Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: May 04, 2007, 12:58:27 PM
From the NewsMax.com Staff For the story behind the story...
Friday, May 4, 2007 11:39 a.m. EDT
Hamas Calls for 'Extermination of Jews'
The Palestinian militant organization Hamas not only wants the elimination of the state of Israel, but also the extermination of the Jews, according to the group’s newspaper.
"The extermination of Jews is Allah’s will and is for the benefit of all humanity, according to an article in the Hamas paper Al-Risalah,” the Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reports.
"The author of the article, Kan’an Ubayd, explains that the suicide operations carried out by Hamas are being committed solely to fulfill Allah’s wishes. Furthermore, Allah demanded this action, because ‘the extermination of the Jews is good for the inhabitants of the worlds.’”
PMW points out that Hamas’ justification for the extermination of the Jews echoes Adolph Hitler’s words in "Mein Kampf”: "Thus I believe today that I am acting according to the will of the almighty Creator: when I defend myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
Another Hamas statement monitored by the PMW called Judaism "a faith that is based on murder.”
And in a televised speech, Dr. Ahmad Bahar, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called for the killing of Americans as well as Jews.
Bahar said his people were "afflicted by the cancerous lump, that is the Jews, in the heart of the Arab nation,” according to a transcript provided by the PMW.
"Be certain that America is on its way to disappear. America is wallowing [in blood] today in Iraq and Afghanistan. America is defeated and Israel is defeated . . . Allah, take hold of the Jews and their allies. Allah, take hold of the Americans and their allies . . . Allah, count them and kill them to the last one and don’t leave even one.”
© NewsMax 2007. All Rights Reserved.
Added on Saturday evening, what seems to be a better report from another forum:
Here is a fuller report of Bahr's speach. If you want to pass it around Marc, this is probably a better version:
JPost.com Staff, THE JERUSALEM POST May. 1, 2007
Sheik Ahmad Bahr, acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, declared during a Friday sermon at a Sudan mosque that America and Israel will be annihilated and called upon Allah to kill Jews and Americans "to the very Last One". Following are excerpts from the sermon that took place last month, courtesy of MEMRI.
Ahmad Bahr began: "You will be victorious" on the face of this planet. You are the masters of the world on the face of this planet. Yes, [the Koran says that] "you will be victorious," but only "if you are believers." Allah willing, "you will be victorious," while America and Israel will be annihilated. I guarantee you that the power of belief and faith is greater than the power of America and Israel. They are cowards, who are eager for life, while we are eager for death for the sake of Allah. That is why America's nose was rubbed in the mud in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and everywhere.
Bahr continued and said that America will be annihilated, while Islam will remain. The Muslims "will be victorious, if you are believers." Oh Muslims, I guarantee you that the power of Allah is greater than America, by whom many are blinded today. Some people are blinded by the power of America. We say to them that with the might of Allah, with the might of His Messenger, and with the power of Allah, we are stronger than America and Israel.
The Hamas spokesperson concluded with a prayer, saying: "Oh Allah, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one. Oh Allah, show them a day of darkness. Oh Allah, who sent down His Book, the mover of the clouds, who defeated the enemies of the Prophet defeat the Jews and the Americans, and bring us victory over them."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: May 04, 2007, 10:31:03 AM
Second post of the morning:
By Hoshyar Zebari
Friday, May 4, 2007; A23
Last weekend a traffic jam several miles long snaked out of the Mansour district in western Baghdad. The delay stemmed not from a car bomb closing the road but from a queue to enter the city's central amusement park. The line became so long some families left their cars and walked to enjoy picnics, fairground rides and soccer, the Iraqi national obsession.
Across the city, restaurants are slowly filling and shops are reopening. The streets are busy. Iraqis are not cowering indoors. The appalling death tolls from suicide attacks are often high because of crowding at markets. These days you are as likely to hear complaints about traffic congestion as about the security situation. Across Baghdad there is a cacophony of sirens from ambulances, firefighters and police providing public services. You cannot even escape the curse of traffic wardens ticketing illegally parked cars.
These small but significant snippets of normality are overshadowed by acts of gross violence, which fuel the opinion of some that Iraq is in a downward spiral. The Iraqi people are indeed suffering tremendous hardships and making grave sacrifices -- but daily life goes on for 7 million Baghdadis struggling to take back their capital and country.
Today, at an international summit on the future of Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, my government will ask the international community to maintain its engagement in our country to help us achieve our goals of security and stability. We recognize that our request conflicts with a plethora of voices decrying the situation in Iraq and those in the British and American publics who seek an expeditious withdrawal from a war they claim is all but lost.
So why should the world remain engaged in Iraq?
There is no denying the difficulties Iraq faces, and no amount of good news can obscure the demons of terrorism and sectarianism that have risen in my country. But there is too much at stake to risk failure, and everything to gain by helping us protect our hard-won democratic achievements and emerge as a stable, self-sustaining country.
We remain determined in spite of our losses. Spectacular attacks may dominate foreign headlines, but they cannot change the reality that Iraq has made steady political, economic and social progress over the past four years. We continue to strengthen our nascent democratic institutions, pursue national reconciliation and expand Iraqi security forces. The Baghdad security plan was conceived to give us breathing space to expedite political and economic development by "securing and holding" neighborhoods across the capital. There is no quick fix, but there have been real results: Winning public confidence has led to a spike in intelligence, a disruption of terrorist networks and the capture of key leaders, as well as the discovery of weapons caches. In Anbar province, Sunni sheikhs and insurgents have turned against al-Qaeda and to the side of Iraqi security forces. This would have been unthinkable even six months ago.
Contrary to popular belief, most government ministries are located outside the Green Zone, and employees drive to work every day despite death threats and attacks on colleagues and families. We government ministers are always at risk of assassination. When a suicide bomber attacked parliament last month, the legislators sat in defiance in an extraordinary session the following day. I am particularly inspired by the commitment of the young diplomats in the Foreign Ministry, a diverse mix of Sunni, Shiite, Christian, Arab and Kurdish men and women who serve their country without subscribing to religious or sectarian divisions.
Iraqis are standing up every day, and we persevere because there is no other option. We will not surrender our country to terrorists. They have failed to cripple the elected government, and they have failed to intimidate us into submission. Iraqis reject their vision of a future whose hallmarks are bloodshed and hatred.
Those calling for withdrawal may think it is the least painful option, but its benefits would be short-lived. The fate of the region and the world is linked with ours. Leaving a broken Iraq in the Middle East would offer international terrorism a haven and ensure a legacy of chaos for future generations. Furthermore, the sacrifices of all the young men and women who stood up here would have been in vain.
Iraqis, for all our determination and courage, cannot succeed alone. We need a healthy and supportive regional environment. We will not allow our country to be a battleground for settling scores in regional and international conflicts that adversely affect stability inside our borders. Only with continued international commitment and deeper engagement from our neighbors can we establish a stable democratic, federal and united Iraq. The world should not abandon us.
The writer is foreign minister of Iraq.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / FDA vs. medical freedom
on: May 04, 2007, 08:52:43 AM
By STEVEN WALKER
May 4, 2007; Page A15
The Food and Drug Administration recently argued in the D.C. Court of Appeals that it has the power to ban meat and vegetables without violating anyone's fundamental rights. The agency chose this bizarre position in an attempt to counter arguments made by patients and their advocates in Abigail Alliance v. von Eschenbach. This groundbreaking case challenges the agency's refusal to grant access to investigational drugs, even as a last resort for terminally ill patients.
Last year, a three-judge panel decided that the FDA is violating the due- process rights of terminally ill patients by denying them access to promising investigational drugs. In response the FDA moved for a rehearing by the full court, hoping to prevent a lower court-supervised examination of whether its draconian policies actually serve a narrowly tailored compelling governmental interest. In layman's terms, this means the FDA would have to show its policies toward terminal patients are so critical to the well-being of society that they supersede (in broad and highly imperfect fashion) the fundamental right of an individual to pursue life free of undue government interference. The FDA knows their policies will not survive this test, and doesn't want the question asked.
Consider the FDA's handling of Genasense, a new drug for melanoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), two often terminal forms of cancer. The drug is being developed by Genta, a small, innovative company with only one approved drug and limited financial resources. Despite compelling evidence that Genasense is making progress in fighting both diseases, the FDA appears determined to kill the drug.
In the case of the melanoma application, instead of reviewing the clinical-trial data in accordance with usual methods (which showed positive results), the FDA chose a nonstandard statistical approach aimed at discrediting the results. The agency used this analysis in its briefing to its advisory committee, claiming that the drug might not be effective. The committee then relied on that information to vote against approval.
Now, Genta has found a serious mathematical error in the FDA's analysis, rendering its results meaningless. Genta is filing a complaint under the Federal Data Quality Act to correct the record. But in the meantime, the drug remains unapproved and melanoma patients continue to wait.
Genasense was also shown in a well-run, randomized clinical trial (the FDA's gold standard) to cause a complete disappearance of disease in 17% of patients with advanced CLL when combined with two older drugs. Just 7% of patients in a control group who received only the older drugs experienced similar benefit. The responders to Genasense have seen their relief last an average of 36 months, while those using other drugs saw their cancer return, on average, in 22 months.
Following these results, the Director of the FDA's cancer division, Dr. Richard Pazdur, again convened a public meeting of his advisory committee. After an agency presentation designed to elicit a negative outcome, the panel voted 7 to 3 against approval, triggering an immediate reaction of surprise and dismay among many CLL experts.
But the committee vote is less surprising if one knows that the FDA appointed several voting consultants to the committee (none of them CLL experts), and recused from the meeting the only sitting member of the committee who is an expert in CLL. Perhaps even more troubling, two of the voting committee members worked behind the scenes as undisclosed consultants for the FDA on Genasense, then without disclosure voted in the open meeting.
A shocked Genta quickly requested a meeting with the FDA to seek clarity on the agency's position, and to present additional information from patient follow-up. On the referral of an eminent leukemia expert, Genta asked if we would attend the meeting as witnesses in our capacity as patient advocates. No compensation was offered, requested or received.
Most of the meeting was consumed by getting the FDA to admit the obvious: The long-lasting, complete disappearance of CLL and its symptoms constituted "clinical benefit." Making these arguments were two cancer-medicine professors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the recused ODAC member and an immediate past president of the American Society of Hematology -- all experts in CLL. None were employees of Genta and collectively represented a far more qualified advisory committee than the one that the FDA had convened.
The FDA's inane answer to the CLL experts was that the long-lasting disappearance of disease in patients taking Genasense was a "theoretical construct" and not grounds for approval.
The experts explained to the FDA that complete responses in advanced CLL patients are the medical equivalent of the Holy Grail. The FDA finally agreed, but was unimpressed with emerging data showing responders to Genasense living longer than responders in the control group.
The experts were unanimous in advising that Genasense should be approved, but the FDA was unmoved. The agency's Dr. Pazdur suggested that Genta could make the drug available as an unapproved treatment through an expanded access program -- this from a regulator fond of stating that the best way to get a drug to patients in need is through approval! In this case the agency was saying to Genta: We are not going to approve your drug, but any patient who needs it can have it so long as you give it away.
Genta responded that nonapproval would be a denial of patient access to Genasense because they could not afford to give it away in an expanded access program. Twice, Dr. Pazdur referred to that logic as a "business decision."
Less than 48 hours later, the FDA rejected Genasense. Within days Genta made a "business decision," laying off a third of its staff in a cost cutting move aimed at keeping the doors open long enough to appeal the FDA's decision. The appeal was filed in early April. Genta's announcement of the filing included a statement from one of the expert physicians: "It is puzzling that they would deny approval to a drug that met its primary and key secondary endpoint, especially since these findings were observed in the only randomized controlled trial that has ever been conducted in patients with relapsed CLL."
The FDA's handling of Genasense lays bare the all too common, aggressive incompetence of the FDA's cancer-drug division and should lead to an immediate examination of its policies and leadership, followed by swift corrective action.
As for the FDA's belief that their power to control us and even deny us the pursuit of life itself is unlimited under the Constitution, we can only hope the appeals court disagrees. An agency that blocks progress against deadly diseases -- while arguing that its power to do so is above challenge -- is in dire need of a court supervised review.
Mr. Walker is co-founder and chief adviser for the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs . He receives no compensation for his work as an advocate, nor has he ever received compensation from any private or public-sector entity involved in drug development, approval or marketing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Negroponte
on: May 04, 2007, 08:44:52 AM
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What's Going Right in Iraq
By JOHN D. NEGROPONTE
May 4, 2007; Page A15
By now it goes without saying that sectarian conflict and extremism in Iraq cannot be solved by military means alone -- it will take national reconciliation, economic reform and development, and international support as well. And as a former ambassador to Iraq, I know how difficult it is to create an alternative to coercive violence in a country that has lived under these conditions for decades.
In 2004 the U.N. Security Council laid out an arduous agenda for Iraq when it regained its sovereignty. This included setting up an interim government and electing a transitional government, writing and adopting a constitution, electing a permanent government, and developing national reconciliation based on the rule of law, tolerance and pluralism.
Despite horrific violence, much of that agenda has been implemented, though not national reconciliation. Nonetheless, the Iraqis have come a long way in what has been a short time for them. Pressing them to continue moving ahead on national reconciliation and reform is well-justified. But imposing fixed deadlines would be ill-advised.
Fixed deadlines would empower the obstructionists, stiffening their resolve to resist and delay by showing them where to concentrate their efforts. It would also weaken the moderates who -- forced to face a near-term future without us -- would hedge their bets and be less willing to broker hard political compromises. This could provoke even greater violence and insecurity, the opposite effect of that presumably intended by those advocating deadlines. That is why President Bush just issued only the second veto of his administration.
The fact is that critically important economic, political and diplomatic progress is being made; we must not allow the fog of war to obscure major developments that are fundamental to stability in Iraq and the region. These developments are more powerful than bombs -- they are the stuff of which modern nation states are made and the basis upon which they survive and thrive.
The U.S. has spent more than 84% of its major reconstruction appropriation in 11 sectors. Despite some missteps, inevitable given the chaotic conditions, these projects have brought significant benefits to the Iraqi people and will continue to do so for decades.
Now we are shifting toward increasing the capacity of Iraqis to meet their own needs. This is critical to Iraq's prospects for effective self-governance. In 2006 we began a ministerial capacity development program and completed the initial rollout of our Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) program. We're on track to double the number of PRTs from 10 to 20, deploying specialists to support moderates in local government, civil society and business.
Without question, oil is the most important and contentious economic sector. The Iraqis are making progress on a legislative package that is extremely important for national reconciliation. That this will prompt a great deal of debate should surprise no one. Such debate is healthy. Politically and economically, the stakes are high.
Iraq's financial position is improving, and the government is making budget execution a priority for 2007. The $1 billion that the Ministry of Finance released upon enactment of the budget has been delivered. Thus far, 94 of 128 spending units have opened the capital expenditure accounts needed for the full Iraqi budget to be disbursed. Some key ministries like Oil have not performed well. Others -- such as Communications, which has allocated 90% of its capital budget already -- are making good headway.
The International Compact with Iraq -- a road map for what Iraq will need to do over the next five years to achieve economic self-sufficiency -- is another step forward. Iraq has produced this credible package of economic reforms in 10 short months. There's no package like this anywhere else in the region.
Another positive development is that the IMF Board of Directors has approved the combined third and fourth reviews of Iraq's Stand-By Arrangement, keeping Iraq on track for the final 20% of Paris Club debt relief due in 2008. As part of this arrangement, Iraq has cut fuel subsidies, increased hard currency reserves to $18 billion, and mitigated inflationary pressure by appreciating the Iraqi dinar against the U.S. dollar and raising interest rates. These are tough measures. Countries less troubled than Iraq have balked or failed when trying to take similar steps.
Iraq's national reconciliation, reconstruction and stability depend not only on its internal policies but also on its relations with its neighbors. The Neighbors Conference being held this week in Sharm el-Sheikh is giving Iraq an important opportunity to improve those relations. We strongly support this effort.
As Gen. Petraeus explained last week, security is a necessary condition for sustained progress in the political, economic and diplomatic dimensions. By the same token, political, economic and diplomatic progress is necessary for achieving improved security. The two go hand-in-hand.
When I was ambassador to Iraq two years ago, the country had no permanent government, no Council of Representatives, no constitution, no IMF Stand-By Arrangement, no hydrocarbon laws in draft or otherwise, no willingness to cut subsidies, no International Compact with Iraq, and no forum for constructive dialogue with its neighbors and international community leaders. Now all that exists. It is what the Iraqis and we are fighting for, and what the terrorists and extremists are fighting against.
Mr. Negroponte is the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: May 04, 2007, 08:42:36 AM
Losing Latin America
May 4, 2007; Page A14
Wall Street Journal
A popular theme among Democrats running for President is their pledge to make America better liked around the world. Hillary Clinton says she'll even dispatch her husband as a kind of ambassador to the world. Well, he might start in Latin America, where our allies are getting stiffed by Democrats in Congress on trade and security.
We're referring in particular to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been in Washington this week, making his case for the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement and for continued U.S. help against terrorism. Colombia, Peru and Panama have all negotiated trade accords with the U.S. that, pending Congressional approval, would raise living standards and expand American influence.
A defeat for any of the three would do great harm to the Andean region, where democrats are battling Hugo Chávez's neo-socialist populism. Mr. Uribe, Peruvian President Álan Garcia and Panamanian President Martin Torrijos have all bet their futures on opening their economies to the U.S. If they're rebuffed, the local disciples of Mr. Chávez will say they were right not to trust the capitalist Yankees. The consequences won't look good on Nancy Pelosi's resume.
On economic grounds alone, the U.S. has everything to gain by approving these trade deals. Most Peruvian and Colombian exports already have duty-free access to the U.S. market through the Andean Trade Preferences Act. But U.S. manufacturing and farm exports heading south still face high tariff and non-tariff barriers. The regional financial center of Panama is especially attractive for U.S. services but is likewise a protected market.
The larger goal is spurring development and improving the investment climate in all three countries. While Colombia and Peru have duty-free access to U.S. markets, that privilege must be renewed every few years. The FTAs end this uncertainty. Even if Latin producers lose some protection, new access to imports means they can use help from abroad to innovate and grow more competitive. This is how Chile became an export powerhouse and reduced poverty. Maybe that's why Chile's Socialist President Michelle Bachelet has endorsed the deals.
None of this matters to some Democrats, whose loyalty to the AFL-CIO trumps their concern for the poor. Having won assurances that our Latin trading partners would enforce their labor and environmental laws at home, such Democrats as Michigan's Sander Levin are now asking for more. They're threatening to block the Latin FTAs unless the U.S. accepts language that would force U.S. companies to adhere to International Labor Organization "core principles." These "principles" have never passed Congress, in part because they'd put "right-to-work" states in legal jeopardy. Republicans won't support a trade pact with such a provision, which suggests that Mr. Levin intends it as a poison pill.
All of this is taking place while Venezuela's Mr. Chávez is working to reduce American influence in the Western Hemisphere. He's doing energy deals with China while confiscating U.S. oil assets. And he's pressing to supplant the U.S. goal of hemispheric free trade with a high-tariff South American customs union that he would run. Bolivia and Ecuador have already been captured by versions of chavismo, though Peru and Colombia have so far escaped thanks to their political leadership.
Colombia is especially vulnerable, as Mr. Chávez provides aid and comfort to that country's narco-trafficking guerrillas. This is why Mr. Uribe is also asking for continued U.S. assistance to fight organized crime. The State Department has certified that Colombia has held up its commitment to human rights under this "Plan Colombia" agreement.
But now that they control Congress again, Democrats are putting this policy in doubt. Mr. Levin says the Colombia FTA should be blocked on human rights grounds, claiming that Mr. Uribe's impressive record of reducing murder, kidnapping and terrorism isn't good enough. Vermont Senator Pat Leahy has put a hold on $55 million in new Plan Colombia funding because of false human rights charges coming from Mr. Uribe's political enemies in Bogotá. Mr. Leahy's grandstanding is all the more embarrassing because U.S. demand for cocaine is the largest source of financing for the criminal networks that have killed so many innocent Colombians.
If Democrats want to make more enemies in Latin America, this is the way to do it. The twice-elected Mr. Uribe is the most far-sighted leader Colombia has had in decades, and his FTA is an attempt to align his country's future firmly with the hemisphere's free-market democracies. Peru, Panama and Colombia are saying they want to be America's political and economic partners. Do Democrats in Congress want to drive them into the arms of Mr. Chávez?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gagging Shaha Riza
on: May 04, 2007, 08:27:13 AM
Gagging Shaha Riza
Why won't the World Bank let her have her say?
Friday, May 4, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Since the misnamed "Wolfowitz scandal" broke last month, enemies of the World Bank president have engaged in selective press leaks and calculated smears intended to oust him. Most of these leaks have come from within the bank itself, not that we've seen any effort by the institution to stop them.
Meanwhile, the bank bureaucracy has systematically sought to prevent Mr. Wolfowitz and his girlfriend Shaha Riza from telling their side of the story. Exhibit A is the bank's refusal to allow Ms. Riza--whose raise and promotion are the central issue--to defend herself even in a newspaper op-ed.
That was the order she received this week from one W. Paatii Ofosu-Amaah, a longtime bank bureaucrat from Ghana who serves as its vice president and corporate secretary. Both Ms. Riza and her lawyer declined to comment and were not our sources, but others who've seen the letter tell us that Mr. Ofosu-Amaah cited the bank's disclosure policies regarding board proceedings to forbid Ms. Riza from taking her case to the public.
That's more than odd, given that Ms. Riza currently works at a State Department affiliate; her salary continues to be paid by the bank as part of an agreement to avoid a "conflict of interest" claimed by the bank's own ethics committee. Bank sources also tell us that Mr. Ofosu-Amaah was among those who opposed letting Mr. Wolfowitz and Ms. Riza testify on Monday to the "ad hoc committee" investigating the case. One source adds that, "like several other vice presidents, Paatii took the position that a verdict could be reached through the documentary evidence alone."
Maybe that explains why this kangaroo court was prepared last week to reach a guilty verdict against Mr. Wolfowitz before either he or Ms. Riza had been given a chance to appear, according to "three senior bank officials" cited on Saturday by the Washington Post. Mr. Ofosu-Amaah's office didn't return our calls, naturally.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF
on: May 03, 2007, 05:29:44 PM
'Goat Man' of Sudan Becomes a 'Widower'
Thursday , May 03, 2007
Charles Tombe just may be the world's most unique widower.
The Sudanese man's bizarre story first came to light more than a year ago when a newspaper in his hometown of Juba reported that he had been caught having sexual relations with... a goat.
Tombe was arrested, and later told a Sudanese judge that he was drunk at the time and didn't realize what he'd done.
The judge, however, relying on tribal law, passed judgment and equated Tombe's crime with that of a man caught sleeping with an unmarried girl, who would be ordered to marry her immediately to protect her honor and that of her family.
The judge, therefore ordered Tombe to pay the owner of the goat — named Rose — a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars (about $50 at the time) — and marry the goat.
Hand-and-hoof, the two returned to Tombe's home.
"The idea was to publicly embarrass the man," says Tom Rhodes, editor of the Juba Post, which first ran the story.
Shortly after Tombe brought Rose back to his Juba home, the black-and-white goat gave birth to a male kid.
Villagers, meanwhile, started calling Tombe "The Goat Man," a title he so loathed that he kept to himself, allowing Rose to roam local streets, where it is believed she ate a plastic bag, choked and died this week.
Unlike the Anna Nicole Smith custody battle, however, there's no controversy involving the "couple's" offspring: Tombe gets to keep the kid.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Geo Political matters
on: May 03, 2007, 04:42:33 PM
Second post of the day:
The American Century
By LEO MELAMED
May 3, 2007; Page A17
If one had to pinpoint the birth of globalization, a good bet would be Aug. 15, 1971, when President Richard Nixon dropped the U.S. dollar's convertibility to gold. This led to an irreversible breakdown of fixed exchange rates, initiated the modern era of globalization, and provided the rationale for the launch of financial futures by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME).
As the world left the gold standard in favor of the information standard, the U.S. had the so-called "first mover advantage." For the next three decades we dominated the world's capital markets, dwarfing everyone. With derivatives, the CME, Chicago Board of Trade and New York Mercantile Exchange initiated the modern futures era. In over-the-counter, financial engineers created a vast array of financial instruments. In securities, Chicago Board Options Exchange stock options were born, and the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, as well as other American exchanges grew without equal -- deeper and more liquid than anywhere else.
Merton Miller, Nobel Laureate in economics, liked to say the period between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s was unique. In his view, no other 20-year period in recorded American history witnessed even a tenth of the financial innovation of those two decades. But time marched on. Suddenly, American first mover advantage was over. The growth track the U.S. maintained in the decades after the onset of globalization has been steadily leveling off, while the growth track of other industrial nations has ramped up. The U.S., its commercial enterprises and its exchanges are facing serious competition from other capital markets.
Recently three major studies, one led by Glenn Hubbard and John Thornton, another by Sen. Charles Schumer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the third by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, have concluded that America is losing its dominance in world securities markets. These studies were a wake-up call. But reducing the Sarbanes-Oxley regulatory requirements, as these studies suggested, while a good idea, will by itself not alter the dynamic. Nor will we fix the problem with populist demagoguery advocating a protectionist agenda. "America First" solutions have been tried before and are self-defeating. In today's globalized marketplace, such remedies would be devastating to both U.S. capital markets and the American standard of living.
To find a solution one must first recognize the cause of the problem. We have entered a new era in the global marketplace. The industrial world has caught up with us. It has learned the value of Milton Friedman's free-market precepts, adopted them and put them to work. All major capital markets have modern trading capabilities, competent securities and derivatives exchanges, cutting-edge technology and banks that are as solid as our own. We are beginning to feel the competitive pinch from the Asian giants China and India. Within a decade their competitive presence will be felt in every segment of the marketplace. Needless to say, we were excellent teachers and our students learned well.
To remain competitive in the 21st century, the U.S. must first accept the reality of the modern global paradigm. We cannot pretend or assume that things will ever again be as they were. In the future, our private sector will have to fight for business flows on a world stage. It will require our best efforts and brightest minds. Similarly, U.S. government officials must accept the fact that U.S. businesses face competitors from across the ocean rather than across the river.
The old road map is history. The new map necessitates continued deregulation to promote continued innovation, reduction of burdensome compliance costs, containment of baseless litigation and open markets for goods. Beyond that, we must redouble our efforts to sustain the academic excellence that helped give us our first-mover advantage in the first place.
The fruit of our labor resulting from a three-decade, first-mover advantage is a priceless intellectual legacy -- a unique reservoir of knowledge, ideas and experience that can become an arsenal of competitive weaponry for the future. This, coupled with the constitutional and cultural birthright that encourages Americans to think freely, experiment and create, gives us an endowment of extraordinary potency.
Mr. Melamed is chairman emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Shadow Candidates
on: May 03, 2007, 04:38:16 PM
The Shadow Candidates
The art of not running for president.
Thursday, May 3, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Tonight 10 Republicans go on stage to trade sound bites in a debate at the Reagan Library in Los Angeles. But a lot of media oxygen is being used up by the "noncandidate candidates"--those who might want to be president, but haven't yet officially jumped into the race.
In every election some conventional wisdom is swept aside. Be it that third party candidates can't influence the race (Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote in 1992), that sitting presidents have to wait for their opposing party to pick a candidate (Bill Clinton ran negative ads more than a year before the 1996 election and went on to be the first Democrat to win re-election since FDR in 1944) or that an Internet-based campaign can't threaten an establishment candidate (Howard Dean surged, if briefly, past everyone in 2004), conventional wisdom is only right until it turns out to be wrong. This year, the assumption that the best way to run for president is to, well, run for president might go by the boards.
Everyone agrees on the negatives of being a noncandidate. Rivals scoop up cash, campaign talent and endorsements while noncandidates sit and wait. But for the already well-known, there are advantages to being "outside the ring." While official candidates are scrutinized relentlessly for gaffes and battered by "independent" opposition groups, noncandidates can be selective in their media exposure and appear high-minded.
Playing hard-to-get also creates allure and curiosity. Today noncandidates appeal to both parties. Depending on the poll, between one-third and three-fifths of Republicans are dissatisfied with their current crop of candidates. Last month, a straw poll at the Oklahoma Republican Party's convention saw noncandidates Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich top the field with a majority of the votes between them. Democrats are more happy with their field, but persistent doubts about Hillary Clinton's electability or Barack Obama's seasoning fuels speculation that Al Gore or some other savior will enter the race.
Mr. Gingrich is touring the country touting his ideas without the scrutiny and legal constraints that an official candidate's fund-raising team would get. His aim is to offer "solutions so compelling that if voters say I have to be the president, it will happen." He will make up his mind in September, but in the meantime his audiences are larger, his influence greater and his exposure on TV even more ubiquitous.
The same is true for Mr. Gore. Only a noncandidate could get the praise and royal treatment he enjoyed testifying before Congress in March. This summer, he is both losing weight and keeping his name in the headlines by promoting his new book and environmentally themed rock concerts. Even if he doesn't win the Nobel Peace Prize this fall, he could parachute into the presidential race. He has trained thousands of people to present his global-warming film in every state, a cast of supporters who could easily be converted into campaign volunteers. A Quinnipiac Poll of three battleground states shows that Mr. Gore polls better against leading Republicans than either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama.
Mr. Thompson, whose movies and network appearances are a fixture on TV screens, is clearly being helped for now by not being part of the candidate pack. The day after tonight's GOP debate he will appear before a large GOP audience in Orange County, 75 miles south of the Reagan Library. C-Span and CNN will cover the event live. His solo act may get as many viewers as tonight's debate. Pollsters John Zogby and Doug Schoen both agree that Mr. Thompson could shake up the GOP race.
Another candidate who could transform the race is popular New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a client of Mr. Schoen's. He has already told friends he could easily spend $500 million of his own money on an independent run and could snap up middle-of-the-road voters from both parties.
Whoever runs, looking over this year's shadow candidates it is clear that they are changing the rules of American politics. "Americans love having more choices," says Peter Brown, an analyst with the Quinnipiac Poll. "They'll now even give noncandidates a real look to see if there's something there they're missing in the others."
In 2000, blogger Mickey Kaus refined the Feiler Faster Thesis, which holds that though news cycles are constantly getting faster, "people are comfortable processing that information with what seems like breathtaking speed." This rapid pace may be transforming presidential politics. Voters aren't waiting for pundits to tell them who is running for president, and shadow candidates can run low-cost guerilla campaigns using the Internet, talk shows and word-of-mouth. "Candidates have been running so long already it opens up opportunities for late entries," says Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com. "We may not like it, but voter boredom may now be a driver of politics."
Modern presidential campaigns started in 1960 when the first Kennedy-Nixon debate established the primacy of television. This upcoming race could mark similar dramatic changes in the pace, shape and tone of elections to come.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Intellectual Property theft
on: May 03, 2007, 10:59:35 AM
The tenor of this piece is vintage NY Slimes, but it does report something of interest to those who seek to protect their intellectual property.
In Web Uproar, Antipiracy Code Spreads Wildly
By BRAD STONE
Published: May 3, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO, May 2 — There is open revolt on the Web.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Does encryption of media files unfairly limit consumer freedom?
Sophisticated Internet users have banded together over the last two days to publish and widely distribute a secret code used by the technology and movie industries to prevent piracy of high-definition movies.
The broader distribution of the code may not pose a serious threat to the studios, because it requires some technical expertise and specialized software to use it to defeat the copy protection on Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. But its relentless spread has already become a lesson in mob power on the Internet and the futility of censorship in the digital world.
An online uproar came in response to a series of cease-and-desist letters from lawyers for a group of companies that use the copy protection system, demanding that the code be removed from several Web sites.
Rather than wiping out the code — a string of 32 digits and letters in a specialized counting system — the legal notices sparked its proliferation on Web sites, in chat rooms, inside cleverly doctored digital photographs and on user-submitted news sites like Digg.com.
“It’s a perfect example of how a lawyer’s involvement can turn a little story into a huge story,” said Fred von Lohmann, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. “Now that they started sending threatening letters, the Internet has turned the number into the latest celebrity. It is now guaranteed eternal fame.”
The number is being enshrined in some creative ways. Keith Burgon, a 24-year-old musician in Goldens Bridge, N.Y., grabbed his acoustic guitar on Tuesday and improvised a melody while soulfully singing the code. He posted the song to YouTube, where it was played more than 45,000 times.
“I thought it was a source of comedy that they were trying so futilely to quell the spread of this number,” Mr. Burgon said. “The ironic thing is, because they tried to quiet it down it’s the most famous number on the Internet.”
During his work break on Tuesday, James Bertelson, an engineer in Vancouver, Wash., joined the movement and created a Web page featuring nothing but the number, obscured in an encrypted format that only insiders could appreciate. He then submitted his page to Digg, a news site where users vote on what is important. Despite its sparse offerings, his submission received nearly 5,000 votes and was propelled onto Digg’s main page.
“For most people this is about freedom of speech, and an industry that thinks that just because it has high-priced lawyers it has the final say,” Mr. Bertelson said.
Messages left for those lawyers and the trade organization they represent, the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator, which controls the encryption system known as A.A.C.S., were not answered. In an e-mail message, a representative for the group said only that it “is looking into the matter and has no further comment at this time.”
The organization is backed by technology companies like I.B.M., Intel, Microsoft and Sony and movie studios like Disney and Warner Brothers, which is owned by Time Warner.
The secret code actually stopped being a secret in February, when a hacker ferreted it out of his movie-playing software and posted it on a Web bulletin board. From there it spread through the network of technology news sites and blogs.
Last month, lawyers for the trade group began sending out cease-and-desist letters, claiming that Web pages carrying the code violated its intellectual property rights under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Letters were sent to Google, which runs a blog network at blogspot.com, and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
The campaign to remove the number from circulation went largely unnoticed until news of the letters hit Digg. The 25-employee company in San Francisco, acting on the advice of its lawyers, removed posting submissions about the secret number from its database earlier this week, then explained the move to its readers on Tuesday afternoon.
The removals were seen by many Digg users as a capitulation to corporate interests and an assault on free speech. Some also said that the trade group that promotes the HD-DVD format, which uses A.A.C.S. protection, had advertised on a weekly Digg-related video podcast.
On Tuesday afternoon and into the evening, stories about or including the code swamped Digg’s main page, which the company says gets 16 million readers each month. At 9 p.m. West Coast time, the company surrendered to mob sentiment.
“You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company,” wrote Kevin Rose, Digg’s founder, in a blog post. “We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.” If Digg loses, he wrote, “at least we died trying.”
Jay Adelson, Digg’s chief executive, said in an interview that the site was disregarding the advice of its lawyers. “We just decided that it is more important to stand by our users,” he said. Regarding the company’s exposure to lawsuits he said, “we are just going to prepare and do our best.”
The conflict spilled over to Wikipedia, where administrators had to restrict editing on some entries to keep contributors from repeatedly posting the code.
The episode recalls earlier acts of online rebellion against the encryption that protects media files from piracy. Some people believe that such systems unfairly limit their freedom to listen to music and watch movies on whatever devices they choose.
In 1999, hackers created a program called DeCSS that broke the software protecting standard DVDs and posted it on the hacker site 2600.com. The Motion Picture Association of America sued, and Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan, citing the 1998 digital copyright act, sided with the movie industry.
The DVD code disappeared from the 2600 site, but nevertheless resurfaced in playful haiku, on T-shirts and even in a movie in which the code scrolled across the screen like the introductory crawl in “Star Wars.”
In both cases, the users who joined the revolt and published the codes may be exposing themselves to legal risk. Chris Sprigman, an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, said that under the digital copyright act, propagating even parts of techniques intended to circumvent copyright was illegal.
However, with thousands of Internet users now impudently breaking the law, Mr. Sprigman said that the entertainment and technology industries would have no realistic way to pursue a legal remedy. “It’s a gigantic can of worms they’ve opened, and now it will be awfully hard to do anything with lawsuits,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Geo Political matters
on: May 03, 2007, 10:19:08 AM
Good questions SB Mig.
This analysis from Stratfor I think does a good job of showing just how complicated all this is.
The Iraq Security Conference: Hanging a Deal on Faulty Assumptions
By Kamran Bokhari
After weeks of playing hard to get, Iran announced April 29 that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will attend the May 3-4 conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where Iraq's neighboring states and major world powers will explore ways to stabilize Iraq. The same day, Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani traveled to Baghdad on a surprise three-day visit apparently aimed at discussing security and the upcoming conference with Iraqi officials.
The United States welcomed Iran's decision to attend the conference, calling it a "positive" development. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted before Iran's announcement at the possibility of meeting directly with Mottaki on the sidelines of the conference. President George W. Bush later explained that Rice and Mottaki could engage in bilateral talks within the context of the multilateral event, though he ruled out separate public-level talks between Tehran and Washington. Things still could go wrong before May 3, and Mottaki could decide against attending the conference, but for now it looks like he will show up. Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Mostafavi said May 1 that, while Iran is ready to hold "discussions" with the United States, the conditions are not appropriate for negotiations.
The potential open engagement between the United States and Iran at the foreign ministry level would be the culmination of back-channel negotiations that started even before the United States led the invasion of Iraq. In other words, the Bush administration -- long after having scrapped its original deal with Tehran on the makeup of a post-war Iraqi government -- has reached a preliminary understanding with Iran's clerical regime on how the two sides will proceed with regard to stabilizing Iraq in the wake of the unexpected Sunni insurgency, the subsequent sectarian war and the involvement of Arab Sunni states in the fray.
The Sharm el-Sheikh conference, then, represents the launch of the formal process of hammering out a complex, multi-party deal to piece together the Humpty Dumpty that is Iraq.
The U.S.-Iranian back-channel talks were never going to result in a deal on how to divide Iraq; rather, they were a way for Washington and Tehran to work out their respective concerns about a future post-Baathist Iraq before taking the problem to the wider forum. The back-channel talks, which provide the context for the multilateral conference, will continue -- though the real deal will likely emerge from this wider forum.
Throughout the years of behind-the-scenes talks, the two sides have been unable to reach an understanding that balances the concerns of both with regard to Iraq's future. Iran does not want an Iraq with close ties to the United States -- one that threatens Iranian national security and Tehran's regional aspirations. Conversely, the United States does not want to see an Iraq dominated by Iran -- a situation that would allow Tehran to threaten the Arab states in the Persian Gulf/Arabian Peninsula, and thus U.S. regional interests. Moreover, the involvement of Sunni Arab states that feel threatened by the rise of Iran and its Shiite Arab allies has further complicated U.S.-Iranian dealings. Saudi Arabia, which has emerged as the leader of the Arab world, has been spearheading the move to counter Iran.
Complications aside, the Saudi efforts to insert themselves into the equation have given Washington a tool with which to counter Iranian moves. In fact, just as the Bush administration has used the Iraqi Sunni card to rein in the country's Shia (Washington has signaled to the Shia that it is willing to cut deals with the Sunnis, especially the Baathists), it has leveraged its alignment with the Arab states to contain the Iranians. While the United States needs Iranian cooperation to stabilize Iraq, the Iranians also need the United States to ensure that the Arab states and their Iraqi Sunni allies will not threaten Iranian interests.
The upcoming conference, therefore, is immensely important to all sides. The meeting represents a formal acknowledgement by all parties of the sphere of influence the Iranians and the Saudis will have in Iraq. Both Riyadh and Tehran want assurances that each other's respective proxies -- the Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgents -- will be restrained from creating security issues for them. In recent weeks, the Iranians have demonstrated they can get Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Mehdi Army, to more or less go along with the security plan. On the other hand, the Saudi announcement of the arrests of jihadist militants and the seizure of large sums of cash and weapons was meant as a reciprocating message that Riyadh, too, can rein in the jihadists who threaten the Shia -- and, by extension, the Iranian position in Iraq.
The general understanding has been that a U.S.-Saudi-Iranian deal could help stabilize Iraq -- the assumption being that Riyadh and Tehran have the ability to rein in their respective militias and insurgents in Iraq. Although ending the violence is beyond either country's ability, the Saudis and the Iranians are letting on that they can contain their fighters -- for a price. The Saudis want to ensure that Iraq's Sunni community has a sufficient share of the political pie in Baghdad so that, even with Shiite domination of the Iraqi state, the Iranians could not use Iraq as a military springboard into the Arabian Peninsula. For their part, the Iranians want assurances that the Sunni minority in Iraq never again will be in a position to threaten Iran's national security. More than that, however, the Islamic republic would like to be able to use its influence to pull strings within the Iraqi Shiite-dominated government.
This is the dilemma that faces the United States and the Sunni Arab states. They want to figure out how to acknowledge Iranian influence in Iraq's affairs, but still prevent Tehran from using such influence to enhance its power. Iraq's ethno-sectarian demography -- it is only approximately 20 percent Sunni -- is what scares Washington and its Arab allies. They are hoping, then, that ensuring the Sunnis a sufficient share of the Iraqi government will serve to check the Iranian/Shiite rise. To achieve that goal, however, the United States and Saudi Arabia would have to make a major reciprocal concession: acknowledging that a larger share of the pie will be in the hands of the Shia. This is one of the key reasons why reining in the Shiite militias has become a prerequisite for containing the Sunni insurgency.
This brings us back to the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, where Tehran is hoping the United States and its Arab allies acknowledge Iranian interests in Iraq in exchange for Iran's willingness to restrain the Shiite militias. The Arabs are willing to give Tehran the recognition it wants, though they are operating from a position of relative weakness and cannot trust that Iran would not use a relatively stable Iraq to extend its influence across the Persian Gulf.
Furthermore, although the Bush administration is downplaying the possibility, the Arabs are concerned that the political pendulum in the United States is swinging heavily in favor of an early pullout -- or major drawdown -- of coalition forces from Iraq. Since, in the long run, they cannot trust Washington to underwrite a deal with the Iranians, the Arabs are hesitant to sign a document that would effectively give Iran the room to maneuver as it pleases. This is the root of the Saudi reluctance to use its influence among the Iraqi Sunnis to help contain sectarian violence.
More important, however, Iraq's Sunni and Shiite communities are so internally factionalized (the Shia to a greater extent) that neither Tehran nor Riyadh is likely to succeed in shutting down the militancy. Moreover, the multiplicity of Shiite political and militant factions makes it difficult for Iran to keep all of them happy -- and thus on board with any deal it might be willing to cut. The continuing strife in the Shiite south, especially in the oil-rich city of Basra, is but one example of the problems the Iranians face in this regard.
Similarly, the Saudis cannot claim to speak for all the Sunnis. But even more problematic for Riyadh is that its best weapon against the Iranians is the jihadists, especially those affiliated with al Qaeda -- precisely those who pose a major national security threat to the Saudi kingdom.
The question, then, is whether the Saudis and the Iranians can actually deliver on a triangular deal involving each of them and the third main state actor in Iraq -- the United States. It would appear that their fears over their respective interests have forced them to deal with one another despite their apprehensions.
Ultimately, however, the three big players are negotiating a security deal that rests on the faulty assumptions that each side has enough sway over the various factions inside Iraq to make an agreement actually work.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Smartest/Nuttiest Futurist on Earth
on: May 02, 2007, 11:37:39 PM
The smartest (or the nuttiest) futurist on Earth
Ray Kurzweil is a legendary inventor with a history of mind-blowing ideas. Now he's onto something even bigger. If he's right, the future will be a lot weirder and brighter than you think.
By Brian O'Keefe, Fortune senior editor
May 2 2007: 11:08 AM EDT
(Fortune Magazine) -- If you went around saying that in a couple of decades we'll have cell-sized, brain-enhancing robots circulating through our bloodstream or that we'll be able to upload a person's consciousness into a computer, people would probably question your sanity. But if you say things like that and you're Ray Kurzweil, you get invited to dinner at Bill Gates' house - twice - so he can pick your brain for insights on the future of technology. The Microsoft chairman calls him a "visionary thinker and futurist."
Kurzweil is an inventor whose work in artificial intelligence has dazzled technological sophisticates for four decades. He invented the flatbed scanner, the first true electric piano, and large-vocabulary speech-recognition software; he's launched ten companies and sold five, and has written five books; he has a BS in computer science from MIT and 13 honorary doctorates (but no real one); he's been inducted into the Inventor's Hall of Fame and charges $25,000 every time he gives a speech - 40 times last year.
Still life with innovator: Kurzweil at his home near Boston.
Everybody loves Raymond: Kurzweil is a major tech conference draw, commanding $25,000 a speech.
The power of technology will keep growing exponentially. By 2050, you'll be able to buy a device with the computational capacity of all mankind for the price of a nice refrigerator.
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And now, if anything, he's gaining momentum as a cultural force: He has not one but two movies in the works - one a documentary about his career and ideas and the other an adaptation of his recent bestseller, The Singularity Is Near, which he's writing and co-producing (he's talking about a distribution deal with the people who brought you "The Day After Tomorrow").
When Kurzweil isn't giving keynote addresses or reading obscure peer-review journals, he's raising money for his new hedge fund, FatKat (Financial Accelerating Transactions from Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies). He's already attracted a roster of blue-ribbon investors that includes venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, former Microsoft CFO Mike Brown, and former Flextronics-CEO-turned-KKR-partner Michael Marks.
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Being a hedge fund manager may seem an odd pursuit for an expert in AI, but to Kurzweil it's perfectly natural. The magic that has enabled all his innovations has been the science of pattern recognition - and what is the financial market, he postulates, but a series of patterns?
Kurzweil, however, has something bigger on his mind than just making money - after half a lifetime studying trends in technological change, he believes he's found a pattern that allows him to see into the future with a high degree of accuracy.
The secret is something he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, and the basic idea is that the power of technology is expanding at an exponential rate. Mankind is on the cusp of a radically accelerating era of change unlike anything we have ever seen, he says, and almost more extreme than we can imagine.
What does that mean? By the time a child born today graduates from college, Kurzweil believes, poverty, disease, and reliance on fossil fuels should be a thing of the past. Speaking of which, don't get him started on global-warming hype.
"These slides that Gore puts up are ludicrous," says the man who once delivered a tech conference presentation as a singing computer avatar named Ramona. (That stunt was the inspiration for the 2002 Al Pacino movie "Simone.") "They don't account for anything like the technological progress we're going to experience."
Great big cell phones in the sky
He has plenty more ideas that may seem Woody Allen - wacky in a "Sleeper" kind of way (virtual sex as good as or better than the real thing) and occasionally downright disturbing à la "2001: A Space Odyssey" (computers will achieve consciousness in about 20 years). But a number of his predictions have had a funny way of coming true.
Back in the 1980s he predicted that a computer would beat the world chess champion in 1998 (it happened in 1997) and that some kind of worldwide computer network would arise and facilitate communication and entertainment (still happening). His current vision goes way, way past the web, of course. But at least give the guy a hearing. "We are the species that goes beyond our potential," he says. "Merging with our technology is the next stage in our evolution."
In mid-April, Kurzweil traveled to the Island hotel in Newport Beach, Calif., as one of the featured speakers at a two-day World Innovation Forum. The roster of luminaries included Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, now at Google (Charts, Fortune 500). But Kurzweil was the only one followed around by a team of documentary-film makers.
He took the stage wearing a brown houndstooth sports coat and navy checked tie and began toggling through his PowerPoint slides. He's about 5-foot-7, and in regular conversation he tends to speak in a monotone. But he comes alive onstage, mixing in reliable one-liners with his bigger point: Don't underestimate the power of technological change. "Information technologies are doubling in power every year right now," he tells the crowd of 400 or so attendees. "Doubling every year is multiplying by 1,000 in ten years. It's remarkable how scientists miss this basic trend."
Kurzweil's crusade, if you will, is to get across that most of us (even scientists) fail to see the world changing exponentially because we are "stuck in the intuitive linear view." To hammer home his point, Kurzweil packs his presentations with charts that show, for instance, supercomputer power doubling consistently over time.
He explains that Moore's Law - the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years - is but one excellent example of the Law of Accelerating Returns. One of Kurzweil's favorite illustrations of exponential growth is the Human Genome Project. "It was scheduled to be a 15-year project," he says. "After seven years only 1% of it was done, and the critics said it would be impossible. But if you double from 1% every year over seven years, you get 100%. It was right on schedule."
He believes humanity is near that 1% moment in technological growth. By 2027, he predicts, computers will surpass humans in intelligence; by 2045 or so, we will reach the Singularity, a moment when technology is advancing so rapidly that "strictly biological" humans will be unable to comprehend it.
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Everything will be subject to his Law of Accelerating Returns, Kurzweil says, because "everything is ultimately becoming information technology." As we are able to reverse-engineer and decode our own DNA, for instance, medical technology can be converted to bits and bytes and zoom along at the same fantastic rate. That will enable overlapping revolutions in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. Which is how you end up with nanobots living in your brain.
Kurzweil, 59, declared his career as an inventor at age 5. He grew up in Queens, New York, one of two children (he has a younger sister named Enid) of Fredric and Hannah Kurzweil, Viennese Jews who fled the Nazis in 1938. His parents encouraged their son's ambition. "Ideas were the religion of our household," he says. "They saw science and technology as the way of the future and a way to make money and not struggle the way they did." Fredric, a composer and conductor, died of heart disease at 58, an event that would have a lasting impact on his son.
Kurzweil discovered computers at age 12, and quickly demonstrated an amazing facility with technology. At 14 he wangled a job as the computer programmer at the research department of Head Start, the federal government's early-childhood-development program. While there he wrote software that was later distributed by IBM (Charts, Fortune 500) with its mainframes.
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At 17 he won an international science contest by building a computer that analyzed the works of Chopin and Beethoven to compose music; that trick landed him on the TV show "I've Got a Secret," hosted by Steve Allen. At MIT he started a company that used a computer to crunch numbers and match high school students with the best college choice; he sold it for $100,000 plus royalties.
After graduating from MIT, he founded Kurzweil Computer Products in 1974, and his initial breakthrough came later that year when he created the first optical-character-recognition program capable of reading any font. After he happened to sit next to a blind man on a plane, he decided to apply the technology to building a reading machine for the sight-impaired. To make it work he invented the flatbed scanner and the text-to-speech synthesizer, and introduced a reader in 1976.
When his first reader customer - Stevie Wonder - later complained about the limitations of electronic keyboards, Kurzweil used pattern-recognition science to invent the first keyboard that could realistically reproduce the sound of pianos and other orchestra instruments. Thus was born Kurzweil Music Systems. (When his name is recognized today, it's still often as "that keyboard guy.")
Kurzweil never left the Boston area after college. He and his wife, Sonya, live in a suburb about 20 minutes west of the city in a house they bought 25 years ago. Both of his children are grown and out of the house - Ethan, 28, is at Harvard Business School and Amy, 20, is at Stanford - so it's just the two of them and 300 or so cat figurines. (Kurzweil says he likes the way cats always seem to be "calmly thinking through their options.")
Kurzweil won't say how much he's worth, but he's never had the kind of payday that made so many of his peers centimillionaires or better. He sold Kurzweil Computer Products to Xerox (Charts, Fortune 500) in 1980 for $6.25 million. Kurzweil Music Systems was in bankruptcy when Korean piano maker Young Chang bought it in 1990 for $12 million.
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Kurzweil Applied Intelligence introduced a series of speech-recognition products and went public in 1993, but was tarnished by an accounting-fraud scandal in 1995. Kurzweil, who was co-CEO, was not implicated. "I was focusing on the technology," he says. "There was this small conspiracy, which was deeply shocking." KAI was sold in 1997 for $53 million.
If Kurzweil hasn't made the big score, he's done well enough to keep funding his new ventures. Former Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500) CFO Brown has invested in a few of Kurzweil's businesses and says he's impressed. "There's a certain smart kind of person who can get all the way from the big picture down to the little kernel and back," he says. "He's extremely adaptive that way. His businesses in my experience have always been well run and successful. He's grown them until they get to be a certain size and typically sold them to somebody who has a bigger distribution network."
These days Kurzweil organizes his business interests - including FatKat and Ray & Terry's Longevity Products, which sells supplements - under the umbrella of Kurzweil Technologies. The company takes up all of one floor and half of another in a nondescript office-park building in Wellesley Hills, Mass. In the reception area on the second floor is an antique Ediphone, one of Thomas Edison's dictation machines.
On a table filled with plaques noting Kurzweil's achievements is a photo of him receiving the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton. There's a pipe-smoking mannequin with a ribbon that reads I AM AN INVENTOR on its chest. In the basement is a supercomputer processing millions of bits of market-related data.
Kurzweil is hoping that FatKat will prove to be as spectacular an achievement as his early inventions, only a lot more lucrative. When describing his approach, he refers to the success of fellow MIT board member and hedge fund manager James Simons of Renaissance Technologies, whose $6 billion fund Medallion has averaged 36% returns annually after fees since 1988 and who, according to the hedge fund trade magazine Alpha, was the highest-paid hedgie last year, with a take-home of $1.7 billion.
Kurzweil says he is applying Simons-like quantitative analysis to take advantage of market inefficiencies. And he's confident that, just as he trained computers to recognize patterns in human speech or the sound of a violin, he can do the same with currency fluctuations and stock-ownership trends. The ultimate goal is to create the first fully artificially intelligent quant fund - a black box that can learn to monitor itself and adjust. Although he started the company back in 1999, the fund has only been trading for about a year.
How's he doing? Kurzweil won't say, citing SEC rules, nor will his investors. "I view Ray as one of the best pattern-recognition people in the world," says Khosla, when asked why he put money into FatKat. "I am a happy investor in Ray's company. A very happy investor."
As respected as Kurzweil is, to some of his peers his ideas have a persistent whiff of the too-good-to-be-true. One intellectual equal who takes exception to Kurzweil's views is Mitch Kapor, the co-founder and former CEO of Lotus Development. In 2002, Kapor made a much publicized $20,000 bet with Kurzweil that a computer would not be able to demonstrate consciousness at a human level by 2029.
But his quibbles with Kurzweil run much deeper than that debate. He rejects Kurzweil's theories about the implications of accelerating technology as pseudo-evangelistic bunk. "It's intelligent design for the IQ 140 people," he says. "This proposition that we're heading to this point at which everything is going to be just unimaginably different - it's fundamentally, in my view, driven by a religious impulse. And all of the frantic arm-waving can't obscure that fact for me, no matter what numbers he marshals in favor of it. He's very good at having a lot of curves that point up to the right."
Even technologists who take Kurzweil seriously don't necessarily echo his optimism. It was after a conversation with him that Bill Joy wrote an apocalyptic cover story for Wired magazine in 2000 about nanotechnology run amok.
Kurzweil, who's always careful to acknowledge the possibility that everything could go haywire, says his outlook is about math, not religion. And he's not planning to go anywhere until he bears witness to humankind's ultimate destiny, even if it takes him forever.
Note that by "forever" we mean "forever": The man literally intends not to die. With an acute memory of his father's early death, he's been getting weekly blood tests and intravenous treatments. He also takes pills - lots of pills, more than 200 vitamins, antioxidants, and other supplements every day. It's all part of his effort to "reprogram" his body chemistry and stop growing old. "I've slowed down aging to a crawl," he claims. "By most measures my biological age is about 40, and I have some hormone and nutrient levels of a person in his 30s."
Tuesday night in Newport Beach, after his talk at the Innovation Forum, Kurzweil is having dinner at an upscale seafood restaurant with one of his true believers, Peter Diamandis. The 45-year-old Diamandis is best known as the creator of the X Prize, a $10 million bounty for the first privately built, manned rocket launched into space. (Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's team won in 2004.)
He's developing a new X Prize for a 100-mile-a-gallon car, and considering others in cancer research and, with Kurzweil's help, AI. Diamandis says he buys completely into Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns and everything that it implies. "The Singularity, for anyone who stops and thinks about it, is completely obvious," he says.
Diamandis, who has an MD, has also been profoundly affected by Kurzweil's 2004 book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever and has adopted Kurzweil's dietary guidelines. Diamandis pulls out a plastic bag of supplement pills and explains he's up to about 30 a day. Kurzweil reaches into his jacket for some of his own supplements. "His pills are bigger than my pills!" says Diamandis.
Then, more seriously, he asks Kurzweil if he ever gets nosebleeds from the supplement regimen. Kurzweil doesn't. "I think it might be the memory pills," says Diamandis. The conversation morphs into a debate on why earthlings have been unable to detect extraterrestrial civilizations, because with the billions of star systems out there, surely the Law of Accelerating Returns must have taken root somewhere...
It's easy to ridicule a scene like this, and perhaps people will when the movie comes out. (The documentary crew was there.) It's currently unfashionable to be so positive in one's open-mindedness. But remember, Kurzweil has been right before. And frankly, he's delighted we haven't heard from anyone else in the universe yet - it just means we're further up the technology curve than the aliens. "I think it's exciting that we're in the lead," he says, fiddling with his half-eaten ahi tuna. "There's a lot ahead of us."
Reporter associates Doris Burke and Telis Demos contributed to this article.
From the May 14, 2007 issue
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: WW3
on: May 02, 2007, 06:39:25 PM
Victor Davis HansonMay 2, 2007 8:48 AM The Crazy Middle East
All Eyes on Baghdad
All the pros and cons on the war have been aired. We’ve read all the tell-all books by Woodward, Ricks, Gordon, Trainor and the rest that now contradict the arguments and theses of what they wrote about the 1991 war—that then we should have done what we are doing now, which in turn should now be what we had done then.
All the once insider geniuses like Clark, Scheuer, O’Neil and Tenet have sold their tell-all accounts in which they were brilliant and all else obtuse. Feith has been called a dumb _____ by almost everyone in DC. Libby is facing jail for something or other, but most certainly not what the Special Prosecutor was supposed to be looking for; Wolfowitz faces an ouster: so much for bringing up to your board that you might have a conflict of interest down the road.
We’ve suffered through the distortions of Michael Moore and know that Cindy Sheehan once thanked President Bush for meeting with her. We’ve heard that the US military is akin to Saddam, Nazis, Pol Pot, or Stalin from the likes of Sens. Durbin and Kennedy, that America is a pariah from Sen. Kerry, that the war is lost from Sen. Reid and Howard Dean, and about everything imaginable from poor Sen. Biden.
We know that the Clintons once tried to restore their fides on national security by railing about Saddam’s WMD program, both before and after September 11. There has been a revolt of the generals and CIA operatives, that in addition to demonstrating opposition to the war, showed just how angry top brass are at our restructuring the military and /or intelligence agencies.
The Celebs have weighed in, and now we know that the Dixie Chicks, Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand, Rosie, the Donald, and Alec Baldwin are as ignorant as they are vehement and vicious in their pronouncements.
We’ve seen all the supposed landmark stories come and go: Dick Cheney’s shotgun, the supposed flushed Koran, the forged memos about Bush’s National Guard service, the doctored photos from Beirut, the slips from CNN brass about bias, the implosion of Dan Rather, the blood lust for Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Gonzalez, et. al. None of them did anything illegal; all of them were hounded by the press to resign—all of whom Republicans thought if these just go, the Left will stop, when in fact its appetite was only fed.
All that has come and gone, and we are left in the end with the verdict of the battlefield. The war will be won or lost, like it or not, fairly or unjustly, in the next six months in Baghdad. Either Gen. Petraeus quells the violence to a level that even the media cannot exaggerate, or the enterprise fails, and we withdraw. For all the acrimony and hysteria at home, that in the end is what we face—the verdict of all wars that ultimately are decided by the soldiers, and then either supported or opposed by the majority at home with no views or ideology other than its desire to conform to the narrative from the front: support our winners, oppose our losers. In the end, that is what this entire hysterical four years are about.
Win Iraq in the sense of a government stabilizing analogous to Kurdistan or Turkey, and even at this late hour, pundits and politicians will scramble around to dig up their 2002-3 quotes supporting the war, while Hollywood goes quiet and turns to more sermons on Darfur.
Sad, but true.
And the Palestinians wonder?
Polls show about 20% of Americans favor the Palestinians in their war against Israel, while about half the US population now expresses an unease with Muslims in general. Meanwhile a large minority of Muslims, according to polls, condones terrorist attacks on civilians, while a vast majority is vehemently anti-American. Their prejudice apparently is chalked up to our omnipresence—like saving Kuwait, feeding Somalia, stopping Muslims dying en masse in the Balkans, ridding Afghanistan of the Soviets, paying astronomical prices for their oil, and giving nearly $100 billion over the years to the Egyptians, Jordanians, and Palestinians.
Our prejudice surely could not be due to 19 Muslims slaughtering— to the delight of millions—3,000 Americans, nor to the news almost every hour of Christian-Muslim violence, Hindu-Muslim violence, Buddhist-Muslim violence, or secular-Muslim violence. And now the much circulated quote from Sheik Ahmad Bahr, acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council:
“You will be victorious” on the face of this planet. You are the masters of the world on the face of this planet. Yes, [the Koran says that] “you will be victorious,” but only “if you are believers.” Allah willing, “you will be victorious,” while America and Israel will be annihilated. I guarantee you that the power of belief and faith is greater than the power of America and Israel. They are cowards, who are eager for life, while we are eager for death for the sake of Allah. That is why America’s nose was rubbed in the mud in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and everywhere… Oh Allah, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one. Oh Allah, show them a day of darkness. Oh Allah, who sent down His Book, the mover of the clouds, who defeated the enemies of the Prophet defeat the Jews and the Americans, and bring us victory over them.”
And wait till these people get the bomb. So much for the war against Islamism being “over.”
What is it about the Palestinians?
Occupied Land? Are we speaking of Tibet? And why not worry about territorial disputes between Argentina and its neighbors, or Russia and Japan over the Kuriles, or a divided and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, or for that matter, Germany that lost historic homelands to postwar Poland? Or let us stop the earth’s rotation for Kashmir, which at least involves two large nuclear adversaries. Do the millions of Kurds in Turkey qualify as homeless or refugees or voiceless?
Are we talking of the 600,000 plus Jews that were expelled from the major Arab capitals following the 1967 war?
Or are we drawn to the millions in the Congo and Nigeria that have lost their homes?
If we are speaking of Palestinians, do we refer to the quarter-million plus expelled from Kuwait following the 1991 Gulf War?
Surely the world mourns the million lost in Rwanda? Or the tens of thousands now killed in Darfur? Or the million plus starved the last decade in North Korea?
So why just the Palestinians?
The truth is that the international media has created the entire Palestinian crisis, at least in terms of elevating it beyond all others of far worse magnitude.
Fear of international terrorists, going way back to the plane hijackings and Olympian killings of the 1970s.
Fear of oil price hikes, as if the Saudis might once again turn off the spigots in solidarity with Palestinians.
Demography? There are tens of millions of pro-Palestinian angry Muslims with a propensity toward supporting violent acts, and very few Jews who are busy writing scientific articles and discovering new products. So whom to fear?
And then there is the old anti-Semitism, old in the sense of both generated in Europe and as old as the Koran itself in the Middle East.
What to Do?
We should give not a cent to any government in Palestine. Americans might wish the people there well, but explain due to their vehement anti-American prejudices, we cannot accept any into this country, revoke the visas of those who are here, and politely ask them to settle their own differences with Israel.
Perhaps with Gulf oil money, they can one day forget Israel, create a just society, foster a vibrant, non-corrupt economy, and then with confidence negotiate with Israel about borders. But until then, there is no reason to have relations with this government or its populace.
Its mother’s milk is envy and jealousy that a displaced decimated people was placed down beside them in rock and scrub, and sixty years later built a humane, prosperous society that is a daily reminder to them that what they do—statism, gender apartheid, tribalism, feuding, religious intolerance, corruption, autocracy, polygamy, honor killings, etc.—lead to the very opposite sort of society in which nothing is invented, no discovery is found, no security or prosperity is achieved, and hand-outs are demanded but never appreciated.
But why discuss self-inflicted misery when the Jews are a few hundred yards away to blame, and guilt-ridden wealthy Westerners are easy marks for shake-downs, themselves anti-Semitic and fearful of hooded men with shaking fist and blood-curdling chants?
Don’t forget Syria.
Nancy Pelosi et al. gave sermons on the need to include Syria in regional discussions and to open a dialogue with this “key player.” Here’s what that olive branch won in reply, a boast from dictator Assad that Syria is essential to the killing of Americans in Iraq:
“To the east there is the resistance in Iraq, to the west there is the resistance in Lebanon and to the south there is the resistance of the Palestinian people…We, in Syria, are at the heart of all these events. Syria, the Arab region and the Middle East are going through a dangerous period. Destructive colonial projects are seeking to divide and reshape our region…Every Syrian citizen supports the Iraqi people who are resisting the American occupation.”
“Destructive colonial projects” means offering someone the right to vote and have some freedom of expression, in other words to say no to thugs like Assad, Ahmadinejad, or Khadafy.
Be careful what you wish for.
For years Arab intellectuals demanded from the West some concern for human rights, and a cessation of business as usual with their dictatorial strongmen. But post 2003 we are learning that such posturing was, well, posturing, and most of these hothouse plants are more angry at the democratization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq than they are at their own autocrats. An unspoken truth in the post 9/11 climate is that Arab reformers have zero credibility. Most live in Europe and the United States (including members of the families of the Pakistani, Syrian, Lebanese, and Saudi autocrats and extremists). Most are far more critical of western governments that gave them refuge and a new life than they are of the illiberal regimes that drove them out.
Oil, father of us all
In the end, all reasoning and caclucation comes down to oil, not energy independce just a lessening of our need to import by about 5 million barrels or so on the world market. Let Brazil export duty-free ethanol; drill in Anwar and off our coasts; build 20 or so nuclear reactors to replace natural gas and power batteries at night of small commuter cars; up the fleet average gas mileage; develop oil tar and oil shale; use alternative energies—and do all that inclusively rather than in an either/or strategy, and we can collapse the world price, and with it the strategic importance of this dangerous, dysfunctional, and ultimately irrelevant part of the world.
Without oil and nukes, the Arab and Iranian Middle East has no hold on the world, no more than does Paraguay or the Ivory Coast or Bulgaria or Laos. We wish them well, but find Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, the House of Saud, Hamas, Khadafy, and all the rest, well, all too retro-7th-century for our tastes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: May 02, 2007, 05:43:50 PM
I wonder what lies underneath this cryptic paragraph?
IRAN: Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian is being detained on charges of espionage, Fars News Agency reported. Earlier reports did not indicate what charges had been brought against him. Mousavian was reportedly taken from his home April 30.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: I am new and have 3 questions.
on: May 02, 2007, 05:21:23 PM
I'd love to see that essay on training with wood without it cracking.
Concerning hubud, it is part of the training in DBMA. As a matter of fact I was training one of my private students in it rather heavily just this morning.
Concerning some of the negative commentary about it and similar training methods, see the thread "Tippy Tappy Drills-- thread or menace?" on this forum.
Of couse Guro Inosanto would be the best course of action for learning hubud! (And of course, I second Gruhn's kind words about our "Kali Tudo"(c) DVD
Training hubud is great fun and in my opinion when connected with the proper understandings can be of tremendous fighting value. If I may offer a suggestion-- learn it on your complementary side first (your left side if you are a righty) and ingrain it well, then learn it on your dominant side, then learn to fluidly flow between the two.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / LNOP
on: May 02, 2007, 05:10:05 PM
Sent to me by a friend from my Gilder days-- Marc
For the record, I have what is for me a fairly solid size position.
For you LNOP shareholders, I enclose the following interview with Eli Fruchter, CEO, in an Israeli newspaper, Globes. Right now, the company's annual revenue is $8 million. By 2008-2009, the company should capture at least 50% market share of the $250 million market. This is why I have recommended buying shares in this company. We are looking at 1200% revenue growth from 2006 to 2009.
Shiri Habib 2 May 07 18:56
Two years ago, Eli Fruchter, President and CEO of EZchip Technologies Ltd. said that it was not inconceivable that the company would record revenue of $75 million in 2008. He was still optimistic when he talked to "Globes" last week although this time round he refuses to give figures. "The market we're targeting will reach $250 million in 2008-2009. I expect that we will have a sizeable chunk of it," he predicts.
Yokneam-based EZchip, which is controlled by LanOptics Ltd. (Nasdaq: LNOP; TASE:LNOP), is a fabless company that develops high-speed network processors. EZchip's chip sits in the router, and Fruchter describes it as the "Pentium of routers."
Most of EZchip's customers presently use its first generation NP-1c processor. The company began shipping the newer NP-2 to customers at the end of 2006. At the same time, it is also developing the next generations of processor, the NP-3 and NP-4.
EZchip's potential customers are telecommunications equipment manufacturers and the three largest companies in this sector are Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which controls 50% of the market, Juniper Networks (Nasdaq: JNPR), and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). EZchip has more than 100 design wins, and two of the three companies just mentioned are its customers. Fruchter refuses to say who they are but describes them as the "crème-de-la-crème in the field."
One individual who has been forthcoming about this is tech stocks guru George Gilder, who has been following EZchip for several years. In his latest report, Gilder writes that EZchip's revenue is likely to increase thanks to the sales of NP-2 processors, followed by sales of the next generation of processors, NP-3, to Cisco and Juniper from the beginning of next year. He believes that revenue of $100 million or more for EZchip in 2009 is definitely possible. For the sake of comparison, the company ended 2006 with sales of $8.5 million.
"We began shipping NP-2 processors in the third quarter of 2006," says Fruchter. "Every router has many cards and every card has our chips. The previous generation of processors had one chip in each chassis, while the new generation can take up to 64 chips. The difference in price is such that the NP-2 costs about half of the NP-1, so even if you don't fill the chassis with our chips, the potential revenue from NP-2 is ten times that of NP-1."
Since the time from the announcement of a contract win to the launch of a completed product on the market can sometimes be two to three years, EZchip is now recognizing revenue from previous years. This fact should on the face of it give the company good visibility and the ability to publish forecasts, but it doesn't do this. "We have visibility for one quarter and that's not enough," says Fruchter. "The customers' products need to prove themselves on the market. In order to increase our visibility, we need more large customers that have reached the production stage." In any event, he adds the company should not be judged on a quarterly basis. "If anyone is expecting stable growth, it won't necessarily happen. There could be surges from one quarter to the next. At the annual level, 2007 should be a lot stronger than 2006."
Globes: And when will the profit come? You lost $12.3 million in 2006.
Fruchter: "We are spending just over $1 million a month, $12-13 million a year, and with an expenditure level like this and a profit margin of around 60%, a quarter in which we recorded $5.5 million in revenue would be a profitable one. I can't say exactly when this will happen, but it will."
As a start-up, EZchip was not required to publish its results, but it is controlled by LanOptics, which is a public company. LanOptics has a market cap of $211 million, reflecting a value for EZchip of $270 million, in which it has a 78% stake. EZchip is LanOptics' sole activity, and LanOptics recently decided to raise its stake in EZchip to outright ownership. Last December it increased its holding from 60% to 78% after it gave EZchip's minority shareholders its own shares in exchange for their holdings.
"The current structure does not give us any advantage," says Fruchter, who also serves as LanOptics chairman. "It started when EZchip needed a lot of money, and LanOptics didn't have enough. We raised a total of $60 million through venture capital funds, the last part of which was raised in 2005. The goal is to simplify the structure and return to full ownership by LanOptics. The problem here is not efficiency but simplicity - people like simple things."
Fruchter notes that today two funds remain investors in EZchip - Goldman Sachs and JK&B Capital. "They hold preference shares in EZchip, and if they convert them they will receive ordinary LanOptics shares," explains Fruchter. "I assume that once LanOptics's stock is at a certain price level, it'll be worthwhile for them to convert. I believe it is worthwhile for them now. There's a good chance that it will happen as early as next year." Once it does, Fruchter believes that LanOptics will change its name to EZchip and continue trading under its new name.
EZchip is already acting more and more like a public company. The company plans to hold a conference call following the publication of its financials for the first quarter, and a road show, and it also intends to work with an investor-relations company. "The main reason for this is that a lot of investors are interested in us, largely thanks to the "Gilder Reports," says Fruchter. The company currently does not have any coverage by investment houses.
Does EZchip's market cap give a fair reflection of the state of the company and the market?
"I'm not an analyst and I don't engage in calculations of profit multiples. It has transpired from conversations with investors that the fairly high value is derived from their view of EZchip as a growth company. This is typical of many companies at the early growth stages."
EZchip recently announced a collaboration with Marvell Technology Group (Nasdaq: MRVL), an announcement that sent LanOptics' stock up sharply, even though the collaboration was known before the official announcement was made. The two companies are collaborating on R&D, marketing, and sales of network processors to the Ethernet market. "The goal is to increase exposure to Tier 1 customers, a sector in which Marvell has a very strong grip," says Fruchter. "Marvell is active primarily in the enterprise solutions sector, and our chip is designed for service providers. The combination enables us to approach customers of both companies."
Do you mean customers that are apprehensive about working with a small company like EZchip?
"That's one good example."
The collaboration with Marvell was a form of response to Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), which entered EZchip's market after it acquired the privately-held Sandburst Corporation at the beginning of 2006. "Broadcom is our main competitor," says Fruchter. "Broadcom and Marvell are acting in a similar fashion to each other. They both came from the enterprise field and are trying to reach service providers, Broadcom by way of an acquisition, and Marvell through a collaboration."
Did Broadcom approach you or make an acquisition offer to you too before it acquired Sandburst?
"I'd rather not comment on that."
But do you feel that EZchip could still be an acquisition target?
"Yes, of course it could. Looking ahead, the most reasonable scenario is that LanOptics will buy the remaining holdings and reach 100% ownership, and that EZchip will continue to grow as a public company. Another option is that EZchip will be acquired, before or following a full merger with LanOptics. A third option, albeit highly unlikely, is that EZchip itself will make an offering, but there is no need for this at present."
Aside from Broadcom, EZchip faces another kind of competition, since there are companies that prefer to develop their chips in-house. One competitor now quitting the market is Intel Corporation (Nasdaq: INTC). "Intel announced that it would no longer be making any developments in the field," says Fruchter. "They're in the process of exiting the market. They developed low-speed processors, while we have been developing high-speed processors. I imaging that had they stayed in the market, they would have developed high-speed ones too." Fruchter believes that Intel decided that a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars in which other companies were also active, was not suited to a company of its size.
Fruchter notes the many changes that are now taking place in the market. "The standards are changing. The whole idea of processors is to replace chips, which are not flexible. This allows for changes to be made and the product's life to be extended when the market changes," he says. "The move to processors is a move to another technology and it takes time."
According to Fruchter, the market was worth less than $20 million in 2006, but it has grown. "Service providers have seen some dry periods," he says. "They didn't invest in new infrastructures and routers, things are now changing. There has also been a move to Internet services, which necessitates the replacement of old infrastructures, something that helps to push the processors."
Are there any other directions that EZchip could develop in?
"We began with large and expensive chips, and working our way down from that is easy. We're looking at further options, such as for example, entering the developing wireless market."
Fruchter says EZchip could also acquire companies for the purpose of growth, although the company wishes first to complete the move with LanOptics.
How will EZchip look in a few years from now?
"I don't want to commit myself as to figures, but the company will sell at levels that are a lot higher than those today. We'll take our technology to additional markets as well."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: May 02, 2007, 10:30:13 AM
Armored Vehicles for Iraq Delayed
Associated Press | April 30, 2007
CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq - The armored carrier has a grim black slash across its side, burn marks on the door and a web of cracks along the window.
Like most of the Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in Anbar province, this one has been hit as many as three times by enemy fire and bomb blasts. Yet, to date, no American troops have died while riding in one.
But efforts to buy thousands more carriers - each costing about $1 million - could be delayed if the White House and Congress do not resolve their deadlock over a $124.2 billion war spending bill.
Take Action: Tell your public officials how you feel about this issue.
About $3 billion for the vehicles is tied up in the legislation. The spending plan has stalled because of a dispute over provisions that would set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
At a hearing last month, lawmakers urged the Army to get more of the carriers to the battlefront as quickly as possible. The vehicles, with their unique V-shaped hull that deflects blasts outward and away from passengers, are considered lifesavers against the No. 1 killer in Iraq - roadside bombs.
Military leaders say the carriers have reduced roadside bomb casualties in Iraq by as much as two-thirds. But they are not effective against the enemy's latest weapon - explosively formed penetrators, which hurl a fist-sized lump of molten copper capable of piercing armored vehicles.
Right now, there are at least 1,100 of the armored carriers on the battlefront in Iraq, including the 100 or so that rumble through Anbar province carrying troops and clearing roads of explosives.
The Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations forces want thousands more. The goal is more than 7,700, at a cost of about $8.4 billion.
The Army wants 2,500, at a cost of about $2.7 billion. The Marines are planning to buy 3,700 and would send about 3,000 to Iraq. There will be 525 in the country by the end of the year, said Brig. Gen. Mark Gurganus, ground combat commander for U.S. forces in western Iraq.
As the Pentagon scrapes to find the money to run the war in the midst of the budget impasse, the Pentagon says there is not enough cash to buy as many as commanders say they need.
"We can build what we can get the funds to build. It's strictly an issue of money," Gen. Peter Schoomaker, former Army chief of staff, told a Senate committee last month.
At the time, he said the Army had an unfunded requirement of about $2 billion. Lawmakers added some additional money to the bill, so that number would now be about $1.5 billion.
He said the Army believes "that not only do we need the MRAP immediately to give us better protection, but that we need to stay on a path to get an even better vehicle than the MRAP for the long haul, because the enemy is going to continue to adapt."
Senators pressed for more. "We're buying far too few of them," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "If we have that capability, why would we not do everything to mobilize, to move as many of them into the field as is possible?
In January, the military approved contracts to buy 4,100 of the armored carriers, using nine different companies to fill the order. Although the Pentagon is shifting money around to cover war costs until the spending bill is signed, the Army said dollars already approved and in the pipeline for the vehicles will not be affected.
Additional orders cannot be placed until the disagreement over the war spending legislation is settled. That bill would give the Army ($1.2 billion), the Marines ($1.25 billion), the Navy ($154 million), the Air Force ($139 million) and special operations forces ($259 million) money to buy their own versions of the carriers, according to Bill Johnson-Miles, spokesman for the Marine Corps Systems Command.
The Defense Department has requested about $4.4 billion in the 2008 budget to buy more of the vehicles.
Out on the dusty roads in Anbar province, Marines say the carriers have proved their worth.
This month, Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Kessler said, Marines were riding in one and took a hit from a small roadside bomb. The blast blew a tire, and it took them more than 90 minutes to limp back to base, but no one was hurt. Days earlier, a carrier with six Marines was hit by two blasts; two Marines had broken bones, but they all survived.
"It's an extremely survivable vehicle. I guarantee it saves lives," said Kessler. Pointing to the scars on the side of the MRAP, he added that had they been riding in a Humvee or something else, "they would all be dead."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: May 02, 2007, 08:14:08 AM
The NYTimes, which has betrayed America more than once in this war (e.g. revealing that we were tracking the enemy's financial transactions and more) is certainly of dubious credibility in all this, but a President who chose and stands by an Attorney General who doesn't belive that habeas corpus is a Constitutional right has credibility problems of his own too.
Spying on Americans
Published: May 2, 2007
For more than five years, President Bush authorized government spying on phone calls and e-mail to and from the United States without warrants. He rejected offers from Congress to update the electronic eavesdropping law, and stonewalled every attempt to investigate his spying program.
Suddenly, Mr. Bush is in a hurry. He has submitted a bill that would enact enormous, and enormously dangerous, changes to the 1978 law on eavesdropping. It would undermine the fundamental constitutional principle — over which there can be no negotiation or compromise — that the government must seek an individual warrant before spying on an American or someone living here legally.
To heighten the false urgency, the Bush administration will present this issue, as it has before, as a choice between catching terrorists before they act or blinding the intelligence agencies. But the administration has never offered evidence that the 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, hampered intelligence gathering after the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Bush simply said the law did not apply to him.
The director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, said yesterday that the evidence of what is wrong with FISA was too secret to share with all Americans. That’s an all-too-familiar dodge. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is familiar with the president’s spying program, has said that it could have been conducted legally. She even offered some sensible changes for FISA, but the administration and the Republican majority in the last Congress buried her bill.
Mr. Bush’s motivations for submitting this bill now seem obvious. The courts have rejected his claim that 9/11 gave him virtually unchecked powers, and he faces a Democratic majority in Congress that is willing to exercise its oversight responsibilities. That, presumably, is why his bill grants immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated in five years of illegal eavesdropping. It also strips the power to hear claims against the spying program from all courts except the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which meets in secret.
According to the administration, the bill contains “long overdue” FISA modifications to account for changes in technology. The only example it offered was that an e-mail sent from one foreign country to another that happened to go through a computer in the United States might otherwise be missed. But Senator Feinstein had already included this fix in the bill Mr. Bush rejected.
Moreover, FISA has been updated dozens of times in the last 29 years. In 2000, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, who ran the National Security Agency then, said it “does not require amendment to accommodate new communications technologies.” And since 9/11, FISA has had six major amendments.
The measure would not update FISA; it would gut it. It would allow the government to collect vast amounts of data at will from American citizens’ e-mail and phone calls. The Center for National Security Studies said it might even be read to permit video surveillance without a warrant.
This is a dishonest measure, dishonestly presented, and Congress should reject it. Before making any new laws, Congress has to get to the truth about Mr. Bush’s spying program. (When asked at a Senate hearing yesterday if Mr. Bush still claims to have the power to ignore FISA when he thinks it is necessary, Mr. McConnell refused to answer.)
With clear answers — rather than fearmongering and stonewalling — there can finally be a real debate about amending FISA. It’s not clear whether that can happen under this president. Mr. Bush long ago lost all credibility in the area where this law lies: at the fulcrum of the balance between national security and civil liberties.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: May 02, 2007, 07:50:24 AM
The WSJ on recent events in Turkey:
May 2, 2007; Page A20
The Muslim world's liveliest democracy has long been a work in progress, but the stakes just got a lot higher for Turkey and the greater Mideast. Turkey's future as a pluralistic, free society is on the line.
Amid a presidential campaign marked by street protests and divisive rhetoric, the powerful military inserted itself into politics late Friday by threatening a coup. The generals and their secularist allies in the civil service and professions are trying to derail the ruling party's selection for president. Yesterday the country's highest court sided with the secularists.
The crisis erupted last week when the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, by virtue of its majority in Parliament, nominated one of its own for the presidency. The job is currently held by a secularist, and the AKP choice would give a party with roots in the Islamist movement control over all branches of government for the first time. Despite the belief of some secularists that the AKP's "secret agenda" is to implant political Islam in Turkey, its five years in power have done more to entrench democracy and free markets than have most previous governments.
The AKP's candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, is a pro-Western moderate who spearheaded Turkey's political and economic reforms and helped secure an invitation to start membership talks with the European Union. But Mr. Gül got his political start in the Islamist movement and -- the greatest sin in secular eyes -- his wife wears a headscarf.
The battle came to a head Friday, when Mr. Gül failed by a slim margin to get the two-thirds needed to win. Then the military weighed in just before midnight with a statement posted on its home page. "It should not be forgotten that the Turkish armed forces takes sides in these debates and is the absolute defender of secularism," the missive read. "When necessary they will display their attitudes and actions very clearly." The message was lost on no Turk.
Yesterday the court annulled Friday's vote, ruling in favor of the opposition party that had boycotted the vote. The judges, all staunchly secular, ruled that a two-thirds quorum must be present in the legislature for a vote -- even though the constitution says nothing firmly about a quorum and past presidents were elected with less than two-thirds.
Turkey has done well under the political stability and sound economics brought by the AKP, which took office in late 2002, and party leader and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may feel confident enough to keep pressing back. As a soft Islamist who has taken a few false steps -- pushing a law banning adultery and cozying up to Hamas -- he has stronger democratic credentials and more legitimacy than the secularists, who fall back on the generals.
The court decision, while unfortunate, could show a way out of the problem. The public demonstrations indicate that Mr. Erdogan continues to make a large chunk of the Turkish public uneasy. Though Mr. Gül is a capable politician, a different candidate may calm the public storms without compromising the AKP's right to choose that figure. Down the road, the AKP's oft-mooted ideas about a directly elected president could be part of a broader constitutional overhaul. Mr. Erdogan said yesterday that early parliamentary elections are likely.
The immediate need for anyone concerned about Turkey's future must be to get politics played by the rules and by the civilians. The military made important contributions to Westernizing the country, but its current behavior is a danger to Turkish progress. The best thing that can be said about the high court's decision is that early elections are better than tanks in the street. But the damage done to Turkey's institutions might have been avoided by sticking to the rules set down in the constitution.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: the titles of the teachers in the fillipino martial arts
on: May 02, 2007, 07:06:37 AM
Another post from the ED:
Tue, 1 May 2007 23:29:59 -0400
From: bgdebuque <firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: [Eskrima] Kali
I think you are on the right track.
It appears that the ancient martial art from South India of Kalaripayattu
have spawned several martial arts-based performing arts, all of which have
"kali" affixed to it - KOLKALI, VELAKALI, THACHOLIKALI and KATHAKALI.
KOLKALI is particularly interesting. According to Wikipedia: "The dance
performers move in a circle, striking small sticks and keeping rhythm with
special steps. The circle expands and contracts as the dance progress."
Kalaripayattu is now highly-suspected as the possible origin of Shaolin Kung
Fu. It would not be highly remote that it could also be the origin of the
FMA. If that is really the case, the use of "Kali" to refer to the FMA
would not be without basis at all.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Good brief rant
on: May 01, 2007, 12:35:22 PM
"As to why some of Capitol Hill's would-be war managers can't name more than a single Iraqi province, officers and journalists offer all kinds of theories.... But, then, expertise may be beside the point. Obliviousness, after all, has its uses.... Where all this leads is clear. Piece together a string of demonstrably false 'facts on the ground' from a suitably safe remove, and you're left with a scenario where we can walk away from Iraq without condition and regardless of consequence. You don't need to watch terrified Iraqis pleading for American forces to stay put in their neighborhoods. You don't need to read the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which anticipates that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal will end in catastrophe. Why, in the serene conviction that things are the other way around, you don't even need to read at all. Chances are, your congressman doesn't either" -- Lawrence Kaplan, writing in the New Republic, on the basic ignorance about Iraq displayed by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Murtha and other Democratic leaders.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The End of National Currency
on: May 01, 2007, 12:17:26 PM
Historically, throughout the Balkans and Latin America , sovereign borrowers subjected themselves to considerable foreign control, at times enduring what were considered to be egregious blows to independence. Following its recognition as a state in 1832, Greece spent the rest of the century under varying degrees of foreign creditor control; on the heels of a default on its 1832 obligations, the country had its entire finances placed under French administration. In order to return to the international markets after 1878, the country had to precommit specific revenues from customs and state monopolies to debt repayment. An 1887 loan gave its creditors the power to create a company that would supervise the revenues committed to repayment. After a disastrous war with Turkey over Crete in 1897, Greece was obliged to accept a control commission, comprised entirely of representatives of the major powers, that had absolute power over the sources of revenue necessary to fund its war debt. Greece's experience was mirrored in Bulgaria, Serbia, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and, of course, Argentina .
There is, in short, no age of monetary sovereignty to return to. Countries have always borrowed, and when offered the choice between paying high interest rates to compensate for default risk (which was typical during the Renaissance) and paying lower interest rates in return for sacrificing some autonomy over their ability to default (which was typical in the nineteenth century), they have commonly chosen the latter. As for the notion that the IMF today possesses some extraordinary power over the exchange-rate policies of borrowing countries, this, too, is historically inaccurate. Adherence to the nineteenth-century gold standard, with the Bank of England at the helm of the system, severely restricted national monetary autonomy, yet governments voluntarily subjected themselves to it precisely because it meant cheaper capital and greater trade opportunities.
THE MIGHTY DOLLAR?
For a large, diversified economy like that of the United States , fluctuating exchange rates are the economic equivalent of a minor toothache. They require fillings from time to time -- in the form of corporate financial hedging and active global supply management -- but never any major surgery. There are two reasons for this. First, much of what Americans buy from abroad can, when import prices rise, quickly and cheaply be replaced by domestic production, and much of what they sell abroad can, when export prices fall, be diverted to the domestic market. Second, foreigners are happy to hold U.S. dollars as wealth.
This is not so for smaller and less advanced economies. They depend on imports for growth, and often for sheer survival, yet cannot pay for them without dollars. What can they do? Reclaim the sovereignty they have allegedly lost to the IMF and international markets by replacing the unwanted national currency with dollars (as Ecuador and El Salvador did half a decade ago) or euros (as Bosnia, Kosovo, and Montenegro did) and thereby end currency crises for good. Ecuador is the shining example of the benefits of dollarization: a country in constant political turmoil has been a bastion of economic stability, with steady, robust economic growth and the lowest inflation rate in Latin America. No wonder its new leftist president, Rafael Correa, was obliged to ditch his de-dollarization campaign in order to win over the electorate. Contrast Ecuador with the Dominican Republic , which suffered a devastating currency crisis in 2004 -- a needless crisis, as 85 percent of its trade is conducted with the United States (a figure comparable to the percentage of a typical U.S. state's trade with other U.S. states).
It is often argued that dollarization is only feasible for small countries. No doubt, smallness makes for a simpler transition. But even Brazil's economy is less than half the size of California's, and the U.S. Federal Reserve could accommodate the increased demand for dollars painlessly (and profitably) without in any way sacrificing its commitment to U.S. domestic price stability. An enlightened U.S. government would actually make it politically easier and less costly for more countries to adopt the dollar by rebating the seigniorage profits it earns when people hold more dollars. (To get dollars, dollarizing countries give the Federal Reserve interest-bearing assets, such as Treasury bonds, which the United States would otherwise have to pay interest on.) The International Monetary Stability Act of 2000 would have made such rebates official U.S. policy, but the legislation died in Congress, unsupported by a Clinton administration that feared it would look like a new foreign-aid program.
Polanyi was wrong when he claimed that because people would never accept foreign fiat money, fiat money could never support foreign trade. The dollar has emerged as just such a global money. This phenomenon was actually foreseen by the brilliant German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel in 1900. He surmised:
"Expanding economic relations eventually produce in the enlarged, and finally international, circle the same features that originally characterized only closed groups; economic and legal conditions overcome the spatial separation more and more, and they come to operate just as reliably, precisely and predictably over a great distance as they did previously in local communities. To the extent that this happens, the pledge, that is the intrinsic value of the money, can be reduced. ... Even though we are still far from having a close and reliable relationship within or between nations, the trend is undoubtedly in that direction."
But the dollar's privileged status as today's global money is not heaven-bestowed. The dollar is ultimately just another money supported only by faith that others will willingly accept it in the future in return for the same sort of valuable things it bought in the past. This puts a great burden on the institutions of the U.S. government to validate that faith. And those institutions, unfortunately, are failing to shoulder that burden. Reckless U.S. fiscal policy is undermining the dollar's position even as the currency's role as a global money is expanding.
Four decades ago, the renowned French economist Jacques Rueff, writing just a few years before the collapse of the Bretton Woods dollar-based gold-exchange standard, argued that the system "attains such a degree of absurdity that no human brain having the power to reason can defend it." The precariousness of the dollar's position today is similar. The United States can run a chronic balance-of-payments deficit and never feel the effects. Dollars sent abroad immediately come home in the form of loans, as dollars are of no use abroad. "If I had an agreement with my tailor that whatever money I pay him he returns to me the very same day as a loan," Rueff explained by way of analogy, "I would have no objection at all to ordering more suits from him."
With the U.S. current account deficit running at an enormous 6.6 percent of GDP (about $2 billion a day must be imported to sustain it), the United States is in the fortunate position of the suit buyer with a Chinese tailor who instantaneously returns his payments in the form of loans -- generally, in the U.S. case, as purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds. The current account deficit is partially fueled by the budget deficit (a dollar more of the latter yields about 20-50 cents more of the former), which will soar in the next decade in the absence of reforms to curtail federal "entitlement" spending on medical care and retirement benefits for a longer-living population. The United States -- and, indeed, its Chinese tailor -- must therefore be concerned with the sustainability of what Rueff called an "absurdity." In the absence of long-term fiscal prudence, the United States risks undermining the faith foreigners have placed in its management of the dollar -- that is, their belief that the U.S. government can continue to sustain low inflation without having to resort to growth-crushing interest-rate hikes as a means of ensuring continued high capital inflows.
It is widely assumed that the natural alternative to the dollar as a global currency is the euro. Faith in the euro's endurance, however, is still fragile -- undermined by the same fiscal concerns that afflict the dollar but with the added angst stemming from concerns about the temptations faced by Italy and others to return to monetary nationalism. But there is another alternative, the world's most enduring form of money: gold.
It must be stressed that a well-managed fiat money system has considerable advantages over a commodity-based one, not least of which that it does not waste valuable resources. There is little to commend in digging up gold in South Africa just to bury it again in Fort Knox. The question is how long such a well-managed fiat system can endure in the United States. The historical record of national monies, going back over 2,500 years, is by and large awful.
At the turn of the twentieth century -- the height of the gold standard -- Simmel commented, "Although money with no intrinsic value would be the best means of exchange in an ideal social order, until that point is reached the most satisfactory form of money may be that which is bound to a material substance." Today, with money no longer bound to any material substance, it is worth asking whether the world even approximates the "ideal social order" that could sustain a fiat dollar as the foundation of the global financial system. There is no way effectively to insure against the unwinding of global imbalances should China, with over a trillion dollars of reserves, and other countries with dollar-rich central banks come to fear the unbearable lightness of their holdings.
So what about gold? A revived gold standard is out of the question. In the nineteenth century, governments spent less than ten percent of national income in a given year. Today, they routinely spend half or more, and so they would never subordinate spending to the stringent requirements of sustaining a commodity-based monetary system. But private gold banks already exist, allowing account holders to make international payments in the form of shares in actual gold bars. Although clearly a niche business at present, gold banking has grown dramatically in recent years, in tandem with the dollar's decline. A new gold-based international monetary system surely sounds far-fetched. But so, in 1900, did a monetary system without gold. Modern technology makes a revival of gold money, through private gold banks, possible even without government support.
Virtually every major argument recently leveled against globalization has been leveled against markets generally (and, in turn, debunked) for hundreds of years. But the argument against capital flows in a world with 150 fluctuating national fiat monies is fundamentally different. It is highly compelling -- so much so that even globalization's staunchest supporters treat capital flows as an exception, a matter to be intellectually quarantined until effective crisis inoculations can be developed. But the notion that capital flows are inherently destabilizing is logically and historically false. The lessons of gold-based globalization in the nineteenth century simply must be relearned. Just as the prodigious daily capital flows between New York and California, two of the world's 12 largest economies, are so uneventful that no one even notices them, capital flows between countries sharing a single currency, such as the dollar or the euro, attract not the slightest attention from even the most passionate antiglobalization activists.
Countries whose currencies remain unwanted by foreigners will continue to experiment with crisis-prevention policies, imposing capital controls and building up war chests of dollar reserves. Few will repeat Argentina's misguided efforts to fix a dollar exchange rate without the dollars to do so. If these policies keep the IMF bored for a few more years, they will be for the good.
But the world can do better. Since economic development outside the process of globalization is no longer possible, countries should abandon monetary nationalism. Governments should replace national currencies with the dollar or the euro or, in the case of Asia, collaborate to produce a new multinational currency over a comparably large and economically diversified area.
Europeans used to say that being a country required having a national airline, a stock exchange, and a currency. Today, no European country is any worse off without them. Even grumpy Italy has benefited enormously from the lower interest rates and permanent end to lira speculation that accompanied its adoption of the euro. A future pan-Asian currency, managed according to the same principle of targeting low and stable inflation, would represent the most promising way for China to fully liberalize its financial and capital markets without fear of damaging renminbi speculation (the Chinese economy is only the size of California's and Florida's combined). Most of the world's smaller and poorer countries would clearly be best off unilaterally adopting the dollar or the euro, which would enable their safe and rapid integration into global financial markets. Latin American countries should dollarize; eastern European countries and Turkey, euroize. Broadly speaking, this prescription follows from relative trade flows, but there are exceptions; Argentina, for example, does more eurozone than U.S. trade, but Argentines think and save in dollars.
Of course, dollarizing countries must give up independent monetary policy as a tool of government macroeconomic management. But since the Holy Grail of monetary policy is to get interest rates down to the lowest level consistent with low and stable inflation, an argument against dollarization on this ground is, for most of the world, frivolous. How many Latin American countries can cut interest rates below those in the United States? The average inflation-adjusted lending rate in Latin America is about 20 percent. One must therefore ask what possible boon to the national economy developing-country central banks can hope to achieve from the ability to guide nominal local rates up and down on a discretionary basis. It is like choosing a Hyundai with manual transmission over a Lexus with automatic: the former gives the driver more control but at the cost of inferior performance under any condition.
As for the United States , it needs to perpetuate the sound money policies of former Federal Reserve Chairs Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan and return to long-term fiscal discipline. This is the only sure way to keep the United States' foreign tailors, with their massive and growing holdings of dollar debt, feeling wealthy and secure. It is the market that made the dollar into global money -- and what the market giveth, the market can taketh away. If the tailors balk and the dollar fails, the market may privatize money on its own.
Benn Steil is Director of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and a co-author of Financial Statecraft.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: May 01, 2007, 12:16:11 PM
From Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007
The End of National Currency
By Benn Steil
Summary: Global financial instability has sparked a surge in "monetary nationalism" -- the idea that countries must make and control their own currencies. But globalization and monetary nationalism are a dangerous combination, a cause of financial crises and geopolitical tension. The world needs to abandon unwanted currencies, replacing them with dollars, euros, and multinational currencies as yet unborn.
THE RISE OF MONETARY NATIONALISM
Capital flows have become globalization's Achilles' heel. Over the past 25 years, devastating currency crises have hit countries across Latin America and Asia , as well as countries just beyond the borders of western Europe -- most notably Russia and Turkey. Even such an impeccably credentialed pro-globalization economist as U.S. Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin has acknowledged that "opening up the financial system to foreign capital flows has led to some disastrous financial crises causing great pain, suffering, and even violence."
The economics profession has failed to offer anything resembling a coherent and compelling response to currency crises. International Monetary Fund (IMF) analysts have, over the past two decades, endorsed a wide variety of national exchange-rate and monetary policy regimes that have subsequently collapsed in failure. They have fingered numerous culprits, from loose fiscal policy and poor bank regulation to bad industrial policy and official corruption. The financial-crisis literature has yielded policy recommendations so exquisitely hedged and widely contradicted as to be practically useless.
Antiglobalization economists have turned the problem on its head by absolving governments (except the one in Washington) and instead blaming crises on markets and their institutional supporters, such as the IMF -- "dictatorships of international finance," in the words of the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz. "Countries are effectively told that if they don't follow certain conditions, the capital markets or the IMF will refuse to lend them money," writes Stiglitz. "They are basically forced to give up part of their sovereignty."
Is this right? Are markets failing, and will restoring lost sovereignty to governments put an end to financial instability? This is a dangerous misdiagnosis. In fact, capital flows became destabilizing only after countries began asserting "sovereignty" over money -- detaching it from gold or anything else considered real wealth. Moreover, even if the march of globalization is not inevitable, the world economy and the international financial system have evolved in such a way that there is no longer a viable model for economic development outside of them.
The right course is not to return to a mythical past of monetary sovereignty, with governments controlling local interest and exchange rates in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world. Governments must let go of the fatal notion that nationhood requires them to make and control the money used in their territory. National currencies and global markets simply do not mix; together they make a deadly brew of currency crises and geopolitical tension and create ready pretexts for damaging protectionism. In order to globalize safely, countries should abandon monetary nationalism and abolish unwanted currencies, the source of much of today's instability.
THE GOLDEN AGE
Capital flows were enormous, even by contemporary standards, during the last great period of "globalization," from the late nineteenth century to the outbreak of World War I. Currency crises occurred during this period, but they were generally shallow and short-lived. That is because money was then -- as it has been throughout most of the world and most of human history -- gold, or at least a credible claim on gold. Funds flowed quickly back to crisis countries because of confidence that the gold link would be restored. At the time, monetary nationalism was considered a sign of backwardness, adherence to a universally acknowledged standard of value a mark of civilization. Those nations that adhered most reliably (such as Australia, Canada , and the United States) were rewarded with the lowest international borrowing rates. Those that adhered the least (such as Argentina, Brazil , and Chile) were punished with the highest.
This bond was fatally severed during the period between World War I and World War II. Most economists in the 1930s and 1940s considered it obvious that capital flows would become destabilizing with the end of reliably fixed exchange rates. Friedrich Hayek noted in a 1937 lecture that under a credible gold-standard regime, "short-term capital movements will on the whole tend to relieve the strain set up by the original cause of a temporarily adverse balance of payments. If exchanges, however, are variable, the capital movements will tend to work in the same direction as the original cause and thereby to intensify it" -- as they do today.
The belief that globalization required hard money, something foreigners would willingly hold, was widespread. The French economist Charles Rist observed that "while the theorizers are trying to persuade the public and the various governments that a minimum quantity of gold ... would suffice to maintain monetary confidence, and that anyhow paper currency, even fiat currency, would amply meet all needs, the public in all countries is busily hoarding all the national currencies which are supposed to be convertible into gold." This view was hardly limited to free marketeers. As notable a critic of the gold standard and global capitalism as Karl Polanyi took it as obvious that monetary nationalism was incompatible with globalization. Focusing on the United Kingdom's interest in growing world trade in the nineteenth century, he argued that "nothing else but commodity money could serve this end for the obvious reason that token money, whether bank or fiat, cannot circulate on foreign soil." Yet what Polanyi considered nonsensical -- global trade in goods, services, and capital intermediated by intrinsically worthless national paper (or "fiat") monies -- is exactly how globalization is advancing, ever so fitfully, today.
The political mythology associating the creation and control of money with national sovereignty finds its economic counterpart in the metamorphosis of the famous theory of "optimum currency areas" (OCA). Fathered in 1961 by Robert Mundell, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who has long been a prolific advocate of shrinking the number of national currencies, it became over the subsequent decades a quasi-scientific foundation for monetary nationalism.
Mundell, like most macroeconomists of the early 1960s, had a now largely discredited postwar Keynesian mindset that put great faith in the ability of policymakers to fine-tune national demand in the face of what economists call "shocks" to supply and demand. His seminal article, "A Theory of Optimum Currency Areas," asks the question, "What is the appropriate domain of the currency area?" "It might seem at first that the question is purely academic," he observes, "since it hardly appears within the realm of political feasibility that national currencies would ever be abandoned in favor of any other arrangement."
Mundell goes on to argue for flexible exchange rates between regions of the world, each with its own multinational currency, rather than between nations. The economics profession, however, latched on to Mundell's analysis of the merits of flexible exchange rates in dealing with economic shocks affecting different "regions or countries" differently; they saw it as a rationale for treating existing nations as natural currency areas. Monetary nationalism thereby acquired a rational scientific mooring. And from then on, much of the mainstream economics profession came to see deviations from "one nation, one currency" as misguided, at least in the absence of prior political integration.
The link between money and nationhood having been established by economists (much in the way that Aristotle and Jesus were reconciled by medieval scholastics), governments adopted OCA theory as the primary intellectual defense of monetary nationalism. Brazilian central bankers have even defended the country's monetary independence by publicly appealing to OCA theory -- against Mundell himself, who spoke out on the economic damage that sky-high interest rates (the result of maintaining unstable national monies that no one wants to hold) impose on Latin American countries. Indeed, much of Latin America has already experienced "spontaneous dollarization": despite restrictions in many countries, U.S. dollars represent over 50 percent of bank deposits. (In Uruguay, the figure is 90 percent, reflecting the appeal of Uruguay's lack of currency restrictions and its famed bank secrecy.) This increasingly global phenomenon of people rejecting national monies as a store of wealth has no place in OCA theory.
NO TURNING BACK
Just a few decades ago, vital foreign investment in developing countries was driven by two main motivations: to extract raw materials for export and to gain access to local markets heavily protected against competition from imports. Attracting the first kind of investment was simple for countries endowed with the right natural resources. (Companies readily went into war zones to extract oil, for example.) Governments pulled in the second kind of investment by erecting tariff and other barriers to competition so as to compensate foreigners for an otherwise unappealing business climate. Foreign investors brought money and know-how in return for monopolies in the domestic market.
This cozy scenario was undermined by the advent of globalization. Trade liberalization has opened up most developing countries to imports (in return for export access to developed countries), and huge declines in the costs of communication and transport have revolutionized the economics of global production and distribution. Accordingly, the reasons for foreign companies to invest in developing countries have changed. The desire to extract commodities remains, but companies generally no longer need to invest for the sake of gaining access to domestic markets. It is generally not necessary today to produce in a country in order to sell in it (except in large economies such as Brazil and China ).
At the same time, globalization has produced a compelling new reason to invest in developing countries: to take advantage of lower production costs by integrating local facilities into global chains of production and distribution. Now that markets are global rather than local, countries compete with others for investment, and the factors defining an attractive investment climate have changed dramatically. Countries can no longer attract investors by protecting them against competition; now, since protection increases the prices of goods that foreign investors need as production inputs, it actually reduces global competitiveness.
In a globalizing economy, monetary stability and access to sophisticated financial services are essential components of an attractive local investment climate. And in this regard, developing countries are especially poorly positioned.
Traditionally, governments in the developing world exercised strict control over interest rates, loan maturities, and even the beneficiaries of credit -- all of which required severing financial and monetary links with the rest of the world and tightly controlling international capital flows. As a result, such flows occurred mainly to settle trade imbalances or fund direct investments, and local financial systems remained weak and underdeveloped. But growth today depends more and more on investment decisions funded and funneled through the global financial system. (Borrowing in low-cost yen to finance investments in Europe while hedging against the yen's rise on a U.S. futures exchange is no longer exotic.) Thus, unrestricted and efficient access to this global system -- rather than the ability of governments to manipulate parochial monetary policies -- has become essential for future economic development.
But because foreigners are often unwilling to hold the currencies of developing countries, those countries' local financial systems end up being largely isolated from the global system. Their interest rates tend to be much higher than those in the international markets and their lending operations extremely short -- not longer than a few months in most cases. As a result, many developing countries are dependent on U.S. dollars for long-term credit. This is what makes capital flows, however necessary, dangerous: in a developing country, both locals and foreigners will sell off the local currency en masse at the earliest whiff of devaluation, since devaluation makes it more difficult for the country to pay its foreign debts -- hence the dangerous instability of today's international financial system.
Although OCA theory accounts for none of these problems, they are grave obstacles to development in the context of advancing globalization. Monetary nationalism in developing countries operates against the grain of the process -- and thus makes future financial problems even more likely.
MONEY IN CRISIS
Why has the problem of serial currency crises become so severe in recent decades? It is only since 1971, when President Richard Nixon formally untethered the dollar from gold, that monies flowing around the globe have ceased to be claims on anything real. All the world's currencies are now pure manifestations of sovereignty conjured by governments. And the vast majority of such monies are unwanted: people are unwilling to hold them as wealth, something that will buy in the future at least what it did in the past. Governments can force their citizens to hold national money by requiring its use in transactions with the state, but foreigners, who are not thus compelled, will choose not to do so. And in a world in which people will only willingly hold dollars (and a handful of other currencies) in lieu of gold money, the mythology tying money to sovereignty is a costly and sometimes dangerous one. Monetary nationalism is simply incompatible with globalization. It has always been, even if this has only become apparent since the 1970s, when all the world's governments rendered their currencies intrinsically worthless.
Yet, perversely as a matter of both monetary logic and history, the most notable economist critical of globalization, Stiglitz, has argued passionately for monetary nationalism as the remedy for the economic chaos caused by currency crises. When millions of people, locals and foreigners, are selling a national currency for fear of an impending default, the Stiglitz solution is for the issuing government to simply decouple from the world: drop interest rates, devalue, close off financial flows, and stiff the lenders. It is precisely this thinking, a throwback to the isolationism of the 1930s, that is at the root of the cycle of crisis that has infected modern globalization.
Argentina has become the poster child for monetary nationalists -- those who believe that every country should have its own paper currency and not waste resources hoarding gold or hard-currency reserves. Monetary nationalists advocate capital controls to avoid entanglement with foreign creditors. But they cannot stop there. As Hayek emphasized in his 1937 lecture, "exchange control designed to prevent effectively the outflow of capital would really have to involve a complete control of foreign trade," since capital movements are triggered by changes in the terms of credit on exports and imports.
Indeed, this is precisely the path that Argentina has followed since 2002, when the government abandoned its currency board, which tried to fix the peso to the dollar without the dollars necessary to do so. Since writing off $80 billion worth of its debts (75 percent in nominal terms), the Argentine government has been resorting to ever more intrusive means in order to prevent its citizens from protecting what remains of their savings and buying from or selling to foreigners. The country has gone straight back to the statist model of economic control that has failed Latin America repeatedly over generations. The government has steadily piled on more and more onerous capital and domestic price controls, export taxes, export bans, and limits on citizens' access to foreign currency. Annual inflation has nevertheless risen to about 20 percent, prompting the government to make ham-fisted efforts to manipulate the official price data. The economy has become ominously dependent on soybean production, which surged in the wake of price controls and export bans on cattle, taking the country back to the pre-globalization model of reliance on a single commodity export for hard-currency earnings. Despite many years of robust postcrisis economic recovery, GDP is still, in constant U.S. dollars, 26 percent below its peak in 1998, and the country's long-term economic future looks as fragile as ever.
When currency crises hit, countries need dollars to pay off creditors. That is when their governments turn to the IMF, the most demonized institutional face of globalization. The IMF has been attacked by Stiglitz and others for violating "sovereign rights" in imposing conditions in return for loans. Yet the sort of compromises on policy autonomy that sovereign borrowers strike today with the IMF were in the past struck directly with foreign governments. And in the nineteenth century, these compromises cut far more deeply into national autonomy.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: the titles of the teachers in the fillipino martial arts
on: May 01, 2007, 08:53:47 AM
Two posts from today's Eskrima Digest:
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2007 07:12:18 -0700 (PDT)
From: ken jo <email@example.com
Subject: [Eskrima] Re: kali
I respect the opinions and some of the facts and
stories that Mr. Celestino C. Macachor and Ned
Nepangue M.D. presented in their individual papers
though this does not necessarily mean that I agree
in mindanao, the land where i was born, where i grew
up and the land that i love, we have friends among the
Muslims and they have informed us that the TAUSUG term
for their bladed weapons is indeed KALIS. (fyi: the
TAUSUGs are the most feared warrior tribe among Muslim
Filipinos - Nur Misuari, ARMM Governor Parouk Hussin
and Basilan Governor Wahab Akbar are some of the
noteworthy Tausug personalities). Most of the Tausugs
are based in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.
In the Philippine military/para-military [Armed Forces
of the Philippines, ROTC, CMT/CAT, etc.], the term for
the ceremonial saber or any other bladed weapon/sword
is KALIS.. [Saludo Kalis! (Salute with the
Sword/Saber!)- or words to that effect..]
[[fyi: Placido Yambao wrote Mga Karunungan sa Larung
Arnis in 1957 - first book dedicated to the history
and practice of the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).
According to Bot Jocano (2004): "It is probably this
book that is the source of many of the history
sections of most arnis books available in the market
today. This material is found in the chapter entitled
"Maikling Kasaysayan ng Arnis" and what was written by
Buenaventura Mirafuente, the editor of the book.
Mirafuente states that arnis was first known as KALI
during the early years of the Spanish conquest.
In particular, mention is made of the arrival of
Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1564 and how he was greeted
with demonstrations of the art by the local datu or
chieftains and their followers. Legazpi's reaction to
those demonstrations is presented in the following:
Sa gayon ay nawika ni Legazpi sa sarili na "ang KALI
ay hindi lamang larong libangan at pangpalipas ng
panahon kundi isang mabising sining ng pagtanggol sa
sarili sa larangan ng digmaan" (p.10)
(Consequently, Legazpi said to himself "KALI is not
only a game and a measure of passing time but also an
effective art of self-protection in the realm of
about that book and its author - the controversial
piece "Maikling Kasaysayan ng Arnis" (actually an
introduction) was written by Buenaventura Mirafuente,
the editor of the book "Mga Karunungan sa Larung
Arnis" by Placido Yambao published in 1957. This was
the first book dedicated to the history and practice
of the Filipino Martial Arts. You can access it at the
UP Diliman Library..
now as to where Mr. Mirafuente got his info - that
would be the subject of debates - but it would seem
logical to assume that the use of that word has been
in existence long before the publishing of the book -
as the draft document, i heard, was 20-30 years in the
making - we can only surmise that the word KALI was in
existence at least in the 1900s or a minimum of 100++
years.. but if we are to be strict, legalistic, and
technical about it, then the published word KALI is at
least 50 years old this year.
ang matagal ko nang gustong itanong noon pa.. ano po
ba ang istilo ni manong mirafuente at manong yambao
noon at pumayag sila na bigyan pansin ang
terminolohiyang "kali" sa panahong 1957? --
sa japan kasi, 1936 lang naging "official Japanese
term" yung word na karate -- to cite (got this
In 1936, at nearly 70 years of age, Funakoshi Gichin
opened his own training hall. The decision of
Funakoshi Gichin to change the kanji used for writing
the name of the art - "karate" was confirmed at the
so-called "Meeting of the Masters", which included
Chojun Miyagi, Chomo Hanashiro, Kentsu Yabu, Chotoku
Kyan, Genwa Nakasone, Choshin Chibana, Choryo Maeshiro
and Shinpan Shiroma.
Gichin did this to get karate accepted by the Japanese
budo organisation Dai Nippon Butokukai . In a time of
rising Japanese nationalism (Japan was occupying
China), Funakoshi knew that a 'foreign' art would not
be accepted. Thus this body agreed to change the
original kanji which meant "Tang hand" from the
Chinese Tang dynasty or by extension, "Chinese hand" -
reflecting the Chinese influence on the style to the
current way of writing which means "empty hand" -
karate-do - thus meaning "the way of the empty hand."
..anyway just curious if this had an effect on how our
early manongs viewed the word "kali".. peace to all!
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2007 12:20:16 EDT
Subject: [Eskrima] Re: Guru, masguru, James Sy. (Eskrima digest, Vol 14 #123 - 5
I wrote an article on the origin of the word kali in the June 2005 issue of
Inside Kungfu. In my article I traced the origin of the word kalisin to kali.
However, James Sy said the word kalisin has nothing to do with the FMA.
I would not fault Mr. Sy for not knowing the relationship between the two
words. Even heads of systems such as Ben Largusa couldn't explain the origin
of the word kali. Chris (Sayoc Kali) couldn't explain it either. So does Kali
Illustrisimo. None among those who use the word kali as part of their
system's name could explain the word kali. They had at best theories that does not
do anything but wing an explanation.
I did some research on the origin of Tagalog words - about 15 years at the
big public library in Manhattan (NY). I pored through Sanskrit and Indian
dictionaries to find which among the Tagalog words that I knew originated from
Sanskrit. I found quite a few. (Indeed, a book was written on Tagalog and
Sanskrit words back in 1898.)
Perhaps, it would help if I explain the relations between kalisin (meaning
to scrape) and the word/fighting art kali.
Mr. Sy did a direct Tagalog to English translation. A direct translation is
usually off the mark because something is lost in between. In his case, Mr. Sy
couldn't see the relationship. Here is the relationship.
When a kali man or a FMA man fights, they try to remove (scrape) layers of
defenses of the enemy so he can get to the enemy's body. This should be
Mr. Sy mentioned a few names of teachers in his email.
I was a former professor and board reviewer in Chemical Engineering at
Adamson University in Manila from 1963 to 1973. Tagalog is my dialect. I speak
both literary and contemporary Tagalog.
Best regards to all EDer's
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Dark chocolate as good for blood pressure as drugs
on: May 01, 2007, 08:11:04 AM
Remedies: Dark Chocolate Similar to Blood Pressure Drugs
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR
Published: April 24, 2007
Eating dark chocolate may be almost as effective at lowering blood pressure as taking the most common antihypertensive drugs, a review of studies has found. Tea, on the other hand, appears to be ineffective.
Effect of Cocoa and Tea Intake on Blood Pressure (Archives of Internal Medicine)The article says a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is healthy partly because plants contain chemical substances called polyphenols that help control blood pressure. In Western countries, the major sources of dietary polyphenols are tea and chocolate, but studies of their ties to blood pressure have had mixed results.
From more than 3,000 papers, researchers picked the largest randomized and controlled prospective studies and used statistical techniques to combine the data. The analysis included four studies of black tea, one of green tea and five of dark chocolate. It appears in the April 9 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine.
Four of the five studies on chocolate found reduced blood pressure after eating, but none of the tea studies showed significant benefit. The magnitude of the effect of eating three and a half ounces of dark chocolate a day was clinically significant, comparable to that of beta-blockers like atenolol, known by the brand name Tenormin, or propranolol, known as Inderal. The authors acknowledge that the studies were short and that results may not apply to habitual use.
Milk proteins prevent the absorption of polyphenols, so milk chocolate is not effective. “I’ve been eating a little more dark chocolate,” said Dr. Dirk Taubert, the lead author and a professor of pharmacology at University Hospital in Cologne, Germany. “And my blood pressure has gone down. But I have no dietary recommendations for others.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Remember the Alamo
on: April 30, 2007, 11:54:12 PM
Internet friend Ed Rothstein writes for the NY Times. As always I am impressed by the depth and breadth of his writing. Here is his most recent column:
Remembering the Alamo Is Easier When You Know Its Many-Sided History
By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
Published: April 30, 2007
SAN ANTONIO — With apologies to all Texians — as they were once called — before visiting San Antonio, I really didn’t remember the Alamo. I retained a vague impression from youth in which heroism, independence and Davy Crockett were major elements, and Mexicans were the bad guys, but that was about it. It was like a childhood fairy tale, barely recalled.
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Michael Stravato for The New York Times
Tourists talk with an Alamo Ranger outside the mission.
That’s fine for myths: they are not really meant to survive with photographic realism. That is one way they have such a broad effect on the mind and culture, creating impressions, molding perceptions, shaping expectations. That’s also why every demythologizing movement has an element of aggressive triumph over myth’s power, as if a mesmeric trance were being overturned.
But when it comes to the Alamo — particularly here in this Texas city where this old Spanish mission turned fort attracts nearly three million visitors a year — the history and its mythical meanings have been wrestled over almost as much as the blood-soaked terrain was in preceding centuries. “Remember the Alamo!” was the old battle cry; in recent decades the fight was over just what was being remembered.
Even now, the Alamo is often looked at by local Latinos as a relic of Anglo imperialism, with Mexico losing Texas in a land grab. For its advocates, though, the Alamo reflects a stubborn Texan drive for independence won from Mexico in 1836, just as that nation was losing its way in the mire of coups and tyranny. In this view, the Alamo is a tragic counterpart to Lexington and Concord, leading to the Republic of Texas — and ultimately bringing the entire Southwest into the orbit of the United States.
This also puts the Alamo at the center of a larger drama in which American history itself is the contested arena, a drama now shaping how American museums present the past. Dare we celebrate our past if it turns out, when seen in the harsh light of American middle age, that it was not as golden as we once imagined? (Jamestown, Va., in commemorating its forthcoming 400th anniversary, apparently thinks not.) But dare we mourn our past if it turns out that things were not as bad as they were elsewhere and held the promise of something far better? The Alamo’s current incarnation — its central exhibition was mounted by its curator, Richard Bruce Winders, in 2005 — may provide some perspective on the opposing traps of sanitized idealism and cynical self-disgust.
The mythic power of the place is plain in the bare outlines of Texas history. Before the 1820s, Texas had been a lightly populated province of Spanish-owned Mexico. Incentives and cheap land lured many settlers from the United States. Then, once Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, creating a republic based on the federal system of the United States, the Texan region was joined with its stronger neighbor, Coahuila, to form a single Mexican state.
But the Mexican government proved less than stable, with 13 presidents in 15 years. Mexico increased tariffs and Texans began to feel poorly represented. Finally, in 1835, Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna suspended the constitution, declared himself president and made it clear that Texan yearnings deserved no more consideration than those of the Zacatecas rebels, who were first subdued and then massacred.
Some Texans sought accommodation, some hoped for Mexican statehood, but after General Santa Anna’s maneuvers, many sought independence. As the general’s army marched to Texas to crush resistance, fewer than 200 rebels armed themselves in the crumbling fort of the Alamo, where Mexicans had, not long before, suffered a temporary defeat. This time the Texans also happened to have at least two legends of the American West with them: Jim Bowie and Crockett.
The rebels hoped in vain for reinforcements as several thousand Mexican soldiers surrounded the Alamo. The Texans’ certain defeat took 13 days — with only a few scattered survivors — but their fight was so fierce that the Mexican army was significantly weakened. Within weeks, that army was beaten by Sam Houston leading the Texans. General Santa Anna was captured, and in ransoming his freedom, he granted Texas its independence.
That is the background to the heroic tale told in John Wayne’s 1960 film “The Alamo.” Similar valor is displayed in the 1988 Imax film “Alamo: The Price of Freedom,” shown continuously about a block from the fort. The focus on heroism has always been prevalent at the fort as well, which displays a lock of Crockett’s hair, along with Houston’s sword.
But after the 1970s, as James E. Crisp recounts in his fascinating 2004 book, “Sleuthing the Alamo,” “a new and radicalized generation of historians saw the origins of the conflict in the prejudices of Anglo-American bigots.” Race, for some historians, became the central issue in the revolution. Texan immigrants from the Southern United States relied on slavery, which was forbidden in Mexico, creating a major incentive for Texas independence and the application of a selective idea of liberty. Even Bowie was not just a war hero, expert with a hunting knife: he had made his fortune as a slave trader and shady land speculator. And D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film “Martyrs of the Alamo” may have gotten at more of the historical truth in Griffith’s racial condescension to the Mexicans than in his depiction of the battles fought.
As Mr. Crisp writes, “We should never allow even the most revered of our society’s ‘sacred narratives’ to be accepted as simple truths, nor to be mistaken for legitimate history.”
But these characterizations are simple truths: a set of opposing mythologies with their own assertions of moral superiority and injured outrage. As Mr. Crisp points out, more complicated truths require rejecting race as the primary issue in the Texan revolution. He also suggests that as far as Mexicans were concerned, real discrimination fully came into its own only at the beginning of the 20th century, when among other indignities, Texas public schools practiced segregation of its “white” pupils from citizens of Mexican descent. At the time of the revolution, relations between the groups were far different.
They were also never simple. Some wariness of outsiders came from the Mexicans themselves. As H. W. Brands’s history of Texas, “Lone Star Nation,” shows, one reason for Mexican nervousness about Texas’s future as a Mexican province was the crucial cultural differences between the North American colonists and the Mexican colonists. In an 1828 survey of the region for the Mexican government, Manuel de Mier y Terán outlined important distinctions in attitudes toward individualism that he believed would make it increasingly difficult for Mexico to control North American Texans.
Within the Alamo, Mr. Winders’s intelligent exhibition now treats those 13 days of battle as part of an extended civil war in Mexico over the ideas of liberty and federalism. But establishing a context for understanding history beyond the myth doesn’t diminish the myth’s power or its importance. “What is a shrine?” his exhibition asks. “A shrine is a place hallowed by its associations.”
And the Alamo is such a shrine, that for all the flaws and eccentricities of its inhabitants and its era left a heroic mark on the sluggish human trudge toward liberty. It still commands remembrance.
Connections, a critic’s perspective on arts and ideas, appears every other Monday.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / General Art Laffer's march to Georgia-- true tax reform
on: April 30, 2007, 03:48:12 PM
From today's Political Journal of the WSJ
-- John Fund
A Peach of a Tax Plan
Just maybe, the model for a fundamental tax overhaul nation-wide has percolated up in the State of Georgia. On Wednesday, Glenn Richardson, speaker of Georgia's House of Representatives, filed a bill that would junk the state's existing tax code and replace it with a much simpler one.
Under the plan, all state and local property taxes would be eliminated. So would the estate tax, unemployment insurance and worker's compensation taxes, business and occupational fees, intangible taxes and insurance taxes. The entire structure would be replaced with a flat rate income tax of 5.75% and a flat 5.75% sales tax. The state's income tax is currently 6% and the sales tax is 4.5%.
The architect of the plan is the famous Reagan economist Arthur Laffer. "This would bring the focus of the entire country on Georgia," Mr. Laffer said in an interview. "States compete; they're like puppies bouncing around in a box at a pet store to get noticed. This is a way for Georgia to get noticed and set itself apart from all the rest of the states when it tries to sell itself to businesses and families."
House Speaker Richardson has been an ardent champion of tax reform in Georgia, which has become one of the reddest states in the nation. Georgia has a Republican legislature and, in Sonny Perdue, a Republican governor. "We must change the burdensome and antiquated tax system we currently have," Mr. Richardson says. He concedes that many business groups are likely to oppose the plan because it eliminates all the special favors, handouts and loopholes in the current Georgia code.
This plan would have to be approved by both houses of the legislature and then placed on the November 2008 ballot to be approved by voters. Mr. Laffer says the economic and jobs impact would be significantly positive because it increases "after-tax incentives to work, invest, produce and live in Georgia." Mr. Richardson adds: "I believe the House tax reform plan will be the talk of the nation." Who, knows the flat tax may finally get legs across America -- maybe even in Washington.
-- Stephen Moore
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Case for Grenades
on: April 30, 2007, 03:16:16 PM
With the author's blessing, I share the following piece here-- including its catchy title!
Another thread reminded me of a question that I have long pondered and been unable to answer. I view the National Firearms Act as clearly unconstitutional and a partial abridgment of the right to bear arms. It reduces the right to bear arms to the right to bear some arms. But the distinction between permitted and prohibited arms is seemingly arbitrary and without a connection to any real objective standard. How does a 14” barreled shotgun differ from a 18” barreled shotgun? If manufacturing a firearm that is compact and maneuverable is unlawful, then why can we still have handguns? If the power factor is the difference, then why can we have bullpups?
And yet there is something within the NFA that somehow seems reasonable to me. The Second Amendment was written as an absolute right, whereas the Fourth Amendment was written as a restriction against unreasonable searches and seizures. But—perhaps as the result of a faulty assumption within my worldview—I still wish to accept reasonable limits on the right to bear arms. Before ya’ll start looking for a length of rope, allow me to give some examples. I believe that it is reasonable to prohibit the civilian ownership of biological weapons such as ricin or anthrax. I believe it is reasonable to prohibit the civilian ownership of nuclear missiles. And yet these are arms, and we have a right to arms. If you view defense against a tyrannical government as a reason for possessing arms, then support for a right to own RPGs and nuclear submarines may be supportable. If you focus exclusively upon defense against street criminals, then the need for such weaponry falters.
Personally, I fear my government much more than street thugs. I have heard several liberal gun-grabbers bolster their argument for banning small arms by asserting the “futility of defense” theory, i.e. that our government is now so powerful that we can’t reasonably expect to defend ourselves with small arms anyway, so there is no real defense-against-tyranny support for the RKBA. I cannot completely dismiss this argument. But, rather than accepting their desire to confiscate everything, it just makes me think that we need more and bigger guns.
Somewhere between the pellet rifle and the Patriot missile, we must draw the line. What arms are reasonable? I first came to this question because I realized that I want hand grenades. Everyone scoffs at that. The most ardent defenders of the RKBA throw back their heads in laughter. It is viewed as an insane position. But why? What makes hand grenades different?
Discrimination. I have been told that it is because hand grenades are not discriminatory. That is incorrect—used properly, hand grenades are discriminatory. Soldiers don’t simply drop grenades everywhere they go. Grenades are chosen because the enemy is behind cover and otherwise unkillable. They are used only when they can be used to eliminate the enemy and simultaneously not present a threat to friendly troops. Used improperly, rifles are not discriminatory.
Training. I have been told that it is because it takes too much training to use a grenade. That is absurd. You first make sure that you are in a safe position from which to throw a grenade; that you have good cover so you don’t catch any of the shrapnel. Then you pull the pin and throw. That’s it. You have to know how far you can throw a grenade. How do you figure that out? Simple—grab a dummy and practice. Training is a red herring; just as much so for grenades as for CCW.
Danger. I have been told that grenades are just too dangerous. So what? Sharp sticks are dangerous. Guns are dangerous. A negligent discharge with a rifle can kill an innocent well over a mile away. A moron with a grenade presents virtually no danger to anyone one-hundred yards away. And what is the danger in doing nothing? What is more dangerous: lobbing a grenade or allowing the bad guy to continue shooting at me from around a corner?
The entire population of the free world seems to agree that my position on this issue is crazy. So please help me. What is the difference? What are the guiding principles that distinguish a grenade from a rifle? Why is the grenade not a legitimate tool of defense against both criminals and tyrants?
To help formulate a position on this issue, I have looked at a variety of stances on the RKBA that have predominated throughout the history of our nation. This is my own work, and I have created these categories based upon the inferences and presuppositions that can be read into the works of various statutes, court documents, judicial decisions and scholarly articles covering the subject. If you are unable to locate other authors who have treated the subject in similar fashion, it is because I may be the first to have done so.
I have divided the dominant schools on the RKBA into six categories: 1) Civilized Warfare, 2) the 19th Century, 3) Miller, 4) the Police Model, 5) the NRA Model (also called the Modern View), and 6) Halbrook. The Civilized Warfare model recognizes a RKBA for the purpose of calling forth an armed militia to wage war upon a battlefield. The 19th Century Model is complete laissez faire; the RKBA exists for the militia, for defense against bandits or tyrants, for sport, for pleasure or any other lawful purpose (although in practice it was denied to minority groups). The Miller model is based upon a strict reading of the judicial decision handed down in U.S. v. Miller. The Police Model regards the RKBA from the position of personal defense from non-governmental criminals. The NRA model is merely representative of the “popular” or “modern” perspective upon the RKBA, and is based solely upon the majority approval it receives and not upon any principled set of criteria. The Halbrook model is based upon the support for the RKBA that is presented by a significant set of constitutional scholars, including the notable Stephen Halbrook. The ideology that supports each model is reflected in the types of arms that are protected under each model.
I also divided the subject arms into various categories, some of which will seem rather benign to you and some of which may disturb your conscience. The nine categories of arms that I considered are: 1) crew-served machineguns, 2) single infantryman machineguns, 3) assault weapons, 4) hunting rifles, 5) full-size handguns, 6) small or inexpensive handguns, 7) sporting shotguns,
.22 rifles and pistols, 9) grenades, bombs, mines and artillery. This list is not comprehensive and my definitions are very broad. Some groups are representative of guns that would not ordinarily fall within the strict categorization. As an example, a short-barreled shotgun would be viewed in like fashion with an assault weapon by all models except the NRA model (which is the only model which reflects popular opinion rather than demonstrable criteria).
The simplest and most permissive model is the 19th Century view. All of the categories of arms are allowed in this model. Anything goes. Men are responsible for their actions, but there are no prior restraints upon the ownership of any firearm or weapon.
The Civilized Warfare view (similar to the theory put forward by Saul Cornell) provides a RKBA only for arms that have a place in war. Small, inexpensive handguns have no place on a modern battlefield, and therefore can be regulated or prohibited at will by the legislature. The same applies to sporting shotguns. No one would choose to go to war armed with a Browning Citori and a Beretta Jetfire, therefore the 2nd Amendment wasn’t intended to protect these arms.
(Note: Unprotected arms may still be allowed by the Congress. The fact that the 2nd Amendment does not provide a right to possess an arm does not preclude the Congress from choosing to extend a privilege to own such arms. Additionally, all of these models presume a positivist position of the law—the idea that the 2nd Amendment creates a RKBA rather than merely recognizing a pre-existing and inalienable right.)
The Miller model is the most surprising to those with an introductory knowledge of Second Amendment jurisprudence. The Miller case is probably the most often mis-cited and misrepresented case in the Supreme Court’s history. It is lauded as the case which affirmed the federal government’s authority to regulate firearms. But the holding of the case is much more narrow than that which is normally cited. The majority decision, issued by Justice McReynolds, held only that the government was free to regulate those firearms which were “not part of any ordinary military equipment” and “could not contribute to the common defense.” U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174, 177 (1939). The firearm in question was a short-barreled shotgun. At the District Court, the judges took it under judicial notice that short-barreled shotguns had a military application. Those judges were veterans of the Great War, and had seen shotguns used to great effect in the trenches. The Supreme Court however was not comprised of men of valor. Justice McReynolds unilluminatingly states that there was “an absence of any evidence” that such an arm had an application to the military. (Id.) What the record fails to disclose was that no attorney represented the defendants in oral argument or in brief to the Supreme Court! There was no evidence in support of the defense because only the State put on any evidence. This is damning enough in and of itself, but even in this kangaroo court Justice McReynolds specifically limited the authority of the federal government to regulate those arms which had no relation to the military. This means that under Miller, as under the Civilized Warfare model, the government would be free to tax, regulate or (possibly) prohibit engraved double guns and Olympic target pistols, but that the people retained the right to any guns which had a place in warfare. This is still good precedent in the U.S., and logically should support ownership of M-16s, M-249s, M-2s, SAMs, grenades and any other item in the full complement of arms that our soldiers have to choose from. The Miller model may or may not protect the right to possess .22 rifles and pistols. Because these firearms are sometimes used to train troops, they may be protected.
The Police model embraces protection for those arms that can be effectively used to prevent crime. An individual infantryman’s machinegun would probably be protected (many agencies issue the M-16), but not a crew-served machinegun because it isn’t useful in a civilian police role (they are too cumbersome to be used for reactive defense). Unlike Miller or the Civilized Warfare models, the Police model recognizes a right to possess small or inexpensive handguns. But it still does not recognize a right to sporting shotguns or grenades/bombs/mines/artillery. The police model may require further refinement of the definitions, because it would actually support the ownership of flash-bang grenades, but would not protect fragmentation grenades. However, current federal law does not distinguish between the two.
The NRA model simply reflects the current assumptions. Machineguns—both individual and crew-served—are not protected. Grenades, et al, are not protected. Assault weapons must be further defined in this model. Guns that are merely cosmetically different from sporting rifles, but which have been modified so as to limit themselves to a reduced (semi-auto) rate of fire, are protected. But true military rifles which retain the ability to fire fully-automatic are not protected. Additionally, this model accepts the arbitrary barrel length determination of the NFA. A 16” barreled rifle is fine, while a 16” barreled shotgun is morally culpable. Unlike previous models, the NRA model or Modern view places great importance on the right to possess sporting arms which have no utility in war or defense. Firearms are lauded for their beauty and are protected for their ability to entertain us rather than to defend us.
The Halbrook model is closest to the NRA model, but reaches somewhat further in that it still looks to a military/defense use for arms, limiting this role though to an individual infantryman’s arms. The right to a machinegun is recognized, but not a crew-served machinegun. Additionally, unlike the NRA model, the protection of assault weapons would likely include short-barreled rifles and shotguns. Despite a connection being drawn to the individual infantryman, the Halbrook model still dismisses a right to grenades and explosives, despite the fact that these are standard kit for an infantryman.
There are currently no serious constitutional scholars supporting an inalienable right to bear arms that is inherent in man and which cannot be erased by legislative or judicial decree. Only a few of us Christian lunatics cling to this idea.
It may be that none of the models listed here are representative of your outlook. But you must be aware of your worldview and prior assumptions when you are addressing this question. Have you simply adopted the logically-inconsistent NRA view? If you base your support for the RKBA upon the Civilized Warfare or 19th Century model, then how can you not support a right to own grenades? If you believe that you have a right to own that high-polished, over-under quail gun, do you base that in a 19th Century view or the NRA view? In a country whose food problem is in having too much of it, can we distinguish the value of a sporting shotgun from that of a bicycle or racecar—aren’t they all just toys that we amuse ourselves with rather than tools which are necessary for sustenance or freedom?
Virtute et Armis,
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Colombia
on: April 30, 2007, 02:26:16 PM
One Righteous Gringo
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
April 30, 2007; Page A14
Al Gore may not have known that he was taking the side of a former terrorist and ally of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez when he waded into Colombian politics 10 days ago. But that's not much consolation to 45 million Colombians who watched their country's already fragile international image suffer another unjust blow, this time at the hands of a former U.S. vice president.
The event was a climate-change conference in Miami, where Mr. Gore and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe were set to share the stage. At the last minute, Mr. Gore notified the conference organizers that he refused to appear with Mr. Uribe because of "deeply troubling" allegations of human- rights violations swirling around the Colombian government.
It is not clear whether the ex-veep knows that making unsubstantiated claims of human-rights violations has been a key guerrilla weapon for more than a decade, along with the more traditional practices of murdering, maiming and kidnapping civilians. Nor is it clear whether Mr. Gore knew that the recycled charges that caught his attention are being hyped by Colombian Sen. Gustavo Petro, a close friend of Mr. Chávez and former member of the pro-Cuban M-19 terrorist group. What we do know is that Mr. Gore's line of reasoning -- that Colombia is not good enough to rub shoulders with the righteous gringos -- is also being peddled by some Democrats in Congress, the AFL-CIO and other forces of anti-globalization. The endgame is all about killing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
When Mr. Uribe got wind of Mr. Gore's decision to stand him up, he rightly interpreted its significance: Colombia is the victim of an international smear campaign that, if left unchecked, could undermine congressional support for the pending trade deal. Rather than let the whispering go on, Mr. Uribe elevated the matter, calling two press conferences over two days to refute the charges, which he says are damaging the country's interests. He also asked Mr. Gore to look "at Colombia closely" so he could see the progress that has been made.
The truth about Colombia's bloody struggle against criminal networks is not hard to discern. The tragedy originated more than five decades ago with ideological rebel warfare and was long supported by Fidel Castro. After Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993 and the Medellin and Cali drug cartels collapsed in the mid-1990s, the guerrillas moved into the narcotrafficking business and used this new source of financing to heighten the terror.
Mary Anastasia O'Grady discusses the implications of Al Gore's diplomatic "dis" of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
In a December 2001 monograph published by The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, Latin American insurgency and counterinsurgency expert David Spencer described the costs of the guerillas' "predatory business": "The federation of cattle ranchers reported that in 1997 they suffered losses of $750 million, largely to guerrilla theft and extortion. The consequences of resisting these extortive taxes is severe and includes kidnapping, death, and destruction of property." As Mr. Spencer explained, the urban rich avoided much of the terrorism; the vulnerable were the "small, independent farmers, ranchers, professionals, and merchants."
Lacking resources and a plan of action, the state did little to protect innocents. So the rural population organized self-defense units that became known as paramilitaries. Many of these groups later morphed into criminal enterprises.
Mr. Uribe, whose father was murdered by guerrillas, was elected governor of the state of Antioquia in 1995. He inherited a mess. "Guerrillas were all over the state," he told me in a 1997 interview in Medellin. "They were kidnapping, drug trafficking, keeping illegal plantations. Against them were the paramilitary. Wherever guerrillas arrived in one place, sooner or later paramilitary arrived there too, committing many similar crimes."
To confront the chaos, the governor made increasing the presence of the state a priority and launched the "convivirs." These legal civic organizations were citizens' intelligence networks designed to help the army and police identify and pursue guerrillas, paramilitary groups, narcotraffickers and common criminals in the countryside.
It was later learned that some of the convivirs had links to paramilitaries. This shouldn't be surprising since both groups shared a common enemy. But to the extent that such collusion existed, one can hardly blame it on Mr. Uribe. The concept of engaging the public in helping to strengthen the state's law-enforcement capabilities is a perfectly defensible strategy. Of course, the guerrillas didn't like it. They suffered major setbacks while Antioquian peasants, farmers, ranchers, banana workers and rural weekenders all enjoyed newfound security.
Mr. Uribe ran for president in 2002 on a promise to defeat organized crime. He has produced impressive results. According to national police statistics, homicides dropped to 17,277 in 2006 from 28,837 in 2002. Kidnappings fell to 687 from 2,883 over the same period and terrorist attacks were cut by more than two-thirds. Since 2002, some 42,000 illegally armed combatants have put down their weapons and 1,342 paramilitary have been killed.
As to charges against his former intelligence chief, based mainly on the testimony of one rather dubious witness, the justice system is working. It is in no need of Mr. Gore's condescending prejudice.
Though Colombia is not yet pacified, voters have confidence in Mr. Uribe. The economy has recovered and the government is working to protect the environment against the degradation caused by coca growers destroying forests and cocaine labs polluting rivers. There is also a special program to provide security for members of labor unions. Mr. Uribe was re-elected last year and today maintains an approval rating of better than 70%.
Mr. Uribe's popularity is a source of much frustration for his adversaries, especially as the FTA -- considered his baby -- gains momentum. Colombians widely favor the deal and it is now sailing through the legislature. Thus the export of the tired, old allegations of human-rights violations from Mr. Petro. How ironic that Colombia's anti-American hard-left, normally obsessed with trashing Uncle Sam, is now rushing to Washington to get help in defeating the will of its own people.
Mr. Uribe will be in Washington this week to meet with members of Congress and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to make his case for the FTA. In the end, it may turn out that Mr. Gore did him a favor by bringing this subject to the fore. Union activists who don't want any more U.S. free trade agreements have every right to lobby against them. But they should make their case on facts, not on politically motivated and unsubstantiated charges.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Paul's girl (the Wolfowitz affair)
on: April 30, 2007, 11:05:44 AM
The WSJ continues its coverage of this:
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Wolfowitz and the World Bank's Euro-cabal.
Monday, April 30, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz faces an "ad hoc committee" investigating his alleged ethics violations today, but it seems the committee has reached its conclusions even before he has a chance to defend himself. This fits the pattern of what is ever more clearly a Euro-railroad job.
On Saturday, the Washington Post cited "three senior bank officials" as saying that the committee has "nearly completed a report" concluding that Mr. Wolfowitz "breached ethics rules when he engineered a pay raise for his girlfriend." The Post also reported that, "According to bank officials, the timing of the committee's report and its conclusions have been choreographed for maximum impact in what has become a full-blown campaign to persuade Wolfowitz to go." So there it is from the plotters themselves: Verdict first, trial later.
None of this is surprising when you consider that the "ad hoc committee" is dominated by Europeans who have been leading the campaign to oust Mr. Wolfowitz. Four of the committee's seven members are European, including its Dutch chairman, a Frenchman, Norwegian and Russian. The others hail from Ethiopia, Mexico and China, but the Europeans have the majority and are running this railroad.
The "ad hoc" chairman is Herman Wijffels, a Dutch politician who has his own blatant conflict of interest in the case. One of the main "witnesses" against Mr. Wolfowitz is Ad Melkert, another Dutch politician who had previously run the bank board's ethics committee that advised Mr. Wolfowitz to give the raise to his girlfriend that is now the basis for the accusations against him. Whom do you think Mr. Wijfells is going to side with: His fellow countryman, or an American reviled in Europe for wanting to depose Saddam Hussein?
Mr. Melkert has played an especially craven role by running from his own responsibility in the case. As head of the ethics committee in 2005, he refused to let Mr. Wolfowitz recuse himself from dealings with Shaha Riza, who had been long employed at the bank. Then Mr. Melkert advised him to ensure that Ms. Riza got a new job that included some kind of raise or promotion to compensate for the disruption to her career. Now, however, Mr. Melkert claims he was an innocent bystander who knew nothing about Ms. Riza's raise.
How very European. This is the same Ad Melkert, who on October 24, 2005, after Ms. Riza had been told of her new job and salary, wrote in a letter to Mr. Wolfowitz that "Because the outcome is consistent with the [Ethics] Committee's findings and advice above, the Committee concurs with your view that this matter can be treated as closed."
And it is the same Ad Melkert who absolved Mr. Wolfowitz after inspecting two whistleblower emails from an anonymous "John Smith" that circulated around the bank in early 2006 and charged malfeasance. A January 21 whistleblower email included a reference to Ms. Riza's "salary increase of around US$50,000" and was sent to the entire bank board.
On February 28, 2006, Mr. Melkert wrote to Mr. Wolfowitz, saying that he and the ethics committee had "reviewed two emails from 'John Smith'" as well as relevant "background documents." He went on to write that "On the basis of a careful review of the above-mentioned documents . . . the allegations relating to a matter which had been previously considered by the Committee did not contain new information warranting any further review by the Committee."
Either Mr. Melkert is lying now, or he was negligent when he wrote that letter. But there's no excuse for his current Sgt. Schultz routine from "Hogan's Heroes" that "I know nothing. Nothing!" Mr. Wijffels succeeded Mr. Melkert as the Dutch representative on the bank board, so he has a clear conflict of interest in judging his countryman's abdication. He also has a conflict because he's in a position to protect fellow board members who were also alerted to Ms. Riza's salary by the whistleblower email. Mr. Wijffels should resign from the ad hoc committee and be replaced by someone from outside the bank's Euro-cabal.
By the way, today's "ad hoc" bank meeting is designed to coincide with President Bush's summit with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose bank representative is among the anti-Wolfowitz ringleaders. The hope among the Euro-plotters is that Mr. Bush will bow to the European leaders on Mr. Wolfowitz in return for some other policy concession, and thus encourage him to resign. That would spare the Europeans a difficult bank vote. But it would only make Mr. Bush look even weaker than he already is if another of his appointees can be run out of town on a phony scandal.
Ms. Riza will also get her first hearing today in this kangaroo court, and she ought to blast them for the way the bank has violated its own rules in leaking details of her salary and damaged her career--all in the name of preventing a "conflict" that was no fault of her own. The real disgrace here isn't Mr. Wolfowitz or Ms. Riza but the bank itself and its self-protecting staff and European directors. Their only "ethic" is to oust an American reformer so they can get back to running the foreign aid status quo.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Die Less Often 2 trailer-- ruff edit
on: April 29, 2007, 02:20:56 PM
Night Owl brought me the Fine Edit 1.3
yesterday and I will be mailing Gabe's copy to him tomorrow.
NO has done a fine job of editing this down to under two hours.
People have been asking us about the difference between DLO 1 and DLO 2. I would say that DLO 1 offered an overview of the Interface Paradigm and introduced the Kali Fence and the Dog Catcher in the context of that paradigm. In this context I did more of the teaching. In DLO 2 the focus is more on the gun and Gabe does more of the teaching. He takes Kali footwork intitiated frome the false lead of the Kali Fence and shows how to use it for CQ gunfighting. He takes us through a drill progression designed to get people to understand during a knife attack when for their particular skill level they are in gun range and when they are in combatives range. When it is combatives range I show additional understandings of applying the Dog Catcher with a focus on creating angle and distance to enable gun access.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST
on: April 29, 2007, 01:09:16 PM
Speaking only as a civilian Monday morning quarterback:
Respect for her courage in assaying the arrest herself.
Especially in view of the size and strenght disparity I thought that she did not do a good job of getting him spread on the car. His feet should have been far enough from the car that his hands would be weight bearing and his feet should have been further spread. Instead of standing behind him, she stands to his side. There is even a moment at which she places both her hands behind her while he looks at her!
As for gun retention technique, instinctive or not, I couldn't tell because of how the footage was edited.
The BG was succeeding in turning the gun on her when the unorganized militia man saved her. Nice assist on the control for the cuffing from the large woman
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Part Two
on: April 29, 2007, 08:57:18 AM
(Page 4 of 5)
The acceptance of democracy is itself a proxy for something else - the
repudiation of violence and terrorism. Here the brotherhood has a fair
amount of history to answer for. The organization was established in 1928 in
the wake of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's secularization of Turkey and his
abolition of the caliphate, the line of religious rulers that stretched back
to the Prophet Muhammad. Hassan al-Banna, the charismatic founder, aspired
to revitalize the spirit of Islam among the umma, the worldwide body of
believers, and ultimately to restore the caliphate and Shariah. But for all
al-Banna's emphasis on peaceful evangelizing, he also created a paramilitary
wing, like Mussolini's brown shirts, known as al-nizam al-khas - the Special
Apparatus. During the '40s, when Egyptians fought to free themselves from
British rule, brotherhood operatives engaged in a campaign of bombings and
assassinations. The organization was banned in 1948; soon afterward, a
member of the group assassinated Egypt's prime minister. Al-Banna denounced
the deed, but he was himself murdered by government security forces. And
when a brotherhood plot to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser miscarried, most
of the leading figures were jailed and tortured.
In 1964, the most prominent of the jailed leaders, Sayyid Qutb, produced a
tract, "Milestones," which magnified the militant side of the brotherhood
and rejected al-Banna's faith in the merits of instruction and moral
example. Islamic regimes that failed to establish Shariah were apostates, he
declared no better than the infidels themselves. Egypt was, of course, just
such a state. "Milestones" was read as a call to revolution. Qutb was
sentenced to death and hanged in 1966, making him a martyr throughout the
Middle East. Among his disciples were the radical Islamists who conspired to
murder Sadat in 1981 including Ayman al-Zawahiri, now Al Qaeda's second in
command. Osama bin Laden was deeply influenced by Qutb's works and regularly
attended lectures given by Qutb's younger brother, Muhammad. "Milestones" is
now considered the founding manifesto of jihadism.
Qutb remains a heroic figure for many Egyptians. But Ibrahim Hudaybi, the
young activist who sent me the text message about the arrest, pointed out to
me when we met the next day that his own grandfather, Hasan Hudaybi, who
replaced al-Banna as supreme guide and was jailed along with Qutb, wrote a
book from prison, "Preachers, Not Judges," designed to reassert the
brotherhood's commitment to peace and to open debate. Hudaybi was a
thoroughly modern figure; we met in a coffee shop near the American
University in Cairo, where he recently received his master's in political
science. He was now working as a business consultant. Hudaybi wanted to see
the brotherhood deal explicitly with the legacy of Qutb, even if doing so
might not play well in the hustings. Other, more senior figures I spoke to
insisted rather implausibly that Qutb had been misunderstood; but all swore
by the philosophy of tolerance and the program of gradual reform laid out in
"Preachers, Not Judges."
The brotherhood is an international organization. It has, however, no
Comintern, no central apparatus. In Sudan, brotherhood members have formed
an alliance with a deeply authoritarian ruling party. The brotherhood in
Jordan and Morocco is considered relatively moderate. But in the Palestinian
territories, the organization mutated into Hamas. Policy makers and
academics in the West tend to be more concerned with the brotherhood's views
of Hamas than with its understanding of Shariah. And here there is little
satisfaction to be had. When I asked Muhammad Habib about Hamas attacks on
Israeli civilians, he said, "With the continuous crackdown and ongoing war
launched by the Israeli Army, which does not distinguish between civilians
and noncivilians, you cannot speak about the Palestinians disregarding
Israeli citizens." Brotherhood figures do not, at bottom, accept Israel's
right to exist. Seif al-Islam, the son of Hassan al-Banna and a venerated
elder of the group, said to me, in his stylized version of English: "Not any
Palestine man or Egypt man feels that Jews who come from the outside have
the right to stay in Palestine. At the same time, the Palestinian people on
the outside cannot have a grave to bury in. This is not religion."
The more worldly among the brotherhood's legislators and thinkers understand
that Israel is a test just as Qutb is a test, and that the Western audience
matters even if it doesn't vote. Hazem Farouk Mansour, a dentist who is the
head of the foreign-policy committee of the parliamentary bloc, says of Camp
David, "We accept it as an agreement, whether we like it or not." Essam
el-Erian, a clinical pathologist who is head of the brotherhood's political
committee and perhaps its most sophisticated thinker, said to me: "Look,
this is a historical and ideological and religious crisis. It cannot be
solved in a few years. Every part in this conflict can be put forth for
dialogue." Like virtually all of his colleagues, el-Erian urged me not to
get too hung up on this or any other question of what the brotherhood might
do in some unimaginably remote future in which the regime had somehow
relinquished its grip on power. "We can solve the problem of our society,"
he said, "to have democratic reform respected by Europeans and Americans,
whatever happens to the Palestinians."
Page 5 of 5)
From what I could tell, in fact, the brotherhood in its public oratory
sticks to issues of political process, while voters worry about the kind of
mundane issues that preoccupy people everywhere. Magdy Ashour said that few
voters knew or cared anything about issues like constitutional reform. He
agreed to let me sit by his side one evening as he met with constituents.
None of the dozen or so petitioners who were ushered into the tiny, bare
cell of his office asked about the political situation, and none had any
complaints about cultural or moral issues. Rather, there were heart-rending
stories of abuse by the powerful, like the profoundly palsied young man
confined to a wheelchair who sold odds and ends from a kiosk under a bridge,
and who was ejected, along with his meager goods, when a road-improvement
project came through. (Ashour promised to go with him to the police station
the following morning.) Mostly, though, people wanted help getting a job.
One ancient gentleman with a white turban and walking stick wandered in as
if from the Old Testament. He was accompanied by his daughter and 3-year-old
granddaughter. His daughter's husband had abandoned her, and she needed a
job. Ashour explained that since the woman had a business degree, she might
find work in a private school.
The old man shook his head. "She must have a government job," he said. "She
has three girls. I am too old to take care of her. She needs security."
Ashour later explained to me that while a private job might pay $90 a month
and a public one only $35, the government job would carry a guaranteed $15
pension, which felt like insurance against destitution. Only a government
job was considered real; Ashour himself had worked as the superintendent for
lighting infrastructure for a portion of Cairo. Nasser caught the bug of
socialism half a century earlier, and the government continued to dominate
the economy and to sap the energies needed for private initiative. Egypt's
arthritic economy and its deeply corrupt public administration were much
more salient problems for Ashour than was, say, debauchery on TV.
___?___ arrived in Cairo in the middle of a heated national debate over
Mubarak's proposed reform of the constitution. During the presidential
campaign, Mubarak promised to reduce his own powers in favor of the
Legislature and the cabinet and to loosen restrictions on political parties.
Only trace elements of those vows remained; in fact, the reforms seemed
designed to consolidate, rather than dissipate, the regime's authority.
Article 88, which had stipulated that elections be held "under the
supervision of members of the judiciary authority," now granted that control
to "a higher commission marked by independence and impartiality." Since no
such bodies had been known to exist in Egypt, few figures outside the ruling
party were willing to take the proposal at face value. And a new
anti-terrorism provision allowed the state to set aside civil liberties
enumerated elsewhere in the constitution in the pursuit of suspected
terrorists. Mohamed Kamal described this measure to me as the equivalent of
the USA Patriot Act, but political activists are convinced that it will be
used to snuff out opposition. (The brotherhood may be the chief target,
since the regime regards it as a quasi-terrorist body.) Amnesty
International described the package as the gravest threat to human rights in
Egypt since Mubarak took power.
In mid-March, on the day the proposed amendments were presented to the
People's Assembly, the brotherhood legislators and the dozen or so members
of the secular opposition staged a joint protest. The entire group stood
silently inside the gates of Parliament wearing black sashes that read, "No
to the Constitutional Amendments," and carrying signs that read, "No to
Electoral Fraud," "No to Dawn Visitors" and so on. The muezzin's call led to
an interval of prayer, and then legislators squeezed one by one through the
gates, backing the scrum of reporters and photographers into a busy two-way
street. Drivers honked furiously while legislators struggled to be heard
over the din. I had the impression that the brotherhood hadn't yet gotten
the hang of press relations.
The entire opposition boycotted the debate; the regime, unimpressed, carried
the day with the near-unanimous support of the N.D.P. and then scheduled the
mandatory national referendum for the following week, presumably to prevent
the opposition from mobilizing. But the tactic failed; opposition
legislators urged supporters to boycott the ballot. All of the brotherhood
legislators I spoke to that day said that the polling places in their
constituency were literally empty. Civic groups canvassing Cairo and other
major cities came to the same conclusion. Estimates of turnout varied from 2
to 8 percent. When it was over, government officials pegged turnout at 27
percent - a figure so improbable that it scarcely seemed intended to be
believed. Perhaps the implicit message was that the regime didn't care if it
was believed or not.
In June 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a landmark
address at the American University in Cairo in which she bluntly declared,
"The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees and when
the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice." Egypt's democracy
activists were enthralled - though they were to become increasingly
disappointed, and then embittered, as the administration offered no public
response to Mubarak's crackdown. But Rice's call to the political barricades
was carefully modulated, perhaps in order to limit the offense to the
regime. Asked after the speech about the Muslim Brotherhood, Rice said
flatly, "We have not engaged the Muslim Brotherhood and . . . we won't." In
fact, American diplomats had been in regular contact with brotherhood
officials over the years; Rice was declaring - in fact, making - a new
policy. And that policy still largely obtains. Rice's spokesman, Sean
McCormack, told me, "We do not meet with the Muslim Brotherhood per se, as
we don't want to get entangled in complexities surrounding its legality as a
political party." He added, however, "Consistent with our practice
elsewhere, we will nonetheless meet with any duly elected member of the
parliamentary opposition." In fact, American officials in Cairo included
leading brotherhood parliamentarians in a group of legislators who met
recently with Representative Steny Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader of
But why not engage the brotherhood openly? Is what is gained by mollifying
the Mubarak regime worth what is lost by forgoing contact with the
brotherhood? "Americans," Essam el-Erian said to me, "must have channels
with all the people, not only in politics, but in economics, in social, in
everything, if they want to change the image of America in the region." Of
course, that principle applies only up to a point. The administration has,
understandably, refused to recognize the democratic bona fides either of
Hamas or of Hezbollah in Lebanon. But the Muslim Brotherhood, for all its
rhetorical support of Hamas, could well be precisely the kind of moderate
Islamic body that the administration says it seeks. And as with Islamist
parties in Turkey and Morocco, the experience of practical politics has made
the brotherhood more pragmatic, less doctrinaire. Finally, foreign policy is
no longer a rarefied game of elites: public opinion shapes the world within
which policy makers operate, and the refusal to deal with Hamas or Hezbollah
has made publics in the Islamic world dismiss the whole idea of democracy
promotion. Even a wary acceptance of the brotherhood, by contrast, would
demonstrate that we take seriously the democratic preferences of Arab
In general, I found the brothers deeply suspicious of American designs in
the world but also curious about America itself. When I took my leave of
Magdy Ashour once the crowd of petitioners thinned out, he asked if he could
pose some questions of his own. "I've heard," he said, "that even George
Bush's mother thinks he's an idiot; is that true?" And, "Why did George Bush
say that America is going on a Christian crusade against the Muslim people?"
And finally, "Is it true that the Jews control and manipulate the U.S.
economy?" These are, alas, the kinds of questions - with the possible
exception of the first - that people all over the Middle East ask.
Then Ashour said that he was thinking about visiting America. I asked how he
could afford such an expensive journey, and he explained that the
brotherhood has offered each legislator one free trip anywhere in the
world - a remarkable program for an organization said to be bent on
returning Egypt to the Middle Ages. "I would," Ashour said, "like to see for
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
on: April 29, 2007, 08:56:09 AM
Like most things from the NY Times, caveat lector-- but a very interesting read nonetheless.
At 2 in the morning, a few days after I arrived in Cairo last month, a text
message beeped into my cellphone: "Mahmoud Ghozlan, MB Guide Bureau, is
being arrested NOW." Ghozlan was only the latest prominent member of the
Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that commands deep loyalty in
Egypt, to be hauled off by the dawn visitors of President Hosni Mubarak's
security apparatus. In recent months, leaders of the organization,
businessmen thought to be financial backers and other members of the
brotherhood's Guidance Bureau have been arrested on a variety of charges.
Forty members of the group have been indicted under Egypt's emergency laws
and put under the jurisdiction of a military tribunal, which is likely to
give them long jail sentences.
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
Khaled Desouki/Agence France-Presse
Nay Sayed Askar, a Muslim Brotherhood member of the Egyptian Parliament,
The arrest and imprisonment of political opponents is nothing new in Egypt,
which has been ruled by a succession of authoritarian leaders since 1952;
secular democrats are in jail along with the Islamists. Egypt is generally
rated as one of the more repressive countries in the world's most repressive
region. But two years ago, responding in part to White House pressure, the
regime of President Hosni Mubarak allowed parliamentary elections to take
place under conditions of unprecedented political freedom - at least
initially. And the brotherhood, though a banned organization that had to run
candidates as independents, dominated the contest until the government
cracked down in later rounds of voting. The organization still took 88 of
the 454 seats in Egypt's lower house, the People's Assembly, becoming, in
effect, the first opposition party of Egypt's modern era.
But it is not simply numbers that make the brotherhood a threat from the
regime's point of view. While Mubarak and his allies regularly denounce the
brothers as fundamentalists bent on turning Egypt into a theocracy, the new
legislators have made common cause with judges, liberal intellectuals and
secular activists in calling for increased political freedom. They have
steered clear of cultural or religious issues. Abdel Monem Abou el-Fotouh,
one of Ghozlan's colleagues on the Guidance Bureau, said to me flatly, "We
are not a religious body." Only one of his 15 fellow guides, he said, is a
sheik, or religious authority - "and even he is political." While many
secular critics fear that the brotherhood harbors a hidden Islamist agenda,
so far the organization has posed a democratic political challenge to the
regime, not a theological one; and that makes it all the more dangerous.
In his 2005 Inaugural Address, President Bush traced out the logic of a new,
post-9/11 American foreign policy. "For as long as whole regions of the
world simmer in resentment and tyranny," he declared, violence "will gather
. . . and cross the most defended borders" - i.e., our own. Therefore, he
announced, "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the
growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture,
with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Thus was born the
Freedom Agenda; and Egypt occupied the bull's-eye on this new target. Egypt
was an authoritarian state that had supplied much of the leadership of Al
Qaeda. It is also the largest nation in the Arab world and, historically,
the center of the region's political and cultural life. Progress in Egypt's
sclerotic political system would resonate all over the Islamic world. The
nearly $2 billion a year in military and economic aid that the U.S. had been
providing since the Camp David accords in 1979 offered real leverage. And
Egypt's early experience of democratic government (from 1922 to 1952),
mostly under British occupation, and its lively community of democratic and
human rights activists gave political reform a firmer foundation than it had
elsewhere in the Arab world.
As it happened, presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled for
2005. Not long after his inaugural address, President Bush called Mubarak to
urge him to allow independent monitors to oversee the elections and to loose
the asphyxiating controls on political activity and the press. For his part,
Mubarak needed to respond not only to Washington but also to a rising tide
of domestic dissent - and to the continued enfeeblement of his own National
Democratic Party, which performed badly in legislative elections five years
earlier. He agreed to hold Egypt's first contested presidential elections
and to permit unprecedented, if carefully circumscribed, political freedom.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, which in years past had
allowed the regime to control the hundreds of millions of dollars it spent
in Egypt, earmarked $50 million for democracy and governance; much of the
money went to the training of political party activists and election
The Muslim Brotherhood was not at that time a major force in national
electoral politics. Since its founding in 1928, the brotherhood had sunk
deep roots in the country's urban working and middle classes, and especially
among the professions, establishing a powerful base in the "syndicates" that
represent doctors, lawyers, journalists and others. The organization began
dipping its toes in the water of parliamentary electioneering in the mid-'80s;
in 2000 it gained 17 seats. But the group responded to the new climate of
openness by fielding a much larger slate of candidates for the 2005
elections - 160 in all. Candidates from old-line Nasserist and left-wing
parties ran as well.
After decades of quiet organizing, the Islamists proved to be far more
popular, and more disciplined, than the isolated leaders of Mubarak's ruling
party expected. In the first of three rounds of voting, the brothers won so
many seats that the regime grew alarmed. In the second round, the police
restricted access to polling areas in brotherhood strongholds; the Islamists
still won most of the seats they sought. In the third round, the regime
pulled out all the stops: despite the presence of hundreds of
American-trained election monitors, security forces beat up and arrested
opposition activists and shut down voting booths. In the end, election
violence would claim 14 lives. Video footage showed old women in head
scarves and veils scaling ladders to reach polling places - this in a
country notorious for dismal turnout. The regime had feared a surge of
support for secular opposition forces like Ghad, a new party founded by
Ayman Nour, a charismatic figure who also opposed Mubarak in the
presidential race, or Tagammu, the traditional party of the left. These were
the groups that the Bush administration's democracy agenda was designed to
promote. But they proved to have relatively little national following; few
voters risked arrest to cast a ballot in their behalf.
(Page 2 of 5)
The brotherhood quickly proved that it was not only popular, but savvy. The
leaders understood that it was not in their interests to provoke a
confrontation with the regime and its hair-trigger security forces. They
fielded candidates in only a fraction of the districts they could have won.
According to Joshua Stacher, an American scholar of Egyptian politics who
lives in Cairo, a brotherhood politician who projected winning 17 seats in
his governorate was instructed by his superior to come back with a smaller
number. Only when he whittled the figure to seven was he told to go ahead.
The brotherhood won six of the seats. Stacher also notes that when the
brotherhood held a press conference (which he attended) four days after the
election to introduce their new legislators, a reporter asked Muhammad Akef,
the "supreme guide," if they would be prepared to talk to the Americans. And
Akef answered, "Yes, but they should forward the request to the Egyptian
Foreign Ministry." He was saying both that the brotherhood was open to
dialogue and that it had nothing to hide from the regime.
The brotherhood bloc took Parliament a great deal more seriously than the
ruling party did. The entire 88-person contingent moved into a hotel in
Cairo in order to be able to work and live together while the People's
Assembly was in session. Merely showing up changed the dynamic of this
torpid body, since N.D.P. lawmakers had to attend as well lest they be
outvoted. The brothers formed a "parliamentary kitchen" with committees on
various subjects; the committees, in turn, organized seminars to which
outside experts were regularly invited. The Islamists formed a coalition
with other opposition legislators, and with sympathetic members of the
N.D.P., to protest the extension of emergency rule. They stood in solidarity
with judges who were protesting growing infringements on their autonomy;
hundreds of protesters, including some of the brotherhood's major figures,
were arrested during several weeks of demonstrations in central Cairo. In an
article in the journal Middle East Report, Joshua Stacher and Samer Shehata,
a professor at Georgetown, concluded, "Brotherhood M.P.'s are attempting to
transform the Egyptian parliament into a real legislative body, as well as
an institution that represents citizens and a mechanism that keeps
Many members of Egypt's secular opposition remain deeply skeptical of the
brotherhood, which they see as the regime's silent ally in blocking their
hopes for an open, pluralist society. Egypt's ruling elite has, in turn,
traditionally worried far more about the secular opposition than about the
Islamists. Anwar el-Sadat, the president from 1970 to his assassination in
1981, made peace with religious forces by initiating a thoroughgoing
Islamization of Egyptian society. Sadat rewrote the educational curriculum
along religious lines and amended Article 2 of Egypt's extremely progressive
constitution to stipulate that Shariah - Islamic law - was the "main source"
of the nation's laws. Mubarak, who was Sadat's vice president, continued
this practice. Some secularists fear that the brotherhood, perhaps in
collaboration with the military, would establish an authoritarian theocracy.
"I have no doubt that they would implement Shariah if they ever came to
power," says Hisham Kassem, a leading publisher in the progressive media. "I
see them as a menace."
But opinions are shifting. After holding a symposium on free speech, Negad
al-Borai, a democracy activist and human rights lawyer, says that he
received an emissary from the supreme guide. "He came and said: 'We accept
everything in your initiative as a beginning to the democratic process. The
only thing we ask is that if issues arise where we wish to state our
opposition according to our own views, we can have our own voice.' "
Al-Borai readily agreed, and the brotherhood endorsed untrammeled free
speech. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian dissident most widely known in the
West, says that the performance of the brotherhood's parliamentary bloc over
the last year has allayed his own concerns. The regime, he says, is
brandishing the Islamist threat in order "to scare the foreigners and the
middle class and the Copts" Egypt's ancient Christian minority, who fear
being treated as "nonbelievers."
Indeed, since the 2005 election and the brotherhood's subsequent
performance, the regime has turned the full force of its repressive energies
on it. Last April and May, when brotherhood members demonstrated in
solidarity with Egypt's judges, who had been seeking greater autonomy,
security forces waded in, arresting hundreds of the brothers. The campaign
of arrests resumed earlier this year, aiming at leading figures like Mahmoud
Ghozlan, the Guidance Bureau member, as well as financiers; the government
has frozen assets of brotherhood supporters said to amount to $2 billion.
And there could be no mistaking the intent of the constitutional "reforms"
submitted last December. Article 5, which lays the basis for the regulation
of political parties, was rewritten to stipulate that "political activity or
political parties shall not be based on any religious background or
foundation." This prohibition seemed to directly contradict the language of
Article 2, which made Shariah the foundation of Egyptian law. How can a
self-professed religious state prohibit political activity with a "religious
background"? When I posed this question to Hossam Badrawi, a leading member
of a group of young politicians who profess to be reforming the N.D.P. from
within, he asked me in return, "If I go to Germany and I want to start a
Nazi Party, would I be allowed to do that?"
"Is that a fair analogy?"
"Yes, because they don't respect the constitution, which lays out a separate
role for politics and religion." Except that it doesn't or didn't, until
(Page 3 of 5)
This is the kind of language that, as Saad Eddin Ibrahim put it, is bound to
scare foreigners and the middle class. President Mubarak has called the
group a threat to national security. Mohamed Kamal, a political scientist
who is close to Gamal Mubarak, the president's son and heir apparent, and
who now serves as the N.D.P.'s semiofficial spokesman to the Western media,
says of the brotherhood: "They're fundamentalist in their ideology. I'm not
saying necessarily that they're terrorists; they want to establish a
religious state based on their interpretation of the Koran and the Shariah."
While some of their leaders "pay lip service to democracy, women's rights
and so on," Kamal says, the grass roots are deeply reactionary.
Is that so? One night I drove out to the far northeastern edge of Cairo - a
trip that took an hour and a half through the city's insane traffic - to
meet with Magdy Ashour, a member of the brotherhood's parliamentary bloc.
The caucus is heavy with lawyers, doctors and professors, but Ashour is an
electrician with a technical diploma. The neighborhood he represents,
al-Nozha, is a squalid quarter of shattered buildings and dusty lanes.
Ashour had established himself in what seemed to be the only substantial
structure in the area, a half-completed apartment building; I walked through
plaster dust and exposed wiring to reach his office. Ashour hurried in from
the evening prayer. He was a solemn, square-jawed 41-year-old with short
hair and unfashionable glasses, a brown suit and a brown tie. He grew up, he
said, in the neighborhood, and as a young man often gave the Friday sermon
at the local mosque. He joined the brotherhood when he was 23. Why? "From my
reading and my earliest meetings with brotherhood members," he said through
a translator, "I could see that they were moderate, that they don't impose
their religion on people, but at the same time they're not loose with their
I asked Ashour if the spate of arrests had him worried, and he said that he
indeed feared that the state might be seeking an "open confrontation" with
the brotherhood. Might not that provoke the group's supporters to violence?
Ashour answered by citing an aphorism he attributed to the brotherhood's
founder, Hassan al-Banna: "Be like trees among the people: They strike you
with stones, and you shower them with blessings." Ashour then embarked on a
brief oration: "We would like to change the idea people have of us in the
West," he said, "because when people hear the name Muslim Brotherhood, they
think of terrorism and suicide bombings. We want to establish the perception
of an Islamic group cooperating with other groups, concerned about human
rights. We do not want a country like Iran, which thinks that it is ruling
with a divine mandate. We want a government based on civil law with an
Islamic source of lawmaking." If Magdy Ashour was a theocrat - or a
terrorist - he was a very crafty one.
As it has fully entered the political arena, the brotherhood has been forced
to come up with clear answers on issues about which it has been notably
ambiguous in the past. Some are easy enough: There seems to be little
appetite among them for stoning adulterers or lopping off the hands of
thieves; and all deprecate the jizya, or tax on nonbelievers, as a relic of
an era when only Muslims served in the military. Some are not so easy. I
asked Magdy Ashour about the drinking of alcohol, which is prohibited in
Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic states. He was quite unfazed. "There is
a concept in Shariah that if you commit the sin in private it's different
from committing it in public," he explained. You can drink in a hotel, but
not in the street. This was flexibility verging on pragmatism. I wondered if
Ashour, and the other brotherhood candidates, had offered such nuanced
judgments on the stump; a number of detractors insist that the group's
campaign rhetoric was much more unabashedly Islamist.
There are, of course, more fundamental questions. In the course of a
three-hour conversation in the brotherhood's extremely modest office in an
apartment building in one of Cairo's residential neighborhoods, I asked
Muhammad Habib, the deputy supreme guide, how the brotherhood would react if
the Legislature passed a law that violated Shariah. "The People's Assembly
has the absolute right in that situation," he said, "as long as it is
elected in a free and fair election which manifests the people's will. The
Parliament could go to religious scholars and hear their opinion" - as it
could seek the advice of economists on economic matters - "but it is not
obliged to listen to these opinions." Some consider grave moral issues, like
homosexual marriage, beyond the pale of majoritarianism; others make no such
exception. Hassan al-Banna famously wrote that people are the source of
authority. This can be understood, if you wish to, as the Islamic version of
the democratic credo.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: April 29, 2007, 08:52:45 AM
Top general: U.S. needs a bigger Army faster
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (AP) -- The Army's new chief of staff said he wants to accelerate by two years a plan to increase the nation's active-duty soldiers by 65,000.
The Army has set 2012 as its target date for a force expansion to 547,000 troops, but Gen. George Casey said he told his staff to have the soldiers ready earlier.
"I said that's too long. Go back and tell me what it would take to get it done faster," he said in an interview Saturday with The Associated Press during a stop in Hawaii.
Casey became the Army chief of staff April 12 after serving as the top U.S. commander in Iraq for more than two years. He visited Hawaii for a few days in a Pacific region tour to talk with soldiers and their families. He next heads to Japan, South Korea and Alaska.
Casey said his staff has submitted a proposal for the accelerated timeline but that he has yet to approve the plan. He said the Army was stretched and would remain that way until the additional troops were trained and equipped.
Casey told a group of soldiers' spouses that one of his tasks is to try to limit the impact of the strain on soldiers and their families.
"We live in a difficult period for the Army because the demand for our forces exceeds the supply," he said.
A woman in the group asked Casey if her husband's deployments would stop getting longer. She said they used to last for six months in the 1990s but then started lasting nine months and 12 months. Two weeks ago, she heard the Army's announcement that deployments would be extended as long as 15 months.
"Do you honestly foresee this spiral, in effect, stopping?" she asked.
Casey said the Army wants to keep deployments to 15 months, but "I cannot look at you in the eye and guarantee that it would not go beyond."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January said he was recommending to the president that the Army boost its active-duty soldiers by 65,000 to 547,000. Casey said about 35,000 of those additional soldiers are already in place.
Gates also recommended that the Marine Corps increase its active-duty force by 27,000 to 202,000.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: April 29, 2007, 07:57:17 AM
Second post of the morning, also from the NYTimes:
RAMADI, Iraq — Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat.
Eros Hoagland for The New York Times
ON THE JOB TOGETHER Iraqi policemen and American troops patrol near Ramadi in Anbar. Ramadi’s police force has sharply increased in the past year.
“Many people are challenging the insurgents,” said the governor of Anbar, Maamoon S. Rahid, though he quickly added, “We know we haven’t eliminated the threat 100 percent.”
Many Sunni tribal leaders, once openly hostile to the American presence, have formed a united front with American and Iraqi government forces against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. With the tribal leaders’ encouragement, thousands of local residents have joined the police force. About 10,000 police officers are now in Anbar, up from several thousand a year ago. During the same period, the police force here in Ramadi, the provincial capital, has grown from fewer than 200 to about 4,500, American military officials say.
At the same time, American and Iraqi forces have been conducting sweeps of insurgent strongholds, particularly in and around Ramadi, leaving behind a network of police stations and military garrisons, a strategy that is also being used in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, as part of its new security plan.
Yet for all the indications of a heartening turnaround in Anbar, the situation, as it appeared during more than a week spent with American troops in Ramadi and Falluja in early April, is at best uneasy and fragile.
Municipal services remain a wreck; local governments, while reviving, are still barely functioning; and years of fighting have damaged much of Ramadi.
The insurgency in Anbar — a mix of Islamic militants, former Baathists and recalcitrant tribesmen — still thrives among the province’s overwhelmingly Sunni population, killing American and Iraqi security forces and civilians alike. [This was underscored by three suicide car-bomb attacks in Ramadi on Monday and Tuesday, in which at least 15 people were killed and 47 were wounded, American officials said. Eight American service members — five marines and three soldiers — were killed in two attacks on Thursday and Friday in Anbar, the American military said.]
Furthermore, some American officials readily acknowledge that they have entered an uncertain marriage of convenience with the tribes, some of whom were themselves involved in the insurgency, to one extent or another. American officials are also negotiating with elements of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a leading insurgent group in Anbar, to join their fight against Al Qaeda.
These sudden changes have raised questions about the ultimate loyalties of the United States’ new allies. “One day they’re laying I.E.D.’s, the next they’re police collecting a pay check,” said Lt. Thomas R. Mackesy, an adviser to an Iraqi Army unit in Juwayba, east of Ramadi, referring to improvised explosive devices.
And it remains unclear whether any of the gains in Anbar will transfer to other troubled areas of Iraq — like Baghdad, Diyala Province, Mosul and Kirkuk, where violence rages and the ethnic and sectarian landscape is far more complicated.
Still, the progress has inspired an optimism in the American command that, among some officials, borders on giddiness. It comes after years of fruitless efforts to drive a wedge between moderate resistance fighters and those, like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who seem beyond compromise.
“There are some people who would say we’ve won the war out here,” said Col. John. A. Koenig, a planning officer for the Marines who oversees governing and economic development issues in Anbar. “I’m cautiously optimistic as we’re going forward.”
A New Calm
For most of the past few years, the Government Center in downtown Ramadi, the seat of the provincial government, was under near-continual siege by insurgents, who reduced it to little more than a bullet-ridden bunker of broken concrete, sandbags and trapped marines. Entering meant sprinting from an armored vehicle to the front door of the building to evade snipers’ bullets.
Now, however, the compound and nearby buildings are being renovated to create offices for the provincial administration, council and governor. Hotels are being built next door for the waves of visitors the government expects once it is back in business.
Page 2 of 4)
On the roof of the main building, Capt. Jason Arthaud, commander of Company B, First Battalion, Sixth Marines, said the building had taken no sniper fire since November. “Just hours of peace and quiet,” he deadpanned. “And boredom.”
Marriage of Convenience With the encouragement of Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar Province, many local residents have joined the police force in cities like Ramadi. American and Iraqi forces also work with auxiliary police forces, above, mainly local tribesmen, who often wear scarves or balaclavas to conceal their identities.
Eros Hoagland for The New York Times
A NEW DYNAMIC American officers with leaders from Anbar, including Sheik Tahir Sabbar Badawie, second from right.
Violence has fallen swiftly throughout Ramadi and its sprawling rural environs, residents and American and Iraqi officials said. Last summer, the American military recorded as many as 25 violent acts a day in the Ramadi region, ranging from shootings and kidnappings to roadside bombs and suicide attacks. In the past several weeks, the average has dropped to four acts of violence a day, American military officials said.
On a recent morning, American and Iraqi troops, accompanied by several police officers, went on a foot patrol through a market in the Malaab neighborhood of Ramadi. Only a couple of months ago, American and Iraqi forces would enter the area only in armored vehicles. People stopped and stared. The sight of police and military forces in the area, particularly on foot, was still novel.
The new calm is eerie and unsettling, particularly for anyone who knew the city even several months ago.
“The complete change from night to day gives me pause,” said Capt. Brice Cooper, 26, executive officer of Company B, First Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, which has been stationed in the city and its outskirts since last summer. “A month and a half ago we were getting shot up. Now we’re doing civil affairs work.”
A Moderate Front
The turnabout began last September, when a federation of tribes in the Ramadi area came together as the Anbar Salvation Council to oppose the fundamentalist militants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Among the council’s founders were members of the Abu Ali Jassem tribe, based in a rural area of northern Ramadi. The tribe’s leader, Sheik Tahir Sabbar Badawie, said in a recent interview that members of his tribe had fought in the insurgency that kept the Americans pinned down on their bases in Anbar for most of the last four years.
“If your country was occupied by Iraq, would you fight?” he asked. “Enough said.”
But while the anti-American sheiks in Anbar and Al Qaeda both opposed the Americans, their goals were different. The sheiks were part of a relatively moderate front that sought to drive the Americans out of Iraq; some were also fighting to restore Sunni Arab power. But Al Qaeda wanted to go even further and impose a fundamentalist Islamic state in Anbar, a plan that many of the sheiks did not share.
Al Qaeda’s fighters began to use killing, intimidation and financial coercion to divide the tribes and win support for their agenda. They killed about 210 people in the Abu Ali Jassem tribe alone and kidnapped others, demanding ransoms as high as $65,000 per person, Sheik Badawie said.
For all the sheiks’ hostility toward the Americans, they realized that they had a bigger enemy, or at least one that needed to be fought first, as a matter of survival.
The council sought financial and military support from the Iraqi and American governments. In return the sheiks volunteered hundreds of tribesmen for duty as police officers and agreed to allow the construction of joint American-Iraqi police and military outposts throughout their tribal territories.
A similar dynamic is playing out elsewhere in Anbar, a desert region the size of New York State that stretches west of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders. Tribal cooperation with the American and Iraqi commands has led to expanded police forces in the cities of Husayba, Hit, Rutba, Baghdadi and Falluja, officials say.
With the help of the Anbar sheiks, the military equation immediately became simpler for the Americans in Ramadi. The number of enemies they faced suddenly diminished, American and Iraqi officials said. They were able to move more freely through large areas. With the addition of the tribal recruits, the Americans had enough troops to build and operate garrisons in areas they cleared, many of which had never seen any government security presence before.
And the Americans were now fighting alongside people with a deep knowledge of the local population and terrain, and with a sense of duty, vengeance and righteousness.
Page 3 of 4)
“We know this area, we know the best way to talk to the people and get information from them,” said Capt. Hussein Abd Nusaif, a police commander in a neighborhood in western Ramadi, who carries a Kalashnikov with an Al Capone-style “snail drum” magazine. “We are not afraid of Al Qaeda. We will fight them anywhere and anytime.”
Ramadi Beginning last summer and continuing through March, the American-led joint forces pressed into the city, block by block, and swept the farmlands on its outskirts. In many places the troops met fierce resistance. Scores of American and Iraqi security troops were killed or wounded.
The Ramadi region is essentially a police state now, with some 6,000 American troops, 4,000 Iraqi soldiers and 4,500 Iraqi police officers, including an auxiliary police force of about 2,000, all local tribesmen, known as the Provincial Security Force. The security forces are garrisoned in more than 65 police stations, military bases and joint American-Iraqi combat outposts, up from no more than 10 a year ago. The population of the city is officially about 400,000, though the current number appears to be much lower.
To help control the flow of traffic and forestall attacks, the American military has installed an elaborate system of barricades and checkpoints. In some of the enclaves created by this system, which American commanders frequently call “gated communities,” no vehicles except bicycles and pushcarts are allowed for fear of car bombs.
American commanders see the progress in Anbar as a bellwether for the rest of country. “One of the things I worry about in Baghdad is we won’t have the time to do the same kind of thing,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of day-to-day war operations in Iraq, said in an interview here.
Yet the fact that Anbar is almost entirely Sunni and not riven by the same sectarian feuds as other violent places, like Baghdad and Diyala Province, has helped to establish order. Elsewhere, security forces are largely Shiite and are perceived by many Sunnis as part of the problem. In Anbar, however, the new police force reflects the homogeneous face of the province and appears to enjoy the support of the people.
A Growing Police Force
Military commanders say they cannot completely account for the whereabouts of the insurgency. They say they believe that many guerrillas have been killed, while others have gone underground, laid down their arms or migrated to other parts of Anbar, particularly the corridor between Ramadi and Falluja, the town of Karma north of Falluja and the sprawling rural zones around Falluja, including Zaidon and Amariyat al-Falluja on the banks of the Euphrates River. American forces come under attack in these areas every day.
Still other guerrillas, the commanders acknowledge, have joined the police force, sneaking through a vetting procedure that is set up to catch only known suspects. Many insurgents “are fighting for a different side now,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Gurganus, commander of ground forces in Anbar. “I think that’s where the majority have gone.”
But American commanders say they are not particularly worried about infiltrators among the new recruits. Many of the former insurgents now in the police, they say, were probably low-level operatives who were mainly in it for the money and did relatively menial tasks, like planting roadside bombs.
The speed of the buildup has led to other problems. Hiring has outpaced the building of police academies, meaning that many new officers have been deployed with little or no training. Without enough uniforms, many new officers patrol in civilian clothes, some with their heads wrapped in scarves or covered in balaclavas to conceal their identities. They look no different than the insurgents shown in mujahedeen videos.
Commanders seem to regard these issues as a necessary cost of quickly building a police force in a political environment that is, in the words of Colonel Koenig, “sort of like looking through smoke.” The police force, they say, has been the most critical component of the new security plan in Anbar.
Page 4 of 4)
Yet, oversight of the police forces by American forces and the central Iraqi government is weak, leaving open the possibility that some local leaders are using newly armed tribal members as their personal death squads to settle old scores.
Ramadi Several American officers who work with the Iraqi police said a lot of police work was conducted out of their view, particularly at night. “It’s like the Mafia,” one American soldier in Juwayba said.
General Odierno said, “We have to watch them very closely to make sure we’re not forming militias.”
But there is a new sense of commitment by the police, American and Iraqi officials say, in part because they are patrolling their own neighborhoods. Many were motivated to join after they or their communities were attacked by Al Qaeda, and their successes have made them an even greater target of insurgent car bombs and suicide attacks.
Abd Muhammad Khalaf, 28, a policeman in the Jazeera district on Ramadi’s northern edge, is typical. He joined the police after Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia killed two of his brothers, he said. “I will die when God wills it,” he said. “But before I die, I will support my friends and kill some terrorists.”
The Tasks Ahead
Some tribal leaders now working with the Americans say they harbor deep resentment toward the Shiite-led administration of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, accusing it of pursuing a sectarian agenda. Yet they also say they are invested in the democratic process now.
After boycotting the national elections in 2005, many are now planning to participate in the next round of provincial elections, which have yet to be scheduled, as a way to build on the political and military gains they have made in recent months.
“Since I was a little boy, I have seen nothing but warfare — against the Kurds, Iranians, Kuwait, the Americans,” Sheik Badawie said. “We are tired of war. We are going to fight through the ballot box.”
Already, tribal leaders are participating in local councils that have been formed recently throughout the Ramadi area under the guidance of the American military.
Iraqi and American officials say the sheiks’ embrace of representative government reflects the new realities of power in Anbar. “Out here it’s been, ‘Who can defend his people?’ ” said Brig. Gen. John R. Allen, deputy commanding general of coalition forces in Anbar. “After the war it’s, ‘Who was able to reconstruct?’ ”
Indeed, American and Iraqi officials say that to hold on to the security gains and the public’s support, they must provide services to residents in areas they have tamed.
But successful development, they argue, will depend on closing the divide between the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, which has long ignored the province, and the local leadership in Anbar, which has long tried to remain independent from the capital. If that fails, they say, the Iraqi and American governments may have helped to organize and arm a potent enemy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: April 29, 2007, 07:46:53 AM
By JAMES GLANZ
Published: April 29, 2007
In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.
The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.
The inspections ranged geographically from northern to southern Iraq and covered projects as varied as a maternity hospital, barracks for an Iraqi special forces unit and a power station for Baghdad International Airport.
At the airport, crucially important for the functioning of the country, inspectors found that while $11.8 million had been spent on new electrical generators, $8.6 million worth were no longer functioning.
At the maternity hospital, a rehabilitation project in the northern city of Erbil, an expensive incinerator for medical waste was padlocked — Iraqis at the hospital could not find the key when inspectors asked to see the equipment — and partly as a result, medical waste including syringes, used bandages and empty drug vials were clogging the sewage system and probably contaminating the water system.
The newly built water purification system was not functioning either.
Officials at the oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said they had made an effort to sample different regions and various types of projects, but that they were constrained from taking a true random sample in part because many projects were in areas too unsafe to visit. So, they said, the initial set of eight projects — which cost a total of about $150 million — cannot be seen as a true statistical measure of the thousands of projects in the roughly $30 billion American rebuilding program.
But the officials said the initial findings raised serious new concerns about the effort.
The reconstruction effort was originally designed as nearly equal to the military push to stabilize Iraq, allow the government to function and business to flourish, and promote good will toward the United States.
“These first inspections indicate that the concerns that we and others have had about the Iraqis sustaining our investments in these projects are valid,” Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who leads the office of the special inspector general, said in an interview on Friday.
The conclusions will be summarized in the latest quarterly report by Mr. Bowen’s office on Monday. Individual reports on each of the projects were released on Thursday and Friday.
Mr. Bowen said that because he suspected that completed projects were not being maintained, he had ordered his inspectors to undertake a wider program of returning to examine projects that had been completed for at least six months, a phase known as sustainment.
Exactly who is to blame for the poor record on sustainment for the first sample of eight projects was not laid out in the report, but the American reconstruction program has been repeatedly criticized for not including in its rebuilding budget enough of the costs for spare parts, training, stronger construction and other elements that would enable projects continue to function once they have been built.
The new reports provide some support for that position: a sophisticated system for distributing oxygen throughout the Erbil hospital had been ignored by medical staff members, who told inspectors that they distrusted the new equipment and had gone back to using tried-and-true oxygen tanks — which were stored unsafely throughout the building.
The Iraqis themselves appear to share responsibility for the latest problems, which cropped up after the United States turned the projects over to the Iraqi government. Still, the new findings show that the enormous American investment in the reconstruction program is at risk, Mr. Bowen said.
Page 2 of 2)
Besides the airport, hospital and special forces barracks, places where inspectors found serious problems included two projects at a military base near Nasiriya and one at a military recruiting center in Hilla — both cities in the south — and a police station in Mosul, a northern city. A second police station in Mosul was found to be in good condition.
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Reach of War
Go to Complete Coverage » The dates when the projects were completed and deemed successful ranged from six months to almost a year and a half before the latest inspections. But those inspections found numerous instances of power generators that no longer operated; sewage systems that had clogged and overflowed, damaging sections of buildings; electrical systems that had been jury-rigged or stripped of components; floors that had buckled; concrete that had crumbled; and expensive equipment that was simply not in use.
Curiously, most of the problems seemed unrelated to sabotage stemming from Iraq’s parlous security situation, but instead were the product of poor initial construction, petty looting, a lack of any maintenance and simple neglect.
A case in point was the $5.2 million project undertaken by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build the special forces barracks in Baghdad. The project was completed in September 2005, but by the time inspectors visited last month, there were numerous problems caused by faulty plumbing throughout the buildings, and four large electrical generators, each costing $50,000, were no longer operating.
The problems with the generators were seemingly minor: missing batteries, a failure to maintain adequate oil levels in the engines, fuel lines that had been pilfered or broken. That kind of neglect is typical of rebuilding programs in developing countries when local nationals are not closely involved in planning efforts, said Rick Barton, co-director of the postconflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization in Washington.
“What ultimately makes any project sustainable is local ownership from the beginning in designing the project, establishing the priorities,” Mr. Barton said. “If you don’t have those elements it’s an extension of colonialism and generally it’s resented.”
Mr. Barton, who has closely monitored reconstruction efforts in Iraq and other countries, said the American rebuilding program had too often created that resentment by imposing projects on Iraqis or relying solely on the advice of a local tribal chief or some “self-appointed representative” of local Iraqis.
The new findings come after years of insistence by American officials in Baghdad that too much attention has been paid to the failures in Iraq and not enough to the successes.
Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps, told a news conference in Baghdad late last month that with so much coverage of violence in Iraq “what you don’t see are the successes in the reconstruction program, how reconstruction is making a difference in the lives of everyday Iraqi people.”
And those declared successes are heavily promoted by the United States government. A 2006 news release by the Army Corps, titled “Erbil Maternity and Pediatric Hospital — not just bricks and mortar!” praises both the new water purification system and the incinerator. The incinerator, the release said, would “keep medical waste from entering into the solid waste and water systems.”
But when Mr. Bowen’s office presented the Army Corps with the finding that neither system was working at the struggling hospital and recommended a training program so that Iraqis could properly operate the equipment, General Walsh tersely disagreed with the recommendation in a letter appended to the report, which also noted that the building had suffered damage because workers used excess amounts of water to clean the floors.
The bureau within the United States Embassy in Baghdad that oversees reconstruction in Iraq was even more dismissive, disagreeing with all four of the inspector general’s recommendations, including those suggesting that the United States should lend advice on disposing of the waste and maintaining the floors.
“Recommendations such as how much water to use in cleaning floors or disposal of medical waste could be deemed as an intrusion on, or attempt to micromanage operations of an Iraqi entity that we have no controlling interest over,” wrote William Lynch, acting director of the embassy bureau, called the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: WW3
on: April 29, 2007, 07:41:45 AM
Not sure in which thread to put this article from today's NYTimes, so I put it here:
WASHINGTON, April 28 — No foreign diplomat has been closer or had more access to President Bush, his family and his administration than the magnetic and fabulously wealthy Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia.
Prince Bandar has mentored Mr. Bush and his father through three wars and the broader campaign against terrorism, reliably delivering — sometimes in the Oval Office — his nation’s support for crucial Middle East initiatives dependent on the regional legitimacy the Saudis could bring, as well as timely warnings of Saudi regional priorities that might put it into apparent conflict with the United States. Even after his 22-year term as Saudi ambassador ended in 2005, he still seemed the insider’s insider. But now, current and former Bush administration officials are wondering if the longtime reliance on him has begun to outlive its usefulness.
Bush administration officials have been scratching their heads over steps taken by Prince Bandar’s uncle, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that have surprised them by going against the American playbook, after receiving assurances to the contrary from Prince Bandar during secret trips he made to Washington.
For instance, in February, King Abdullah effectively torpedoed plans by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a high-profile peace summit meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, by brokering a power-sharing agreement with Mr. Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas that did not require Hamas to recognize Israel or forswear violence. The Americans had believed, after discussions with Prince Bandar, that the Saudis were on board with the strategy of isolating Hamas.
American officials also believed, again after speaking with Prince Bandar, that the Saudis might agree to direct engagement with Israel as part of a broad American plan to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. King Abdullah countermanded that plan.
Most bitingly, during a speech before Arab heads of state in Riyadh three weeks ago, the king condemned the American invasion of Iraq as “an illegal foreign occupation.” The Bush administration, caught off guard, was infuriated, and administration officials have found Prince Bandar hard to reach since.
Since the Iraq war and the attendant plummeting of America’s image in the Muslim world, King Abdullah has been striving to set a more independent and less pro-American course, American and Arab officials said. And that has steered America’s relationship with its staunchest Arab ally into uncharted waters. Prince Bandar, they say, may no longer be able to serve as an unerring beacon of Saudi intent.
“The problem is that Bandar has been pursuing a policy that was music to the ears of the Bush administration, but was not what King Abdullah had in mind at all,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel who is now head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
Of course it is ultimately the king — and not the prince — who makes the final call on policy. More than a dozen associates of Prince Bandar, including personal friends and Saudi officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if his counsel has led to the recent misunderstandings, it is due to his longtime penchant for leaving room in his dispatches for friends to hear what they want to hear. That approach, they said, is catching up to the prince as new tensions emerge between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Bandar, son of one of the powerful seven sons born to the favorite wife of Saudi Arabia’s founding king, “needs to personally regroup and figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty together again,” one associate said.
Robert Jordan, a former Bush administration ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said the Saudis’ mixed signals have come at a time when King Abdullah — who has ruled the country since 1995 but became king only in 2005 after the death of his brother, Fahd — has said he does not want to go down in history as Mr. Bush’s Arab Tony Blair. “I think he feels the need as a kind of emerging leader of the Arab world right now to maintain a distance,” he said.
Mr. Jordan said that although the United States and Saudi Arabia “have different views on how to get there,” the countries still share the same long-term goals for the region and remain at heart strong allies.
An administration spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said none of the current issues threatened the relationship. “We may have differences on issues now and then,” he said, “but we remain close allies.”
Or, as Saleh al-Kallab, a former minister of information in Jordan, put it, “The relationship between the United States and the Arab regimes is like a Catholic marriage where you can have no divorce.”
But there can be separation. And several associates of Prince Bandar acknowledge that he feels caught between the opposing pressure of the king and that of his close friends in the Bush administration. It is a relationship that Prince Bandar has fostered with great care and attention to detail over the years, making himself practically indispensable to Mr. Bush, his family and his aides.
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A few nights after he resigned his post as secretary of state two years ago, Colin L. Powell answered a ring at his front door. Standing outside was Prince Bandar, then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, with a 1995 Jaguar. Mr. Powell’s wife, Alma, had once mentioned that she missed their 1995 Jaguar, which she and her husband had traded in. Prince Bandar had filed that information away, and presented the Powells that night with an identical, 10-year-old model. The Powells kept the car — a gift that the State Department said was legal — but recently traded it away.
The move was classic Bandar, who has been referred to as Bandar Bush, attending birthday celebrations, sending notes in times of personal crisis and entertaining the Bushes or top administration officials at sumptuous dinner parties at Prince Bandar’s opulent homes in McLean, Va., and Aspen, Colo.
He has invited top officials to pizza and movies out at a mall in suburban Virginia — and then rented out the movie theater (candy served chair-side, in a wagon) and the local Pizza Hut so he and his guests could enjoy themselves in solitude. He is said to feel a strong sense of loyalty toward Mr. Bush’s father dating to the Persian Gulf war, which transferred to the son, whom he counseled about international diplomacy during Mr. Bush’s first campaign for president.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, as the United States learned that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi and focused on the strict Wahhabi school of Islam that informed them and their leader and fellow Saudi, Osama bin Laden, Prince Bandar took a public role in assuring the Americans that his nation would cooperate in investigating and combating anti-American terrorism. He also helped arrange for more than a hundred members of the bin Laden family to be flown out of the United States.
Even since he left the Saudi ambassador’s post in Washington and returned to Saudi Arabia two years ago, Prince Bandar has continued his long courtship, over decades, of the Bush family and Vice President Dick Cheney, flying into Washington for unofficial meetings at the White House. He cruises in without consulting the Saudi Embassy in Washington, where miffed officials have sometimes said they had no idea that he was in town — a perceived slight that contributed to the resignation of his cousin Prince Turki al-Faisal as ambassador to the United States last year. He has been succeeded by Adel al-Jubeir, who is said to have strong support from the king.
Prince Turki was never able to match the role of Prince Bandar, whom the president, vice president and other officials regularly consult on every major Middle East initiative — from the approach to Iran to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Iraq. Prince Bandar played a crucial role in securing the use of the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj, roughly 70 miles outside Riyadh, in the attacks led by the United States against Afghanistan and Iraq, despite chafing within his government.
He helped in the negotiations that led to Libya giving up its weapons programs, a victory for Mr. Bush. He pledged to protect the world economy from oil shocks after the invasion, the White House said in 2004, but he denied a report, by the author Bob Woodward, that he had promised to stabilize oil prices in time for Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign.
The cause of the latest friction in the American-Saudi relationship began in 2003, before the invasion of Iraq. The Saudis agreed with the Bush view of Saddam Hussein as a threat, but voiced concern about post-invasion contingencies and the fate of the Sunni minority. When it became clear that the administration was committed to invading Iraq, Prince Bandar took a lead role in negotiations between the Bush administration and Saudi officials over securing bases and staging grounds.
But Saudi frustration has mounted over the past four years, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated. King Abdullah was angry that the Bush administration ignored his advice against de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi military. He became more frustrated as America’s image in the Muslim world deteriorated, because Saudi Arabia is viewed as a close American ally.
Tensions between King Abdullah and top Bush officials escalated further when Mr. Bush announced a new energy initiative to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil during his 2006 State of the Union address, and announced new initiatives in that direction this year.
Both American and Saudi officials say that King Abdullah clearly values — and uses — Prince Bandar’s close relationship with the White House. And that, associates said, will dictate what Prince Bandar can do.
“Don’t expect the man, because he happens to have an American background, not to play the game for his home team,” said William Simpson, Prince Bandar’s biographer, and a former classmate at the Royal Air Force College in England. “The home team is Saudi Arabia.”