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24851  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison on: June 24, 2008, 09:08:17 AM

"A local spirit will infallibly prevail much more in the members
of Congress than a national spirit will prevail in the legislatures
of the particular States."

-- James Madison (Federalist No. 46, 29 January 1788)

Reference: Madison, Federalist, No. 46.

24852  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes Columnist: Bush was right?!? on: June 24, 2008, 04:23:52 AM
The Bush Paradox
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Published: June 24, 2008
Let’s go back and consider how the world looked in the winter of 2006-2007. Iraq was in free fall, with horrific massacres and ethnic cleansing that sent a steady stream of bad news across the world media. The American public delivered a stunning electoral judgment against the Iraq war, the Republican Party and President Bush.

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All Conversations » Expert and elite opinion swung behind the Baker-Hamilton report, which called for handing more of the problems off to the Iraqi military and wooing Iran and Syria. Republicans on Capitol Hill were quietly contemptuous of the president while Democrats were loudly so.

Democratic leaders like Senator Harry Reid considered the war lost. Barack Obama called for a U.S. withdrawal starting in the spring of 2007, while Senator Reid offered legislation calling for a complete U.S. pullback by March 2008.

The arguments floating around the op-ed pages and seminar rooms were overwhelmingly against the idea of a surge — a mere 20,000 additional troops would not make a difference. The U.S. presence provoked violence, rather than diminishing it. The more the U.S. did, the less the Iraqis would step up to do. Iraq was in the middle of a civil war, and it was insanity to put American troops in the middle of it.

When President Bush consulted his own generals, the story was much the same. Almost every top general, including Abizaid, Schoomaker and Casey, were against the surge. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was against it, according to recent reports. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki called for a smaller U.S. presence, not a bigger one.

In these circumstances, it’s amazing that George Bush decided on the surge. And looking back, one thing is clear: Every personal trait that led Bush to make a hash of the first years of the war led him to make a successful decision when it came to this crucial call.

Bush is a stubborn man. Well, without that stubbornness, that unwillingness to accept defeat on his watch, he never would have bucked the opposition to the surge.

Bush is an outrageously self-confident man. Well, without that self-confidence he never would have overruled his generals.

In fact, when it comes to Iraq, Bush was at his worst when he was humbly deferring to the generals and at his best when he was arrogantly overruling them. During that period in 2006 and 2007, Bush stiffed the brass and sided with a band of dissidents: military officers like David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and outside strategists like Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Jack Keane, a retired general.

Bush is also a secretive man who listens too much to Dick Cheney. Well, the uncomfortable fact is that Cheney played an essential role in promoting the surge. Many of the people who are dubbed bad guys actually got this one right.

The additional fact is that Bush, who made such bad calls early in the war, made a courageous and astute decision in 2006. More than a year on, the surge has produced large, if tenuous, gains. Violence is down sharply. Daily life has improved. Iraqi security forces have been given time to become a more effective fighting force. The Iraqi government is showing signs of strength and even glimmers of impartiality. Iraq has moved from being a failed state to, as Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations has put it, merely a fragile one.

The whole episode is a reminder that history is a complicated thing. The traits that lead to disaster in certain circumstances are the very ones that come in handy in others. The people who seem so smart at some moments seem incredibly foolish in others.

The cocksure war supporters learned this humbling lesson during the dark days of 2006. And now the cocksure surge opponents, drunk on their own vindication, will get to enjoy their season of humility. They have already gone through the stages of intellectual denial. First, they simply disbelieved that the surge and the Petraeus strategy was doing any good. Then they accused people who noticed progress in Iraq of duplicity and derangement. Then they acknowledged military, but not political, progress. Lately they have skipped over to the argument that Iraq is progressing so well that the U.S. forces can quickly come home.

But before long, the more honest among the surge opponents will concede that Bush, that supposed dolt, actually got one right. Some brave souls might even concede that if the U.S. had withdrawn in the depths of the chaos, the world would be in worse shape today.

Life is complicated. The reason we have democracy is that no one side is right all the time. The only people who are dangerous are those who can’t admit, even to themselves, that obvious fact.

24853  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: June 24, 2008, 04:19:42 AM
Capt. Ford's Drive To Victory In Afghanistan
By SEAN HIGGINS | Posted Friday, January 18, 2008 4:30 PM PT

Capt. Sheffield F. Ford III's mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, sounded simple enough. It just wasn't easy.

"The specific goal was to re-establish order to a certain area," Ford, 36, said matter-of-factly during a phone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C., last month.

"Re-establish order" meant "drive out the Taliban." His forces would push them out of three villages.

Sheffield Ford poses near Afghanistan's Kajaki Dam in May 2006, a month before the bloody battle against terrorists led to his receiving a Silver Star.
The Taliban weren't going anywhere without a fight.

On June 23, 2006, Ford led his Army Special Forces unit and a contingent of Afghan soldiers in what was dubbed Operation Kaika.

It turned out to be a pitched, 2 1/2-day battle against a group of Islamist radicals vastly larger than the Americans had expected.

The coalition forces totaled 72 men. The Taliban had more than 200. At times Ford's men were surrounded on four sides. At other times the fight was so close, the enemy was yards away. "We were expecting some resistance, but not of that nature," Ford recalled. "They basically laid siege to us."

Despite the danger, chaos, exhaustion and fear, Ford led the coalition forces to a lopsided victory.

The battle claimed the lives of an estimated 125 terrorists and just five coalition soldiers: two Americans and three Afghan interpreters.

It was one of the largest battles in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion of 2001. Last fall, Ford was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry.

"Capt. Ford's courageous actions and determined leadership in the face of an overwhelming attack by a well-armed and determined enemy force prevented the destruction of his circled detachment," reads the narrative accompanying the award.

It concludes: "His gallantry, dedication to duty and selfless sacrifice exemplified the warrior ethos."

Ford is a native of Dixon, Calif., a farming community near Sacramento. He joined the Army at age 17, eventually becoming a member of the elite Special Forces.

That took him to Afghanistan's Panjawi district in 2006. It's among the country's remotest places — where people live in mud huts and drive on nearly impassible roads.

It is also one of the most contested regions in that country. "It's just a constant battle there," Ford said.

Operation Kaika began because the Taliban were moving into farming villages. The terrorists gave villagers an ultimatum: Leave or support us. It was the middle of harvest season, and the locals couldn't afford to lose their grape crops.

Coalition troops intended to sweep in and roust the Taliban with a show of superior force. Afghan policemen would later guard against the Taliban's return.

The first part of the plan hit a firewall. The Taliban hit back hard against Ford's men. The terrorists had heavy weapons and sophisticated communications. Ford later learned that a senior Taliban commander was leading the attack.

It was like nothing the 18-year Army veteran had encountered. The Taliban in that region rarely attacked in that way.

The battle over the three days included three firefights totaling 17 hours of hard fighting.

The valor award's narrative reports that during the first fight, Ford led the attack from an exposed vehicle's turret gun: "Under an extraordinary volume of small arms, machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, he remained in the exposed turret, ignoring the strikes of bullets and grenade fragments around him, accurately and calmly firing into the Taliban assault."

He did this while coordinating the rest of the defense and reporting its status to headquarters.

Ford fired from the exposed turret again the second day after the Taliban targeted a follow-up assault.

When the Taliban realized it outnumbered the coalition forces, other jihadists entered the fray. They were convinced they had the Americans cornered. "They were yelling and cursing at us, saying this time they were going to capture us," Ford recalled. "They told the Afghan soldiers to give up and leave."

He could call in air support, but the Taliban pressed in too closely. Ford and his men ran the risk of having themselves bombed.

An immediate risk was the perimeter. At one point only a three-foot-high wall separated some allied forces from the Taliban.

Coalitions troops were so desperate, they called in Afghan police for backup. The terrorists countered by ambushing the cops, who never made it to the coalition's position.

"That was how we knew we were surrounded," Ford said.

Again he maintained calm, coordinating the counterattack and ensuring that the defenders held the perimeter. Instead of hunkering down, they attacked the enemy. That helped them regain the initiative and push the Taliban back.

Through it all, said Ford, he was "most definitely" scared but refused to get rattled. He focused on protecting his men. He mostly succeeded, yet his master sergeant, Thomas Maholic, didn't make it.

"Anybody who would say they don't feel fear or get scared during such a battle, well, I couldn't believe them," Ford said. "With all emotions, it is how you control it and how you focus on what you are going through so you can have a positive outcome."

Ford says a major part of the mission's success was his team's communications. Yes, firepower, high-tech equipment, bravery and the air support that eventually came were crucial. But they would've been wasted if his forces couldn't coordinate counterattacks.

Communications involved more than making sure everybody received orders. The troops had to know what those orders were.

Confusion could have reigned, since only a dozen of Ford's men were American. The rest were Afghans, most of whom didn't speak English. The language barrier posed a serious danger.

That's why three of the coalition forces killed were interpreters. They had to be right there in the thick of the battle.

"Each one of the personnel on the (Special Forces) team has to be able to have those leadership capabilities in order to command their element of the indigenous (Afghan) forces," Ford explained. "So really it was the whole team coming together that made it successful and allowed us to survive."

Also key was bonding with the Afghan troops. The Americans trained with them constantly. They ate with them and struck up friendships to help build mutual respect.

"There's a term we use for soldiers who do a really good job: He's a fire-and-forget kind of guy," Ford said. "That means I can tell the guy the end state of what I want to be done and turn around and attend to other things because I know that it is going to get done."

That is the way the Afghan force was, he says. Despite the Taliban's threats, the local troops stuck by the Americans throughout the battle.

In addition to Ford, two other Americans, including Maholic, received the Silver Star for their actions in the battle. Three more received the Bronze Star.

The Special Forces commander, Maj. Gen. Thomas Csrnko, during the medal ceremony lauded Ford and others who stood up to the Taliban by staying that "each one of these men would simply say that they were doing their job and taking care of their fellow teammates."

24854  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / My friend the fanatic on: June 24, 2008, 03:05:15 AM
The following cuts against the aspirations of the preceding post:

Unfriendly Fanatics
June 24, 2008

My Friend the Fanatic
By Sadanand Dhume
(Text Publishing, 271 pp., A$34.95)

Terrorist acts perpetrated in the name of Islam have dominated news headlines for years, yet Western readers are often left wondering what motivates such radicalism, and how it spreads. Few nations are more strategically vital to the struggle for the "soul" of Islam than Indonesia. Home of the world's largest Muslim population and democracy, Indonesia's ancient traditions of pluralism and tolerance are under siege by a well-organized and heavily financed extremist movement.

The current radical trends in Indonesia are inextricably linked to Islam's 700-year history in the East Indies. Sunni Islam arrived peacefully in what is now Indonesia, brought by Arab, Indian and Chinese merchants active in the fabled spice trade. Once they acquired sufficient economic power, such merchants established Islamic city-states that rebelled against, and ultimately destroyed, the pre-existing Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Majapahit. It was only the subsequent military and political triumph of indigenous Javanese in 1586 – following a bloody, century-long struggle – that preserved the region's pluralistic and tolerant traditions, in the form of a deeply spiritual understanding of Islam that did not conflict with pre-existing faiths.

In "My Friend the Fanatic," journalist Sadanand Dhume guides the reader deftly through the whirlpool these currents have created. Descriptions of a young, charismatic author titillating avant-garde audiences in the nation's capital – with her sexually provocative short stories and performance art – alternate with on-the-scene reportage of Muslim radicals' success at mobilizing grassroots support throughout the vast archipelago. Mr. Dhume took an unusual trek through Indonesia's lush, tropical landscape with Herry Nurdi, the "fanatic" of the book's title and editor of Sabili, a mass-circulation extremist magazine whose explicit goal is to undo radical Islam's history of failure in Indonesia and assure its final triumph.

By some counts at least, Mr. Nurdi and his ilk are winning. In recent years, extremists have taken advantage of regional autonomy to impose Shariah-based regulations in nearly 70 of Indonesia's 364 local regencies. These laws, among other things, compel women and girls to wear so-called "Muslim" clothing that reveals only the face, hands and feet, even if they are Christian; require students, civil servants and even couples applying for marriage to demonstrate an ability to read the Quran; and effectively restrict women from going out at night without a male relative.

Mr. Dhume's description of the extremists' rise will be dispiriting to those who view democracy as an antidote to radicalism. Indeed, one of the most striking facts he reports is the extent to which those leading the charge to institutionalize radicalism in Indonesia today are directly linked to postindependence rebellions and failed extremist movements from the past. Whereas their ideological forebears (and literally, in many cases, their fathers or grandfathers) were crushed by Indonesian nationalists committed to upholding Indonesia's secular constitution and pluralist state ideology, the new generation of radicals use democracy and the symbols of Islam to erode and ultimately destroy Indonesia's heritage of religious pluralism and tolerance. This phenomenon is rendered possible and dramatically accelerated by the tendency of opportunistic politicians and political parties – often corrupt and lacking in Islamic legitimacy – to engage in a "chase to the lowest common denominator" of Islam, in a cynical attempt to prove their Muslim bona fides.

Unfortunately, the current government in Jakarta – led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – has done little to retard the rapidly metastasizing phenomenon of political Islam. This threatens not only religious minorities such as the Muslim Ahmadiyah sect and Christians, but also the safety and security of the Indonesian nation-state itself. Just this month, in fact, religious extremists beat a group of moderates marching for religious freedom on the grounds of the national monument, in full view of onlooking police and the nearby state palace.

While Mr. Dhume argues convincingly about the radicals' current strength and momentum, he is strangely silent about their most vocal and effective opponents, who represent the world's best hope for a truly democratic and tolerant Islam. Virtually absent from Mr. Dhume's book are the valiant efforts of Indonesian Muslim leaders to stem the Arab petrodollar-funded tide of radical Islam, and thereby uphold the secular foundations of the Indonesian nation-state. Former President Abdurrahman Wahid, a member of the LibForAll Foundation which I head, has vigorously opposed the Islamist agenda and succeeded at blocking many of their initiatives. So, too, have other key leaders of the Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the world's biggest Muslims organizations, which are based in Indonesia and boast 70 million followers.

Islam's future – as a religion of peace and tolerance, or of hatred, violence and supremacy – may well hinge upon Indonesia's destiny, as Middle East financial backers and their indigenous allies well know. Mr. Dhume is pessimistic, sensing that the "totalitarian cast" of the extremist movement will "grind what remained of a once proud culture to a hollow imitation of Arabness." Yet while the situation is undoubtedly grave, it is far from hopeless. Indonesia boasts a moderate public and self-confident Muslim leaders who do not conflate Islam with arrogance, extremism, supremacy or violence. Mr. Dhume's book shows that the battle is raging, but its conclusion is far from preordained.

Mr. Taylor is the chairman & CEO of the LibForAll Foundation, a nonprofit that works to reduce religious extremism worldwide and discredit the use of terrorism.
24855  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Free to choose wrongly on: June 24, 2008, 03:00:45 AM
Free to Choose, But Often Wrong
June 24, 2008; Page A17

By Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman
(Doubleday, 206 pages, $21.95)

Flirting With Disaster
By Marc Gerstein, with Michael Ellsberg
(Union Square, 340 pages, $24.95)

Consider Linda, a 31-year-old woman, single and bright. As a student, she was deeply concerned with discrimination and social justice and also participated in antinuclear protests. Which is more probable? (a) Linda is today a bank teller; (b) Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.

When psychologists Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky conducted an experimental survey in the early 1980s asking people to answer this simple question, they discovered, to their surprise, that most respondents picked "b," even though this was the narrower choice and hence the less likely one. It seems that saliency – in this case, Linda's passionate political profile – trumps logic.

Over the past quarter-century, Mr. Kahneman and his colleagues have gone on to identify a range of flaws in our critical faculties, reshaping the study of economics by challenging the assumption that a person, when faced with a choice, can be counted on to make a rational decision.

While Mr. Kahneman (who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002) has confined most of his writing to academic journals, his ideas have found their way into popular culture through books such as Barry Schwartz's "The Paradox of Choice" and Nassim Taleb's "The Black Swan." "Sway," by brothers Ori and Rom Brafman, is the latest addition to this literature. It offers a breezy introduction to the science of decision-making and shows the many ways in which logical thought can be subverted or "swayed."

Loss aversion, for example, may explain why car rental companies persuade us to purchase gratuitous insurance or why flat-rate telephone plans are so popular even when they end up costing us more. Value attribution – transferring "value" signals from one thing to another – may explain why hot-dog sales at the Coney Island food stand of "Famous Nathan" Handwerker shot up when he recruited local doctors to shop there while wearing their white coats and stethoscopes. Procedural justice may be the reason why venture capitalists favor the entrepreneurs who communicate with them most; a willingness to observe the dictates of process is taken as a proxy for quality.

Some examples in "Sway" are less forceful than others. It seems a bit much, for instance, to blame value attribution for the failure of morning commuters to applaud a virtuoso violinist performing in jeans and a baseball cap at the entrance to a subway station. A simpler explanation: People were in a hurry to get to work. But the pacing of "Sway" is so fast that even questionable examples are gone in seconds, and soon you're on to the next, perhaps more enlightening, vignette.

While the Brafmans are amused by our irrationality, Marc Gerstein is troubled by it and wants to understand why we have such difficulty recognizing our mistaken thinking before it is too late. In "Flirting With Disaster," Mr. Gerstein (assisted by Michael Ellsberg) explores the psychology underlying a series of disasters, including the Challenger explosion, the flooding of New Orleans, the collapse of Arthur Andersen and the fall of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund run by supposed "geniuses." Mr. Gerstein believes that each disaster resulted from a series of bad decisions that could have easily been avoided. Why weren't they?

In some cases, such as the 1981 collapse of the skywalk of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency, the central problem was a design change that was not properly evaluated. In New Orleans, bureaucratic inertia stripped the intensity from a series of urgent warnings. Another source of danger is the conviction that sophisticated models will enable us to capture complexity and defeat uncertainty. Long Term Capital fell as a result of such hubris.

Mr. Gerstein is passionately interested in people and is profoundly disappointed when they behave badly; he is especially critical of bystanders – workers who know enough to speak out but who decide not to do so or who stop short of preventing a bad thing from happening. For Mr. Gerstein the question isn't just why NASA pushed for a Challenger launch over the objections of its engineers; he also wants to understand why the engineers relented despite their obvious concerns. Similarly, he is frustrated by employees at Arthur Andersen who reported gross irregularities to their managers but simply gave up when their complaints were ignored.

Mr. Gerstein concludes that there are too many disincentives to speaking up; he would like to see more whistleblowers. He would also like us to pay more attention to warnings from experts. An important question raised by "Flirting With Disaster," though, is whether unheeded expert warnings are either as significant or as potentially useful as he implies. It seems probable that there is an element of selection bias here: Such warnings may be extremely common, especially in high-risk activities such as space flight or options trading – we just notice them when they happen to be both ignored and right.

Moreover, the distinction between good ideas and dangerous ones – or between good leaders and bad – is seldom as clear as Mr. Gerstein would have it. Decisions must often be made with imperfect information. Clearly, a balancing act must be performed each time a rocket is set to launch, each time a new drug or medical device is introduced, and, for that matter, each time a decision is made. There is always a trade-off between action and reflection. Even if we could address every conceivable concern, disasters would still occur (after all, we can't think of everything) – only they would be accompanied, in the long run, by considerably less innovation and progress.

As Mr. Gerstein urges, though, we could all do more – in our personal and professional lives – to reduce error, learn from mistakes and resist the passive acceptance of a flawed status quo. The question is whether we're rational enough to respond to the challenge.

Dr. Shaywitz is a management consultant in New Jersey.
24856  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: How to win the war of ideas on: June 24, 2008, 02:56:36 AM

How to Win the War of Ideas
June 24, 2008

Military action against insurgents, terrorists and those who give them safe harbor is essential. It is working now in Iraq, and has helped keep Americans safe since 9/11. But as President Bush's National Strategy for Combating Terrorism put it two years ago, "In the long run, winning the War on Terror means winning the battle of ideas."

Many of the strongest supporters of ideological engagement can be found in the Department of Defense, starting with Secretary Robert Gates, who reminded senators earlier this year that the Cold War was "as much a war of ideas as it was of military power." Unfortunately, since the rise of Islamic terror, we haven't done enough on this front.

That's changing. Throughout the government and the private sector, the war of ideas is in early renaissance. The enthusiasm is bipartisan, and we have the opportunity to leave a robust legacy for the next administration.

But what kind of war of ideas will fit the terrorist threat today? First, we need to get the goal straight.

While educational exchanges and other such efforts seek over the long term to encourage foreigners to adopt more generally favorable views of the United States, the war of ideas today should have a different, specific focus. The aim must be to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the U.S. and its allies do not manifest themselves in violence. We want to create an environment hostile to violent extremism, especially by severing links between al Qaeda and like-minded groups and their target audiences.

For starters, we should confront the ideology of violent extremism directly. The most credible voices here are those of Muslims themselves – especially Islamists – who have publicly disavowed al Qaeda's methods and theology. Lately such apostates include Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, who laid the foundation for the movement's bloody ideology and has now repudiated it, and Noman Benotman, a Libyan close to Osama bin Laden who rebuked al Qaeda bluntly last year.

Our public diplomacy efforts should encourage Muslims, individuals and groups, to spread the denunciations of violence by these men and others far and wide. But non-Muslim Americans themselves should not shrink from confidently opposing poisonous ideas either.

A second approach to the war of ideas may, in the long run, be even more effective. Call it "diversion."

The ideology that motivates al Qaeda and similar groups is based on the notion that believers have a duty to carry out the excommunication (and execution) of unbelievers, or even of those who collaborate with unbelievers, or refuse to resist them. This ideology posits a Manichean world, divided into two camps: one practicing the terrorists' version of Islam, the other not.

This is a fantasy, but a distressingly powerful one. Our vision is a pluralistic world with many peaceful and productive choices on how to order one's life. The task is not to persuade potential recruits to become like Americans or Europeans, but to divert them from becoming terrorists.

We do that by helping to build networks (virtual and physical) and countermovements – not just political but cultural, social, athletic and more: mothers against violence, video gamers, soccer enthusiasts, young entrepreneurs, Islamic democrats. For example, there is an emerging global network of families of Islamic victims of terrorist attacks. While winning hearts and minds would be an admirable feat, the war of ideas needs to adopt the more immediate and realistic goal of diverting impressionable segments of the population from being recruited into violent extremism.

Unlike the containment policy of the Cold War, today's diversion policy may not primarily be the responsibility of government. My own job, as the interagency leader for the war of ideas, is to mobilize every possible American asset – public and private, human and technological – in the effort.

Where does Iran fit in? The pool of future suicide bombers and insurgents is sustained by people like the leadership of Iran. Both of the approaches I have outlined – ideological confrontation and diversion – should appeal to a proud and sophisticated Iranian population that is open to pluralistic ideas.

What we seek is a world in which the use of violence to achieve political, religious or social objectives is no longer considered acceptable, efforts to radicalize and recruit new members are no longer successful, and the perpetrators of violent extremism are condemned and isolated.

Military success is necessary, but it is not sufficient – for the simple reason that we face as an enemy not a single nation, or even a coalition, but a stateless global movement. Without a vigorous war of ideas, as we kill such adversaries others will take their place.

Mr. Glassman was sworn in on June 10 as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
24857  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gun Facts Primer on: June 24, 2008, 02:51:35 AM
Have only skimmed it, but this appears to be an excellent resource:
24858  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Back Back payments for Jihadi Bastard on: June 24, 2008, 02:49:06 AM
Muslim extremist Abu Qatada to receive £8,000 incapacity benefits a year - for his bad back

By Tom Kelly
Last updated at 9:20 AM on 23rd June 2008

Abu Qatada is to receive almost £8,000 a year in benefits because he has a bad back. The fanatical cleric, said to be Osama Bin Laden’s ambassador in Europe, will get £150 a week of taxpayer’s cash after being released from jail last week. He was granted the incapacity benefit because his condition makes him unfit to work – even though a curfew allows him out of his home for only two hours a day, meaning it would be almost impossible for him to get a job.

Qatada left Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire after the Appeal Court blocked his deportation to Jordan. He is now living in an £800,000 four-bedroom Edwardian semi in a tree-lined street in West London. His incapacity allowance will push the family’s total annual handouts to more than £50,000. His wife has been claiming £45,000 a year in child benefit, income support, housing benefit and council tax credit for the past four years.

Steve Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, which borders Qatada’s West London home, said: ‘This is adding insult to injury. He abuses us and bleeds us dry at the same time.

‘The sooner he gets back to Jordan the better. I for one would put him in the boot of my car and drive him there myself.’

Taxpayers are also footing an estimated £500,000 a year bill to provide round-the-clock surveillance on Qatada, who has been described by a judges as a ‘truly dangerous individual’. He arrived in Britain 14 years ago on a forged passport and was granted asylum the following year. He was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998, and of plotting to plant bombs during the Millennium-celebrations. Last week a judge freed the cleric on bail after ruling he would face an unfair trial if deported to Jordan.

But the Special Immigration Appeals Commission imposed un-precedented conditions on his release, including a 22-hour curfew and wearing an electronic tag.

* Nearly a third of those claiming ‘sicknote’ benefits - some 800,000 people - have been doing so for more than a decade, figures revealed. In total 2.64million Britons live on incapacity benefit or related handouts.

Details of how hundreds of thousands appear to have backed away from returning to work throws light on the way incapacity benefit has replaced unemployment benefit as the real measure of worklessness.   Those who say they are unemployed and claim the Jobseekers’ Allowance get less money than those on sickness benefits - and come under pressure to find work. The cost of incapacity benefit to the taxpayer is now calculated to run at £16billion a year.  The figure includes the cost of housing benefit and council tax benefit that can be claimed by anyone receiving the incapacity payments.   Checks on the handout to be introduced this autumn will only affect new claimants
24859  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / What would you have done? on: June 24, 2008, 02:35:31 AM
Almost as reprehensible as the cowardice on display is the justification of it by the newspaper and "experts".  Surprise! Its a San Francisco CA newspaper!

Inaction in boy's killing called justified
Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

(06-17) 19:07 PDT TURLOCK (STANISLAUS COUNTY) -- The town of Turlock and much of the rest of the nation was shocked when a 27-year-old man beat and stomped his 2-year-old son to death on a rural road. But what was nearly as stunning for many people was that none of the motorists and their passengers who stopped and saw the attack tried to tackle the man.

Police officers and psychologists familiar with violent emergencies, however, said they weren't surprised at all.

A volunteer firefighter and at least five others saw Sergio Casian Aguiar assaulting his son Saturday night on the road west of Turlock (Stanislaus County), but it wasn't until a police officer arrived in a helicopter that the attack finally ended. Aguiar refused to halt the attack and raised his middle finger at the officer, who shot him to death, authorities said.

Bystanders are justifiably scared and confused in such situations, the experts said Wednesday, and they lack the experience needed to respond with force. They can also be mesmerized by shock.

John Conaty, a veteran homicide detective and former patrol officer in Pittsburg, said that in interviews of witnesses to violence, "the common thing you hear is, 'I was frozen in fear. I just couldn't take action.' "

Conaty questioned whether the witnesses had even been capable of stopping Aguiar. "If they were physically able, you have to take a look at whether they were psychologically prepared to intervene," he said.

"I would not condemn these people," said John Darley, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University who has studied how bystanders react in emergency situations. "Ordinary people aren't going to tackle a psychotic.

"What we have here," Darley said, "is a group of family and friends who are not pre-organized to deal with this stuff. They don't know who should do what. ... If you had five volunteer firefighters pull up, you would expect them to have planned responses and a division of labor. But that's not what we had here."

Darley said he was also not surprised that people who weren't at the scene of the killing believe they would have been heroic Good Samaritans.

"It's an aspiration," he said. "They hope they would have done differently."

First on the scene
One of the witnesses, Deborah McKain of nearby Crows Landing, said she was the first to pull up to the beating scene with her boyfriend, a volunteer fire chief who is 52, as well as her 20-year-old son, her son's wife and her son's male friend. They called 911 at 10:13 p.m., police said.

Over the next seven minutes, McKain said, Aguiar kicked his son at least 100 times as he calmly stated that he needed to "get the demons out" of the boy.

"It was like I was on some type of drug or something," McKain recalled Tuesday. "I couldn't believe what was going on. It was like a dream."

She said her boyfriend, Dan Robinson, forcefully argued with Aguiar in an effort to get him to stop, but that he would not. At one point, another woman, 23-year-old Lisa Mota, pulled up in her car, but stayed inside.

"We were looking for rocks or boards on the ground, just to knock him out, get him under control. But we couldn't find anything," McKain said. "We didn't know if he had a knife or any kind of weapon on him."

McKain said she wondered whether Aguiar was on hallucinogenic drugs and whether fighting with him might lead him to hurt several of the witnesses.

She also said it appeared the child was "gone."

People who are second-guessing her and her family can "never know until they're in that situation," McKain said. "We would have loved to knock his head off, too, but we had nothing to knock it off with."

Deputy Royjindar Singh, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, acknowledged there was some "Monday morning quarterbacking" taking place, but said his agency had no problem with the actions of the witnesses.

'Everybody acts differently'
"Your headlights are shining on a person taking the life out of an infant, and not just shaking and slapping but punching and kicking," Singh said. "Everybody reacts differently."

Sheriff's investigators are still trying to determine why Aguiar, a grocery store worker who recently split up from his schoolteacher wife, killed his son so savagely. The boy's name still has not been released.

Investigators have learned that Aguiar left his home near downtown Turlock before the beating, but they don't know why he drove about 10 miles into an area of cornfields and dairy ranches, Singh said. He said investigators had found no evidence of drug use at Aguiar's house or in his pickup, though results of toxicology tests have not yet come back.

Aguiar's wife, who was in Southern California at the time of the slaying, and others have told investigators that Aguiar "wasn't acting differently than how he normally acts," Singh said. Aguiar's family members, who live in Mexico, were traveling to Stanislaus County to talk to deputies, Singh said.

"As of right now," Singh said, "nobody's saying he was having problems at all. It's baffling. It sounds like there was nothing anyone could have done."

E-mail Demian Bulwa at
24860  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: June 24, 2008, 02:06:14 AM
Excellent.  Do you know what year that was?
24861  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: June 23, 2008, 03:06:07 PM
Smearing Judge Kozinski
June 23, 2008; Page A15
Even scandals now operate at Internet speed. Ten days ago, it looked as if an investigative reporter had uncovered a pornographic Web site operated by a federal judge. By last week, the case instead showed how easily privacy is breached online, how mainstream media botch a story, and how bloggers can redeem journalism by reporting facts.

It's not every day that a judge's wife uses a blog to defend her husband as not a pornographer. The Los Angeles Times scoop charged that the chief judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Alex Kozinski, had posted sexually explicit material online. His wife, lawyer Marcy Tiffany, then wrote a lengthy letter defending her husband that was published on the L.A.-based blog "The fact is, Alex is not into porn – he is into funny – and sometimes funny has a sexual character." She complained that the L.A. Times article used "graphic descriptions that make the material sound like hard-core porn when, in fact, it is more accurately described as raunchy humor."

Indeed, Judge Kozinski is well known for taking the law very seriously, but himself not at all seriously. He was born in Romania, came to California when he was 12, and at 18 went on "The Dating Game" and won. At 35, he was the nation's youngest federal appeals court judge. More recently, he applied to and won a gossip blog's "judicial hottie" contest ("I have it on very good authority that discerning females and gay men find graying, pudgy, middle-aged men with an accent close to Gov. Schwarzenegger's almost totally irresistible," he wrote in his application.)

There's even a law review article entitled "Humor, the Law, and Judge Kozinski's Greatest Hits." In his spare time, Judge Kozinski once served as the videogame reviewer for The Wall Street Journal. He sends an occasional blast email of slapstick jokes to friends. Full disclosure: I have been known to laugh out loud at them.

The L.A. Times claimed that Judge Kozinski posted the images and videos in question onto a Web site. Instead, this content – almost all emailed to him by others – existed on a file server never meant to be accessible by the public. You can now find the images online through a Google search, and you will know pornography when you see it, or when you don't see it, but in any case you can judge. For example, what the L.A. Times described as a "video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal" (which got upgraded to a "bestiality" video by the San Francisco Chronicle), was in fact a big hit on YouTube, watched some 500,000 times. It shows a rancher urinating in a field, then being surprised by a donkey chasing him around. Silly, but not pornography. The Wonkette blog dismissed the pictures and video as "the sort of naughtiness you'd find in the dirty birthday cards section at Spencer Gifts."

Still, Judge Kozinski felt compelled to recuse himself from hearing an obscenity case just getting under way in Los Angeles, and also requested an ethics investigation. "Those of us who know him know that he could have tried this case fairly, but the public would have thought the court system had lost its marbles if Kozinski had stayed on the case," said law professor Stephen Gillers. That's true, given the misleading coverage in the mainstream media around the world. The New York Daily News headline was "Trial (& Titillations) End for Kinky Judge."

A subplot was how the L.A. Times got its bad scoop. The source was Cyrus Sanai, a Beverly Hills lawyer whose hyperlitigious antics drew the wrath of several judicial opinions, which Judge Kozinski supported. Mr. Sanai figured out that by adding "/stuff" to the address of Judge Kozinski's Web site, he could access a subdirectory that contained the cartoons and videos. Mr. Sanai admits he shopped the story for months, to several news organizations (including The Wall Street Journal, he says), before the L.A. Times ran with it – timed to wreak havoc with the obscenity trial. For Mr. Sanai, dipping into Judge Kozinski's files and hoping to embarrass him was "part of a litigation strategy."

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig in his blog objected that "the real story here is how easily we let such a baseless smear travel – and our need is for a better developed immunity (in the sense of immunity from a virus) from this sort of garbage." He compared Mr. Sanai's accessing of the Kozinski family home computer to breaking and entering: "Some disgruntled litigant jiggers the lock, climbs into the window, and starts going through the family's stuff."

All's well that ends well. Within a week of citizen-journalist bloggers establishing this as a nonscandal, it was left to the humor site The Onion to put a fine point on the absurdity of the accusations. It published a fake person-on-the-street interview, soliciting this quote responding to Judge Kozinski having to recuse himself from the obscenity trial: "Well, good luck finding a judge that doesn't run a bestiality site." In this case, the Onion earned its tongue-in-cheek tagline as "America's Finest News Source."

Write to
24862  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Fingerprints to save housing? on: June 23, 2008, 02:56:57 PM
Congress's Fingerprint Fine Print
June 23, 2008; Page A17

Fingerprints have long been considered to be among the most personal of information. Proposals for creating fingerprint databases are usually controversial and often lead to a spirited public debate. Even when a fingerprint registry will likely help fight terrorism or crime, many still fear it will lead to a surveillance state.

Yet this week a measure creating a federal fingerprint registry totally unrelated to national security or violent crime may clear the Senate with little debate. The legislation would require thousands of individuals not suspected of any wrongdoing to send their prints to the feds.

What issue is so important that it warrants creating a fingerprint database without public debate? Believe it or not, the housing slowdown. The database and fingerprint mandates are contained in the housing bailout bill that will likely come to a vote on Tuesday.

Tucked into a broad, 537-page bill (not counting tax provisions yet to be added) mostly concerned with government backing of mortgage modifications is a requirement for a registration of "loan originators." The provision says that "an individual may not engage in the business of a loan originator without first . . . obtaining a unique identifier." To obtain this "identifier," an individual is required to "furnish" to the newly created Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry "information concerning the applicant's identity, including fingerprints," that will be sent to the FBI and other government agencies.

The bill's definition of "loan originator" could cover a broad swath of employees working for mortgage lenders and brokers and real estate firms, including clerical employees, part-time and seasonal workers. An "originator" is defined as anyone who "takes a residential loan application; and offers or negotiates terms of a residential mortgage loan for compensation or gain." Real estate agents are also covered if they receive any type of compensation from "originators."

The rationale for this new fingerprint registry is thin. Were a significant number of bad loans made by ex-convicts? And how would the targeting of lower-level employees – rather than executives like Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo – stem the creation of problematic mortgages?

But one searches the Congressional Record in vain for any justification. As tech-policy columnist Declan McCullagh recently wrote in, "What's a little odd is the lack of public discussion about this new fingerprint database." The fingerprinting requirements are not mentioned in bill summaries and press releases, or even in the table of contents of the Senate bill. Queries to the Senate Banking Committee and various senators haven't been answered.

What is clear is that many senators who fancy themselves champions of civil liberties on national security aren't as troubled in this case. The fingerprint provisions were originally contained in the Senate's S.A.F.E. Mortgage Licensing Act introduced in February. Among the 14 sponsors are two Republicans – Mel Martinez of Florida and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina – and 12 Democrats. Among the Democratic co-sponsors are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

There were also few objections when Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) folded this legislation into the bill that cleared the committee in May. That bill, with the fingerprint provisions, was voted out 19-2, without a single Democrat voting "nay." Perhaps most of the senators haven't read the fingerprint provisions. But if so, what kind of example is that for the lenders and borrowers they are supposedly trying to encourage to use due diligence?

Meanwhile, the free-market activist group FreedomWorks points to a provision of the Senate's housing tax package that would require payment settlement entities, such as eBay and Amazon, to report customer transactions over a certain threshold to the IRS. This would be done as an offset to pay for the housing tax breaks. The Center for Democracy and Technology, a liberal policy group, has testified that a similar proposal "raises serious privacy and data security concerns that are especially significant in the small business context."

As word about these provisions has spread, so has bipartisan outrage. When I wrote on the fingerprint mandate for the Competitive Enterprise Institute-affiliated blog site in late May, the post received almost 400 comments. Thom Hartmann, one of the premiere talk radio hosts of the left, has also blasted the database proposal.

But will this outrage be heard by members of Congress hell-bent on "doing something" – anything – on housing? The perverse lesson of these provisions may be that the more trivial the justification for legislation compromising privacy, the easier it is to get through.

Mr. Berlau is director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

And add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
24863  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / EU approves tougher sanctions on: June 23, 2008, 02:05:05 PM,2933,370164,00.html

EU Approves Sanctions Against Iran's Largest Bank
Monday, June 23, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium —  European Union nations approved new sanctions against Iran on Monday, including an assets freeze of the country's biggest bank.

The Bank of Melli is suspected of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in a similar move, was blacklisted by the United States last year.

The EU said it will also announce Tuesday additional financial and travel sanctions — effective immediately — on several Iranian companies and "senior experts" linked to Tehran's nuclear program.

The 27-nation bloc is also studying sanctions against Iran's oil and gas sector — but such a step would probably take several months to implement, diplomats say.

Monday's sanctions were formally adopted without debate at the beginning of EU talks in Luxembourg. EU leaders agreed on the measure at talks in Brussels on Friday.

Western nations fear Iran's uranium enrichment program could be used to make a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its enrichment work is intended to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity and has vowed to push ahead with uranium enrichment.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, held unsuccessful talks with Iranian officials in Tehran last week in the latest diplomatic overture aimed at convincing them to accept an offer of economic incentives in return for an end to its uranium enrichment program.
In Tehran, independent analyst Saeed Laylaz said the freezing of Bank Melli's assets would lead to the Iranian economy becoming more isolated and more dependent on Chinese products.

But he suggested President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might stand to benefit. Targeting Iran "drives inflation up," Laylaz said, "but it helps Ahmadinejad's government hide its failures behind the sanction."
24864  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Water on: June 23, 2008, 02:03:37 PM

Cal Am agrees to sell Felton water system for $10.5M
By J.M. BROWN - Sentinel Staff Writer
Article Launched: 05/30/2008 02:54:07 PM PDT

FELTON - California American Water has tentatively agreed to sell the Felton water system to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District for $10.5 million, signalling the likely end of a six-year David-and-Goliath fight between a grass-roots citizens group and the former multinational corporation over local control.

On the eve of what was expected to be a two-week jury trial beginning Monday to set a price for the system serving 1,330 customers, Cal Am and the water district made the deal public in Santa Cruz County Superior Court on Friday after a private mediation hearing this week. Cal Am had chosen months ago to forgo a preliminary trial to determine if there was public interest in the water district buying the system.

"I'm elated," said Jim Graham, spokesman for Felton Friends of Locally Owned Water, adding that he had long hoped that the combined efforts of FLOW and the water district to gain control of the waterworks would pay off. "We were going to keep at them until something happened."

According to terms of the deal, the water district will pay cash for Cal Am's operating assets in Felton, and assume responsibility for a $2.9 million debt for the Kirby Street water treatment plant for which Cal Am secured state loans that taxpayers must repay. As part of the deal, Cal Am donated 250 acres of forested watershed land with the agreement it would not be developed - a move that Cal Am said may mean a tax break for the company.

The district will draw on what's left from an $11 million bond Felton voters approved in 2005 to buy the waterworks, the balance having been spent on legal fees and other costs to get control of the system and fight rate hikes. Jim Mueller, the district's director, said the latest estimate of the bond balance is about $9 million.

"Overall, I would say the water district considers this settlement a victory for the community of Felton," said Mueller, who helped negotiate the deal.

The district's board must approve the purchase, which will involve dipping into the district's reserves as deeply as $1.5 million to come up with the rest of the money necessary to make the transfer. The board is set to vote Thursday, and if the deal is OK'd, the transfer is slated to occur within 60 days.

Mueller said it's unclear whether there would be a rate hike to pay back the reserves. But if the board approved a measure to have customers pay back the reserves, it would increase the average district customer's bill about $2 per month for about 20 years. The district provides service to about 5,900 metered connections in the valley.

Cal Am, which became a publicly traded company last month after Germany-based RWE Aqua Holdings off-loaded it, had long argued that the district could not afford the waterworks. Cal Am mostly recently said the Felton water system was valued around $20 million, which is far short of the most recent offer the district made for the operational assets before this week, which Mueller said was $7.6 million.

Cal Am spokesman Kevin Tilden said, "The settlement package was very substantial and comes at a very high cost to Felton customers." But, he added, the company agreed to accept the district's latest offer because "we had an expectation of where we might end up in court.

"We've fought this for five or six years," he said, adding that FLOW represented "a vocal minority" who "wanted government ownership at any cost."

FLOW began trying to wrest control from Cal Am after the company bought it in 2001.

FLOW has long claimed the district could provide cheaper rates than Cal Am, which this spring was asking for a 57 percent increase for residential customers, to about $200 every two months. The average bimonthly bill for district customers is about $85, Mueller said.

Connie Barr, a longtime FLOW member, said Friday's announcement was gratifying, though she wishes the battle hadn't gone on so long. "Wouldn't it have been nice if it happened the first time we said, 'We would really like to do this ourselves, thank you.'"

Contact J.M. Brown at 429-2410 or

Cal Am employees sometimes bear brunt of water acrimony
Gwen Mickelson - Sentinel staff writer
Article Launched: 11/05/2006 3:00:00 AM PST
FELTON — Speaking above the soft rush of Fall Creek, Mark Sawran gazed down into a crystal-clear eddy and said, "We're lucky."

Lucky because Fall Creek and the Felton water system's other main sources — three local springs — are of such high quality that water drawn from them needs relatively little treatment before being sent to customers' taps.

But beyond Felton's redwood-shaded creeks and cold, clear artesian springs, a David-and-Goliath showdown over water has been developing over the past four years. Between the clashing factions, California American Water Co.'s local employees, many of whom have served San Lorenzo Valley residents for years, say they sometimes feel caught in the middle.

Unhappy over rate hikes and service, Felton residents have been pushing to buy their water system from the corporate owner, Cal Am. They passed an $11 million bond by a nearly 75 percent margin to purchase it and asked to be operated by neighboring San Lorenzo Valley Water District. Cal Am, however, has maintained throughout the heated debate that the system is not for sale.

"People ask if I'm going to buy a new Mercedes-Benz with the rate increase, and I've been called a Nazi," said Sawran, 50, a systems operator who lives in Scotts Valley.

On a typical day, Sawran, a two-year Cal Am employee, performs tasks including system rounds, meter checks and leak repairs. He likes his job and says he's learned "a tremendous amount" about water treatment and distribution.

The Nazi references come with some frequency, said Sawran, because Cal Am's parent company, American Water, is owned by German conglomerate RWE. RWE is in the process of spinning off its American holdings.

Emotions run high in Felton over the issue. The water treatment plant has had feces and dead animals left in its mailbox, and one employee was shot with a BB gun while reading a meter last year, according to Cal Am spokesman Evan Jacobs.  Complaints about poor service sting for the five employees of the water treatment plant, who are on call 24 hours a day. The employees are Tom Raffaelli, network operations supervisor; system operators Sawran, John Chapin and Brenda Chargin; and office manager Joyce Malone. The employees receive positive comments and treatment, as well, said Sawran. And while he lets most of the sour remarks roll off his back, one thing that is difficult for him to hear is that residents want a condemnation of the system because of bad service.

"I know that's not the truth," said Sawran, who said employees arrive at service calls within a half hour.

He's right, said Felton Friends of Locally Owned Water member Jim Graham. Felton FLOW is leading the charge to get the water system into private hands.

"The service issue in large part wasn't the stuff being done by the local employees," said Graham. "It's the outside contracting firm that Cal Am brings in that doesn't know the area. We're very happy with the local employees."

Also, said Graham, FLOW does not condone actions such as depositing dead animals in the plant's mailbox. "God, no," he said.

But with a number of ratepayers on edge about the water system issue, Sawran wishes some people would give the employees the benefit of the doubt.

"We're just the workers," he said. "We do no decision-making whatsoever, especially on rate increases. But we're the visible public face."

The tension doesn't make him want to leave the job, though.

"I know it's not personal," he said, "so I don't let it bother me."

Contact Gwen Mickelson at
24865  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ajami: Anti-Americanism is mostly hype on: June 23, 2008, 01:17:33 PM

Anti-Americanism Is Mostly Hype
June 23, 2008; Page A17

So America is unloved in Istanbul and Cairo and Karachi: It is an annual ritual, the June release of the Pew global attitudes survey and the laments over the erosion of America's standing in foreign lands.

David Gothard 
We were once loved in Anatolia, but now a mere 12% of Turks have a "favorable view" of the U.S. Only 22% of Egyptians think well of us. Pakistan is crucial to the war on terror, but we can only count on the goodwill of 19% of Pakistanis.

American liberalism is heavily invested in this narrative of U.S. isolation. The Shiites have their annual ritual of 10 days of self-flagellation and penance, but this liberal narrative is ceaseless: The world once loved us, and all Parisians were Americans after 9/11, but thanks to President Bush we have squandered that sympathy.

It is an old trick, the use of foreign narrators and witnesses to speak of one's home. Montesquieu gave the genre its timeless rendition in his Persian Letters, published in 1721. No one was fooled, these were Parisian letters, and the Persian travelers, Rica and Usbek, mere stand-ins for an author taking stock of his homeland after the death of Louis XIV and the coming of an age of enlightenment and skepticism.

"This King is a great magician. He exerts authority even over the minds of his subjects; he makes them think what he wants," Rica writes from Paris. "You must not be amazed at what I tell you about this prince: there is another magician, stronger than he. This magician is called the Pope. He will make the King believe that three are only one, or else that the bread one eats is not bread, or that the wine one drinks is not wine, and a thousand other things of the same kind." Handy witnesses, these Persians.

The Pew survey tells us that some foreign precincts show a landslide victory for Barack Obama. France leads the pack; fully 84% of those following the American campaign are confident Mr. Obama will do the right thing in foreign policy, compared with 33% who say that about John McCain. There are similar results in Germany, and a closer margin in Britain. The populations of Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan have scant if any confidence in either candidate.

The deference of American liberal opinion to the coffeehouses of Istanbul and Amman and Karachi is nothing less than astounding. You would not know from these surveys, of course, that anti-Americanism runs deep in the French intellectual scene, and that French thought about the great power across the Atlantic has long been a jumble of envy and condescension. In the fabled years of the Clinton presidency, long before Guantanamo, the torture narrative and the war in Iraq, American pension funds were, in the French telling, raiding their assets, bringing to their homeland dreaded Anglo-Saxon economics, and the merciless winds of mondialisation (globalization).

I grew up in the Arab world in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and anti-Americanism was the standard political language – even for those pining for American visas and green cards. Precious few took this seriously. The attraction to the glamorous, distant society was too strong in the Beirut of my boyhood.

It is no different today in Egypt or Pakistan. And what people tell pollsters who turn up in their midst with their clipboards? In Hosni Mubarak's tyranny, anti-Americanism is the permissible safety valve for Egyptians unable to speak of their despot. We stand between Pharaoh and his frustrated people, and the Egyptians railing against America are giving voice to the disappointment that runs through their life and culture. Scapegoating and anti-Americanism are a substitute for a sober assessment of what ails that old, burdened country.

Nor should we listen too closely to the anti-American hysteria that now grips Turkey. That country was once a serious, earnest land. It knew its place in the world as a bridge between Europe and Islam. But of late it has become the "torn country" that the celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington said it was, its very identity fought over between the old Kemalist elites and the new Islamists.

No Turkish malady is caused by America, and no cure can come courtesy of the Americans. The Turks giving vent to anti-Americanism are doing a parody of Europe: They were led to believe that the Europe spurning them, and turning down their membership in its club, is given to anti-Americanism, so they took to the same fad. Turkish anti-Americanism is no doubt fueled by the resentment within Turkey of the American war in Iraq that gave protection and liberty to the Kurds. No apology is owed the Turks; indeed, it is they who must reconsider their intolerance of minorities. If the Turks were comfortable with the abnormality of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, it is they who have a problem.

And if there is enthusiasm for Barack Obama on foreign shores, his rise to fame and power must be a tribute to the land that has made this possible. Where else would a boy of marginality and relative poverty find his way to the peak of political life? Certainly not in his father's Kenya, where the tribal origins of the Obamas would have determined young Barack's life-chances. In an Arab world hemmed in by pedigree, where rulers bequeath power to their sons and the lot of the sons is invariably that of the fathers, the tale of Obama is fantasy.

There are lines, and barriers, of race which bedevil Arab lands, and they will be there awaiting a President Obama should he prevail in November. Consider a recent speech by Libya's erratic ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, to his countrymen.

He said he feared that Mr. Obama, as a "black man," might succumb to an "inferiority complex" if he were to come to power. "This is a great menace because Obama might turn out to be more white than the whites, exaggerating his persecution and disdain of blacks. The statements of our Kenyan brother with an American nationality about Jerusalem, and his support for Israelis, and his slighting of the Palestinian people is either a measure of his ignorance of international politics or a lie perpetrated on the Jews in the course of an election campaign."

There is no need to roam distant lands in search of indictments of America's ways. Tales of our demise appear every day in our media. Yes, it is not perfect, this republic of ours. But the possibilities for emancipation and self-improvement it affords are unmatched in other lands.

Meanwhile, a maligned American president now returns from a Europe at peace with American leadership. In France, Germany and Italy, center-right governments are eager to proclaim their identification with American power. Jacques Chirac is gone. Now there is Nicolas Sarkozy, who offered a poetic tribute last November to the American soldiers who fell on French soil, before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. "The children of my generation," he said, "understood that those young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children."

The great battle over the Iraq war has subsided, and Europeans who ponder the burning grounds of the Islamic world know the distinction between fashionable anti-Americanism and the international order underpinned by American power. George W. Bush may have been indifferent to political protocol, but he held the line when it truly mattered, and the Europeans have come to understand that appeasement of dictators and brigands begets its own troubles.

It is one thing to rail against the Pax Americana. But after the pollsters are gone, the truth of our contemporary order of states endures. We live in a world held by American power – and benevolence. Nothing prettier, or more just, looms over the horizon.

Mr. Ajami, a Bradley Prize recipient, teaches at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of "The Foreigner's Gift" (Free Press, 2006).
24866  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: June 23, 2008, 11:34:45 AM

I always worry that the content of URLs disappear some day if someone would like to go back and check it out.  Would you mind posting the entire piece, and simply have the URL as a citiation?

24867  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread on: June 23, 2008, 11:28:57 AM
"I don't care whether homosexuality is a choice or not. I still don't think you should discriminate against people for it."

Rachel, forgive my martian linearity  wink but this is not the question presented.  The question presented is whether
a) the Consitution compels the State to make it a crime or civil offense
b) the State should make it a crime or civil offense

"If I honestly believed that baring Gay Boy Scout  troop leads would protect kids from sexual assault I wouldn't have a problem with it.  I think that kids are much more at risk from someone the adults around them trust and someone who has private access to them." 

Right.  And I am not going to give young somewhat older hetero males private access to my daughter as she gets older, and ditto gay males with my son.  It makes perfect sense to me that if I want to allow my son to go on a Cub Scout/Boy Scout camping trip (the epitome of private access-- while dependant upon for safety to boot!) that I don't want a gay man as part of it. 

There's other points you've made to which I would like to respond, but don't have the time at the moment.
24868  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington on: June 23, 2008, 10:29:26 AM
"[T]he first transactions of a nation, like those of an individual
upon his first entrance into life make the deepest impression,
and are to form the leading traits in its character."

-- George Washington (letter to John Armstrong, 25 April 1788)

Reference: A Sacred Union of Citizens, Spalding and Garrity (10);
original The Writings of George Washington from the Original
Manuscript S
24869  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: June 22, 2008, 07:16:59 PM
In the mix of all this is this:

"She escaped a poor upbringing in Philadelphia to become a successful model, married an Annapolis classmate of McCain’s and had two children -- Douglas and Andrew -- before renewing what one acquaintance calls “an old flirtation” with McCain."

If I read this correctly, she (and McC) cheated on her husband and broke up a family with two sons to get started with McC.
24870  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: June 22, 2008, 04:04:56 PM
I saw that as part of reading their interrogation article-- which I hope to get around to posting later on the "Intel" or "Legal Issues" thread.  What $#%@#$% scum they are at the NYTimes!!! angry angry angry
24871  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: A Father's Question on: June 22, 2008, 10:21:06 AM

Your posts have always been in search of Truth and to pull any of them would be a disservice to that search.

Nice post from Karsk.  I particularly liked this passage:

"if you set for yourself the goal of living life with character (as defined by yourself since by my reckoning your own assessment of what right is what counts) then expect challenge in your life. 

"Please forgive the heavy metaphor but the kinds of challenges that you will face are Knightly.  When you decide to live a life of high character, expect to feel alone.  There are not masses and groups of people doing this.  All along the way you will choose by definition a path that diverges from the norm.   Expect to be weary of seeing all manner of behavior that does not live up to your values.  By definition of the choice you make, thats going to be true.

"The bright side of this choice to live more nobly, is that despite the loneliness and the weariness you are not alone.   There are people all over who are shining...who are living according to values.  They  are separated from you by a sea of darkness (at least that is how it feels sometimes).  But to me that is the point and the relevance of those who choose a path of nobility.  If not for the darkness the knight would not be what he is.

"All the people who are trying to live with character are comrades.  So in reality you are not alone."

The only point I am not sure about is this one:

"Expect to be weary of seeing all manner of behavior that does not live up to your values." 

Choose carefully what you ask for, for you will get it.  Although one may fall into a feeling of weariness in reaction to what some others do, IMHO it is not necessary to do so, and I would avoid putting the power of my word to creating it.  Again, this is the only point I would quibble with in a very good post.

24872  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: 6/22 Guro Crafty seminar at Surf Dog's in Hemet on: June 22, 2008, 10:13:38 AM
Woof All:

It seems that the hiccup in this thread about Father's Day confused Surf Dog into thinking that the seminar was off.  I discovered this late last night.   embarassed

He and I will be rescheduling.  embarassed

 embarassed embarassed embarassed
Guro Crafty
24873  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc) on: June 22, 2008, 10:09:26 AM

"the fact that it’s a labor intensive treatment doesn’t make very attractive to commercial development"

 cry angry cry
24874  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena on: June 21, 2008, 06:32:13 PM
SB Mig:

Great piece of history!  If you don't put it on the Race thread on the "Science etc" forum for posterity, I will.

24875  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Brit tactics questioned on: June 21, 2008, 10:52:56 AM
Afghanistan: British troops shooting themselves in the foot over Taliban fight

By Thomas Harding
Last updated: 2:15 AM BST 21/06/2008

Outdated tactics and severe equipment shortages are our worst enemies in Afghanistan, not the Taliban, argues Thomas Harding.

It's been a good fortnight for the Taliban. Nine British soldiers dead in 10 days, hundreds of imprisoned fighters set free in a daring jailbreak and the floundering Afghan government struggling to convince the population that the security they long for is close at hand.

They will be happy, too, that they have probably made the British commander regret telling me three weeks ago that the insurgency was on the verge of defeat.

Power in Afghanistan is all about posture and perception. The Taliban swept through the country in 1996, barely firing a shot, because local warlords saw that the future was with the black turban and did not want to be left behind. What will be the perception now?

First a suicide bomber killed three Paras, and then a well-planned ambush accounted for another two. Tuesday's bomb attack left a further four soldiers dead – including, in an invaluable publicity coup for the insurgents, Corporal Sarah Bryant, 26, the first female British soldier to die in Afghanistan.

From the safety of their hideouts in Pakistan, the Taliban's leaders and their al-Qa'eda cronies will be counting the dollars from the opium harvest haul, ready to purchase more men, bombs and bullets as the fighting season begins.

After spending a week on the ground with our commanders in Lashkar Gah, and then a fortnight marching, eating and sleeping alongside the Parachute Regiment, I have heard first-hand the worries of our troops – and their diagnosis of the problem.

They fear that the "war of our generation" is turning into a slog that will suck in more troops, who will require increasing logistical support, which will in turn give the enemy many more targets.

This is because the Taliban's tactics are changing. For the first two years, we fought pitched battles against an insurgency determined to over-run our undermanned outposts, which often came close to running out of food and ammunition.

The Taliban's losses were very heavy – in the thousands. But the last fortnight could signal the start of a new approach. Why waste a score of fighters when a suicide bomber or well-placed mine will do?

With more than 8,000 British troops in Helmand, supported by 2,400 Americans, there are plenty of targets to go round.

The Taliban knows the value of public opinion – so important in a counter-insurgency battle – but you sometimes suspect that Whitehall does not. In the opening rounds of the battle for Helmand in 2006, there was no serious public debate about what the mission was. When it became clear that a very serious battle was unfolding, Downing Street banned the press from covering it, in case the public got a whiff that another bloody campaign was unravelling while the insurgency in Iraq was in full cry.

The senior members of the military cannot complain. They were the ones who assured ministers that fighting a war on two fronts was feasible, so long as troop numbers came down in Basra. They also agreed with the politicians that 3,000 men was a suitable number to contain Helmand.

Two years on, we are approaching three times that number, but the increase has gone largely unnoticed, with increments of a few hundred here and there.

Many of our best and brightest military minds – such as Brigadier Ed Butler of the SAS – have called it a day, fed up with poor pay, uncaring civil servants and having to spend too much time away from their families. But there are some very sharp men left, and many of them believe that our greatest enemy is not the Taliban, but our own doctrines and regulations.

The enemy has been forced to adapt to survive. A full-frontal assault on allied positions will fail: indeed, firing anything more than a couple of mortar rounds will attract a vicious hail of retaliatory fire.

So when he hears an Apache attack helicopter approaching, or sees a jet overhead, he no longer stands and fights, but drops his weapon and melts away, no longer a legitimate target. He knows the rules: if you are not carrying a weapon, you cannot be killed. And time is on your side.

Yes, the British might enter a district for a few weeks, but when they leave, the Taliban return, meting out brutal punishment to anyone who has co-operated with the foreigners. And the amount of force needed to take these towns and overwhelm the Taliban makes our own troops less nimble, thereby absorbing manpower, supplies and precious helicopter hours.

"The problem," says one officer, "is that we are focusing on protective mobility. We are definitely going down the road the Russians went in the Eighties, with over-reliance on massive armoured vehicles."

The debate is starting on the ground because soldiers are frustrated that they can march their hearts out all day to track the enemy, only to be blown up by a mine. They query how a lumbering convoy of 100 armoured vehicles can ever surprise an enemy who knows every rock and cave in his own back yard. The time has come, suggest some, to fight the way the enemy fights – but smarter.

In the Rhodesian insurgency, tiny units called fire forces, working in groups of four or eight, would drop into enemy territory by parachute or helicopter, unheard and unseen.

With the aid of local trackers, they remained concealed for days, watching the enemy's movements and waiting patiently for the optimum time to strike. Again and again the guerrillas were horrified as their safety cordon unravelled, with colleagues falling dead around them.

By contrast, our strategy is static, based on bases in fixed locations. Troops leave them to go on patrol in full view of the enemy – which had fatal consequences this month. "It's bloody hard to deceive the enemy with a column of ground movement that can be picked up 500 metres beyond the base," says one veteran. "The effect of four helicopters disgorging 100 soldiers from an unexpected direction would have a huge impact, and would lead to a reduction in the opportunities to blow us up with mines."

Partly, the problem is the same risk-averse culture that enveloped our campaign in Basra, where the highest priority, to which everything else was subordinated, was avoiding British deaths.

At the moment, regular troops are only allowed to move around in numbers considerably larger than the small groups of the Rhodesian campaign. Even snipers, whose pricey new long-range rifles could be a massive asset, are not allowed to go out with just a spotter, but have to be part of more unwieldy units.

For some soldiers, the excuses about excessive danger wear thin, given the huge support available from air and artillery if things go sour. "At times," one told me wearily, "I am waiting for someone to mention the Health and Safety Executive."

However, the single greatest symbol of what is going wrong with our campaign is the lack of helicopters. At some point a senior commander is going to have to find the courage to mortgage his career and say in public what so many have said to me in private – that we are losing lives needlessly because there are not enough.

The eight RAF Chinooks are being flown relentlessly, and fatigue must be setting in. The Ministry of Defence says that the answer is to fly them for even more hours per month, but that's a stupid argument: we need more airframes, more spare parts and more pilots.

This is a refrain that occurs again and again in conversations with senior officers and seasoned NCOs. "Helicopters would put you in places where vehicles cannot," says one. Another says wistfully: "If I could get my hands on four Chinooks for two whole days…"

The reason why the US Marines were so successful in southern Helmand this spring was because they were able to land 600 troops in one lift in one night. In the two weeks I was with them, the Paras could only muster one air assault of two helicopters that had to go in three lifts, hugely increasing the risk of the enemy assembling an anti-aircraft team to attack them.

Then, as we pushed further into Taliban territory, we were forced to travel on foot alongside vehicles, because there were no helicopters available. The Taliban probably just laughed and walked off into the next valley.

Even when we detained a suspected roadside bomber – after slogging through the desert for hours – we almost had to release him because there was no helicopter to take him back to a legal holding facility for three days – the maximum detention time is four days.

The MoD knows that what we have is not enough, and has done for years. But the bean counters have never listened. "If the Government really cared about troops, they would pull their fingers out and get the resources out here," says one soldier.

We can win in Afghanistan, but to do so we will have to find the courage and resourcefulness shown by the enemy – not to mention a few of those long-prayed-for Chinooks.

Story from Telegraph News:
24876  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: June 21, 2008, 09:42:59 AM
Woof All:

I'm following with interest this business about allowing the States to permit offshore drilling.  It may be that BO has made a major political blunder with this one and JM may finally have an opportunity which he is willing to take to go for blood.

Also, the good news out of Iraq continues-- see the Iraq thread today wherein even the NYTimes has to admit how well things are going.  Without missing a beat BO has tried using this to say "See, we can leave now"   rolleyes rolleyes rolleyes  There are heavy political points to be scored by JM here.

24877  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: June 21, 2008, 09:36:06 AM
I am deeply grateful for the conversation with my son last night as we walked the dog.  Likewise for the joy in buying my daughter a wonderful bicycle for her sixth birthday and seeing the joy in her as she sat on it and believed for the first time that she could learn to ride it.  Today is her birthday party-- a pool party with some 20+ children coming to play.

24878  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Palo Canario on: June 21, 2008, 09:26:12 AM
Hola Alfonso:

Me da gusto verte siguiendo crecer con Palo Canario.

Yo me acuerdo del sitio que se ve en estos enlaces-- tu tomaste fotos de Benjamin y yo alli'.  ?Todovia las tienes?  Fuereon buenisimas, pero los perdi' cuando mi computadora se murio  cry  Agradeceria muchisimo que me las mandaras todas de ellas de nuevo , , ,

24879  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Preparando su familia on: June 21, 2008, 09:20:21 AM
Hola Omar:

Muchisimas gracias por tu esfuerzo aqui-- que lastima que todavia nadie haya respondido.

La Aventura continua!
24880  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica on: June 21, 2008, 09:18:17 AM
Pues, segun este informe del Stratfor, Chavez esta' en muchas problemas:

Venezuela: The United States Turns the Screws
Stratfor Today » June 19, 2008 | 2236 GMT

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Summary
The U.S. Treasury Department on June 17 accused a Venezuelan diplomat and head of the Caracas-based Shia Islamic Center of giving Hezbollah financial support. The United States, which is targeting other Venezuelan nationals suspected of involvement with Hezbollah, is working to increase the pressure on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is already weakening under the weight of domestic problems.

The U.S. Treasury Department on June 17 accused Ghazi Nasr al-Din, a Venezuelan diplomat and president of a Caracas-based Shia Islamic center, of giving financial assistance to Hezbollah. The United States has also targeted Fawzi Kanan and two Venezuelan-based travel agencies that he allegedly owns or controls. Although the United States has made accusations of involvement with Hezbollah before, in taking the step to target Venezuelan nationals, the United States is ramping up pressure on already-weakened Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The most recent set of accusations against Chavez’s government were released by U.S.-based Venezuelan reporter Patricia Poleo in a report that gave detailed accounts of Hezbollah, al Qaeda and other Arab movements in Venezuela. The report alleged that Venezuela is hosting at least five camps in various parts of the country where Venezuelan and Lebanese Hezbollah members learn to use munitions, and that those members plan to use Venezuela as a launching point for attacks on the United States. The report is suspiciously detailed in its descriptions of alleged terrorist training activities in Venezuela’s jungles. The information would have been very hard to come by without the aid of a sophisticated intelligence agency.

Washington has long been concerned about security threats originating in Venezuela. A well-known transit point for illegal drugs and arms, Venezuela also poses a serious risk to U.S. security because of its lax visa regulations and rampant corruption. Furthermore, Venezuela has been the most significant port of entry for illegal immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere since before Chavez took control of the country.

Although Stratfor has no direct evidence that Hezbollah is operating in Venezuela, it would not be much of a surprise. In fact, Venezuela’s close relationship with Iran makes it almost inevitable. Most of Venezuela’s “joint” programs with Iran — such as a recently announced joint bank — make little sense because, depending on the project, Venezuela and Iran lack the cash, technology and/or organic market to launch them. Both countries are exporters of oil, with very little other economic strength, so trading between the two is largely superfluous. But helping Iran by supporting Hezbollah only requires some land in the jungle and lax security with passports — two things Venezuela has in spades.

What Venezuela would get out of such a partnership is not entirely clear. A core part of Chavez’s domestic security strategy has been to develop local militias that he can call on to support him in case the Venezuelan military turns against him. But harboring terrorist training camps in one’s backyard is like painting a big bullseye on one’s country and inviting the U.S. Air Force to take their best shot. But it is possible Iran is worth the risk, whether it is able to offer money or political favors in return.

Whether or not it is true that Venezuela is helping Hezbollah, the possibility for such cooperation has existed for several years. But the timing of this asset seizure poses some interesting possibilities, as it coincides with some dramatic shifts in Chavez’s behavior. These shifts include an apparent decision to deny public support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and a move to revise a key intelligence law that would have strengthened his authoritarian control over Venezuela.

Chavez’s support of the FARC has been unpopular in Venezuela; in an April poll by Venezuelan polling firm Datanalisis, more than 70 percent of Venezuelans expressed disapproval of the FARC. This fact no doubt played a large part in his decision to reverse support for the group. With support for a second terrorist organization coming to light, Chavez’s credibility will only suffer more.

At the same time, Chavez is experiencing serious challenges on other fronts.

Inflation in Venezuela is skyrocketing, in part because of monetary inflation partially driven by massive government spending. Coupled with rising global food prices, the inflation has made life measurably harder for Venezuelans (especially poor Venezuelans), and dissatisfaction with Chavez’s policies is increasing.

Furthermore, Chavez’s social programs that service his support base rely on funding from Venezuelan state-owned energy company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) — and things are not looking so good for PDVSA. Burdened with the financial responsibilities of the entire state, the company is at risk of not being able to maintain its oil production, much less increase it to meet rising fiscal needs. And all this is with oil at $130 per barrel; any price drop and Chavez immediately will have to choose who not to give subsidies to.

Demands on PDVSA will not slacken soon, either. With local elections approaching, Chavez is under pressure to bring his party — the United Socialist Party of Venezuela — under his control. Designed to unite all leftist parties in Venezuela under one banner, the party is not as united as Chavez would like it to be. The upcoming November elections have exposed deep disagreements among party members and have provoked Chavez to go so far as to kick prominent figures out of the party. The elections will test his ability to hold the country together, and Chavez will need all the help he can get from his costly social programs to secure public support.

The bottom line is that Chavez is vulnerable like never before. With food prices soaring, local elections approaching and criticism of his policies mounting, the implication that Chavez’s government is aiding a second terrorist organization is well-timed to take advantage of his already-declining popularity.

The kind of moves the United States is making to undermine Chavez’s popular support are well in line with Stratfor’s projection that outside forces — including the United States — are supporting the unity of the Venezuelan opposition. What remains to be seen is where exactly the break point is for Chavez’s supporters, and whether or not the military will support Chavez in the face of a concerted attempt by the opposition to throw a revolution.
24881  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela on: June 21, 2008, 09:16:35 AM
Venezuela: The United States Turns the Screws
Stratfor Today » June 19, 2008 | 2236 GMT

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Summary
The U.S. Treasury Department on June 17 accused a Venezuelan diplomat and head of the Caracas-based Shia Islamic Center of giving Hezbollah financial support. The United States, which is targeting other Venezuelan nationals suspected of involvement with Hezbollah, is working to increase the pressure on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is already weakening under the weight of domestic problems.

The U.S. Treasury Department on June 17 accused Ghazi Nasr al-Din, a Venezuelan diplomat and president of a Caracas-based Shia Islamic center, of giving financial assistance to Hezbollah. The United States has also targeted Fawzi Kanan and two Venezuelan-based travel agencies that he allegedly owns or controls. Although the United States has made accusations of involvement with Hezbollah before, in taking the step to target Venezuelan nationals, the United States is ramping up pressure on already-weakened Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The most recent set of accusations against Chavez’s government were released by U.S.-based Venezuelan reporter Patricia Poleo in a report that gave detailed accounts of Hezbollah, al Qaeda and other Arab movements in Venezuela. The report alleged that Venezuela is hosting at least five camps in various parts of the country where Venezuelan and Lebanese Hezbollah members learn to use munitions, and that those members plan to use Venezuela as a launching point for attacks on the United States. The report is suspiciously detailed in its descriptions of alleged terrorist training activities in Venezuela’s jungles. The information would have been very hard to come by without the aid of a sophisticated intelligence agency.

Washington has long been concerned about security threats originating in Venezuela. A well-known transit point for illegal drugs and arms, Venezuela also poses a serious risk to U.S. security because of its lax visa regulations and rampant corruption. Furthermore, Venezuela has been the most significant port of entry for illegal immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere since before Chavez took control of the country.

Although Stratfor has no direct evidence that Hezbollah is operating in Venezuela, it would not be much of a surprise. In fact, Venezuela’s close relationship with Iran makes it almost inevitable. Most of Venezuela’s “joint” programs with Iran — such as a recently announced joint bank — make little sense because, depending on the project, Venezuela and Iran lack the cash, technology and/or organic market to launch them. Both countries are exporters of oil, with very little other economic strength, so trading between the two is largely superfluous. But helping Iran by supporting Hezbollah only requires some land in the jungle and lax security with passports — two things Venezuela has in spades.

What Venezuela would get out of such a partnership is not entirely clear. A core part of Chavez’s domestic security strategy has been to develop local militias that he can call on to support him in case the Venezuelan military turns against him. But harboring terrorist training camps in one’s backyard is like painting a big bullseye on one’s country and inviting the U.S. Air Force to take their best shot. But it is possible Iran is worth the risk, whether it is able to offer money or political favors in return.

Whether or not it is true that Venezuela is helping Hezbollah, the possibility for such cooperation has existed for several years. But the timing of this asset seizure poses some interesting possibilities, as it coincides with some dramatic shifts in Chavez’s behavior. These shifts include an apparent decision to deny public support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and a move to revise a key intelligence law that would have strengthened his authoritarian control over Venezuela.

Chavez’s support of the FARC has been unpopular in Venezuela; in an April poll by Venezuelan polling firm Datanalisis, more than 70 percent of Venezuelans expressed disapproval of the FARC. This fact no doubt played a large part in his decision to reverse support for the group. With support for a second terrorist organization coming to light, Chavez’s credibility will only suffer more.

At the same time, Chavez is experiencing serious challenges on other fronts.

Inflation in Venezuela is skyrocketing, in part because of monetary inflation partially driven by massive government spending. Coupled with rising global food prices, the inflation has made life measurably harder for Venezuelans (especially poor Venezuelans), and dissatisfaction with Chavez’s policies is increasing.

Furthermore, Chavez’s social programs that service his support base rely on funding from Venezuelan state-owned energy company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) — and things are not looking so good for PDVSA. Burdened with the financial responsibilities of the entire state, the company is at risk of not being able to maintain its oil production, much less increase it to meet rising fiscal needs. And all this is with oil at $130 per barrel; any price drop and Chavez immediately will have to choose who not to give subsidies to.

Demands on PDVSA will not slacken soon, either. With local elections approaching, Chavez is under pressure to bring his party — the United Socialist Party of Venezuela — under his control. Designed to unite all leftist parties in Venezuela under one banner, the party is not as united as Chavez would like it to be. The upcoming November elections have exposed deep disagreements among party members and have provoked Chavez to go so far as to kick prominent figures out of the party. The elections will test his ability to hold the country together, and Chavez will need all the help he can get from his costly social programs to secure public support.

The bottom line is that Chavez is vulnerable like never before. With food prices soaring, local elections approaching and criticism of his policies mounting, the implication that Chavez’s government is aiding a second terrorist organization is well-timed to take advantage of his already-declining popularity.

The kind of moves the United States is making to undermine Chavez’s popular support are well in line with Stratfor’s projection that outside forces — including the United States — are supporting the unity of the Venezuelan opposition. What remains to be seen is where exactly the break point is for Chavez’s supporters, and whether or not the military will support Chavez in the face of a concerted attempt by the opposition to throw a revolution.
24882  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hezbollah in context on: June 21, 2008, 09:13:31 AM
Canada: Hezbollah Activity in Context
Stratfor Today » June 20, 2008 | 1534 GMT

Photo by Donald Weber/Getty Images
A Jewish rally in TorontoSummary
Hezbollah operatives reportedly have been spotted surveilling Jewish targets in Canada. The reports come as Hezbollah finds itself at risk of losing its Syrian sponsor, making it all the more important for the militant group to prove its value to its Iranian sponsor. They also come amid continued tensions between an internally divided Iran and a United States facing a presidential election in November.

Related Special Topic Page
Reports from Canada say Hezbollah operatives have been detected conducting surveillance on Jewish targets in Toronto, including schools and synagogues. U.S. sources have confirmed increased Hezbollah activity as well. Intriguingly, the reports specifically said the men conducting the surveillance were Hezbollah members, not just men of Middle Eastern appearance. That either indicates a deep penetration of Hezbollah in Canada — the Canadians knew the political affiliation of the men — or psychological warfare against Hezbollah, an attempt to let the group know the Canadians are on to them. If this is a Hezbollah operation, the Canadians just told them they were busted.

There is a complex situation developing around Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is in deep trouble. Syria has shifted its position by entering into serious negotiations with Israel. Syria wants to come out of those negotiations with Lebanon in its sphere of influence. The Israeli price for that would be Syria curtailing Hezbollah activities. The Syrians, more interested in Lebanese wealth than in the interests of a Shiite religious movement — Syria is neither Shiite nor particularly religious — might well make the deal.

This puts Hezbollah in a very difficult position. They have operated in the past with the sponsorship of Iran and Syria. Syria is closer. If the Syrians were to shift their policy, Hezbollah would be isolated and in jeopardy. Indeed, there is a debate in Stratfor as to who actually killed Imad Mugniyah, the death of whom Hezbollah swore to avenge. Some take the conventional line that it was Israel. Others believe the killing was a Syrian down payment to Israel on the Israeli-Syrian negotiations and a signal to Hezbollah not to do anything to upset the negotiations unless and until the Syrians gave the word.

At this moment, Hezbollah’s only ally is Iran. It needs to make itself valuable to Iran. The United States and Israel are constantly signaling they might attack Iran in the next few months. The very fact that these signals come and are taken seriously reduces the likelihood of such an attack. If either country really wanted to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, they would want to take out all the facilities’ equipment and the personnel. Expertise is everything, and they would want to eliminate it. Signaling the possibility of an attack increases the likelihood that Iran would disperse all of the expertise and some of the equipment. That would decrease the effectiveness of the attacks dramatically. You do not signal an attack on facilities to give the other side a chance to shift things around and undermine your intelligence.

Thus, there is a great deal of psychological warfare involved in these threats. The United States and Israel want Iran to feel insecure. This has resulted in increased tensions within the Iranian government, namely, between factions around Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who believe the United States is bluffing and factions around Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and others who might also believe the United States is bluffing, but are using the bluff to undermine Ahmadinejad’s position by portraying him as reckless — and a poor custodian of the economy to boot.

It is in Ahmadinejad’s interest to attempt to counter American and Israeli pressure by demonstrating Iran’s strategic options. Tehran does not have many, but it does have one: Hezbollah. U.S. President George W. Bush’s nightmare is that his presidency will end as it began, with terrorist attacks. His one claim to success — and it is an important one — is that regardless of what might have happened in Iraq, the United States itself has not been attacked since 9/11, and that this was the result of his global actions. To the extent he will have a positive legacy, it will be built on that claim.

But if Hezbollah were to carry out strikes in the United States as Bush exits, his legacy would be further tarnished. The question of whether the Republican strategy is really effective against terrorism would be raised in the middle of a campaign for president, and the campaign would turn around this question. The Republicans will want to show that the Democrats do not take terrorism seriously enough and have no plan to deal with it. The Democrats would claim that it is the Republicans who seven years after 9/11 still do not have an effective counterstrategy.

Hezbollah needs to do a service for Iran. They need Iran. The Iranians need to signal Washington that their psywar — or even real plans to attack — would have a swift and devastating counter, a counter Bush really does not want to see. Therefore, it was in Iran’s interest to have Hezbollah surveillance noticed. It sends the message that Ahmadinejad wants to send to the United States and Israelis. It also increases the strategic value of Hezbollah to Iran, which in turn can pressure Syria on the future of Hezbollah.

Thus, there are two reasons why the Canadians could know what group these operatives were members of. One is that they and the Americans have penetrated Hezbollah and are letting them know that their cover is blown. The other is that Hezbollah wanted to telegraph its punch to signal the U.S. administration to move very carefully in pressuring Iran. This message would be that if you strike Iran, we will strike at you, and if you keep threatening us we will threaten you. Without doubt the Iranians are split politically. But they are signaling the United States that as much as Iran is split, they are not as politically split as the United States is at the moment.
24883  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: June 21, 2008, 08:29:29 AM
OMG! Can this be the NYTimes?  cheesy

BAGHDAD — What’s going right? And can it last?

Violence in all of Iraq is the lowest since March 2004. The two largest cities, Baghdad and Basra, are calmer than they have been for years. The third largest, Mosul, is in the midst of a major security operation. On Thursday, Iraqi forces swept unopposed through the southern city of Amara, which has been controlled by Shiite militias. There is a sense that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government has more political traction than any of its predecessors.
Consider the latest caricatures of Mr. Maliki put up on posters by the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery cleric who commands deep loyalty among poor Shiites. They show the prime minister’s face split in two — half his own, half Saddam Hussein’s. The comparison is, of course, intended as a searing criticism. But only three months ago the same Sadr City pamphleteers were lampooning Mr. Maliki as half-man, half-parrot, merely echoing the words of his more powerful Shiite and American backers. It is a notable swing from mocking an opponent perceived to be weak to denouncing one feared to be strong.

For Hatem al-Bachary, a Basra businessman, the turnabout has been “a miracle,” the first tentative signs of a normal life.

“I don’t think the militias have disappeared, and maybe there are sleeper cells which will try to revive themselves again,” he said. “But the first time they try to come back they will have to show themselves, and the government, army and police are doing very well.”

While the increase in American troops and their support behind the scenes in the recent operations has helped tamp down the violence, there are signs that both the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government are making strides. There are simply more Iraqi troops for the government to deploy, partly because fewer are needed to fight the Sunni insurgents, who have defected to the Sunni Awakening movement. They are paid to keep the peace.

Mr. Maliki’s moves against Shiite militias have built some trust with wary Sunnis, offering the potential for political reconciliation. High oil prices are filling Iraqi government coffers. But even these successes contain the seeds of vulnerability. The government victories in Basra, Sadr City and Amara were essentially negotiated, so the militias are lying low but undefeated and seething with resentment. Mr. Maliki may be raising expectations among Sunnis that he cannot fulfill, and the Sunni Awakening forces in many cases are loyal to their American paymasters, not the Shiite government. Restive Iraqis want to see the government spend money to improve services. Attacks like the bombing that killed 63 people in Baghdad’s Huriya neighborhood on Tuesday showed that opponents can continue to inflict carnage.

Perhaps most worrisome, more than five years after the American invasion, which knocked Mr. Hussein from power but set off great chaos, Iraq still lacks the formal rules to divide the power and spoils of an oil-rich nation among ethnic, religious and tribal groups and unite them under one stable idea of Iraq. The improvements are fragile.

The changes are already affecting Iraq’s complicated relationship with America. In the presidential campaign, a debate is rising about whether the quiet means American soldiers can leave.

Iraqi Officials Gain Confidence

American military commanders are seeing a new confidence among Iraqi leaders. They said they believed that the success of the recent military operations had played a role in the Iraqi government’s firm rebuff of American negotiators over a new long-term security pact to govern the United States military presence after the end of this year.

“They are feeling very strong right now, after Basra, Mosul and Sadr City,” said one senior American official.

The most obvious but often overlooked reason for the recent military success has been an increase in the number of trained Iraqi troops.

The quality of the recruits and leadership has often been poor, even in recent months. In Baghdad’s Sadr City, one Iraqi company abandoned its position in April, forcing American and Iraqi commanders to fill the gap with hastily summoned reinforcements. In Basra, more than 1,000 recently qualified soldiers deserted rather than obey orders to fight against Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army. One senior Iraqi government official conceded that the deserters simply “felt that the other side was too strong.”

But sheer numbers have helped to overcome the shortcomings. After the embarrassing setback in Basra, Mr. Maliki was able to pull units from elsewhere to provide reinforcements and saturate the city with checkpoints and patrols, restoring a measure of order after years of domination by Islamist militias and oil-smuggling mafias.

American officials said 50,000 members of Iraqi security forces took part in the Basra campaign, 45,000 in Mosul, and 10,000 in Sadr City — troops that would not have been available to Mr. Maliki’s predecessors. The Iraqis had by far the largest numbers of troops, although American and other coalition troops provided crucial air power, reconnaissance, logistics, medical support and even expertise in psychological operations.


One key source of that manpower has been training: Over the past year the Iraqi Army has added 52,000 soldiers; the Iraqi police and the national police have added 59,000; and Iraq special operations forces have added 1,400 troops, Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, chief of the American security training and equipping mission, said last month. Yet another reason was that many troops were not tied down fighting Sunni insurgents in places like Anbar Province. That is thanks to the Sunni Awakening, and a related program in which the American military has paid thousands of former insurgents and militia fighters and made them neighborhood guards.

“Our successes reduced the pressure on the Iraqi security forces by more than 50 percent,” said Sheik Hussain Abaid, the leader of one such pro-American group south of Baghdad.
Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, an Awakening leader in Anbar, said an entire Army regiment of Anbari tribesmen was sent to fight in Mosul, while a division based in Anbar was rushed to Basra after commanders decided that a more stable security situation in Anbar meant the troops could be freed to fight elsewhere. Even Shiite government officials, long suspicious of the Awakening because it employs insurgents responsible for the deaths of Shiites, agreed. “Before, there was a security void in their areas, but they were able to fill it,” said Ali Adeeb, a senior official in the Dawa party and a close ally of Mr. Maliki.

Defining a Military Victory

But the government’s successes in Basra and Sadr City were not so much victories as heavy fighting followed by truces that allowed the militias to melt away with their weapons. “We may have wasted an opportunity in Basra to kill those that needed to be killed,” said one American defense official, who would speak candidly about the issue only if he was granted anonymity.

And in Mosul, the celebrations over the performance of the Iraqis who fought there have glossed over the tremendous — but hidden — role played by American Special Operations forces to clear out the toughest enemy fighters before the Iraqi soldiers arrived in full. “It is underreported how much the secret guys did to set the conditions for the Iraqi Army to go in and do what they did,” the official said.

What remains to be seen is whether the Iraqi government can capitalize on the operational successes with concrete steps that improve the lives of people in the three areas, like basic municipal services and economic opportunities. “The fear is unrealistic expectations,” the American defense official said. “Services do take time.”

Failure to follow through could wipe out many of the gains in places like Hayaniya, one of Basra’s most deprived areas and a Sadrist stronghold, where residents already grumble that they have seen little evidence of improvement. “They said they will repair schools and roads — but when and where?” said Ali Alwan, 45. “It is only talk. We suffered during the military operation, but what is the reward?” Mr. Maliki’s operations against fellow Shiites in Basra and Sadr City have bought at least temporary political good will from Sunnis who long saw his Shiite-dominated government as the enemy. Interviews with three dozen Sunni merchants, academics, teachers, laborers, government officials and office workers in former insurgent strongholds like Falluja, Tikrit, and Baghdad’s Adhamiya, Amiriya and Fadhil neighborhoods suggested that the prime minister had gained some ground with a group whose loyalty is essential in building a unified and stable state.

Abdul Hadi Jasim, a barber from Adhamiya, said, “Now, after one of the biggest Shiite militias that ravaged Basra was targeted, I think there is a sense of justice and fairness.” But old suspicions linger, and Sunnis remember the slaughter inflicted by Shiite militias from 2004 to 2007, and how Shiite death squads were protected by Iraqi security forces. In addition to the Mahdi Army, many Sunnis fear the Badr organization, the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a close ally of Mr. Maliki’s Dawa Party. Badr forces dominate some Iraqi security force units.

“Maliki’s war was a selective one,” says Falah Muhammad Abdullah, 46, an engineer from Falluja. “Why does Maliki’s government hunt down the Mahdi militia while it neglects Badr?”

Sunni Skepticism Remains


Many Sunnis are convinced that Mr. Maliki is trying to serve other masters: Iran, the Americans, or his own Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council. Both face a serious challenge from the Sadrists in provincial elections later this year.

Mowafaq Abu Omar, a 52-year-old street merchant in Adhamiya, voiced a common suspicion — that the true aims of the Basra operation were to seize control of Iraq’s only significant port and to advance the creation of a large, autonomous and oil-rich Shiite super-province in the south.

There is also less enthusiasm for the recent operation in western Mosul, which is largely Sunni. Eman al-Hayali, a teacher in Amiriya, praised Mr. Maliki for weakening Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army but said she feared the Mosul operation was intended to satisfy the Maliki government’s patrons in Iran and telegraph a message to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “Do not worry, your excellency, we are also killing Sunnis.’ ”

With such suspicions just below the surface, stability would be jeopardized if former insurgents serving in the Awakening forces come to believe that they are being used by the Shiite-led government while getting little in return.

“We are pleased with the government only regarding the war against the Shiite militias,” says Khalid al-Summaraie, a Sunni militia leader in Baghdad’s Fadhil neighborhood. He added pointedly, “They haven’t done anything for us that will give us a better standard of living.”

Another important factor buoying Mr. Maliki has been the sharp rise in oil prices, which, among other things, has allowed the Iraqi central bank to buy back its currency at a feverish pace, forcing the value of the Iraqi dinar higher and limiting increases in consumer prices. Driven by higher food costs, inflation stood last month at the rate of 16 percent, up from 11 percent in January.

But that rate might be a good deal higher without the central bank’s aggressive policies. The bank spends $1 billion to $1.5 billion every month in oil revenue to buy Iraqi dinars on the open market, said Mudher M. Salih Kasim, senior adviser to the bank. This is the main lever for controlling consumer prices, said Mr. Kasim, who noted that the value of the dinar had risen about 20 percent against the dollar. An oil price crash, he added, would be “a disaster.”

The government is also trying to funnel money to placate Iraqis who endured the military operations in Sadr City, Mosul and Basra and cement their loyalty. Tahseen al-Sheikhly, a spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, said $100 million would go to Sadr City to upgrade economic and social conditions there in the wake of the two-month military operation, which left buildings shattered and markets destroyed. Dr. Safaa al-Deen al-Safi, who is charged with carrying out development and reconstruction activities, said another $100 million would be spent on areas like health and education.

Reversible Gains

The anti-government and anti-occupation forces have also stumbled. The Islamist Sunni insurgents alienated many Iraqis with a trail of blood and bans on alcohol and smoking. And as attacks on Shiite areas by Sunni insurgents dropped, Shiites who had looked to the Mahdi Army for self-defense were less willing to put up with abuses.

But the improvements in Iraq face an array of destabilizing provincial, national and regional forces. The Sunni insurgency — now in many places operating as pro-American Awakening groups — continues to wait to see whether the government makes good on promises of jobs and a less sectarian administration of security and public services and infrastructure.

The Sadrists remain powerful and may not forgive what many consider a betrayal by Mr. Maliki, who could not have become prime minister two years ago without their blessing. Mohanned al-Gharrawi, a senior Sadrist cleric in Baghdad, said, “We feel like a bridge that they used to reach their aims and goals, and then they left us behind.”

Despite their newfound confidence, some senior Iraqi officials close to Mr. Maliki said that without an American military safety net they are vulnerable to threats from outside and inside their borders. One important but less-noticed element of the security negotiations has been Iraq’s effort to extract an American pledge to defend the government against foreign or domestic aggression. Mr. Adeeb, the top Maliki adviser, said officials wanted the Americans to protect the Iraqi government against anything the government viewed as a threat — not just what the Americans saw as a threat.

“Our political system is weak, the terrorists and former regime members are sparing no effort to overthrow the system, and neighboring countries have their own ambitions,” Mr. Adeeb said. “Our army is not qualified to defend Iraq yet.”
24884  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Mundell on: June 21, 2008, 07:26:38 AM
An Economist Who Matters
June 21, 2008; Page A7


Robert Mundell isn't in the habit of making fruitless policy recommendations, though some take a long time ripening. Nearly four decades passed between his early work on optimal currency areas and the birth of the euro in 1999 – the same year he received the Nobel Prize for economics.

Terry Shoffner 
So when Mr. Mundell says that rescinding the Bush tax cuts "would be devastating to the world economy," that oil prices are "not so far off track," that Asia needs its own multilateral currency, or that the ham sandwiches sitting before us could use some mustard, one is inclined to pay attention – and, except in the case of lunch, to think long term.

It's late May, and we are in surprisingly sunny Denmark for a Copenhagen Consensus summit. Mr. Mundell is one of eight economists debating cost-effective solutions to such problems as malnutrition and global warming. Europe is a natural enough place to meet the Ontario native, and not only because of his advocacy for the euro. When Mr. Mundell is not in New York City – where he's a professor at Columbia University and occasionally appears on David Letterman's late-night TV show (reading from Paris Hilton's book, listing the top 10 ways winning the Nobel has changed his life) – he's often in Tuscany at his 500-year-old castle, "Palazzo Mundell," restored in part with his Nobel winnings.

Back in America, there's an election going on. There's also been a spate of financial problems, not the least of which is a weak dollar. But Mr. Mundell says "the big issue economically . . . is what's going to happen to taxes."

Democratic nominee Barack Obama regularly professes disdain for the Bush tax cuts, suggesting that those growth-spurring measures may be scrapped. "If that happens," Mr. Mundell predicts, "the U.S. will go into a big recession, a nosedive."

One of the original "supply-side" economists, he has long preached the link between tax rates and economic growth. "It's a lethal thing to suddenly raise taxes," he explains. "This would be devastating to the world economy, to the United States, and it would be, I think, political suicide" in a general election.

Should taxes instead be cut again, I ask him, to stimulate the sluggish economy? Mr. Mundell replies that he favors a ceiling of 30% on marginal rates (the current top rate is 35%). He recounts how the past century experienced a titanic struggle over whether tax rates are too high or too low: from a 3% income tax in 1913; up to 60% during World War I; down to 25% before Congress and President Herbert Hoover raised taxes back to 60% in 1932 and "sealed the fate of our economy for a long, long time"; all the way up to 92.5% during World War II before falling in three steps, reaching 28% under President Ronald Reagan; and back to nearly 40% under Bill Clinton before George W. Bush lowered them to their current level.

In light of this fiscal roller coaster, Mr. Mundell says, "the most important thing that could be done with respect to tax rates now is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Eliminating that uncertainty would be more important than pushing for a further cut – in the income tax rates, anyway."

One tax that he would cut, to 25%, is the corporate tax rate. "It could be even lower," he says, "but I think it would be a big step to lower it to 25% . . . I made that proposal back in the 1970s."

A long-haired Mr. Mundell spent that decade not only arguing for the euro, but laying the intellectual groundwork for the Reagan tax-cut revolution. Mr. Mundell says those tax cuts remain "as important to the United States as the creation of the euro was to Europe – a fundamental change." Combined with Paul Volcker's tight-money policy at the Fed, which Mr. Mundell also championed, supply-side economics killed off stagflation.

Or at least it killed it off at the time. With prices again rising as growth slows, some economists are worried that stagflation could be making a comeback. Not Mr. Mundell – not yet.

He draws a comparison with the situation in 1979-1980. Start with the dollar price of oil, which he calls "one of the two most important prices in the world" (the other being the dollar-euro exchange rate, which we'll get to in a moment).

"If you look at the price level since 1980," he begins, "oil prices would naturally double by the year 2000. So from $34 a barrel in 1980 to $68 a barrel. And then . . . because the inflation rate's about 3.5%, it would double again by 2020. So the natural price . . . would be something like $136 in 2020.

"Now, we [already] got to $130-something, but . . . I really think the price is going to settle down, probably below $100, if not below $90. What I'm saying is we're not so far off track."

American motorists still shocked by $4-a-gallon gasoline might think we're rather more off track than Mr. Mundell suggests. Bolstering his case, he immediately moves on to another commodity often invoked to demonstrate inflation: gold.

"The price of gold in 1980 was $850 an ounce. And the price of gold today is about the same. It's astonishing," he says. "It's true, gold did go up" to more than $1,000 an ounce earlier this year, "but the public doesn't believe that there is inflation. If there was big inflation coming, then you'd see the price of gold going up to $1,500 an ounce very quickly, and that hasn't happened."

In any case, don't expect to hear Barack Obama or John McCain talk about the weak dollar's contributions to any problem. "As [journalist] Robert Novak once put it, it's like cleaning ladies who come in and say 'I don't do ironing.' [Politicians] say, 'I don't do exchange rates,'" Mr. Mundell chuckles. "They think they can only lose by talking about exchange rates, because they don't know enough about it, and it's hard to predict anyway, for anyone."

If Mr. Mundell had his way, there wouldn't be anything for politicians to say about exchange rates. They would be fixed – as they were under the Bretton Woods arrangement after World War II until 1971, when President Nixon took the U.S. off the postwar gold standard and effectively launched the era of floating exchange rates.

"It's a very poor and a dangerous system," Mr. Mundell says of the floating regime, "because it creates exaggerated swings in the exchange rate." Case in point is the dollar-euro rate. From a low of about 82 cents in 2000, Europe's common currency has risen fairly steadily and has been valued at more than $1.50 since late February, even breaking the $1.60 barrier once.

"What people have to realize is there's been a fundamental change in the way markets work in the past 20 years," Mr. Mundell says. "Now, exchange rates are driven not so much by trade but by capital accounts and capital movements, and the huge amount of liquidity that's sloshing around the world."

Central banks world-wide, he notes, are trying to reach an equilibrium between dollars and euros in their $6.5 trillion worth of foreign reserves. Roughly two-thirds of these reserves are kept in dollars now, so they have about $1 trillion left to move into euros.

"If you did a hundred billion dollars" annually, Mr. Mundell points out, "you'd need 10 years to build that up, and that amount of capital movement has a tremendous effect in keeping the euro overvalued. It's not good for Europe and . . . ultimately it would cause more inflation in the United States."

But this continuing shift doesn't mean that the dollar's status as the world's dominant currency is in danger, at least not in the short run. Countries like Iran may be pushing for the pricing of oil in another currency, "but it wouldn't happen unless Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states moved in that direction, and I don't see any way in which they would do this," Mr. Mundell says. "It would be very damaging to the relations between the United States and the Gulf countries. There's an implicit defense alliance between those, and that's what overrides as a top priority."

Nor is there a macroeconomic argument for demoting the dollar. "Remember, the growth prospects for the United States are probably stronger than that of Europe, because you've got continued and substantial population growth in the United States, and zero population growth in Europe," Mr. Mundell says. "Quite apart from the fact that the U.S. economy is innovating more rapidly, and the population is younger and not getting old as rapidly, so they pick up new technology faster. So I look upon the United States still as the main sparkplug of economic growth in the world."

As for the euro's overvalued status, he forecasts deflation in Europe, along with a slowdown and an end to its housing boom. The answer, he suggests, is for the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank to cooperate in putting a floor and a ceiling on both the euro and the dollar. "You have to grope" to the appropriate range, he maintains, but a good starting point would be to keep the euro between 90 cents and $1.30.

Even better, in his mind – and now we're really talking long term – would be to have a global currency. This could take the form of a new money or a dominant existing one to which all others are fixed – probably the dollar. "As Paul Volcker says," Mr. Mundell relates, "the global economy needs a global currency."

To get there, he proposes holding a new, Bretton Woods-type meeting in 2010 at the Shanghai World's Fair. Mr. Mundell, who has been spending "a lot of time" in China advising the government, says reviving an international system of fixed exchange rates would be a tremendous help to Beijing as it tries to fend off demands from U.S. and European politicians that it appreciate or float its currency.

Here, he recalls Washington's similar "bashing" of the Japanese yen in the 1980s, and its ultimately disastrous effects: "Japan got stuck with an overvalued currency for a decade, and suffered from a perpetual deflation in its housing market from 1990 until just a couple of years ago. And China doesn't want to have the same problem."

Another part of his solution is for Asian countries to form their own currency bloc. If they did so, he says, "it'd be comparable in size to the European and the American bloc. And then it would not be so much the question of . . . the U.S. and Europe bashing China" or other rising economies.

These three currency blocs, he predicts, would be large enough to weather wide swings in their exchange rates. But the swings would still do economic damage, so "the best thing you could do is to stabilize them, and that's where the global currency comes in."

Could it happen? Mr. Mundell allows that three decades may pass, but predicts that like the euro and the Reagan revolution before it, the global currency's time, too, will come. Any skeptics might want to review the last few decades before betting against him.

Mr. Wingfield is an editorial-page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.
24885  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: A Father's Question on: June 21, 2008, 07:18:42 AM
Woof Guide Dog:

"I know a lot of mean men who treated women like dirt and seemed to keep sleeping with a bevy of beautiful ladies."

But YOU are married and have begun having a family.  Why does this matter to you?

"I seem to keep running into the fact that EVERYONE is judging, and no one, family, friends, or coworkers really have your back."

Welcome to the human condition smiley

"They are too busy pointing out that they live in bigger houses and that my car is dirty."

Humans are a social animal i.e. hierarchical animal.   Who are these people who judge you?  Are they in competition with you?  Or you with them? , , , and why is your car dirty? cheesy

"Naturally, they do this behind your back, and life never seems to be free from judgement."

Well, duh.  cheesy

The question presented is what to do/not do about it.

I think you may have heard me talk about my personal rules of engagement in the street (i.e. interaction with the anonymous) :  If he says his dick is bigger than mine, I say congratulations.  If he says he used it to fcuk my mother last night, I wish that he had a good time, for WHAT YOU THINK OF ME IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS.  As Guro Inosanto more pithily puts it "BE THE TEMPERATURE, NOT THE THERMOMETER."

Surely you knew when you went into teaching, the the financial returns would be less than you could make elsewhere-- and other returns greater.  So what is going on here?

24886  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: June 21, 2008, 07:02:18 AM
Bernanke's Market Week
June 21, 2008; Page A8
The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee meets again next week, and one of its jobs will be to clean up the mess the Fed made this week.

Earlier this month, Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled a turn in Fed policy to include a focus on maintaining a "stable" dollar. Sure enough, the dollar strengthened, the price of oil fell and stocks crept up. Then earlier this week, someone in the upper reaches of the Fed began leaking to the press in advance of next week's FOMC meeting that Mr. Bernanke saw no reason to raise interest rates this month, or indeed until the autumn.

Sure enough, oil shot up and gold rose back above $900 an ounce, with equities tanking in turn on stagflation fears. Throw in renewed worries over credit problems in the banking system, and the markets had a very ugly week.

What we can't figure out is what in the world Fed officials are thinking, assuming that's even the right word. The most precious commodity a Fed Chairman has is credibility. When he makes a widely advertised public commitment to maintain dollar stability, and then he or his minions leak that he has no plans to back that up with any action, he is squandering his own currency. Central banking isn't an academic seminar where ideas don't have consequences.

With inflation climbing around the globe, most of it inspired by dollar weakness, the Fed has a growing credibility problem. Mr. Bernanke needs to understand that investors are beginning to suspect that the most important financial official in the world doesn't seem to appreciate the Fed's primary role in undermining the greenback. If that conclusion becomes fixed, this week's market meltdown will look pretty by comparison.
24887  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena on: June 20, 2008, 10:20:44 PM
"the reality is how 'Voting for Obama' makes his supporters FEEL about themselves as 'enlightented human beings'."

"Where do you get this? I've met more than a handful of Obama supporters, and I have yet to come across this sentiment."

Exhibit A:  My sister and brother-in-law  cheesy
24888  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: June 20, 2008, 10:16:48 PM
Hi Rachel:

I simply don't know.  IMHO I have Stratfor to be an unusually well-informed and thoughtful assessor of what goes in, particularly in the mid-east.   It does seem like SOMETHING BIG is going on-- particularly in the aftemath of taking out the NK reactor effort in Syria, and the change of power in the US, the success of the US in Iraq which apparently has BO beginning to backtrack on his "run away" statements. 

The Adventure continues!
24889  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Our Founding Fathers: on: June 20, 2008, 09:16:17 AM
"The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have
past at home in the bosom of my family."

-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Francis Willis Jr., 18 April 1790)
24890  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Unesco on: June 20, 2008, 09:07:11 AM
Being Farouk Hosni
June 20, 2008

Like the Saudi royals, the House of Mubarak tries to keep both its Islamists and the West happy. It's not easy to have it both ways. Just ask Farouk Hosni.

Egypt's culture minister finds himself in a revealingly knotty predicament. In early May, responding to a question in Parliament from a member of the Muslim Brotherhood about cultural ties with Israel, he said: "I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt." The opposition MP, Mohsen Radi, was satisfied with the minister's response.

The statement was unremarkable in a country where media and politics are full of anti-Israel venom. But Mr. Hosni also happens to be a leading candidate for the top job at the U.N. Education Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco. His remark drew an official protest from Israel, among others. Declining to comment on Mr. Hosni's observation, a spokeswoman for the Paris-based agency told the New York Sun, "Unesco does not condone book burning of any sort." That's good to know.

With a plum U.N. job slipping out of his reach, Mr. Hosni backtracked. He said the "book burning" remark was merely "a hyperbole -- a popular expression to prove something does not exist." The minister, who is close to President Hosni Mubarak and his wife and considered a liberal by local standards, went further the following day. He told Agence France-Presse that it is "a big mistake that Israeli books have not yet been translated (into Arabic). I have officially asked for it to be done. If people protest, I don't give a damn."

So, three decades after the Camp David accords, would Mr. Hosni support the opening of so far nonexistent cultural ties with Israel? What about a museum of Jewish antiquity and culture in Cairo? The Egyptian went into reverse again. Impossible, Mr. Hosni said, as long as "there are bloody attacks every day against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza strip."

This story has now been picked up in France, which backs Mr. Hosni's candidacy for the Unesco post, which comes open next year. The Paris daily Libération cited a Simon Wiesenthal Center report that the Egyptian minister had "personally" invited the "Islamo-Communist Holocaust denier" (in Libération's words) Roger Garaudy to appear on Egyptian television.

Back in damage-control mode, Mr. Hosni gave an interview to the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth last week, saying he "wouldn't be against going to Israel." He was in Paris this week to smooth things over. "This is a terrible polemic, but things will be clarified."

Meantime, in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood MP got wind of Mr. Hosni's comments abroad and demanded that he appear before Parliament to explain himself. The suggestion that Egypt's culture minister visit the Jewish state "was humiliating to the Egyptian people," said Mr. Radi.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

24891  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Idle Oil on: June 20, 2008, 08:43:12 AM
The 'Idle' Oil Field Fallacy
June 20, 2008; Page A13

A bill introduced in Congress this week would "compel" oil and natural gas companies to produce from federal lands they are leasing. If only it were that easy to find and produce oil. Imagine, an act of Congress that could do what geology could not.

These lawmakers ask why oil and gas companies want more access to federal lands to drill if they aren't using all of the 68 million acres they already have? Anyone with even the most basic understanding of how oil and natural gas are produced – and this should include many members of Congress – knows that claims of "idle" leases are a diversionary feint.

A company bids for and buys a lease because it believes there is a possibility that it may yield enough oil or natural gas to make the cost of the lease, and the costs of exploration and production, commercially viable. The U.S. government received $3.7 billion from company bids in a single lease sale in March 2008.

However, until the actual exploration is complete, a company does not know whether the lease will be productive. If, through exploration, it finds there is no oil or natural gas underneath a lease – or that there is not enough to justify the tremendous investment required to bring it to the surface – the company cuts its losses by moving on to more promising leases. Yet it continues to pay rent on the lease, atop a leasing bonus fee.

In addition, if the company does not develop the lease within a certain period of time, it must return it to the federal government, forfeiting all its costs. All during this active exploration and evaluation phase, however, the lease is listed as "nonproducing."

Obviously, companies want to start producing from active fields as soon as possible. However, there are a number of time-consuming steps to be taken before they can do so: Delineation wells must be drilled to size the field, government permits must be obtained, and complex production facilities must be engineered and installed. All this takes considerable time, and during that time, the lease is also listed as "nonproducing."

Because a lease is not producing, critics tag it as "idle" when, in reality, it is typically being actively explored and developed. Multiply these real-world circumstances by hundreds or thousands of leases, and you end up with the seemingly damning but inaccurate figures our critics cite.

Our companies have made tremendous strides in developing cutting-edge exploration technology. But they are not magicians. They cannot produce oil or natural gas where it does not exist. A significant percentage of federal leases simply may not contain oil and natural gas, especially in commercial quantities.

As I've often said, the first step in our business is called "exploration" for a reason. Exploration is time consuming, very costly and involves a great deal of risk. Importantly, you see neither a drop of usable oil nor a cubic foot of natural gas while it is going on. But it is absolutely essential, and there is nothing "idle" about it. Without the exploration that took place years ago, less domestic oil and natural gas would be available today to meet consumer demand.

In reality, a lease is simply a block on a map, with no guarantee that it contains any resources. If all of them did, one could simply pay for the lease, haul in equipment and start pumping oil. But that only happens in fiction.

And it happens in the minds of those who use the undeveloped-lease argument as a smokescreen to mask their intent to keep America's vast energy resources locked up underground, despite increasingly strong consumer demand for oil and natural gas. For exploration to take place, our companies need access to the areas – offshore and onshore – that we know have the potential to produce the oil and natural gas consumers will need, if ours is to remain a viable economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Today's short-term need was yesterday's long-term opportunity. If Congress had acted on that opportunity years ago, America would not be in the energy bind it finds itself in today. Working with industry, Congress now has the opportunity to help secure America's energy future. It should not miss the chance again.

Mr. Cavaney is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the trade association that represents America's oil and natural gas industry.

See all of today's editorials and
24892  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pipes: The enemy has a name on: June 20, 2008, 08:31:54 AM
The Enemy Has a Name
by Daniel Pipes
Jerusalem Post
June 19, 2008

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If you cannot name your enemy, how can you defeat it? Just as a physician must identify a disease before curing a patient, so a strategist must identify the foe before winning a war. Yet Westerners have proven reluctant to identify the opponent in the conflict the U.S. government variously (and euphemistically) calls the "global war on terror," the "long war," the "global struggle against violent extremism," or even the "global struggle for security and progress."

This timidity translates into an inability to define war goals. Two high-level U.S. statements from late 2001 typify the vague and ineffective declarations issued by Western governments. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld defined victory as establishing "an environment where we can in fact fulfill and live [our] freedoms." In contrast, George W. Bush announced a narrower goal, "the defeat of the global terror network" – whatever that undefined network might be.

"Defeating terrorism" has, indeed, remained the basic war goal. By implication, terrorists are the enemy and counterterrorism is the main response.

But observers have increasingly concluded that terrorism is just a tactic, not an enemy. Bush effectively admitted this much in mid-2004, acknowledging that "We actually misnamed the war on terror." Instead, he called the war a "struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world."

A year later, in the aftermath of the 7/7 London transport bombings, British prime minister Tony Blair advanced the discussion by speaking of the enemy as "a religious ideology, a strain within the world-wide religion of Islam." Soon after, Bush himself used the terms "Islamic radicalism," "militant Jihadism," and "Islamo-fascism." But these words prompted much criticism and he backtracked.

By mid-2007, Bush had reverted to speaking about "the great struggle against extremism that is now playing out across the broader Middle East." That is where things now stand, with U.S. government agencies being advised to refer to the enemy with such nebulous terms as "death cult," "cult-like," "sectarian cult," and "violent cultists."

In fact, that enemy has a precise and concise name: Islamism, a radical utopian version of Islam. Islamists, adherents of this well funded, widespread, totalitarian ideology, are attempting to create a global Islamic order that fully applies the Islamic law (Shari‘a).

Thus defined, the needed response becomes clear. It is two-fold: vanquish Islamism and help Muslims develop an alternative form of Islam. Not coincidentally, this approach roughly parallels what the allied powers accomplished vis-à-vis the two prior radical utopian movements, fascism and communism.

First comes the burden of defeating an ideological enemy. As in 1945 and 1991, the goal must be to marginalize and weaken a coherent and aggressive ideological movement, so that it no longer attracts followers nor poses a world-shaking threat. World War II, won through blood, steel, and atomic bombs, offers one model for victory, the Cold War, with its deterrence, complexity, and nearly-peaceful collapse, offers quite another.

Victory against Islamism, presumably, will draw on both these legacies and mix them into a novel brew of conventional war, counterterrorism, counterpropaganda, and many other strategies. At one end, the war effort led to the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan; at the other, it requires repelling the lawful Islamists who work legitimately within the educational, religious, media, legal, and political arenas.

The second goal involves helping Muslims who oppose Islamist goals and wish to offer an alternative to Islamism's depravities by reconciling Islam with the best of modern ways. But such Muslims are weak, being but fractured individuals who have only just begun the hard work of researching, communicating, organizing, funding, and mobilizing.

To do all this more quickly and effectively, these moderates need non-Muslim encouragement and sponsorship. However unimpressive they may be at present, moderates, with Western support, alone hold the potential to modernize Islam, and thereby to terminate the threat of Islamism.

In the final analysis, Islamism presents two main challenges to Westerners: To speak frankly and to aim for victory. Neither comes naturally to the modern person, who tends to prefer political correctness and conflict resolution, or even appeasement. But once these hurdles are overcome, the Islamist enemy's objective weakness in terms of arsenal, economy, and resources means it can readily be defeated.
24893  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Israel-Syria deal? on: June 20, 2008, 01:53:13 AM
Geopolitical Diary: The Growing Possibility of an Israeli-Syrian Deal
June 19, 2008
The Israeli-Syrian peace process lurched toward fruition today.

Middle Eastern — and especially Levantine — politics are sufficiently Byzantine to be classified as a health hazard in most Western states. We could weave you a story of how the Iranians fear losing their hold in Lebanon and so are pushing for violence, how the Americans are looking for subtle ways to sabotage the talks in order maintain leverage over Iran, or how Syria and Israel’s respective economic and military interests actually dovetail quite nicely in southern Lebanon. But sometimes it does an outside observer a great service simply not to get inside the minds of those involved. Wednesday was one of those days.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a man under considerable public pressure at home, announced that the time was rapidly approaching for Israel to open direct, public talks with Syria. And far from leaving such a meeting in the airy realm of maybe-land, Olmert even publicly indicated that he would be meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Paris on July 13.

As a general rule one does not garner a great deal of support among one’s people for posing for photo ops with the leaders of states who are considered enemies. So either Olmert has lost his mind (unlikely) or the informal peace talks which Turkey has been hosting for weeks are generating sufficient progress for Olmert to take the plunge. To take the historical view, Israeli leaders only met in person with their Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts when those respective peace deals were in the home stretch. Details of the deal are certainly nebulous at present, but we suspect they would involve a combination of land transfers and demilitarized zones that would secure Israel’s northern borders and guarantee Syria’s economic interests in Lebanon. Hezbollah would have to go, and it would probably be up to Syria to stuff it into a bag and throw it in the river.

An Israeli-Syrian deal would do more than remove the last major specter threatening Israeli security (existing deals with Egypt and Jordan already cover Israel’s other borders, and a deal with Syria would have to cover Lebanon as well). The Arab-Israeli conflict has been the key feature molding regional developments for 60 years. Its dissolution would fundamentally reshape the region.

Many of the United States’ rivals have used the Israeli-Arab conflict as a lever to pry open the region and challenge American power, with the most obvious example being the Soviet Union. Arab hostility toward Israel spilled over to the United States and caused the 1973 oil embargo. For decades Arab-Israeli disagreements have fueled Islamism and militancy throughout the region. In the case of a deal with Syria, the only remaining group with the opportunity to take a shot at Israel will be the Palestinians, a nationality with fewer friends, tools, money and options than ever before.

We do not mean to paint a picture of sunshine and joy for the region, and an end to the hot portions of the Arab-Israeli conflict should not be confused with regional “peace.” This is still the Middle East after all, and the role of Iran — a state that is not Arab and is not included in the pending deal — has yet to be determined and so remains at the very minimum an Israeli and American security concern. But an end to theArab-Israeli conflict cannot help but take some of the heat out of the region’s troubled politics. The United States, for one, will be glad to be able to turn at least some of its attention elsewhere.

Ironically, the greatest future challenge to U.S. power in the Levant may well come from the country that has long been America’s staunchest ally: Israel. Israel’s existence requires one of two things: a heavy qualitative technological edge over its neighbors, or an external sponsor willing to guarantee Israeli security. Should Syria join Egypt and Jordan in standing down from the regional cold war that has marked the years since the 1973 war, Israel would not only be freed from having to maintain a high alert status, but the rationale for a firm alliance with the United States would erode somewhat. That’s not to say that Israel is itching for a break with Washington or that the two powers’ interests would otherwise be diametrically opposed — far from it — but that if Syria and Israel can bury the hatchet, then Israel will have something that it has not had for some time: room to maneuver.
24894  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War? on: June 20, 2008, 01:51:33 AM
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Is Obsolete
June 20, 2008; Page A11

If claims by Iran that it's building 3,000 more centrifuges to enrich nuclear fuel are true, then the Bush administration and Congress face a more serious challenge than we first thought. Even assuming that Iran intends to use nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes – and there are very good reasons to doubt Iran's stated intentions – the dangers posed by unsupervised, weapons-grade material in the hands of a regime that has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map" are unacceptable.

The best course would be to persuade Iran to abandon its designs on the bomb and make its nuclear activities completely transparent to international authorities – as three United Nations Resolutions have required.

But Iran is not the only problem. Other countries may travel down the same path, waving the banner of peaceful nuclear energy. Some – including North Korea – already have, and the international system is ill-prepared to prevent wannabes.

Today's legal regime is no match for the wide dissemination of nuclear technology. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) standards are obsolete, and the growth in the sheer number of nuclear facilities world-wide has made it difficult for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to achieve its mission.

Moreover, the NPT cuts most of the world out of the nuclear weapons club. It grandfathered in states that had nuclear weapons before 1967, and said that only they could keep them. Given the skyrocketing demand for alternatives to oil, we have to expect that more countries will want to develop nuclear energy. We need a system that allows states to pursue nuclear energy but prevents them from developing nuclear weapons under the radar.

According to IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei, what's needed is a multinational initiative that ensures uninterrupted supplies of fuel, regardless of market disturbances or disagreements with suppliers. But the next NPT conference is scheduled for 2010. We should not wait two years to consider a new path.

In 1946, American presidential adviser Bernard Baruch called for countries to transfer ownership and control over civil nuclear activities and materials to a new international organization. Seven years later, President Dwight Eisenhower rolled parts of Baruch's plan into the "Atoms for Peace" initiative, which laid the groundwork for the IAEA. These ideas, though they advanced important goals, were never fully implemented, partly because demand for nuclear energy was low and the nuclear club was relatively small.

More recently, the Department of Energy attempted to tackle this issue by creating a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) – a blueprint for an international organization to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Although 19 countries bought in to GNEP, it has failed to stem the spread of nuclear technology – largely because the Bush administration has treated it as a research and development initiative, and because the National Academies of Science concluded that it is dependent on technology that is unproven.

A more promising approach might be to create an international consortium of fuel centers that provide enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel, and end-to-end oversight of nuclear resources. Driven by market demand, private companies could operate facilities with IAEA oversight, and participating states would agree not to engage in independent enriching and reprocessing. Material would be purchased from the international market, thereby creating supply assurance for nations who fear being denied fuel.

This concept is a private-sector version of the International Nuclear Fuel Authority envisioned by Sens. Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh, and could borrow from the low-enriched uranium "emergency" stockpile concept proposed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

It differs from piecemeal ideas like Iran's 2006 offer that France create a means for production of enriched uranium in Iran, Russia's notion that all of Iran's enrichment take place on Russian soil, or the Saudi suggestion that Switzerland enrich nuclear material for the Middle East. These ideas would not advance U.S. counterproliferation goals. Instead, a comprehensive international consortium would make nuclear energy available and cost effective for countries while solving the guessing game Iran has played by denying its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Even Al Gore agrees that nuclear energy must be considered as the world reduces reliance on fossil fuels and starts to meet the energy demands of exploding populations. Some argue that the nuclear renaissance is already upon us – 23 new permit applications for nuclear reactors have been filed in the past two years in the U.S. alone, and another 150 are planned across the globe.

Iran's unsupervised nuclear program poses an existential threat to Israel and possibly other nations. While we can't take away the knowledge gained through their clandestine program, by "renting" only the amount of fuel necessary for production of peaceful nuclear energy, we may be able to convert these threats posed by Iran and future Irans into a roadmap to nuclear security for the entire world.

Ms. Harman, a Democratic congresswoman from California, is chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.
24895  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politically (In)correct on: June 20, 2008, 01:35:21 AM
I could be mistaken, but it reads to me that the vaccination was already approved ("became available") and the girls were sought out to generate data over time to compare to girls who did not take the vaccine.
24896  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DB Gathering of the Pack August 10th, 2008 on: June 20, 2008, 01:12:32 AM
Woof KJ:

At this point, the Shocknives are a standard feature of our Gatherings.

I spoke with Linda this evening.  Pressing family matters distract her at this point and her attendance is a genuine question mark.  I did my best to remind her that there is nothing like a good day of stickfighting to put things right.  She laughed and said she would see.

24897  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politically (In)correct on: June 19, 2008, 06:58:47 PM
Mrs. Obama and the Tuskegee Superstition
June 19, 2008

In February 2007, we noted a rare instance of agreement between this column and the New York Times editorial page. The topic was whether 11- and 12-year-old girls should be vaccinated for the human papillomavirus. HPV is sexually transmitted and is believed to cause 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, this year 11,070 new cases of cervical cancer are expected to be diagnosed, and 3,870 women are expected to die of the disease. Do the arithmetic: Had the HPV vaccine been administered to these women when they were girls, some 7,749 would have been spared cancer and 2,709 would have died later of some other cause.

"Social conservatives object that the vaccine will encourage promiscuity," the Times wrote last year, "but it seems farfetched to believe that protection from cervical cancer will change any girl's behavior." That seems right to us--and even if the vaccine has some marginal bad effect on sexual behavior, several thousand cancer deaths a year seems a high price to pay to avoid it. Even the Times editors thought cancer prevention an important enough goal to abandon their usual liberal keep-your-laws-off-my-body orthodoxy when it comes to matters gynecological.

Now, as blogger Tom Maguire notes, the subject of HPV vaccination has come up in a different context: yesterday's New York Times story about Michelle Obama's "subtle makeover." Maguire cites an anecdote from Mrs. Obama's work at the University of Chicago Medical Center, a story that, in Maguire's words, is "ludicrously presented as a sympathetic and positive story of her professional efforts":

She also altered the hospital's research agenda. When the human papillomavirus vaccine, which can prevent cervical cancer, became available, researchers proposed approaching local school principals about enlisting black teenage girls as research subjects.
Mrs. Obama stopped that. The prospect of white doctors performing a trial with black teenage girls summoned the specter of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment of the mid-20th century, when white doctors let hundreds of black men go untreated to study the disease.
"She'll talk about the elephant in the room," said Susan Sher, her boss at the hospital, where Mrs. Obama is on leave from her more-than-$300,000-a-year job.
This isn't the first time the Tuskegee experiment has come up during the presidential campaign. In April the Obamas' then-pastor, Jeremiah Wright, explained his belief that the U.S. government had invented AIDS as a tool of genocide against black people: "Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything."

The Tuskegee outrage was real. But the notion that the Tuskegee experiment--which began in the Jim Crow era (1932) and ended in 1972, eight years after the Civil Rights Act became law--reflects the attitudes of American governmental and medical institutions today is an urban legend, a superstition--and potentially a deadly one.

The Times's account suggests that girls in Chicago were denied potentially lifesaving vaccinations because Michelle Obama pandered to racial paranoia instead of standing up for the truth. Is that why they pay her the big bucks?

24898  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Calls Rise for Public Control of Water Supply on: June 19, 2008, 06:28:48 PM
Calls Rise for Public Control of Water Supply

FELTON, Calif. -- The faucets in one of six U.S. homes pour water provided by a private company. Now, some of these communities are revolting against their corporate water systems, attempting to put their water under government control because of concerns over rising rates and service disruptions.

Residents of Felton, Calif., fought to bring back local control of the town's water, part of a backlash against a wave of privatization deals.
Cheers broke out in a packed senior center near the mountain village of Felton on June 5, when the local water district officially wrested control of the town's water from a unit of American Water Works Co. Residents of Felton, 70 miles south of San Francisco, had been unhappy ever since the Voorhees, N.J., company bought their water system from another corporation in 2002 and proposed a 74% rate increase. Germany's RWE AG bought American Water in 2003.  (Is this AWR?  If so, I have a moderate position in it-- Marc)

Felton residents waged a years-long battle to bring their water back to local control. American Water finally agreed in May to sell the system to the local public water district, which Felton recently joined, for $10.5 million in cash and assumption of $2.9 million in debt.

Similar conflicts have flared up around the U.S. over the past few years -- part of a backlash against a wave of water-works-privatization deals in the U.S. that began in the 1990s as cash-strapped municipalities sought to defray the costs of upgrading old water plants and other infrastructure.

RWE earlier this year spun off American Water -- the nation's largest privately held water company -- in part because of the uprisings that have spread throughout the U.S. "Public resistance to privatization schemes of companies was growing" in the U.S., according to a Sept. 16, 2005, summary of the minutes from an RWE board meeting at which officials discussed why they potentially needed to divest American Water and another British unit.

In all, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 16% of Americans get their water from nongovernment sources, a number that has remained little changed over the past decade.

In some cities, "There's an aversion to getting involved with a private company," says Peter Cook, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies, an industry trade group based in Washington. Mr. Cook said more growth is likely to occur, though, as cities face having to rebuild expensive water infrastructure.

One common tactic that communities are using in this water fight is eminent domain, the power that cities and other local agencies have to seize a corporate water system in the public's interest. Earlier this year, the cities of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Cave Creek, Ariz., condemned all or parts of water systems owned by private companies because of issues including user complaints over service and maintenance. Scottsdale, Ariz.; Tiffin, Ohio; and Homer Glen, Ill.; have all this year initiated steps that could result in takeovers of local water systems.

Water-industry officials say they don't see any widespread customer backlash against private ownership. The take-back efforts in some communities represent only isolated resistance, says Dan Kelleher, an outside adviser and spokesman for American Water, which reports a continued increase in business. "I would argue that a mayor in Tiffin who wants to look into government ownership is not indicative of a problem," he says.

Mr. Kelleher says the vast majority of the company's 15.6 million customers in 32 states and the Canadian province of Ontario are "very satisfied with our service," and that some other efforts to take over private water utilities, such as in Lexington, Ky., have failed. He and other industry executives say rate increases are needed to help underwrite the cost of major upgrades to water systems.

In the case of Felton, Mr. Kelleher says the company's proposal in 2002 to raise rates 74% over three years was driven by the fact the town hadn't had a rate increase since 1998, while American Water needed to invest $1.1 million between 2002 and 2005 to replace old facilities. The California Public Utilities Commission approved a 44% jump in the water rate. But many customers in the town of about 1,000 were still so incensed they formed a group called Friends of Locally Owned Water, or FLOW, and embarked on a campaign to force out American Water.

They gained support in the community as customers also began complaining of slower response times to broken water mains and other service glitches, as American Water routed accident reports to a national call center in Illinois. American Water officials have said the call center was designed to improve service.

One tactic by the opposition group was to persuade local Santa Cruz County officials to expand the boundaries of the adjoining San Lorenzo district to include Felton, so it would have condemnation powers over the water system there. Another was to get voters to pass a local ballot initiative -- Measure W -- in 2005, which allocated up to $11 million in bonds to buy the water system and offset legal fees.

After American Water officials said the system wasn't for sale, the San Lorenzo district initiated eminent-domain proceedings. In May, the company agreed to the Felton purchase. "I think a handful of people [in Felton] felt government ownership was a better choice," says Mr. Kelleher, the American Water adviser.

Felton residents will see an almost immediate benefit. Over the past decade, their water rates have more than tripled to about $180 a month. Now rates will drop to about $80 -- what customers of the San Lorenzo district pay. "We're happy," says Jim Mosher, an attorney who helped lead the fight for FLOW.
24899  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Being Prepared without Being Paranoid on: June 19, 2008, 02:40:43 PM
From a point made on the Bouncer thread on the DBMA Assn forum:

It is a REALLY good idea to have some sort of a medical kit and to have some training in what to do with it.  The Emergency Medicine thread on this forum can be a good place to get started.

24900  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DB Gathering of the Pack August 10th, 2008 on: June 19, 2008, 02:35:56 PM

Thank you for the integrity of being candid about your background.

At the moment we are unsure whether Linda M. is coming.  OTOH Ashley of Manassas VA is excited and training well.  Currently some cyber gremlins are fouling up her efforts to get registered for the forum here, but do know that she will be posting in response to you , , , soon.  This will be Ashley's first experience with weapon fighting and to the best of my knowledge her focus has been for single stick, but I leave it to the two of you to work things out.

Crafty Dog

PS:  Would you please email me at ?
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