured the rather remarkable article that the LA Times did publish about the dinner — and about Obama’s broader views on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In light of the controversy over Obama’s remarks on Israel in his address yesterday on the Middle East, it is worth revisiting that 2008 article from the LA Times.

The extraordinary thing about “Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Obama” is that in it, Obama’s supporters say that in claiming to be pro-Israel, he is hiding his true views from the public. Having observed his personal associations, his open political alliances, his public statements, and his private remarks, Obama’s Palestinian allies steadfastly maintain that Obama’s private views are far more pro-Palestinian than he lets on.

Having pieced together Obama’s history, I make much the same argument about Obama’s broader political stance in my book, Radical-in-Chief. Obama’s true views are far to the left of what he lets on in public. Yet it’s striking to see Palestinian activists making essentially the same point — not in criticism of Obama, but in praise.

Notice also that, in this article, Rashid Khalidi himself claims that Obama’s family ties to Kenya and Indonesia have inclined him to be more sympathetic to Palestinians than other American politicians are. That sort of claim often gets ridiculed when conservatives make it.

The point of all this is not that, as president, Obama is going to make policy exactly as Rashid Khalidi might. Obviously, no American president could take such a position and survive politically. Rather, the point is that Obama’s stance is going to tilt more heavily toward the Palestinians than any other likely American president, Republican or Democrat — just as Obama’s Palestinian allies argued in that LA Times piece.

The entire article is worth a read, but here are some choice excerpts:

A special tribute [at the farewell dinner] came from Khalidi’s friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals provided by Khalidi’s wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases” . . .

[Obama today] expresses a firmly pro-Israel view. . . .

And yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor’s going away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.

Their belief is not drawn from Obama’s speeches or campaign literature, but from comments that some say Obama made in private and from his association with the Palestinian American community in his hometown of Chicago, including his presence at events where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed. . . .

“I am confident that Barack Obama is more sympathetic to the position of ending the occupation than either of the other candidates,” said Hussein Ibish…. “That’s my personal opinion, Ibish said, “and I think it for a very large number of circumstantial reasons and what he’s said.”

. . . Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian rights activist in Chicago who helps run Electronic Intifada, said that he met Obama several times at Palestinian and Arab American community events. At one, a 2000 fundraiser at a private home, Obama called for the U.S. to take an “even-handed” approach toward Israel….

Abunimah, in a Times interview and on his website, said Obama seemed sympathetic to the Palestinian cause but more circumspect as he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. At a dinner gathering that year, Abunimah said, Obama greeted him warmly and said privately that he needed to speak cautiously about the Middle East.

Abunimah quoted Obama as saying that he was sorry he wasn’t talking more about the Palestinian cause, but that his primary campaign had constrained what he could say.

Obama, through his aide, Axelrod, denied he ever said those words, and Abunimah’s account could not be independently verified.

In Radical-in-Chief, I show how Obama generally resorts to obfuscation to hide his radical past, saving outright false denial for those few cases where it is absolutely necessary. Is this another such case?

Radical-in-Chief also shows in some detail, with new information, that Obama had to know about Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s intensely anti-Israel views. I also discuss the triangular relationship between Obama, Khalidi, and Bill Ayers. Ayers and Khalidi were extremely close friends and allies, and both were close political allies of Obama as well.

For further evidence that Obama’s early views tell us more about his actions in the present — and future — than his current “pragmatic” statements, see “Obama’s Past Tells the Truth.”

There is also the question of Samantha Power, Obama’s most important foreign policy advisor during his Senate years, and a guiding force behind our current intervention in Libya. I surveyed her views in “Samantha Power’s Power.” Although Power now disavows it, there is persuasive evidence that she once advocated an American military intervention against Israel to impose a two-state solution. It is extraordinary that someone holding that view should have been Obama’s closest foreign-policy adviser for years, and a continuing influence within his administration today.

It is true, of course, that Obama has long maintained close ties to the Jewish community. Yet the depth of his ties to the pro-Palestinian Left is unmatched among major American politicians. It is reasonable to conclude that this is having an effect on Obama’s policies — more than he admits — and will continue to do so, especially should the president secure reelection.

24616  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 23, 2011, 01:47:32 PM
Speaking of which, this from today's LA Times-- a source which I often mock-- but here it reads rather well:

May 23, 2011
One of the most important functions of the Supreme Court is to put legal limits on police excesses. But the court failed to fulfill that responsibility last week when it widened a loophole in the requirement that police obtain a warrant before searching a home.

The 8-1 decision came in the case of a search of an apartment in Kentucky by police who suspected illegal drugs were being destroyed. The police, who said they smelled marijuana near the apartment, had knocked loudly on the door and shouted, "This is the police." Then, after hearing noises they thought indicated the destruction of evidence, they broke down the door.

 Court says police may break into homes in certain cases
 Carving out class-action exceptions
 Supreme Court: Class (action) dismissed
Prop. 8: Who's fit to judge?
Let sun shine on dependency court
For Alejandra Tapia, prison as punishment
See more stories »
XScrutinizing Wal-Mart
 Police don't need a warrant to enter a residence when there are "exigent circumstances," such as imminent danger, the possibility that a suspect will escape or concern about the immediate destruction of evidence. But in this case, the police actually created the exigent circumstances that they then capitalized on to conduct the warrantless search.

According to Kentucky's Supreme Court, the exigent-circumstances exception didn't apply because the police should have foreseen that their conduct would lead the occupants of the apartment to destroy evidence. Overturning that finding, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the court that as long as the police officers' behavior was lawful, the fact that it produced an exigent circumstance didn't violate the Constitution. That would be the case, Alito suggested, even if a police officer acted in bad faith in an attempt to evade the warrant requirement.

But as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, Alito's reasoning "arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the 4th Amendment's warrant requirement in drug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant."

Ginsburg also dismissed the argument that entering the apartment in the Kentucky case was necessary to prevent the destruction of drug evidence. Quoting the majority opinion, she wrote that "persons in possession of valuable drugs are unlikely to destroy them unless they fear discovery by the police." Therefore, police can take the time to obtain a warrant.

Allowing police to create an exception to the warrant requirement violates the 4th Amendment. That is how the court should have ruled.
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
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Comments (2)Add / View comments | Discussion FAQ
Kiljoy616 at 9:33 AM May 23, 2011
The Constitution a nice idea that is slowly dying out one piece at a time. at 12:13 AM May 23, 2011
Finally! An editorial that I completely, 100% agree with. In this case, the court was wrong.

24617  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: May 23, 2011, 01:27:50 PM
Which means that the example is not on point  cheesy
24618  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: May 23, 2011, 01:08:53 PM
If I am not mistaken, China regards Taiwan as part of China too cheesy
24619  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jerusalem, Israel: Separation of Powers question? on: May 23, 2011, 12:37:22 PM
Jewish World Review May 5, 2011 / 1 Iyar, 5771

Supreme Court steps into White House-Congress feud over Jerusalem status

By Warren Richey

Our contributor's child, born in Jerusalem to American parents, was told that his passport must list "Jerusalem" -- without a country -- as the place of his birth. Why? Because America doesn't recognize the Holy City as the Jewish State's capital. Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, and his wife Naomi, found that obscene, particularly because a law of Congress agrees with them. For years they waded through a maddening bureaucracy. Their case, which could potentially have a serious impact on any future Muddle East peace negotiations, was just accepted by the High Court. It's being framed as a dispute concerning the separation of powers within the US government

The US Supreme Court agreed this week to take up a case that could greatly complicate the delicate Middle East peace process in a legal challenge to the US State Department's policy of neutrality over the disputed status of Jerusalem.

The case arises out of a clash between Congress and the White House over which branch of government is empowered to decide how best to conduct sensitive issues of diplomacy overseas.

In addition to fundamental questions concerning the separation of powers within the US government, the case involves an example of the president issuing a signing statement announcing his intent not to enforce a portion of a law passed by Congress.

At the center of the case is the thorny question of how to record the birth of a child to American citizens when the happy event takes place in Jerusalem.

When a child is born to American citizens in Jerusalem, US government protocol is to list the place of birth as simply "Jerusalem."

It is done for diplomatic reasons, to avoid having to take sides between competing Arab and Israeli claims to the holy city.

Congress, on the other hand, has eschewed such diplomatic niceties. In September 2002, it passed a law directing the State Department — whenever requested — to record a birth in Jerusalem as having taken place in "Israel." The congressional action sparked protests and condemnation in the Middle East among those who interpreted the new law as a shift from a long-held US position.

The status of the city of Jerusalem is one of the most difficult and sensitive issues in the quest for peace between Arabs and Israelis.

Palestinians maintain that Jerusalem is an indivisible part of Arab lands they recognize as Palestine. Israelis counter that Jerusalem is not only an Israeli city, but Israel's capital.

The US diplomatic corps, seeking to maintain credibility as a mediator in the peace process, has remained neutral on the issue.

Into this delicate diplomatic dance came the infant child of Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky. The child, identified in court papers as MBZ, was born Oct. 17, 2002, in Jerusalem. When the boy's mother applied for documents verifying the birth abroad of a US citizen, she asked that the certificate reflect that the birth occurred in "Jerusalem, Israel."

State Department officials pointed out that, for political and diplomatic reasons, US policy is to record the place of birth as simply "Jerusalem."

The parents filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to order the US government to list the birthplace of their son on official documents as "Jerusalem, Israel." They noted that in September 2002, a month before the birth, Congress had passed the law instructing US officials to list the place of birth as Israel.

It is that dispute that the Supreme Court has agreed to decide. At issue is whether US officials must comply with the congressional action or, instead, enforce the diplomatic protocol favored for the past 60 years by all presidents.

The child, Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, is now eight years old.

The law in question is a provision of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal year 2003. The relevant portion of the law is entitled "United States Policy with Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel."

President Bush signed the Authorization Act into law but simultaneously issued a signing statement to emphasize that US policy regarding the status of Jerusalem had not changed. Bush wrote that the congressional mandate would "impermissibly interfere with the president's constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the nation in international affairs, and determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states."

In the federal court case, government lawyers argued that "if 'Israel' were to be recorded as the place of birth of a person born in Jerusalem, such 'unilateral action' by the United States on one of the most sensitive issues in the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians would critically compromise the United States' ability to help further the Middle East peace process."

Supporters of the congressional action argue that once Congress passes a law it is up to the executive branch to faithfully uphold and enforce it. They say Congress has the authority to undertake a policymaking role in foreign affairs.

A federal judge threw out the Zivotofskys' case, ruling that the issue is a political question related to an aspect of foreign affairs that is constitutionally assigned to the executive branch of government. An appeals court panel affirmed the decision.

In agreeing to take up the case, the high court asked the parties to also address whether the 2002 congressional mandate "impermissibily infringes the president's power to recognize foreign sovereigns."

The case, MBZ v. Clinton, will likely be scheduled for oral argument sometime in the court's next term, which begins in early October.

24620  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Ranges observed in the fights on: May 23, 2011, 12:21:26 PM
24621  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Preparations for a possible fight at the Euro Gathering on: May 23, 2011, 11:54:44 AM

24622  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: May 23, 2011, 11:17:26 AM
The judicial filibuster is back, and it's better than ever! Yesterday the U.S. Senate effectively killed the nomination of hard-left University of California law professor Goodwin Liu to serve on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by rejecting a "cloture" motion that would have cleared the way for an actual confirmation vote. The cloture vote was 52-43 in favor, eight short of the requisite three-fifths majority. It was a near-party-line vote, with Alaska's Lisa Murkowski the only Republican voting "yes" and Nebraska's Ben Nelson the only Democrat voting "no."

The use of the filibuster to kill judicial nominations that a majority of senators support is a fairly new tactic. After Democrats lost the Senate majority in 2002, they used cloture votes to prevent the appointment of several Bush nominees, most notably Miguel Estrada. In 2005, Republicans, who then held a 55-45 majority, threatened to use what was dubbed the "nuclear option," which would change the Senate rules to preclude the filibustering of judicial appointments.

Instead, a bipartisan "gang" of 14 senators, seven from each party, reached an agreement in which the Republicans promised to abjure the nuclear option and the Democrats pledged to forgo filibusters except in "extraordinary circumstances." Assuming all the gangsters kept their word, there would be no more than 48 votes for the nuclear option and (in "ordinary" circumstances) at least 62 votes to break a filibuster.

The judicial filibuster faded into irrelevance after the 2006 election. In 2007-08, the Democrats had a majority and didn't need to filibuster to block Bush nominees. In 2009-10, the Republicans' numbers were so diminished that the Dems could overcome any filibuster of an Obama pick. But with the Republicans' gains in last year's election, the Senate looks much like it did in 2005, when the president's party had a majority but the minority was big enough to use the filibuster.

There's a certain rough justice in Liu's being kept off the bench by a judicial filibuster, since he earlier made a name for himself by slandering Judge (now Justice) Samuel Alito. As the Associated Press reports:

Liu had said Alito's vision was an America "where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy . . . where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance ... where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep . . . where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent . . . analysis showing discrimination."
Liu told his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that this "was not an appropriate way to describe Justice Alito." He described his own language as "unduly harsh," and added, "If I had it to do over again, I would have deleted it."
Yeah, we bet he would have! Roll Call reports that Republicans cited "extraordinary circumstances" to justify the blocking of Liu's nomination, The Hill reports that "Democrats on Thursday said the standard for filibustering judicial nominees has been lowered significantly as a result of Liu's defeat":

"It's a bad, bad precedent," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. "If this is not an extraordinarily well-qualified person, I don't know who will be. I'm afraid the phrase 'extraordinary circumstances' will suffer great damage by this action if a filibuster is sustained."
In truth, whatever meaning the rather vague phrase "extraordinary circumstances" might have had, it lost in January 2007, for the gangsters' agreement applied only in the 109th Congress. Thus the nine remaining gangsters were free to vote in favor of the filibuster, as five of them, including Democrat Nelson, did.

Left-wing extremists are predictably accusing GOP senators of hypocrisy. The outfit that styles itself People for the American Way "sent out a list of quotes from Republicans from 2005 declaring that it was unconstitutional not to allow up-or-down votes on judicial nominees," Roll Call notes.

Of course, Democrats back then were championing the filibuster as a vital check on majority power. One may reasonably conclude that both sides are more concerned with substance than with process, although the Republicans have the better of the argument inasmuch as it is hardly reasonable to expect them to disarm unilaterally.

Murkowski stood almost alone in attributing her vote entirely to her view of the procedural question: "I stated during the Bush administration that judicial nominations deserved an up-or-down vote, except in 'extraordinary circumstances,' and my position has not changed simply because there is a different president making the nominations," she said in a statement.

Associated Press
Hatch: "Present" means "no."
.Utah's Orrin Hatch also tried to make a statement against the filibuster, but in a silly way: He voted "present." He did the same thing two weeks ago on a cloture vote for another nominee, John McConnell of Rhode Island (that one made it to the floor on a 63-33 vote). "I just felt that was the only honorable thing I could do under the circumstances," Hatch told the Legal Times after the McConnell vote. "I opposed the nominee, but I didn't want to vote against cloture."

The reason this is silly is that unlike a confirmation vote, which is approved so long as "yes" votes outnumber "noes," a cloture vote requires a three-fifths majority of all seated senators. Assuming no Senate seats are vacant, a cloture motion could theoretically be stopped by a 59-1 vote in favor. That means that a "present" vote, or an absence, is identical in effect to a "no" vote.

Hatch insists there is a symbolic difference. "It's not the same," he told Legal Times. "If it were the same, I'd have voted 'no.' It's the only way I could preserve my integrity on this matter."

But "asked whether he could ever support a filibuster of a judicial nominee, Hatch did not rule out the possibility":

"I have every right to vote 'no' on cloture, because the Democrats have set the standard," Hatch said, alluding to the judge wars of the Bush administration. Still, he said he wouldn't feel good about it, "because I still feel I was right about the filibustering of judges."
Again, the effect of a "no" vote is identical to that of a "present" vote. So Hatch is unwilling to rule out a purely symbolic vote that would violate his stated principles. It's hard to imagine a protest with less of a point.

Baghdad Newt
"Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday he'll use 'cheerful persistence' to overcome the bumps that marked the first formal week of his campaign," the Associated Press reports.

Gingrich said he isn't surprised by the rough start to his campaign. . . . "My reaction is if you're the candidate of very dramatic change, it you're the candidate of really new ideas, you have to assume there's a certain amount of clutter and confusion and it takes a while to sort it all out, because you are doing something different," Gingrich told reporters after he opened an intense three-day campaign swing in Iowa. . . .
"This campaign is very alive and very well with lots of grass-roots support," Gingrich told the crowd.
It gets better:

He said reporters covering his campaign must adjust their thinking.
"It's going to take a while for the news media to realize that you're covering something that happens once or twice in a century, a genuine grass-roots campaign of very big ideas," said Gingrich. "I expect it to take a while for it to sink in."
How bad is Gingrich as a candidate? He doesn't even have John Kerry's comic timing. The stuff he says is so crazy and outrageous that one quickly becomes desensitized to it.

The stuff he's saying now is objectively hilarious, but that's a perilous oxymoron, because it's not nearly as funny as yesterday's material about sheep and the liar's paradox. Even someone who is as much of a genius as Newt can't possibly outdo that.

By contrast, Kerry, the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat who by the way served in Vietnam, never stops being funny. He has the hat to this day! Kerry's secret is that he has just enough self-restraint to maintain an illusion of dignity among those who sympathize with him politically. That they take him seriously only adds to the humor.

Gingrich would be funnier if he could find other people to say with a straight face things like, "This is something that happens once or twice a century." But good luck with that.

Riding High in April, Shot Down in May
A day after he announced it, Willie Nelson has withdrawn his presidential endorsement of the monotonous libertarian extremist Gary Johnson, reports (apparently quoting Nelson's email verbatim):

"Yesterday, both the Teapot Party and Gary Johnson 2012 sent out press releases announcing the endorsement," wrote Teapot Party member Steve Bloom Thursday. . . .
"My position is it too early for me to endorse anyone," he wrote in an email to Bloom. "And I think every one should vote their own conscience."
Willie went on: "I think I will wait and see where he stands on other things. My bad. Sorry. I still think he is a good guy but so Is Dennis [Kucinich] and if he decided to run I would personally vote for him. If it came down to either him or Gary I'm already committed to Dennis. They both have said they support legal pot."
We're glad he cleared that up. But wait. What if it's Newt Gingrich vs. Russ Feingold--how does Willie vote then? An anxious world holds its breath. An anxious world exhales. An anxious world suddenly feels more mellow. A mellow world scarfs down an entire bag of Doritos. Dude, what was this item about again?

Survival Is Not an Option
After getting off to a "great start," Katie Couric yesterday signed off as anchorman of the "CBS Evening News," reports the network's New York website. If Harold Camping is right, she just missed the story of her lifetime. New York magazine has an interview with Camping, leader of "the Christian movement that believes Judgment Day will occur on May 21":

How certain are you that world is going to end on May 21--do you have any doubts?
God has given sooo much information in the Bible about this, and so many proofs, and so many signs, that we know it is absolutely going to happen without any question at all. There's nothing in the Bible that God has ever prophesied--there's many things that he prophesied would happen and they always have happened--but there's nothing in the Bible that holds a candle to the amount of information to this tremendous truth of the end of the world. I would be absolutely in rebellion against God if I thought anything other than it is absolutely going to happen without any question.
Wow, he's like a Christian Eric Holder. Then again, why should he worry? If he's wrong, it's not the end of the world.

24623  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 23, 2011, 10:43:05 AM
Beinhart has a fair point about the deep implications of the Pal strategy of going to the UN and getting recognized there.  Glen Beck also sees this as highly significant.

Beinhart raises apparently reasonable questions about the defensibility of some of the Israeli West Bank settlements.

That said, some rather large and obvious questions remain.

a) Why was this speech sprung upon the Israelis?  Why did BO not give N. a heads up with sufficient time for some backchannel communications?

b) What the hell does "contiguous" mean in this context?  That Gaza and the West Bank will be connected?!?

c) What about BO going further (last year?) than the Pals in making suspending settlements a pre-requisite for returning to negotiations?  If I have this right, this was something that the Pals had not sought, but now must now that BO has done so.

d)  Beinhart also seems to have little problem with the idea of negotiating with Hamas  rolleyes
24624  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 23, 2011, 10:21:22 AM
Indeed, I too learned of the Rockwell-Rothbard nexus and its ugly concepts thanks to GM.

Returning to the subject at hand, I emailed Mitch Vilos, the author of the "Self-Defense Law in the 50 States" book which we carry in our catalog (also, see the relevant thread on the Martial Arts forum) the URL of this thread.  Given his unusually extensive research in this area, I was curious for his input, which he was kind enough to give:

Here it is:

You notice that we did not address this as part of our template for each
state because we felt it was not something that most people would ever have
to consider or anticipate.  But, that said, we did come across states that
addressed the issue and as I recall, Indiana was not the only state that had
statutes indicating that citizens are not justified in resisting an unlawful
arrest or entry. 

With the disclaimer that I haven't researched it extensively (for reasons
given above), my guess is that this is a huge "thumbs down" factor in any
case.  If you resist and bad things happen to a police officer, it's going
to result in arrest, prosecution and possible conviction just because there
tends to be a belief by most potential jurors that policemen can do no wrong
(with some inner city exceptions, of course).  Remember, Texas has a strong
home defense statute.  But one of the thumbs down factors in the home is if
the intruder is a child.  Reference the Texas thumbs down case (Gonzales as
I recall) where the Texas trailer owner shot and killed one of several young
teens in his trailer to steal candy.  He was arrested, tried and finally
acquitted, but nevertheless had to endure a life-changing experience.  I
suspect that is going to be the way it will be for using or threatening
deadly force against a LEO in most cases. Same with spousal shootings
(Chapter 13).  Unless the battered wife gets out of the home, if she shoots
her husband in her own home, she will be arrested and prosecuted.  She is
seldom acquitted.   

A horrible outgrowth of this issue is going to be home invasions where the
invaders pose as cops.  The more this happens, the more homeowners will
shoot to kill no matter that whoever enters is screaming, "police, get
down!!! Hands where we can see them!!!!!"  One clue to a real cop entry
might be the "flash-bang."  I suspect we'll see more severe penalties for
impersonating LEOs during home invasions for this very reason.  It makes the
entry more and more dangerous for the real LEOs.  Unfortunately Indiana's
removal of right to resist unlawful police entry gives a signal to home
invaders that impersonating SWAT no knock entries will be the key to

One corollary.  The more home invaders impersonate officers, the less likely
a defending citizen will be convicted for using force against unlawful
entries where there is a "reasonable man" standard for self-defense. But
that won't keep citizens from being arrested and prosecuted for using force
against officers even in the event of an unlawful entry. 

Hope this gives some helpful insight into the issue.  Mitch

24625  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 23, 2011, 08:19:54 AM
As I understand the argument by some lucid Isrealis, it is that holding on to Arab populated territory has considerable risks of its own.
24626  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Peru, elections on: May 23, 2011, 08:18:12 AM
Peruvian national-socialist Ollanta Humala and his center-right populist
rival Keiko Fujimori have finally agreed to a televised debate ahead of the
June 5 presidential runoff election. Perhaps the May 29 event will reveal
how genuinely committed each candidate is to preserving, refining and
strengthening the fragile democratic capitalism that has been moving the
country out of poverty for the past decade. This is, after all, the crucial
question for Peruvian voters.

Liberalization has been good for Peru. Its gross-domestic-product growth
averaged about 6.5% annually from 2002-2010. Poverty is half what it was 20
years ago. The government has opened markets, increased property-rights
protection, improved transparency in the state's fiscal accounts, and
restrained spending.

This success has helped sustain the case for Latin American freedom at a
time when Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and the Colombian terrorist group FARC are
using money, weapons and ideological outreach to try to overthrow democracy
and outlaw private property across the continent. Revolutionary ideals have
met with some success among the region's most vulnerable populations. Mr.
Chávez's Bolivarian movement was instrumental in bringing the antidemocratic
Evo Morales to power in Bolivia. Internal FARC documents indicate the
guerrillas helped finance the presidential campaign of Ecuadoran caudillo
Rafael Correa. In all three countries civil liberties, including free speech
and due process, have been dramatically abridged.

View Full Image

Peruvian presidential candidates Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala

Peru has mostly kept these destructive forces at bay. But the risk of a
revolutionary uprising, particularly in the southern sierra, remains real.
Discontent simmers in Peru's significant indigenous communities, where
people are less likely to be beneficiaries of economic modernization, and
where state inefficiency and corruption translate into abysmal public
services. Centuries of racial tension also persist in these areas, and the
U.S. war on drugs in the face of steady American demand has further
alienated the population.

This is the target market of Mr. Chávez, and it is also the stronghold for
Mr. Humala's national-socialist Gana Peru party.

A recent special-client report, "The Possibility of an Insurrection in the
Southern Andes" by the Peruvian security-consulting firm Peace Keeping
Solutions (PKS), lists 14 "acts of insurrection" since 2004, including one
led by Mr. Humala's brother Antauro on Jan. 1, 2005, that was supported at
the time by the candidate. The report points out that while Mr. Chávez's
political structures have played a role in fomenting this unrest, chavismo
"doesn't explain the existence of leftist and nationalist ideas among 40% or
more of the Peruvian population." That, PKS maintains, is a result of
ideological forces within national universities, professional organizations,
the Peruvian military and some political parties.

Chavismo has a limited capacity to "organize insurrection" in Peru, PKS
says. But that capacity is strengthened by the state's failure to counteract
radicalism. The army is "indifferent, bordering on complicity," the National
Intelligence Agency is "inefficient," police administration is deficient,
and police intelligence is starved for resources. Meanwhile, there has been
"a permissive attitude" in the prime minister's office and at times
cooperation with militant activists from regional authorities.

Mr. Humala's history is tied up in all this. He is an ex-army officer who
has built his political career by tapping into the resentment of the
disenfranchised with demagogic speeches against liberal economics and
threats of violence against the establishment. Mr. Humala even attempted his
own military coup in 2000, and there are credible allegations that he took
money from Mr. Chávez in his 2006 presidential bid.

Last week he tried to distance himself from this past by publicly swearing
on a Bible to refrain from dismantling the country's democratic institutions
if elected. His critics howled that it was pure theater and no more
believable than the recent rewrite of his policy agenda. The old one, dated
December 2010, was a 198-page anti-market, national-socialist rant. The new
one is eight pages of promises to "combat corruption," "reestablish public
ethics," and lay down the rule of law. It is as if Mr. Humala was knocked
off his horse on the road from Puno.

Either that or he has agreed to an image makeover so he can get elected. The
latter seems more likely. Nevertheless, he is being helped by a few Peruvian
elites who appear less enamored of him than they are obsessed with hatred
for Keiko Fujimori's father, former president Alberto Fujimori. Her defeat,
it seems, would be their long-sought revenge for his authoritarian style.
How else to explain so-called free-market types backing a national-socialist
who six months ago was pledging to eviscerate the liberal economic model?

Ms. Fujimori has a heavy responsibility to defend the measures that have
improved Peru's living standards and to explain how she would deepen
reforms. A lot is riding on how well she does in the debate. If the only
motivated voters come election day are those with scores to settle against
her father, the country is in deep trouble.
24627  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: US draws a line in the silicon on: May 23, 2011, 08:09:09 AM
In the days immediately after 9/11, the U.S. sent tanks to surround the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and protect it from potential threats. In its basement is the largest depository of gold in the world, worth some $300 billion, almost all owned by foreign governments. The Fed's gold has only ever been stolen in the movies.

We know all about defending real-world treasure, but we are only beginning to understand threats to the 1s and 0s of the digital era. Vastly more capital and valuable information now flow digitally than through the real world, but Internet security is an afterthought

This month the White House issued a pair of reports on the problem, both years in the making. One includes proposals for new domestic rules to protect infrastructure and to give companies immunity for sharing information about data breaches with local and federal authorities.

The other report, "U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace," is a warning shot directed at rogue countries and cyber terrorists. Released at an event with four cabinet secretaries present, the study defines the benefits of the Web as "prosperity, security and openness in a networked world." It warns countries that cut off their own citizens from the Web or use cyber weaponry against the U.S. or its allies. The goal is to make the Web secure "without crippling innovation, suppressing freedom of expression or association, or impeding global interoperability."

The report says that "hostile acts in cyberspace" are as much a threat as physical acts. "We reserve the right to use all necessary means," including military, to "defend our nation, our allies, our partners and our interests." It adds, "Certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners."

This tough language would have been more forceful if the usual suspects, including China and Russia, had appeared by name somewhere in the 30-page document. It would also be helpful for the U.S. to disclose cyber attacks by the country of origin. But at least the White House pledges to "ensure that the risks associated with attacking or exploiting our networks vastly outweigh the potential benefits." The U.S. now spends some $16 billion a year for classified and unclassified work on cyber security, and this expense will grow.

There's a lot of catching up to do. There are constant cyber attacks against the Pentagon and other federal agencies, as well as against banks, electrical grids, dams and nuclear facilities. Over the past year, the U.S. failed to stop Chinese hackers from penetrating the Gmail accounts of American human rights activists. It also failed to prevent efforts to access Nasdaq's computers and a break-in at RSA, the cyber security company that provides SecurID access to private networks.

It's not surprising that our digital networks are vulnerable—they were planned to be. The Internet was created in the 1970s to solve the Pentagon problem of how to keep communications lines open during all-out war. The Darpanet-inspired Web moves packets of data around in an open, interconnected, decentralized and mostly unencrypted way. This is resilient, but also highly subject to infiltration.

There's cyber crime, such as the hacking of Sony PlayStations that revealed some 100 million accounts, including credit cards. Sony CEO Howard Stringer last week admitted he can't ensure the security of the videogame network, saying: "It's not a brave new world; it's a bad new world." There's also cyber war, which, at least so far, we seem to be winning. Israel apparently used the Stuxnet computer worm last year to undermine Iranian nuclear facilities, and in 2007 Israel may have activated a kill switch in Syrian air defenses before bombing Syria's nuclear facility.

The biggest unknown is cyber terrorism. The report doesn't say how many cyber attacks are by foreign governments as opposed to by terror groups, a dangerous known unknown.

The Washington response is the usual: too many agencies, more than a dozen, each claiming some cyber responsibilities. The result is that no one agency is being held accountable. There are proposals now to add the Securities and Exchange Commission to the bureaucracy by asking corporate lawyers to assess the materiality of data breaches by publicly traded companies.

A better approach includes proposals in "Cyber War," co-authored last year by former White House aide Richard Clarke. These include the U.S. maintaining its own "white hat" hackers tasked with trying to break into the grid. Another idea is to create a private government network for sensitive purposes accessible only by authorized officials.

Protecting the Web will never be as straightforward as dispatching tanks to protect gold bars. But it's progress for the U.S. to draw a line in the silicon warning enemies that digital attacks may be result in real-world responses.

24628  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Fed, Monetary Policy, Inflation, US Dollar, & Gold/Silver on: May 23, 2011, 08:02:18 AM
Good question. 

Coincidentally, Scott Grannis just responded to a similar question from me as follows:

Marc, of course it's impossible to rule out a catastrophic sequence of events. If everything goes the wrong way we will be in deep sh*t. But I would note that the market does not sit still when defaults loom. As I noted in a post about commercial real estate backed securities not too long ago, a year ago the market expected gigantic defaults. Actual defaults have been much lower than expected and feared, and the prices of those securities have soared in the past year. The market has already priced in a significant restructuring (a nice word for default) of Greek debt, with 2-yr Greek govt bonds now trading at a yield of 25%. The unknowns are not whether Greece will default, they are a) when will the default occur and b) how big will it be? If the actual default is equal to or less than the market expects already, then that will be good news.

I would further note that Euro swap spreads are only mildly elevated. If the european bond market suspected that a Greek default would precipitate and end-of-the-world scenario, I can assure you that swap spreads would be trading at multiples of their current level. Swap spreads are a measure of the likelihood that big banks will be unable to honor their obligations. 2-yr euro swaps are only 50 bps or so, with 25-30 being normal. The market is telling you that a Greek default is not going to be a big deal, believe it or not.

All of the things you worry about have been front and center for the markets for over one year now. I think it's reasonable to assume that the market, in its wisdom, has by now fully analyzed the risks and has priced them in.

I've responded to this with some probing questions about the validity of the efficient market hypothesis, which seems to inform his answer, and now await his response.
24629  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Misunderstood? on: May 23, 2011, 07:58:24 AM
Several key points not addressed by this piece, but , , ,

The reaction to President Barack Obama's speech on Thursday has largely focused on one line: "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." News outlets from across the political spectrum ran headlines highlighting Mr. Obama's demand that Israel return to the "1967 borders," referring to Israel's boundaries before it took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the 1967 Six Day War.

Meantime, GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty condemned "President Obama's insistence on a return to the 1967 borders," calling it "a mistaken and very dangerous demand." Rep. Alan West (R., Fla.) described the position as "the beginning of the end as we know it for the Jewish state." The Republican Jewish Coalition deemed a return to such borders "unacceptable."

These individuals are absolutely correct that a return to the 1967 lines would be an unacceptable proposition for Israel. But Mr. Obama never said Israel should return to the 1967 lines. He said the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps should be the basis for negotiations. As Mr. Obama said yesterday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, "it means that the parties themselves—Israelis and Palestinans—will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967." With this flexibility, Israel could incorporate, in internationally recognized borders, the vast majority of some 500,000 Israelis currently living beyond the 1967 lines. In effect, Mr. Obama met the Israeli demand that a future border reflect Israeli demographic and security concerns.

The concept of land swaps has served as the basis for every serious attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the past decade. For every piece of land beyond the 1967 lines that Israel wants to annex, it would give a piece of land to the Palestinians from within Israel proper.

President George W. Bush's 2004 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now insisting that Mr. Obama reaffirm, is based on this premise. Mr. Obama's Thursday speech formalizes into official U.S. policy the working assumption of every U.S. president and secretary of state since the 2000 Camp David negotiations, as well as former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier.

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Associated Press
Several riflemen and a machine gunner of the United Arab Republic Army are seen manning a trench somewhere in the Gaza Strip, along the border to Israel, in 1967.
.Since a large proportion of the Israeli settlers live in areas adjacent to and contiguous with the 1967 lines, there are multiple border scenarios that would allow Israel to annex the vast majority of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines. The president's formulation encompasses solutions ranging from the Geneva Initiative (which brings into Israel 72% of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines) to maps by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (which bring into Israel up to 80% of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines).

There is a finite amount of land that would be reasonable for Israel to swap in exchange for this post-1967 territory. This land should be unpopulated, away from vital Israeli infrastructure, and should not interrupt Israel's geographic contiguity or the living patterns of Israelis. It also shouldn't be near central Israel's "narrow waist," the precariously thin strip of coastal plain—some nine miles wide—between the 1967 lines and the Mediterranean Sea. Fortunately, there is enough land within Israel proper that fits these conditions that would allow the Jewish state to include the vast majority of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines, as well as to address Israeli security concerns.

By insisting that the 1967 lines be modified, Mr. Obama showed his paramount concern for Israel's security. "Every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself—by itself—against any threat," Mr. Obama said. Furthermore, he went beyond Mr. Bush's 2004 letter to Mr. Sharon by demanding a non-militarized Palestinian state, and conditioning Israeli withdrawal from any post-1967 territory on the demonstrated effectiveness of security arrangements.

He also shared Israel's fears about Hamas's participation in the Palestinian government, legitimizing Israel's reluctance to "negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize [Israel's] right to exist." And by insisting that Israel be recognized as "a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people"—meeting another Netanyahu demand—Mr. Obama effectively renounced any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Based on the simplistic media coverage, it's easy to miss the distinction between "return to the 1967 lines" and the president's actual formulation of "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." The truth is that the president's vision ensures that Israel can remain a Jewish and democratic state, include within internationally recognized borders the vast majority of Israelis currently living beyond the 1967 lines, and keep its citizens safe.

Mr. Wexler, a former democratic member of Congress, is president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Mr. Krieger is senior vice president of the center.

24630  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Mundell says on: May 23, 2011, 07:47:50 AM
Marc:  I'm not sure I really follow his logic here 100%, but Mundell is deep and IMHO his thoughts deserve considerable contemplation. 

Conservative economists have been raising alarms for months about the Federal Reserve's second quantitative-easing program, QE2. They argue it has lowered the dollar's value, leading to higher oil and commodity prices—a precursor to broader, more damaging inflation.

Yet the man many of them regard as their monetary guru—supply-side economics pioneer and Nobel Laureate Robert Mundell—says dollar weakness is not his main concern. Instead, he fears a return to recession later this year when QE2 ends and the dollar begins its inevitable rise. Deflation, not inflation, should be the greater concern. Avoiding the recession is simplicity itself: Just have the U.S. Treasury fix the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro.

Mr. Mundell's surprising statement came at a March 22 conference in New York sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, The Wall Street Journal and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. His economic predictions carry great weight because, unlike most economists of his generation, he is often right. His analysis of international economics has revolutionized the field, making him the euro's intellectual father and a primary adviser to China's economic policy makers.

Nevertheless, with gold around $1,500 and oil above $100 a barrel, supply-siders are scratching their heads: How can he possibly see deflation ahead? How can dollar weakness not be the problem?

The key to Mr. Mundell's view is that exchange rates transmit inflation or deflation into economies by raising or lowering prices for imported items and commodities. For example, when the dollar declines significantly against the world's second-leading currency, the euro, commodity prices rise. This creates U.S. inflationary pressure. Conversely, when the dollar appreciates significantly against the euro, commodity prices fall, which leads to deflationary pressure.

.From 2001-07, he argues, the dollar underwent a long, steady decline against the euro, tacitly encouraged by U.S. monetary authorities. In response to the dollar's decline, investors diverted capital into inflation hedges, notably real estate, leading to the subprime bubble. By mid-2007, the real-estate bubble had burst. In response, the Fed reduced short-term interest rates rapidly, which lowered the dollar further. The subprime crisis was severe, but with looser money, the economy appeared to stabilize in the second quarter of 2008.

Then, in summer 2008, the Fed committed what Mr. Mundell calls one of the worst mistakes in its history: In the middle of the subprime crunch—exacerbated by mark-to-market accounting rules that forced financial companies to cover short-term losses—the central bank paused in lowering the federal funds rate. In response, the dollar soared 30% against the euro in a matter of weeks. Dollar scarcity broke the economy's back, causing a serious economic contraction and crippling financial crisis.

In March 2009, the Fed woke up and enacted QE1, lowering the dollar against the euro, and signs of recovery soon appeared. But in November 2009, QE1 ended and the dollar soared against the euro once again, pushing the U.S. economy back toward recession. Last summer, the Fed initiated QE2, which lowered the value of the dollar, allowing a second leg of the recovery to take hold.

Nevertheless, Mr. Mundell views QE2 as the wrong solution for the problem. Instead, the U.S. and Europe simply should coordinate exchange-rate policies to maintain an upper and lower limit on the euro price, say between $1.30 and $1.40. Over time, the band would be narrowed to a given rate. Further quantitative easing would be off the table.

With a fixed exchange rate, prices could move free from the scourge of sudden deflation and inflation, allowing investment horizons and planning timelines to expand along with production levels on both sides of the Atlantic. To supercharge the U.S. recovery, he also recommends permanently extending the Bush tax rates and lowering the corporate income tax rate to 15% from 35%.

Above all, he made it clear that the volatile exchange rate is the responsibility of the U.S. Treasury, not the central bank. Without a breakthrough on exchange rates, he predicted another dollar appreciation following QE2, resulting in a return to recession and a worsening of the U.S. debt crisis. This would likely lead to a third round of quantitative easing, continuing the dysfunctional cycle.

Criticize the Fed all you like, Mr. Mundell says, but the key to recovery is to stabilize the dollar at a healthy level relative to the euro. Given his stellar track record, it's worth asking: Is anyone in Washington listening?

Mr. Rushton edits The Supply Side blog.

24631  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Syria on: May 23, 2011, 07:42:19 AM

One mystery of American foreign policy, in Administrations of either party, is the eternal hope that the Assad family dynasty in Syria will one day experience an epiphany and become a reforming, pro-Western government.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Damascus more than 20 times in the 1990s in search of a concession to peace that never came from Hafez Assad. President George W. Bush refused to implement the stiffest sanctions on Syria legislated by Congress and sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to beseech current President Bashar Assad to stop being a highway for jihadists into Iraq. To no avail.

President Obama also bought into the illusion, sending emissaries to turn Mr. Assad away from Iran, stop serving as a conduit for heavy weapons into Lebanon, and other impossible dreams. Even after the regime's crackdown on political opponents and the murder of hundreds, Mr. Obama held out hope in his Mideast speech last week that Mr. Assad will come around: "The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way."

Mr. Assad long ago made his choice, and America's choice should be full-throated support for his democratic opponents.
24632  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Voter ID on: May 23, 2011, 07:40:32 AM
On Thursday, the Wisconsin legislature sent a bill requiring photographic identification for voting to Gov. Scott Walker's desk. This follows the enactment of an even stricter law in Kansas a few weeks ago.

Drafted by my office, Kansas's Secure and Fair Elections Act combined three elements: (1) a requirement that voters present photo IDs when they vote in person; (2) a requirement that absentee voters present a full driver's license number and have their signatures verified; and (3) a proof of citizenship requirement for all newly registered voters. Although a few states, including Georgia, Indiana and Arizona, have enacted one or two of these reforms, Kansas is the only state to enact all three.

Other states are moving in the same direction. The Texas legislature sent a photo-ID bill to Gov. Rick Perry's desk last Monday. And next year Missouri voters will get a chance to vote on a photo-ID requirement.

Immediately after the Kansas law was signed in April, critics cried foul. They argued that voter fraud isn't significant enough to warrant such steps, that large numbers of Americans don't possess photo IDs, and that such laws will depress turnout among the poor and among minorities. They are wrong on all three counts.

Voter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections. To offer a few examples, a 2010 state representative race in Kansas City, Mo. was stolen when one candidate, J.J. Rizzo, allegedly received more than 50 votes illegally cast by citizens of Somalia. The Somalis, who didn't speak English, were coached to vote for Mr. Rizzo by an interpreter at the polling place. The margin of victory? One vote.

In Kansas, 221 incidents of voter fraud were reported between 1997 and 2010. The crimes included absentee-ballot fraud, impersonation of another voter, and a host of other violations. Because voter fraud is extremely difficult to detect and is usually not reported, the cases that we know about likely represent a small fraction of the total.

My office already has found 67 aliens illegally registered to vote in Kansas, but when the total number is calculated, it will likely be in the hundreds. In Colorado, the Secretary of State's office recently identified 11,805 aliens illegally registered to vote in the state, of whom 4,947 cast a ballot in the 2010 elections.

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 .Evidence of voter fraud is present in all 50 states, and public confidence in the integrity of elections is at an all-time low. In the Cooperative Congressional Election Study of 2008, 62% of American voters thought that voter fraud was very common or somewhat common.

Fear that elections are being stolen erodes the legitimacy of our government. That's why the vast majority of Americans support laws like Kansas's Secure and Fair Elections Act. A 2010 Rasmussen poll showed that 82% of Americans support photo ID laws. Similarly, a 2011 Survey USA poll of Kansas voters showed that 83% support proof-of-citizenship requirements for voter registration.

Critics of these laws nevertheless make outrageous arguments against them. New York University's Brennan Center, which stridently opposes all photo ID laws, claims that a whopping 11% of the American voting-age public—that means tens of millions of people—don't possess a photo ID. It bases this number on a survey it conducted in 2006.

However, we don't have to rely on implausible estimates when the actual numbers are readily available. In Kansas, my office obtained the statistics, and they tell a very different story. According to the 2010 census, there are 2,126,179 Kansans of voting age. According to the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles, 2,156,446 Kansans already have a driver's license or a non-driver ID. In other words, there are more photo IDs in circulation than there are eligible voters. The notion that there are hundreds of thousands of voters in Kansas (or any other state) without photo IDs is a myth.

Carrying a photo ID has become a part of American life. You can't cash a check, board a plane, or even buy full-strength Sudafed over the counter without one. That's why it's not unreasonable to require one in order to protect our most important privilege of citizenship. But just in case any person lacks a photo ID, Kansas's law provides a free state ID to anyone who needs one. Other states have included similar provisions in their photo-ID laws.

Some opponents of election security laws also declare that they are part of a sinister plot to depress voter registration and turnout, especially among minority voters who are more likely to vote Democrat. Here too the facts do not support the claim. Georgia's photo ID requirement was in place for both the 2008 and 2010 elections, when turnout among minority voters was higher than average. Likewise, Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement for registration has not impeded minority voters from registering.

If election security laws really were part of a Republican scheme to suppress Democratic votes, one would expect Democrats to fight such laws, tooth and nail. That didn't happen in Kansas, where two-thirds of the Democrats in the House and three-fourths of the Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the Secure and Fair Elections Act. They did so because they realize that fair elections protect every voter and every party equally.

No candidate, Republican or Democrat, wants to emerge from an election with voters suspecting that he didn't really win. Election security measures like the one in my state give confidence to voters and candidates alike that the system is fair.

Mr. Kobach is the Kansas secretary of state. He is also the co-author of Arizona's SB 1070 illegal immigration law and former Counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

24633  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Time to roll back America's borders , , , on: May 23, 2011, 07:25:09 AM
Mike Adams   Time for America to Roll Back Its Borders
Email Mike Adams | Columnist's Archive  Share   Buzz 0diggsdigg
Sign-Up  Dear President Obama:

I am writing today with a somewhat unusual request. Actually, it is a series of requests. First and foremost, I will be asking that you return America to its August 20th, 1959 borders so that Hawaii is no longer a state and you are no longer a citizen.
24634  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Reps and Mediscare on: May 23, 2011, 07:19:09 AM
Underneath Newt Gingrich's rhetoric last week about Paul Ryan's "right-wing social engineering" was a common anxiety about the politics of Medicare: Is this the right moment for entitlement reform? Did the GOP endanger its House majority by giving Democrats a campaign strategy for 2012, and is Mr. Ryan's proposal really too "radical" after all?

Entitlement reform is the hardest challenge in politics, which is one reason we oppose all new entitlements. But Republicans now tempted to retreat at the first smell of cordite need to understand that they are taking even larger political and policy risks than Mr. Ryan is. The Medicare status quo of even two years ago, much less 20, is irretrievably gone, and anyone pining for its return is merely making President Obama's vision of government-run health care inevitable.

This reality is underscored in the just-released annual report of the Medicare trustees. Democrats sold ObamaCare as a way to slow the growth of costs, but the report shows that the program's finances have deteriorated even since last year. Medicare is carrying $24.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities through 2085, and chief actuary Richard Foster says even that does "not represent a reasonable expectation for actual program operations."

As a matter of simple arithmetic, this problem can't be solved with tax increases, because health costs and thus government spending on health care are rising so much faster than the economy as a whole is growing. The U.S. capacity to pay for Medicare on present trend diminishes every year.

With ObamaCare, Democrats offered their vision for Medicare cost control: A 15-member unelected board with vast powers to set prices for doctors, hospitals and other providers, and to regulate how they should be organized and what government will pay for. The liberal conceit is that their technocratic wizardry will make health care more rational, but this is faith-based government. The liberal fallback is political rationing of care, which is why Mr. Obama made it so difficult for Congress to change that 15-member board's decisions.

Republicans have staunchly opposed this agenda, but until Mr. Ryan's budget they hadn't answered the White House with a competing idea. Mr. Ryan's proposal is the most important free-market reform in years because it expands the policy options for rethinking the entitlement state.

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Associated Press
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan
."Premium support" is not a new idea, but it has long been dormant, and Republicans will need to continue their effort to reintroduce it to voters. Seniors would receive a fixed-dollar subsidy from the government to choose from private insurance options, with higher payments for the poor and sick. Consumers would make cost-conscious choices at the margin, and insurers and providers would compete on health-care value and quality.

Mr. Gingrich is right that reforms of this magnitude need to be grounded in a social consensus built over time. But that means the task for Republicans is to educate the public about market principles and more consumer choice. Mr. Ryan's model is flexible enough to adjust the level and rate of growth of the premium-support subsidy. The Ryan Medicare plan was never going to be adopted this year, but it is the first credible, detailed alternative to Mr. Obama's approach.

Some GOP critics, like Mr. Gingrich, claim that it would be politically safer to introduce premium support but give seniors a chance to keep traditional Medicare. The problem is that this leaves all of Medicare's distortions in place and does little to stop its explosive costs. As long as the major incentive in health care is Medicare's fee formula, very little will improve.

Republicans have been passing such reform quarter-measures for 20 years, with little to show for it. Medicare Advantage already offers private insurance options to one in four seniors, but this camel's nose hasn't led to a reconstruction of the larger Medicare tent. The same is true of health savings accounts in the 2003 prescription drug benefit, or the current Republican talking point that medical malpractice reform will somehow solve every problem in health care.

All of these are important but don't reach Medicare's core problem of government-controlled prices and regulation, and in any case Democrats always gut the reforms once they return to power. In retrospect, this play-it-safe strategy paved the way for ObamaCare.

The political forces unleashed by ObamaCare will grow unimpeded if Republicans now retreat from offering an alternative. Once the White House's efforts to limit costs by fiat fail—as they inevitably will—liberals will turn to even harsher controls. This future is already emerging in post-Mitt Romney Massachusetts, and also in Vermont, which wants to move to single government payer.

We wrote earlier this year that Republicans would get no objection from us if they postponed Medicare reform until they had a GOP President, but the House went ahead anyway. Far be it from us to criticize politicians for having too much courage. But having committed themselves, Republicans will appear (and will be) feckless if they abandon reform only weeks after voting for it. Trying to change entitlements can be agony, but it is fatal to try and fail. The voters will conclude the critics were right.

Mr. Gingrich has done great harm to his party and the cause of reform with his reckless criticism of Mr. Ryan, forfeiting any serious claim to be the GOP nominee. But equally as culpable are the self-styled conservative pundits who derided Republicans for dropping the reform mantle during the Bush years but now tremble that Mr. Ryan has gone too far.

The reality is that Medicare "as we know it" will change because it must. The issue is how it will change, and, leaving aside this or that detail, the only alternatives are Mr. Ryan's proposal to introduce market competition or Mr. Obama's plan for ever-tightening government controls on prices and care. Republicans who think they can dodge this choice are only guaranteeing that Mr. Obama will prevail.

24635  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: How it was done on: May 23, 2011, 07:11:07 AM
In January, the chief of the military's elite special-operations troops accepted an unusual invitation to visit Central Intelligence Agency headquarters. There, Adm. William McRaven was shown, for the first time, photos and maps indicating the whereabouts of the world's most wanted man.

Adm. McRaven—one of the first military officers to be brought into the CIA's latest hunt for Osama bin Laden—offered a blunt assessment: Taking bin Laden's compound would be reasonably straightforward. Dealing with Pakistan would be hard.

A Wall Street Journal reconstruction of the mission planning shows that this meeting helped define a profound new strategy in the U.S. war on terror, namely the use of secret, unilateral missions powered by a militarized spy operation. The strategy reflects newfound trust between two traditionally wary groups: America's spies, and its troops.

The bin Laden strike was the strategy's "proof of concept," says one U.S. official.

Last month's military strike deep inside Pakistan is already being used by U.S. officials as a negotiating tool—akin to, don't make us do that again—with countries including Pakistan thought to harbor other terrorists. Yemen and Somalia are also potential venues, officials said, if local-government cooperation were found to be lacking.

The new U.S. strategy has roots in a close relationship between CIA Director Leon Panetta and Adm. McRaven. In 2009, the two inked a secret agreement setting out rules for joint missions that provided a blueprint for dozens of operations in the Afghan war before the bin Laden raid.

The Long, Winding Path to Closer CIA and Military Cooperation
.The reshuffling of the Obama administration's national-security team will likely reinforce the relationship between the nation's spies and its top military teams. Mr. Panetta is expected to take over the Pentagon this summer armed with a strong understanding of its special-operations capabilities. Gen. David Petraeus, who is expected to become CIA director, made extensive use of special operations while running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This account of the planning of the raid on bin Laden's home in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is based on interviews with more than a dozen administration, intelligence, military and congressional officials.

Officials and experts say the new U.S. approach will likely be used only sparingly. "This is the kind of thing that, in the past, people who watched movies thought was possible, but no one in the government thought was possible," one official said.

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Associated Press
CIA contractor Raymond Davis under arrest in Pakistan in January.
.Growing Closer: Spy, Military Ties Aided bin Laden Raid
2004 CIA learns the nom de guerre
of one of Osama bin Laden's trusted couriers.

2007 CIA learns the courier's real name.

2009 CIA and special-forces commanders ink a secret deal to conduct joint operations.

May 2009 CIA briefs President Obama on bin Laden.

Aug. 2010 Courier is tailed by the CIA to his home in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Sept. 2010 Mr. Panetta briefs Mr. Obama on the Abbottabad compound.

Dec. 2010 CIA station chief's cover is blown in Pakistan; U.S. blames Pakistan's intelligence agency

Dec. 2010 Mr. Panetta updates Mr. Obama, who calls for attack planning to begin.

Jan. 2011 CIA briefs Adm. William McRaven, commander of military special-operations troops.

Jan. 27 CIA contractor Raymond
Davis is charged in the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis.

Feb. 25 Select group of CIA and military officials meet to discuss intelligence and uncertainty regarding bin Laden's presence.

March 14 Obama decides on urgent unilateral action.

March 16 Mr. Davis is freed in Pakistan, easing the path to attack bin Laden's compound.

April 11 Mr. Panetta meets with Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

April 19 Mr. Obama gives provisional go-ahead for helicopter raid.

April 28 National Security Council meets to present final plans for helicopter raid to the president.

April 29 Mr. Obama authorizes raid on the Abbottabad compound.

April 30 Mr. Obama calls Adm. McRaven for final status check.

May 2 An early-morning raid kills bin Laden deep in Pakistani territory.

May 2 Adm. Mullen calls Pakistan
Army Chief Gen. Kayani to tell him of the raid.

May 7 Pakistan appears to out the CIA's station chief in Islamabad.

May 9 Pakistani Prime Minister
Yousuf Raza Gilani gives a speech saying Pakistan didn't harbor bin Laden and criticizing the U.S. strike on its territory.

May 16 Sen. John Kerry travels to Pakistan to smooth tensions.
.On Sunday, President Barack Obama said in an interview with the BBC that he would be willing to authorize similar strikes in the future. "Our job is to secure the United States," he said.

Salman Bashir, Pakistan's foreign secretary, said earlier this month in an interview that a repeat of the bin Laden raid could lead to "terrible consequences." Other officials have said Pakistan would curtail intelligence cooperation with the U.S. in the event of another such attack.

A more traditional approach would have been to simply bomb the bin Laden property using stealth aircraft, perhaps in cooperation with Pakistani troops. But from the outset, Mr. Obama decided to cut Pakistan out of the loop.

Top U.S. officials—in particular, Defense Secretary Robert Gates—worried how keeping Pakistan in the dark would affect relations with the country, a close but unstable ally. But mistrust of the Pakistani intelligence services drowned out that fear.

In the end, several hundred people in the U.S. government knew about the raid before it happened. But it didn't leak.

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Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Sen. John Kerry with Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik in May.
.U.S. officials took extraordinary measures to keep it quiet, often speaking in code to each other. One decided to refer to the operation as "the trip to Atlantic City" to avoid accidentally tipping off colleagues.

In August 2010, after 10 years of a largely fruitless hunt for the man who killed nearly 3,000 Americans, the CIA caught a break when it followed a courier believed to be working with bin Laden to a home in Abbottabad, about 40 miles from Pakistan's capital. After months of observation, the CIA eventually decided that one of the three families living there was most likely bin Laden's.

In December, Mr. Panetta laid out CIA's best intelligence case for Mr. Obama, which pointed to bin Laden's likely, but not certain, presence at the compound. The president asked Mr. Panetta to start devising a plan.

Mr. Panetta turned to Adm. McRaven. It was his visit to CIA headquarters in January, and his quick analysis of the pros and cons, that sealed the two men's partnership, officials say.

Their ties mark a significant historical shift. During the Cold War, there was little interaction between the Pentagon and CIA, as the military focused on planning for a land war with the Soviets and the spy community focused on analysis. That started changing in the 1990s, but only the past few years have the CIA and military begun working particularly closely.

Adm. McRaven assigned one senior special-operations officer—a Navy Captain from SEAL Team 6, one of the top special-forces units—to work on what was known as AC1, for Abbottabad Compound 1. The captain spent every day working with the CIA team in a remote, secure facility on the CIA's campus in Langley, Va.

On the evening of Feb. 25, several black Suburbans pulled up to the front of CIA's Langley headquarters. The meeting was planned after dusk, on a Friday, to reduce the chances anyone would notice. Around a large wooden table in the CIA director's windowless conference room, the Pentagon's chief counterterrorism adviser Michael Vickers, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. James Cartwright and senior CIA officials joined Adm. McRaven and Mr. Panetta. Over sandwiches and sodas, the CIA team walked through their intelligence assessment.

After the Raid in the Compound
While President Obama has decided not to release photographs of Osama bin Laden taken after the al Qaeda leader was shot to death by U.S. forces, other photos taken at the compound have been released by Reuters.

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.His Compound
Photos inside and out

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Anjum Naveed/Associated Press
U.S. forces found Osama bin Laden at this compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 40 miles outside Islamabad.
.America's Most Wanted
See a timeline about Osama bin Laden.

View Interactive
.More photos and interactive graphics
.In the middle of the conference table sat a scale model of the compound. Measuring four feet by four feet, it was built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency based on satellite photos. It was accurate down to every tree.

Analysts told the group they had high confidence that a "high-value" terrorist target was living there. They said there was "a strong probability" it was bin Laden.

The planners reviewed the options they had developed. The first was a bombing strike with a B-2 stealth bomber that would destroy the compound and any tunnels under it. The second was a helicopter raid with U.S. special operations, which immediately evoked visions of "Black Hawk Down," the disastrous Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in which a U.S. helicopter was shot down and 19 U.S. soldiers killed.

The third option was to offer the Pakistanis an opportunity to assist in the raid, perhaps by forming a cordon around the compound to ensure U.S. forces could carry out the operation without obstruction.

Kicking planning into higher gear, the president reviewed these options at a March 14 meeting of the National Security Council. Among his first decisions was to scotch the idea of gathering more intelligence to make sure they had found bin Laden. The potential gain was outweighed by the risk of being exposed.

Mr. Obama also rejected a joint Pakistani operation, officials say. There was no serious consideration of the prospect, said one administration official, given the desire for secrecy.

Weighing on the minds of several officials was the fate of a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, being held in a Lahore jail after having shot two Pakistanis in disputed circumstances. Mr. Panetta, pressing hard for his release, worried Mr. Davis might be killed if the U.S. couldn't spring him before the bin Laden raid.

The B-2 plan had many supporters, particularly among military brass. A bombing would provide certainty that the compound's residents would be killed, and it posed less risk to U.S. personnel. At the time, Mr. Gates, the defense secretary, was skeptical of the intelligence case that bin Laden was at the compound.

At the end of the meeting, officials believed Mr. Obama favored the bombing raid, too. Gen. Cartwright asked two Air Force officers to flesh out that proposal.

They immediately faced a challenge. CIA analysts couldn't tell if there was a tunnel network under the compound. Planners had to presume it existed, which meant the B-2 bombers would have to drop a large amount of ordinance. But a bombing raid of that magnitude would likely kill innocent neighbors in nearby homes.

Another other option would use less powerful ordinance, sparing the neighbors. But any tunnels would be spared, too.

Gen. Cartwright made no recommendations. But the team's PowerPoint presentation, created just after the meeting with the president, laid out plainly the disadvantages of the larger bombing run. It showed another house besides bin Laden's clearly in the blast radius and estimated that up to a dozen civilians could be killed. The ability to recover evidence of bin Laden's death was also minimal—meaning the U.S. wouldn't even be able to prove why they violated Pakistani airspace.

By the time the National Security Council gathered again March 29, the president had grown wary of the bombing-raid option. "He put that plan on ice," a U.S. official said.

Instead, Mr. Obama turned to Adm. McRaven to further develop the idea of a helicopter raid. Adm. McRaven assembled a team drawing from Red Squadron, one of four that make up SEAL Team 6. Red Squadron was coming home from Afghanistan and could be redirected with little notice inside the military.

The team had experience with cross-border operations from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and had language skills that would come in handy as well. The team performed two rehearsals at a location inside the U.S.

Planners ran through the what-ifs: What if bin Laden surrendered? (He likely would be held near Bagram Air Force base, a senior military official said.) What if U.S. forces were discovered by the Pakistanis in the middle of the raid? (A senior U.S. official would call Pakistan's chief military officer and try to talk his way out of it.)

The U.S. was pretty sure it could get in and out without alerting the Pakistanis. Officials say the choppers used in the raid were designed to be less visible to radar and, possibly, to make them quieter.

In addition, because the U.S. helped equip and train Pakistan's military, it had intimate knowledge of the country's capabilities—from the sensitivity of the radar systems deployed along the Afghan border to the level of alert for Pakistani forces in and around Islamabad and Abbottabad.

If Pakistan scrambled F-16s to investigate, the U.S. knew how long it would take the planes to reach the area, officials said. The U.S. supplies F-16s to Pakistan on the condition they are kept at a Pakistani military base with 24/7 U.S. security surveillance, according to diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

On April 11, Mr. Panetta had a high-stakes meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan were already chilly, partly due to the spat over Mr. Davis, the CIA contractor jailed in Lahore. But Mr. Davis had since been freed, and the high-profile event at Langley was intended to improve ties between the nations.

At the event, Gen. Pasha asked Mr. Panetta to be more forthcoming about what his agency was doing inside Pakistan. Gen. Pasha also voiced frustration that the CIA was operating in his country behind his back—not knowing, of course, of the planning for the bin Laden attack.

Mr. Pasha has said the meeting involved a shouting match; American officials say that didn't happen. Mr. Panetta promised to review Gen. Pasha's concerns, according to U.S. officials. His goal was to try to improve ties so the bin Laden takedown didn't occur when relations were at rock bottom.

When the National Security Council met again eight days later. Mr. Obama gave a provisional go-ahead for the helicopter raid. But he worried the plan for managing the Pakistanis was too flimsy.

The U.S. had little faith that, if U.S. forces were captured by the Pakistanis, they would be easily returned home. Given how difficult it had been to resolve the case of Mr. Davis—which took more than two months of heated negotiations—one U.S. official said: "How could we get them to uphold an incursion 128 miles into their airspace?"

Mr. Obama directed Adm. McRaven to develop a stronger U.S. escape plan. The team would be equipped to fight its way out and would have two helicopters on stand-by in case of an emergency.

On April 28, a few days before the attack on bin Laden's compound, Mr. Obama held a public event in the East Room of the White House to unveil his new national-security team. From there, Messrs. Obama and Panetta went to the Situation Room, where Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained the final plan to the National Security Council.

Only at that meeting did Mr. Gates come around to fully endorsing the operation, because of his skepticism of the intelligence indicating bin Laden was there.

Mr. Obama told his advisers he wanted to speak directly with Adm. McRaven before the raid was launched. The admiral was in Afghanistan preparing his strike team.

That call took place on Saturday afternoon, Washington time, over a secure phone line. Mr. Obama asked Adm. McRaven for an update on final preparations. Mr. Obama also asked the admiral if had learned anything since arriving in Afghanistan that caused him to alter his confidence in the mission.

Adm. McRaven told Mr. Obama the team was ready, and that his assessment remained unchanged.

24636  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Note the humor: This POTH report is filed from El Mirage , , , on: May 23, 2011, 06:52:49 AM

EL MIRAGE, Ariz. — The nation’s biggest banks and mortgage lenders have steadily amassed real estate empires, acquiring a glut of foreclosed homes that threatens to deepen the housing slump and create a further drag on the economic recovery.

All told, they own more than 872,000 homes as a result of the groundswell in foreclosures, almost twice as many as when the financial crisis began in 2007, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate data provider. In addition, they are in the process of foreclosing on an additional one million homes and are poised to take possession of several million more in the years ahead.
Five years after the housing market started teetering, economists now worry that the rise in lender-owned homes could create another vicious circle, in which the growing inventory of distressed property further depresses home values and leads to even more distressed sales. With the spring home-selling season under way, real estate prices have been declining across the country in recent months.

“It remains a heavy weight on the banking system,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. “Housing prices are falling, and they are going to fall some more.”

Over all, economists project that it would take about three years for lenders to sell their backlog of foreclosed homes. As a result, home values nationally could fall 5 percent by the end of 2011, according to Moody’s, and rise only modestly over the following year. Regions that were hardest hit by the housing collapse and recession could take even longer to recover — dealing yet another blow to a still-struggling economy.

Although sales have picked up a bit in the last few weeks, banks and other lenders remain overwhelmed by the wave of foreclosures. In Atlanta, lenders are repossessing eight homes for each distressed home they sell, according to March data from RealtyTrac. In Minneapolis, they are bringing in at least six foreclosed homes for each they sell, and in once-hot markets like Chicago and Miami, the ratio still hovers close to two to one.

Before the housing implosion, the inflow and outflow figures were typically one-to-one.

The reasons for the backlog include inadequate staffs and delays imposed by the lenders because of investigations into foreclosure practices. The pileup could lead to $40 billion in additional losses for banks and other lenders as they sell houses at steep discounts over the next two years, according to Trepp, a real estate research firm.

“These shops are under siege; it’s just a tsunami of stuff coming in,” said Taj Bindra, who oversaw Washington Mutual’s servicing unit from 2004 to 2006 and now advises financial institutions on risk management. “Lenders have a strong incentive to clear out inventory in a controlled and timely manner, but if you had problems on the front end of the foreclosure process, it should be no surprise you are having problems on the back end.”

A drive through the sprawling subdivisions outside Phoenix shows the ravages of the real estate collapse. Here in this working-class neighborhood of El Mirage, northwest of Phoenix, rows of small stucco homes sprouted up during the boom. Now block after block is pockmarked by properties with overgrown shrubs, weeds and foreclosure notices tacked to the doors. About 116 lender-owned homes are on the market or under contract in El Mirage, according to local real estate listings.

But that’s just a small fraction of what is to come. An additional 491 houses are either sitting in the lenders’ inventory or are in the foreclosure process. On average, homes in El Mirage sell for $65,300, down 75 percent from the height of the boom in July 2006, according to the Cromford Report, a Phoenix-area real estate data provider. Real estate agents and market analysts say those ultra-cheap prices have recently started attracting first-time buyers as well as investors looking for several properties at once.


Page 2 of 2)

Lenders have also been more willing to let distressed borrowers sidestep foreclosure by selling homes for a loss. That has accelerated the pace of sales in the area and even caused prices to slowly rise in the last two months, but realty agents worry about all the distressed homes that are coming down the pike.

“My biggest fear right now is that the supply has been artificially restricted,” said Jayson Meyerovitz, a local broker. “They can’t just sit there forever. If so many houses hit the market, what is going to happen then?”
The major lenders say they are not deliberately holding back any foreclosed homes. They say that a long sales process can stigmatize a property and ratchet up maintenance and other costs. But they also do not want to unload properties in a fire sale.

“If we are out there undercutting prices, we are contributing to the downward spiral in market values,” said Eric Will, who oversees distressed home sales for Freddie Mac. “We want to make sure we are helping stabilize communities.”

The biggest reason for the backlog is that it takes longer to sell foreclosed homes, currently an average of 176 days — and that’s after the 400 days it takes for lenders to foreclose. After drawing government scrutiny over improper foreclosures practices last fall, many big lenders have slowed their operations in order to check the paperwork, and in two dozen or so states they halted them for months.

Conscious of their image, many lenders have recently started telling real estate agents to be more lenient to renters who happen to live in a foreclosed home and give them extra time to move out before changing the locks.

“Wells Fargo has sent me back knocking on doors two or three times, offering to give renters money if they cooperate with us,” said Claude A. Worrell, a longtime real estate agent from Minneapolis who specializes in selling bank-owned property. “It’s a lot different than it used to be.”

Realty agents and buyers say the lenders are simply overwhelmed. Just as lenders were ill-prepared to handle the flood of foreclosures, they do not have the staff and infrastructure to manage and sell this much property.

Most of the major lenders outsourced almost every part of the process, be it sales or repairs. Some agents complain that lender-owned home listings are routinely out of date, that properties are overpriced by as much as 10 percent, and that lenders take days or longer to accept an offer.

The silver lining for home lenders, however, is that the number of new foreclosures and recent borrowers falling behind on their payments by three months or longer is shrinking.

“If they are able to manage through the next 12 to 18 months,” said Mr. Zandi, the Moody’s Analytics economist, “they will be in really good shape.”
24637  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 23, 2011, 06:42:14 AM
A momentary tangent:

"Just because someone is wrong about some things doesn't make him wrong about everything."

Certainly this is true, but I for one prefer to note it when there are notorious aspects to someone I quote.

End of tangent. 

Carry on.
24638  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sam Adams, 1775 on: May 23, 2011, 06:35:06 AM

"No people will tamely surrender their liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and virtue is preservd. On the contrary, when people are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their manners, they will sink under their own weight without the aid of foreign Invaders." --Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, 1775

24639  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 23, 2011, 06:07:55 AM
A bit of a tangent here, I just learned this about Gene Simmons:

Chaim Witz (later Gene Simmons) was born in Tirat Carmel, Haifa, Israel in 1949. The family emigrated to Jackson Heights, Queens in New York City when he was eight years old.[2] His mother Flóra Klein ( was born in Jánd, Hungary.[3]). Florence and her brother, Larry Klein, were the only members of the family to survive the Holocaust. His father, Feri Witz, also Hungarian-born remained in Israel. Simmons says the family was "dirt poor," scraping by on bread and milk.[4] In the United States, Simmons changed his name to Eugene Klein (later Gene Klein), adopting his mother's maiden name. He attended Yeshiva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as a child from 7 in the morning up to 9:30 at night. [5]

Political views

While a self-described social liberal,[12] Simmons was a supporter of the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration.[13] He supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, writing on his website: "I'm ashamed to be surrounded by people calling themselves liberal who are, in my opinion, spitting on the graves of brave American soldiers who gave their life to fight a war that wasn't a country they've never been to... simply to liberate the people there in".[14] In a follow-up, Simmons explained his position and wrote about his love and support for the United States: "I wasn't born here. But I have a love for this country and its people that knows no bounds. I will forever be grateful to America for going into World War II, when it had nothing to gain, in a country that was far away... and rescued my mother from the Nazi German concentration camps. She is alive and I am alive because of America. And, if you have a problem with America, you have a problem with me".[14]

During the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Lebanon, Simmons sent a televised message of support (in both English and Hebrew) to an Israeli soldier seriously wounded in fighting in Lebanon, calling him his "hero."[15]

In 2010, Simmons said he regretted voting for Barack Obama and criticized the 2009 health care reforms.[16]

During his visit to Israel in 2011, he stated that the artists refusing to perform in Israel for political reasons are "stupid," referring to artists who canceled planned concerts in Israel.[17] [18]

24640  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 22, 2011, 07:50:16 PM
24641  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Bin Laden dead on: May 22, 2011, 12:29:17 PM
If this piece is true, then note the implications for the assertions of enhanced interrogation yielding the leads that led to the OBL kill.
24642  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 22, 2011, 12:27:48 PM
"Morally, I think as does most of the world think Israel's refusal to even discuss the "right of return" to be wrong.  However, perhaps for their own survival, they have no choice.  That doesn't make it morally right. "

JDN, I am sorry, but this is gibberish.  It is precisely the right to survival makes it morally right!!!

"And therefore Israel is losing friends in Europe and elsewhere."

Oh horsefeathers!  Where is the outrage at Saudi Arabia (and and and )for not allowing any of the rights enjoyed by Israeli Arabs?

24643  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / ME Operational Codes on: May 22, 2011, 12:23:43 PM

Moving GM's post here from the Israel thread:

May 21, 2011
The Middle East Operational Codes: Five Keys to Understanding
 By David Bukay


Understanding the ME, as tumultuous, anarchist, and violent as it is, does not require complicated pundit analyses and convoluted explanations.  Rather, in light of last month's uprisings, simplicity is the key, with five variables serving as instrumental in understanding the ME operational code.

The first key to understanding is that the Middle Eastern state, with its political institutions being a Western import, is weak and ineffective compared to the indigenous Middle Eastern social institutions: the clan, the tribe, and the religious community.  The Arab states have emerged under European imperialistic rule, and their borders have been delineated without political, territorial, or functional logic.  All Arab states comprise violent, hostile tribes and rival religious communities that stick together only by coercion from an oppressive authoritarian regime.  In the absence of institutional legitimacy and participatory systems, order and stability are overturned by political decay and antagonistic politics.  This means that operationally, when there is a crisis and the authority of the patrimonial leader weakens, the tendency is to revert to the secure, well-established frameworks of the tribe, the clan, or the religious community, releasing ancient rivalries that lead to chaotic violence.

The second key to understanding is that Middle Eastern leaders are not secure in their offices.  Threatened by rivals from the political military elite and by Islamist movements (which are the only organized opposition groups), the leaders of authoritarian regimes cannot rule unless they are strong, violent, and patrimonial.  This also means that democracy, as a consensual system with developmental stages, cannot emerge or exist.  Therefore, when the authority of a ME regime disintegrates, the outcome is not democracy, but rather anarchy as the most likely replacement.

The third key to understanding, and perhaps the most important one, is the central role of the army, being the regime's principal power and political supporter.  One can safely adopt the rule: "You tell me what the attitude of the army is vis-à-vis the regime, and I will tell you the longevity and survivability of the regime in power."  This is exactly what is happening in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.  This is exactly what will determine the fate of other regimes.  Indeed, the Arab military in politics holds the highest importance in the ME.

The fourth key to understanding is that the inhabitants -- the masses -- have never been a sovereign electing people; historically, they have been without influence in the political realm and the decision-making processes.  In the Arab world, there is no social contract based on trust and cooperation, as the foundation of Arab life is suspicion of the other and hatred of the foreigner.  The only thing that binds the population together is fear of and intimidation by the authoritarian ruler.  That is why the role of the ruler is so crucially important; one can say that it is almost demanded of him to conduct a reign of terror and intimidation on the population.  Otherwise, chaos and anarchy prevail.  Thus, when the barrier of fear is broken, as is happening now, the authority of the regime disintegrates.  The central state system is weakened, and the political process turns to the street.

The fifth key to understanding is that the alternative to the current regimes in power are other leaders coming from the same political elite or Islamic groups coming from the opposition.  Both are patrimonial, oppressive, and undemocratic.  It must be clearly stated that aside from anarchy, one of the most likely alternatives to the ME regimes is not democracy, but Islamism.  The Islamic phenomenon is not defensive and passive; it is an aggressive onslaught against modernism and secularism led by urban, educated, secular middle-class groups.  Western permissiveness and materialism are the forces leading to these groups' return to Islam and motivating them to bring the Islamic religion back to a hegemony (al-Islam Huwa al-Hall al-Waheed).

Examining these keys through a macro-level analysis enables us to understand the ME operational codes.  Thomas Friedman has praised the Arab revolution and accused Israel of being detached from the new realities (NYT, February, 2, 8, and 14, 2011).  In his delusions, Friedman has envisioned a revolution of the Facebook generation that leads to democracy and the denial of Islamism.  Likewise, other sources in Western media and many experts have celebrated the "emergence of the New ME," while in fact the opposite situation is the reality.  Now these same sources are lamenting that the democratic revolution went wrong and that all that remains is a violent power struggle.

We are witnessing the same old chaotic, anarchic ME, and the Arab people's uprisings will not lead to democracies and consensual regimes.  In fact, there is a high probability that the outcome of the uprisings will be either more oppressive authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leadership from the military or the emergence of Islamist groups under the Shari'ah.  The latter outcome would ultimately lead to the victory of either Iran and the Shiite version of Islam or al-Qaeda and the Salafi-Sunni version of Islam.

Regarding the ME, the next decade is more likely to witness the emergence of the Sunni Caliphate or the Shiite Imamate struggling for hegemony.  Both outcomes signal an imminent threat to the security of the West.  However, instead of concentrating on understanding the operational code of the ME, and instead of trying to maintain the status quo, Western leaders prefer to operate through delusional wishful-thinking policies.  This pattern is evidenced by Westerners' unwavering focus on the well-used scapegoat, the perhaps unsolvable "Palestinian question."  It is as if regional and international leaders are desperately trying to find comfort in this one easily characterized issue.

There are more than twenty-five current civil wars going on around the world; there are a billion poor, miserable and hungry people who earn a dollar a day; there are deep food crises and water shortages; there are huge unresolved political issues and hosts of nations without the opportunity to form an independent state (James Minahan, Nations without States, Westport, CT, 1996).  But the international community prefers to concentrate on the Palestinian issue.  Indeed, we can draw a direct line between the world's desperation to solve real problems and its eagerness to deliberately concentrate on the Palestine situation.

One can only marvel at how blessed the Palestinians are to have everybody dealing with their issue, as if they are the only orphans of the world.  One can only wonder how much political and financial support they receive at the expense of all those really in need.  One can only be amazed at the stupidity of the false belief that all other regional issues will disappear, will be gone with the wind, if only the Palestinian issue is solved.

The hard truth is that rather than heralding the dawn of democracy and prosperity, this misguided belief and the misunderstanding of the ME operational code are more likely the harbinger of the dark winter of Islam -- a catastrophic set of circumstances that may well lead to the demise of U.S. influence, the destruction of Israel, and general regional chaos besides.
24644  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ratted out? on: May 22, 2011, 12:13:34 PM

Did a Pakistani official sell info to CIA to settle in the West?

Wajid Ali Syed
Saturday, May 14, 2011


26 recommendations. Sign Up to see what your friends recommend.

WASHINGTON: Did a Pakistani intelligence official sell the information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden to the US last year to get millions of dollars and relocate to a western country with a new non-Pakistani passport? All those seeking to know the full facts of the Osama episode are looking for an answer to this question.

President Barack Obama would not have agreed to go forward with the mission to kill Osama bin Laden had it not been for intense pressure from CIA Director Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, administration sources have revealed. The advocates of the mission had “reached a boiling point”, because President Obama, hesitated for months and kept delaying the final approval. This delay was because of a close aide who suggested that this could damage him politically.

According to these sources, Administration officials were frustrated with the president’s indecisiveness and his orders not to carry out the mission in February. President Obama was “dragged kicking and screaming” to give the green light for the operation in the last week of April. By then, the US military and other high-level officials were so determined to launch the operation that they did not want to give the president the opportunity to delay or to call it off. President Obama reluctantly approved to go forward with the operation only if the CIA head agreed to take all the blame in case the mission failed. The planning for the operation underscores the deep divisions in the Obama administration, with President Obama and a close aide, Valerie Jarrett, procrastinating on making a decision and high-ranking officials and members of the cabinet pressing him to go ahead on the other. The chief architect of the plan to “take bin Laden out” was CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, US Commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were part of the group that supported Panetta.

When asked to comment, the White House referred the question to the National Security Council. The NSC said the Department of Defence was fielding such inquiries. The Defence Department’s press office contact Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins responded with this comment: “The Department of Defense is not giving out any further operational details of the mission.”

However, according to an informed official, the story that a courier helped track bin Laden is just a cover. The CIA actually learned of bin Laden’s whereabouts in August of 2010, when an informant associated with Pakistani intelligence walked into a US Embassy and claimed that bin Laden was living in a house in Abbottabad. The official, however, would not disclose whether the Embassy was located in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

After confirming that the information was somewhat accurate, the CIA set up a safe house in Abbottabad in September last year to monitor bin Laden’s compound.

As the intelligence collection proceeded, the CIA demanded that Pakistan come clean with what they knew about bin Laden, claims the official. In December of 2010, the CIA station chief’s identity was made public in the Pakistani press. The intelligence official says that the station chief’s cover was blown to retaliate against the CIA for pressing Pakistani intelligence for information about bin Laden. At the time, the speculation was that the move was in response to a civil suit accusing ISI officials of being involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Once it was clear that the information from the walk-in source was accurate, Panetta set up a reporting chain from the CIA’s Pakistan station direct to him, a highly unusual move that involved bypassing the normal official channels.

Again the US president was not informed of this progress. Meanwhile, the intelligence operatives learned that key people from an Islamic country friendly to Pakistan were sending Pakistan money to keep Osama out of sight and under virtual house arrest, claims the official.

By January of 2011 there was a high degree of certainty that bin Laden was in the house. In early February, Panetta suggested that the US should move on bin Laden. But Gates and Petraeus were determined to avoid the “boots on the ground” strategy at all costs. CIA chief Panetta was in favour of an invasion. But President Obama balked on the advice of Valerie Jarrett, a close aide.

The source maintains that Jarrett’s objection to the proposal was based on the worry that the mission could fail, further eroding Obama’s approval ratings and the strong likelihood that it would be interpreted as yet another act of aggression against the Muslims. The source explained that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a crucial role to pressure President Obama to take action. In the last week of April, she met with White House Chief of Staff William Daley to request a meeting with the president to secure approval for the mission. Within hours, Daley called to say that Valerie Jarrett refused to allow the president to give that approval.

However, Clinton made sure that the vice president was made aware of the situation. The president was later approached by Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta and pressurised to order the mission.

Panetta was directing the operation with both his CIA operatives and the military. The plan was not to capture but to kill bin Laden on sight. Contrary to the news reports, it was Panetta and not President Obama who took the lead on coordinating the details of the mission.

According to the source, the White House staff has compromised the identity of the unit that carried out the mission. The source said the claim that the raid yielded a “treasure trove” of information about al-Qaeda is also exaggerated. Obama meanwhile is “milking” the mission as a tactic to better his chances of re-election in 2012. The concern in intelligence circles is that in his zeal to boost his approval ratings, the president is harming relations with Pakistan.

The writer is currently a freelance journalist based in Washington who has worked for foreign and Pakistani newspapers and TV channels.
24645  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 22, 2011, 11:41:21 AM
Good questions GM.

I couldn't keep track of the numbers of refugees claimed to the point where I could calculate the total number claimed (and note that it is a claim, not an established fact) but I wonder at the remarkable absence of any mention of all the hundreds of thousands (700,000?) of Jewish refugees from Arab lands to Israel.  Where is there "right of return"?  Where is the outcry for them to be paid for what they had to abandon?

As for the "reasonableness" of BO's speech , , ,

"Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder - without a peace deal - to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state."


"Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace."


"And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders."

True, but lets look at this more clearly.  It is exactly right to question whether the peace with Egypt is going to last.  It is exactly right to question whether Hamas, or the majority that elected it in Gaza and may well may elect it in the West Bank next year will respect a deal made by Abbas. 

"Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained."

Although not stated clearly, it appears that the reference to "millions of Arab citizens" includes other Arabs in the area-- or perhaps throughout the entire middle east?-- not just the Palestinians.  So, exactly with whom is Obama saying Israel must come to terms?  And much more importantly, the entire world has seen that it is possible for peace to be sustained-- look at the deal with Egypt!!! So why the lack of intellectual honesty in saying so???

"Just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process - or the absence of one. Not just in the Arab World, but in Latin America, in Europe, and in Asia. That impatience is growing, and is already manifesting itself in capitols around the world." 

Ummm , , , no, this is not right at all.   The so-called "world community" is perfectly content to trade "Jews for Oil"-- and in the case of demographically imploding Europe, it also is a matter of cravenly seeking to placate the Arabs within its midst.   The Palestinians have elected Hamas, which is dedicated to wiping out the Jews.  Calling any of this "impatience with the peace process" is an Orwellian joke.

"These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel's legitimacy is not a matter for debate."

And what of candidate Obama's repeated assertions about the status of Jerusalem, now mere dust in the wind-- along with the written commitments of the previous administration.  Does not the written word of the US require continuity across administrations?  Or are we to be held to a lower standard than the one that must be required of a Palestinian nation if/when an agreement is reached?

"Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner - which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric."

No doubt everyone quakes in fear at being held accountable by President Obama, , , Furthermore, it is not enough for Israel to negotiate only with those who recognize its right to exist, it is also a matter of those who do recognize its right to exist controlling those who don't!  And what happens if a majority no longer favors peace?  Does a majority favor peace now?  If so, why is Hamas in power in Gaza?

"But the march to isolate Israel internationally - and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations - will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative."


"For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success."

This is utter gibberish.  The Palestinians can have peace any time they want.  Recognize Israel's right to exist and forget the right of return-- which is synonymous with the destruction of Israel.  Egypt recognized this, and got Sinai back.  This option has been available for decades now and continues to be available.

"So, in advance of a five day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require."

No, you lying sack of excrement, you did it because Netanyahu was coming to speak to the US Congress.

Then  there is the matter of a "contiguous" Palestine-- does this mean that Gaza and the West Bank are going to become connected?!?!?!?

24646  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe on: May 22, 2011, 10:58:52 AM
Shawn Zirger has chosen his name.  It is "C-Wandering Dog".
24647  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Not too much of this in Hollywood any more , , , on: May 22, 2011, 09:30:01 AM
24648  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: The promise of the Arab uprisings on: May 22, 2011, 08:52:28 AM
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The revolutions and revolts in the Arab world, playing out over just a few months across two continents, have proved so inspirational to so many because they offer a new sense of national identity built on the idea of citizenship.

But in the past weeks, the specter of divisions — religion in Egypt, fundamentalism in Tunisia, sect in Syria and Bahrain, clan in Libya — has threatened uprisings that once seemed to promise to resolve questions that have vexed the Arab world since the colonialism era.

From the fetid alleys of Imbaba, the Cairo neighborhood where Muslims and Christians have fought street battles, to the Syrian countryside, where a particularly deadly crackdown has raised fears of sectarian score-settling, the question of identity may help determine whether the Arab Spring flowers or withers. Can the revolts forge alternative ways to cope with the Arab world’s variety of clans, sects, ethnicities and religions?

The old examples have been largely of failure: the rule of strongmen in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen; a fragile equilibrium of fractious communities in Lebanon and Iraq; the repressive paternalism of the Persian Gulf, where oil revenues are used to buy loyalty.

“I think the revolutions in a way, in a distant way, are hoping to retrieve” this sense of national identity, said Sadiq al-Azm, a prominent Syrian intellectual living in Beirut.

“The costs otherwise would be disintegration, strife and civil war,” Mr. Azm said. “And this was very clear in Iraq.”

In an arc of revolts and revolution, that idea of a broader citizenship is being tested as the enforced silence of repression gives way to the cacophony of diversity. Security and stability were the justification that strongmen in the Arab world offered for repression, often with the sanction of the United States; the essence of the protests in the Arab Spring is that people can imagine an alternative.

But even activists admit that the region so far has no model that enshrines diversity and tolerance without breaking down along more divisive identities.

In Tunisia, a relatively homogenous country with a well-educated population, fault lines have emerged between the secular-minded coasts and the more religious and traditional inland.

The tensions shook the nascent revolution there this month when a former interim interior minister, Farhat Rajhi, suggested in an online interview that the coastal elite, long dominant in the government, would never accept an electoral victory by Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda, which draws most of its support inland.

“Politics was in the hands of the people of the coast since the start of Tunisia,” Mr. Rajhi said. “If the situation is reversed now, they are not ready to give up ruling.” He warned that Tunisian officials from the old government were preparing a military coup if the Islamists won elections in July. “If Ennahda rules, there will be a military regime.”

In response, protesters poured back out into the streets of Tunis for four days of demonstrations calling for a new revolution. The police beat them back with batons and tear gas, arrested more than 200 protesters and imposed a curfew on the city.

In Cairo, the sense of national identity that surged at the moment of revolution — when hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths celebrated in Tahrir Square with chants of “Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian”— has given way to a week of religious violence pitting the Coptic Christian minority against their Muslim neighbors, reflecting long-smoldering tensions that an authoritarian state may have muted, or let fester.

At a rally this month in Tahrir Square to call for unity, Coptic Christians were conspicuously absent, thousands of them gathering nearby for a rally of their own. And even among some Muslims at the unity rally, suspicions were pronounced.


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“As Muslims, our sheiks are always telling us to be good to Christians, but we don’t think that is happening on the other side,” said Ibrahim Sakr, 56, a chemistry professor, who asserted that Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population, still consider themselves “the original” Egyptians because their presence predates Islam.

In Libya, supporters of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi acknowledge that his government banks on fears of clan rivalries and possible partition to stay in power in a country with deep regional differences.

Officials say that the large extended clans of the west that contribute most of the soldiers to Colonel Qaddafi’s forces will never accept any revolution arising from the east, no matter what promises the rebels make about universal citizenship in a democratic Libya with its capital still in the western city of Tripoli.

The rebels say the revolution can forge a new identity.

“Qaddafi looks at Libya as west and east and north and south,” said Jadella Shalwee, a Libyan from Tobruk who visited Tahrir Square last weekend in a pilgrimage of sorts. “But this revolt has canceled all that. This is about a new beginning,” he said, contending that Colonel Qaddafi’s only supporters were “his cousins and his family.”

“Fear” is what Gamal Abdel Gawad, the director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, called it — the way that autocrats win support because people “are even more scared of their fellow citizens.”

Nowhere is that perhaps truer than in Syria, with a sweeping revolt against four decades of rule by one family and a worsening of tensions among a Sunni Muslim majority and minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslims, the Alawites.

Mohsen, a young Alawite in Syria, recounted a slogan that he believes, rightly or not, was chanted at some of the protests there: “Christians to Beirut and the Alawites to the coffin.”

“Every week that passes,” he lamented, speaking by telephone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, “the worse the sectarian feelings get.”

The example of Iraq comes up often in conversations in Damascus, as does the civil war in Lebanon. The departure of Jews, who once formed a vibrant community in Syria, remains part of the collective memory, illustrating the tenuousness of diversity. Syria’s ostensibly secular government, having always relied on Alawite strength, denounces the prospect of sectarian differences while, its critics say, fanning the flames. The oft-voiced formula is, by now, familiar: after us, the deluge.

“My Alawite friends want me to support the regime, and they feel if it’s gone, our community will be finished,” said Mohsen, the young Alawite in Damascus, who asked that only his first name be used because he feared reprisal. “My Sunni friends want me to be against the regime, but I feel conflicted. We want freedom, but freedom with stability and security.”

That he used the mantra of years of Arab authoritarianism suggested that people still, in the words of one human rights activist, remain “hostage to the lack of possibilities” in states that, with few exceptions, have failed to come up with a sense of self that transcends the many divides.

“This started becoming a self-fulfilling myth,” said Mr. Azm, the Syrian intellectual.

“It was either our martial law or the martial law of the Islamists,” he added. “The third option was to divide the country into ethnicities, sects and so on.”

Despite a wave of repression, crackdown and civil war, hope and optimism still pervade the region, even in places like Syria, the setting of one of the most withering waves of violence. There, residents often speak of a wall of fear crumbling. Across the Arab world, there is a renewed sense of a collective destiny that echoes the headiest days of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and ’60s and perhaps even transcends it.

President Obama, in his speech on Thursday about the changes in the Arab world, spoke directly to that feeling. “Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else. But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.”

But no less pronounced are the old fears of zero-sum power, where one side wins and the other inevitably loses. From a Coptic Christian in Cairo to an Alawite farmer in Syria, discussions about the future are posed in terms of survival. Differences in Lebanon, a country that celebrates and laments the diversity of its 18 religious communities, are so pronounced that even soccer teams have a sectarian affiliation.

In Beirut, wrecked by a war over the country’s identity and so far sheltered from the gusts of change, activists have staged a small sit-in for two months to call for something different, in a plea that resonates across the Arab world.

The Square of Change, the protesters there have nicknamed it, and their demand is blunt: Citizenship that unites, not divides.

“We are not ‘we’ yet,” complained Tony Daoud, one of the activists. “What do we mean when we say ‘we’? ‘We’ as what? As a religion, as a sect, as human beings?”
24649  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Self-Defense Law on: May 22, 2011, 08:42:37 AM
Woof All

At the moment there is a conversation going on at the Science, Culture, Humanities forum that may find of interest concerning the right to resist unlawful police entry.  Please see  Begin with the entry by "bigdog":

Indiana court strips citizens of right to resist unlawful police entry
« Reply #275 on: May 16, 2011, 07:29:21 PM »

24650  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe on: May 22, 2011, 08:19:24 AM
Visegrad: A New European Military Force
May 17, 2011 | 0859 GMT PRINT Text Resize:   

By George Friedman

With the Palestinians demonstrating and the International Monetary Fund in turmoil, it would seem odd to focus this week on something called the Visegrad Group. But this is not a frivolous choice. What the Visegrad Group decided to do last week will, I think, resonate for years, long after the alleged attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn is forgotten and long before the Israeli-Palestinian issue is resolved. The obscurity of the decision to most people outside the region should not be allowed to obscure its importance.

The region is Europe — more precisely, the states that had been dominated by the Soviet Union. The Visegrad Group, or V4, consists of four countries — Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary — and is named after two 14th century meetings held in Visegrad Castle in present-day Hungary of leaders of the medieval kingdoms of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. The group was reconstituted in 1991 in post-Cold War Europe as the Visegrad Three (at that time, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were one). The goal was to create a regional framework after the fall of communism. This week the group took an interesting new turn.

(click here to enlarge image)
On May 12, the Visegrad Group announced the formation of a “battlegroup” under the command of Poland. The battlegroup would be in place by 2016 as an independent force and would not be part of NATO command. In addition, starting in 2013, the four countries would begin military exercises together under the auspices of the NATO Response Force.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the primary focus of all of the Visegrad nations had been membership in the European Union and NATO. Their evaluation of their strategic position was threefold. First, they felt that the Russian threat had declined if not dissipated following the fall of the Soviet Union. Second, they felt that their economic future was with the European Union. Third, they believed that membership in NATO, with strong U.S. involvement, would protect their strategic interests. Of late, their analysis has clearly been shifting.

First, Russia has changed dramatically since the Yeltsin years. It has increased its power in the former Soviet sphere of influence substantially, and in 2008 it carried out an effective campaign against Georgia. Since then it has also extended its influence in other former Soviet states. The Visegrad members’ underlying fear of Russia, built on powerful historical recollection, has become more intense. They are both the front line to the former Soviet Union and the countries that have the least confidence that the Cold War is simply an old memory.

Second, the infatuation with Europe, while not gone, has frayed. The ongoing economic crisis, now focused again on Greece, has raised two questions: whether Europe as an entity is viable and whether the reforms proposed to stabilize Europe represent a solution for them or primarily for the Germans. It is not, by any means, that they have given up the desire to be Europeans, nor that they have completely lost faith in the European Union as an institution and an idea. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to expect that these countries would not be uneasy about the direction that Europe was taking. If one wants evidence, look no further than the unease with which Warsaw and Prague are deflecting questions about the eventual date of their entry into the eurozone. Both are the strongest economies in Central Europe, and neither is enthusiastic about the euro.

Finally, there are severe questions as to whether NATO provides a genuine umbrella of security to the region and its members. The NATO Strategic Concept, which was drawn up in November 2010, generated substantial concern on two scores. First, there was the question of the degree of American commitment to the region, considering that the document sought to expand the alliance’s role in non-European theaters of operation. For example, the Americans pledged a total of one brigade to the defense of Poland in the event of a conflict, far below what Poland thought necessary to protect the North European Plain. Second, the general weakness of European militaries meant that, willingness aside, the ability of the Europeans to participate in defending the region was questionable. Certainly, events in Libya, where NATO had neither a singular political will nor the military participation of most of its members, had to raise doubts. It was not so much the wisdom of going to war but the inability to create a coherent strategy and deploy adequate resources that raised questions of whether NATO would be any more effective in protecting the Visegrad nations.

There is another consideration. Germany’s commitment to both NATO and the EU has been fraying. The Germans and the French split on the Libya question, with Germany finally conceding politically but unwilling to send forces. Libya might well be remembered less for the fate of Moammar Gadhafi than for the fact that this was the first significant strategic break between Germany and France in decades. German national strategy has been to remain closely aligned with France in order to create European solidarity and to avoid Franco-German tensions that had roiled Europe since 1871. This had been a centerpiece of German foreign policy, and it was suspended, at least temporarily.

The Germans obviously are struggling to shore up the European Union and questioning precisely how far they are prepared to go in doing so. There are strong political forces in Germany questioning the value of the EU to Germany, and with every new wave of financial crises requiring German money, that sentiment becomes stronger. In the meantime, German relations with Russia have become more important to Germany. Apart from German dependence on Russian energy, Germany has investment opportunities in Russia. The relationship with Russia is becoming more attractive to Germany at the same time that the relationship to NATO and the EU has become more problematic.

For all of the Visegrad countries, any sense of a growing German alienation from Europe and of a growing German-Russian economic relationship generates warning bells. Before the  Belarusian elections there was hope in Poland that pro-Western elements would defeat the least unreformed regime in the former Soviet Union. This didn’t happen. Moreover, pro-Western elements have done nothing to solidify in Moldova or break the now pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Uncertainty about European institutions and NATO, coupled with uncertainty about Germany’s attention, has caused a strategic reconsideration — not to abandon NATO or the EU, of course, nor to confront the Russians, but to prepare for all eventualities.

It is in this context that the decision to form a Visegradian battlegroup must be viewed. Such an independent force, a concept generated by the European Union as a European defense plan, has not generated much enthusiasm or been widely implemented. The only truly robust example of an effective battlegroup is the Nordic Battlegroup, but then that is not surprising. The Nordic countries share the same concerns as the Visegrad countries — the future course of Russian power, the cohesiveness of Europe and the commitment of the United States.

In the past, the Visegrad countries would have been loath to undertake anything that felt like a unilateral defense policy. Therefore, the decision to do this is significant in and of itself. It represents a sense of how these countries evaluate the status of NATO, the U.S. attention span, European coherence and Russian power. It is not the battlegroup itself that is significant but the strategic decision of these powers to form a sub-alliance, if you will, and begin taking responsibility for their own national security. It is not what they expected or wanted to do, but it is significant that they felt compelled to begin moving in this direction.

Just as significant is the willingness of Poland to lead this military formation and to take the lead in the grouping as a whole. Poland is the largest of these countries by far and in the least advantageous geographical position. The Poles are trapped between the Germans and the Russians. Historically, when Germany gets close to Russia, Poland tends to suffer. It is not at that extreme point yet, but the Poles do understand the possibilities. In July, the Poles will be assuming the EU presidency in one of the union’s six-month rotations. The Poles have made clear that one of their main priorities will be Europe’s military power. Obviously, little can happen in Europe in six months, but this clearly indicates where Poland’s focus is.

The militarization of the V4 runs counter to its original intent but is in keeping with the geopolitical trends in the region. Some will say this is over-reading on my part or an overreaction on the part of the V4, but it is neither. For the V4, the battlegroup is a modest response to emerging patterns in the region, which STRATFOR had outlined in its 2011 Annual Forecast. As for my reading, I regard the new patterns not as a minor diversion from the main pattern but as a definitive break in the patterns of the post-Cold War world. In my view, the post-Cold War world ended in 2008, with the financial crisis and the Russo-Georgian war. We are in a new era, as yet unnamed, and we are seeing the first breaks in the post-Cold War pattern.

I have argued in previous articles and books that there is a divergent interest between the European countries on the periphery of Russia and those farther west, particularly Germany. For the countries on the periphery, there is a perpetual sense of insecurity, generated not only by Russian power compared to their own but also by uncertainty as to whether the rest of Europe would be prepared to defend them in the event of Russian actions. The V4 and the other countries south of them are not as sanguine about Russian intentions as others farther away are. Perhaps they should be, but geopolitical realities drive consciousness and insecurity and distrust defines this region.

I had also argued that an alliance only of the four northernmost countries is insufficient. I used the concept “Intermarium,” which had first been raised after World War I by a Polish leader, Joseph Pilsudski, who understood that Germany and the Soviet Union would not be permanently weak and that Poland and the countries liberated from the Hapsburg Empire would have to be able to defend themselves and not have to rely on France or Britain.

Pilsudski proposed an alliance stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and encompassing the countries to the west of the Carpathians — Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In some formulations, this would include Yugoslavia, Finland and the Baltics. The point was that Poland had to have allies, that no one could predict German and Soviet strength and intentions, and that the French and English were too far away to help. The only help Poland could have would be an alliance of geography — countries with no choice.

It follows from this that the logical evolution here is the extension of the Visegrad coalition. At the May 12 defense ministers’ meeting, there was discussion of inviting Ukraine to join in. Twenty or even 10 years ago, that would have been a viable option. Ukraine had room to maneuver. But the very thing that makes the V4 battlegroup necessary — Russian power — limits what Ukraine can do. The Russians are prepared to give Ukraine substantial freedom to maneuver, but that does not include a military alliance with the Visegrad countries.

An alliance with Ukraine would provide significant strategic depth. It is unlikely to happen. That means that the alliance must stretch south, to include Romania and Bulgaria. The low-level tension between Hungary and Romania over the status of Hungarians in Romania makes that difficult, but if the Hungarians can live with the Slovaks, they can live with the Romanians. Ultimately, the interesting question is whether Turkey can be persuaded to participate in this, but that is a question far removed from Turkish thinking now. History will have to evolve quite a bit for this to take place. For now, the question is Romania and Bulgaria.

But the decision of the V4 to even propose a battlegroup commanded by Poles is one of those small events that I think will be regarded as a significant turning point. However we might try to trivialize it and place it in a familiar context, it doesn’t fit. It represents a new level of concern over an evolving reality — the power of Russia, the weakness of Europe and the fragmentation of NATO. This is the last thing the Visegrad countries wanted to do, but they have now done the last thing they wanted to do. That is what is significant.

Events in the Middle East and Europe’s economy are significant and of immediate importance. However, sometimes it is necessary to recognize things that are not significant yet but will be in 10 years. I believe this is one of those events. It is a punctuation mark in European history.

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