Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gant of Afghanistan
on: January 17, 2010, 03:05:07 PM
Jim Gant, the Green Beret who could win the war in Afghanistan
By Ann Scott Tyson
Sunday, January 17, 2010; B01
It was the spring of 2003, and Capt. Jim Gant and his Special Forces team had just fought their way out of an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan's Konar province when they heard there was trouble in the nearby village of Mangwel. There, Gant had a conversation with a tribal chief -- a chance encounter that would redefine his mission in Afghanistan and that, more than six years later, could help salvage the faltering U.S. war effort.
Malik Noorafzhal, an 80-year-old tribal leader, told Gant that he had never spoken to an American before and asked why U.S. troops were in his country. Gant, whose only orders upon arriving in Afghanistan days earlier had been to "kill and capture anti-coalition members," responded by pulling out his laptop and showing Noorafzhal a video of the World Trade Center towers crumbling.
That sparked hours of conversation between the intense 35-year-old Green Beret and the elder in a tribe of 10,000. "I spent a lot of time just listening," Gant said. "I spoke only when I thought I understood what had been said."
In an unusual and unauthorized pact, Gant and his men were soon fighting alongside tribesmen in local disputes and against insurgents, at the same time learning ancient tribal codes of honor, loyalty and revenge -- codes that often conflicted with the sharia law that the insurgents sought to impose. But the U.S. military had no plans to leverage the Pashtun tribal networks against the insurgents, so Gant kept his alliances quiet.
No longer. In recent months, Gant, now a major, has won praise at the highest levels for his effort to radically deepen the U.S. military's involvement with Afghan tribes -- and is being sent back to Afghanistan to do just that. His 45-page paper, "One Tribe at a Time," published online last fall and circulating widely within the U.S. military, the Pentagon and Congress, lays out a strategy focused on empowering Afghanistan's ancient tribal system. Gant believes that with the central government still weak and corrupt, the tribes are the only enduring source of local authority and security in the country.
"We will be totally unable to protect the 'civilians' in the rural areas of Afghanistan until we partner with the tribes for the long haul," Gant wrote.
A decorated war veteran and Pashto speaker with multiple tours in Afghanistan, Gant had been assigned by the Army to deploy to Iraq in November. But with senior military and civilian leaders -- including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan; and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command -- expressing support for Gant's views, he was ordered instead to return to Afghanistan later this year to work on tribal issues.
"Maj. Jim Gant's paper is very impressive -- so impressive, in fact, that I shared it widely," Petraeus said, while McChrystal distributed it to all commanders in Afghanistan. One senior military official went so far as to call Gant "Lawrence of Afghanistan."
The abrupt about-face surprised the blunt-spoken major. "I couldn't believe it," Gant said in a recent interview, recalling how his orders were canceled just days before he was set to deploy to Iraq. "How do I know they are serious? They contacted me. I am not a very nice guy. I lead men in combat. I am not a Harvard guy. You don't want me on your think tank."
Gant, who sports tattoos on his right arm featuring Achilles and the Chinese characters for "fear no man," is clearly comfortable with the raw violence that is part of his job. An aggressive officer, he is known to carry triple the ammunition required for his missions. (One fellow soldier referred to this habit as a "Gantism.") But he is equally at ease playing for hours with Afghan children or walking hand-in-hand with tribesmen, as is their custom.
As a teenager in Las Cruces, N.M., Gant was headed to college on a basketball scholarship and had no plans to join the military until he read Robin Moore's 1965 fictionalized account of Special Forces actions in Vietnam. Captivated by the unique type of soldier who waged war with indigenous fighters, Gant decided to become a Green Beret and scheduled an appointment with his father, a middle school principal, to break the news.
Enlisting in the Army soon after his high school graduation, Gant became a Special Forces communications sergeant and fought in the Persian Gulf War. Later, as a captain, he served combat tours in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and one in Iraq during the height of the violence there in 2006 and 2007.
Intellectually, Gant is driven by a belief that Special Forces soldiers should immerse themselves in the culture of foreign fighters, as British officer T.E. Lawrence did during the 1916-1918 Arab revolt. In Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, Gant relied on his Special Forces training to build close bonds with local fighters, often trusting them with his life.
In Iraq in December 2006, a roadside bomb flipped over Gant's Humvee twice and left it engulfed in flames, with him pinned inside. Members of the Iraqi National Police battalion that Gant was advising pulled him out. Soon afterward, Gant led those same police in fighting their way out of a complex insurgent ambush near the city of Balad, saving the lives of two policemen and an Iraqi girl while under heavy fire, and deliberately driving his Humvee over two roadside bombs to protect the police riding in unarmored trucks behind him.
Gant earned a Silver Star for his bravery, but he remembers most the goat sacrifice the police held for him that day. "We had just won a great battle. We had several [police] commandos there, with several goats, and they were putting their hands in the blood, and putting their handprints all over us and on the vehicles," Gant recalled in a 2007 interview. He felt both strange and honored. "It's something I will never forget," he said.
Under Gant's plan, small "tribal engagement teams," each made up of six culturally astute and battle-tested Special Forces soldiers, would essentially go native, moving into villages with rifles, ammunition and money to empower tribal leaders to improve security in their area and fight insurgents. The teams would always operate with the tribes, reducing the risk of roadside bombs and civilian casualties from airstrikes.
The U.S. military would have to grant the teams the leeway to grow beards and wear local garb, and enough autonomy in the chain of command to make rapid decisions. Most important, to build relationships, the military would have to commit one or two teams to working with the same tribe for three to five years, Gant said.
Such a strategy, he argues, would bolster McChrystal's counterinsurgency campaign by tapping thousands of tribal fighters to secure rural populations, allowing international troops and official Afghan forces to focus on large towns and cities. Building strong partnerships with the tribes, whose domains straddle Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, could also prove critical to defeating insurgents entrenched in Pakistan's western tribal areas, he contends.
Adm. Eric Olson, who leads the 57,000-strong Special Operations Command, said in the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly that Gant's proposal is "innovative and bold" and likely to have "strategic effects." And in recent congressional testimony, Gates agreed that the U.S. military should step up cooperation with Afghan tribes, saying many security responsibilities are likely to fall on them rather than the Afghan army or police force.
Thorough intelligence analysis should drive the selection of the tribes, Gant said, noting that the U.S. military has already gathered much of the intelligence. "There are 500-page documents breaking these tribes down. You would be shocked how much we know about who is who," he said.
Gant's proposals go well beyond the more cautious tribal-outreach efforts underway in Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is experimenting with neighborhood-watch-type programs such as the Community Defense Initiative, in which Special Forces teams partner with tribes selected by an Afghan minister. With time running out, Gant believes tribal engagement must be bolder. "We are trying not to lose, not trying to win," he said. (Gant's experiences helped shape the CDI effort, and he is currently preparing to return to Afghanistan to implement his vision, according to a senior military official.)
Still, Gant acknowledges that his strategy has risks. The teams would depend on the tribes for their safety. "American soldiers would die. Some of them alone, with no support. Some may simply disappear," he wrote in his paper on the strategy. Another possibility is that intertribal conflict would break out between two or more U.S.-backed tribes. "Could it happen? Yes. Could it cause mission failure? Yes. Could we have to pick sides for our own safety? Yes," Gant said. But he believes that if American advisers forge strong ties with the tribes, the chances of such conflicts can be minimized.
Gant's greatest fear is that the United States will lack the fortitude to back the tribes for the long haul, eventually abandoning them. He, for one, plans to stick with his tribe in Afghanistan, at least to fulfill a personal promise to return to Konar province to see elder Malik Noorafzhal, now 86.
"I am not here to imply that I think I could win the war in Afghanistan if put in charge," Gant wrote in his paper. ". . . I just know what I have done and what I could do again, if given the chance."
Ann Scott Tyson, a staff writer for The Washington Post, has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Get outta my way!
on: January 17, 2010, 03:04:17 PM
Police: Minor sidewalk squabble leads to stabbing
January 17, 2010 - 1:31pm
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - Police in St. Cloud said an argument over sidewalk etiquette led to a man being stabbed because he wouldn't move out of another man's way. The 31-year-old victim told police he and the other man were walking toward each other on a sidewalk early Friday morning. Each man refused to make way for the other.
The St. Cloud Times reported that the argument escalated into a physical fight. When it was over, the victim noticed he'd been stabbed several times in the stomach.
Authorities said the victim's injuries were minor.
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Volunteering, Giving, Charity, Tithing
on: January 17, 2010, 07:55:07 AM
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: January 16, 2010
Want to be happier in 2010? Then try this simple experiment, inspired by recent scholarship in psychology and neurology. Which person would you rather be:
Richard is an ambitious 36-year-old white commodities trader in Florida. He’s healthy and drop-dead handsome, lives alone in a house with a pool, and has worked his way through a series of gorgeous women. Richard’s job is stressful, but he spent Christmas in Tahiti. Unencumbered, he also has time to indulge such passions as reading (right now he’s finishing a book called “Half the Sky”), marathon running and writing poetry. In the last few days, he has been composing an elegy about the Haiti earthquake.
Lorna is a 64-year-old black woman in Boston. She’s overweight and unattractive, even after a recent nose job. Lorna is on regular dialysis, but that doesn’t impede her active social life or babysitting her grandchildren. A retired school assistant, she is close to her 67-year-old husband and is much respected in her church for directing the music committee and the semiannual blood drive. Lorna believes in tithing (giving 10 percent of her income to charity or the church) and in the last few days has organized a church drive to raise $10,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti.
I adapted those examples from ones that Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, develops in his fascinating book, “The Happiness Hypothesis.” His point is that while most of us might prefer to trade places with Richard, Lorna is probably happier.
Men are no happier than women, and people in sunny areas no happier than people in chillier climates. The evidence on health is complex, but even chronic health problems (like those requiring dialysis) may have surprisingly little long-term effect on happiness, because we adjust to them. Beautiful people aren’t happier than ugly people, although cosmetic surgery does seem to leave patients feeling brighter. Whites are happier than blacks, but only very slightly. And young people are actually a bit less happy than older folks, at least up to age 65.
Lorna has a few advantages over Richard. She has less stress and is respected by her peers — factors that make us feel good. Happiness is tied to volunteering and to giving blood, and people with religious faith tend to be happier than those without. A solid marriage is linked to happiness, as is participation in social networks. And one study found that people who focus on achieving wealth and career advancement are less happy than those who focus on good works, religion or spirituality, or friends and family.
“Human beings are in some ways like bees,” Professor Haidt said. “We evolved to live in intensely social groups, and we don’t do as well when freed from hives.”
Happiness is, of course, a complex concept and difficult to measure, and John Stuart Mill had a point when he suggested: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”
But in any case, nobility can lead to happiness. Professor Haidt notes that one thing that can make a lasting difference to your contentment is to work with others on a cause larger than yourself.
I see that all the time. I interview people who were busy but reluctantly undertook some good cause because (sigh!) it was the right thing to do. Then they found that this “sacrifice” became a huge source of fulfillment and satisfaction.
Brain scans by neuroscientists confirm that altruism carries its own rewards. A team including Dr. Jorge Moll of the National Institutes of Health found that when a research subject was encouraged to think of giving money to a charity, parts of the brain lit up that are normally associated with selfish pleasures like eating or sex.
The implication is that we are hard-wired to be altruistic. To put it another way, it’s difficult for humans to be truly selfless, for generosity feels so good.
“The most selfish thing you can do is to help other people,” says Brian Mullaney, co-founder of Smile Train, which helps tens of thousands of children each year who are born with cleft lips and cleft palates. Mr. Mullaney was a successful advertising executive, driving a Porsche and taking dates to the Four Seasons, when he felt something was missing and began volunteering for good causes. He ended up leaving the business world to help kids smile again — and all that makes him smile, too.
So at a time of vast needs, from Haiti to our own cities, here’s a nice opportunity for symbiosis: so many afflicted people, and so much benefit to us if we try to help them. Let’s remember that while charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves. Helping others may be as primal a human pleasure as food or sex.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: January 17, 2010, 06:37:08 AM
Good question CCP. Anyone here care to take a stab at answering it?
The White House has spent months imploring banks to lend more money, so will President Obama's new proposal to extract $117 billion from bank capital encourage new bank lending?
Just asking. Welcome to one more installment in Washington's year-long crusade to revive private business by assailing and soaking it.
Mr. Obama's new "Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee"—please don't call it a tax—is being sold as a way to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That sounds reasonable, except that the banks designated to pay the fee aren't those responsible for the losses. With the exception of Citigroup, those banks have repaid their TARP money with interest.
The real TARP losers—General Motors, Chrysler and delinquent mortgage borrowers—are exempt from the new tax. Why the auto companies? An Administration official told the Journal that the banks caused the crisis that doomed the auto companies, which apparently were innocent bystanders to their own bankruptcy. The fact that the auto companies remain wards of Washington no doubt has nothing to do with their free tax pass.
Also exempt are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which operate outside of TARP but also surely did more than any other company to cause the housing boom and bust. The key to understanding their free tax pass is that on Christmas Eve Treasury lifted the $400 billion cap on their potential taxpayer losses expressly so they can rewrite more underwater mortgages at a loss.
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.In other words, the White House wants to tax more capital away from profit-making banks to offset the intentional losses that the politicians have ordered up at Fan and Fred. The bank tax revenue will flow directly into the Treasury to be spent on whatever immediate cause Congress favors. Come the next "systemic risk" bailout, taxpayers will still be on the hook. "Responsibility" is not the word that comes to mind here.
The tax will apply to liabilities that are not already insured by government, so the White House is saying it will deter excessive risk-taking. And it does at least tilt at the role of excessive debt in creating systemic risk. But the heart of the moral hazard for the biggest banks is the implicit government guarantee that they will never be allowed to fail, and the tax does nothing about this.
The tax will be levied on financial companies with more than $50 billion in assets. However, as a too-big-to-fail litmus test, $50 billion can't possibly be the right answer. America has just run the experiment by putting a company bigger than $50 billion—CIT Group—through bankruptcy. By any objective reckoning, there were no systemic consequences. The new $50 billion tax threshold thus increases the scope of future bailouts by drawing a wider circle around firms that can gamble with implicit federal backing.
A better idea is to do the hard policy work of creating a plan that allows failure or else separates traditional banking from hedge-fund trading, as Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker have suggested.
There's encouraging news that bank failure may still be an option. A bipartisan Senate effort led by Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.) is considering the creation of a special bankruptcy court to decide whether an institution should go through bankruptcy or be subjected to an FDIC resolution process.
The first route sounds better than the second. Although FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair has been an outspoken advocate for a resolution process with certain punishment for failure, the provisions recently passed by the House would yield the opposite. The FDIC could choose among a number of ways to assist a company, and could decide how hard a bargain to drive with the firm's various creditors as well as discriminate within the same class of creditors. Not even the New York Federal Reserve of AIG fame has been willing to do the latter.
Another idea to reduce the moral hazard of too-big-to-fail would be to restore long-ago limits on leverage. For example, abolish the corporate income tax for financial companies and replace it with a tax on assets that rises with the bank's leverage ratio. There could be a tax-free zone at leverage levels below current regulatory standards. Washington could also reform margin requirements.
These ideas should all be thoughtfully considered, but of course that is hard political work and the biggest banks would oppose them because they secretly like too-big-to-fail. As for the politicians, it's so much easier to blame bankers, deplore their bonuses, tax them, regulate them, accept their campaign contributions and then bail them out while you talk about "change" and "responsibility."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The backlash is coming! The backlash is coming!
on: January 17, 2010, 06:33:57 AM
By JON KELLER Boston
With characteristic hubris, people in this state like to think they've been at the leading edge of American politics since the "shot heard 'round the world" in 1775. And in the past few years, we've given the nation a preview of Barack Obama's presidential campaign with Deval Patrick's successful 2006 bid for governor; provided a critical boost for Mr. Obama's candidacy in the form of an endorsement by Edward Kennedy; and enacted a health-care law that is a template for ObamaCare.
But hubris has yielded to shock here at the possibility that the next political trend the Bay State might foreshadow is a voter backlash against the Democratic Party.
After Kennedy's death in August, few imagined there would be any problem replacing him with another Democrat in the U.S. Senate. It's been 16 years since Massachusetts elected a Republican to a congressional seat, 31 years since the last Republican senator left office. Gov. Patrick appointed a former Kennedy aide as the interim senator, and Democratic primary voters chose the well-regarded state Attorney General Martha Coakley as their nominee for the special election.
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.That election, which will be held on Tuesday, was widely seen as a formality. Ms. Coakley coasted through the holiday season while the GOP challenger, little-known state Sen. Scott Brown, scrambled for traction.
The new year, however, brought polls showing the race tightening. This week a Rasmussen Reports poll gave Ms. Coakley a slim 49% to 47% advantage; a Suffolk University survey has Mr. Brown with a narrow lead. Independents are breaking for Mr. Brown by a three-to-one margin, Rasmussen finds. And many people do not realize that independents outnumber Democrats—51% of registered voters in the state are not affiliated with a party, while 37% are registered as Democrats and 11% as Republicans.
"Around the country they look at Massachusetts and just write us off," longtime local activist Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government told me. "But people around here are really not happy with the extremes in the Democrat Party."
Those extremes are cropping up as issues in this race. One is giving civilian legal rights to terror suspects, which Ms. Coakley supports. Mr. Brown, a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard, hammered her for that even before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day. That incident has tried the patience of an electorate normally known for its civil libertarianism. Rasmussen's most recent survey found that 65% of them want Abdulmutallab tried by the military.
Another issue is taxes. Mr. Brown has scolded Ms. Coakley for supporting a repeal of the Bush tax cuts, for entertaining the idea of passing a "war tax," and for proclaiming in a recent debate that "we need to get taxes up." Ms. Coakley says she meant that tax revenues, not rates, need to rebound. Nonetheless, Mr. Brown's critique resonates with voters who are smarting from a 25% hike in sales tax last year.
Gov. Patrick's approval ratings have also crashed, fertilizing the soil for Mr. Brown's claim in a radio ad that "our government in Washington is making the same mistakes as our government here in Massachusetts."
But nothing excites Mr. Brown's supporters more than his vow to stop ObamaCare by denying Democrats the 60th vote they would need in the U.S. Senate to shut off a GOP filibuster. The Rasmussen and Suffolk polls report that once-overwhelming statewide support for the federal health reform has fallen to a wafer-thin majority.
Support for the state's universal health-care law, close to 70% in 2008, is also in free fall; only 32% of state residents told Rasmussen earlier this month that they'd call it a success, with 36% labeling it a failure. The rest were unsure. Massachusetts families pay the country's highest health insurance premiums, with costs soaring at a rate 7% ahead of the national average, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund.
Doubt about the Massachusetts health-care reform "does not necessarily translate into opposition to the federal bill," cautions veteran local Democratic strategist Stephen Crawford, who is not working for any candidate in the Senate race. "I don't think opposition to the plan is going to be a make-or-break issue." That's a far cry from the once widely-held belief here that the Democratic nominee would be hustled into office by voters eager to pass ObamaCare. But it reflects a conviction among local Democratic elites that antitax and anti-big-government politics are "a tired strategy, the same old Karl Rove playbook," as Mr. Crawford puts it.
On Tuesday, we'll have a reading on whether that complacency is justified. It may not be definitive; barely two in 10 voters voted in the primaries, and turnout, especially if it is short on independents, could render the outcome a road test for each party's get-out-the-vote machinery. Here that's akin to a drag race between a Democratic Cadillac fueled with high-octane labor support and a GOP go-kart driven by pedal power. But the long-range weather forecast for the Election Day is clear. There are anecdotal reports of brisk absentee voting, a practice often driven by the state's small but aggressive pro-life faction. And the polls show a sharp enthusiasm gap in Mr. Brown's favor.
Tellingly, the usually-demure Ms. Coakley has been scorching Mr. Brown with a tired strategy out of the Obama campaign playbook, linking him to "the failed policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney." Mr. Brown counters by linking Ms. Coakley to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Deval Patrick—people actually in power.
Are we in for another shot heard 'round the world? Perhaps. More likely, listen for the sound of horse hooves on the pavement, and a modern-day version of Paul Revere's historic warning—the backlash is coming.
Mr. Keller is the political analyst for WBZ-TV and WBZ Radio in Boston.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Nobody's watching Charlie Rose
on: January 17, 2010, 06:26:27 AM
By JAMES TARANTO
Glenn Beck didn't always believe in what he was doing. "When I was young, I used to hear people say, 'He's a golden boy. Look at that guy. Can you imagine what he's going to be like when he grows up?' Well, I unfortunately bought into that. And I hadn't even found myself. Quite honestly, I was running from myself. But I knew how to work Top 40 radio."
"Golden boy" was no exaggeration. "I was in Washington, D.C., on the morning show, by the time I was 18, programming a station by 19, No. 1 in the mornings. I think I was making, I don't know, a quarter of a million dollars by the time I was 25," he tells me in his midtown Manhattan office, a few blocks from the Fox News Channel studio where he now broadcasts his eponymous program every afternoon.
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.A drinking problem helped plunge Mr. Beck into personal and professional crisis: "By the time I was 30," he says, "nobody would work with me. I was friendless, I was hopeless, I was suicidal, lost my family—I mean, it was bad. Bottomed out, didn't know what I was going to do. I actually thought I was going to be a chef—go to work in a kitchen someplace."
Instead he found a calling in talk radio. It was late in the 1990s: "I did one of my first shows at WABC [in New York]. I was filling in for somebody. . . . I used to have to write everything out and keep copious notes on everything. I overprepped everything. And I got to the end of my first hour, and I looked down at all the notes, and I hadn't touched the first piece of paper. It was all off the top of my head. It was me being me. That's when I knew: This is what I have to do."
Mr. Beck, 45, has many detractors, but there's no denying that he has made a success of himself. In addition to his Fox show, he hosts "The Glenn Beck Program," syndicated on radio, publishes a magazine and a Web site, and has written seven books. "Somebody told me that our footprint in a month"—the number of people he reaches in all media—"is about 30 million," he says.
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.His politics are libertarian. "I really kind of dig this whole freedom thing," he says. "I'd like to pass it on to the kids." But he is pessimistic about the prospects for doing so: "I'm a dad, and I no longer see a way for my kids to even inherit the money that I'm making, let alone go out there, have an idea, and create it in their own lifetime."
Mr. Beck blames a political system that he describes as corrupt and out of touch, a sentiment that is widely shared: "People in Washington . . . not all of them, but a lot of them, are not men and women of honor anymore," he says. "I just saw a poll today that said 25% of Americans now believe that their government officials will, for the most part, do the right thing. Only 25%. It's the lowest number ever recorded."
Mr. Beck appeals to a slice of the remaining 75% with a style that is earnest and emotional; he is known to cry on air. Although he has reported on some major news stories, including the scandals involving Acorn and former Obama aide Van Jones, he thinks of himself as a commentator and entertainer rather than a journalist. "I'm not interested in breaking news," he tells me. "I'm interested in telling the story of what's going on and then trying to figure it out."
In doing so, Mr. Beck draws strong negative reactions for both his right-of-center views and his populist style. "Right now, I'm getting hammered by the left and the right, and I get hammered for being an opportunist," he says.
He pleads innocent, arguing that he was as hard on George W. Bush—especially over spending and immigration—as he is on Barack Obama: "Nobody seems to recall the years . . . when I was saying the same thing and program directors were calling me saying, . . . 'Are you kidding me? You're on a conservative talk radio network. You can't come out against George W. Bush.' Well, here it goes.
"That's why I connect now with the American people, because the listeners that . . . have been with me for a long time know that I have said these things at my own peril, that I'm not in it for—I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm a capitalist. I dig money. But I'm not in it for the money."
Cheerful and affable, Mr. Beck responds good-naturedly, even eagerly, when I ask him to respond to his critics. It's a far cry from the liberal stereotype of an angry hater. But his worldview has a dark side: "I don't believe our government officials will do the right thing. They will do the right thing for special interests and for some sort of agenda that they're not bringing me in on."
When I ask him to respond to the charge that he is a conspiracy theorist, he answers, "I am the guy who debunked conspiracy theory."
Mr. Beck says he received death threats from "truthers"—crackpots of the far left and the far right who believe that the U.S. government was behind 9/11—after he denounced them on his old CNN Headline News show in 2007. (Mr. Beck's revelation that Van Jones had signed a truther petition helped force Mr. Jones to resign from the White House Council on Environmental Quality in September 2009.)
"I said those people were a gigantic danger from within, because we must trust each other," Mr. Beck says. "There are limits to debasement of this country, aren't there? I mean, it's one thing to believe that our politicians are capable of being Bernie Madoff. It's another to think that they are willing to kill 3,000 Americans. Once you cross that line, you're in a whole new territory."
Yet while this is all to Mr. Beck's credit, it is not quite responsive to the question. It is possible, after all, to reject one conspiracy theory while espousing others, and the claim that "our politicians are capable of being Bernie Madoff" is, to say the least, a rather sweeping indictment.
Mr. Beck's answer: "I believe the conspiracies, quote-unquote, that are happening now are happening all out in the open. All you have to do is track their actions. Their actions speak louder than their words. It's easy to throw out, 'Well, he's a conspiracy theorist.' Why do you say that? 'Well, because they say they're not doing that.' But their actions show that they are.
"TARP, stimulus—a stimulus package that makes no sense whatsoever. No sense whatsoever! TARP, stimulus, health care that is behind closed doors, where they're giving Medicaid free to states, where they're saying, 'We're going to pay for it by reducing the cost of Medicare while we expand Medicare.' When you look at all those things, and you know that the people who are in and around the planning of those things believe in [welfare activists Richard] Cloward and [Frances Fox] Piven, believe in ["Rules for Radicals'" author] Saul Alinksy—that's not a conspiracy. That's a pretty good educated guess."
As an example, Mr. Beck notes that Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, last month described the Senate health-care bill as a "starter home." Says Mr. Beck: "Sen. Harkin says to the progressive left, 'This is a starter home. Don't worry, we can add additions to this, and we'll grow it'"—a paraphrase of Mr. Harkin's remarks, but an accurate one. Mr. Beck continues: "Excuse me? That's everything that I've been saying you're going to do, and you've been denying it."
This fall, Mr. Beck drew friendly fire on an American Enterprise Institute blog from Charles Murray, a social scientist with strong libertarian political leanings, who conceded that "Beck is spectacularly right (translation: I agree with him) on about 95 percent of the substantive issues he talks about." But Mr. Murray does not care for Mr. Beck's manner: "Our job is to engage in a debate on great issues and make converts to our point of view. The key word is converts—referring to people who didn't start out agreeing with us. We shouldn't be civil and reasonable just because we want to be nice guys. It is the only option we've got if we want to succeed instead of just posture. The Glenn Becks of the world posture, and make our work harder."
Mr. Beck answers carefully: "I'm sorry he doesn't agree with me—doesn't agree with my approach." Then he notes the irony of a think-tank intellectual criticizing a populist media star for lacking broad appeal: "How many are reading his blog, and how many are listening to my radio show, television show, reading my books, going to conventions, seeing me on stage? I mean, I think, while I respect his position and his difference in opinion on presentation, I think one of us is probably reaching more people daily."
He continues: "Look, I know a lot of people will disagree with the way I present things. I am being myself—I am a guy who is a recovering alcoholic, who lived a pretty fast life, who works hard every day, quite honestly, not to use the F-word—it used to be an art for me. I am a work in progress. But I also am a businessman that looks to get the word out to the maximum number of people."
And he rejects the implication that his is a lowbrow appeal: "You name the conservative that can do a full hour—a full hour—on Woodrow Wilson and the roots of modern liberalism—for an hour—and have high ratings with it. . . . I had like three really big eggheads on the show, and people watched it. Now, you could be Charlie Rose all you want, but nobody's watching Charlie Rose."
Mr. Beck identifies with the Howard Beale character from the 1976 film "Network." Beale, played by Peter Finch, is a news anchor on a fictional broadcast network who has a nervous breakdown on air, becomes a raving populist, and is a big hit with viewers. Mr. Beck invokes the fictional anchorman's most famous line: "I am mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. The part of Howard Beale that I liken myself to is the moment when he was in the raincoat, where he figures everything out, and he's like, 'Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! Why the hell aren't you up at the window shouting outside?'"
Mr. Beck adds, "What the media wants to make me is the Howard Beale at the end, the crazy showman that's doing anything for money. That I don't liken myself to."
Some of Mr. Beck's detractors on the left, including MSNBC ranter Keith Olbermann, draw a more sinister cinematic analogy. Mr. Olbermann calls Mr. Beck "Lonesome Rhodes," the cynical TV demagogue played by Andy Griffith in 1957's "A Face in the Crowd."
"I had never heard of Lonesome Rhodes," Mr. Beck says. "I had never seen the movie. . . . As soon as I heard that, I watched it. . . . Lonesome Rhodes and I, I guess, had a few things in common. He was a drunk. I'm in AA; he wasn't. He, at the very beginning, said things that he believed—I think. I'm not really even sure on that. I used to not say the things I believe. . . . Now I've made a vow to myself—it actually comes from Immanuel Kant, the philosopher: 'There are many things that I believe that I shall never say. But I shall never say the things that I do not believe.' . . . The minute I violate that, I'm back to the old drunk Glenn."
The source of the comparison points to another difference between Mr. Beck and Lonesome Rhodes. Mr. Olbermann is no closer to the old ideal of the straightforward, objective newsman than is Mr. Beck, and cable television has yielded up a multitude of other personalities who blend news, strong opinion and entertainment in varying degrees, including Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Jon Stewart and, until his recent departure from CNN, Lou Dobbs.
By contrast, the authors of "A Face in the Crowd" and "Network" imagined their protagonists as singular sensations who drew massive audiences at a time when viewing options were far fewer. At his peak, Lonesome Rhodes claims 65 million viewers, more than one-third of the entire U.S. population in 1957. Mr. Beck's Fox show, the third-highest-rated on the cable news channels, averaged 2.9 million viewers a day in 2009, according to Nielsen Media Research. Even his estimated monthly multimedia audience of 30 million amounts to less than 10% of all Americans.
The development of cable television, with its diversity and audience segmentation, seems to have been a necessary condition for the emergence of such programming. Charles Murray may be right that Mr. Beck mostly preaches to the choir, but the observation applies equally to Mr. Beck's competitors and their respective choirs.
Mr. Taranto, a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, writes the Best of the Web Today column for OpinionJournal.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word
on: January 17, 2010, 05:53:11 AM
By Tzvi Freeman
When our universe as we know it first emerged, the soil of the earth was imbued with a wondrous power—the power to generate life. Place a tiny seed in the ground and it converts the carbon of the air into a mighty redwood— a decomposing seed awakens the power of the infinite.
Yet another miracle, even more wondrous: A quiet act of kindness buried in humility ignites an explosion of G‑dly light.
Infinite power is hidden in the humblest of places.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WaPo: CIA got dangled
on: January 16, 2010, 12:31:12 PM
While we were dangling, al-Qa'ida was roping:
In Afghanistan attack, CIA fell victim to series of miscalculations about informant
By Peter Finn and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 16, 2010; A01
AMMAN, JORDAN -- He was an ambitious young doctor from a large family who had a foreign wife and two children -- details that officers of Jordan's intelligence service viewed as exploitable vulnerabilities, not biography.
Early last year, the General Intelligence Department picked up Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi after his pseudonymous postings on extremist Web sites had become increasingly strident. During three days of questioning, GID officers threatened to have Balawi jailed and end his medical career, and they hinted they could cause problems for his family, according to a former U.S. official and a Jordanian official, both of whom have knowledge of Balawi's detention.
Balawi was told that if he traveled to Pakistan and infiltrated radical groups there, his slate would be wiped clean and his family left alone, said the former U.S. official, whose more detailed account of the GID's handling of Balawi was generally corroborated by the Jordanian official, as well as by two former Jordanian intelligence officers.
Balawi agreed, and as the relationship developed, GID officers began to think that he was indeed willing to work against al-Qaeda.
This belief was the first in a series of miscalculations that culminated Dec. 30 when Balawi stepped out of a car at a CIA facility in Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. CIA officers allowed Balawi, who was wearing a vest packed with explosives and metal, to enter the base without a search. Then he detonated his load, killing seven CIA officers and contractors, a Jordanian intelligence officer and a driver.
Jordanian and U.S. officials have since concluded that Balawi was a committed extremist whose beliefs had deep intellectual and religious roots and who had never intended to cooperate with them. In hindsight, they said, the excitement generated by his ability to produce verifiable intelligence should have been tempered by the recognition that his penetration of al-Qaeda's top echelon was too rapid to be true.
Senior CIA and GID officials were so beguiled by the prospect of a strike against al-Qaeda's inner sanctum that they discounted concerns raised by case officers in both services that Balawi might be a fraud, according to the former U.S. official and the Jordanian government official, who has an intelligence background.
The Americans took over the management of Balawi from the Jordanians sometime in the second half of 2009, dictating how and when the informant would meet his handlers, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officers. Agency field officers faced unusual pressures from top CIA and administration officials in Washington keyed up by Balawi's promise to deliver al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current and former officers said.
But a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, rejected assertions that the CIA had abandoned caution. "No one -- not in Washington, not in the field -- let excitement or anticipation run the show," the official said. The GID's approach was more subtle than simple blackmail, the official added. "Persuasion works better than coercion, and that's something the Jordanians understand completely," the official said. "The caricatures of clumsy, heavy-handed approaches just don't fit."
'A Salafi jihadi since birth'
Balawi, 32, trained as a physician at Istanbul University in Turkey and worked at a clinic in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. He was married to a Turkish journalist, who has written admiringly of al-Qaeda's leader in a book titled "Osama bin Laden: Che Guevara of the East."
In the past four years, using the pseudonym Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, Balawi wrote on extremist Web sites and gained renown. He trumpeted calls for martyrdom.
"My words will drink of my blood," he wrote, one of a number of statements suggesting an ambition to move beyond rhetoric.
"If you read his articles, you understand he is a Salafi jihadi since birth," said Hasan Hanieh, an author and former Islamic radical, referring to a purist strain of Islam known as Salafism. "They go to the core of his beliefs. Over years, I could see this type of person moderate, but such a person does not become an agent. Never."
The Jordanian official with an intelligence background, who has studied Balawi's writings since the attack, reached the same conclusion.
"If you read him in Arabic, there is a texture and a spirit that says he is a true believer," the official said. "I would have tested this man 20 times to believe him once."
After his arrest and interrogation last January, family members said, Balawi appeared sullen and preoccupied. He stopped using the computer -- to which he had seemed so tied.
"He came out a changed person," his father said in an interview. "They should have left him alone. They should not have played with his mind." He said his son would never have moved beyond rhetoric had he not been forced to leave Jordan.
Balawi left Jordan soon after his release, telling his family that he wanted to pursue further medical studies in Pakistan.
He began to produce credible and compelling information about extremists, and the GID turned over the operation's management and the resulting intelligence to the CIA while allowing its officer, Capt. Sharif Ali bin Zeid, to remain as a conduit to Balawi, officials said.
As the information continued to flow, the agency was able to exploit it for operations in Pakistan, officials said. Belief in Balawi grew.
"First, the guy had extremist credentials, including proven access to senior figures," the U.S. intelligence official said. "Second, you had a sound liaison service that believed they'd turned him and that had been working with him since. And third, the asset supplied intelligence that was independently verified. You don't ignore those kinds of things, but you don't trust the guy, either."
In September, six months after Balawi's arrival in Pakistan, U.S. and international intelligence officials described what they said was their growing success in penetrating al-Qaeda's senior ranks, which allowed improved targeting of insurgent locations in Pakistan.
"Human sources have begun to produce results," said Richard Barrett, head of the United Nations' al-Qaeda and Taliban monitoring group and the former chief of Britain's overseas counterterrorism operations. At the time, a senior Obama administration official with firsthand knowledge of the U.S. operations attributed the killings of more than a dozen senior al-Qaeda officials to the CIA's increasing ability "to locate and identify individuals."
Asked last week whether his reference to greater intelligence penetration included reports from Balawi, the official said he was "not referring to any one individual," but he declined to clarify whether he knew about Balawi's reports. "Maybe. Maybe not," he said.
Balawi appears to have been what in espionage terms is called a "dangle" held out by al-Qaeda.
"This is a very well-thought-out al-Qaeda operation," said a former senior U.S. intelligence officer. "Every dangle operation is a judgment call. It has to be significant enough so that the Jordanians and, in this case, the CIA knows it's real. . . . That's always the key in running a dangle operation: How much do you give to establish bona fides without giving up the family jewels?"
Indeed, tactical successes made possible by Balawi's information appear in retrospect to have been sacrifices by al-Qaeda to get closer to its ultimate target: the CIA.
"They would give up a lot to get at the CIA," said a former Jordanian intelligence officer.
After the attack, the Pakistani Taliban released a video of Balawi accompanied by its leader, but officials suspect al-Qaeda directed the bombing.
Case officers' qualms
Both American and Jordanian case officers raised questions last year about the speed with which Balawi appeared to have inserted himself into a position where he could obtain such intelligence, according to the former U.S. official familiar with Balawi's detention.
Al-Qaeda is deeply suspicious of new volunteers, and especially so of Jordanians because of repeated attempts by GID to penetrate the organization, according to former Jordanian intelligence officials. There are no Jordanians in bin Laden's inner circle, and some who have risen to prominence, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the slain leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, were given assignments far from the leadership.
Al-Qaeda security and intelligence officers rigorously vet new arrivals and subject them to a host of tests before they reach "even the third circle around the leadership," as a former Jordanian intelligence official put it.
"Their first instinct is to suspect," this former official said. "They check and double-check his background. They watch him eat and sleep and pray, for signs. They analyze everything. That's how they have survived since 9/11. And after all that, if they believe him, he won't get near the inner circle."
Balawi, however, appeared to have done just that, offering information on Zawahiri. The Jordanian provided "irrefutable proof," including "photograph-type evidence," that he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda's leaders, according to a senior intelligence official. Some Jordanian and U.S. officials now question whether such an encounter ever occurred. But they say that if it did, it was an elaborate piece of staging by Balawi's true handler.
"It was briefed to the White House and to Centcom," a U.S. official said, referring to U.S. Central Command. "This was a high profile. The Bush and Obama White Houses had vowed to kill him [bin Laden]. What a political victory it would be."
The U.S. intelligence official said the case was handled methodically: "This case didn't grow up overnight. None of them do. It developed step by step. And, at some point, especially if you're going to send somebody against one of the toughest targets in the world, you have to meet them face to face."
After several years of internal purges in which senior officers were pushed out, the GID had lost some of its "wisdom and caution," according to a Jordanian government official. A new leadership, installed slightly more than a year ago, relished the prospect of participating in such an extraordinary coup.
"There was desperation to get the fruit," the official said.
A former senior Jordanian intelligence official said he rues any possibility of mistrust between the two intelligence agencies in the wake of the Afghanistan bombing, asserting that the CIA-GID partnership has "saved hundreds of lives, including American lives" over the years.
"This relationship is in the interests of the United States," he said.
Warrick reported from Washington. Staff writers Karen DeYoung and Ellen Nakashima in Washington and special correspondent Ranya Kadri in Amman contributed to this report.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islam in Britain
on: January 16, 2010, 12:28:25 PM
Al-Qaeda threat: Britain worst in western world
Al-Qaeda threat: Britain worst in western world
Al-Qaeda has successfully restructured its global network and now has the capability to carry out a wide range of terror attacks against Western targets, according to a detailed U.S. intelligence assessment that has been conducted in the wake of the failed Christmas Day Detroit bomb plot.
By Con Coughlin
Published: 9:00AM GMT 15 Jan 2010
And the growing strength of al-Qaeda’s support in Britain has emerged as a major concern for U.S. intelligence agencies as they attempt to prevent further attacks after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian student who studied at London’s University College, nearly succeeded in detonating an explosive device that he had concealed in his underpants as Northwest airlines flight 253 made its final approach to Detroit airport.
American intelligence officials are still investigating claims that Abdulmutallab was radicalised while he was a student between 2005 and 2008, although British security officials insist that he was radicalised in Yemen after he left London.
But the failure of British security officials to alert their American counterparts to Abdulmuttalab’s radical activities while president of UCL’s Islamic Society has led to increased tensions between Washington and London.
Earlier this week Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, confirmed that the UK had not passed any information to the U.S. prior to the attempted December 25 bombing that would have led American officials to believe that Abdulmutallab was a potential terrorist.
But while in London Abdulmutallab regularly presided over debates that denounced Britain’s involvement in the war on terror and America’s Guantanamo detention facility.
American officials now believe Britain poses a major threat to Western security because of the large number of al-Qaeda supporters that are active in the country. Two years ago Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, estimated that there were 2,000 al-Qaeda sympathisers based in Britain – the largest concentration of al-Qaeda activists in any Western country. But American officials, who regularly refer to “Londonistan” because of the high concentration of Islamic radicals in the capital, believe the figure is growing all the time. They point out that recent al-Qaeda terror attacks planned in Britain have been the work of British-based Muslims, many of whom have been trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
With al-Qaeda’s leadership under intense pressure from Nato and Pakistani security forces, there are reports that scores of British activists are now travelling to Yemen and Somalia to attend al-Qaeda training camps and receive instructions for carrying out terror attacks against Western targets.
“The level of al-Qaeda activity in Britain is becoming a major source of concern,” said a senior State Department official. “The organisation’s ability to use Britain as a base to plot terror attacks constitutes a serious threat to the security of Britain and other Western countries.”
American officials have been shocked by the resurgence of al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations in recent weeks which have seen it mount a series of attacks on U.S. targets. Last November a U.S. Army major with links to al-Qaeda in Yemen killed thirteen soldiers and injured another thirty at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. And a week after Abdulmutallab’s failed bomb attack in Detroit an al-Qaeda double agent managed to kill seven CIA officials in a suicide bomb attack at their headquarters in Afghanistan. The recent surge in al-Qaeda terror attacks has led U.S. officials to conclude that al-Qaeda is planning a series of new attacks later in the year, some of them in Britain. Abdulmutallab is reported to have told his American interrogators that there were another 25 fully-trained al-Qaeda terrorists ready to carry out similar terror attacks against Western targets.
The ease with which al-Qaeda has managed to launch attacks against American targets has taken many U.S. intelligence officials by surprise. Only two years ago Michael Hayden, the CIA director under former American President George W. Bush, boasted that the U.S. had al-Qaeda on the run. Its terrorist infrastructure in Iraq and Saudi Arabia had been destroyed, and its organisational network in other parts of the world was under intense pressure, especially in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. “On balance we are doing pretty well,” said Mr Hayden at the time. There had been “significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally.”
Since then al-Qaeda’s leadership, the majority of whom are still based in the lawless tribal regions along Pakistan’s North-West frontier, have worked to rebuild their global terror network. Recent analysis by the world’s leading intelligence agencies shows that al-Qaeda can call on operatives all over the world, although the various terror cells have different capabilities. For example, while terror cells in countries like Uraguay and Paraguay have what intelligence experts call a “watching brief”, others in Indonesia and the Philippines play a more active role in the planning and execution of terror plots.
“The threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates remains high, though not on the scale of bringing off another 9/11 attack,” said Peter Bergen, the last Western journalist to interview al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the September 11 attacks, and a leading expert on al-Qaeda. “But al-Qaeda militants can still pull off attacks on commercial aircraft and other key elements of the global economy.”
While intelligence officials say it is impossible to estimate the total number of al-Qaeda activists worldwide, the emergence of Yemen as a major terrorist training and recruitment centre for al-Qaeda is now a major concern for American intelligence officials.
They have also been shocked to discover that many of those responsible for strengthening the terror capabilities of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are former inmates of the U.S. Guantanamo Detention Facility in Cuba.
Pentagon officials estimate that one in five released Guantanamo detainees have rejoined al-Qaeda terror cells after their release. But a recent study by BBC journalist Peter Taylor of a 15-strong batch of Guantanamo detainees who were returned to Saudi Arabia under President Bush in 2007 showed that six of them had rejoined al-Qaeda in Yemen, suggesting that the percentage of former Guantanamo inmates returning to terrorism is far higher than estimated by the Pentagon.
“Whichever way you look at it Yemen has now emerged as one of al-Qaeda’s top training grounds for its global terrorist network,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official. “And what really concerns us now is the number of British-based Muslims who are traveling there to take part in the training. This represents a serious escalation in the terror threat the West faces from Islamic militants.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/ukne...ern-world.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pak's Zardari says
on: January 16, 2010, 11:51:51 AM
By Asif Ali Zardari
Friday, January 15, 2010 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/14/AR2010011403921.html
When I was elected president more than a year ago, Pakistan was in grave condition, strained by terrorism and a ravaged economy. Countering the effects of a decade of dictatorship requires bold actions, some of which are unpopular. I am working with Parliament to run a country, not a political campaign. The goal of our democratic government is to implement policies that will dramatically improve the lives of Pakistanis. In time, good policies will become good politics.
A Pakistan on the verge of greatness
Special Report: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Our economic crisis demanded unprecedented response. On taxes, education, agriculture and energy, we have shown that we must adapt, reform and become self-sufficient. Terrorists do not want Pakistan to succeed. They want to distract us from preparing for a stable and prosperous future. After a suicide bomber killed 75 people in northwestern Pakistan this month, U.S. media reports noted that "the militants' objective is to sow terror among the general population in hopes of putting more political pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari's government to back down." But militants underestimate us. Just as our people refuse to be terrorized, our government refuses to be derailed from its course of fiscal responsibility, social accountability and financial transparency.
Restoring economic health has required raising fuel prices and taxes. These moves are understandably unpopular. Stringent terms had to be accepted to partner with the International Monetary Fund, but we understood the condition of our economy and the global economy and acted decisively.
The war against terrorism has cost Pakistan not just in lives but also in economic terms, freezing international investment and diverting priorities from social and other sectors. Despite constant challenges on multiple fronts, we took the political hits and stuck with reform. The IMF has even praised "the efforts being made by the authorities to further stabilize the economy, to advance structural reform and lay the foundations for high and sustainable growth. The early signs of recovery, declining inflation, and the improved external position are encouraging." Pakistan met IMF criteria last month to receive the "fourth tranche," or $1.2 billion, of its loan funding -- no easy feat during a global recession. Corrupt governments don't reach this level of IMF partnership. The World Bank, European Union and United States have all applauded our accomplishments. This praise may be little reported, but it's far more important than the chimera of polls.
Pakistan's economic resurrection has been the product, primarily, of our own sweat and blood. The return of democracy was negotiated and carried out by the intercession of the West. Pakistanis know that expediency has at times caused the world's extended democracies to support dictatorships, as happened after Sept. 11, 2001. The West has a moral responsibility to ensure that our democratic transition continues. Long-term moral values must prevail. If the community of developed democratic nations had, after our last democratic election, crafted an innovative development plan with the scope and vision of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II, much greater economic, political and military stability would already have been achieved. Some in my country disapprove of efforts to increase the power and fiscal responsibility of our provinces and the integrity of our institutions. Those who found comfort with dictators have resisted change. Pakistan tried it their way -- and endured catastrophe. We intend to build a new Pakistan using long-term solutions based on sound fiscal management.
Now, some Western reports suggest the Pakistani military does not support the policies of our democratic government. This is not true. Not only is our military courageously battling extremists in Swat and Waziristan, and succeeding, but our troops also are supporting the country's democratic transition and adherence to our Constitution. Some in Pakistan question our international alliances because they disapprove of our allies' actions, such as Thursday's unilateral U.S. drone attack against militants in Waziristan. We should all understand that concern. But we are fighting for our lives, and Pakistan's policies cannot be based solely on what is popular. When Franklin Roosevelt threw a lifeline to Britain with the Lend-Lease program, few Americans supported challenging the Nazis. Harry Truman had less than 15 percent support among Americans to rebuild Europe. They did what was right, not what was popular, and so will we.
History has shown the difference between expedient policies and the long-term goals of true statesmen. When the history of our time is written, Pakistan's decisions will be seen as a turning point in containing international terrorism. We are building a functioning society and economy. In the end, these sometime unpopular steps will create a Pakistan that sucks the oxygen from the fire of terrorism. Those who are counting on Pakistan to back off the fight -- militarily and economically -- underestimate my country and me.
The writer is president of Pakistan.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PP-2
on: January 15, 2010, 11:03:06 AM
Obama's Magical Mystery Jobs Tour
Barack Obama and congressional Democrats promised the $787 billion stimulus package would spur 3.5 million new jobs over two years. Nearly one year later, the tally is approaching four million -- jobs lost, that is. December's report revealed 85,000 jobs lost and unemployment at 10 percent (though real unemployment -- including those who have simply stopped looking for a job -- is over 17 percent). The president's solution? Why, another stimulus, of course.
Philosophizing that "the road to recovery is never straight," Obama claims that the $75 billion "Jobs for Main Street Act" currently before the Senate will continue the smashing success of the first stimulus. Success? Oh yes, to manipulate the numbers in its favor, the administration has designed its own job-tracking formula that gives new meaning to the term "fuzzy math." The administration has dropped the ridiculous jobs "saved or created" mantra, opting instead for the stat of jobs "funded" by the stimulus. Under this convenient formula, Obama claims to have created two million jobs to date. Miracles never cease.
If you haven't seen these jobs in your town, though, you're not alone. For example, according to an Associated Press analysis, reviewed by independent economists from five universities, $20 billion-plus in transportation spending from the first stimulus has yielded virtually zip in local job growth. Even Thomas Smith, a pro-stimulus Emory University economist who reviewed the analysis, stated, "As a policy tool for creating jobs, this doesn't seem to have much bite."
Despite the Norman Rockwellian title of the Jobs for Main Street Act, Main Street isn't buying it. GDP growth and stock market improvements notwithstanding, small businesses, which propel real economic growth, simply aren't hiring. In the New York Post, Charles Gasparino explains why: "Having weathered the recession, they now fear the administration will choke off the nascent recovery and increase their costs through higher taxes to pay for the myriad of programs President Obama has in store for us, including the hyperexpensive health-care overhaul."
This "damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead" approach is no mistake. Regardless of recovery rhetoric, the president's aim has been clear from the start: "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," he said during the campaign. Of course, the 15.3 million Americans who are unemployed might take issue with this.
Yet, as Christina Romer, Chairwoman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, stated, the stimulus "has done exactly what we have anticipated it would do." She was referring to the supposed job growth. But substitute the president's "redistribute the wealth" intent, and Romer's statement is disturbingly true.
Administration Announces New Bank Tax
A regional convenience store has an interesting placard at the cash register informing patrons that the store pays more in debit and credit card transaction charges than it makes in net profits. The placard further invites the customer to sign a petition to tell Congress to limit transaction fees charged by the "evil banks."
Perhaps Barack Obama has been sneaking out of the White House after hours for a slushee because he also has decided that the evil banks are a potential revenue source for the Treasury. It seems that his Treasury Department has looked at the $46 billion earned by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2009 and concluded that the banking industry could support a donation to offset the cost of the TARP spend-a-thon. The terms of the Troubled Asset Relief Program do require the beneficiary to pay interest to the Treasury, but Obama's proposed fee would be an addition to those interest charges.
The Wall Street Journal reports, "If approved by Congress, the new tax -- which the White House calls a 'financial crisis responsibility fee' -- would force about 50 banks, insurance companies and large broker-dealers to collectively pay the federal government roughly $90 billion over 10 years." Furthermore, "Banks that have repaid their TARP money wouldn't escape taxation." GM and Chrysler are exempt, however.
As a socialist, Obama has as much tolerance for profits as Superman does for Kryptonite (our apologies to Superman for the comparison) ... unless those profits are derived from a fictional autobiographical memoir of a 40-year-old man whose accomplishments couldn't fill a 3x5 index card. However, just in case he reads our humble publication, we would like to remind Mr. Obama that profits represent the return for risk. Profits beget retained earnings, beget capital formation, beget expansion -- the one sustainable source of job growth.
Don't get us wrong -- the federal government (read: taxpayers) never should have bailed out banks in the first place. But many of them have already paid back TARP money, or are working to pay it back (some never wanted it in the first place but were forced to take it), and another tax is not exactly the right remedy for a struggling economy. That $90 billion could cost the economy $1 trillion when the lost capital results in less lending. Alas, everything looks like a nail to someone with a hammer.
From the 'Non Compos Mentis' File
Our thoughts and prayers are with those in Haiti after the terrible and deadly earthquake there this week. The disaster, though, provided fodder for, of all things, the health care debate. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann asked how U.S. health care would withstand such a disaster: "[H]ow would survivors of something like this here fare in terms of getting on their own feet economically afterwards, with the health care system we have in place right now?"
In our estimation, we think our system would fare just fine. We're certainly the first to come to the aid of a nation such as Haiti, sending our own doctors and supplies, not to mention our military. Does Olbermann really think that once health care is rationed and doctors themselves are in short supply, America will be able to help itself, much less other nations? American generosity is possible because of our (mostly) capitalist system -- the system that Olbermann and other leftists want to replace with the graveyard of socialism.
Meanwhile, Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, also made regrettable remarks about Haiti's tragedy. On his show "The 700 Club," Robertson claimed that during the 18th century when Haitian slaves sought freedom from the French they made a "pact to the devil." He concluded, "Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other." Thus the earthquake. Robertson made similar comments after Hurricane Katrina. We would remind Pat that most Haitians are Catholic.
Actor Danny Glover had his own theory as to the cause of the earthquake: "All this hell because of global warming. ... When we did what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I'm sayin'?" What Glover is sayin' is that because there wasn't an agreement at Copenhagen, climate change is causing earthquakes. Robertson says the Haitians offended God, Glover claims they angered Gaia.
Barack Obama has their back, though. Speaking to the Haitians, he said, "[A]fter suffering so much for so long, to face this new horror must cause some to look up and ask, 'Have we somehow been forsaken?' To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten. In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you." In other words, the Chosen One hasn't forgotten them.
Faith and Family: Bicoastal Fronts on the Same-Sex Marriage War
From sea to shining sea, Americans are being divided on the moral issue of whether two people of the same gender should have the right to declare themselves married. Californians thought they had settled the question (for the second time) when the ballot issue and constitutional amendment Proposition 8 narrowly passed in 2008. But their verdict was soon called into question and eventually landed in the courtroom of Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, with a trial to overturn the will of the voters starting this week.
In addition, Judge Walker has promised to turn this trial into a three-ring circus by posting delayed video of the proceedings on YouTube, citing a recently approved federal pilot program which allowed telecasting certain non-jury civil trials. Supporters of Proposition 8 objected to this, citing that ongoing harassment by opponents would have a chilling effect on the willingness of witnesses defending Proposition 8 to be filmed. The filming question went before the United States Supreme Court, which has blocked filming the trial indefinitely.
Across the country, the New Jersey Senate denied the bid of activists to make the Garden State the fifth to allow same-sex marriage. While the state has allowed civil unions since 2006, the same-sex marriage bill was voted on hurriedly so outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine could sign it since incoming GOP Governor-elect Chris Christie opposes the bill.
The bill was rejected by a 20-14 vote, falling seven votes short of passage in the 40-member body and never making it to the Assembly. Same-sex marriage supporters vow to make their next move in court.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: January 15, 2010, 11:02:07 AM
Digest · Friday, January 15, 2010
"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." --Thomas Jefferson
Government & Politics
The Modern-Day Plantation
The new book "Game Change" by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin has Washington buzzing. The book revealed some comments made by prominent Democrats that they probably wish had stayed in the smoke-filled room. The one receiving most attention is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's remark that Barack Obama would succeed as a presidential candidate because he is "light-skinned" and speaks "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
Reactions on the Left were all too predictable: Reid groveled before Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and Democrats circled the wagons. It almost goes without saying that, were a Republican to have said the same thing, he would have been run out of town on a rail. But Republicans didn't have to say anything before Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, thundered, "Senator Reid's record provides a stark contrast to actions of Republicans to block legislation that would benefit poor and minority communities -- most recently reflected in Republican opposition to the health bill now under consideration." Reid also last month called opponents of health care racists in the vein of those who resisted civil rights legislation in the 1960s (i.e., Democrats).
More interesting, though, is that conservatives disagree on how to handle the revelation. RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, called for Reid to resign his leadership post because that's what Sen. Trent Lott did in a similar situation in 2002. Steele is an attack dog; it's his job to say this. But what would Republicans gain by collecting Reid's scalp? Probably not much. Given his dismal poll numbers, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund doesn't believe Reid will even run for re-election, much less win it, so the GOP may pick up his seat anyway.
National Review's Jonah Goldberg took issue with Steele's premise as well, writing, "y demanding Reid's resignation, Steele is making an idiotic, nasty and entirely cynical game bipartisan. Yes, there's a double standard, but the point is that the standard used against conservatives is unfair, not that that unfair standard should be used against Democrats as well."
Thanks to Democrats, racism has been so broadly defined that practically anything Republicans do or say can be construed as such. As long as that doesn't change, the double standard will remain in effect.
Beyond the political chess match, however, the core of the matter is that Reid's observation isn't necessarily racist. He was partly correct, too. Besides the fact that no Republican was going to win the White House last year, Obama's race helped him.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once put it, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Democrats still have that reversed: "I have a dream that my children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the content of their character but by the color of their skin." What's truly racist is that Democrats demand absolute allegiance and ideological purity from blacks, in effect keeping their prized constituency on the modern-day plantation.
News From the Swamp: Health Care Cost Shuffle
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the latest organization to analyze the health care fiasco currently being cooked up behind closed doors in Washington, and its assessment is not good. According to the report, the legislation will force health care spending to rise by $222 billion over the next 10 years. Conveniently, revenue for the legislation is spread out over a 10-year budget period, but most of the spending provisions are in effect for only six years.
The report also attacks the idea that cuts in Medicare will help fund the health care bill, pointing out that doctors and hospitals will bear the brunt of these reductions. It's obvious to anyone willing to admit it that this will lead to a lower quality of service and doctors turning away patients insured by the government in favor of those with private coverage and "relatively attractive payment rates." This report, and several like it from numerous nonpartisan groups, have pointed out repeatedly that the health care bill in its current form will do exactly the opposite of what Democrats claim it will do, yet our "representatives" in Congress continue the proverbial march off of the cliff.
"We're looking at 37 Democrats who are in districts that are particularly upset and vulnerable to the provisions of this health care bill. Are they going to be with the people or are they going to be with Pelosi?" --House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), saying that "this health care bill can be defeated"
From the Left: Mass. Hysteria
While Massachusetts is one of the bluest states in the country, Republican Scott Brown has come within striking distance of beating Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the state's empty U.S. Senate seat. The special election will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 19, and in recent days Brown has gone from also-ran to serious contender. His meteoric rise demonstrates that the public has serious issues with Democrats, and particularly the health care bill.
Brown made a strong showing in a debate against Coakley in which he fielded considerably tougher questions than she did. While Coakley was asked questions about her campaign style and strategy, Brown was grilled about global warming and health care legislation. He held his own and offered a nice zinger when moderator David Gergen asked him if he would be willing to "sit in Teddy Kennedy's seat" and vote against the health care bill. Brown responded, "Well, with all due respect, it's not the Kennedy seat, and it's not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat."
Absolutely true, but try telling that to Paul Kirk and the Massachusetts Democrat machine. Kirk was handpicked by Gov. Deval Patrick to hold the seat after Kennedy died, and he offers a crucial vote on health care should the vote come before the special election. Kirk has promised that he will vote for final passage, while Brown has indicated he will offer the 41st vote to prevent it. But now that it seems sure that the election will pass before the final vote, Kirk and the secretary of state's office, which oversees the special election, may be prepared to stall final certification of the results if Brown wins. They claim they will have to wait a minimum of 10 days for absentee and military ballots. This standard certainly wasn't in play when Kennedy himself was seated the day after the special election in 1962.
"For some time now, leading Democrats have seemed to suffer from an ideological monomania vis-à-vis ObamaCare. No matter how unpopular the measure is, and thus how politically perilous for Democratic office-holders -- they are determined to push it through. But this reaches a new level of pathology. One can understand why they might want to play games with the certification of a Brown victory, but what in the world do they gain by saying so ahead of time? If Brown becomes the first Republican elected to the Senate from Massachusetts since 1972, it would be as clear a message of opposition to ObamaCare as one could hope to have.... For Democrats to announce pre-emptively that they will ignore such a message shows a stunning contempt for democracy." --Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto
Judicial Benchmarks: Washington's Felon Vote
In its ongoing war against sanity, the Ninth Circus Court of Appeals has once again decided it knows better than the people and their elected representatives. Why wouldn't it? After all, there are upwards of 30 of our most politically connected former lawyers on the Circuit. Why shouldn't they know more about what to do about 100-year-old provisions of the Washington State constitution than the 6.5 million citizens of Washington?
The Court is offended that prison inmates in Washington are disproportionately minorities (this is a painful fact across America). Thus, two members of the Circuit concluded that the provision in the state's constitution denying felons the right to vote was racial discrimination, violating the federal Voting Rights Act. Now, we always thought that convicted felons became convicted felons because a jury found them guilty of committing a felony. We find it hard to believe that Washington juries are motivated to convict by the race of the accused. We also find it difficult to believe that the citizens of Washington would tolerate such a racist judicial system. However, we find it all too believable that two members of the most reversed court in America would rule this way. After all, judges know best. Soon, however, the case may head to the U.S. Supreme Court, where sanity is more likely to prevail.
Around the World: Freedom Declines
Since 1972, Freedom House has done the world a service by the annual publication of its Freedom in the World, which monitors trends in democracy and tracks improvements and setbacks in freedom worldwide. This year's just-released edition has bad news for freedom lovers. For the fourth consecutive year, global declines in freedom outweighed gains in 2009, representing the longest continuous period of decline for global freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.
The survey analyzes developments that occurred in 2009 and assigns each country a freedom status -- Free, Partly Free or Not Free -- based on a scoring on key indicators. Five countries moved into "Not Free" status, and the number of electoral democracies declined to the lowest level since 1995. However, 16 countries made notable gains, with two countries improving their overall freedom status. The most significant improvements in 2009 occurred in Asia.
Freedom House found "declines for freedom were registered in 40 countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, representing 20 percent of the world's total polities. Authoritarian states including Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam became more repressive. Freedom also declined in countries that had registered positive trends in previous years, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kenya, and Kyrgyzstan."
Commenting on the Freedom House report, The Wall Street Journal noted:
The recent reversals coincide, however, with America's own waning interest in democracy promotion. This didn't start with the Obama ascendancy. Chastened by the 2006 midterm election debacle and sinking public support for his Mideast policies, President Bush took rhetorical and practical emphasis off his own flagship foreign-policy agenda.
The current administration has changed the focus entirely. In its dealings with Russia and China, strategic issues trump any talk of democracy or human rights, which earlier this year in Beijing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notably called a distraction to bilateral relations. Ditto in Iran.
Is this the change that we were promised during the presidential campaign? Has America changed from being "the shining city on the hill" to a country which disregards the inscription on the Liberty Bell to "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof" and considers the promotion of democracy a "distraction to bilateral relations"?
Department of Military Correctness: SEAL Trial Moved to Iraq
The Courts Martial of Navy SEAL Petty Officers Matthew McCabe, Jonathan Keefe and Julio Huertas continues apace with two of the three heroes being forced to move their trial to Iraq in order to avail themselves of their constitutional right to confront their accuser in open court. This rare, if not unprecedented, move should be viewed with extreme caution and we hope defense counsel has taken appropriate measures to protect fully the rights of the accused.
For them to enter the sovereign territory of Iraq, even under the auspices of a military court, may place them in peril both physically and legally. What's to prevent the Iraqi government from bringing additional trumped up criminal charges and ordering their arrest? How will the U.S. military protect them from such arrest should such action take place?
One possible alternative would be to insist they hold the trial aboard a U.S. naval vessel in international waters off the Iraqi coast. Failing that, the U.S. Embassy is a second logical alternative.
In a related question, there is an interesting legal position we may be forced to confront in light of the criminal trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City. If, as this administration insists, KSM (and others) are just "criminals," then under what legal authority has this administration justified the continued Predator attacks on these civilian "criminals"? We know this administration fully supports a double standard in tax cases and racism allegations, and we certainly don't expect anything different in this case.
This Week's 'Alpha Jackass' Award
"Most of the domestic groups that we pay attention to here are white supremacist groups. They're anti-government, in most cases anti-abortion, they are usually survivalist type in nature, identity oriented. ... Those groups are groups that claim to be extremely anti-government and Christian identity oriented." --TSA nominee Erroll Southers
Meanwhile, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the radical Muslim who actually tried to bomb a U.S. airliner, pleaded "not guilty" in federal court last Friday.
China's Successful Missile Interceptor Test
As China's economic might continues to grow, with its auto and banking industries overtaking the U.S. in world dominance, the Red Dragon's military might also is advancing ominously. This week, China's official Xinhua news agency reported that China tested "ground-based midcourse missile interception technology." Xinhua also said, "The test has achieved the expected objective. The test is defensive in nature and is not targeted at any country." The U.S. military confirmed the test did take place and apparently was successful. Pentagon spokeswoman Major Maureen Schumann said, "We detected two geographically separated missile launch events with an exo-atmospheric collision also being observed by space-based sensors."
China's successful anti-ballistic missile test comes just days after Beijing complained about U.S. weapon sales to Taiwan, including Patriot PAC-3 air defense missiles, which are themselves capable of intercepting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and could be used against Red Chinese missiles deployed along China's coast and aimed at Taiwan. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Pentagon said they did not consider China's test to be related to these Taiwanese arms sales. While that may be technically true, since it typically takes many days or weeks to prepare such a missile test, there is little doubt that Beijing intended to send Washington a message -- that message being, "Taiwan is ours, stay away. And if you don't stay away, you will have to contend with our rapidly growing military technology." Just one more rattling saber that our waffling Dear Leader will have to deal with, or ignore at our country's peril.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post on Interpol immunity
on: January 15, 2010, 11:00:18 AM
Culture & Policy
Second Amendment: Interpol and the Executive Order
There have been disarming reports of late about an Executive Order by Barack Obama concerning the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). According to the NRA-ILA, "President Obama's order amends a 1983 order by President Reagan, in which the U.S. recognized Interpol as an international organization that is entitled to certain legal immunities under the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA)." Interpol, founded in 1923 and composed of 188 countries that share information about international criminal investigations, has long been immune from civil lawsuits, so the claim that the immunity comes from Obama is incorrect. Many reports assert that Interpol personnel would be granted diplomatic immunity and would then have the ability to seize firearms, among other violations of U.S. citizens' rights. These fears are likely unfounded.
Diplomatic immunity applies only to diplomats, not agents. The immunity the agents do have is only "relating to acts performed by them in their official capacity." Furthermore, the NRA notes, "Law enforcement officers working with Interpol are detailed from agencies in various countries, such as the FBI or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They have no power of arrest outside their own countries. Therefore, a seizure of an American (or of an Americans' firearms) would likely not fall within the official duties for which Interpol officials would be immune from prosecution."
Granted, we are wary of Obama and other leftists around the world -- particularly when it comes to Second Amendment rights -- but this appears to be a false alarm.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson to Taylor, 1816
on: January 15, 2010, 08:46:08 AM
"The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Taylor, 1816
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Tea Party
on: January 15, 2010, 08:40:45 AM
HOLLAND, Pa. — The Tea Party movement ignited a year ago, fueled by anti-establishment anger. Now, Tea Party activists are trying to take over the establishment, ground up.
Across the country, they are signing up to be Republican precinct leaders, a position so low-level that it often remains vacant, but which comes with the ability to vote for the party executives who endorse candidates, approve platforms and decide where the party spends money.
A new group called the National Precinct Alliance says it has a coordinator in nearly every state to recruit Tea Party activists to fill the positions and has already swelled the number of like-minded members in Republican Party committees in Arizona and Nevada. Its mantra is this: take the precinct, take the state, take the party — and force it to nominate conservatives rather than people they see as liberals in Republican clothing.
Here, in a perennial battleground district outside Philadelphia, Tea Party activists are trying to strip the local committee of its influence in choosing the Republican nominee to run against Representative Patrick J. Murphy, a Democrat who won the seat in 2006 by about 1,500 votes.
After the local party said it would stick to its custom of endorsing a candidate rather than holding an open primary, Tea Party groups decided to hold their own candidate forum where people could cast a ballot. If the party does not yield, the groups say they will host a debate, too.
“We kind of changed the rules,” said Anastasia Przybylski, one of the organizers.
The Tea Party movement, named after the original tax revolt in 1773, might be better described as a diverse, rambunctious and Internet-connected network of groups, powered by grass-roots anxiety about the economy, bailouts and increasing government involvement in health care. At one extreme are militia members who have shown up at meetings wearing guns and suggesting that institutions like the Federal Reserve be eliminated. At the other are those like Ms. Przybylski, who describes herself as “just a stay-at-home mom” who became agitated about the federal stimulus package.
And if the Democrats are big-government socialists, the Republicans, in the Tea Party mind, are enablers.
In some recent polls, a hypothetical Tea Party wins more support than Democrats or Republicans, and the most anti-establishment Tea Party activists push to fight as a third party. But as the movement looks toward the midterm elections in November, a growing number of activists argue that the best way to translate anger into influence is to infiltrate the Republican establishment (Democrats being, for the average Tea Partier, beyond redemption).
“If you want to have revenge against the Republican Party for using you for so many years, the best way is to turn around and use the Republican Party to your advantage,” said Eric Odom, a Tea Party activist in Chicago who recently started a political action committee, and on his blog urged Tea Partiers to stop complaining about the Republican Party and “move in and take it over.”
Republican leaders have been trying to harness the Tea Party energy — Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently called the Tea Parties “a revelatory moment.”
“It puts in stark relief where the American people are, how they feel and what they feel,” Mr. Steele said. “It’s important for our party to appreciate and understand that so we can move toward it, and embrace it.”
Not all Republicans agree. Some say the party needs to broaden its reach, not cater to the fringe.
The defining experience for many Tea Party groups was the special election in the 23rd Congressional District of New York in November, where party leaders chose a candidate whom conservatives viewed as a Republican in name only — she supported same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the federal stimulus package. After activists flooded the district to support a conservative third-party candidate, the Republican dropped out and endorsed the Democrat, who won.
Conservatives took the Republican retreat as a victory, but also saw the power of the party structure in deciding who the candidates will be. The rallying cry for more local involvement has been “No more NY-23’s.”
“We don’t want to see what happened in New York happen here,” Ms. Przybylski said.
The forum here drew nine candidates and a standing-room crowd in an auditorium built for 1,200. The questions organizers had drawn up for the candidates hinted at the issues important to so called Teapublicans.
Will you pledge to vote against tax increases, even hidden taxes like those in health care reform? Should corporate executives who encourage illegal immigrants to stay because it is good for business be hauled off to jail? Do you believe manmade pollution is a significant contributor to global warming? (“I don’t necessarily think there’s been global warming,” one candidate objected.)
Each was asked to define the 10th Amendment, and to cite examples of where it “might have been violated.” “It’s my favorite amendment in the Constitution,” exclaimed one candidate, Ira Hoffman. “I can’t believe it!”
The amendment declares that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the states or the people, and Tea Party activists hold that Congress has overstepped its bounds, particularly by legislating health care. So candidates were asked whether they would support efforts to nullify the health care bill?
(Page 2 of 2)
Finally, the moderator asked them if 2010 would be “the year of the Tea Party.” The candidates, and many in the audience, said it would, but only if the Tea Party advocates worked the system.
“I think we can do greater things working in a system that’s established than we ever can being a bunch of anarchists,” said Jennifer Turner Stefano, a vice president of a local Tea Party group who is contesting her local Republican committeeperson.
Ms. Stefano, a stay-at-home mother and former television reporter, will have to get 10 signatures and put her name on the ballot to run. But the National Precinct Alliance estimates that about 60 percent of the roughly 150,000 local Republican committee seats are vacant and can be filled by essentially showing up.
“Even if you’ve got a slight majority, you just need maybe 26 states, then you can have your say in how the party goes,” said Philip Glass, a former commercial mortgage banker in Cincinnati who is the national director of the precinct alliance.
The precinct strategy, like the Tea Party movement itself, has spread via the Internet, on sites like Resistnet.com. A National Tea Party Convention in Nashville next month will feature seminars on how to take over starting at the precinct level.
Advocates hold up the example of Las Vegas, where a group of about 30 people who had become friendly at Tea Party events last spring met to discuss how they could turn their crowds into political influence. One mentioned that there were about 500 open precinct committee positions in the local Republican Party.
They recruited other activists and flooded the committee — the Republican Party says it now has 780 committee people, up from about 300. In July, they approved a new executive committee, and Tony Warren, one of the organizers and a new precinct committeeman himself, said six out of seven executives are “constitutional conservatives,” in keeping with Tea Party ideology.
With the bulk of Nevada’s population in the Las Vegas area, the local committee was able to elect a conservative slate to the state party in December, including a state chairman who has said he wants to make the party “safe” for conservatives.
As recently as last spring, Mr. Warren said, “we didn’t even know how the darn party worked.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Google shows more b*lls than BO
on: January 15, 2010, 08:31:45 AM
By DAVID E. SANGER and JOHN MARKOFF
Published: January 14, 2010
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Last month, when Google engineers at their sprawling campus in Silicon Valley began to suspect that Chinese intruders were breaking into private Gmail accounts, the company began a secret counteroffensive.
It managed to gain access to a computer in Taiwan that it suspected of being the source of the attacks. Peering inside that machine, company engineers actually saw evidence of the aftermath of the attacks, not only at Google, but also at at least 33 other companies, including Adobe Systems, Northrop Grumman and Juniper Networks, according to a government consultant who has spoken with the investigators.
Seeing the breadth of the problem, they alerted American intelligence and law enforcement officials and worked with them to assemble powerful evidence that the masterminds of the attacks were not in Taiwan, but on the Chinese mainland.
But while much of the evidence, including the sophistication of the attacks, strongly suggested an operation run by Chinese government agencies, or at least approved by them, company engineers could not definitively prove their case. Today that uncertainty, along with concerns about confronting the Chinese without strong evidence, has frozen the Obama administration’s response to the intrusion, one of the biggest cyberattacks of its kind, and to some extent the response of other targets, including some of the most prominent American companies.
President Obama, who has repeatedly warned of the country’s vulnerability to devastating cyberattacks, has said nothing in public about one of the biggest examples since he took office. And the White House, while repeating Mr. Obama’s calls for Internet freedom, has not publicly demanded a Chinese government investigation. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had been the most senior U.S. official to talk of the seriousness of the breach, discussed it on Thursday with a Chinese diplomat in Washington, however, and a senior administration official said there would be a “démarche in coming days” — a diplomatic move.
On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry deflected questions about Google’s charges and dismissed its declaration that it would no longer “self-censor” searches conducted on google.cn, its Chinese search engine. A ministry spokeswoman said simply that online services in China must be conducted “in accordance with the law.”
In interviews in which they disclosed new details of their efforts to solve the mystery, Google engineers said they doubted that a nongovernmental actor could pull off something this broad and well organized, but they conceded that even their counterintelligence operation, taking over the Taiwan server, could not provide the kind of airtight evidence needed to prove the case.
The murkiness of the attacks is no surprise. For years the National Security Agency and other arms of the United States government have struggled with the question of “attribution” of an attack; what makes cyberwar so unlike conventional war is that it is often impossible, even in retrospect, to find where the attack began, or who was responsible.
The questions surrounding the Google attacks have companies doing business in China scrambling to confirm that they were victims. Symantec, Adobe and Juniper Networks acknowledged in interviews that they were investigating whether they had been attacked. Northrop and Yahoo, also described as subjects of the attacks, declined to comment.
Besides being unable to firmly establish the source of the attacks, Google investigators have been unable to determine the goal: to gain commercial advantage; insert spyware; break into the Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents and American experts on China who frequently exchange e-mail messages with administration officials; or all three. In fact, at least one prominent Washington research organization with close ties to administration officials was among those hacked, according to one person familiar with the episode.
Even as the United States and companies doing business in China assess the impact, the attacks signal the arrival of a new kind of conflict between the world’s No. 1 economic superpower and the country that, by year’s end, will overtake Japan to become No. 2.
It makes the tensions of the past, over China’s territorial claims or even the collision of an American spy plane and Chinese fighter pilots nine years ago, seem as outdated as a grainy film clip of Mao reviewing the May Day parade. But it also lays bare the degree to which China and the United States are engaged in daily cyberbattles, a covert war of offense and defense on which America is already spending billions of dollars a year.
Computer experts who track the thousands of daily attacks on corporate and government computer sites report that the majority of sophisticated attacks seem to emanate from China. What they cannot say is whether the hackers are operating on behalf of the Chinese state or in a haven that the Chinese have encouraged.
The latest episode illuminates the ambiguities.
For example, the servers that carried out many of the attacks were based in Taiwan, though a Google executive said “it only took a few seconds to determine that the real origin was on the mainland.” And at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, there is little doubt that Beijing was behind the attacks. Partly that is because while Mr. Obama was hailing a new era of cautious cooperation with China, Google was complaining of mounting confrontation, chiefly over Chinese pressure on it to make sure Chinese users could not directly link to the American-based “google.com” site, to evade much of the censorship the company had reluctantly imposed on its main Chinese portal, google.cn.
“Everything we are learning is that in this case the Chinese government got caught with its hand in the cookie jar,” said James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who consulted for the White House on cybersecurity last spring. “Would it hold up in court? No. But China is the only government in the world obsessed about Tibet, and that issue goes right to the heart of their vision of political survival and putting down the separatists’ movements.”
Over the years, there have been private warnings issued to China, notably after an attack on the computer systems used by the office of the defense secretary two years ago. A senior military official said in December that that attack “raised a lot of alarm bells,” but the attacker could not be pinpointed. The administration cautioned Chinese officials that attacks seemingly aimed at the national security leadership would not be tolerated, according to one American who took part in delivering that message.
David E. Sanger reported from Santa Clara, and John Markoff from San Francisco. Mark Landler contributed reporting from Washington.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor
on: January 14, 2010, 11:27:06 AM
Israel plans to ask Germany to sell a sixth discounted Dolphin-class diesel submarine when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit Berlin on Jan. 18, Reuters reported Jan. 14, citing officials. While Dolphins cost $700 million, the ones currently in Israel’s fleet were sold at a deep discount.
Turkey has accepted Israel’s apology in the diplomatic friction between Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon and Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, a resolution in which Israeli President Shimon Peres played a large part, Ynet reported Jan. 14, citing Turkish Foreign Ministry sources. One source called Peres the wisest man in the Middle East, a reference to his appeal to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to secure an apology.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Lebanon this week that Israel could be planning an attack, Haaretz reported Jan. 14, citing a report in the London-based Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat. The daily, citing Lebanese sources, reported that Erdogan warned Lebanese leaders about a potential Israeli attack on Lebanon.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Honduras leaves ALBA
on: January 14, 2010, 11:24:41 AM
The Honduran Congress ratified interim President Roberto Micheletti’s decision to leave the Venezuelan-sponsored Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) on Jan. 12. This domestically significant move signals a reversal of the policies of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who had built economic and political ties to Venezuela, which was part of his opponents’ motivation behind the June 2009 ouster. However, Honduran dependence on imported fuels means legislators will attempt to keep an oil import initiative implemented under Zelaya intact for now.
The decision to exit ALBA was approved by 122 of 128 congress members, with the six opposing votes coming from five leftist Democratic Unity (UD) legislators and a single National Innovation and Unity Party-Social Democratic Party (PINU-SD) member. ALBA financial aid to Honduras will be terminated as a result of the withdrawal, including $185 million earmarked for social programs to be returned Venezuela. Honduras will keep a donation of 100 tractors. After the congressional vote, an official said Honduras will not dismantle existing crude oil supply agreements with Venezuela under the Petrocaribe oil supply alliance, of which Honduras became a member in March 2008. Petrocaribe offers crude oil to member states, allowing them to cover up to 60 percent of payments up front with shipments of goods.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez suspended oil shipments to Honduras, which reportedly totaled 20,000 barrels per day, in July 2009 after demanding Zelaya’s reinstatement. Honduran legislators have made it clear that they expect oil shipments purchased from Venezuela with Petrocaribe credits prior to the political crisis will still be supplied, despite the Venezuelan cutoff — but this situation places any resumption of oil shipments firmly at Venezuela’s discretion. After Zelaya’s ouster, Honduran officials claimed that a rupture with Petrocaribe would not cause fuel shortages in Honduras, saying Mexico and other Caribbean nations could become alternate suppliers. Officials said there had been fuel supply problems before the political crisis, but the interruption of Venezuelan shipments does not seem to have caused significant problems.
The Honduran decision seems likely to heighten already-simmering tensions between the politically isolated Central American nation and ALBA members, particularly Venezuela and Nicaragua. ALBA members have yet to recognize the interim government, and the Honduran rejection of ALBA seems likely to sustain this polarization for the foreseeable future. The decision signals a firm shift away from relations with Venezuela, for now, and reflects the interim Honduran government’s continuing rejection of outside political interference.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe
on: January 14, 2010, 11:22:33 AM
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos on Jan. 12 praised Russia’s proposal for a new European security treaty as “timely” and in line with Europe’s interests. By putting forth that proposal Russia is not necessarily hoping to get Europe to agree to a particular security arrangement; rather, Moscow is looking to sow discord among European countries, particularly NATO members.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos visited Moscow on Jan. 12. Moratinos, whose country currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, called Russia’s proposal for a new European security treaty “timely” and said its implementation would be in line with Europe’s interests. He also specifically mentioned NATO’s ongoing efforts to create a new “Strategic Concept” document, saying that these efforts manifest “considerable interest” in the Russian security proposal.
Moratinos’ comments were not echoed at a Jan. 12 session of a group of experts, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, which met in Prague to draft proposals for the new NATO strategy document. Central European delegates at the meeting expressed considerable anxiety over NATO’s future, asking for assurances that NATO’s Article 5 — the very heart of the NATO alliance, which states that attack on one member is attack on the entire alliance — is still alive and well.
At the core of Central Europe’s unease are Russia’s ever-improving relations with Western European states.
NATO is undergoing its most significant strategic mission revamping since 1999, when it last updated its Strategic Concept document. In that update, NATO took into account the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and outlined the parameters for NATO operations outside its membership zone, paving the way for the alliance’s role in such theaters of operations as Afghanistan. In 2010, the alliance plans to update its strategic vision at a conference to be held in Lisbon at the end of the year, prior to which it will hold a number of meetings such as the one in Prague.
(click here to enlarge image)
Central European NATO member states are well aware that they now form the buffer zone between Western Europe and a resurgent Russia. Ever since the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008, Central Europe has asked for greater reassurances from the United States that NATO is willing to protect them. Poland, the Czech Republic and most recently Romania have been involved with U.S. ballistic missile defense, while the Baltic states have asked the United States for greater military cooperation on the ground.
The response, however, has not been to their satisfaction. First, Western Europe and the United States stood idly by while Georgia, a stated U.S. ally, lost its brief war with Russia in 2008. Second, Washington decided to (briefly) abandon its BMD plans in Poland and the Czech Republic in the fall of 2009 in an effort to elicit Russia’s cooperation in Afghanistan and on the Iranian nuclear program. While the U.S. eventually amended its decision, Prague and Warsaw got the sense that they were expendable in the grand geopolitical game. Finally, Central Europeans are closely observing Russia’s warming relations with the main Western European states — particularly Germany, France and Italy. The Kremlin is signing energy deals with these states and offering lucrative assets in the upcoming privatizations of state enterprises in Russia.
The last straw for Central Europe may be Russia’s proposed new European security treaty, meant to integrate Russia more into Europe’s security decision-making. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev first hinted at the proposal after the Georgian war. It was then put forward as a slightly less vague — but still unclear — draft at the beginning of December 2009. For Russia the draft and the treaty itself are not important. Moscow understands well that Western Europe has no intention of abandoning NATO. However, the positive response the draft received from Western European nations — such as the Spanish foreign minister’s comments — is exactly what Russia wanted. For Russia, the point is not to sway Western Europe into an unrealistic new security alliance (although it would love to do just that), but rather to sow discord among NATO member states.
The Central Europeans therefore are taking the lead in refocusing the debate about NATO’s new strategy — which until now has been about identifying new global threats such as energy security, cyberwarfare and climate change — toward Russia. They are asking for concrete assurances that Article 5 is alive and well. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, hosting the Jan. 12 meeting on NATO’s new strategy, explicitly said that “it is critical for us that the level of security is the same for all members, meaning that Article 5 … is somehow re-confirmed.” One of the proposals at the meeting included drafting a clear and precise defense plan in the case of an attack against the region, presumably by Russia.
The question now is how these demands will be met by Western Europe — and Berlin specifically — which is unwilling to upset its relationship with Russia, particularly not for the sake of Central Europeans. While the United States and Western Europe may be willing to grant a token reaffirmation of Article 5, it is unlikely that Berlin would want to get into the specifics of designing a military response to a hypothetical Russian attack, particularly not one that would be publicly unveiled. Washington might be more amenable to such concrete proposals, but with Russian supply lines crucial for U.S. efforts to sustain a troop surge in Afghanistan, it is not certain that even Washington would be able to give a more direct reassurance.
Ultimately, a token reassurance may not be enough for Central Europe. The coming debate over NATO’s 2010 strategic revamp — with the next meeting scheduled for Jan. 14 in Oslo — could therefore open fissures in the alliance, an outcome Moscow had in mind from the start.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ukraine- part 2
on: January 14, 2010, 11:18:42 AM
On Jan. 17, Ukraine is scheduled to hold a presidential election that will sweep the last remnant of the pro-Western Orange Revolution — Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko — from power in Kiev. Yushchenko’s presidency has been marked by pro-Western moves on many levels, including attempts to join the European Union and NATO. However, the next government in Kiev — pro-Russian though it may be — could still have a place for Yushchenko.
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a three-part series on Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is the last remnant of the pro-Western Orange Revolution. Now that his popularity has plummeted and his coalition partner, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, has turned pro-Russian, he is set to be swept aside by Ukraine’s Jan. 17 presidential election.
Yushchenko led the Orange Revolution, and his presidency kept Russia from completely enveloping Ukraine. Although the upcoming presidential election will deliver Ukraine into Russia’s hands, Yushchenko might not be ejected from Kiev altogether.
Yushchenko entered the government in 1999 when he was nominated as prime minister by then-President Leonid Kuchma after a round of infighting over the premiership. As prime minister, Yushchenko — a former central bank chief — helped Ukraine economically and helped keep relative internal stability for two years. Yet even while he served in the government, Yushchenko partnered with Timoshenko — his deputy prime minister — and started a movement against Kuchma. When a vote of no confidence ended Yushchenko’s premiership in 2001, he and his coalition partners accelerated their anti-Kuchma movement, aiming to make Yushchenko president in 2004 with Timoshenko as his prime minister. In the 2004 election, Yushchenko faced another of Kuchma’s prime ministers, Viktor Yanukovich.
Yushchenko became the West’s great hope during the 2004 presidential campaign, as he vowed to integrate Ukraine with the West and seek membership in NATO and the European Union. Although the West fully supported Yushchenko, other parties were not as thrilled with his candidacy. During the campaign, he was poisoned with dioxin, a carcinogenic substance whose outward effects include facial disfigurement. Yushchenko’s camp charged that Russian security services were behind the poisoning.
When the presidential election was held, Yanukovich was declared the winner. However, voter fraud reportedly was rampant, and mass protests erupted across the country in what would become known as the Orange Revolution. Ukraine’s top court nullified the results of the first election, and when a second election was held, Yushchenko emerged victorious.
Yushchenko has acted against Russia on many levels during his presidency — from calling the Great Famine of the 1930s an act of genocide engineered by Josef Stalin to threatening to oust the Russian navy from Crimea and even trying to break the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodox Church apart. He also tried to fulfill his promises that Ukraine would join NATO and the European Union (but these ideas proved too bold for some Western states, particularly Germany, since accepting Ukraine into either organization would enrage Russia). Most importantly, Yushchenko and his Orange Revolution were able to keep Ukraine from falling completely into Russia’s hands for at least five years. Yushchenko used the president’s control over foreign policy and Ukraine’s secret service and military to stave off Russia’s attempts to assert control over the country.
But all was not well in Kiev during Yushchenko’s presidency. His coalition with Timoshenko collapsed barely nine months after Timoshenko was named prime minister. Furthermore, Yushchenko was feeling the pressure of being a pro-Western leader in a country where much of the population remained pro-Russian or at least ambivalent enough that mere promises of pro-Western reform would not sway their vote. Yushchenko tried to find a balance in his government by naming Yanukovich prime minister in 2006, but this led to a series of shifting coalitions and overall instability in Kiev. It also stripped Yushchenko of much of his credibility as a strong pro-Western leader. His popularity has been in decline ever since.
Even though his polling numbers are currently at 3.8 percent, which places him behind five other candidates at the time of this writing, Yushchenko is trying for re-election. Unless he cancels the election — which would cause a massive uprising — this is the end of his presidency and of the Orange Revolution.
However, it might not be the end of his work inside the government. STRATFOR sources in Kiev have said that Yushchenko, Yanukovich and Russian officials are in talks that could lead Yushchenko to a relatively powerless premiership in Ukraine — a move to block Timoshenko and appease the Western-leaning parts of the country. There are regions in Western Ukraine that feel no allegiance to Russia. The Orange Revolution was strongest in the area around Lviv, a part of Ukraine that feels much more oriented toward neighboring Poland and the West. This region could very well become restive with the reversal of the Orange Revolution. A pro-Russian president, therefore, might have to include Yushchenko in the government to prevent fissures within the country. Though such a decision could create the same kind of political drama Kiev has seen in the past few years, Moscow will want to ensure that if such political chaos does occur Yushchenko will know his — and Ukraine’s — place under Russia.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on debt, to Congress, 1790
on: January 14, 2010, 07:54:05 AM
"There is not a more important and fundamental principle in legislation, than that the ways and means ought always to face the public engagements; that our appropriations should ever go hand in hand with our promises. To say that the United States should be answerable for twenty-five millions of dollars without knowing whether the ways and means can be provided, and without knowing whether those who are to succeed us will think with us on the subject, would be rash and unjustifiable. Sir, in my opinion, it would be hazarding the public faith in a manner contrary to every idea of prudence." --James Madison, Speech in Congress, 1790
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Stimulus Fraud
on: January 14, 2010, 07:38:03 AM
The piece misses the point that the better strategy would be NOT to have stimulus, but does note the massiveness of the fraud coming down the pike.
By DANIEL J. CASTLEMAN
The Obama administration—and state and local governments—should brace themselves for fraud on an Olympic scale as hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars continue to pour into job creation efforts.
Where there are government handouts, fraud, waste and abuse are rarely far behind. The sheer scale of the first and expected second stimulus packages combined with the multitiered distribution channel—from Washington to the states to community agencies to contractors and finally to workers—are simply irresistible catnip to con men and thieves.
There are already warning signs. The Department of Energy's inspector general said in a report in December that staffing shortages and other internal weaknesses all but guarantee that at least some of the agency's $37 billion economic-stimulus funds will be misused. A tenfold increase in funding for an obscure federal program that installs insulation in homes has state attorneys general quietly admitting there is little hope of keeping track of the money.
While I was in charge of investigations at the Manhattan District Attorney's office, we brought case after case where kickbacks, bid-rigging, false invoicing schemes and outright theft routinely amounted to a tenth of the contract value. This was true in industries as diverse as the maintenance of luxury co-ops and condos, interior construction and renovation of office buildings, court construction projects, dormitory construction projects, even the distribution of copy paper. In one insurance fraud case, the schemers actually referred to themselves as the "Ten Percenters."
Based on past experience, the cost of fraud involving federal government stimulus outlays of more than $850 billion and climbing could easily reach $100 billion. Who will prevent this? Probably no one, particularly at the state and local level.
New York, for instance, has an aggressive inspector general's office, with experienced and dedicated professionals. But, it is already woefully understaffed—with a head count of only 62 people—to police the state's already existing agencies and programs. There is simply no way that office can effectively scrutinize the influx of $31 billion in state stimulus money.
There is a solution however, which is to set aside a small percentage of the money distributed to fund fraud prevention and detection programs. This will ensure that states and municipalities can protect projects from fraud without tapping already thinly stretched resources.
Meaningful fraud prevention, detection and investigation can be funded by setting aside no more than 2% of the stimulus money received. For example, if a county is to receive $50 million for an infrastructure project, $1 million should be set aside to fund antifraud efforts; if it costs less, the remainder can be returned to the project's budget.
While the most obvious option might be to simply pump the fraud prevention funds into pre-existing law enforcement agencies, that would be a mistake. Government agencies take too long to staff up and rarely staff down.
A better idea is to tap the former government prosecutors, regulators and detectives with experience in fraud investigations now working in the private sector. If these resources can be harnessed, effective watchdog programs can be put in place in a timely manner. Competition between private-sector bidders will also lower the cost.
Some might object to providing a "windfall" to private companies. Any such concern is misplaced. One should not look at the 2% spent, but rather the 8% potentially saved. Moreover, consider the alternative: law enforcement agencies swamped trying to stem the tide of corruption on a shoestring and a prayer.
There will always be individuals who will rip off money meant for public projects. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and Hurricane Katrina hundreds of people were prosecuted for trying to steal relief funds. But the stimulus funding represents the kind of payday even the most ambitious fraudster could never have imagined
To avoid a stimulus fraud Olympics that will be impossible to clean up, it is better to spend a little now to save a lot later. The savings could put honest people to work and fraudsters out of business.
Mr. Castleman, a former chief assistant Manhattan district attorney, is a managing director at FTI Consulting.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Smart Power in Yemen
on: January 14, 2010, 07:21:33 AM
No opinion on the merits of this piece. I post it simply to begin the conversation on Yemen:
By FREDERICK W. KAGAN AND CHRISTOPHER HARNISCH
President Barack Obama has made it clear that he does not intend to send American ground forces into Yemen, and rightly so. But American policy toward Yemen, even after the Christmas terrorist attempt, remains focused on limited counterterrorist approaches that failed in Afghanistan in the 1990s and have created tension in Pakistan since 2001.
Yemen faces enormous challenges. Its 24 million people are divided into three antagonistic groups: a Zaydi Shiite minority now fighting against the central government (the Houthi rebellion); the inhabitants of the former Yemen Arab Republic (in the north); and the inhabitants of the former Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (in the south), many of whom are engaged in a secessionist rebellion. Its government is corrupt, its security forces have limited capabilities, and a large swath of its population is addicted to a drug called qat.
The World Bank estimates that Yemen will stop earning a profit on its oil production by 2017 (oil now accounts for more than half of the country's export income). Only 46% of rural Yemenis have access to adequate water (40% of the country's water goes to growing qat), and some estimates suggest Yemen will run out of water for its people within a decade.
American policy in Yemen has focused heavily on fighting al Qaeda, but it has failed to address the conditions that make the country a terrorist safe haven. Targeted strikes in 2002 killed key al Qaeda leaders in Yemen, and the group went relatively quiet for several years. The U.S. military has been working to build up the Yemeni Coast Guard (to prevent attacks similar to the one on the USS Cole in 2000) and to improve the counterterrorist capabilities of the Yemeni military in general.
But the U.S. has resisted supporting President Ali Abdallah Salah's efforts to defeat the Houthi insurgency, generating understandable friction with our would-be partner. As we have found repeatedly in similar situations around the world (particularly in Pakistan), local governments will not focus on terrorist groups that primarily threaten the U.S. or their neighbors at the expense of security challenges that threaten them directly. A strategy that attempts to pressure or bribe them to go after our enemies is likely to fail.
Mr. Salah is an unpalatable partner, and we don't want to be drawn into Yemen's internal conflicts more than necessary. But he is the only partner we have in Yemen. If we want him to take our side in the fight against al Qaeda, we have to take his side in the fight against the Houthis.
The U.S. must also develop a coherent approach that will help Yemen's government improve itself, address its looming economic and social catastrophes, and improve the ability of its military, intelligence and police organs to establish security throughout the country. The U.S. now maintains an earnest but understaffed and under-resourced USAID mission in the American embassy in Sana, the country's capital. But because of security concerns, U.S. officials are largely restricted to Sana and therefore cannot directly oversee the limited programs they support, let alone help address systemic governance failures.
Yemen received $150 million in USAID funds in 2009—one-tenth the amount dispensed in Afghanistan; less than one-fifth the amount provided to Gaza and the West Bank; and roughly half of what Nigeria received. The Pentagon recently said it would like to double the roughly $70 million Yemen received in security assistance. But the total pool from which that money would come from in 2010 is only $350 million, according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, and there are other pressing demands for those funds.
The problems in Yemen will not be solved simply by throwing American money at them. But dollars are the soldiers of the smart power approach. Having a lot of them does not guarantee success, but having too few does guarantee failure.
Developing a coherent strategy focused on the right objectives is important, and hard to do. The country team in any normal American embassy (like the one in Sana) does not have the staff, resources or experience to do so. The limited American military presence in Yemen does not either. Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington, it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.
The president could do that by instructing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to form a Joint Interagency Task Force on Yemen. Its mission would be to develop and implement a strategy to improve the effectiveness of the Yemeni government and security forces, re-establish civil order, and eliminate the al Qaeda safe haven. Its personnel should include the Yemen country team, headed by the ambassador, and experts from other relevant U.S. agencies as well as sufficient staff to develop and execute programs. An immediate priority must be to provide security to American officials in Yemen that will enable them to travel around, even though there will not be American forces on the ground to protect them.
This strategy will require helping Yemen defeat the Houthi insurgency and resolve the southern secessionist tensions without creating a full-blown insurgency in the south. It will also require a nuanced strategy to help the Yemeni government disentangle al Qaeda from the southern tribes that now support or tolerate it.
One of the key errors the Bush administration made in Afghanistan and Iraq was to focus excessively on solving immediate security problems without preparing for the aftermath. Too narrow a focus on improving counterterrorist strikes in Yemen without addressing the larger context of the terrorist threat growing in that country may well lead to similar results. If the Obama administration wants to avoid sending troops to Yemen, it must act boldly now.
Mr. Kagan is resident scholar and director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Harnisch is a researcher and the head of the Gulf of Aden Team at the Critical Threats Project.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / AQ, Drugs, Guns, West Africa, Venezuela-2
on: January 14, 2010, 07:04:53 AM
In December, Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN Office on
Drugs and Crime, told a special session of the UN Security Council that
drugs were being traded by "terrorists and anti-government forces" to fund
their operations from the Andes, to Asia and the African Sahel.
"In the past, trade across the Sahara was by caravans," he said. "Today it
is larger in size, faster at delivery and more high-tech, as evidenced by
the debris of a Boeing 727 found on November 2nd in the Gao region of
Mali -- an area affected by insurgency and terrorism."
Just days later, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials arrested
three West African men following a sting operation in Ghana. The men, all
from Mali, were extradited to New York on December 16 on drug trafficking
and terrorism charges.
Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure, and Idriss Abelrahman are accused of plotting to
transport cocaine across Africa with the intent to support al Qaeda, its
local affiliate AQIM and the FARC. The charges provided evidence of what the
DEA's top official in Colombia described to a Reuters reporter as "an unholy
alliance between South American narco-terrorists and Islamic extremists."
Some experts are skeptical, however, that the men are any more than
criminals. They questioned whether the drug dealers oversold their al Qaeda
connections to get their hands on the cocaine.
In its criminal complaint, the DEA said Toure had led an armed group
affiliated to al Qaeda that could move the cocaine from Ghana through North
Africa to Spain for a fee of $2,000 per kilo for transportation and
Toure discussed two different overland routes with an undercover informant.
One was through Algeria and Morocco; the other via Algeria to Libya. He told
the informer that the group had worked with al Qaeda to transport between
one and two tons of hashish to Tunisia, as well as smuggle Pakistani, Indian
and Bangladeshi migrants into Spain.
In any event, AQIM has been gaining in notoriety. Security analysts warn
that cash stemming from the trans-Saharan coke trade could transform the
organization -- a small, agile group whose southern-Sahel wing is estimated
to number between 100 and 200 men -- into a more potent threat in the region
that stretches from Mauritania to Niger. It is an area with huge foreign
investments in oil, mining and a possible trans-Sahara gas pipeline.
"These groups are going to have a lot more money than they've had before,
and I think you are going to see them with much more sophisticated weapons,"
said Douglas Farah, a senior fellow at the International Assessment Strategy
Center, a Washington based security think-tank.
NARCOTIC INDUSTRIAL DEPOT
The Timbuktu region covers more than a third of northern Mali, where the
parched, scrubby Sahel shades into the endless, rolling dunes of the Sahara
Desert. It is an area several times the size of Switzerland, much of it
beyond state control.
Moulaye Haidara, the customs official, said the sharp influx of cocaine by
air has transformed the area into an "industrial depot" for cocaine.
Sitting in a cool, dark, mud-brick office building in the city where nomadic
Tuareg mingle with Arabs and African Songhay, Fulani and Mande peoples,
Haidara expresses alarm at the challenge local law enforcement faces.
Using profits from the trade, the smugglers have already bought "automatic
weapons, and they are very determined," Haidara said. He added that they
"call themselves Al Qaeda," though he believes the group had nothing to do
with religion, but used it as "an ideological base."
Local authorities say four-wheel-drive Toyota SUVs outfitted with GPS
navigation equipment and satellite telephones are standard issue for
smugglers. Residents say traffickers deflate the tires to gain better
traction on the loose Saharan sands, and can travel at speeds of up to 70
miles-per-hour in convoys along routes to North Africa.
Timbuktu governor, Colonel Mamadou Mangara, said he believes traffickers
have air-conditioned tents that enable them to operate in areas of the
Sahara where summer temperatures are so fierce that they "scorch your
shoes." He added that the army lacked such equipment. A growing number of
people in the impoverished region, where transport by donkey cart and camel
are still common, are being drawn to the trade. They can earn 4 to 5 million
CFA Francs (roughly $9-11,000) on just one coke run.
"Smuggling can be attractive to people here who can make only $100 or $200 a
month," said Mohamed Ag Hamalek, a Tuareg tourist guide in Timbuktu, whose
family until recently earned their keep hauling rock salt by camel train,
using the stars to navigate the Sahara.
Haidara described northern Mali as a no-go area for the customs service.
"There is now a red line across northern Mali, nobody can go there," he
said, sketching a map of the country on a scrap of paper with a ballpoint
pen. "If you go there with feeble means ... you don't come back."
Speaking in Dakar this week, Schmidt, the U.N. official, said that growing
clandestine air traffic required urgent action on the part of the
"This should be the highest concern for governments ... For West African
countries, for West European countries, for Russia and the U.S., this should
be very high on the agenda," he said.
Stopping the trade, as the traffickers are undoubtedly aware, is a huge
challenge -- diplomatically, structurally and economically.
Venezuela, the takeoff or refueling point for aircraft making the trip, has
a confrontational relationship with Colombia, where President Alvaro Uribe
has focused on crushing the FARC's 45-year-old insurgency. The nation's
leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, won't allow in the DEA to work in the country.
In a measure of his hostility to Washington, he scrambled two F16 fighter
jets last week to intercept an American P3 aircraft -- a plane used to seek
out and track drug traffickers -- which he said had twice violated
Venezuelan airspace. He says the United States and Colombia are using
anti-drug operations as a cover for a planned invasion of his oil-rich
country. Washington and Bogota dismiss the allegation.
In terms of curbing trafficking, the DEA has by far the largest overseas
presence of any U.S. federal law enforcement, with 83 offices in 62
countries. But it is spread thin in Africa where it has just four offices --
in Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa -- though there are plans to open
a fifth office in Kenya.
Law enforcement agencies from Europe as well as Interpol are also at work to
curb the trade. But locally, officials are quick to point out that Africa is
losing the war on drugs.
The most glaring problem, as Mali's example shows, is a lack of resources.
The only arrests made in connection with the Boeing came days after it was
found in the desert -- and those incarcerated turned out to be desert nomads
cannibalizing the plane's aluminum skin, probably to make cooking pots. They
were soon released.
Police in Guinea Bissau, meanwhile, told Reuters they have few guns, no
money for gas for vehicles given by donor governments and no high security
prison to hold criminals.
Corruption is also a problem. The army has freed several traffickers charged
or detained by authorities seeking to tackle the problem, police and rights
Serious questions remain about why Malian authorities took so long to report
the Boeing's discovery to the international law enforcement community.
What is particularly worrying to U.S. interests is that the networks of
aircraft are not just flying one way -- hauling coke to Africa from Latin
America -- but are also flying back to the Americas.
The internal Department of Homeland Security memorandum reviewed by Reuters
cited one instance in which an aircraft from Africa landed in Mexico with
passengers and unexamined cargo.
The Gulfstream II jet arrived in Cancun, by way of Margarita Island,
Venezuela, en route from Africa. The aircraft, which was on an aviation
watch list, carried just two passengers. One was a U.S. national with no
luggage, the other a citizen of the Republic of Congo with a diplomatic
passport and a briefcase, which was not searched.
"The obvious huge concern is that you have a transportation system that is
capable of transporting tons of cocaine from west to east," said the
aviation specialist who wrote the Homeland Security report.
"But it's reckless to assume that nothing is coming back, and when there's
terrorist organizations on either side of this pipeline, it should be a high
priority to find out what is coming back on those airplanes."
(Additional reporting by Tiemoko Diallo in Mali, Alberto Dabo in Guinea
Bissau and Hugh Bronstein in Colombia, editing by Jim Impoco and Claudia
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / AQ, Drugs, Guns, West Africa, Venezuela
on: January 14, 2010, 07:03:58 AM
Al Qaeda linked to rogue aviation networkhttp://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60C3E820100113
TIMBUKTU, Mali (Reuters) - In early 2008, an official at the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security sent a report to his superiors detailing what he called
"the most significant development in the criminal exploitation of aircraft
The document warned that a growing fleet of rogue jet aircraft was regularly
crisscrossing the Atlantic Ocean. On one end of the air route, it said, are
cocaine-producing areas in the Andes controlled by the leftist Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia. On the other are some of West Africa's most
The report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, was ignored, and the
problem has since escalated into what security officials in several
countries describe as a global security threat.
The clandestine fleet has grown to include twin-engine turboprops, executive
jets and retired Boeing 727s that are flying multi-ton loads of cocaine and
possibly weapons to an area in Africa where factions of al Qaeda are
believed to be facilitating the smuggling of drugs to Europe, the officials
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been held responsible for car and
suicide bombings in Algeria and Mauritania.
Gunmen and bandits with links to AQIM have also stepped up kidnappings of
Europeans for ransom, who are then passed on to AQIM factions seeking ransom
The aircraft hopscotch across South American countries, picking up tons of
cocaine and jet fuel, officials say. They then soar across the Atlantic to
West Africa and the Sahel, where the drugs are funneled across the Sahara
Desert and into Europe.
An examination of documents and interviews with officials in the United
States and three West African nations suggest that at least 10 aircraft have
been discovered using this air route since 2006. Officials warn that many of
these aircraft were detected purely by chance. They caution that the real
number involved in the networks is likely considerably higher.
Alexandre Schmidt, regional representative for West and Central Africa for
the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, cautioned in Dakar this week that the
aviation network has expanded in the past 12 months and now likely includes
several Boeing 727 aircraft.
"When you have this high capacity for transporting drugs into West Africa,
this means that you have the capacity to transport as well other goods, so
it is definitely a threat to security anywhere in the world," said Schmidt.
The "other goods" officials are most worried about are weapons that militant
organizations can smuggle on the jet aircraft. A Boeing 727 can handle up to
10 tons of cargo.
The U.S. official who wrote the report for the Department of Homeland
Security said the al Qaeda connection was unclear at the time.
The official is a counter-narcotics aviation expert who asked to remain
anonymous as he is not authorized to speak on the record. He said he was
dismayed by the lack of attention to the matter since he wrote the report.
"You've got an established terrorist connection on this side of the
Atlantic. Now on the Africa side you have the al Qaeda connection and it's
extremely disturbing and a little bit mystifying that it's not one of the
top priorities of the government," he said.
Since the September 11 attacks, the security system for passenger air
traffic has been ratcheted up in the United States and throughout much of
the rest of the world, with the latest measures imposed just weeks ago after
a failed bomb attempt on a Detroit-bound plane on December 25.
"The bad guys have responded with their own aviation network that is out
there everyday flying loads and moving contraband," said the official, "and
the government seems to be oblivious to it."
The upshot, he said, is that militant organizations -- including groups like
the FARC and al Qaeda -- have the "power to move people and material and
contraband anywhere around the world with a couple of fuel stops."
The lucrative drug trade is already having a deleterious impact on West
African nations. Local authorities told Reuters they are increasingly
outgunned and unable to stop the smugglers.
And significantly, many experts say, the drug trafficking is bringing in
huge revenues to groups that say they are part of al Qaeda. It's swelling
not just their coffers but also their ranks, they say, as drug money is
becoming an effective recruiting tool in some of the world's most
desperately poor regions.
U.S. President Barack Obama has chided his intelligence officials for not
pooling information "to connect those dots" to prevent threats from being
realized. But these dots, scattered across two continents like flaring
traces on a radar screen, remain largely unconnected and the fleets
themselves are still flying.
THE AFRICAN CONNECTION
The deadly cocaine trade always follows the money, and its cash-flush
traffickers seek out the routes that are the mostly lightly policed.
Beset by corruption and poverty, weak countries across West Africa have
become staging platforms for transporting between 30 tons and 100 tons of
cocaine each year that ends up in Europe, according to U.N. estimates.
Drug trafficking, though on a much smaller scale, has existed here and
elsewhere on the continent since at least the late 1990s, according to local
authorities and U.S. enforcement officials.
Earlier this decade, sea interdictions were stepped up. So smugglers
developed an air fleet that is able to transport tons of cocaine from the
Andes to African nations that include Mauritania, Mali, Sierra Leone and
Guinea Bissau.What these countries have in common are numerous disused
landing strips and makeshift runways -- most without radar or police
presence. Guinea Bissau has no aviation radar at all. As fleets grew, so,
too, did the drug trade.
The DEA says all aircraft seized in West Africa had departed Venezuela. That
nation's location on the Caribbean and Atlantic seaboard of South America
makes it an ideal takeoff place for drug flights bound for Africa, they say.
A number of aircraft have been retrofitted with additional fuel tanks to
allow in-flight refueling -- a technique innovated by Mexico's drug
smugglers. (Cartel pilots there have been known to stretch an aircraft's
flight range by putting a water mattress filled with aviation fuel in the
cabin, then stacking cargoes of marijuana bundles on top to act as an
improvised fuel pump.)
Ploys used by the cartel aviators to mask the flights include fraudulent
pilot certificates, false registration documents and altered tail numbers to
steer clear of law enforcement lookout lists, investigators say. Some
aircraft have also been found without air-worthiness certificates or log
books. When smugglers are forced to abandon them, they torch them to destroy
forensic and other evidence like serial numbers.
The evidence suggests that some Africa-bound cocaine jets also file a
regional flight plan to avoid arousing suspicion from investigators. They
then subsequently change them at the last minute, confident that their
switch will go undetected.
One Gulfstream II jet, waiting with its engines running to take on 2.3 tons
of cocaine at Margarita Island in Venezuela, requested a last-minute flight
plan change to war-ravaged Sierra Leone in West Africa. It was nabbed
moments later by Venezuelan troops, the report seen by Reuters showed.
Once airborne, the planes soar to altitudes used by commercial jets. They
have little fear of interdiction as there is no long-range radar coverage
over the Atlantic. Current detection efforts by U.S. authorities, using
fixed radar and P3 aircraft, are limited to traditional Caribbean and north
Atlantic air and marine transit corridors.
The aircraft land at airports, disused runways or improvised air strips in
Africa. One bearing a false Red Cross emblem touched down without
authorization onto an unlit strip at Lungi International Airport in Sierra
Leone in 2008, according to a U.N. report.
Late last year a Boeing 727 landed on an improvised runway using the
hard-packed sand of a Tuareg camel caravan route in Mali, where local
officials said smugglers offloaded between 2 and 10 tons of cocaine before
dousing the jet with fuel and burning it after it failed to take off again.
For years, traffickers in Mexico have bribed officials to allow them to land
and offload cocaine flights at commercial airports. That's now happening in
Africa as well. In July 2008, troops in coup-prone Guinea Bissau secured
Bissau international airport to allow an unscheduled cocaine flight to land,
according to Edmundo Mendes, a director with the Judicial Police.
"When we got there, the soldiers were protecting the aircraft," said Mendes,
who tried to nab the Gulfstream II jet packed with an estimated $50 million
in cocaine but was blocked by the military.
"The soldiers verbally threatened us," he said. The cocaine was never
recovered. Just last week, Reuters photographed two aircraft at Osvaldo
Vieira International Airport in Guinea Bissau -- one had been dispatched by
traffickers from Senegal to try to repair the other, a Gulfstream II jet,
after it developed mechanical problems. Police seized the second aircraft.
One of the clearest indications of how much this aviation network has
advanced was the discovery, on November 2, of the burned out fuselage of an
aging Boeing 727. Local authorities found it resting on its side in rolling
sands in Mali. In several ways, the use of such an aircraft marks a
significant advance for smugglers.
Boeing jetliners, like the one discovered in Mali, can fly a cargo of
several tons into remote areas. They also require a three-man crew -- a
pilot, co pilot and flight engineer, primarily to manage the complex fuel
system dating from an era before automation.
Hundreds of miles to the west, in the sultry, former Portuguese colony of
Guinea Bissau, national Interpol director Calvario Ahukharie said several
abandoned airfields, including strips used at one time by the Portuguese
military, had recently been restored by "drug mafias" for illicit flights.
"In the past, the planes coming from Latin America usually landed at Bissau
airport," Ahukharie said as a generator churned the feeble air-conditioning
in his office during one of the city's frequent blackouts.
"But now they land at airports in southern and eastern Bissau where the
judicial police have no presence."
Ahukharie said drug flights are landing at Cacine, in eastern Bissau, and
Bubaque in the Bijagos Archipelago, a chain of more than 80 islands off the
Atlantic coast. Interpol said it hears about the flights from locals,
although they have been unable to seize aircraft, citing a lack of
The drug trade, by both air and sea, has already had a devastating impact on
Guinea Bissau. A dispute over trafficking has been linked to the
assassination of the military chief of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai
in 2009. Hours later, the country's president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, was
hacked to death by machete in his home.
Asked how serious the issue of air trafficking remained for Guinea Bissau,
Ahukharie was unambiguous: "The problem is grave."
The situation is potentially worse in the Sahel-Sahara, where cocaine is
arriving by the ton. There it is fed into well-established overland
trafficking routes across the Sahara where government influence is limited
and where factions of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have become
The group, previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat,
is raising millions of dollars from the kidnap of Europeans.
Analysts say militants strike deals of convenience with Tuareg rebels and
smugglers of arms, cigarettes and drugs. According to a growing pattern of
evidence, the group may now be deriving hefty revenues from facilitating the
smuggling of FARC-made cocaine to the shores of Europe.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hit complicates negotiations
on: January 14, 2010, 06:41:37 AM
Iranian Attack Complicates Nuclear Negotiations
MASSOUD ALI-MOHAMMADI, an Iranian physics professor at Tehran University, died early Tuesday when an improvised explosive device detonated outside his home as he pulled out of the driveway to go to work.
Ali-Mohammadi had been described by most media as a nuclear physicist. Since bombings in Tehran are quite rare and Iranian nuclear physicists are a bit of a hot commodity in the Islamic Republic, speculation quickly spread that the attack was the work of a foreign intelligence organization –- like the Israeli Mossad — to decapitate Iran’s nuclear program. Reports from the Iranian state press and Iranian officials propagated this idea, claiming that the Iranian Foreign Ministry had evidence that the bomb was planted by “Zionist and American agents.”
But upon further investigation, we found quite a few holes in that theory. For one thing, Israel would only target Ali-Mohammadi if he were a major figure in the Iranian nuclear establishment. From what we were able to discern, Ali-Mohammadi did not appear to be more than an academic who wrote frequently on theoretical physics, an area that has little direct applicability to the development of a weapons program. His apparently marginal role in Iranian nuclear affairs, along with the fact that he was a supporter of the Green Movement and was not living under the type of strict security one would expect of a nuclear scientist working on a sensitive operation for the state, led us to doubt claims that this was a Mossad operation.
“There are no clear answers as to who murdered Ali-Mohammadi, but the implications of the attack are easier to discern.”
Obscure Iranian dissident groups have thrown out other highly dubious claims, while some of our sources indicate that the attack was orchestrated by the regime itself to strengthen its position at home. There are no clear answers as to who murdered Ali-Mohammadi and for what purpose, but the implications of the attack are easier to discern.
Regardless of whether this attack was committed by Israel, a hard-line faction of the Iranian regime or a dissident group, Iran has portrayed the incident as an attack by a foreign intelligence organization on Iranian soil. That is a claim that resonates deeply inside the Islamic Republic. It also puts on the spot many of the opposition figures who don’t want to be accused of acting as enemies of the state when the state is claiming it is under siege by foreign rivals.
The attack consequently spells trouble for negotiations between the West and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. Whether or not this result was intended by the regime, it will now be difficult –- at least in the short term — for Iran to publicly engage with the United States over the nuclear issue without losing face at home. Iran — by claiming its own scientists are under attack — now has added political justification to become more obstinate in those negotiations.
That could present an opportunity for Israel. Israel has kept quiet in recent weeks as yet another U.S. deadline has come and gone for Iran to respond to the West’s nuclear proposal to ship the bulk of Iran’s low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. Iran has been increasingly cooperative in the past several days in entertaining the proposal and demonstrating its interest in the diplomatic track, while maintaining its own demand to swap the nuclear fuel in batches. The U.S. administration has continued resisting this demand, but has been making a concerted effort to demonstrate that it is making real progress with the Iranians to fend off an Israeli push for military action.
Israel, however, doesn’t have much faith in the current diplomatic process, which it sees as another Iranian maneuver to keep the West talking while Tehran buys time in developing its nuclear capability. As a result, Israel has made clear to the United States that it will not tolerate another string of broken deadlines. If Iran becomes more inflexible in the nuclear negotiations, Israel will have a stronger argument to make to the United States that the diplomatic course with Iran has expired. And should the United States be driven by the Israelis to admit the futility of the diplomatic course, the menu of choices in dealing with Iran could narrow considerably.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Well, that didn't take long , , ,
on: January 14, 2010, 06:39:01 AM
This from POTH
Justice Dept. Fights Bias in Lending Recommend
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
Published: January 13, 2010
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is beginning a major campaign against banks and mortgage brokers suspected of discriminating against minority applicants in lending, opening a new front in the Obama administration’s response to the foreclosure crisis.
Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division, is expected to announce Thursday in New York that the administration is creating a new unit that will focus exclusively on unfair lending practices.
“We are looking at any and every practice in the industry,” Mr. Perez said in a recent interview.
As part of an expansion of the Civil Rights Division approved by Congress last year, the Justice Department is hiring at least four lawyers and an economist for the new unit, while about half a dozen current staff members will transfer into it.
Mr. Perez plans to formally announce the new unit at the “Wall Street Project” conference organized by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. He characterized the effort as a major turnaround, and criticized the previous administration as failing to scrutinize lending practices amid the subprime mortgage boom.
While past lending discrimination cases primarily focused on “redlining” — a bank’s refusal to lend to qualified borrowers in minority areas — the new push will instead center on a more recent phenomenon critics have called “reverse redlining.”
In reverse redlining, a mortgage brokerage or bank systematically singles out minority neighborhoods for loans with inferior terms like high up-front fees, high interest rates and lax underwriting practices. Because the original lender would typically resell such a loan after collecting its fees, it did not care about the risk of foreclosure.
It is a rarely used theory, and it carries political risks. Some critics have contended that government rules pushing banks to lend to minority and low-income borrowers contributed to the financial meltdown. The campaign could rekindle that debate.
“They encourage lenders to make risky loans for reasons such as diversity, and then when lenders have a problem because they made too many risky loans, they condemn them for that,” said Ernest Istook, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.
Still, Mr. Istook emphasized that he was “not defending anybody who engages in wrongful redlining practices.”
A representative of the Mortgage Bankers Association, the lobbying arm of the real estate finance industry, did not respond to a request for comment.
Under federal civil rights laws, a lending practice is illegal if it has a disparate impact on minority borrowers, and the Obama administration is signaling that it intends to make the enforcing of fair lending laws a signature policy push in 2010.
The division has already opened 38 investigations into accusations of lending discrimination. Under federal lending laws, it can seek compensation for borrowers who were victimized by any illegal conduct, as well as changes in a lender’s practices.
John Relman, a housing lawyer, said there was plenty of evidence that some banks violated fair housing laws during the subprime boom.
Mr. Relman has helped the Cities of Baltimore and Memphis sue Wells Fargo over the costs taxpayers incurred because of foreclosures. As part of those lawsuits, he obtained affidavits from former Wells Fargo loan officers who said the bank had systematically singled out minority borrowers for high-interest, high-fee mortgages, bypassing its own underwriting rules. The State of Illinois has also sued the bank.
Wells Fargo has denied any wrongdoing. Last week, a judge dismissed Baltimore’s lawsuit, saying there were too many other causes of the damage to inner-city neighborhoods to blame the bank. Mr. Relman said the city intended to file a new complaint that focused more narrowly on recouping costs associated with specific properties.
But it is much easier for the federal government to sue banks like Wells Fargo. Mr. Relman said he hoped the Justice Department decided to join the cases.
“Not only would we welcome them; we encourage them to get involved,” Mr. Relman said. “It’s long overdue.”
Mr. Perez has hired Eric Halperin as a special counsel for fair lending. Mr. Halperin, a career lawyer in the division from 1998 to 2004, is currently the Washington director and head litigator for the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit group that focuses on financial products it deems predatory.
The division has also gained access to data the Treasury Department is collecting from banks about loan modifications for people seeking to avoid foreclosure. It intends to search for signs of any disparate impact on minorities.
The Justice Department is also working with several state attorneys general who have taken an interest in bringing potential lawsuits over banks’ subprime lending practices.
Richard Cordray, the attorney general of Ohio, said federal and state officials were sharing information and helping one other develop potential legal theories about how to go after reverse redlining.
“We are looking at a common problem and a common pattern to determine what can be done about it,” Mr. Cordray said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Greg Mortenson on Bill Moyers
on: January 13, 2010, 01:28:48 PM
Greg Mortenson (author "Three Cups of Tea" - which I have read- and "Stones into Schools") has tremendous right to his opinions. He has lived and put his butt on the line opening schools, including for girls, in Afg and Pak:
I will be watching this show:
Bill Moyers Journal | Peace Through Education
truthout - Bill Moyers - 53 minutes ago
America has committed billions to escalate military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but humanitarian and bestselling author Greg Mortenson argues that ...
Convention speaker to be featured on PBS show
Rotary International - Jan 11, 2010
Greg Mortenson, best-selling author and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, will be featured on the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS TV on 15 January. ...
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IBD: Afghan Love
on: January 13, 2010, 12:59:02 PM
Posted 01/12/2010 06:36 PM ET
Liberation: Nearly seven out of 10 Afghans support the U.S. presence in their country, and 61% favor the president's military expansion there. Among congressional Democrats, the results would likely be reversed.
ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV announced their fifth survey of Afghan citizens since 2005. The national random sample of 1,534 Afghan adults between Dec. 11 and Dec. 23 shows a huge turnaround from last year — a 30% increase in favorability toward the American troop presence.
The Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research in Kabul, part of Vienna, Va.-based D3 Systems Inc., conducted the field research.
The poll also registered a new high in Afghans expecting to live improved lives a year from now: 71%, a 20-percentage-point jump from a year ago. Added to that, 61% think their children will enjoy life quality superior to their own — a 14% increase from last year.
This doesn't fit the paradigm of colonizer oppressing the downtrodden. Afghans just aren't acting like those weird blue pagans on the planet Pandora that the U.S. is stealing minerals from in the movie "Avatar."
Indeed, the Taliban have only 10% support, according to the ABC poll. Some 42% blame them for the violence that plagues Afghanistan, a gain of 27% from the last poll a year ago, while only 17% blame the U.S., NATO, the Karzai government or the Afghan security forces. That's a drop of 36% from last January.
In light of such numbers, the opposition from Democrats in Congress to finishing the job in Afghanistan strikes us as obscene.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., have both tried to impose war taxes, a thinly veiled attempt to fiscally starve the U.S. war effort.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who tried his best to cut and run in the Iraq War during the Bush administration, is similarly trying to use congressional funding ploys to abandon the struggle against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Such remarkable Afghan public support should be a lesson to policymakers as terrorists contemplate a renewed onslaught against the U.S. and the free world.
No matter what Third World U.N. diplomats may tell you, when Americans and Westerners spend resources and spill blood giving those in other countries — Muslim ones included — the chance for freedom, we can and will be viewed as popular liberators.
The commander of our forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, on Monday linked public opinion there to an ultimate U.S. victory. If Afghans had lost confidence in the coalition forces' military effort, "then I think that I would sense that this would not be possible," McChrystal said. "I don't feel that now."
But the people will only love us if they believe we are willing to win, a U.S. commitment Afghans now seem sure of.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / I'm shocked! Absolutely shocked!
on: January 13, 2010, 12:56:20 PM
No Shock: Stimulus Is A Money Loser
Posted 01/12/2010 06:36 PM ET
Economic Recovery: The results are in, and last year's $787 billion stimulus not only failed to do what it was supposed to do, but it has also turned out to be one of the worst investments in economic history.
Remember the debate in 2008 over the bailouts then being put together by the Treasury, the Fed and the Democratic Congress? Proponents often raised the possibility that any bailout would make money for taxpayers.
Didn't work that way. As we've discovered, the American people aren't just saddled with the ongoing costs of the various and sundry stimulus programs. They're also taking huge losses in doing so.
On Tuesday, the Treasury estimated that taxpayers had lost $68.5 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2009, on the Troubled Asset Relief Program and that the losses could go as high as $120 billion.
That isn't imaginary cash stuffed under some government cushion. It's a tax on you that comes straight out of your pocket. It's money that won't be used to fund private-sector jobs or pay for a child's education or a new house. It's gone.
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve says it earned $45 billion last year — the largest one-year profit in its 96-year history.
As the Washington Post points out, that will easily eclipse "the expected profits of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase combined."
Why the big Fed profit? Basically, it printed money, bought Treasuries and private bonds with what it printed (we called it a bailout), then watched as interest on the investments flowed in. At year-end, the Fed held $1.8 trillion in U.S. government debt and mortgage securities, up from $497 billion a year earlier.
Don't worry, though. The Fed doesn't keep the money. It goes to the Treasury — which will just spend the money on something else.
All of this only underscores how badly the so-called stimulus has turned out. After trillions of dollars in outlays by the Fed, Treasury and Congress, the U.S. has zero net new jobs to show for it. Zip.
In fact, jobs at private businesses shrank by 4 million in 2009.
Nor have banks started lending to small and midsize businesses. Commercial and industrial loans, the lifeblood of U.S. industry, fell $252 billion, or nearly 16%, from January through November.
Why aren't profitable banks lending to businesses? Good question. For one thing, like the Fed, banks have found a sure thing in round-tripping bailout funds provided at virtually zero interest into Treasuries yielding 3%. No risk, all gain.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stem Cells
on: January 13, 2010, 12:53:53 PM
California's Proposition 71 Failure
Posted 01/12/2010 06:36 PM ET
Bioethics: Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies and little progress. So supporters are embracing research they once opposed.
California's Proposition 71 was intended to create a $3 billion West Coast counterpart to the National Institutes of Health, empowered to go where the NIH could not — either because of federal policy or funding restraints on biomedical research centered on human embryonic stem cells.
Supporters of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, passed in 2004, held out hopes of imminent medical miracles that were being held up only by President Bush's policy of not allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) beyond existing stem cell lines and which involved the destruction of embryos created for that purpose.
Five years later, ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency created to, as some have put it, restore science to its rightful place, is diverting funds from ESCR to research that has produced actual therapies and treatments: adult stem cell research. It not only has treated real people with real results; it also does not come with the moral baggage ESCR does.
To us, this is a classic bait-and-switch, an attempt to snatch success from the jaws of failure and take credit for discoveries and advances achieved by research Prop. 71 supporters once cavalierly dismissed. We have noted how over the years that when funding was needed, the phrase "embryonic stem cells" was used. When actual progress was discussed, the word "embryonic" was dropped because ESCR never got out of the lab.
Prop 71 had a 10-year mandate and by 2008, as miracle cures looked increasingly unlikely, a director was hired for the agency with a track record of bringing discoveries from the lab to the clinic. "If we went 10 years and had no clinical treatments, it would be a failure," says the institute's director, Alan Trounson, a stem cell pioneer from Australia. "We need to demonstrate that we are starting a whole new medical revolution."
The institute is attempting to do that by funding adult stem cell research. Nearly $230 million was handed out this past October to 14 research teams. Notably, only four of those projects involve embryonic stem cells.
Among the recipients, the Los Angeles Times reports, is a group from UCLA and Children's Hospital in Los Angeles that hopes to cure patients with sickle cell disease by genetically modifying their own blood-forming stem cells to produce healthy red blood cells. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center will use their grant to research injecting heart-attack patients with concentrated amounts of their own cardiac stem cells that naturally repair heart tissue.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Hours?
on: January 13, 2010, 11:22:36 AM
We are thinking of:
The idea is to allow everyone a good night's sleep, to begin lunch after the lunch rush hour, have a leisurely lunch, and have a fine day full of training.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Upcoming elections, part 1
on: January 13, 2010, 09:31:15 AM
Ukraine’s next presidential election is scheduled for Jan. 17. All of the leading candidates are pro-Russian. This means that the last vestiges of pro-Western government brought on by the 2004 Orange Revolution will be swept away and Russia’s ongoing consolidation of power will become evident in Kiev.
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a three-part series on Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election.
Ukraine: More than a Religious Schism
STRATFOR’s 2010 Annual Forecast said, “For Russia, 2010 will be a year of consolidation — the culmination of years of careful efforts.” Moscow will purge Western influence from several countries in its near abroad while laying the foundation of a political union enveloping most of the former Soviet Union. Although that union will not be completed in 2010, according to our forecast, “by year’s end it will be obvious that the former Soviet Union is Russia’s sphere of influence and that any effort to change that must be monumental if it is to succeed.”
Ukraine is one country where Russia’s consolidation will be obvious, mainly because the most important part of reversing the 2004 pro-Western Orange Revolution will occur: the return of a pro-Russian president in Kiev. Ukraine’s presidential election is slated for Jan. 17, and all the top candidates in the race are pro-Russian in some way.
Russia considers Ukraine to be vital to its national interests; indeed, of all the countries where Moscow intends to tighten its grip in 2010, Ukraine is the most important. Because of its value to Moscow, Ukraine has been caught for years in a tug-of-war between Russia and the West. Since the Orange Revolution, Russia has used social, media, energy, economic and military levers — not to mention Federal Security Service assets — to break the Orange Coalition’s hold on Ukraine and the coherence of the coalition itself. Russia even managed to get a pro-Russian prime minister placed in Kiev for more than a year. However, the presidency remained in the hands of pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko. And in Ukraine, it is the president who controls the military (including the military-industrial sector and its exports), the secret services (which, while littered with Russian influence, are still controlled by a pro-Western leader) and Ukraine’s foreign policy.
Typically, STRATFOR does not focus on personalities because long-term trends in geopolitics act as constraints on human agency, limiting the value of individual-level analysis in forecasting. However, the Ukrainian election is a critical part of Russia’s resurgence, and STRATFOR will shed light on the colorful and complicated world of Ukrainian politics and offer clarity on the personalities that will lead Ukraine back into the Russian fold — and explain how Moscow has ensured their loyalty.
The candidates STRATFOR will examine are not all front-runners, necessarily, but they are the most important candidates in the race. Yushchenko is running for re-election but, according to polls from the past year, has support from only 3.8 percent of Ukrainian voters, which is little more than the margin of error. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich — who won Ukraine’s initial 2004 presidential election but was swept from power in the re-vote sparked by the Orange Revolution — has always been staunchly pro-Russian and stands a good chance of victory on Jan. 17. Current Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko is also in the running. She was Yushchenko’s partner in the Orange Revolution, but Russia’s growing influence in Ukraine persuaded her to make a deal with Moscow, and she is now running on a relatively pro-Russian platform. The last candidate we will examine is Arseny Yatsenyuk, a young politician once thought to be free of both pro-Western and pro-Russian ties. However, STRATFOR sources have said that Yatsenyuk is not exactly what he seems, and that much more powerful forces — with Russian ties — are behind this Ukrainian wild card.