Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / My savvy friend comments 2
on: November 01, 2010, 04:35:38 PM
Securitization & MERS
The first post was to provide a historical view of the role housing played in the economy and the background for how we got into this mess. It is necessarily simplified, but it generally details the history. This post will attempt to explain securitization and the issues in question.
Securitization was the process whereby loans were sold to Wall Street in the form of bonds and certificates. It involved a number of different entities established solely for the purpose of securitization. The purpose of such entities was to provide REMIC status, or favored tax status to the “final holders” of the notes and income streams.
The major entities that were involved in the securitization process”
The Originator: The lender that funded the loan. (There are table funders involved at times, but they simply used the Originator’s money, so this is irrelevant for this discussion.)
The Sponsor/Seller: This was the entity that “collected” the loans together from different lenders so that the loans could be securitized.
The Depositor: The Depositor took the loans from the Seller, broke them up into the different tranches, had the tranches rated, and prepared the bonds for sale. The Depositor also created the Trust, and at the closing date of the Trust, deposited the loans into the Trust.
Issuing Entity: This is the Trust.
Underwriters: The agencies who “rated” the bonds.
Servicer/Master Servicer: The entities who collected the monthly payments and handled administrative details to include foreclosure, modifications, etc.
Trustee: The entity who “oversees” the operations of the Trust, Servicer, etc. All “authority” is delegated.
There are a number of documents associated with the securitization of the loans, most important of which was the Pooling and Servicing Agreement, aka the PSA.
When loans were securitized, there were specific procedures outlined that had to be done. Adherence to those procedures is at the crux of the legal arguments related to securitization.
The primary procedure was that when the loan was securitized, the loan would be “sold” first to the Sponsor, then the Depositor, and finally to the Issuing Entity. Each loan was to be “assigned” to the entity taking possession of the loan and there was to be a “perfected Chain of Title” according to the PSA. However, each PSA made allowances for MERS, and for a MERS loan, there need not be the Assignments.
The actual process that the lenders have used was to make assignments to the Trust after default of the loan. No intervening assignments to the Sponsor or Depositor would occur. This is where attorneys are alleging the fraud and arguing “Prove the Note”.
The problem with such an approach is that when the loan is securitized, Commercial Code arguably takes precedent. Securitization is covered under Commercial Code, and not Real Estate Law. Under UCC, the Deed “follows” the Note. When a Note is transferred, it carries the Deed of Trust with it. So, simply the endorsement of the Note is enough to transfer all beneficial interest in the Deed. Assignments would not be required. That was the purpose of endorsing the Note “in blank”. The Note is turned into a Bearer Instrument, and assignments would not be needed.
It can now be seen that the different requirements under Real Property Law and under Commercial Code contradict each other. And, there are no legal precedents that cover Real Property and Personal Property Law combined. (Bonds and securitization fall under Personal Property and SEC.) Judges have no idea how to resolve the contradictions and so they go with what they are comfortable with. Is the loan in default? If so, let the lender foreclose and then the lender can sort it all out.
(Some argue that the homeowner should use the PSA and assignment requirements to attack the lender. The problem is that the homeowner would be using a “third party beneficiary” argument, and such arguments would not be allowed.)
MERS is playing a huge role in the litigation as well. MERS is an electronic registry designed to track the ownership and servicing rights of each loan registered with MERS. MERS has taken the place of the beneficiary on loans.
Since MERS is the “nominee for the beneficiary” or “agent”, when assignments are made, or foreclosures are initiated, MERS is usually the “stated authority”. This is a point of contention. Does MERS have the authority to do assignments or foreclose?
The actions against MERS are taking place in the Judicial Foreclosure states and in the Bankruptcy Courts. Often, you will see cases where the courts have ruled against MERS and its authority. However, these cases are not common, though the persons quoting those cases make it appear common. The majority of the courts are ruling in favor of MERS. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled in favor of MERS. Arkansas has ruled against MERS. Ultimately, this will only be resolved by either the US Supreme Court or by Federal Legislation. (Non-Judicial States “duck” this issue by relying solely on the foreclosure statutes for the state.)
(I have reviewed extensively both the issues with Securitization and with MERS. I have thoroughly read the judicial rulings on both sides, and the statutes. There are good points to be made on both sides, but when related to homeowners, there is a real issue that I will discuss later in this response.)
Servicing of the loans is another issue being argued. The attorneys are claiming that the servicer has no authority to foreclose, and that only the Trust can foreclose. These arguments are bogus since the PSA gives the servicer the authority to act for the Trust. But, if the Trust can be shown to not own the loan, then the argument has some credence.
You will also read that loans were sold into more than one Trust. Yes, in some cases that has happened, but this is a very few cases, and it was outright fraud on the part of the Originator. Most of the claims are on the basis of a complete misunderstanding of the securitization process and later processes that occurred.
Once the bonds were sold to certain investors, the investors combined the bonds with other bonds. They added credit enhancements and then broke these up and sold them as “synthetic CDO’s”. These were artificially created bonds, and in a term that I use, a “second generation” bond. These actions are where people get confused about the loans being placed into more than one trust.
Another point of confusion for attorneys is that loans could always be “removed” from the Trust, and replaced with other loans. The original Mortgage Loan Schedule filed with the SEC need not be updated, so a loan would appear to be in the Trust, when it had been removed and replaced. When a Notice of Default was filed with the name of the new Trust, this led to confusion that the loan might be in more than one Trust. Attorneys not understanding this will file allegations to delay the foreclosure.
Again, yes, there have been instances of a loan being placed into more than one Trust, in a fraudulent manner, but these instances are not the norm.
The current “Big News” is regarding the filing of fraudulent foreclosure documents. The allegations consist of people signing the documents and not having factual knowledge of the defaults. It is being alleged than the foreclosures are fraudulent. Yes, the issue of the “robo-signers” is valid. But here is what is not being told.
When a home goes into default, the servicer is the entity first aware of the default. They fully document the files, and know the status of the loan at every step. (Yes, errors can occur, but these errors are not the norm.) When the loan hits a certain stage of default, usually three months or longer, it is now ready for foreclosure. All of the documents are packaged together and then sent to the entity that will be foreclosing. The documentation of the default is in the package.
The foreclosure firm takes the information and prepares the documentation. So it has the factual proof that such default exists. Once the foreclosure documents are prepared, the “robo-signer” signs the documents. True, the signer has not inspected the documents, but both the servicer and the foreclosure firm have inspected the documents. Therefore, two entities have direct knowledge of the default. The bottom line is that the “robo-signer” arguments are nothing more than delaying tactics.
There are so many more arguments and facets to the issues involved, I could write a book about it, and still not cover all the issues. I just wanted to cover a few key elements here. If anyone has questions, I will be more than happy to respond to the questions and also other topics.
Before I end and get back to work, I want to say a couple more things.
Homeowners and advocates are arguing lender fraud on the loan. They claim that the lender has violated a fiduciary duty to the homeowner by providing them a loan that they could not repay. The truth is that courts have ruled continuously that a lender has “no fiduciary duty” to a borrower. So this argument does not fly.
Furthermore, what would happen if the lender declined the loan? The answer is simple. The homeowner would have gone to another lender to get the loan. They would have continued until they found a lender. So this argument is bogus.
Also, in over 3500 exams that I have done, I can conclusively prove borrower fraud on 90% of them. This is in addition to any lender or broker fraud. So, almost always, those who are the most vocal against the lenders have “unclean hands”. Lenders will soon be going after them.
Finally, many advocates claim that the appraisals were grossly inflated. The argument is that the homes were never worth what they were sold at, and that the true value might be $200k-$300k less. The inflated appraisals were used by the lenders as part of the “fraud”.
What these advocates and homeowners refuse to accept is that people were making the offers and were willing to pay the price of the home. Therefore, the values were “legitimate” at the time. (You don’t hear these same people argue that when stocks fall, the price of the stocks were fraudulently inflated.) Also, you can bet that every time a similar home in their neighborhood sold at a higher value, then every homeowner in the neighborhood rejoiced over the amount of money that they just made.
The reality is that everyone was at fault in the foreclosure crisis; homeowners, lenders, Wall Street, the Federal Government, everyone. There may be a few exceptions, but these are not the norm. Now, everyone wants to go after the lenders and ignore their own responsibility in their fate.
There are solutions to the Housing Crisis, but it is not what homeowners and advocates want to hear. The reality is that most people who are in foreclosure will never be able to afford the home, even with modification. It is that simple. Those people need to be foreclosed upon.
Principal Reduction should not be forced upon lenders and the securitizing entities. Among other things, it violates the Contract Clause of the Constitution. Furthermore, it punishes people who are not in foreclosure or who are not underwater. Only 25% of the homes are underwater. It will be everyone else who pays for the reductions.
Lenders who own the loans in their portfolio should not be forced into principal Reductions. That will destroy their capital reserves and will immediately force the lender into receivership.
The only solution is to get out of the way of the banks and to let them foreclose on most people.
I know that my comments are going to give rise to much criticism and complaints. Some will likely complain that I am on the side of the banks. The truth is that I take no sides. I am an unbiased participant in what is going on, and I will remain so. I tell both sides as it is, like it or not.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / My savvy friend comments
on: November 01, 2010, 04:34:38 PM
Here is Part 1. It covers the historical perspective. Just cut and paste everything below.
I apologize for not replying to previous requests, but I have been extremely busy. I finally caught up on current work, but preparing for two new projects. This first post is extremely long, but it must be to explain how we got to where we are today.
To establish my bona fides to speak to the subject of the housing crisis, here is my background. I spent 12 years doing mortgage loans. In late 2007, unable to help borrowers, I teamed with attorneys to assist homeowners. My responsibility was to evaluate loan documents. I reviewed everything from TILA/RESPA to fraud, securitization, MERS and the foreclosure process. Much of what you read on other websites, I originally brought to light. Many of the “loan audits” seen today have my original ideas, word for word. Some firms have taken old exams I did from early 2009 and copied them as their own work. Even then, because they do not know the underlying thought processes, their exams are inaccurate.
The exams that I do today are the most comprehensive in the country. They are unbiased, covering even the homeowner, and I tell it like it is. Borrower fraud, Lender Fraud, Securitization issues and the Foreclosure Process are all covered. As a result, I work both sides, for homeowners and for lenders.
Most of what people read today about the housing crisis is based upon one-sided, biased thinking. The persons writing articles only look from the homeowner’s perspective, and try to develop arguments for stopping foreclosures. They will not entertain any arguments in defense of the banks. As a result, they give out substandard information to homeowners, doing them and attorneys a major disservice.
The Housing Crisis, of which I am writing an article, has its roots going back to the Depression and then 1934-1936, when the original FHA was created to stabilize and then stimulate housing. Prior to this time, home loans were done solely by local banks, with terms of 3-5 years, and loan amounts generally in the range of $1,000 to $3,000. FHA and the end of WW2, changed all of this.
The returning veterans and the changed role of women created a new stimulus for housing. This led to the creation of the VA and offering of VA loans. Housing and its ancillary industries became one of the great supports for economic growth.
By the 1960’s, FHA had become a large budgetary item. Congress created Fannie Mae and Freddie as off balance sheet items, who then securitized loans through bonds, etc. This offered an “incredible” stream of money for housing, and truly stimulated the market even more.
Not content to let things be, Congress created other programs like the Community Reinvestment Act so that “non-qualified” persons could by homes. This added even more demand for housing.
Shortly after, in the 70s, the economic structure of the US began to change. Manufacturing, the true mechanism of wealth creation began to fall off. Other countries began to offer products in the US, and many US firms went oversea, or completely out of business. The economy began to be “service” oriented, which does not create wealth, but only serves to transfer it from one person to another.
Also, during the 70’s, B of A and Salomon Brothers experimented with Securitization, but at the time, it really did not “take off”.
The 80’s saw even more changes to the economic structure of the US. Manufacturing was leaving in droves, and the Service Sector becoming ever more important. But wealth creation was not occurring until the “Telecommunications” Bubble in the 19080’s, with the Cellular and Airwave changes, which stimulated the economy. This affected housing and saw to housing growth, until 1989, when many areas saw economic recession and a drop of 20% or more in housing.
The early 90s saw a change in the economy again with the downsizing of the military. Industry and housing was damaged, with values again falling. This continued until the Mid 90s, when the Dot Com Bubble exploded.
Concurrent with the Dot Com Bubble, housing and home values began to take on new momentum. The money being made on Dot Com stock investments offered large sums of money for the public, who used the money for housing and other goods.
In 1990, another event occurred which would spur housing at a later time, and, in fact, lead to massive securitization. Long Beach Savings, the predecessor of Ameriquest and other Sub-Prime lenders, united with Greenwich to offer $67m in Mortgage Backed Securities. The offering was a great success, and all other lenders took notice.
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, B of A and others formed a working group in 1993 to determine how to take advantage of the success of the Long Beach offering. The group came back in 1995 with recommendations, one of which was to form MERS. By, 1996, MERS had been created and in 1998, it was ready to go full ahead. But there was still one issue to resolve.
Glass Steagall was the final hurdle. To begin to securitize loans, it must be repealed and in 1999, it was repealed. Now, commercial banks, investment banks and insurance companies could “intrude” on each other’s turf.
During 98 & 99, another factor delayed the process of securitization. The implosion of Long Term Capital affected the lending industry significantly. In Oct 98, sub-prime lenders were folding up shop in droves. Credit lines were pulled, and there was nothing to replace the lines. Only a few large sub-prime lenders survived.
Then, in Mar 2000, the Dot Com bubble burst. We all know how the market tanked. With it, the economy went into recession. Housing took another hit. Just as things looked better and the recession was ending, 9-11 occurred.
It must be remembered that none of this was occurring in a vacuum. During the previous 30 years, the economy had faced massive changes. Manufacturing had declined and the service industries began to dominate. The auto industry had destroyed itself by its concessions to unions. Electronics were dominated by Asian countries.
The American consumer had changed as well. With the growing prosperity, the consumer had all their “toys”. Everyone owned autos and hard goods. When new goods were bought, it was to replace older goods. American industry was in either a “mature” market, or a “declining” market phase.
No replacement “Bubble” industries were on the horizon. The economy was facing a resumption of the recession as a result of 9-11. The government was left with few options for recovery.
To reassure the Markets and to stimulate the economy, Greenspan started to ease interest rates. As he eased, this created problems across the board. It led to the point that the people with “real money” were seeing little Return on Investment. Guaranteed income was desired, but there was nowhere to turn. The solution was the Housing Market. If the Housing Market was stimulated, then there would be construction, home improvement, infrastructure and other industries affected positively.
2002 saw the beginning of full scale securitization. Wall Street had need for the income from the guaranteed income streams generated by securitization. The government had the need for the stimulus created by housing. Lenders had the need for the money to lender that came from Wall Street. A match thought to be “made in heaven” was really the “stimulus from hell”.
Through the following years up to 2007, the need to feed Wall Street kept growing. By early 2004, qualified borrowers no longer existed, so the lenders loosened standards for lending. No matter what, the demand for Mortgage Backed Securities continued. Eventually, anyone with a heart beat could qualify for a loan.
During this period of time, the Government knew what was happening, but they could do nothing about it. To restrict lending would result in recession and a revealing of the underlying weakness of the economy. So the Fed allowed the charade to continue.
By mid 2006, the strains were showing. Defaults were increasing. Home values in certain parts of the US were failing, and especially hard in areas like Florida. At the end of 2006, the first Sub-Prime lenders were closing. This trend would continue throughout 2007, at which time the Housing Bubble burst.
The purpose of this long writing was to show the historical perspective of housing and securitization. Essentially, it was to show that Housing has been one of the significant “supports” of the US economy for decades. Since the 80’s, the US has relied upon “Bubbles” to keep the economy growing. When a bubble bursts, the economy goes to pieces.
With the Housing Bubble gone, there are no “easy” Bubbles to see coming. The government will try to create a new bubble with Green technology, but that will likely be a no starter. Health Care will be another bubble, but it would end up destroying the economy. So, every effort to restart Housing will need to be made.
I should point out that Illegal Immigration comes into play here. Illegal Immigration means people coming to the US, with their wants and needs. Housing and ancillary industries will be helped by the influx of people, so don’t expect to see anything done on immigration.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Circling the dollar drain
on: October 31, 2010, 03:34:55 PM
Pasting GM's post on the China thread here as well for ease of research:http://www.europac.net/commentaries/one_sided_compromise
The One-Sided Compromise
October 28, 2010 - 1:35pm — europac admin
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Last weekend, the G-20 finance ministers met in South Korea to find areas of agreement in preparation for the main G-20 gathering in November. The Chinese rebuffed renewed American pleas for them to revalue their yuan. They rejected Secretary Geithner’s suggestion of a four percent cap on current account surpluses. However, in return for accepting America’s continued dollar debasement, the Chinese did agree to “look into” a revaluation of the yuan and the management of trade surpluses. They also agreed to an international self-policing regime to curb currency manipulation. This 'one-sided' compromise was hailed in the Western media as a triumph for Mr. Geithner. The US stock markets and dollar rallied. All looked good for the election season in November.
Unfortunately, compromises are never one-sided; they are only construed as such. Though the reporting failed to emphasize it, Mr. Geithner actually agreed to a massive shift of monetary power in exchange for China's empty concessions. The shareholdings and board composition of the huge and powerful International Monetary Fund (IMF) have now been shifted. China will now become the third largest shareholder of the IMF and the developing economies will get a six percent larger voting share. Two European states will lose their seats on the IMF's board in favor of developing countries.
Meanwhile, China, supported by Russia, India, and even Brazil, continued to lobby hard for the US dollar’s privileged role as the international reserve currency to be replaced by a wide basket of currencies and gold. To this end, the IMF has recently been given additional “emergency” lending facilities. These could be used in a coming sovereign default crisis to 'bail out' Western countries, at which point they would be unable to resist global economic governance under the guise of the reformed IMF.
In short, Secretary Geithner’s “victory” at the G-20 was one only King Pyrrhus could love.
But the blame cannot be laid entirely with Mr. Geithner. The fact that he left the meeting at least saving a bit of face for his delegation is a monumental achievement, considering the dismal condition of the US economy.
Fed Chairman Bernanke appears desperate to flood the United States with another round of quantitative easing (QE-2). In a $13 trillion economy, a release of anything less than $1 trillion would not be seen as effective. Remember, the Fed already injected over $1 trillion after the credit crunch – and we are still in recession. How much will it take to right this listing ship?
When Geithner pledged to China a “gradual” debasement of the dollar, it is astonishing that they didn’t laugh him out of the room.
If he were to make good on his pledge and convince Bernanke to cut QE-2 to, say, $500 billion, the US GDP and stock markets would almost certainly begin to contract. This would threaten the banking system with a second crisis borne out of the ashes, or toxic assets, of the first.
For a frame of reference, the US home mortgage market is valued at some $10.6 trillion. Indeed, foreclosures and past-due loans amount already to some 14 percent of the market, or about $1.5 trillion. Of this staggering figure, the loans delinquent or in foreclosure to which the top three banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan) are exposed amount to more than $600 billion, an amount roughly equal to the original TARP bailout fund.
At the same time, thanks to falsely low interest rates, the banks' net interest margins, or the difference between what they earn in loan interest and what they pay to their creditors, are being squeezed severely, while their non-interest earnings are falling, due to lower economic activity and the prohibitions contained in FinReg.
Finally, there is the murky question of how exposed the banks are to the massive derivatives market, a house of cards with a shaky foundation.
As we have described for several years, the US economy is virtually locked into a long arc of decline. There are no politically palatable solutions to this quandary. Until Americans are ready to take their lumps and accept a steep drop in their standard of living, the US government will have no leverage with the creditor nations and no ability to keep its promises. Therefore, we should celebrate when China even gives our Treasury Secretary an audience.
If China does manage to topple the US dollar from its perch as the international reserve currency, our economy will very likely move into free fall as decades of inflation come pouring back into the country. We will be forced to live within our means or face hyperinflation. Losing a few votes at the IMF is a small cost to delay this eventuality, but it also puts us one step closer to it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Its all the banks fault
on: October 31, 2010, 10:23:55 AM
I will ask a savvy friend of mine for his comments on this:
IN Congressional hearings last week, Obama administration officials acknowledged that uncertainty over foreclosures could delay the recovery of the housing market. The implications for the economy are serious. For instance, the International Monetary Fund found that the persistently high unemployment in the United States is largely the result of foreclosures and underwater mortgages, rather than widely cited causes like mismatches between job requirements and worker skills.
This chapter of the financial crisis is a self-inflicted wound. The major banks and their agents have for years taken shortcuts with their mortgage securitization documents — and not due to a momentary lack of attention, but as part of a systematic approach to save money and increase profits. The result can be seen in the stream of reports of colossal foreclosure mistakes: multiple banks foreclosing on the same borrower; banks trying to seize the homes of people who never had a mortgage or who had already entered into a refinancing program.
Banks are claiming that these are just accidents. But suppose that while absent-mindedly paying a bill, you wrote a check from a bank account that you had already closed. No one would have much sympathy with excuses that you were in a hurry and didn’t mean to do it, and it really was just a technicality.
The most visible symptoms of cutting corners have come up in the foreclosure process, but the roots lie much deeper. As has been widely documented in recent weeks, to speed up foreclosures, some banks hired low-level workers, including hair stylists and teenagers, to sign or simply stamp documents like affidavits — a job known as being a “robo-signer.”
Such documents were improper, since the person signing an affidavit is attesting that he has personal knowledge of the matters at issue, which was clearly impossible for people simply stamping hundreds of documents a day. As a result, several major financial firms froze foreclosures in many states, and attorneys general in all 50 states started an investigation.
However, the problems in the mortgage securitization market run much wider and deeper than robo-signing, and started much earlier than the foreclosure process.
When mortgage securitization took off in the 1980s, the contracts to govern these transactions were written carefully to satisfy not just well-settled, state-based real estate law, but other state and federal considerations. These included each state’s Uniform Commercial Code, which governed “secured” transactions that involve property with loans against them, and state trust law, since the packaged loans are put into a trust to protect investors. On the federal side, these deals needed to satisfy securities agencies and the Internal Revenue Service.
This process worked well enough until roughly 2004, when the volume of transactions exploded. Fee-hungry bankers broke the origination end of the machine. One problem is well known: many lenders ceased to be concerned about the quality of the loans they were creating, since if they turned bad, someone else (the investors in the securities) would suffer.
A second, potentially more significant, failure lay in how the rush to speed up the securitization process trampled traditional property rights protections for mortgages.
The procedures stipulated for these securitizations are labor-intensive. Each loan has to be signed over several times, first by the originator, then by typically at least two other parties, before it gets to the trust, “endorsed” the same way you might endorse a check to another party. In general, this process has to be completed within 90 days after a trust is closed.
Evidence is mounting that these requirements were widely ignored. Judges are noticing: more are finding that banks cannot prove that they have the standing to foreclose on the properties that were bundled into securities. If this were a mere procedural problem, the banks could foreclose once they marshaled their evidence. But banks who are challenged in many cases do not resume these foreclosures, indicating that their lapses go well beyond minor paperwork.
Increasingly, homeowners being foreclosed on are correctly demanding that servicers prove that the trust that is trying to foreclose actually has the right to do so. Problems with the mishandling of the loans have been compounded by the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, an electronic lien-registry service that was set up by the banks. While a standardized, centralized database was a good idea in theory, MERS has been widely accused of sloppy practices and is increasingly facing legal challenges.
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As a result, investors are becoming concerned that the value of their securities will suffer if it becomes difficult and costly to foreclose; this uncertainty in turn puts a cloud over the value of mortgage-backed securities, which are the biggest asset class in the world.
Other serious abuses are coming to light. Consider a company called Lender Processing Services, which acts as a middleman for mortgage servicers and says it oversees more than half the foreclosures in the United States. To assist foreclosure law firms in its network, a subsidiary of the company offered a menu of services it provided for a fee.
The list showed prices for “creating” — that is, conjuring from thin air — various documents that the trust owning the loan should already have on hand. The firm even offered to create a “collateral file,” which contained all the documents needed to establish ownership of a particular real estate loan. Equipped with a collateral file, you could likely persuade a court that you were entitled to foreclose on a house even if you had never owned the loan.
That there was even a market for such fabricated documents among the law firms involved in foreclosures shows just how hard it is going to be to fix the problems caused by the lapses of the mortgage boom. No one would resort to such dubious behavior if there were an easier remedy.
The banks and other players in the securitization industry now seem to be looking to Congress to snap its fingers to make the whole problem go away, preferably with a law that relieves them of liability for their bad behavior. But any such legislative fiat would bulldoze regions of state laws on real estate and trusts, not to mention the Uniform Commercial Code. A challenge on constitutional grounds would be inevitable.
Asking for Congress’s help would also require the banks to tacitly admit that they routinely broke their own contracts and made misrepresentations to investors in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Would Congress dare shield them from well-deserved litigation when the banks themselves use every minor customer deviation from incomprehensible contracts as an excuse to charge a fee?
There are alternatives. One measure that both homeowners and investors in mortgage-backed securities would probably support is a process for major principal modifications for viable borrowers; that is, to forgive a portion of their debt and lower their monthly payments. This could come about through either coordinated state action or a state-federal effort.
The large banks, no doubt, would resist; they would be forced to write down the mortgage exposures they carry on their books, which some banking experts contend would force them back into the Troubled Asset Relief Program. However, allowing significant principal modifications would stem the flood of foreclosures and reduce uncertainty about the housing market and mortgage securities, giving the authorities time to devise approaches to the messy problems of clouded titles and faulty loan conveyance.
The people who so carefully designed the mortgage securitization process unwittingly devised a costly trap for people who ran roughshod over their handiwork. The trap has closed — and unless the mortgage finance industry agrees to a sensible way out of it, the entire economy will be the victim.
Yves Smith is the author of the blog Naked Capitalism and “Econned: How Unenlightened Self-Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Friedman
on: October 31, 2010, 10:13:48 AM
Thomas Friedman is often an intellectual legend in his own mind, and frequently in over his head, but as the saying goes about blind pigs , , ,
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman
This week’s award for not knowing what world you’re living in surely goes to the French high school and college students who blockaded their campuses, and snarled rail traffic, in a nationwide strike against the French government’s decision to raise its pension retirement age from 60 to 62. If those students understood the hypercompetitive and economically integrated world they were living in today, they would have taken to the streets to demand smaller classes, better teaching, more opportunities for entrepreneurship and more foreign private investment in France — so they could have the sorts of good private sector jobs that would enable them to finance retirement at age 62. France already discovered that a 35-hour workweek was impossible in a world where Indian engineers were trying to work a 35-hour day — and so, too, are pension levels not sustained by a vibrant private sector.
What is most striking to me being in India this week, though, is how many Indians, young and old, expressed their concerns that America also seems at times to be running away from the world it invented and that India is adopting.
With President Obama scheduled to come here next week, at a time when more than a few U.S. politicians are loudly denouncing immigration reforms, free trade expansion and outsourcing, more than a few Indian business leaders want to ask the president: “What’s up with that?” Didn’t America export to the world all the technologies and free market dogmas that created this increasingly flat, global economic playing field — and now you’re turning against them?
“It is the Silicon Valley revolution which enabled the massive rise in tradable services and the U.S.-built telecommunication networks that allowed creation of the virtual office,” Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal Online, wrote in the Indian magazine Businessworld this week. “But the U.S. seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned. The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity.” Ouch.
Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India, explained that for the first 40 years of Indian independence, entrepreneurs here were looked down upon. India had lost confidence in its ability to compete, so it opted for protectionism. But when the ’90s rolled around, and India’s government was almost bankrupt, India’s technology industry was able to get the government to open up the economy, in part by citing the example of America and Silicon Valley. India has flourished ever since.
“America,” said Srivastava, “was the one who said to us: ‘You have to go for meritocracy. You don’t have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.’ This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they’re beginning to learn how to hum it, you’re changing the anthem. ... Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn’t fashionable.”
If America turns away from these values, he added, the socialist/protectionists among India’s bureaucrats will use it to slow down any further opening of the Indian markets to U.S. exporters.
It looks, said Srivastava, as if “what is happening in America is a loss of self-confidence. We don’t want America to lose self-confidence. Who else is there to take over America’s moral leadership? American’s leadership was never because you had more arms. It was because of ideas, imagination, and meritocracy.” If America turns away from its core values, he added, “there is nobody else to take that leadership. Do we want China as the world’s moral leader? No. We desperately want America to succeed.”
This isn’t just so American values triumph. With a rising China on one side and a crumbling Pakistan on the other, India’s newfound friendship with America has taken on strategic importance. “It is very worrying to live in a world that no longer has the balance of power we’ve had for 60 years,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “That is why everyone is concerned about America.”
India and America are both democracies, a top Indian official explained to me, but emotionally they are now ships passing in the night. Because today the poorest Indian maid believes that if she can just save a few dollars to get her kid English lessons, that kid will have a better life than she does. So she is an optimist. “But the guy in Kansas,” he added, “who today is enjoying a better life than that maid, is worried that he can’t pass it on to his kids. So he’s a pessimist.”
Yes, when America lapses into a bad mood, everyone notices. After asking for an explanation of the Tea Party’s politics, Gupta remarked: “We have moved away from a politics of grievance to a politics of aspiration. Where is the American dream? Where is the optimism?”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rich: GOP plot against Tea Party
on: October 31, 2010, 10:06:43 AM
Frank Rich of Pravda on the Hudson is the epitome of a chattering class progressive. Nonetheless this piece is worth the reading:
ONE dirty little secret of the 2010 election is that it won’t be a political tragedy for Democrats if a Tea Party icon like Sharron Angle or Joe Miller ends up in the United States Senate. Angle, now synonymous with racist ads sliming Hispanics, and Miller, already on record threatening a government shutdown, are fired up and ready to go as symbols of G.O.P. extremism for 2012 and beyond.
Damon Winter/The New York Times
What’s not so secret is that some Republicans will be just as happy if some of these characters lose, and for the same reason.
But whatever Tuesday’s results, this much is certain: The Tea Party’s hopes for actually affecting change in Washington will start being dashed the morning after. The ordinary Americans in this movement lack the numbers and financial clout to muscle their way into the back rooms of Republican power no matter how well their candidates perform.
Trent Lott, the former Senate leader and current top-dog lobbyist, gave away the game in July. “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” he said, referring to the South Carolina senator who is the Tea Party’s Capitol Hill patron saint. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.” It’s the players who wrote the checks for the G.O.P. surge, not those earnest folk in tri-corner hats, who plan to run the table in the next corporate takeover of Washington. Though Tom DeLay may now be on trial for corruption in Texas, the spirit of his K Street lives on in a Lott client list that includes Northrop Grumman and Goldman Sachs.
Karl Rove outed the Republican elites’ contempt for Tea Partiers in the campaign’s final stretch. Much as Barack Obama thought he was safe soliloquizing about angry white Middle Americans clinging to “guns or religion” at a San Francisco fund-raiser in 2008, so Rove now parades his disdain for the same constituency when speaking to the European press. This month he told Der Spiegel that Tea Partiers are “not sophisticated,” and then scoffed, “It’s not like these people have read the economist Friedrich August von Hayek.” Given that Glenn Beck has made a cause of putting Hayek’s dense 1944 antigovernment treatise “The Road to Serfdom” on the best-seller list and Tea Partiers widely claim to have read it, Rove could hardly have been more condescending to “these people.” Last week, for added insult, he mocked Sarah Palin’s imminent Discovery Channel reality show to London’s Daily Telegraph.
This animus has not gone unnoticed among those supposedly less sophisticated conservatives back home. Mike Huckabee, still steamed about Rove’s previous put-down of Christine O’Donnell, publicly lamented the Republican establishment’s “elitism” and “country club attitude.” This country club elite, he said, is happy for Tea Partiers to put up signs, work the phones and make “those pesky little trips” door-to-door that it finds a frightful inconvenience. But the members won’t let the hoi polloi dine with them in the club’s “main dining room” — any more than David H. Koch, the billionaire sugar daddy of the Republican right, will invite O’Donnell into his box at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center to take in “The Nutcracker.”
The main dining room remains reserved for Koch’s fellow oil barons, Lott’s clients, the corporate contributors (known and anonymous) to groups like Rove’s American Crossroads, and, of course, the large coterie of special interests underwriting John Boehner, the presumptive next speaker of the House. Boehner is the largest House recipient of Wall Street money this year — much of it from financial institutions bailed out by TARP.
His Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, will be certain to stop any Tea Party hillbillies from disrupting his chapter of the club (as he tried to stop Rand Paul in his own state’s G.O.P. primary). McConnell’s pets in his chamber’s freshman G.O.P. class will instead be old-school conservatives like Dan Coats (of Indiana), Rob Portman (of Ohio) and, if he squeaks in, Pat Toomey (of Pennsylvania). The first two are former lobbyists; Toomey ran the corporate interest group, the Club for Growth. They can be counted on to execute an efficient distribution of corporate favors and pork after they make their latest swing through Capitol Hill’s revolving door.
What the Tea Party ostensibly wants most — less government spending and smaller federal deficits — is not remotely happening on the country club G.O.P.’s watch. The elites have no serious plans to cut anything except taxes and regulation of their favored industries. The party’s principal 2010 campaign document, its “Pledge to America,” doesn’t vow to cut even earmarks — which barely amount to a rounding error in the federal budget anyway. Boehner has also proposed a return to pre-crash 2008 levels in “nonsecurity” discretionary spending — another mere bagatelle ($105 billion) next to the current $1.3 trillion deficit. And that won’t be happening either, once the actual cuts in departments like Education, Transportation and Interior are specified to their constituencies.
Perhaps the campaign’s most telling exchange took place on Fox News two weeks ago, when the Tea Party-embracing Senate candidate in California, Carly Fiorina, was asked seven times by Chris Wallace to name “one single entitlement expenditure you’re willing to cut” in order “to extend all the Bush tax cuts, which would add 4 trillion to the deficit.” She never did. At least Angle and Paul have been honest about what they’d slash if in power — respectively Social Security and defense, where the big government spending actually resides.
That’s not happening either. McConnell has explained his only real priority for the new Congress with admirable candor. “The single most important thing we want to achieve,” he said, “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Any assault on Social Security would defeat that goal, and a serious shake-up of the Pentagon budget would alienate the neoconservative ideologues and military contractors who are far more important to the G.O.P. establishment than the “don’t tread on me” crowd.
For sure, the Republican elites found the Tea Party invaluable on the way to this Election Day. And not merely, as Huckabee has it, because they wanted its foot soldiers. What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday.
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal have been arduous in promoting and inflating Tea Party events and celebrities to this propagandistic end. The more the Tea Party looks as if it’s calling the shots in the G.O.P., the easier it is to distract attention from those who are actually calling them — namely, those who’ve cashed in and cashed out as ordinary Americans lost their jobs, homes and 401(k)’s. Typical of this smokescreen is a new book titled “Mad as Hell,” published this fall by a Murdoch imprint. In it, the pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen make the case, as they recently put it in Politico, that the Tea Party is “the most powerful and potent force in America.”
They are expert at producing poll numbers to bear that out. By counting those with friends and family in the movement, Rasmussen has calculated that 29 percent of Americans are “tied to” the Tea Party. (If you factor in six degrees of Kevin Bacon, the number would surely double.) But cooler empirical data reveal the truth known by the G.O.P. establishment: An August CNN poll found that 2 percent of Americans consider themselves active members of the Tea Party.
That result was confirmed last weekend by The Washington Post, which published the fruits of its months-long effort to contact every Tea Party group in the country. To this end, it enlisted the help of Tea Party Patriots, the only Tea Party umbrella group that actually can claim to be a spontaneous, bottom-up, grass roots organization rather than a front for the same old fat cats of the Republican right, from the Koch brothers to Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. Tea Party Patriots has claimed anywhere from 2,300 to nearly 3,000 local affiliates, but even with its assistance, The Post could verify a total of only 647 Tea Party groups nationwide. Most had fewer than 50 members. The median amount of money each group had raised in 2010 was $800, nowhere near the entry fee for the country club.
But those Americans, like all the others on the short end of the 2008 crash, have reason to be mad as hell. And their numbers will surely grow once the Republican establishment’s panacea of tax cuts proves as ineffectual at creating jobs, saving homes and cutting deficits as the half-measures of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress. The tempest, however, will not be contained within the tiny Tea Party but will instead overrun the Republican Party itself, where Palin, with Murdoch and Beck at her back, waits in the wings to “take back America” not just from Obama but from the G.O.P. country club elites now mocking her. By then — after another two years of political gridlock and economic sclerosis — the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Nudge
on: October 31, 2010, 09:59:07 AM
Over the past few days, thousands of Democratic-leaning voters nationwide — including the young people, minorities and unmarried women who were a crucial part of Barack Obama’s 2008 coalition and whom the party is desperate to rouse again on Tuesday — received a message in their mailboxes that effectively said: we’re keeping an eye on you. The mailers are the handiwork of Hal Malchow, a political consultant who is acting on a theory that first intrigued him four years ago. Before the 2006 Michigan gubernatorial primary, three political scientists isolated a group of voters and mailed them copies of their voting histories, listing the elections in which they participated and those they missed. Included were their neighbors’ voting histories, too, along with a warning: after the polls closed, everyone would get an updated set.
After the primary, the academics examined the voter rolls and were startled by the potency of peer pressure as a motivational tool. The mailer was 10 times better at turning nonvoters into voters than the typical piece of pre-election mail whose effectiveness has ever been measured. Malchow, a 58-year-old former Mississippi securities lawyer who managed Al Gore’s first Senate campaign and went on to start a direct-mail firm, read the academics’ study and wanted to put the device to work. But he had trouble persuading his firm’s clients — which over the years have included the Democratic National Committee and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. — to incorporate such a tactic into their get-out-the-vote programs. All feared a backlash from citizens who might regard the mailer as a threat from someone seeking their vote.
Then, as New Jersey prepared to elect its governor last fall, Malchow experimented with less ominous language, an idea he adopted from the Fordham political scientist Costas Panagopoulos. He removed all mention of neighbors and offered instead an expression of gratitude for having voted in the past — while still making it clear that recipients’ voting habits would continue to be monitored. “We hope to be able to thank you in the future for being the kind of citizen who makes our democracy work,” read the letter to more than 11,000 New Jerseyites.
Malchow found that the softer tone, while less effective than the original mailer,increased turnout among recipients by 2.5 percentage points. The D.N.C. ran a similar experiment during the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District this spring, with a letter from Senator Bob Casey telling voters that “our records indicate that you voted in the 2008 election” and thanking them for their “good citizenship.” By employing the device on a larger scale, for dozens of candidates and independent groups this fall, Malchow aims to deliver votesthat would otherwise be lost to Democrats.
An increasingly influential cadre of Democratic strategists is finding new ideas in the same place Malchow did: behavioral-science experiments that treat campaigns as their laboratories and voters as unwitting guinea pigs. The growing use of experimental methods — Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, calls them “prescription drug trials for democracy” — is convulsing a profession where hunches and instinct have long ruled. Already, experimental findings have upended a lot of folk wisdom about how votes are won. The most effective direct mail might not be the most eye-catching in the mailbox but the least conspicuous. It is better to have an anonymous, chatty volunteer remind voters it’s Election Day than a recorded message from Bill Clinton or Jay-Z. The most winnable voters may be soft supporters of the opposition, not the voters who polls say are undecided. (“Undecided” may just be another word for “unlikely to vote.”)
Most of the activity on the left revolves around the Analyst Institute, a firm quietly founded in 2007 by A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials and liberal allies, whichseeks to establish a set of empirically proven “best practices” for interacting with voters. The group’s executive director, a behavioral scientist named Todd Rogers, has managed dozens of experiments around the country this year. Their lessons have shaped how Democrats are approaching and cajoling the voters they think are on their side but who haven’t yet shown that they will act on their beliefs on Election Day.
Nearly all of the Analyst Institute’s research is private, shared only among the participating groups. The institute’s Web site is almost comically empty, and the group’s name — two abstract nouns, cryptically conjoined — evokes a C.I.A. front. There seem to be two types of political operatives in Washington: those who think Rogers is a genius transforming their field and those who have never heard of him.
The experimental movement in politics began a decade ago, when the Yale political scientists Alan Gerber and Donald Green conducted a study testing the relative effectiveness of basic political tools. As the 1998 elections approached, Gerber and Green partnered with the League of Women Voters to split 30,000 New Haven voters into four groups. Some received an oversize postcard encouraging them to vote, others the same message via a phone call or in-person visit. One control group received no contact whatsoever. After the election, Gerber and Green examined Connecticut records to see who actually voted. The in-person canvass yielded turnout 9.8 percent higher than for voters who were not contacted. Each piece of mail led to a turnout increase of only 0.6 percent. Telephone calls, Gerber and Green concluded, had no effect at all.
The findings were published in 2000 and quickly circulated among campaign operatives, who saw academics assailing many of their business models. A turf battle began within the political-consulting community: direct-mail vendors happily cited the Gerber-Green findings to argue candidates would waste money on phone calls.
Hal Malchow — who had previously approached the Democratic National Committee to propose using experimental controls to measure mail to voters but was repeatedly rebuffed — thought the Gerber-Green study was “the most important event in politics for a long time,” he says. “Eighty percent of what we’ve done in the past doesn’t work.” As the mail vendor for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Malchow found a natural partner for his ideas in Mike Podhorzer, the organization’s deputy political director. Podhorzer saw Gerber and Green, who see themselves as researchers and not partisan advocates, as kindred spirits in a worldwide battle for knowledge between two camps he thought of as “gurus” versus “data.” As he says, “Until you get into a more rigorous approach, you are essentially left with what we had, which is that everything you did in a winning campaign was a good idea and everything that you did in a losing campaign was a bad idea.”
Podhorzer and Malchow began trying to adapt the Gerber-Green methods to the particular challenges faced by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which regularly runs one of the largest independent campaign operations, almost always on behalf of Democrats. “Finding out the day after the election that Treatment A was the best is of limited value to an organization like ours,” Podhorzer says. “We’re actually trying to win the election.”
During the 2004 campaign, Podhorzer wanted to gauge voter reactions to his organization’s election messages in near-real time. A good poll shows how the electorate has moved over time, but it cannot isolate the effect of any individual appeal — and certainly not that of a single mailed leaflet, one of labor’s favorite tools for reaching member households. Focus groups offer a rich impression of how certain voters respond to that leaflet, but only the instant reaction of someone being paid $100 to have one. A focus group cannot say anything about whether a typical voter will even notice the brochure if it shows up in the mail wedged between a birthday card and a water bill.
Experiments provided a solution. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. planned to mail members monthly in 2004, and Podhorzer set out to design a “continuous feedback loop” testing different messages with small samples and then sending the most influential ones to a much larger target audience. As he examined the results, Podhorzer became even more frustrated with conventional polling. Asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who favored shipping jobs overseas — a typical way of auditioning a promising line — voters across the board would tell pollsters that it made them “less likely.” But a draft leaflet about Bush’s policies had little impact on autoworkers who received it; they already knew what the union wanted them to think about the subject. Construction workers, however, didn’t know as much, and their minds changed. Experiments allowed Podhorzer to see which voters actually moved, not just count those who said they might.
Democrats have not been alone in experimenting with data-driven politics. As Dave Carney, once George H. W. Bush’s White House political director, prepared to guide the 2006 re-election campaign of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, he invited Gerber and Green to conduct their experiments from within the campaign’s war room. Perry had spent more than $25 million to win a full term in 2002, much of it on broadcast advertising, and Carney thought a rigorous experimental regime could help “assure donors that we’re using their money as best as possible — spend it different, spend less of it.” Gerber and Green asked two political scientists who had informally advised George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, James Gimpel and Daron Shaw, to collaborate on the project. Carney invited the quartet he called “our four eggheads” to impose experimental controls on nearly every aspect of campaign operations.
Perry won easy re-election in 2006, and their findings profoundly altered his 2010 tactics. Perry’s primary campaign this year sent out no direct voter-contact mail, made no paid phone calls, printed no lawn signs, visited no editorial boards and purchased no newspaper ads. His broadcast advertising strategy was informed by a 2006 experiment that isolated 18 TV media markets and 80 radio stations and randomly assigned each a different start date and volume for ad buys from a $2 million budget earmarked for the experiment. Public-opinion changes from the ads were then monitored with tracking polls. Carney estimates that the research saved Perry $3 million in this year’s primary campaign, and he still beat Kay Bailey Hutchison by 20 points. On Tuesday, the value of Perry’s unusually empirical approach to electioneering will be tested again, this time in a tough race against the Democratic nominee, Bill White, the former mayor of Houston.
After Bush’s 2004 re-election, Podhorzer invited other scientific-minded progressive operatives to A.F.L.-C.I.O. headquarters to share their research.Very few members would be recognizable to cable-news viewers; the group almost entirely bypassed the brand-name consultants whom campaigns like to unveil in press releases. “It’s not the big names on the door,” says Maren Hesla, who directed Emily’s List’s Women Vote! campaign. “It’s all the — God love them — geeky guys who don’t talk to clients but do the work and write the programs.”
The unofficial society called itself the Analyst Group, and it grew by word of mouth. By the time Democrats reclaimed Congress in 2006, as many as 60 people showed up for the regular lunches. In 2007, Podhorzer and his Analyst Group circle established the Analyst Institute, designed to operate with a scholarly sensibility but with the privacy of a for-profit consulting firm. Podhorzer became chairman and looked for an executive director. Gerber suggested Todd Rogers, on whose dissertation committee he had served.
Rogers, who had just turned 30, was a former college-lacrosse player from the Philadelphia suburbs who earned a joint degree in organizational behavior and psychology in connection with Harvard Business School after performing studies that examined the way individuals managed their queues on services like Netflix. Rogers argued that this type of research — on how time delays alter preferences — could help policy makers shape policy design on issues like carbon taxes, which involve balancing your ideal preferences (watching documentaries, having a smaller carbon footprint) with your actual choices (watching action movies, buying an S.U.V.).
Shortly before Pennsylvania’s April 2008 presidential primary, Rogers scripted a phone call that went out to 19,411 Democratic households in the state. The disembodied call-center voice said it had three questions. Around what time do you expect you will head to the polls on Tuesday? Where do you expect you will be coming from when you head to the polls on Tuesday? What do you think you will be doing before you head out to the polls?
Rogers did not care what voters’ answers were to the questions, only whether they had any. He was testing a psychological concept known as “implementation intentions,” which suggests that people are more likely to perform an action if they have already visualized doing it. The subject was on a long list of psychology concepts that Rogers took to Washington. Many had been demonstrated only in situations outside politics or examined by psychologists only in laboratory settings. Enamored of the psychologist Robert Cialdini and the behavioral economist Richard Thaler, Rogers thought their research methods could be applied to elections. And Rogers saw the advantages of doing academic-style work outside the academy: he faced no financing restrictions or the need to navigate a university’s human-subjects review board.
This June, two years after the Pennsylvania experiment, Rogers traveled to Pittsburgh to pre–sent the findings at a Carnegie Mellon behavioral-science conference. Before a room of professors and graduate students, Rogers explained that asking people about their voting plans increased turnout by 4 percentage points. A closer look, however, showed the effects were unevenly distributed. The self-predictive phone calls had little impact on multiple-voter households. But for those living alone, the effect was tremendous: turnout jumped by nearly 10 percentage points. The reason, Rogers surmised, was that making plans is a collaborative activity; spouses and roommates already talk through issues like child care as a condition of voting. For those who live alone, rehearsing their Election Day routine with a stranger helped them make a plan.
Once done, Rogers took a seat next to Richard Thaler, who draped a paternal arm across his back. In 2006, Thaler welcomed Rogers into the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, a secretive group that helped Democrats apply academic research to policy making and advised party leaders, including Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, on election-year tactics. Two years later, Thaler — a University of Chicago colleague of Obama’s — helped to bring many consortium members together, including Rogers, to informally advise Obama’s presidential campaign.
By that fall, Rogers’s implementation-intention device had become a standard campaign tool for many left-leaning groups, along with scripts declaring things like “turnout is going to be high today.” Rogers’s experiments have shown that voters respond better to everyone-is-doing-it messages emphasizing high turnout than don’t-be-part-of-the-problem appeals describing how few Americans vote.
Rogers spends a lot of time trying to convince activists that the central premise of randomized experiments — deciding not to contact a control group of voters — will not torpedo their short-term priority of winning elections. Meanwhile, a new Democratic establishment has brought the data-driven crowd in from the outside. Since Obama’s election, operatives with Analyst Group ties have moved into key party jobs and now attend meetings as representatives of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
While political experiments have proved successful at isolating what gets people to vote, they have been less useful at finding out how voters decide among candidates. Partly for that reason, while the Analyst Institute’s findings and sensibility inform how permanent institutions like unions operate, they have yet to transform candidate’s campaigns, where most money is spent in the least targetable way possible: on broadcast TV time. Rogers has been designing experiments to assess Internet advertising, whose effectiveness has been traditionally gauged by click-throughs and sign-ups that do little to measure the ads’ impact on more-passive viewers. For a study Rogers oversaw during Minnesota’s 2008 Senate campaign, an independent group bought Yahoo! banner ads introducing an issue invisible from the campaign dialogue elsewhere: an obscure vote by the Republican Norm Coleman against financing a rural antidrug program. Through polling, Rogers discovered that those who saw the ads were more likely than others to believe that Coleman could have done “more to stop meth use.”
But experimental politicking is not always so provocative. Indeed, groups following Analyst Institute findings often end up abandoning their flashiest tools for more staid ones. The America Votes coalition has dropped get-out-the-vote robocalls. Rock the Vote has found e-mail and text messages arriving from unexciting senders like “Election Center” often do better than those with livelier “from” lines. Malchow has discovered that voters pay less attention to the glossy four-color brochures designed to “cut through” mailbox clutter than they do to spare envelopes evoking a letter from the tax man or a jury-duty summons. “People want information, they don’t want advertising,” Malchow says. “When they see our fingerprints on this stuff, they believe it less.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Two from POTH
on: October 31, 2010, 09:38:54 AM
HANOI, Vietnam — China’s military expansion and assertive trade policies have set off jitters across Asia, prompting many of its neighbors to rekindle old alliances and cultivate new ones to better defend their interests against the rising superpower.
A whirl of deal-making and diplomacy, from Tokyo to New Delhi, is giving the United States an opportunity to reassert itself in a region where its eclipse by China has been viewed as inevitable.
President Obama’s trip to the region this week, his most extensive as president, will take him to the area’s big democracies, India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, skirting authoritarian China. Those countries and other neighbors have taken steps, though with varying degrees of candor, to blunt China’s assertiveness in the region.
Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India are expected to sign a landmark deal for American military transport aircraft and are discussing the possible sale of jet fighters, which would escalate the Pentagon’s defense partnership with India to new heights. Japan and India are courting Southeast Asian nations with trade agreements and talk of a “circle of democracy.” Vietnam has a rapidly warming rapport with its old foe, the United States, in large part because its old friend, China, makes broad territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The deals and alliances are not intended to contain China. But they suggest a palpable shift in the diplomatic landscape, on vivid display as leaders from 18 countries gathered this weekend under the wavelike roof of Hanoi’s futuristic convention center, not far from Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, for a meeting suffused by tensions between China and its neighbors.
China’s escalating feud with Japan over another set of islands, in the East China Sea, stole the meeting’s headlines on Saturday, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed three-way negotiations to resolve the issue.
Most Asian countries, even as they argue that China will inevitably replace the United States as the top regional power, have grown concerned at how quickly that shift is occurring, and what China the superpower may look like.
China’s big trading partners are complaining more loudly that it intervenes too aggressively to keep its currency undervalued. Its recent restrictions on exports of crucial rare earths minerals, first to Japan and then to the United States and Europe, raised the prospect that it may use its dominant positions in some industries as a diplomatic and political weapon.
And its rapid naval expansion, combined with a more strident defense of its claims to disputed territories far off its shores, has persuaded Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore to reaffirm their enthusiasm for the American security umbrella.
“The most common thing that Asian leaders have said to me in my travels over this last 20 months is, ‘Thank you, we’re so glad that you’re playing an active role in Asia again,’ ” Mrs. Clinton said in Hawaii, opening a seven-country tour of Asia that included a last-minute stop in China.
Few of China’s neighbors voice their concerns about the country publicly, but analysts and diplomats say they express wariness about the pace of China’s military expansion and the severity of its trade policies in private.
“Most of these countries have come to us and said, ‘We’re really worried about China,’ ” said Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now at the Brookings Institution.
The Obama administration has been quick to capitalize on China’s missteps. Where officials used to speak of China as the Asian economic giant, they now speak of India and China as twin giants. And they make clear which one they believe has a closer affinity to the United States.
“India and the United States have never mattered more to each other,” Mrs. Clinton said. “As the world’s two largest democracies, we are united by common interests and common values.”
As Mr. Obama prepares to visit India in his first stop on his tour of Asian democracies, Mr. Singh, India’s prime minister, will have just returned from his own grand tour — with both of them somewhat conspicuously, if at least partly coincidentally, circling China.
None of this seems likely to lead to a cold war-style standoff. China is fully integrated into the global economy, and all of its neighbors are eager to deepen their ties with it. China has fought no wars since a border skirmish with Vietnam three decades ago, and it often emphasizes that it has no intention of projecting power through the use of force.
At the same time, fears that China has become more assertive as it has grown richer are having real consequences.
India is promoting itself throughout the region as a counterweight to China; Japan is settling a dispute with the United States over a Marine air base; the Vietnamese are negotiating a deal to obtain civilian nuclear technology from the United States; and the Americans, who had largely ignored the rest of Asia as they waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, see an opportunity to come back in a big way.
In July, for example, Mrs. Clinton reassured Vietnam and the Philippines by announcing that the United States would be willing to help resolve disputes between China and its neighbors over a string of strategically important islands in the South China Sea.
China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, reacted furiously, accusing the United States of plotting against it, according to people briefed on the meeting. Mr. Yang went on to note that China was a big country, staring pointedly at the foreign minister of tiny Singapore. Undaunted, Mrs. Clinton not only repeated the American pledge on the South China Sea in Hanoi on Saturday, but expanded it to include the dispute with Japan. (Marc: This seems to me a significant play by Clinto)
China’s rise as an authoritarian power has also revived a sense that democracies should stick together. K. Subrahmanyam, an influential strategic analyst in India, noted that half the world’s people now live in democracies and that of the world’s six biggest powers, only China has not accepted democracy.
“Today the problem is a rising China that is not democratic and is challenging for the No. 1 position in the world,” he said.
Indeed, how to deal with China seems to be an abiding preoccupation of Asia’s leaders. In Japan, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Mr. Singh discussed China’s booming economy, military expansion and increased territorial assertiveness.
“Prime Minister Kan was keen to understand how India engages China,” India’s foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, told reporters. “Our prime minister said it requires developing trust, close engagement and a lot of patience.”
South Korea was deeply frustrated earlier this year when China blocked an explicit international condemnation of North Korea for sinking a South Korean warship, the Cheonan. South Korea accused North Korea of the attack, but China, a historic ally of the North, was unwilling to hold it responsible.
India has watched nervously as China has started building ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, extending rail lines toward the border of Nepal, and otherwise seeking to expand its footprint in South Asia.
India’s Defense Ministry has sought military contacts with a host of Asian nations while steadily expanding contacts and weapons procurements from the United States. The United States, American officials said, has conducted more exercises in recent years with India than with any other nation.
Mr. Singh’s trip was part of his “Look East” policy, intended to broaden trade with the rest of Asia. He has said it was not related to any frictions with China, but China is concerned. On Thursday, People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, ran an opinion article asking, “Does India’s ‘Look East’ Policy Mean ‘Look to Encircle China’?”
That wary view may well reflect China’s reaction to the whole panoply of developments among its neighbors.
“The Chinese perceived the Hanoi meeting as a gang attack on them,” said Charles Freeman, an expert on Chinese politics and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There’s no question that they have miscalculated their own standing in the region.”
HANOI, Vietnam — With tensions between China and Japan spilling out at an East Asian summit meeting here, the United States is trying to defuse an escalating diplomatic row over their competing claims to a cluster of small islands in the East China Sea.
On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed a three-way meeting with China and Japan to resolve the dispute, which has raged since last month when Japan detained the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel that struck two Japanese patrol boats near the islands.
“We have certainly encouraged both Japan and China to seek peaceful resolution of any disagreements that they have,” Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference after the summit meeting ended. “It is in all of our interest for China and Japan to have stable, peaceful relations.”
In private conversations with Chinese and Japanese diplomats, Mrs. Clinton “made very clear to both sides that we want the temperature to go down on these issues,” a senior official said. American officials said they were troubled by what one called a sudden, drastic increase in tensions.
As the United States, Russia and 16 Asian nations gathered in Hanoi to discuss regional cooperation, China’s aggressive maritime and territorial claims were sowing unease with several of its neighbors.
When Japan last week reasserted its sovereignty over the islands — which it calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu — a senior Chinese official accused it of ruining the atmosphere of the summit meeting.
The United States, which had been mostly a bystander in such disputes, has taken a more active role under the Obama administration. Though it has no position on the sovereignty claims, Mrs. Clinton said the United States viewed the islands as protected under the terms of its defense treaty with Japan, which means it will defend them from any foreign attack.
That statement brought a rebuke from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, who said China “will never accept any word or deed that includes the Diaoyu Islands within the scope” of the treaty.
On another issue that has caused friction lately — China’s halting of shipments of strategically important minerals to the United States, Japan and Europe — the Chinese government seemed eager to reassure.
In a meeting with Mrs. Clinton, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi gave “very clear indications” that China would fulfill its contracts and be a “reliable supplier,” according to an American official.
“While we’re pleased by the clarification received from the Chinese government,” Mrs. Clinton said, “we still think the world as a whole needs to find alternatives” to China as a supplier of the minerals, known as rare earth metals.
China began curtailing shipments to the United States and Europe of these minerals, which are used to make products like cellphones and wind turbines, after the dispute with Japan and a trade investigation by the Obama administration. Then last week, without explanation, Chinese officials said the shipments would resume.
Japan, which released the Chinese captain under heavy pressure from Beijing, had proposed a meeting with Chinese leaders in Hanoi to clear the air. But hopes for that were dashed when Japan’s foreign minister, Seiji Maehara, asserted Japan’s control over the islands last week.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China refused to meet one-on-one with Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan, though Mr. Yang said China would consider Mrs. Clinton’s proposed trilateral meeting.
In her formal remarks to the Asian leaders, Mrs. Clinton reiterated that the United States stood ready to help resolve another territorial dispute: one that pits China against Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries over a string of strategically significant islands in the South China Sea.
“The United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce,” she said. “And when disputes arise over maritime territory, we are committed to resolving them peacefully based on customary international law.”
The administration’s position angers China, which has also sparred with the United States over currency policy and trade. Chinese officials have expressed concern that all the friction could get in the way of a visit to the United States early next year by President Hu Jintao.
At Beijing’s request, Mrs. Clinton added a last-minute China stop to her itinerary, meeting the state councilor for foreign affairs, Dai Bingguo, on Saturday on Hainan Island, east of Vietnam. She pressed Mr. Dai to use Beijing’s influence on North Korea to discourage it from “provocative” acts before the Group of 20 leaders’ meeting in Seoul next month.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Saudi Arabia comes through
on: October 31, 2010, 09:23:11 AM
Very interesting piece here from POTH.
I would like to mention that one of the reasons proffered for the Iraq War was to put an end to the dynamic where our troops were in SA to defend it from Saddam Hussein (which was THE proximate cause for the formation of AQ) and the Saudis would play both ends against the middle by buying off AQ to go after us instead of the House of Saud. This line of thinking said that once our troops were out of SA, as they now essentially are, that the Saudis would be in a position where it would be in their self-interest to get tough with AQ. This appears to have been the case; the news in the following piece is one of a line of such Saudi assists.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — As new facts emerge about the terrorist plot to send explosives from Yemen to the United States by courier, one remarkable strand has stood out: the plot would likely not have been discovered if not for a tip by Saudi intelligence officials.
U.S. Sees Complexity of Bombs as Link to Qaeda Group (October 31, 2010) For many in the West, Saudi Arabia remains better known as a source of terrorism than as a partner in defeating it. It is the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Yet Western intelligence officials say the Saudis’ own experience with jihadists has helped them develop powerful surveillance tools and a broad network of informers that has become increasingly important in the global battle against terrorism.
This month, Saudi intelligence warned of a possible terrorist attack in France by Al Qaeda’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudis have brought similar intelligence reports about imminent threats to at least two other European countries in the past few years, and have played an important role in identifying terrorists in Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Kuwait, according to Saudi and Western intelligence officials.
“This latest role is one in a series of Saudi intelligence contributions,” said Thomas Hegghammer, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. “They can be helpful because so much is going on in their backyard, and because they have a limitless budget to develop their abilities.”
The Saudis have stepped up their intelligence-gathering efforts in Yemen since last year, when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula came close to assassinating Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who runs the Saudi counterterrorism program. A suicide bomber posing as a reformed jihadist detonated a bomb hidden inside his body, cutting himself to shreds but only lightly injuring the prince.
The Qaeda group’s main goal is to topple the Saudi monarchy, which they consider illegitimate and a slave to the West.
Prince bin Nayef, whose tip to the United States led to the discovery of the two bombs on Thursday, is held in high esteem by Western intelligence agencies, and works closely with them. He appears to be building a network of informers across Yemen, and some terrorism analysts say they believe the tip may well have come from one of his spies, possibly even from inside Al Qaeda.
“The Saudis have really stepped up their efforts in Yemen, and I’m under the impression that they’ve infiltrated Al Qaeda, so that they can warn the Americans, the French, the British and others about plots before they happen,” said Theodore Karasik, an analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
Saudi officials do not comment on delicate intelligence matters. But the Saudi role in a shadowy intelligence war in Yemen’s hinterlands has emerged in accounts from observers in Yemen and from Al Qaeda itself, which has often publicized its struggles to outwit Prince bin Nayef’s informers.
Last year, Al Qaeda’s regional branch killed a Yemeni security official named Bassam Sulayman Tarbush and issued a video of Mr. Tarbush describing the Saudi informer network in Marib Province, a haven for Qaeda members east of Sana, the Yemeni capital. More recently, Al Qaeda released a video detailing its success in misleading Saudi informers during the assassination attempt against Prince bin Nayef.
Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism program differs from its Western counterparts in striking ways. It includes a familiar “hard” element of commando teams that kill terrorists, along with vastly expanded surveillance. The streets of major Saudi cities are continuously watched by cameras, and most Internet traffic goes through a central point that facilitates monitoring.
But the program also has a softer side aimed at re-educating jihadists and weaving them back into Saudi society. The government runs a rehabilitation program for terrorists, including art therapy and efforts to find jobs and wives for the former convicts. The program suffered an embarrassment last year when two of its graduates, who had also been in Guantánamo, fled the country and became leading figures in Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch.
But Saudi officials defend their overall record, noting that the program now has 349 graduates, of whom fewer than 20 have returned to terrorism.
The Saudis’ growing expertise in counterterrorism has been the fruit of painful experience. Between 2003 and 2005, home-grown jihadists waged a brutal campaign of bombings in the kingdom, leaving scores of Saudis and foreigners dead and forcing the nation to wake up to a reality it had long refused to acknowledge. The puritanical strain of Islam fostered by the state, sometimes called Wahhabism, was breeding extremists who were willing to kill even Muslims for their cause.
Saudi officials acknowledge that they still have a long way to go; the powerful religious establishment remains deeply conservative, and public schools continue to teach xenophobic and anti-Semitic material. But public opinion, once relatively supportive of figures like Mr. bin Laden, has shifted decisively since Al Qaeda began killing Muslims on Saudi soil.
And when the Saudi Interior Ministry released its list of the top 85 wanted militants last year, all of them were said to be outside the kingdom, including some in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s problem, in other words, has become the world’s problem.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More on REEs 2
on: October 30, 2010, 11:10:01 AM
POTH so caveat lector
BAOTOU, China — When Japanese mineral traders learned in late September that China was blocking shipments of a vital commodity, the word came not from a government announcement but from dock workers in Shanghai.
In Baotou, a smoggy city in China’s Inner Mongolia, the air this week has an acrid, faintly metallic taste. Half of the global supply of rare earths comes from the hills north of the town. And on Thursday, the traders began hearing that the unannounced embargo of so-called rare earth minerals was ending — again, not from any Chinese government communiqué, but though back-channel word from their distributors.
Throughout the five weeks of the embargo, even when China expanded the rare earth shipping halt to include the United States and Europe, Beijing denied there was a ban. Whatever it was called, a shipping suspension that started amid China’s diplomatic dispute with Japan over a wayward fishing trawler escalated into a broader international trade issue.
The episode alarmed companies around the world that depend on rare earths, minerals that help make a wide range of high-tech products, including smartphones and smart bombs. China currently controls almost all of the world’s supply of rare earths, for which demand is soaring.
To many outsiders, the undeclared embargo looked like a pure power play — a sign China would wield its growing economic might and apply its chokehold on an important industrial resource with little regard for the conventions of international trade. The export quotas China continues to impose on rare earths, even when it does let ships leave the docks, are restricting global supplies and causing world market prices to soar far beyond what Chinese companies pay.
From the Chinese perspective, though, the issue looks very different.
China feels entitled to call the shots because of a brutally simple environmental reckoning: It currently controls most of the globe’s rare earths supply not just because of geologic good fortune, although there is some of that, but because the country has been willing to do dirty, toxic and often radioactive work that the rest of the world has long shunned.
Despite producing 95 percent of the world’s rare earths, China has only 37 percent of the world’s proven reserves. Sizable deposits are known to exist in the United States, Canada, Australia, India and Brazil, among other places.
Many of those countries, responding to the rising demand for rare earths and alarmed by the recent embargo, are now scrambling to develop new mines or renovate ones long considered not to be worth the effort. That includes an abandoned mine in California that the American company Molycorp is trying to refurbish.
But experts say that any meaningful new production from outside China is at least five years away, and that it will come with its own environmental cost calculus.
“China’s rare earth output cannot be raised fast enough to meet the entire world’s needs, as there are environmental factors to be taken into consideration with an increase in rare earth production,” said Zhang Peichen, the deputy director of the government-backed Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earths, the main research group for the Chinese industry.
Across China, rare earth mines have scarred valleys by stripping topsoil and pumping thousands of gallons of acid into streambeds. The environmental costs are palpable here in Baotou, a smoggy mining and steel city in China’s Inner Mongolia, where the air this week had an acrid, faintly metallic taste.
Half of the global supply of rare earths comes from a single iron ore mine in the hills north of Baotou. After the iron is removed, the ore is processed at weather-beaten refineries in Baotou’s western outskirts to extract the rare earths minerals.
The refineries and the iron ore processing mill pump their waste into an artificial lake here. The reservoir, four square miles and surrounded by an earthen embankment four stories high, holds a dark gray, slightly radioactive sludge laced with toxic chemical compounds.
The deadly lake is not far from the Yellow River watershed that supplies drinking water to much of northern China. The reservoir covers an area 100 times the size of the alumina factory waste pond that collapsed this month in Hungary, inundating villages there and killing at least nine people.
Page 2 of 2)
Even before the Hungary disaster, Baotou authorities had begun a program to reinforce the levee here. Huge bulldozers are adding a thick surface layer of crushed stone to the embankments to protect them from the region’s harsh weather.
China Is Said to Resume Shipping Rare Earth Minerals (October 29, 2010)
But the bottom of the reservoir was not properly lined when it was built decades ago, according to a rare earth engineer who insisted on anonymity because of the Chinese government’s sensitivity about the problem. The sludge, he said, has caused a slowly spreading stain of faint but detectable radioactivity in the groundwater that is spreading at a rate of 300 yards a year toward the Yellow River, seven miles to the south.
Much of the radioactivity associated with rare earths comes from the element thorium, which is not a rare earth but is typically found in the same ore. With the exception of unusual clay formations in southern China that contain medium and heavy rare earths with virtually no thorium, every other known commercial-grade rare earth deposit in the world is laced with thorium.
In Australia, engineers and lawyers have been working for three decades to find a safe, legal way to produce rare earths from a very rich deposit in the center of the country at Mount Weld. The mine’s current owner, Lynas Corporation, hopes to begin small-scale production there late next year, although technical challenges remain.
The only American rare earths mine, the Molycorp complex at Mountain Pass, Calif., was at one time the world’s leading producer. That was before it leaked faintly radioactive fluid into the nearby desert in the late 1990s, causing a costly cleanup that contributed to the mine’s closing in 2002. By then, very low Chinese prices had made the mine less economically viable.
Now Molycorp, which raised money in a public stock offering this past summer, is hoping to re-open the mine with higher safety and environmental standards. And it is betting that new technologies can drive its operating costs lower than the level of Chinese mines. Large-scale production, though, may still be several years away.
The mines of southern China are essentially free of thorium and have rare earths that are easily separated from the clay by dumping the ore in acid. But this relatively easy process, and soaring prices on the world market, has led to the development of many illegal mines, which sell to organized crime syndicates that pay for rare earth concentrate with sacks of cash.
Beijing officials have sent out police squads since May to shut down the outlaw mines, arrest their operators and destroy their equipment with blowtorches, rare earth industry officials said.
“The damage that has been done in south China is considerable,” said Judith Chegwidden, a managing director specializing in rare earths at the Roskill Consulting Group in London.
To point out China’s environmental and supply concerns is not to overlook the economic benefits the nation accrues by restricting exports. The global shortage gives foreign companies a reason to move even more of their rare earth-dependent operations to China, to produce key components for a wide range of products.
A Chinese official has acknowledged as much. “To use moderation in the control of the production of rare earth resources and reduce exports to an acceptable level is to attract more Chinese and foreign investors into the region,” Zhao Shuanglian, the vice chairman of Inner Mongolia, said last year, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
Meanwhile, China’s own fast-growing manufacturing industries now consume more rare earths than the rest of the world combined. And Beijing has done nothing to curb that domestic demand.
That apparent double standard could prove important if, as some trade experts have predicted, the United States, Europe and Japan bring a World Trade Organization case accusing China of unfairly restricting exports through a system of quotas and duties.
Alan Wolff, a former American trade official who now heads the international trade practice at the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf in Washington, said China might face a skeptical audience at the W.T.O.
“A panel would sympathize with a genuine environmental objective,” Mr. Wolff said. “But I do not think it would sympathize with cutting off supply disproportionately to foreign users in the name of saving the environment.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: Four year old can be sued
on: October 30, 2010, 11:03:45 AM
Citing cases dating back as far as 1928, a judge has ruled that a young girl accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk two years ago can be sued for negligence.
The ruling by the judge, Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, did not find that the girl was liable, but merely permitted a lawsuit brought against her, another boy and their parents to move forward.
The suit that Justice Wooten allowed to proceed claims that in April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4, were racing their bicycles, under the supervision of their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, on the sidewalk of a building on East 52nd Street. At some point in the race, they struck an 87-year-old woman named Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and, according to the complaint, was “seriously and severely injured,” suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later of unrelated causes.
Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. In a response, Juliet’s lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that the girl was not “engaged in an adult activity” at the time of the accident — “She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother” — and was too young to be held liable for negligence.
In legal papers, Mr. Tyrie added, “Courts have held that an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence.” (Rachel and Jacob Kohn did not seek to dismiss the case against them.)
But Justice Wooten declined to stretch that rule to children over 4. On Oct. 1, he rejected a motion to dismiss the case because of Juliet’s age, noting that she was three months shy of turning 5 when Ms. Menagh was struck, and thus old enough to be sued.
Mr. Tyrie “correctly notes that infants under the age of 4 are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence,” Justice Wooten wrote in his decision, referring to the 1928 case. “Juliet Breitman, however, was over the age of 4 at the time of the subject incident. For infants above the age of 4, there is no bright-line rule.”
The New York Law Journal reported the decision on Thursday.
Mr. Tyrie had also argued that Juliet should not be held liable because her mother was present; Justice Wooten disagreed.
“A parent’s presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street,” the judge wrote. He added that any “reasonably prudent child,” who presumably has been told to look both ways before crossing a street, should know that dashing out without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. The crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable.
In Ms. Menagh’s case, however, there was nothing to indicate that Juliet’s mother “had any active role in the alleged incident, only that the mother was ‘supervising,’ a term that is too vague to hold meaning here,” he wrote. He concluded that there was no evidence of Juliet’s “lack of intelligence or maturity” or anything to “indicate that another child of similar age and capacity under the circumstances could not have reasonably appreciated the danger of riding a bicycle into an elderly woman.”
Mr. Tyrie, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn did not respond to messages seeking comment.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 30, 2010
An article in some editions on Friday about a lawsuit that claims an elderly woman was severely injured by two 4-year-olds racing their bicycles on a Manhattan sidewalk misstated the timing of the woman’s death. The woman, Claire Menagh, died of unrelated causes three months after she was struck, not three weeks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / This could work , , ,
on: October 30, 2010, 10:46:33 AM
State Dept Tweets B-Day Message to Ahmadinejad, Palin Responds
by Justin Fishel | October 29, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top spokesman, P.J. Crowley, sent a birthday message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad via Twitter Friday, prompting a response by former Governor Sarah Palin who described the post as "mind boggling foreign policy."
Crowley posted two short messages directed at the Iranian president, who turned 54 this week.
"Happy birthday President Ahmadinejad," the first tweet reads. "Celebrate by sending Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer home. What a gift that would be."
Fattal and Bauer were arrested near the Iranian border with Iraq in July of 2009 and have been held in Iran since on charges of espionage." Crowley has called for their return on nearly a daily basis, insisting they are innocent.
The second tweets reads: "Your 54th year was full of lost opportunities. Hope in your 55th year you will open Iran to a different relationship with the world."
Sarah Palin took issue with the message. Shortly after Crowley's post appeared she wrote, "Happy B'day Ahmadinejad wish sent by US Govt. Mind boggling foreign policy: kowtow & coddle enemies; snub allies. Obama Doctrine is nonsense."
Her message continued in a separate tweet: "Americans awaken 2 bizarre natl security thinking of Obama Admn: Ahmadinejad b'day greeting after call 4 Israel's destruction speaks volumes."
Palin is known for delivering her messages over the social media outlets Facebook and Twitter. Crowley said he had no comment when asked about the Twitter exchange during a daily press briefing at the State Department.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on Reid vs. Angle
on: October 30, 2010, 10:19:38 AM
October 29, 2010
In Nevada, It’s Hold Nose and Cast Vote
By DAN BARRY and MICHAEL COOPER
HENDERSON, Nev. — The knock on the front door elicited the annoyed yapping of an unseen dog, followed by the appearance of a gray-haired man busily eating chips from a bag. His callers were two union workers, canvassing the neighborhood on behalf of Democrats, especially Senator Harry Reid.
The man said that he knew Mr. Reid, and that Mr. Reid was an idiot. So was his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle. In fact, said the man, a retired steelworker named Mario Mari, he might very well choose a third option here in Nevada: the phantom candidate known as None of the Above.
“This country is going down,” Mr. Mari said, before closing the door to a bleak Nevada landscape, where jobs are few and foreclosures many.
This is the up-for-grabs Third Congressional District, the most populous in Nevada and the most contested in this state’s contentious Senate race, sprawling across the dry terrain to form a kind of martini glass around the olive of downtown Las Vegas. It is here, in this packed suburban stretch of terra cotta roofs and crushed-rock yards adorned with Halloween skulls and campaign signs, that the battle for the country’s direction is being waged.
The two candidates could not be more ideologically different. But in these last frantic days of an extremely tight and unpleasant campaign, one with implications for the balance of power in Washington, they are united by the same problem: the voters of Nevada do not particularly like either of them.
“More people in Nevada dislike these candidates than like them,” said Ryan Erwin, a Republican consultant in Las Vegas. As a result, he added, “It’s going to be about which side is going to persuade voters that the other candidate is worse.”
On one side, the incumbent of two dozen years: Mr. Reid, 70, the Senate majority leader, a close ally of President Obama and, behind the scenes, a flinty, old-school Nevadan. But if a microphone appears, he assumes the persona of a wan, Old West undertaker whose own pulse needs to be checked.
In addition to giving interviews and busily visiting key racial, ethnic and union groups, the senator is counting on a highly disciplined ground game — put in place after Republicans swept into state offices in 2002 — that does everything from sending out door-knocking union members to providing hotel maids and blackjack dealers free bus rides to early voting sites.
Finally, the Reid campaign’s closing-argument commercials are casting Ms. Angle as a flaky, even dangerous extremist. The most recent commercial for the Reid campaign ends with: “Sharron Angle? Pathological.”
On the other side, the challenger from out of nowhere: Ms. Angle, 61, this season’s anti-Obama Tea Party standard-bearer. A former schoolteacher, state legislator and competitive weight lifter, she has choice words for Washington and curious words for the rest of the country, as when she suggested that Islamic religious law had taken hold in two American communities. But if a microphone appears, she begins to play hide-and-seek: she hides, reporters seek.
Ms. Angle has emerged as a candidate wary of some of her Republican colleagues, and the feeling is often mutual. Sometimes she listens to the professional Republican consultants who have descended on this race; sometimes she does not. While they want her to avoid the press, they do not want her to be seen running away from cameras — which has become a common sight on Nevada television, one that some Republicans say is entirely of Ms. Angle’s design.
Although Ms. Angle usually flees microphones, she speaks clearly through her campaign commercials, which question the source of Mr. Reid’s wealth and portray him as a calcified Obama toady who all but invites thuggish undocumented immigrants to your family’s Thanksgiving.
In their own ways, then, both candidates are asking the same plaintive question in this close race: What are you thinking, Nevada?
In one of the storefronts of a tired, partly vacant shopping center blessed by the bright lights of a central Las Vegas casino called Arizona Charlie’s, a clutch of Republicans spent Tuesday night making telephone calls to registered Republicans. Words on a grease board underscored their mission’s importance:
“Dirty Harry won by 428 votes in 1998. How many calls did YOU make today?”
Jesse Law, 28, a mortgage broker with Tea Party credentials, sat among a half-dozen other volunteers who, by the end of the day, were to have made more than 2,200 calls from this office alone. When not working at a Republican phone bank, he is leading groups of canvassers through the almost identical subdivisions carpeting the southern Nevada desert. His message is consistent:
This mantra binds the various bands of Nevada Republicans and Tea Party members, who normally find their oxygen in internal squabbling. It is a strange moment of unification, though, given how divisive a figure Ms. Angle has been.
According to a profile in The Las Vegas Review-Journal this spring, the deeply religious Ms. Angle underwent a political conversion after surviving a medical crisis — a tumor blocking her spinal fluid — three decades ago. A friend confided that she had seen Deborah, a heroine from the Old Testament, while dreaming about Ms. Angle, who interpreted this as a sign.
“Deborah was really the first woman politician,” Ms. Angle told the newspaper.
Ms. Angle went on to become a pro-gun, anti-tax state legislator from northern Nevada who relished being the antiestablishment outsider. In 2008, for example, she unsuccessfully challenged a veteran Republican leader from Reno, State Senator William J. Raggio, in a mean primary. Then, in the Republican primary for the United States Senate in June, she came from far behind to beat several established candidates, including Sue Lowden, a former chairwoman in the state Republican Party.
The hurt feelings created by her audacity have not eased. Mr. Raggio, who is among several prominent state Republicans reluctantly supporting Mr. Reid, recently issued a statement that criticized Ms. Angle’s unwillingness to work with others, even those in her own party, as well as “her extreme positions” on a range of issues.
Some Republicans fear losing such a powerful ally in Washington — no matter that his name is Reid — at a time when Nevada is in precarious economic shape. And Ms. Angle’s relationship with Republicans in Washington is complicated. She eyes them warily, while they fret that their overt help might offend her Tea Party supporters.
Even so, Ms. Angle is not above accepting the help of the Republican establishment, whether by receiving significant financial support from, say, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, or holding an event on Friday night with Senator John McCain of Arizona. She melds the inside with the outside, as when, during a recent appearance with Newt Gingrich, she told her supporters — “Nevada patriots,” she called them — that she wanted to cut any federal spending not provided for in the Constitution.
Still, it seems that no adviser can stop Ms. Angle from being herself, as when she suggested to a rural community that Islamic religious law had taken hold in Dearborn, Mich., and Frankford, Tex., which no longer exists. (“I think that’s arguably the craziest thing that she has said, and the most dangerous,” said Jon Ralston, who writes the state’s most influential political column for The Las Vegas Sun.)
Her candor has caused advisers to suggest that she lie low in these last days, so low that reporters have relied on the Twitter messages of a Democrat dressed as a chicken to track Ms. Angle’s whereabouts.
But Ms. Angle’s outlandish comments and harsh commercials — juxtaposing menacing, dark-skinned men with anxious white people — have not affected her ability to raise and spend money. From July 1 to Oct. 13, her campaign spent $16.9 million, well more than the $11.2 million spent by the Reid campaign, and her advisers say their ground game is better than people might imagine.
“If you include the enthusiasm advantage that we have, we’re feeling quite good,” said Jordan Gehrke, Ms. Angle’s deputy campaign manager.
In a union hall tucked among subdivisions and wisps of desert, some steelworkers, letter carriers and culinary workers filed in to get their Saturday morning coffee and marching orders before heading out to canvass for Democrats. Many of them passed a handwritten sign suggesting how to respond to “Reid Distrust.” It advised:
“Acknowledge: ‘I hear you, but despite what the media says ... Harry brings it home for NV.”
Mike Reinecke, the state political director of Labor 2010, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s get-out-the-vote program, gave a pep talk and released them with: “See your captains, grab your packets and let’s hit the pavement.”
Union members have knocked on 200,000 doors and made 48,000 calls as part of a one-vote-at-a-time effort by Democrats to counter a general disgust with the establishment — personified these days by Mr. Reid, who might otherwise be seen as a Horatio Alger character from Nevada: a poor, pugnacious kid from Searchlight who rose to become a power broker able to secure federal money for large, jobs-creating state projects.
Well aware that polls show Ms. Angle slightly ahead, Mr. Reid has been forced to shed his dour Washington persona and stump like a challenger. At a recent rally in Las Vegas’s Chinatown, he posed for photographs for 45 minutes with any supporter who wanted one, then left to shake hands and share hugs at a barbecue with black supporters.
Still, Mr. Reid cannot deny being such a creature of distant Washington that he made the tone-deaf decision years ago to move into the Ritz-Carlton — a name that, in these hard Nevadan times, smacks of exclusive luxury. And for all his kisses and embraces, he still has that undertaker’s parched look; he still has that propensity for clumsy statements, as when he recently suggested that: “But for me, we’d be in a worldwide depression.”
With all this in tow, Richard and Tracy Griffin, a married couple who, as letter carriers, know how to calm barking dogs, headed out into the key Third Congressional District, where the chocolate-brown Black Mountains loom in the distance, the deep cuts in their sides all that exist of luxury developments never completed.
In recent elections, the global-positioning systems used by the union door-knockers could not keep up with all the new roads. Now the district is the foreclosure capital of a state that is the foreclosure capital of the nation — and Mr. Reid needs the votes of its anxious, angry electorate.
“In the beginning it was very tough,” Ms. Griffin said as she went door to door, talking to laid-off workers, cranky retirees, homeowners nervous about the future. “It seems to be changing now, as we get closer to the elections, and the realization of putting her in office is starting to hit people. We have rarely heard a pro-Angle, it’s usually —— ”
“Anti-Reid,” said Mr. Griffin, finishing the thought.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Earth is cooling! The Earth is cooling!
on: October 29, 2010, 05:17:30 PM
Note the date:
The Cooling World
Newsweek, April 28, 1975 www.denisdutton.com
Here is the text of Newsweek’s 1975 story on the trend toward global cooling. It may look foolish today, but in fact world temperatures had been falling since about 1940. It was around 1979 that they reversed direction and resumed the general rise that had begun in the 1880s, bringing us today back to around 1940 levels. A PDF of the original is available here. A fine short history of warming and cooling scares has recently been produced. It is available here.
We invite readers interested in finding out about both sides of the debate over global warming to visit our website: Climate Debate Daily — Denis Dutton
There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas – parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia – where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.
The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually. During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree – a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation. Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars’ worth of damage in 13 U.S. states.
To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. “A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”
A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.
To the layman, the relatively small changes in temperature and sunshine can be highly misleading. Reid Bryson of the University of Wisconsin points out that the Earth’s average temperature during the great Ice Ages was only about seven degrees lower than during its warmest eras – and that the present decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average. Others regard the cooling as a reversion to the “little ice age” conditions that brought bitter winters to much of Europe and northern America between 1600 and 1900 – years when the Thames used to freeze so solidly that Londoners roasted oxen on the ice and when iceboats sailed the Hudson River almost as far south as New York City.
Just what causes the onset of major and minor ice ages remains a mystery. “Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,” concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. “Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.”
Meteorologists think that they can forecast the short-term results of the return to the norm of the last century. They begin by noting the slight drop in overall temperature that produces large numbers of pressure centers in the upper atmosphere. These break up the smooth flow of westerly winds over temperate areas. The stagnant air produced in this way causes an increase in extremes of local weather such as droughts, floods, extended dry spells, long freezes, delayed monsoons and even local temperature increases – all of which have a direct impact on food supplies.
“The world’s food-producing system,” warns Dr. James D. McQuigg of NOAA’s Center for Climatic and Environmental Assessment, “is much more sensitive to the weather variable than it was even five years ago.” Furthermore, the growth of world population and creation of new national boundaries make it impossible for starving peoples to migrate from their devastated fields, as they did during past famines.
Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.
—PETER GWYNNE with bureau reports
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2010 Elections; 2012 Presidential
on: October 29, 2010, 12:38:40 PM
Well, its kinda hard for the Dems to argue about the importance of fidelity, and Newt has gone Catholic and his the portion of his base that cares about such things is based upon a religion of forgiveness and redemption.
As for SP, I think it remains to be seen. FWIW my wife (and therefore I
) watches DWTS and it is very interesting to see the reactions to Bristol Palin; a girl from a town of 10,000 whose teenage pregancy by a dingleberry was a subject of ferocious MSM attention during a bitter presidential campaign has gone far further in the contest than her actual dancing skill has earned (it must be noted she is competing against pro-athletes and professional entertainers like Brandy). This means there is a sizable demographic that is supporting her. I think it is no co-incidence that when Sarah was there to watch and something happened that left the inference that she had been booed by the crowd that on the next show, DWTS made a very particular point of showing that the booing had been directed at a decision by the judges and not SP; not a snarky note to it to be found-- quite the contrary.
This suggests to me that the Hollywood folks are seeing the power of pro-Palin deomographics and has decided not to fcuk with it.
Anway, Sarah has the spotlight and it is up to her what she does with it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness
on: October 29, 2010, 10:45:04 AM
President Dude , , , well, at least he didn't bow to JS , , ,
OCTOBER 28, 2010
A Referendum on the Redeemer
Barack Obama put the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a
fallen nation rather than leading a great one.
By SHELBY STEELE
Whether or not the Republicans win big next week, it is already clear
that the "transformative" aspirations of the Obama presidency-the
special promise of this first black president to "change" us into a
better society-are much less likely to materialize. There will be enough
Republican gains to make the "no" in the "party of no" even more
formidable, if not definitive.
But apart from this politics of numbers, there is also now a deepening
disenchantment with Barack Obama himself. (He has a meager 37% approval
rating by the latest Harris poll.) His embarrassed supporters console
themselves that their intentions were good; their vote helped make
history. But for Mr. Obama himself there is no road back to the charisma
and political capital he enjoyed on his inauguration day.
How is it that Barack Obama could step into the presidency with an air
of inevitability and then, in less than two years, find himself
unwelcome at the campaign rallies of many of his fellow Democrats?
The first answer is well-known: His policymaking has been grandiose,
thoughtless and bullying. His health-care bill was ambitious to the
point of destructiveness and, finally, so chaotic that today no citizen
knows where they stand in relation to it. His financial-reform bill
seems little more than a short-sighted scapegoating of Wall Street. In
foreign policy he has failed to articulate a role for America in the
world. We don't know why we do what we do in foreign affairs. George W.
Bush at least made a valiant stab at an American
rationale-democratization-but with Mr. Obama there is nothing.
All this would be enough to explain the disillusionment with this
president-and with the Democratic Party that he leads. But there is also
a deeper disjunction. There is an "otherness" about Mr. Obama, the sense
that he is somehow not truly American. "Birthers" doubt that he was born
on American soil. Others believe that he is secretly a Muslim, or in
quiet simpatico with his old friends, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill
Ayers, now icons of American radicalism.
But Barack Obama is not an "other" so much as he is a child of the
1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new
"counterculture" American identity. And this new American identity-and
the post-1960s liberalism it spawned-is grounded in a remarkable irony:
bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American
identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better
America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad
American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen
grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to
foreign leaders, he is not displaying "otherness" but the counterculture
Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges
its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.
Bad faith in America became virtuous in the '60s when America finally
acknowledged so many of its flagrant hypocrisies: the segregation of
blacks, the suppression of women, the exploitation of other minorities,
the "imperialism" of the Vietnam War, the indifference to the
environment, the hypocrisy of puritanical sexual mores and so on. The
compounding of all these hypocrisies added up to the crowning idea of
the '60s: that America was characterologically evil. Thus the only way
back to decency and moral authority was through bad faith in America and
its institutions, through the presumption that evil was America's
natural default position.
Among today's liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a
kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for
political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of
intervening against evil-I will use the government to intervene against
the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural
racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so
on), so I need your vote.
"Hope and Change" positioned Mr. Obama as a conduit between an old
America worn down by its evil inclinations and a new America redeemed of
those inclinations. There was no vision of the future in
"Hope and Change." It is an expression of bad faith in America, but its
great ingenuity was to turn that bad faith into political motivation,
But there is a limit to bad faith as power, and Mr. Obama and the
Democratic Party may have now reached that limit. The great weakness of
bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale
for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of
forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation.
They bet on America's characterological evil and not on her sense of
fairness, generosity or ingenuity.
When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of
her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a
national scold than a real leader. You lead out of a feeling that your
opposition is really only the latest incarnation of that old
characterological evil that you always knew was there. Thus the tea
party-despite all the evidence to the contrary-is seen as racist and
But isn't the tea party, on some level, a reaction to a president who
seems not to fully trust the fundamental decency of the American people?
Doesn't the tea party fill a void left open by Mr. Obama's ethos of bad
faith? Aren't tea partiers, and their many fellow travelers, simply
saying that American exceptionalism isn't racism? And if the mainstream
media see tea partiers as bumpkins and racists, isn't this just more bad
faith-characterizing people as ignorant or evil so as to dismiss them?
Our great presidents have been stewards, men who broadly identified with
the whole of America. Stewardship meant responsibility even for those
segments of America where one might be reviled. Surely Mr. Obama would
claim such stewardship. But he has functioned more as a redeemer than a
steward, a leader who sees a badness in us from which we must be
redeemed. Many Americans are afraid of this because a mandate as
grandiose as redemption justifies a vast expansion of government. A
redeemer can't just tweak and guide a faltering economy; he will need a
trillion- dollar stimulus package. He can't take on health care a step
at a time; he must do it all at once, finally mandating that every
citizen buy in.
Next week's election is, among other things, a referendum on the idea of
president-as- redeemer. We have a president so determined to transform
and redeem us from what we are that, by his own words, he is willing to
risk being a one-term president. People now wonder if Barack Obama can
pivot back to the center like Bill Clinton did after his set-back in
'94. But Mr. Clinton was already a steward, a policy wonk, a man of the
center. Mr. Obama has to change archetypes.
Mr. Steele is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: October 28, 2010, 11:58:05 PM
Entire police force in Los Ramones, Mexico quits after gunmen attack headquarters
BY PHILIP CAULFIELD
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, October 27th 2010, 8:27 AM
A policeman walks among bullet-riddled patrol trucks after an attack at a police station in the town of Los Ramones. Gunmen shot more than 1,000 rounds and launched six grenades at the building.
The entire police force in a small Mexican town abruptly resigned Tuesday after its new headquarters was viciously attacked by suspected drug cartel gunmen.
All 14 police officers in Los Ramones, a rural town in northern Mexico, fled the force in terror after gunmen fired more than 1,000 bullets and flung six grenades at their headquarters on Monday night.
No one was injured in the attack. Mayor Santos Salinas Garza told local media that the officers resigned because of the incident.
The gunmen’s 20-minute shooting spree destroyed six police vehicles and left the white and orange police station pocked with bullet holes, the Financial Times reported.
The station had been inaugurated just three days earlier.
The attack was the second in less than a week against police forces in Nuevo Leon. Last week, thugs threw two grenades at police in Sabinas Hidalgo, according to newspaper Noroeste.
Los Ramones is in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, which has been a war zone of turf violence between two of the country’s fiercest drug gangs, the Zetas and the Gulf cartel.
Police have blamed members of both cartels for attacks on several police stations throughout the area. Several mayors in the region have been assassinated.
Mexico’s municipal police forces often quit out of fear after being attacked by cartels.
About 90% of forces have less than 100 officers, and 61% of cops earn less than $322 a month, according to the Finanical Times.
Mexico’s intelligence chief said this summer that nearly 30,000 people have died in drug related crimes since 2006.
With Wire News Services
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Fed, Monetary Policy, & the US Dollar
on: October 28, 2010, 04:37:32 PM
The thing that scares me about metals is I remember the precipitous drop in gold in the late 70s from a high in the 800s (IIRC after being $33 from '45-'71 and $35 from '71-'73 when Nixon took the dollar off of gold, the root cause of much of our current disaster IMHO). Carter-Blumenthal, building upon the fecund piles of excrement with which Nixon littered the landscape (wage and price controls, devaluing the dollar, ending the gold standard, establishing the Shah of Iran as the centerpiece of our mid-east strategy and as part of such enabling OPEC so that he would have enough money to buy the arms to build the military to offset the Russians in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq) created a stampede out of the dollar and stagflation (12% inflation?). Thus Carter was forced to appoint Volcker to the Fed and V. raised interest rates to IIRC something like 20%!
With these rates, money stampeded out of gold.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: NYT: Cortisone
on: October 28, 2010, 04:30:21 PM
Yes, I sensed harmony in what you were saying and my intuitive sense of things.
Concerning aneurisms, after reading the book by Linda Lee's second husband (tangent: how the hell must if have felt to be second act to BL as the first act? But I digress , , ,) I had a doctor friend find me the small print warnings to deca-durabolin and sure enough aneurisms were listed as a possible side effect.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Endowed by whom? Extenze?
on: October 28, 2010, 04:24:15 PM
THE PATRIOT POST
Alexander's Essay -- October 28, 2010
On the Web: http://patriotpost.us/alexander/2010/10/28/rights-endowed-by-whom/
PDF Version: http://pdf.patriotpost.us.s3.amazonaws.com/2010-10-28-alexander.pdf
Rights Endowed by Whom?
What is really at stake in this election?
"The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican
model of government, are justly considered deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the
experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." --George Washington
Next Tuesday's 2010 midterm election marks the first major battle in a fired-up
grassroots effort to restore constitutional integrity, one with a fervor not seen
since the election of Ronald Reagan (http://reagan2020.us/
) 30 years ago.
The stakes in this election and those to follow are much higher than a mere contest
between competing political platforms and personas. These elections will determine
who is this nation's arbiter of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Perhaps unwittingly, Barack Hussein Obama, by way of omission in several recent
speeches, has made it abundantly clear whom he and his comrades reject as the source
of the rights of all men. On three separate occasions, when speaking at fundraisers
for his Leftist comrades, Obama has referenced the Declaration of Independence
Speaking at the Hispanic Caucus Institute's Annual Awards Gala, Obama said, "We hold
these truths to be self-evident, that all men are ... endowed with certain
inalienable [sic] rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." When
questioned about the omission of who, precisely, endowed those rights, the White
House press office claimed that Obama went off script ... unlikely for a man who has
been glued and tattooed to his Teleprompters.
A few days later, speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee, Obama said, "If we believe that ... everybody is endowed with certain
inalienable [sic] rights and we're going to make those words live, and we're going
to give everybody opportunity, everybody a ladder into the middle class..." For the
record, that utterance was not "off script." Rather, it was precisely how the White
House posted his speech.
At the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser, he did it again, saying,
"What makes this place special is not something physical. It has to do with this
idea that was started by 13 colonies that decided to throw off the yoke of an empire
and said, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men ... are endowed
with certain inalienable [sic] rights.'"
In each instance, Obama omitted the Declaration's clear affirmation that the rights
of all people are "endowed by their Creator," not by some potentate or government.
Our Declaration of Independence was derived from inherent common law, and in its
first sentence, our Declaration establishes the rights of man as "which the Laws of
Nature and Nature's God entitle them."
When asked again about Obama's omission, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
asserted, "I can assure you the president believes in the Declaration of
So, Obama "believes in the Declaration"? The Declaration is a piece of paper, one
that expresses a self-evident Truth. Were it destroyed today, or had it never been
written, the right of all people to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,"
among other rights, would still be endowed by our Creator.
Mr. Gibbs' assurances notwithstanding, Obama's subtle but telling omissions expose
the underbelly of the political beast that is intent on devouring Essential Liberty
) and replacing it with the rule of men.
With his omissions now a matter of public interest, Obama has now tossed "our
Creator" into a stump speech before Election Day. But make no mistake: That would be
subterfuge. Obama believes that the rights of men are subject to the rule of men,
and the terminus of the unabated rule of men is always tyranny.
The election of Barack Hussein Obama was the worst of insults to our nation's
heritage of Liberty, but in one important way, it has proven a blessing in disguise.
It has drawn millions of Americans to the frontlines of the eternal war for Liberty
and Rule of Law
), as enshrined in our national Constitution. Still, this midterm election cycle is
different than the knee-jerk response to Bill Clinton that seated a Republican
majority back in 1994.
There is a Great Awakening across our nation, one being spearheaded by Tea Party
are armed with, among other things, the right tools
) to articulate the difference between
Rule of Law and rule of men, and who are willing to passionately fight for the
former over the latter.
In the words of Thomas Paine, "I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this
state or that state, but on every state; up and help us; lay your shoulders to the
wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at
At this moment, the future of Liberty is at stake.
Our Declaration of Independence concludes, "And for the support of this Declaration,
with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to
each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." (I suspect Obama would
omit "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.")
I know that you have "pledged your sacred honor
)" for the defense of Liberty. I beseech you to help us muster
) millions of additional Patriots to the frontlines
for the battle ahead.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Publisher, The Patriot Post (http://patriotpost.us/subscribe/
Follow The Patriot Post:
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Fed, Monetary Policy, & the US Dollar
on: October 28, 2010, 01:32:16 PM
The role of the dollar as "the" international currency is the only thing that distinguishes us from Greece at this point when we look at % of GDP consisting of government deficit financing is that we get to print the money in which our debt is denominated and Greece does not.
If the dollar loses its credibility, as it appears to be about to do, then the only thing that will reverse it as best as I can tell by working from my memory of the dollar's dive under Carter in the late 70s is a massive spike in interest rates. In our current debt/deficit circumstances, this will, depending on the size of interest rate increase from present levels result in a long-term increase of the cost our deficit to the tune of several hundred million dollars a year to well over one trillion dollars. The plausibly possible consequences here IMHO can be of epic proportions.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: NYT: Cortisone
on: October 28, 2010, 01:25:34 PM
FWIW there is a book by Linda Lee's second husband (ex-husband too) about the "real" reasons for the death of Bruce Lee. Working from memory here, he had about three theories which may or may not have been interactive amongst themselves. IIRC he thought that BL was impressed with the immediate results from cortisone in response to his major back injury and self-medicated or was treated by doctors working with the much lower level of understanding at that time (over 40 years ago). The discussion then went to the consequences of long term cortisone use and connected it with the idea of steroid use. BL was uncommonly ripped towards the end and one steroid reputed to promote extreme leanness is deca-durabolin (sp?)-- a possible side-effect of which is aneurisms-- the reputed proximate cause of BL's death.
But I digress , , ,
From my layman's perspective one of my guiding "Self Help Principles" (I forget which number it is) is this:
"Symptoms and their causes are usually in different places."
Thus, by this principle when a tendon is irritated the diagnosis is to look to what (mis)alignment caused it to be overworked/misused in the first place. The teatment of the immediate symptoms and/or the breaking of a negative feedback loop are separate questions.
RRL, does this make sense to you or am I simply "out there"?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / North Waziristan
on: October 28, 2010, 10:30:19 AM
October 28, 2010
PAKISTAN'S NORTH WAZIRISTAN AND SALVAGEABLE JIHADISTS
A top Pakistani military official told reporters on a tour of the tribal areas on
Tuesday that Islamabad would consider mounting a counterinsurgency offensive in
North Waziristan only after other parts of Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt are
stabilized. Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik -- commander of the Peshawar-based XIth Corps,
which is leading the counterjihadist operations in Pakistan's northwest -- said
Pakistani forces do not have the resources to cover the entire area under his
command. He said it would take at least another six months to clear out just Mohmand
and Bajaur, the two agencies on the northern rim of the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas (FATA). Malik estimated that "by 2012, things should have turned it
This statement comes within days of the U.S. announcement of a $2 billion military
assistance package for Pakistan. It conflicts with Washington's expectations that
Pakistan would expand its ongoing offensive to North Waziristan -- which has become
the world's largest gathering spot for jihadists of various stripes -- as quickly as
possible. North Waziristan is the only agency of the seven in the autonomous tribal
belt along the Afghan border where Pakistani security forces (despite having six
brigades in the area) have not launched a major assault on Taliban and al Qaeda
fighters. This issue has spurred the growing tensions between Washington and
"Islamabad feels it would be suicidal to act against Bahadur and Haqqani, especially
when the Pakistanis are struggling to combat renegade Taliban forces elsewhere."
Occasionally, senior U.S. officials issue statements that they understand that
Pakistani forces are stretched to the limit and that Islamabad will decide when it
is appropriate to send its forces into the area. On different occasions, however,
Washington will go back to pressuring Islamabad into taking swift action in North
Waziristan. In other words, the U.S. government oscillates between the realization
that a premature expansion of the Pakistanis' offensive could make matters worse for
Pakistan and its own desire for the rapid development of conditions in Afghanistan
that would facilitate a U.S. withdrawal.
All of this raises the question of why North Waziristan is such a huge point of
contention between the United States and Pakistan. The answer has to do with the
complex militant landscape in this particular FATA agency. North Waziristan's
territory can be divided broadly into two dominions: one under the control of
Pakistani warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and the other under the most prominent Afghan
Taliban regional commander, Sirajuddin Haqqani. Neither Bahadur nor Haqqani is
participating in the Pakistani Taliban rebellion, but both have complex ties to al
Qaeda-led transnational jihadists and are focused on fighting coalition forces in
eastern Afghanistan. From the Pakistani viewpoint, these men are not hostile forces
who need to be fought: In fact, they are allies who can help Islamabad regain
control of territory on its side of the border and regain its sphere of influence in
a post-NATO Afghanistan. Islamabad feels it would be suicidal to act against Bahadur
and Haqqani, especially when the Pakistanis are struggling to combat renegade
Taliban forces elsewhere.
But Pakistan cannot completely ignore North Waziristan -- and not just because of
U.S. pressure. Many of its own Taliban rebels relocated to the area late last year
when security forces mounted a ground offensive in South Waziristan. Furthermore, al
Qaeda and the transnational jihadists who are supporting Pakistani Islamist rebels
are also based in this area.
This is why Pakistan has not just accepted the increasing number of U.S. unmanned
aerial vehicle strikes in North Waziristan: It is also facilitating them. However,
Islamabad knows that the strikes alone will not solve its problems in the area and
certainly will not satisfy Washington. Islamabad also wants to be able to regain
control over the area, and it expects it can achieve this with a settlement in
Afghanistan. Pakistan will argue that if the United States cannot impose a military
solution in Afghanistan and is forced to negotiate on the other side of the border,
then Pakistan should not wage war against those in its territory who are not
fighting against Islamabad.
This leads back to the disagreement between Washington and Islamabad over the
definition of salvageable jihadists. To the United States, Haqqani is not just
responsible for a great deal of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. He is also
tied to al Qaeda, which continues to plot attacks in the United States and threatens
U.S. interests in the region, and is thus irreconcilable. As far as the Pakistanis
are concerned, Haqqani can be negotiated with and his ties with al Qaeda can be
severed, much like what happened with Iraq's Awakening Councils.
It is unclear that the United States and Pakistan can come to terms on which Taliban
can be negotiated with. Until that happens, North Waziristan will remain a major
source of tension between the two sides.
Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wikileaks
on: October 28, 2010, 10:24:16 AM
October 28, 2010
WIKILEAKS AND THE CULTURE OF CLASSIFICATION
By Scott Stewart
On Friday, Oct. 22, the organization known as WikiLeaks published a cache of 391,832
classified documents on its website. The documents are mostly field reports filed by
U.S. military forces in Iraq from January 2004 to December 2009 (the months of May
2004 and March 2009 are missing). The bulk of the documents (379,565, or about 97
percent) were classified at the secret level, with 204 classified at the lower
confidential level. The remaining 12,062 documents were either unclassified or bore
This large batch of documents is believed to have been released by Pfc. Bradley
Manning, who was arrested in May 2010 by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations
Command and charged with transferring thousands of classified documents onto his
personal computer and then transmitting them to an unauthorized person. Manning is
also alleged to have been the source of the classified information released by
WikiLeaks pertaining to the war in Afghanistan in July 2010.
WikiLeaks released the Iraq war documents, as it did the Afghanistan war documents,
to a number of news outlets for analysis several weeks in advance of their formal
public release. These news organizations included The New York Times, Der Spiegel,
The Guardian and Al Jazeera, each of which released special reports to coincide with
the formal release of the documents Oct. 22.
Due to its investigation of Manning, the U.S. government also had a pretty good idea
of what the material was before it was released and had formed a special task force
to review it for sensitive and potentially damaging information prior to the
release. The Pentagon has denounced the release of the information, which it
considers a crime. It has also demanded the return of its stolen property and warned
that the documents place Iraqis at risk of retaliation and also the lives of U.S.
troops from terrorist groups that are mining the documents for operational
information they can use in planning their attacks.
When one takes a careful look at the classified documents released by WikiLeaks, it
becomes quickly apparent that they contain very few true secrets. Indeed, the main
points being emphasized by Al Jazeera and the other media outlets after all the
intense research they conducted before the public release of the documents seem to
highlight a number of issues that had been well-known and well-chronicled for years.
For example, the press has widely reported that the Iraqi government was torturing
its own people; many civilians were killed during the six years the documents
covered; sectarian death squads were operating inside Iraq; and the Iranian
government was funding Shiite militias. None of this is news. But, when one steps
back from the documents themselves and looks at the larger picture, there are some
interesting issues that have been raised by the release of these documents and the
reaction to their release.
The documents released in this WikiLeaks cache were taken from the U.S. government's
Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), a network used to distribute
classified but not particularly sensitive information. SIPRNet is authorized only
for the transmission of information classified at the secret level and below. It
cannot be used for information classified top secret or more closely guarded
intelligence that is classified at the secret level. The regulations by which
information is classified by the U.S. government are outlined in Executive Order
13526. Under this order, secret is the second-highest level of classification and
applies to information that, if released, would be reasonably expected to cause
serious damage to U.S. national security.
Due to the nature of SIPRNet, most of the information that was downloaded from it
and sent to WikiLeaks consisted of raw field reports from U.S. troops in Iraq. These
reports discussed things units encountered, such as IED attacks, ambushes, the
bodies of murdered civilians, friendly-fire incidents, traffic accidents, etc. For
the most part, the reports contained raw information and not vetted, processed
intelligence. The documents also did not contain information that was the result of
intelligence-collection operations, and therefore did not reveal sensitive
intelligence sources and methods. Although the WikiLeaks material is often compared
to the 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers, there really is very little similarity.
The Pentagon Papers consisted of a top secret-level study completed for the U.S.
secretary of defense and not raw, low-level battlefield reports.
To provide a sense of the material involved in the WikiLeaks release, we will
examine two typical reports. The first, classified at the secret level, is from an
American military police (MP) company reporting that Iraqi police on Oct. 28, 2006,
found the body of a person whose name was redacted in a village who had been
executed. In the other report, also classified at the secret level, we see that on
Jan. 1, 2004, Iraqi police called an American MP unit in Baghdad to report that an
improvised explosive device (IED) had detonated and that there was another
suspicious object found at the scene. The MP unit responded, confirmed the presence
of the suspicious object and then called an explosive ordnance disposal unit, which
came to the site and destroyed the second IED. Now, while it may have been justified
to classify such reports at the secret level at the time they were written to
protect information pertaining to military operations, clearly, the release of these
two reports in October 2010 has not caused any serious damage to U.S. national
Another factor to consider when reading raw information from the field is that,
while they offer a degree of granular detail that cannot be found in higher-level
intelligence analysis, they can often be misleading or otherwise erroneous. As
anyone who has ever interviewed a witness can tell you, in a stressful situation
people often miss or misinterpret important factual details. That's just how most
people are wired. This situation can be compounded when a witness is placed in a
completely alien culture. This is not to say that all these reports are flawed, but
just to note that raw information must often be double-checked and vetted before it
can be used to create a reliable estimate of the situation on the battlefield.
Clearly, the readers of these reports released by WikiLeaks now do not have the
ability to conduct that type of follow-up.
Few True Secrets
By saying there are very few true secrets in the cache of documents released by
WikiLeaks, we mean things that would cause serious damage to national security. And
no, we are not about to point out the things that we believe could be truly
damaging. However, it is important to understand up front that something that causes
embarrassment and discomfort to a particular administration or agency does not
necessarily damage national security.
As to the charges that the documents are being mined by militant groups for
information that can be used in attacks against U.S. troops deployed overseas, this
is undoubtedly true. It would be foolish for the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq
(ISI) and other militant groups not to read the documents and attempt to benefit
from them. However, there are very few things noted in these reports pertaining to
the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) used by U.S. forces that could not be
learned by simply observing combat operations -- and the Taliban and ISI have been
carefully studying U.S. TTP every hour of every day for many years now. These
documents are far less valuable than years of careful, direct observation and
regular first-hand interaction.
Frankly, combatants who have been intensely watching U.S. and coalition forces and
engaging them in combat for the better part of a decade are not very likely to learn
much from dated American after-action reports. The insurgents and sectarian groups
in Iraq own the human terrain; they know who U.S. troops are meeting with, when they
meet them and where. There is very little that this level of reporting is going to
reveal to them that they could not already have learned via observation. Remember,
these reports do not deal with highly classified human-intelligence or
This is not to say that the alleged actions of Manning are somehow justified. From
the statements released in connection with the case by the government, Manning knew
the information he was downloading was classified and needed to be protected. He
also appeared to know that his actions were illegal and could get him in trouble. He
deserves to face the legal consequences of his actions.
This is also not a justification for the actions of WikiLeaks and the media outlets
that are exploiting and profiting from the release of this information. What we are
saying is that the hype surrounding the release is just that. There were a lot of
classified documents released, but very few of them contained information that would
truly shed new light on the actions of U.S. troops in Iraq or their allies or damage
U.S. national security. While the amount of information released in this case was
huge, it was far less damaging than the information released by convicted spies such
as Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames -- information that crippled sensitive
intelligence operations and resulted in the execution or imprisonment of extremely
valuable human intelligence sources.
Culture of Classification
Perhaps one of the most interesting facets of the WikiLeaks case is that it
highlights the culture of classification that is so pervasive inside the U.S.
government. Only 204 of the 391,832 documents were classified at the confidential
level, while 379,565 of them were classified at the secret level. This demonstrates
the propensity of the U.S. government culture to classify documents at the highest
possible classification rather than at the lowest level really required to protect
that information. In this culture, higher is better.
Furthermore, while much of this material may have been somewhat sensitive at the
time it was reported, most of that sensitivity has been lost over time, and many of
the documents, like the two reports referenced above, no longer need to be
classified. Executive Order 13526 provides the ability for classifying agencies to
set dates for materials to be declassified. Indeed, according to the executive
order, a date for declassification is supposed to be set every time a document is
classified. But, in practice, such declassification provisions are rarely used and
most people just expect the documents to remain classified for the entire authorized
period, which is 10 years in most cases and 25 years when dealing with sensitive
topics such as intelligence sources and methods or nuclear weapons. In the culture
of classification, longer is also seen as better.
This culture tends to create so much classified material that stays classified for
so long that it becomes very difficult for government employees and security
managers to determine what is really sensitive and what truly needs to be protected.
There is certainly a lot of very sensitive information that needs to be carefully
guarded, but not everything is a secret. This culture also tends to reinforce the
belief among government employees that knowledge is power and that one can become
powerful by having access to information and denying that access to others. And this
belief can often contribute to the bureaucratic jealously that results in the
failure to share intelligence -- a practice that was criticized so heavily in the
9/11 Commission Report.
It has been very interesting to watch the reaction to the WikiLeaks case by those
who are a part of the culture of classification. Some U.S. government agencies, such
as the FBI, have bridled under the post-9/11 mandates to share their information
more widely and have been trying to scale back the practice. As anyone who has dealt
with the FBI can attest, they tend to be a semi-permeable membrane when it comes to
the flow of information. For the bureau, intelligence flows only one way -- in. The
FBI is certainly not alone. There are many organizations that are very hesitant to
share information with other government agencies, even when those agencies have a
legitimate need to know. The WikiLeaks cases have provided such people a
justification to continue to stovepipe information.
In addition to the glaring personnel security issues regarding Manning's access to
classified information systems, these cases are in large part the result of a
classified information system overloaded with vast quantities of information that
simply does not need to be protected at the secret level. And, ironically,
overloading the system in such a way actually weakens the information-protection
process by making it difficult to determine which information truly needs to be
protected. Instead of seeking to weed out the over-classified material and
concentrate on protecting the truly sensitive information, the culture of
classification reacts by using the WikiLeaks cases as justification for continuing
to classify information at the highest possible levels and for sharing the
intelligence it generates with fewer people. The ultimate irony is that the
WikiLeaks cases will help strengthen and perpetuate the broken system that helped
lead to the disclosures in the first place.
This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution towww.stratfor.com
Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yet again we're not number one
on: October 28, 2010, 09:58:41 AM
China Wrests Supercomputer Title From U.S.By ASHLEE VANCE
Published: October 28, 2010
A Chinese scientific research center has built the fastest supercomputer ever made, replacing the United States as maker of the swiftest machine, and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower.
The computer, known as Tianhe-1A, has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer, which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, as measured by the standard test used to gauge how well the systems handle mathematical calculations, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings.
Although the official list of the top 500 fastest machines, which comes out every six months, is not due to be completed by Mr. Dongarra until next week, he said the Chinese computer “blows away the existing No. 1 machine.” He added, “We don’t close the books until Nov. 1, but I would say it is unlikely we will see a system that is faster.”
Officials from the Chinese research center, the National University of Defense Technology, are expected to reveal the computer’s performance on Thursday at a conference in Beijing. The center says it is “under the dual supervision of the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Education.”
The race to build the fastest supercomputer has become a source of national pride as these machines are valued for their ability to solve problems critical to national interests in areas like defense, energy, finance and science. Supercomputing technology also finds its way into mainstream business; oil and gas companies use it to find reservoirs and Wall Street traders use it for superquick automated trades. Procter & Gamble even uses supercomputers to make sure that Pringles go into cans without breaking.
And typically, research centers with large supercomputers are magnets for top scientific talent, adding significance to the presence of the machines well beyond just cranking through calculations.
Over the last decade, the Chinese have steadily inched up in the rankings of supercomputers. Tianhe-1A stands as the culmination of billions of dollars in investment and scientific development, as China has gone from a computing afterthought to a world technology superpower.
“What is scary about this is that the U.S. dominance in high-performance computing is at risk,” said Wu-chun Feng, a supercomputing expert and professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “One could argue that this hits the foundation of our economic future.”
Modern supercomputers are built by combining thousands of small computer servers and using software to turn them into a single entity. In that sense, any organization with enough money and expertise can buy what amount to off-the-shelf components and create a fast machine.
The Chinese system follows that model by linking thousands upon thousands of chips made by the American companies Intel and Nvidia. But the secret sauce behind the system — and the technological achievement — is the interconnect, or networking technology, developed by Chinese researchers that shuttles data back and forth across the smaller computers at breakneck rates, Mr. Dongarra said.
“That technology was built by them,” Mr. Dongarra said. “They are taking supercomputing very seriously and making a deep commitment.”
The Chinese interconnect can handle data at about twice the speed of a common interconnect called InfiniBand used in many supercomputers.
For decades, the United States has developed most of the underlying technology that goes into the massive supercomputers and has built the largest, fastest machines at research laboratories and universities. Some of the top systems simulate the effects of nuclear weapons, while others predict the weather and aid in energy research.
In 2002, the United States lost its crown as supercomputing kingpin for the first time in stunning fashion when Japan unveiled a machine with more horsepower than the top 20 American computers combined. The United States government responded in kind, forming groups to plot a comeback and pouring money into supercomputing projects. The United States regained its leadership status in 2004, and has kept it, until now.
At the computing conference on Thursday in China, the researchers will discuss how they are using the new system for scientific research in fields like astrophysics and bio-molecular modeling. Tianhe-1A, which is housed in a building at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, can perform mathematical operations about 29 million times faster than one of the earliest supercomputers, built in 1976.
For the record, it performs 2.5 times 10 to the 15th power mathematical operations per second.
Mr. Dongarra said a long-running Chinese project to build chips to rival those from Intel and others remained under way and looked promising. “It’s not quite there yet, but it will be in a year or two,” he said.
He also said that in November, when the list comes out, he expected a second Chinese computer to be in the top five, culminating years of investment.
“The Japanese came out of nowhere and really caught people off guard,” Mr. Feng said. “With China, you could see this one coming.”
Steven J. Wallach, a well-known computer designer, played down the importance of taking the top spot on the supercomputer rankings.
“It’s interesting, but it’s like getting to the four-minute mile,” Mr. Wallach said. “The world didn’t stop. This is just a snapshot in time.”
The research labs often spend weeks tuning their systems to perform well on the standard horsepower test. But just because a system can hammer through trillions of calculations per second does not mean it will do well on the specialized jobs that researchers want to use it for, Mr. Wallach added.
The United States has plans in place to make much faster machines out of proprietary components and to advance the software used by these systems so that they are easy for researchers to use. But those computers remain years away, and for now, China is king.
“They want to show they are No. 1 in the world, no matter what it is,” Mr. Wallach said. “I don’t blame them.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Even POTH notices something is happening here, thought it isn't exactly clear
on: October 27, 2010, 10:07:29 PM
Yet more inconvenient facts ignored by Team Obama:
Parts of Obama Coalition Drift Toward G.O.P., Poll Finds
Critical parts of the coalition that delivered President
Obama to the White House in 2008 and gave Democrats control
of Congress in 2006 are switching their allegiance to the
Republicans in the final phase of the midterm Congressional
elections, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News
Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in
recent election cycles among women, Catholics, less affluent
Americans and independents; all of those groups broke for Mr.
Obama in 2008 and for congressional Democrats when they
grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago,
according to exit polls.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Beck's "Broke" book
on: October 27, 2010, 10:00:43 PM
The U.S. is Broke, is it too Late?
The battle against progressivism has reached a high water mark - the country is
broke, our spirits are down, and President Obama and the Pelosi-Reid led Congress
has dramatically made things worse. How did things get this way? Conservative star
Glenn Beck has the answers in his hit new book Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust,
Truth, and Treasure. Beck starts his analysis at the American Revolution and goes
all the way through to the Obama regime. Highlighting key lurches towards
progressivism, Beck sketches out why we have turned away from the Constitutional
principles of the founding fathers.
All is not lost, however. Beck details a plan to bring our country back from the
brink. We must buy into the concept of "shared sacrifice" in order to preserve
freedom. In an educated, enlightened and entertaining style that only Glenn Beck can
deliver, the rallying cry has been heard - it's time for action! Get Townhall
Magazine today and receive Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth, and Treasure
by Glenn Beck absolutely free!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO on Stewart show
on: October 27, 2010, 09:48:35 PM
For Obama, election politics no laughing matter
AP – President Barack Obama is pictured during a commercial break as he talks with host Jon Stewart as he … .By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press Darlene Superville, Associated Press – 1 hr 14 mins ago
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama apparently thinks politics is no laughing matter, even when he's staring down a comedian. Obama barely cracked any jokes during an appearance Wednesday on "The Daily Show" despite host Jon Stewart's attempts to draw out the president's humorous side with a few of his own snarky wisecracks.
Less than a week before the critical Nov. 2 congressional elections, Obama said he hopes Democratic lawmakers who made tough votes will be rewarded with another term in office. He promised more accomplishments in the two years left on his own term in the Oval Office and urged people to vote — early if they can.
Stewart asked how the political environment got to the point that Democrats "seem to be running on 'Please, baby, one more chance'" just two years after Obama ran a successful presidential campaign built around "very high rhetoric, hope and change."
"Are you disappointed in how it's gone?" asked the Comedy Central satirist.
Obama seemed to suggest that he wasn't disappointed. He said his advisers had told him during the euphoria of his 2008 election to "enjoy this now because two years from now folks are going to be frustrated. That is, in fact, what's happening."
He listed as reasons a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, sinking housing values and an economy that is growing but not fast enough. But Obama said his administration has also stabilized the economy, noting it has grown for nine months in a row. He also signed major health care and financial legislation. Obama suggested that his administration did so much that "we have done things that some folks don't even know about."
The comment seemed to catch Stewart by surprise.
"What have you done that we don't know about?" he asked. "Are you planning a surprise party for us, filled with jobs and health care?"
Obama cited legislation extending health care to more children and broadening a national service program as examples.
"Over and over again, we have moved forward an agenda that is making a difference in people's lives each and every day," Obama replied. "Is it enough? No. And so I expect, and I think most Democrats out there expect, that people want to see more progress."
The interview, which allowed Obama to take his campaign message to the type of audience that gets political news from programs like Stewart's, seemed more wonkish than slapstick.
Ask America: Learn. Listen. Be heard.
The Fast Fix
Stewart pressed Obama on the changed political climate in the country and questioned him about the new health care law. The president defended his record as well as Democrats, who are expected to suffer a drubbing at the polls Tuesday. Obama was the guest for the entire show. Stewart is taping the show in Washington this week ahead of a rally he's holding Saturday on the National Mall.
At one point, though, when Obama asked to say something about members of Congress, Stewart prompted laughter by asking, "Are you going to curse?"
Stewart poked at Obama for saying during the presidential campaign that "we are the ones we've been waiting for."
"So here you are, you're two years into your administration and the question that arises in my mind: Are we the people we were waiting for or does it turn out those people are still out there and we don't have their number?" the comedian intoned, suggesting that someone in the White House needs to call them up.
There was even more laughter when Obama used a now-notorious Washington phrase to defend Lawrence Summers, a top economic adviser who is leaving the administration at the end of the year. Stewart reminded Obama that he'd once said that different results won't come from the same people. Then Obama hired Summers, who had served in the Clinton administration.
Obama said Summers "did a heck of a job," to which Stewart said, "You don't want to use that phrase, dude."
That's because in 2005, then-President George W. Bush used the phrase to describe the job his emergency management director, Michael Brown, was doing after Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters had devastated New Orleans.
On the "Daily Show," Obama said he hopes voters will reward some Democrats from largely conservative districts who took votes they knew would be bad politically but did so anyway because they thought it was the right thing to do. He named freshman Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia, who voted for Obama's health care overhaul and is in a tight race re-election race. Obama plans to campaign with Perriello on Friday.
"My hope is that those people are rewarded for taking those tough votes," Obama said. "If they are, then I think Democrats will do fine on Election Day."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Emasculation of Men In Contempory Society
on: October 27, 2010, 01:33:38 PM
I forget which thread the posts are to be found, but there is a body of scientific literature concerning the presence of certain man-made chemicals in the environment which tend to enter animals, including humans, with feminizing effects , , ,
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / NYT: Cortisone
on: October 27, 2010, 01:05:03 PM
Do Cortisone Shots Actually Make Things Worse?
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS
In the late 1940s, the steroid cortisone, an anti-inflammatory drug, was first synthesized and hailed as a landmark. It soon became a safe, reliable means to treat the pain and inflammation associated with sports injuries (as well as other conditions). Cortisone shots became one of the preferred treatments for overuse injuries of tendons, like tennis elbow or an aching Achilles, which had been notoriously resistant to treatment. The shots were quite effective, providing rapid relief of pain.
Then came the earliest clinical trials, including one, published in 1954, that raised incipient doubts about cortisone’s powers. In that early experiment, more than half the patients who received a cortisone shot for tennis elbow or other tendon pain suffered a relapse of the injury within six months.
But that cautionary experiment and others didn’t slow the ascent of cortisone (also known as corticosteroids). It had such a magical, immediate effect against pain. Today cortisone shots remain a standard, much-requested treatment for tennis elbow and other tendon problems.
But a major new review article, published last Friday in The Lancet, should revive and intensify the doubts about cortisone’s efficacy. The review examined the results of nearly four dozen randomized trials, which enrolled thousands of people with tendon injuries, particularly tennis elbow, but also shoulder and Achilles-tendon pain. The reviewers determined that, for most of those who suffered from tennis elbow, cortisone injections did, as promised, bring fast and significant pain relief, compared with doing nothing or following a regimen of physical therapy. The pain relief could last for weeks.
But when the patients were re-examined at 6 and 12 months, the results were substantially different. Overall, people who received cortisone shots had a much lower rate of full recovery than those who did nothing or who underwent physical therapy. They also had a 63 percent higher risk of relapse than people who adopted the time-honored wait-and-see approach. The evidence for cortisone as a treatment for other aching tendons, like sore shoulders and Achilles-tendon pain, was slight and conflicting, the review found. But in terms of tennis elbow, the shots seemed to actually be counterproductive. As Bill Vicenzino, Ph.D., the chairman of sports physiotherapy at the University of Queensland in Australia and senior author of the review, said in an e-mail response to questions, “There is a tendency” among tennis-elbow sufferers “for the majority (70-90 percent) of those following a wait-and-see policy to get better” after six months to a year. But “this is not the case” for those getting cortisone shots, he wrote. They “tend to lag behind significantly at those time frames.” In other words, in some way, the cortisone shots impede full recovery, and compared with those ‘‘adopting a wait-and-see policy,” those getting the shots “are worse off.” Those people receiving multiple injections may be at particularly high risk for continuing damage. In one study that the researchers reviewed, “an average of four injections resulted in a 57 percent worse outcome when compared to one injection,” Dr. Vicenzino said.
Why cortisone shots should slow the healing of tennis elbow is a good question. An even better one, though, is why they help in the first place. For many years it was widely believed that tendon-overuse injuries were caused by inflammation, said Karim Khan, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the School of Human Kinetics at the University of British Columbia and the co-author of a commentary in The Lancet accompanying the new review article. The injuries were, as a group, given the name tendinitis, since the suffix “-itis” means inflammation. Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication. Using it against an inflammation injury was logical.
But in the decades since, numerous studies have shown, persuasively, that these overuse injuries do not involve inflammation. When animal or human tissues from these types of injuries are examined, they do not contain the usual biochemical markers of inflammation. Instead, the injury seems to be degenerative. The fibers within the tendons fray. Today the injuries usually are referred to as tendinopathies, or diseased tendons.
Why then does a cortisone shot, an anti-inflammatory, work in the short term in noninflammatory injuries, providing undeniable if ephemeral pain relief? The injections seem to have “an effect on the neural receptors” involved in creating the pain in the sore tendon, Dr. Khan said. “They change the pain biology in the short term.” But, he said, cortisone shots do “not heal the structural damage” underlying the pain. Instead, they actually “impede the structural healing.”
Still, relief of pain might be a sufficient reason to champion the injections, if the pain “were severe,” Dr. Khan said. “But it’s not.” The pain associated with tendinopathies tends to fall somewhere around a 7 or so on a 10-point scale of pain. “It’s not insignificant, but it’s not kidney stones.”
So the question of whether cortisone shots still make sense as a treatment for tendinopathies, especially tennis elbow, depends, Dr. Khan said, on how you choose “to balance short-term pain relief versus the likelihood” of longer-term negative outcomes. In other words, is reducing soreness now worth an increased risk of delayed healing and possible relapse within the year?
Some people, including physicians, may decide that the answer remains yes. There will always be a longing for a magical pill, the quick fix, especially when the other widely accepted and studied alternatives for treating sore tendons are to do nothing or, more onerous to some people, to rigorously exercise the sore joint during physical therapy. But if he were to dispense advice based on his findings and that of his colleagues’ systematic review, Dr. Vincenzino said, he would suggest that athletes with tennis elbow (and possibly other tendinopathies) think not just once or twice about the wisdom of cortisone shots but “three or four times.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on vote fraud
on: October 27, 2010, 01:00:57 PM
Fraudulent Voting Re-emerges as a Partisan IssueBy IAN URBINA
Published: October 26, 2010
WASHINGTON — In 2006, conservative activists repeatedly claimed that the problem of people casting fraudulent votes was so widespread that it was corrupting the political process and possibly costing their candidates victories.
This Milwaukee sign was criticized as intended intimidation.
The accusations turned out to be largely false, but they led to a heated debate, with voting rights groups claiming that the accusations were crippling voter registration drives and reducing turnout.
That debate is flaring anew.
Tea Party members have started challenging voter registration applications and have announced plans to question individual voters at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible.
In response, liberal groups and voting rights advocates are sounding an alarm, claiming that such strategies are scare tactics intended to suppress minority and poor voters.
In St. Paul, organizers from the Tea Party and related groups announced this week that they were offering a $500 reward for anyone who turned in someone who was successfully prosecuted for voter fraud.
The group is also organizing volunteer “surveillance squads” to photograph and videotape what it suspects are irregularities, and in some cases to follow buses that take voters to the polls.
In Milwaukee last week, several community groups protested the posting of large billboards throughout the city that show pictures of people behind jail bars under the words “We Voted Illegally.” The protesters said the posters — it was not clear who paid for them — were intended to intimidate people from voting.
In Houston, a Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots recently accused a voter registration group, Houston Votes, of turning in voter registration applications with incorrect information.
Voting rights advocates say they are worried.
“Private efforts to police the polls create a real risk of vote suppression, regardless of their intent,” said Wendy R. Weiser, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “People need to know that any form of discrimination, intimidation or challenge to voters without adequate basis is illegal or improper.”
Voter fraud and voter-registration fraud are, of course, different.
While many states have voter registration records riddled with names of dead people, out-of-date addresses and other erroneous information, there is little evidence that such errors lead to fraudulent votes, many experts note.
A report by the public-integrity section of the Justice Department found that from October 2002 to September 2005, the department charged 95 people with “election fraud”; 55 were convicted.
Among those, fewer than 20 people were convicted of casting fraudulent ballots, and only 5 were convicted of registration fraud. Most of the rest were charged with other voting violations, including a scheme meant to help Republicans by blocking the phone lines used by two voting groups that were arranging rides to get voters to the polls.
Even so, the fear of stolen votes remains, as does the fear of missing votes — particularly in light of a decrease, compared with 2006, in voter-registration applications in swing states.
About 43 percent fewer new voters have registered in Wisconsin this year than in 2006, while in Indiana, the decrease has been about 35 percent. Significant drops have also been seen in Ohio (25 percent), North Carolina (28 percent), Florida (27 percent) and Maryland (21 percent), according to state election data collected by the Brennan Center.
Voting experts say several factors explain the trend.
Voter enthusiasm is low now, and fewer groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, are engaged in drives to sign people up. Acorn collected about 550,000 voter-registration applications across the country in 2006, mostly from low-income and minority Americans, and 1.3 million in 2008.
But in March, the organization closed down after accusations by two conservative activists that low-level Acorn employees had advised them on how to hide prostitution activities and avoid taxes. The group was also battered by conservatives for having submitted some voter registration cards with incorrect, duplicate or false information.
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The housing crisis may also have dampened voter registration. More than three million properties were foreclosed this year, a 30 percent increase from 2008, and people who have been forced out of their homes may be not be able establish residency to vote.
Many states have also enacted laws in recent years that make registration drives more difficult, with stricter reporting and filing deadlines for voter registration groups.
“It has been an uphill fight in a lot of states to register people this year,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, national president of the League of Women Voters.
Ms. MacNamara said the group’s Georgia chapter faced an additional burden because of a new state law requiring voters to prove citizenship. The chapter does not have a copier machine, so the expense of duplicating documents like birth certificates or driver’s licenses falls to unpaid volunteers.
Most of the new barriers to registration are likely to hurt Democrats more than Republicans. Historically, these registration drives have focused on voters in poorer areas and minority communities, which tend to vote Democratic.
The Obama administration has tried to take steps to lessen the dependence on independent voter registration groups, while also broadening voter participation among poorer and minority voters.
In June, the Justice Department released new guidelines for the “motor voter” law, emphasizing that all public-assistance applicants must be given the opportunity to register to vote, and that state employees must offer to help them.
Still, independent voter registration groups say that they still play an important role, and that scare tactics are making their work harder.
“There is an intentional effort here to suppress participation,” said Jim George, a lawyer for the Texans Together Education Fund, the parent organization of Houston Votes.
Houston Votes, whose registration drive has mostly focused on Latino neighborhoods, did find at least one paid canvasser submitting fraudulent applications, Mr. George said, and that person was immediately fired. He added that the groups’ financing for voter registration work had dried up because of insinuations by the King Street Patriots that Houston Votes was tied to the New Black Panther Party.
“Houston Votes has nothing whatsoever to do with the Black Panthers,” Mr. George said. “But you make a claim like that, and funding dries up, even if the claim isn’t true.”
Mr. George explained that during a meeting, the King Street Patriots had shown a picture of the Houston Votes office and stated its address before adding that this was the new location of the Black Panthers.
Hiram Sasser, a lawyer for the Liberty Institute who represents the King Street Patriots, denied the claim but when presented a video of the incident, he said that his client had actually made a mistake and did not realize the office was tied to Houston Votes.
Leo Vasquez, the Republican tax assessor-collector and voter registrar in Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston, said that of about 25,640 registration applications submitted by Houston Votes, about 5,500 had problems.
The Texas Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit against Mr. Vasquez, accusing him and the voter registration office of illegally rejecting voter applications.
The fight occurs against the backdrop of a contest for governor in which a large turnout in Harris County would be vital to the effort by the Democratic candidate, Bill White, to defeat Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH surprised by direction of events in Lebanon
on: October 27, 2010, 12:51:31 PM
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.
With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.
The White House sent a senior diplomat to Beirut last week to reassure Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, of President Obama’s support for the investigation and his country’s stability. The visit by the diplomat, Jeffrey D. Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, came on top of a telephone call to Mr. Suleiman by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“The president felt very strongly that we need to reconfirm our commitment to Lebanon’s independence, Lebanon’s sovereignty and Lebanon’s stability,” Mr. Feltman said in an interview. “There are people inside Lebanon who are arguing that it faces a choice of justice versus stability. That’s an artificial choice.”
The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks.
The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”
Lebanon has long been a proxy state for battles between adversaries in the Middle East, and Iran’s attempts to build influence there are not new. But at a time when the United States is trying to revive peace talks, administration officials concluded that Iran’s latest muscle-flexing could not go unanswered.
“You don’t want the perception of a vacuum,” Mr. Feltman said. “You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.”
Analysts said that the United States was right to reassert its commitment to Lebanon, but that it may be acting too late. Rising prices for weapons suggest that militias other than Hezbollah are rearming, increasing the threat of a civil war.
There are limits to what the administration can do to stabilize a country as divided as Lebanon. The United States has given the Lebanese armed forces $670 million in military aid since 2006. But last August, several members of Congress put a hold on further funds after a skirmish between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers raised suspicions that parts of the Lebanese Army were in league with Hezbollah.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s jubilant reception in Lebanon has only added to the resistance on Capitol Hill. Representative Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat from New York who sponsored a bill imposing sanctions on Syria, said he would consider voting to block aid because of fears that it could end up helping Hezbollah.
“We need to be careful about what we do there, so we’re not strengthening the hand of a terrorist group like Hezbollah and its allies,” Mr. Engel said in an interview. “We just don’t want to use our monies to enhance policies that are bad for Americans and bad for the people of Lebanon.”
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council in 2007 to investigate the car bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. Lebanon’s coalition government, now led by Mr. Hariri’s son, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has pledged to contribute 49 percent of the tribunal’s expenses and enforce its judgments.
The Netherlands-based tribunal has been at work since March 2009, but has said little about when it plans to hand down indictments.
A raft of reports in Lebanon’s news media said an announcement could come as early as December, though some reports now suggest that the tribunal may not act until the first quarter of next year.
In either case, a sense that the investigation is entering its final stages has contributed to a feverish political environment.
The trouble is, those indicted may include members of Hezbollah, and the group, which holds seats in the Lebanese cabinet, is demanding that Prime Minister Hariri disavow the investigation. Syria, also under suspicion for having a role in Rafik Hariri’s assassination, has taken up calls to discredit the tribunal.
Syrian officials, who had once backed Saad Hariri’s government, are now sharply critical of him and his March 14 alliance, a coalition that grew out of the “Cedar Revolution,” which pushed Syrian troops out of the country. Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper that is closely allied with Hezbollah and Syria, declared recently that “taking authority away from Hariri would teach him how to keep it.”
Saudi Arabia has tried to mediate, without much success. American officials say they believe that the tribunal will be able to complete its investigation. But their concern is that indictments will draw protesters onto the streets, inflaming tensions between Shiite and Sunni factions. Unrest could also lead to fresh skirmishes between Lebanese and Israeli forces along the border between the countries.
That would imperil a peace effort that is already on life support. Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu’s chief negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, has been in Washington for the last few days, officials said, floating various ideas on ways to revive the talks. But there is no indication of an imminent breakthrough.
Syria’s increasingly disruptive role is also raising questions about the Obama administration’s 18-month effort to engage that country. Some analysts said it was time for the administration to rethink that effort.
“This is the moment when we need a straight answer out of Syria,” said Andrew Tabler, an expert on Syria and Lebanon at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They just seem unwilling or unable to deliver it.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wright
on: October 27, 2010, 12:42:58 PM
Robert Wright has written two outstanding books on evolutionary psychology:
The Moral Animal, and
Non-Zero Sum, the logic of human destiny
Here is his piece from today's POTH. Is he right? If not, where is he wrong?
As if we needed more evidence of America’s political polarization, last week Juan Williams gave the nation a Rorschach test. Williams said he gets scared when people in “Muslim garb” board a plane he’s on, and he promptly got (a) fired by NPR and (b) rewarded by Fox News with a big contract.
Suppose Williams had said something hurtful to gay people instead of to Muslims. Suppose he had said gay men give him the creeps because he fears they’ll make sexual advances. NPR might well have fired him, but would Fox News have chosen that moment to give him a $2-million pat on the back?
I don’t think so. Playing the homophobia card is costlier than playing the Islamophobia card. Or at least, the costs are more evenly spread across the political spectrum. In 2007, when Ann Coulter used a gay slur, she was denounced on the right as well as the left, and her stock dropped. Notably, her current self-promotion campaign stresses her newfound passion for gay rights.
Coulter’s comeuppance reflected sustained progress on the gay rights front. Only a few decades ago, you could tell an anti-gay joke on the Johnny Carson show — with Carson’s active participation — and no one would complain. (See postscript below for details.) The current “it gets better” campaign, designed to reassure gay teenagers that adulthood will be less oppressive than adolescence, amounts to a kind of double entrendre: things get better not just over an individual’s life but over the nation’s life.
When we move from homophobia to Islamophobia, the trendline seems to be pointing in the opposite direction. This isn’t shocking, given 9/11 and the human tendency to magnify certain kinds of risk. (Note to Juan Williams: Over the past nine years about 90 million flights have taken off from American airports, and not one has been brought down by a Muslim terrorist. Even in 2001, no flights were brought down by people in “Muslim garb.”)
A few decades ago, people all over America knew and liked gay people — they just didn’t realize they were gay.
.Still, however “natural” this irrational fear, it’s dangerous. As Islamophobia grows, it alienates Muslims, raising the risk of homegrown terrorism — and homegrown terrorism heightens the Islamophobia, which alienates more Muslims, and so on: a vicious circle that could carry America into the abyss. So it’s worth taking a look at why homophobia is fading; maybe the underlying dynamic is transplantable to the realm of inter-ethnic prejudice.
Theories differ as to what it takes for people to build bonds across social divides, and some theories offer more hope than others.
One of the less encouraging theories grows out of the fact that both homophobia and Islamophobia draw particular strength from fundamentalist Christians. Maybe, this argument goes, part of the problem is a kind of “scriptural determinism.” If religious texts say that homosexuality is bad, or that people of other faiths are bad, then true believers will toe that line.
If scripture is indeed this powerful, we’re in trouble, because scripture is invoked by intolerant people of all Abrahamic faiths — including the Muslim terrorists who plant the seeds of Islamophobia. And, judging by the past millennium or two, God won’t be issuing a revised version of the Bible or the Koran anytime soon.
Happily, there’s a new book that casts doubt on the power of intolerant scripture: “American Grace,” by the social scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell.
Three decades ago, according to one of the many graphs in this data-rich book, slightly less than half of America’s frequent churchgoers were fine with gay people freely expressing their views on gayness. Today that number is over 70 percent — and no biblical verse bearing on homosexuality has magically changed in the meanwhile. And these numbers actually understate the progress; over those three decades, church attendance was dropping for mainline Protestant churches and liberal Catholics, so the “frequent churchgoers” category consisted increasingly of evangelicals and conservative Catholics.
So why have conservative Christians gotten less homophobic? Putnam and Campbell favor the “bridging” model. The idea is that tolerance is largely a question of getting to know people. If, say, your work brings you in touch with gay people or Muslims — and especially if your relationship with them is collaborative — this can brighten your attitude toward the whole tribe they’re part of. And if this broader tolerance requires ignoring or reinterpreting certain scriptures, so be it; the meaning of scripture is shaped by social relations.
The bridging model explains how attitudes toward gays could have made such rapid progress. A few decades ago, people all over America knew and liked gay people — they just didn’t realize these people were gay. So by the time gays started coming out of the closet, the bridge had already been built.
And once straight Americans followed the bridge’s logic — once they, having already accepted people who turned out to be gay, accepted gayness itself — more gay people felt comfortable coming out. And the more openly gay people there were, the more straight people there were who realized they had gay friends, and so on: a virtuous circle.
So could bridging work with Islamophobia? Could getting to know Muslims have the healing effect that knowing gay people has had?
The good news is that bridging does seem to work across religious divides. Putnam and Campbell did surveys with the same pool of people over consecutive years and found, for example, that gaining evangelical friends leads to a warmer assessment of evangelicals (by seven degrees on a “feeling thermometer” per friend gained, if you must know).
And what about Muslims? Did Christians warm to Islam as they got to know Muslims — and did Muslims return the favor?
That’s the bad news. The population of Muslims is so small, and so concentrated in distinct regions, that there weren’t enough such encounters to yield statistically significant data. And, as Putnam and Campbell note, this is a recipe for prejudice. Being a small and geographically concentrated group makes it hard for many people to know you, so not much bridging naturally happens. That would explain why Buddhists and Mormons, along with Muslims, get low feeling-thermometer ratings in America.
In retrospect, the situation of gays a few decades ago was almost uniquely conducive to rapid progress. The gay population, though not huge, was finely interspersed across the country, with representatives in virtually every high school, college and sizeable workplace. And straights had gotten to know them without even seeing the border they were crossing in the process.
So the engineering challenge in building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims will be big. Still, at least we grasp the nuts and bolts of the situation. It’s a matter of bringing people into contact with the “other” in a benign context. And it’s a matter of doing it fast, before the vicious circle takes hold, spawning appreciable homegrown terrorism and making fear of Muslims less irrational.
After 9/11, philanthropic foundations spent a lot of money arranging confabs whose participants spanned the divide between “Islam” and “the West.” Meaningful friendships did form across this border, and that’s good. It’s great that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a cosmopolitan, progressive Muslim, got to know lots of equally cosmopolitan Christians and Jews.
But as we saw when he decided to build an Islamic Community Center near ground zero, this sort of high-level networking — bridging among elites whose attitudes aren’t really the problem in the first place — isn’t enough. Philanthropists need to figure out how you build lots of little bridges at the grass roots level. And they need to do it fast.
Postscript: As for the Johnny Carson episode: I don’t like to rely on my memory alone for decades-old anecdotes, but in this case I’m 99.8 percent sure that I remember the basics accurately. Carson’s guest was the drummer Buddy Rich. In a supposedly spontaneous but obviously pre-arranged exchange, Rich said something like, “People often ask me, What is Johnny Carson really like?” Carson looked at Rich warily and said, “And how do you respond to this query?” But he paused between “this” and “query,” theatrically ratcheting up the wariness by an increment or two, and then pronounced the word “query” as “queery.” Rich immediately replied, “Like that.” Obviously, there are worse anti-gay jokes than this. Still, the premise was that being gay was something to be ashamed of. That Googling doesn’t turn up any record of this episode suggests that it didn’t enter the national conversation or the national memory. I don’t think that would be the case today. And of course, anecdotes aside, there is lots of polling data showing the extraordinary progress made since the Johnny Carson era on such issues as gay marriage and on gay rights in general.
On another note: Here’s my review of “American Grace”. (I should note that the authors’ exposition of the “bridging” dynamic comes in the context of interfaith tolerance, not gay-straight tolerance. But I have little doubt that they think the dynamic applies to both contexts.)