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24901  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Argentina on: October 29, 2008, 03:04:14 PM
Guau a todos:

Manana en la manana salgo en un viaje de 17 horas por la primera vez a Buenos Aires, Argentina para presentar un seminario para Nicolas.

Cuando yo vivia en Mexico, yo conocia a una Argentina muy graciosa y linda, con un acento lindisimo , , , una buena memoria  smiley

La Aventura continua!
Marc/Crafty Dog

24902  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: El Dolar on: October 29, 2008, 02:53:49 PM
Interesante el tema que planteas Blanca y de profunda importancia.  Lamento no tener tiempo en este momento para conversar el tema, pero hoy me estoy preparando por un viaje de 17 horas a Buenos Aires para presentar un seminario para Nicolas.
24903  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / T. Friedman on: October 29, 2008, 11:26:18 AM
I don't think as much of T. Friedman as he does, but this piece does make some fair points.

Sleepless in Tehran
Published: October 28, 2008

I’ve always been dubious about Barack Obama’s offer to negotiate with Iran — not because I didn’t believe that it was the right strategy, but because I didn’t believe we had enough leverage to succeed. And negotiating in the Middle East without leverage is like playing baseball without a bat.

Well, if Obama does win the presidency, my gut tells me that he’s going to get a chance to negotiate with the Iranians — with a bat in his hand.

Have you seen the reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is suffering from exhaustion? It’s probably because he is not sleeping at night. I know why. Watching oil prices fall from $147 a barrel to $57 is not like counting sheep. It’s the kind of thing that gives an Iranian autocrat bad dreams.

After all, it was the collapse of global oil prices in the early 1990s that brought down the Soviet Union. And Iran today is looking very Soviet to me.

As Vladimir Mau, president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy, pointed out to me, it was the long period of high oil prices followed by sharply lower oil prices that killed the Soviet Union. The spike in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ‘80s helped bring down that overextended empire.

(Incidentally, this was exactly what happened to the shah of Iran: 1) Sudden surge in oil prices. 2) Delusions of grandeur. 3) Sudden contraction of oil prices. 4) Dramatic downfall. 5) You’re toast.)

Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s mullahs have gone on a domestic subsidy binge — using oil money to cushion the prices of food, gasoline, mortgages and to create jobs — to buy off the Iranian people. But the one thing Ahmadinejad couldn’t buy was real economic growth. Iran today has 30 percent inflation, 11 percent unemployment and huge underemployment with thousands of young college grads, engineers and architects selling pizzas and driving taxis. And now with oil prices falling, Iran — just like the Soviet Union — is going to have to pull back spending across the board. Fasten your seat belts.

The U.N. has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005 because of Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment. But high oil prices minimized those sanctions; collapsing oil prices will now magnify those sanctions. If prices stay low, there is a good chance Iran will be open to negotiating over its nuclear program with the next U.S. president.

That is a good thing because Iran also funds Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the anti-U.S. Shiites in Iraq. If America wants to get out of Iraq and leave behind a decent outcome, plus break the deadlocks in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, it needs to end the cold war with Iran. Possible? I don’t know, but the collapse of oil prices should give us a shot.

But let’s use our leverage smartly and not exaggerate Iran’s strength. Just as I believe that we should drop the reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden — from $50 million to one penny, plus an autographed picture of Dick Cheney — we need to deflate the Iranian mullahs as well. Let them chase us.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, compares it to bargaining for a Persian carpet in Tehran. “When you go inside the carpet shop, the first thing you are supposed to do is feign disinterest,” he explains. “The last thing you want to suggest is ‘We are not leaving without that carpet.’ ‘Well,’ the dealer will say, ‘if you feel so strongly about it ...’ ”

The other lesson from the carpet bazaar, says Sadjadpour, “is that there is never a price tag on any carpet. The dealer is not looking for a fixed price, but the highest price he can get — and the Iran price is constantly fluctuating depending on the price of oil.” Let’s now use that to our advantage.

Barack Hussein Obama would present another challenge for Iran’s mullahs. Their whole rationale for being is that they are resisting a hegemonic American power that wants to keep everyone down. Suddenly, next week, Iranians may look up and see that the country their leaders call “The Great Satan” has just elected “a guy whose middle name is the central figure in Shiite Islam — Hussein — and whose last name — Obama — when transliterated into Farsi, means ‘He is with us,’ ” said Sadjadpour.

Iran is ripe for deflating. Its power was inflated by the price of oil and the popularity of its leader, who was cheered simply because he was willing to poke America with a stick. But as a real nation-building enterprise, the Islamic Revolution in Iran has been an abject failure.

“When you ask young Arabs which leaders in the region they most admire,” said Sadjadpour, they will usually answer the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. “When you ask them where in the Middle East would you most like to live,” he added, “the answer is usually socially open places like Dubai or Beirut. The Islamic Republic of Iran is never in the top 10.”

24904  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Gates: Deterrence theory on: October 29, 2008, 10:37:13 AM
Caveat lector, its the NYT.

Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence

Published: October 28, 2008
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that the United States would hold “fully accountable” any country or group that helped terrorists to acquire or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates took questions after speaking Tuesday in Washington.
The statement was the Bush administration’s most expansive yet in trying to articulate a vision of deterrence for the post-Sept. 11 world. It went beyond the cold war notion that a president could respond with overwhelming force against a country that directly attacked the United States or its allies with unconventional weapons.

“Today we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group or other nonstate actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction — whether by facilitating, financing or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts,” Mr. Gates said.

The comments came in an address in which he said it was important to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal as a hedge against what he described as “rising and resurgent powers” like Russia or China, as well as “rogue nations” like Iran or North Korea and international terrorists.

By declaring that those who facilitated a terrorist attack would be held “fully accountable,” Mr. Gates left the door open to diplomatic and economic responses as well as military ones. And, to be sure, the United States has acted forcefully before against those who sheltered terrorists, with the invasion of Afghanistan to oust Al Qaeda and its Taliban government supporters after the attacks of Sept. 11.

His speech here before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was the latest signal that the administration was moving in its closing months to embrace more far-reaching notions of deterrence and self-defense.

On Monday, senior officials justified a weekend attack against a suspected Iraqi insurgent leader in Syria by saying the administration was operating under an expansive new definition of self-defense. The policy, officials said, provided a rationale for conventional strikes on militant targets in a sovereign nation without its consent — if that nation were unable or unwilling to halt the threat on its own.

By law, the new president must conduct a review of the nation’s nuclear posture, and Mr. Gates’s address could be viewed as advocating a specific agenda for the next occupant of the White House.

The first public indication that the administration was expanding the traditional view of nuclear deterrence came in a statement by President Bush in October 2006 that followed a test detonation of a nuclear device by North Korea. Mr. Bush said North Korea would be held “fully accountable” for the transfer of nuclear weapons or materials to any nation or terrorist organization.

The president was not as explicit then as Mr. Gates was on Tuesday in saying that the administration would extend the threat of reprisals for the transfer of nuclear weapons or materials to all countries, not just North Korea. Mr. Gates also expanded the threat to nations or groups that provide a broader range of support to terrorists.

Early this year, in a little-noticed speech at Stanford University, Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, also spoke of how the president had approved an expanded deterrence policy.

In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Gates argued for modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal because “as long as other states have or seek nuclear weapons — and potentially can threaten us, our allies and friends — then we must have a deterrent capacity.”

Although Mr. Gates earlier this year fired the Air Force secretary and chief of staff after the discovery of shortcomings in the service’s stewardship of nuclear weapons and components, he stressed that the nuclear arsenal was “safe, secure and reliable.”

“The problem is the long-term prognosis — which I would characterize as bleak,” he said.

Veteran weapons designers and technicians are retiring, and Congress has not voted for the money to build replacement warheads for an aging arsenal that can be produced without abandoning the nation’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, he said.

To that end, he endorsed a comprehensive test ban treaty if adequate verification measures could be negotiated.

Mr. Gates praised efforts to reduce the number of warheads, and predicted that the United States and Russia would at some point conclude another agreement limiting their arsenals.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
24905  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 29, 2008, 10:23:35 AM
Bit of a tangent here:

I notice that this quote:
""You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." - God" 

is a bit longer than the usual "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods".    Why is that?  What you quote here resonates to me as being more what the original Hebrew would have said.
24906  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Closer than the MSM says? on: October 29, 2008, 10:19:07 AM
“Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama has been measuring for his White House curtains for months. Now, big plans have been made public for his $2 million election night victory party in Chicago. Sen. Obama is even talking quite candidly about his transition plans. And why not? After all, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll has Obama leading Republican nominee John McCain by 13 percentage points among both registered and likely voters. Of course, Obama’s largest cheering section—Big Media—long has been in the tank for the junior senator of Illinois. Even the liberal Pew Research Center finds that Obama’s ratio of favorable stories to overall stories was more than 2 1/2 times as large as Sen. McCain’s. But you might be surprised to learn that not every poll considers Obama’s coronation a fait accompli. An Associated Press poll has the race in a statistical dead heat. And the IBD/TIPP poll, considered to have been the most accurate in the 2004 presidential race, has Obama with a mere 1.1 percentage point lead, 44.8 percent to 43.7 percent with 11.6 percent undecided. Thus, the race for president is far closer than the media masses have led you to believe. And how delicious it would be if the media’s ‘election’ of Barack Obama suppresses his numbers and leads to an Electoral College landslide for John McCain. Talk about being hoisted by your own petard.” —Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
24907  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Libertarian Issues on: October 29, 2008, 10:15:38 AM
"This is a little glimpse into a very dark future, in which the power of the government is used against private citizens who dare to criticize the anointed One."

Exactly so.

Thank you for these two articles GM.
24908  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: A republic; Hamilton on: October 29, 2008, 10:12:06 AM
"The republican is the only form of government which is not
eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind."

-- Thomas Jefferson (Letter to William Hunter, 11 March 1790)

Reference: Bartlett's; check LOA edition
“It is an unquestionable truth, that the body of the people in every country desire sincerely its prosperity. But it is equally unquestionable that they do not possess the discernment and stability necessary for systematic government. To deny that they are frequently led into the grossest of errors, by misinformation and passion, would be a flattery which their own good sense must despise.” —Alexander Hamilton
24909  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Clusterfcuk on: October 28, 2008, 09:53:26 PM

Comments Obama's First 100 Days
by  Patrick J. Buchanan


Undeniably, a powerful tide is running for the Democratic Party, with one
week left to Election Day.

Bush's approval rating is 27 percent, just above Richard Nixon's Watergate
nadir and almost down to Carter-Truman lows. After each of those presidents
reached their floors -- in 1952, 1974, 1980 -- the opposition party captured
the White House.

Moreover, 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans think the nation is on the
wrong course, and since mid-September, when McCain was still slightly ahead,
the Dow has lost 4,000 points -- $5 trillion to $6 trillion in value.

Leading now by eight points in an average of national polls, Barack Obama
has other advantages.

Not a single blue state is regarded as imperiled or even a toss-up, while
Obama leads in six crucial red states: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia,
Ohio, Missouri and Colorado. Should McCain lose one of the six, he would
have to win Pennsylvania to compensate for the lost electoral votes. But the
latest Pennsylvania polls show Barack with a double-digit lead.

Lately moving into the toss-up category are Nevada, North Dakota, Montana
and Indiana. All voted twice for George W. Bush.

Not only is Obama ahead in the state and national polls, he has more money,
is running far more ads, has a superior organization on the ground, attracts
larger crowds, and has greater enthusiasm and more media in camp. And new
voter registrations heavily favor the Democrats.

Though Congress is regarded by Americans with a disdain bordering on
disgust -- five of six Americans think it has done a poor job -- Democratic
majorities are certain to grow. Indeed, with Democrats favored by 10 points
over Republicans, Nancy Pelosi's majority could grow by 25 seats and Harry
Reid could find himself with a filibuster-proof majority of 60 senators.

Democrats already have 49, plus two independents: Socialist Bernie Sanders
and Independent Joe Lieberman. Their challengers are now ahead in New
Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Minnesota, Oregon and
Colorado, with a chance of picking up Georgia, Alaska, Kentucky and

We may be looking at a reverse of 1980, when Reagan won a 10-point victory
over Jimmy Carter, and Republicans took the Senate and, working with Boll
Weevil Democrats, effective control of the House.

With his tax cuts, defense buildup and rollback policy against the "Evil
Empire," Reagan gave us some of the best years of our lives, culminating in
America's epochal victory in the Cold War.

What does the triumvirate of Obama-Pelosi-Reid offer?

Rep. Barney Frank is calling for new tax hikes on the most successful and a
25 percent across-the-board slash in national defense. Sen. John Kerry is
talking up new and massive federal spending, a la FDR's New Deal.
Specifically, we can almost surely expect:

-- Swift amnesty for 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens and a drive to
make them citizens and register them, as in the Bill Clinton years. This
will mean that Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona will soon move out
of reach for GOP presidential candidates, as has California.

-- Border security will go on the backburner, and America will have a
virtual open border with a Mexico of 110 million.

-- Taxes will be raised on the top 5 percent of wage-earners, who now carry
60 percent of the U.S. income tax burden, and tens of millions of checks
will be sent out to the 40 percent of wage-earners who pay no federal income
tax. Like the man said, redistribute the wealth, spread it around.

-- Social Security taxes will be raised on the most successful among us, and
capital gains taxes will be raised from 15 percent to 20 percent. The Bush
tax cuts will be repealed, and death taxes reimposed.

-- Two or three more liberal activists of the Ruth Bader Ginsberg-John Paul
Stevens stripe will be named to the Supreme Court. U.S. district and
appellate courts will be stacked with "progressives."

-- Special protections for homosexuals will be written into all civil rights
laws, and gays and lesbians in the military will be invited to come out of
the closet. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dead.

-- The homosexual marriages that state judges have forced California,
Massachusetts and Connecticut to recognize, an Obama Congress or Obama court
will require all 50 states to recognize.

-- A "Freedom of Choice Act" nullifying all state restrictions on abortions
will be enacted. America will become the most pro-abortion nation on earth.

-- Affirmative action -- hiring and promotions based on race, sex and sexual
orientation until specified quotas are reached -- will be rigorously
enforced throughout the U.S. government and private sector.

-- Universal health insurance will be enacted, covering legal and illegal
immigrants, providing another powerful magnet for the world to come to
America, if necessary by breaching her borders.

-- A federal bailout of states and municipalities to keep state and local
governments spending up could come in December or early next year.

-- The first trillion-dollar deficit will be run in the first year of an
Obama presidency. It will be the first of many.

Welcome to Obamaland!
Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill,
Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West
Lost the World, "The Death of the West,", "The Great Betrayal," "A Republic,
Not an Empire" and "Where the Right Went Wrong."
24910  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / StratforThe financial crisis in Russia on: October 28, 2008, 02:33:18 PM
The Financial Crisis in Russia
Stratfor Today » October 28, 2008 | 1012 GMT
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on the geopolitics of the global financial crisis. Here, we examine how the global financial crisis will impact a resurgent Russia.

Standard & Poor’s rating service lowered Russian long-term sovereign credit rating outlook to negative Oct. 23 because of projections that Moscow will need to inject more credit into the faltering Russian banking sector. A credit rating indicates the agency’s estimation of a state’s ability to maintain debt payments, so in this case S&P believes that ongoing efforts to address the financial crisis could overtax the Russian government. The cut in debt rating comes as the yield on Russian government 20-year bonds has increased eight basis points (a 0.08 percent rise in yield) to 10.94 percent, indicating that the foreign appetite for Russian bonds is quickly dropping as credit becomes scarce and investors seek investments they feel are more secure. The bond yield of Russia’s largest company, natural gas behemoth Gazprom — which is also the single greatest source of Russian total external debt — has thus skyrocketed, and it now stands at almost 700 basis points above emerging sovereign debt. Meanwhile, the Russian stock exchange closed below 550 on Oct. 24, wrapping up a precipitous fall that has destroyed 80 percent of its value since May.

International Economic Crisis
The Financial Crisis in the United States
The Financial Crisis in Europe
Hungary: Hints of a Wider European Crisis
The Financial Crisis in Japan and China
Methodology by George Friedman
The International Economic Crisis and Stratfor’s Methodology
Related Link
The Geopolitics of Russia: Permanent Struggle
A comprehensive flight of investor capital is occurring in Russia for a number of reasons. This situation is placing great pressure on the Kremlin to use its capital reserves — the third largest in the world — to prop up the Russian banking sector and the main engines of the Russian economy: the energy and mineral sectors. In the short run, Moscow’s massive capital reserves will allow it to weather the global liquidity crisis and increase government control over all sectors of the economy. In the long run, however, Russia might face a dearth of capital as it drains its coffers trying to pump cash into the system, putting vital capital expenditure projects (such as improving infrastructure, improving oil and natural gas field development, and military spending) on hold to the detriment of its ability to face off with the West. The result will be an economy that has far more in common with the Soviet Union than with post-Soviet Russia — even post-Soviet Russia under Vladimir Putin. And that will affect Russia’s bid to reassert itself globally.

The Russian Golden Goose and the Liquidity Crisis
Russian state coffers contain roughly $650 billion. The money is actually divided into three different funds, with the international capital reserves accounting for the bulk ($515.7 billion as of Oct. 17) and the rest split between the National Welfare Fund and the Reserve Fund, Moscow’s long-term security blankets. The coffers have been filled with the profits from steadily rising commodity prices over the last five years, allowing Russia to amass a $50 billion budget surplus at the end of 2007 and pay off the majority of its externally held government debt.

The $650 billion figure, however, is down from $750 billion as recently as 3 months ago. This is due to the cost of the August intervention in Georgia (which cost $16.1 billion) combined with the huge number of liquidity injections (to the tune of roughly $90 billion) the state has had to make since the Sept. 16 and Oct. 6 Russian stock market crashes and in response to concerns about the stability of Russian banks.

Liquidity injections into the stock market and Russian banks were necessary because nearly $63 billion in foreign investment was pulled out of Russia immediately following the August intervention in Georgia. Foreign investors also withdrew because of a previous loss of confidence due to Russian disregard for investor rights, and because of a loss of confidence in Russian company and government bonds as the global liquidity crisis took root.

While embarrassing, the flight of foreign money from the stock market is not the Kremlin’s primary concern. The bigger problem is the collapse of confidence in Russian bonds and borrowers, the premier sources of foreign capital for funding the expensive projects of Russian energy and mineral giants.

Russian companies, as well as foreign investors looking to invest into Russia, prefer to raise capital through bonds because it does not mean taking input from foreigners on how to run their business. It also allows them to keep everything about their firms, from ownership and management structures to profits and managerial techniques, out of the public eye. Foreign bond holders only want a return at an agreed-upon date. With political risk created by the Georgian war combined with the global liquidity crisis, however, foreign investors have abandoned Russian bonds for safer investments, such as U.S. Treasury bills, elsewhere. This has left Russian companies without the ability to raise crucial capital.

Kremlin Tools to Combat the Liquidity Crisis
To inject liquidity into the system, the Kremlin first turned to the oligarchs, forcing them to inject between 10 percent and 30 percent of their total wealth into the markets and banks to shore up the financial system immediately after the Sept. 16 stock market crash. At an all-night mandatory meeting held in the Kremlin following the crash, oligarchs were ordered to plunge cash into their own faltering stocks, buy collapsing financial institutions directly, or simply fork over the cash and/or shares. Using oligarch money has the positive effect, at least from the Kremlin’s perspective, of further consolidating control over the oligarchs’ assets and decision making.

This move quickly drained the oligarchs of much of their on-hand cash, however. In the weeks since, they have largely seen their cash reserves exhausted by the combination of appeasing Kremlin demands and suffering losses from various margin calls. (In essence, they have been forced to immediately repay loans taken out to buy stock.) The only way for the oligarchs to repay these loans is to sell assets at cut-rate prices or stocks at depressed prices. So while the oligarchs are still rich in assets, they are now poor in cash, and are being forced to liquidate parts of their empires to remain liquid.

RUSAL kingpin Oleg Deripaska has been forced to ditch his Canadian auto parts venture, while Norilsk Nickel’s Vladimir Potantin is shopping around for buyers for his platinum mine in the U.S. state of Montana. Both have had to divest themselves of massive amounts of stock. In total, the 20 richest Russian oligarchs have lost personally or through their companies a combined $188.4 billion — and that figure comes only from publicly available information. While the oligarchs are still extremely wealthy, they have now been forced to give up or have lost sizable chunks of their fortunes, particularly in assets abroad. This renders them, as a tool for shoring up liquidity, a spent force for the purposes of stabilizing Russia.

This means that the Kremlin now has to pick up the slack with its own resources — namely, its $650 billion cash reserves — and that the worst of the liquidity problems are yet to come. In particular, Moscow will have to figure out how to isolate itself from the foreign liabilities accrued by its banks, both government and private, and by its energy and mineral companies.

Total Russian external debt as of June stood at $527.1 billion, of which banks — whether private or government owned — owed a whopping $228.9 billion. Domestic credit in Russia, which lacks a good system for circulation and accumulation, has always been scarce. This means Russian banks rely upon access to foreign capital to fund everything from car loans, mortgages and personal loans to Russian energy and mineral companies’ capital expenditures.

The problem with such a sizable debt is that while the ruble depreciates against the rising U.S. dollar because of Russian economic instability, capital flight and decreasing commodity prices (which act upon both the ruble and dollar simultaneously, increasing the dollar and decreasing the ruble), foreign debts made out in dollars begin to appreciate in value. Since the crisis began, the ruble has already dropped by a quarter, increasing the cost of servicing dollar-denominated debt by a like amount. The Kremlin will have to act fast to cover the debts of the banking sector, or else the debt might become unserviceable for the banks, which take in most of their revenue in rubles.

This of course assumes that the Russian consumers who took out the mortgages, car loans and personal loans will continue to service their debts, and that there will not be any significant bank run — far from a certainty given the notoriously bank-skeptical Russian populace. If the ruble continues to depreciate, Russian consumers might be unable to service their debts. This applies particularly to loans originally denominated in foreign currencies. The problem is widespread in Central Europe and the Balkans, and especially in Hungary, where foreign banks used the Swiss franc for consumer lending.

The other issue is the debt of the 14 largest Russian energy and mineral companies, which account for $142.1 billion of $185.4 billion non-bank privately held external debt. Particularly notable are the debts of Gazprom ($55 billion), Rosneft ($23 billion), RUSAL ($11.2 billion), TNK-BP ($7.5 billion), Evraz ($6.4 billion), Norilsk ($6.3 billion) and LUKoil ($6 billion). These debts are held in various dollar-, euro- and yen-denominated loans, and bonds, which are usually dollar-denominated. Unlike domestic Russian banks, which receive revenue in rubles, the energy and mineral giants will not have to contend with the problem of the appreciating dollar, because they receive their commodity-driven revenue in dollars. (All of world’s commodities are priced in dollars.) But these firms will have to contend with ever-decreasing revenue from which to service their loans as oil and minerals/metals decline in price. Oil and nickel are already down 55 percent and nearly 80 percent, respectively, from their peaks.

The Kremlin’s Choice
The Kremlin thus faces a choice between not spending its cash and risking countrywide private defaults by its banks and major companies, which would in turn trigger a complete collapse of the Russian financial system, or spending its reserves to shore up the system and severing nearly all links between Russia and the wider world. This really is not much of a choice, as the threat of further dollar appreciation against the ruble is nearly inevitable. Therefore, the Kremlin will most likely spend approximately $400 billion to buy up all of Russia’s foreign-held debt — $230 billion in bank debt and another $180 billion in various companies’ debts. (Russia lacks the option of printing currency, since the ruble is not worth much to begin with.)

Such a step would obviously drain Russia’s coffers, taking the maximum total reserves down to $250 billion. But this will have an upside. In addition to ending all outstanding foreign funding vulnerabilities, this move would make the entire Russian economy and financial system owe nearly all of its debt directly to the Kremlin. In one stroke, Russia will have recreated the financial system of the Soviet era, with all the political control that implies. (Ironically, by repaying the nearly $400 billion of its companies’ and banks’ foreign loans, the Kremlin will inadvertently also inject much-needed liquidity into Western and Japanese banks. The end result will go a long way toward recapitalizing the global banking system.)

But not all would be smooth sailing under this scenario. Russia needs massive amounts of capital to keep its long-term energy production and export industries healthy, and with energy prices weak, it simply cannot even attempt to generate the necessary funds itself. As foreign capital dries up and commodity prices fall, Russian energy companies will have no choice but to forgo capital expenditure projects that are vital for revamping Russia’s Soviet-era transportation infrastructure and increasing dwindling production in maturing oil and natural gas fields.

Russia has an excellent tool for addressing part of this problem. Unlike oil, natural gas prices do not respond to market change; fixed pipeline infrastructure combined with the difficulty of transporting the stuff gives the supplier much more pricing power. As the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and Europe’s largest supplier, Russia already has plans in the works to increase its prices to more than $500 per 1,000 cubic meters as of Jan. 1, 2009. Russia is not only certain to stick to this planned price hike despite falling global energy prices, but it also could increase the price further to buy itself some more time and income.

Despite the direness of its situation, Russia is not about to collapse. In reality, all this means is that Russia’s experience in grafting some elements of Western capitalism to the Russian political system is over. (Moscow’s bid to adopt Western economics wholesale died years ago.) Having a system where Russian firms cannot tap foreign capital markets and are instead dependent on the state is precisely how the Soviet state maintained operational and political control. It might not be central planning per se, but it is not too far off. For a number of reasons, such an economic system makes sense for a country as large and difficult to invest in privately as Russia.

But while Russia might hold together domestically, the Kremlin will need to rethink some of its broader international objectives. Increased international influence is a pricey affair, whether it means buying Ukrainian elections; shoring up Moscow’s presence in Georgia; pressuring the Baltic states; cozying up to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; restoring its influence in the Middle East; fostering anti-ballistic missile defense social activism in the Czech Republic; or just generally increasing its intelligence activities abroad and updating its military capacity.

Ultimately, Russian stability in the post-Yeltsin era has depended on having free cash to direct where needed, when needed and in almost limitless quantities. For that, reduced access to international capital and a mere $250 billion reserve fund in an era of falling income might prove insufficient. Russia might be on the brink of a massive political consolidation into a stronger core state, but the liquidity crunch cannot help but limit its wider options. Simply put, Russia might be able to speak with a clearer voice, but its ability to project that voice has just been constrained.

24911  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 28, 2008, 02:29:02 PM
Running Against Reid, Pelosi and What's-His-Name.

Senator John McCain's snake-bit campaign may finally have hit on a theme that could resonate with independent voters in the runup to next Tuesday's election.

He has begun raising the specter of what a complete Democratic takeover of Washington would mean. He told a crowd in New Mexico last weekend that if Mr. Obama were elected, the public would have no effective brake on the liberal agenda of Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Senator Obama's tax increase would put even more people out of work," Mr. McCain said. "But that is exactly what's going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington. We can't let that happen. Are you ready for Obama, Pelosi and Reid?"

Other Republicans are raising the dire prospect of one-party government. Senator Liddy Dole of North Carolina is running an ad warning voters not to hand Democrats "a blank check."

All of this harkens back to one of the most successful GOP rescue operations in recent political history. As Bob Dole fell behind the charismatic Bill Clinton in 1996, Republicans boldly appealed to independents to vote in favor of divided government. They put out ads featuring a fortune-teller gazing into a crystal ball showing over-the-top scenes of Biblical devastation, plague and conflict. An announcer warned: "Remember the last time Democrats ran everything? The largest tax increase in history. Government-run health care. More wasteful spending. Who wants that again? Don't let the media stop you from voting. And don't hand Bill Clinton a blank check."

It worked. Republicans kept control of Congress. Haley Barbour, then GOP national chairman and now governor of Mississippi, said at the time voters had responded to the idea of an insurance policy against one-party rule. With time running out, the GOP is resurrecting this golden oldie in hopes that independent voters may not like the idea of having the government completely controlled by the trio of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

-- John Fund

The Disarming Mr. Obama

There's at least one government program Democrats are planning to cut deeply next year. Rep. Barney Frank last week told the editorial board of his home district's South Coast Standard-Times that defense spending will be slashed by 25% in the next Congress. He said such dramatic cuts would likely force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and a rollback in Pentagon plans for high-tech weaponry. "We don't need all these fancy new weapons," the Massachusetts liberal told the paper's editors.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has made similar comments on the campaign trail. In a video circulating on the Web (, he says he intends to cut "tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending" at the Pentagon. "I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our investments in future combat systems." He also would institute a new oversight panel to monitor the DoD's existing planning panel to make sure "it is not used to justify unnecessary spending."

On his campaign Web site, Mr. Obama says he also wants to increase the size of Army by 65,000 and the Marine Corps by 27,000, while expanding health care, special ops, civil affairs and other specialties and introducing a "Military Families Advisory Board." The Pentagon has worked in recent years to reduce overhead and increase what it calls "the tooth to tail ratio." Mr. Obama's clear agenda is to invest in more military tail, less tooth.

-- Brendan Miniter

Ted Stevens Joins the Pantheon

We now know that the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" championed by Alaska GOP Senator Ted Stevens did indeed lead somewhere: to the end of his career.

The senator was convicted yesterday on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts from the Alaskan oil-services company Veco on his financial disclosure forms.

Make no mistake. The fall of Ted Stevens was tied directly to his endless quest for earmarks -- pork barrel projects -- he could drag home to Alaska. While the federal indictment did not allege a clear quid-pro-quo, Veco CEO Bill Allen was demonstrably seeking earmarks from Mr. Stevens when he helped renovate the senator's house in suburban Anchorage while forgetting to send the senator most of the bills.

I vividly recall a conversation with Mr. Stevens about the earmark process back in 2006, when the testy senator was chairmonster of the Appropriations Committee. Our talk was surreal as he claimed "discretionary federal spending isn't out of whack," despite all evidence to the contrary.

But he also had moments of blinding candor. He acknowledged that a lot of the spending earmarks wouldn't have passed Constitutional muster before the Great Society. "Back when I was a lawyer in the Interior Department under Eisenhower, we wouldn't have dreamed much of this was anything but a state and local responsibility," he said. "But now that these are the rule, there is no one more tenacious in seeing my state is taken care of."

Sadly, Mr. Stevens also took care of himself, accepting gifts "on loan" for his house that ranged from a used La-Z-Boy recliner to an awful fish sculpture that he never reported on his financial disclosure forms.

There hasn't been a more sordid end to a Congressional career since former House Speaker Jim Wright resigned over bulk sales of a vanity press book or former House Ways and Means Chairman Daniel Rostenkowski went to prison for pilfering postage stamps and office furniture from the House.

-- John Fund

Quote of the Day

"[A]ccording to The Huffington Post, Obama's lack of experience is immune from criticism because he attended Ivy League schools, ‘was a serious and successful student,’ is a well-traveled, published author, and has a diverse background. Heck, he's me! Yet, in every one of my encounters with America's rural communities, the diversity of my privileged experience was eclipsed by the depth of theirs. I had rhetoric; they had well-measured speech, punctuated by forbearing silences. I had easy answers; they knew there was no such thing. It is not that the Republican base is anti-intellectual, as David Broder claims; they are anti-elitist. An Ivy League education is hardly a universal signal of competence in anything other than the liberal cultural canon " -- Joan Chevalier, a New York City speechwriter and essayist, writing in the Boston Globe.

From Joe the Plumber to Joe the Non-Taxpayer

Under Barack Obama's tax plan, millions of Americans who have zero federal income tax liability would nonetheless receive tax rebate checks from the government. Liberals claim these handouts are not really handouts, but would partially offset what recipients pay in FICA taxes for Social Security and Medicare. That's how Mr. Obama can claim 95% of Americans would receive a "tax cut" under his plan.

How big is the bill for Mr. Obama's rebate program? A new study from the Heritage Foundation counts a prospective 10 million net new recipients of federal dollars, who would receive an average of more than $2,000 each year. That adds up to a massive $20 billion-a-year new welfare program. The left-leaning Tax Policy Center similarly forecasts a massive increase in spending on Obama's "refundable tax credits."

Now we know where a President Obama would spend some of the money he takes from Joe the Plumber. With Washington staring at a near-trillion-dollar deficit next year, his interest in "spreading the wealth" clearly isn't a sideshow. It's a central priority even amid the country's unprecedented economic troubles.

24912  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues on: October 28, 2008, 01:10:52 PM
I'm born and raised Jewish in a liberal New York home. 

Look at me now  cheesy
24913  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Attorney General's office infiltrated on: October 28, 2008, 06:55:27 AM
second post of the morning
MEXICO CITY -- In what could be one of Mexico's worst cases of drug-related
corruption in a decade, Mexican officials alleged that a drug cartel
infiltrated the highest levels of Mexico's attorney general's office, paying
people there as much as $450,000 a month to get sensitive information about
antidrug activities.

The Sinaloa cartel, based in Mexico's western Sinaloa state, may even have
placed a mole inside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City who fed the drug lords
information from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a
copy of an arrest warrant reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and reported
earlier by Mexican newspaper El Universal.

View Full Image

Agency France-Presse/Getty Images
Mexican police with alleged members of a drug cartel arrested in Mexico City
this month.

"We are currently investigating this issue along with our Mexican
counterparts," a DEA spokesman said.

Two senior Mexican antidrug officials were arrested in recent weeks in
connection with the scandal and charged with crimes related to drug
trafficking, officials said on Monday. At the time of his arrest in early
October, one of the men, Fernando Rivera, was deputy director general of
intelligence at the attorney general's organized-crime unit. Officials said
Mr. Rivera was the main liaison between the attorney general's office and
the Mexican army in coordinating antidrug efforts. The other person arrested
was Miguel Colorado, the technical coordinator of the antidrug unit. His
duties included assigning federal agents to various raids against drug

Lawyers for the men couldn't immediately be identified; in Mexico, most
court trials are closed to the public until a verdict is issued, making
contact with defendants and identifying their lawyers difficult.

Many federal agents have died during raids in the past few years, and others
have been murdered by cartel hit men, officials say.

In total, some 35 officials from the organized crime unit have been arrested
and are being investigated, officials said. Officials said they had dubbed
the continuing investigation "Operation Clean-Up."

The scandal reflects the difficulty of President Felipe Calderón's efforts
to crack down on Mexico's drug cartels. Mexico is the main trans-shipment
point for cocaine entering the U.S., U.S. and Mexican officials say, and is
widely seen as having overtaken Colombia's drug war in importance. So far
this year, an estimated 3,700 people have died in violence from the drug
war, most of them involved in the drug trade, according to counts kept by
Mexican news organizations.

Since taking office in November 2006, Mr. Calderón has deployed tens of
thousands of soldiers to different parts of Mexico to wrest back control of
areas under the cartels' sway. But since the crackdown, the number of deaths
related to drug violence has increased, according to the Mexican government.

The emerging scandal may be one of the most serious instances of drug
corruption to emerge since 1997 when Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo was
arrested shortly after being named head of Mexico's antidrug agency. Gen.
Gutiérrez was convicted of being in the pay of drug lord Amado Carrillo
Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies," who later died while undergoing
plastic surgery.

The scandal is likely to be a setback for deepening cooperation between
Washington and Mexico City in the war on drugs, observers say. Under the
"Merida Initiative," the U.S. government will provide Mexico with $400
million in equipment and training a year for the next three years. Both
sides have said cooperation is much better nowadays than in the past -- 
especially in the wake of the 1997 scandal.

Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said the scandal would lead to an
overhaul of how his agency recruits, trains, and checks on its employees.
Mr. Medina Mora suggested that the investigations could yet implicate more
high-ranking officials.

"The investigation continues and we do not rule out that there are other
people who could have taken part in crimes that will be called to account,"
Mr. Medina Mora said. An adviser to Mr. Medina Mora said he hoped with the
arrests, officials had cut out "70% of the cancer" in the institution.

The investigation started as far back as December, according to a Mexican
government official, when the names of some Mexican officials began
surfacing in documents seized during raids of drug gangs.

In late June and early July, a Mexican former U.S. Embassy employee in
Mexico City was arrested and later testified that he had passed along
critical information to the Beltrán Leyva gang, a key part of the Sinaloa
cartel, in exchange for money. The witness, code-named "Felipe," also
accused several high-ranking Mexican officials, including Mr. Rivera.

"Felipe" said in his testimony that on one occasion, he was paid $30,000
from a man code-named "19" who worked with the Beltrán Leyva gang in
exchange for providing information about coming arrests of cartel members.

Deputy Attorney General Marisela Morales said Monday that higher-ranking
officials got much more money than "Felipe." She accused Messrs. Rivera and
Colorado of receiving "payments from $150,000 to $450,000 a month" for
information that would enable the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel to avoid
"searches, investigations, and arrest warrants" as well as obtain
information about rival drug gangs.

Write to David Luhnow at
24914  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mexican cartels dominate the Americas on: October 28, 2008, 06:53:34 AM

Mexican cartels dominate the Americas

As the most powerful drug trafficking force in the region, Mexican organized crime has spread far beyond the country in search of supplies for drugs to meet US demand, Sam Logan writes for ISN Security Watch.

By Sam Logan for ISN Security Watch


Assassinations related to drug trafficking in Mexico are on pace to pass 4,000 this year. By any count, violence in Mexico is at historical highs, and it is bad for business. Since the end of 2007, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon increased government pressure on organized crime, both the Sinaloa and the Gulf cartels have reached beyond Mexican boundaries to source supplies, secure trafficking routes and kill rivals.

Heavy pressure on Colombian drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) opened the door for Mexicans to control a greater share of the cocaine supply chain. They now control cocaine routes out of Colombia from Andean ports to wholesale points well inside the United States. But pressure on supply routes and other areas of operation inside Mexico has forced these DTOs abroad. Guatemala, Peru and Argentina are a natural fit - corruption thrives and there is little to no government presence on borders and in many pockets of the country.

As Mexican criminals reach beyond their country to expand control over various drug-trafficking routes in the Americas, they bring a decades old violent brand of business - money or a bullet. Honor and pride push them further to kill anyone who cheats or betrays. Beyond the blood is a trail of dirty money that further corrupts, where Mexican DTOs have been linked to the electoral campaign of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.

"Mexican drug traffickers go into locations where there are no laws or regulations," Michael Sanders, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington DC, told ISN Security Watch.

With billions of dollars to spend, little serious competition and a de facto presence in a number of countries, it is not a far stretch to consider that Central and South America have already become their domain.

The release valve

Pressure in Mexico has forced DTOs there into Guatemala, a neighboring Central American country that serves as a release valve, where they operate alternative supply routes with little trouble from the local government.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom publicly claimed on 5 September that his office and residential space was bugged by at least seven listening devices. Days later, few were surprised to learn one of his top intelligence officers, Gustavo Solano, was behind the espionage. Colom blamed the breech in security on the powerful influence of organized crime. Analysts believe the information gathered from the listening devices was sold to members of Los Zetas operating in Guatemala.

At least 300 members of Los Zetas operate in eight of Guatemala's 22 departments, according to Guatemalan news reports and a 17 October article in Mexican daily El Universal. The Guatemalan National Police believe there is a concentration of Mexican organized crime along the Guatemalan-Mexico border in the Peten department, on the country's stunted Caribbean coast, and placed in strategic locations on the borders with Honduras and El Salvador.

A 25 March shoot-out in the Guatemalan department of Zacapa left 11 dead, most of them Guatemalan criminals. Authorities believe the Zetas, formerly the military arm of the Gulf Cartel, consolidated power in the Central American country on that day, taking control over an old Gulf Cartel supply route that since at least 2004 has taken advantage of low altitude air space between two mountain ranges with no radar coverage to bring in planes. Most of this activity today is concentrated in the Sayaxche municipality of Peten, conveniently located on the border with Mexico and just miles away from a well-paved Mexican highway that leads north into the Mexican state of Chiapas, another area closely controlled by Los Zetas.

The other focus of Calderon's government offensive, the Sinaloa Cartel, has taken heavy losses due to the presence of thousands of soldiers in the states of Michoacan, Sinaloa and Sonora, the DTO's primary areas of operation.

Members of this cartel - once considered run solely by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman - in the past few years have branched into the methamphetamine business. The Sinaloa Cartel and other, smaller Mexican DTOs, now supply at least 80 percent of all methamphetamines consumed in the US according to the DEA's Sanders.

To launder proceeds from the sale of cocaine and meth (also known as "crystal" or "ice"), members of the Sinaloa Cartel have worked through front companies in Panama to move money back into Colombia where they are constantly pushing for more control up the supply chain.

"The Mexicans are in Colombia to purchase cocaine directly from coca labs to lower their costs," Roman Ortiz, director of Security and Post-Conflict Studies with Bogota-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), told ISN Security Watch in a recent phone interview.

Mexican DTOs, likely members of the Sinaloa Cartel, are active in Peru for the same reason, as recent violence in Peru suggests Mexican organized crime has joined with what the Peruvian government calls the Shining Path to spur coca leaf and poppy production in the country's highlands.

Backup in the Andes

By 15 October, a number of alleged Shining Path attacks left 17 people dead, 15 of them soldiers. Analysts in Peru believe these attacks may be related to the presence of Mexican DTOs who have hired back country militants to protect their supply routes out of the mountains, especially in the Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica and Junin provinces of Peru - provinces where the Shining Path has caused trouble in the past.

Peru is considered South America's number two source for cocaine and poppy, the raw material source for heroin. Poppy fields, grown at high altitudes in Peru for opium collection, have been considered an illicit cash crop since 2005, when the Peruvian National Police announced the presence of some 5,000 acres of poppy flowers cultivated at over 15,000 feet in the country's southern highlands.

Between January and October 2008 the National Police registered seizures of 103 kilograms of opium paste, indicating the continued presence of poppy cultivation. Over roughly the same period, Peruvian police seized some 20 tonnes of cocaine, worth over US$2 billion according to Reuters and local reports.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime concluded in its 2007 Andean coca survey that production in Peru is up by four percent in Peru, compared to five percent in Bolivia and 27 percent in Colombia.

In early September, Peruvian police seized three tonnes of cocaine hidden in 200 separate bumpers used by boats to prevent damage when docking. At the time of the seizure, a concurrent operation in eight separate points in Lima netted 30 men (some of them Mexican) and Peruvian police believe were working directly for the Sinaloa Cartel, according to a 6 September article in Peruvian daily El Comercio.

South American ephedrine supply

When the Mexican government passed a law on 2 July making all cold medicines that use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine illegal, methamphetamine traffickers, in need of the same precursor chemicals to cook their drugs, were forced to look south.

Not weeks after the Mexican law came into effect, Argentine police arrested on 18 July nine Mexicans and one Argentine who had rented a luxury residence in the Buenos Aires suburbs to cook methamphetamines. A month later, authorities discovered a warehouse where tanks of ephedrine were stored. The meth lab and ephedrine storage tanks were directly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.

At the top of the Argentine methamphetamine racket was Jesus Martinez Espinoza, an operator with the Sinaloa Cartel who traveled to Argentina to secure a source of ephedrine for methamphetamine production locally in Argentina and abroad in Mexico. He relied on three Argentine men, including Sebastian Forza, who had deep connections in the pharmaceutical industry, as his principal suppliers of ephedrine.

"Argentina can legally import 37 tonnes of ephedrine," the DEA's Sanders told ISN Security Watch, adding, "in 2006 Argentina imported 5 tonnes of ephedrine, and in 2007 Argentina imported 26 tonnes." Still 11 tonnes under the legal limit.

When Martinez's scheme began to unravel in mid July, his local connections had to go. All three Argentine businessmen disappeared on 7 August. Their bodies were found six days later in a ditch outside of Buenos Aires. Forza and the other two were handcuffed and sprayed with bullets. The triple homicide shocked Argentines, who are not accustomed to such assassination-style murders. The news catalyzed a massive investigation that led to Martinez's arrest in Asuncion, Paraguay, just hours before he was to board a flight to Mexico.

Investigations into Forza's past found a long line of bounced checks and deep debt. One of his former associates killed himself. And along with one of the other men allegedly killed by Martinez's men, Forza contributed as much as US$118,000 to the electoral campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Taking over

Over the course of 2008, Mexican organized crime has been tied not only to the triple-homicide in Buenos Aires and the bugging of the office and bedroom of the Guatemalan president, but also to the deaths of five Mexican men, found with their throats slit in Birmingham, Alabama; the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy in Las Vegas, Nevada; and possibly violence in the Peruvian high country.

Between the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels, Mexican organized crime has proven ties with local operators in a list of countries from the US south through Central and South America, including Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Argentina.

"When considering methamphetamines, Mexican organized crime is the strongest in the region," Sanders said, pointing out that the countries in Latin America with relaxed chemical import regulations will likely become targets for Mexican DTOs in the future.

"South America has become increasingly part of [Mexico's] hunting grounds, and Guatemala is already deeply involved," Bruce Bagley, chairman of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami, told ISN Security Watch adding, "these guys are not deterred by borders."

The only other criminal organization that has had this breadth of reach and disregard for national sovereignty was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Billions more in profits, and potentially thousands more operatives with no political ideology, poise Mexican drug traffickers to become the region's next major security challenge.

Today these criminal groups represent the number one threat to national security in Mexico. Tomorrow, other countries such as Guatemala, Peru and Argentina may make the same claim.
24915  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Staph on: October 28, 2008, 06:25:44 AM
Staph Germs Are Getting More Difficult to Treat, Studies Say
Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Drug-resistant staph bacteria picked up in ordinary community settings are increasingly acquiring "superbug" powers and causing far more serious illnesses than they have in the past, doctors reported Monday.

These widespread germs used to be easier to treat than the dangerous forms of staph found in hospitals and nursing homes.

"Until recently we rarely thought of it as a problem among healthy people in the community," said Rachel Gorwitz of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, the germs causing outbreaks in schools, on sports teams and in other social situations are posing a growing threat. A CDC study found that at least 10% of cases involving the most common community strain were able to evade the antibiotics typically used to treat them.

"They're becoming more resistant and they're coming into the hospitals," where they swap gene components with other bacteria and grow even more dangerous, said Keith Klugman, an infectious disease expert at Emory University. "It's really a major epidemic."

The germ is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. People can carry it on their skin or in their noses with no symptoms and still infect others -- the reason many hospitals isolate and test new patients to see if they harbor the bug.

MRSA mostly causes skin infections. Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow was just hospitalized for a staph infection, his second in recent years, and the team reportedly has had at least six cases in the past three years.

But the germ can be life-threatening if it gets into the bloodstream, lungs or organs. Pneumonia, sinus infections and even "flesh-eating" wounds due to MRSA are on the rise, doctors reported Monday at an infectious diseases conference in Washington.

About 95,000 serious infections and 20,000 deaths due to drug-resistant staph bacteria occur in the United States each year.

To treat them, "we've had to dust off antibiotics so old that they've lost their patent," said Robert Daum, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago.

The CDC used a network of hospitals in nine cities and states to test samples of the most common community MRSA strain, USA300, over the last few years.

MRSA usually is resistant only to penicillin-type drugs. But 10% of the 824 samples checked also could evade clindamycin, tetracycline, Bactrim or other antibiotics.

"The drugs that doctors have typically used to treat staph infections are not effective against MRSA," and family doctors increasingly are seeing a problem only hospital infection specialists once did, Dr. Gorwitz said.

Even more worrisome: many of these community strains had features allowing them to easily swap genes and become even hardier.

Also at the conference:

-Doctors from Spain reported the first hospital outbreak of MRSA resistant to linezolid, a last-resort drug sold by Pfizer Inc. as Zyvox in the U.S. and Zyvoxid in Europe. A dozen intensive care patients got pneumonia and bloodstream infections last spring and the outbreak was controlled after use of the antibiotic was severely curbed, said Dr. Miguel Sanchez of Hospital Clinico San Carlos in Madrid.

-Georgetown University saw a spike in sinus infections due to MRSA. The germ accounted for 69% of the staph-caused cases in the hospital between 2004 and 2006 compared with 30% from 2001 to 2003.

-Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that more than half of staph-caused pneumonia cases from 2005 through 2007 were due to MRSA.

-Doctors from Case Western Reserve University and the VA Medical Center in Cleveland found that by the time hospitals isolated and tested new patients to see if they harbored MRSA, many had already contaminated their skin and surroundings. Within about a day of being admitted, roughly a third had already started to spread the germ.

Hospital screening is controversial, and has had mixed success, said M. Lindsay Grayson, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The nation's Veterans Affairs hospitals began universal MRSA testing in 2007. Illinois and some other states have adopted or are considering laws requiring hospitals to test high-risk and intensive-care patients for MRSA.

The conference is a joint meeting of the American Society for Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press\
Experts Say Staph Is Common Problem for Athletes
Yahoo! Buzz

Published: October 24, 2008
The news in football this week often seemed ripped from the pages of a journal on infectious disease.

Skip to next paragraph
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The Browns’ Kellen Winslow had his second staph infection in three years.

Analysis and discussion of the N.F.L. on the New York Times pro football blog.

Go to The Fifth Down Blog »

Schedules: A.F.C. | N.F.C.
Standings: A.F.C. | N.F.C.
Teams | Statistics
Injuries: A.F.C. | N.F.C.
Statistics | Roster
Depth Chart
Statistics | Roster
Depth Chart
First there was Kellen Winslow, who received a one-game suspension after accusing the Browns of concealing his staph infection. Then there was the news that Peyton Manning had developed a similar condition in his left knee earlier this year. Finally, there was Tom Brady, whose rehabilitation from knee surgery has reportedly been delayed because of an unidentified infection, also in his left knee.

Despite the outbreak of headlines, several experts in sports medicine and epidemiology said the news only served to highlight how prevalent infections — especially staph infections — are among professional athletes and in the community at large.

“It seems like most of these are single-case episodes,” said Jeff Hageman, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What we know is that staph is one of the most common causes of skin infection in the community,” he said, accounting for between 12 million to 14 million doctor visits a year.

Like athletes in other contact sports, football players are prone to staph infections because of their sport’s skin-on-skin contact, the frequency of cuts and the warm, moist conditions in locker rooms, which encourage the growth of bacteria. Because they are regulars in surgery wards, athletes are susceptible to infections there, too.

Garden-variety versions of the staphylococcus bacteria are easily treated and have lurked in locker rooms for years, but the problem has received heightened attention in recent years because of the emergence of a strain known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is resistant to some types of antibiotics. Serious cases of MRSA have derailed the careers of a handful of N.F.L. players, including Brandon Noble, a former defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, and Jeff Novak, a guard for the Jacksonville Jaguars who later sued the team doctor for malpractice.

“These things are here, they’re very serious,” said Noble, who had two bouts of MRSA in 2005 and is now the defensive line coach at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. With high-profile players in the news, he said, “maybe it’ll wake some people up and get the ball rolling.”

Winslow has not said whether his staph infection — his second in three years — was MRSA, but Manning’s infection was not, according to a statement the Colts released Friday. Brady, who contracted his infection after surgery, has not categorized it.

Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the National Football League, said the teams’ trainers and doctors met annually to discuss infections and other health concerns. “It’s an issue across the country,” he said. “It’s not an N.F.L. or a football player issue.”

A 2005 survey by the N.F.L. Team Physicians Society found that of the 30 teams that responded, 13 said a player had contracted a MRSA infection in recent years, for a total of 60 infections across the league. Andrew Tucker, the president of the society and the team doctor for the Ravens, said teams had access to information about staph infections through an internal injury reporting database, but the N.F.L. declined to release the data.

Football teams increased their efforts to battle staph after 2003, when a MRSA outbreak among the Rams resulted in eight infections. The Rams invited the C.D.C. to investigate their facility, and a 2005 study revealed some nose-wrinkling results — towels were being shared by as many as three players on the field, trainers did not always wash their hands when treating wounds, and players did not take showers before entering whirlpools. Football players were also taking antimicrobial drugs at 10 times the rate of the general public.

Jim Anderson, the Rams’ head trainer, said he was surprised when MRSA even turned up on ultrasound equipment and in the cold pools. Since then, the Rams have been more diligent about disinfecting surfaces in the locker rooms and other facilities. Like other teams, they speak to players before each season about sanitary practices, imparting common-sense advice like washing one’s hands, treating open cuts, and not sharing drinks.

“The biggest thing was making them aware of it,” Anderson said. Since then, although a handful of Rams players have developed staph, none have been MRSA.

After Winslow criticized the Browns for concealing his illness from teammates — a claim the team denies and that led to his suspension, which he is appealing — several news media reports noted that the Browns have had six cases of staph infections since 2005. Bill Bonsiewicz, a Browns spokesman, said in an e-mail message that Browns players have contracted seven cases of staph since 1999, including two MRSA cases separated by a few years. “Both players were aggressively treated and each returned to the field within a few weeks,” Bonsiewicz said. He declined to name the players, citing privacy reasons.

Tucker and Hageman said the frequency of staph infections among Browns players — spread over so many years — did not appear to be out of the ordinary. “You’re talking about one or two per year,” Tucker said. “That’s not a lot.”

Noble said that although teams were making an effort to prevent MRSA, eradicating the bacteria was nearly impossible. Locker rooms, after all, are filthy places. “There’s mud, there’s blood, there’s sweat, there’s spit,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of big, gross guys in a room together.”

24916  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena on: October 28, 2008, 06:09:25 AM
Barney Frank will not soon be named secretary of defense or, insha'Allah, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. So there's really no reason to fear that his recent call to cut defense spending by 25% is a harbinger of what to expect in an Obama administration.

APThen again, maybe there is.

When it comes to defense, there are two Barack Obamas in this race. There is the candidate who insists, as he did last year in an article in Foreign Affairs, that "a strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace"; pledges to increase the size of our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines while providing them with "first-rate equipment, armor, incentives and training"; and seems to be as gung-ho for a surge in Afghanistan as he was opposed to the one in Iraq.

And then there is the candidate who early this year recorded an ad for Caucus for Priorities, a far-left outfit that wants to cut 15% of the Pentagon's budget in favor of "education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger [and] deficit reduction."

"Thanks so much for the Caucus for Priorities for the great work you've been doing," says Mr. Obama in the ad, before promising to "cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending . . . slow our development of future combat systems . . . not develop new nuclear weapons."

Joe Biden also cut an ad for the group that was even more emphatic: "I'll tell you what we cannot afford . . . a trillion-dollar commitment to 'Star Wars,' new nuclear weapons, a thousand-ship Navy, the F-22 Raptor."

Mr. Biden is right that we can't afford a thousand-ship Navy, not that anyone has proposed it. Current levels of funding don't quite suffice to operate 300 ships, or about half the number the U.S. had at the end of the Reagan arms buildup. The Navy would be satisfied with 313.

Current funding is also just adequate to purchase about 65 new planes for the Air Force each year, even as the average age of each plane creeps upward to nearly 24 years. Last year, the entire fleet of F-15Cs -- the Air Force's mainstay fighter -- was grounded after one of the planes came apart in midair. Spending on maintenance alone is up more than 80% from a decade ago. Is that another defense item Mr. Biden thinks we can't afford?

(As for nuclear weapons, the U.S. hasn't built a new warhead in decades. Its mainstay, the W76, is widely suspected of being unreliable, yet Congress has resisted funding the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead.)

Maybe it seems odd that the Pentagon, whose budget for 2009 runs to well over $500 billion -- not including the supplemental $165 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan -- should struggle to afford the equipment it needs.

But it's not odd. We've been fighting two wars, straining people and equipment. Weapons have generally become more complex and expensive. President Clinton's "procurement holiday" punted the modernization problems to the present. And even after the Bush buildup, defense spending amounts to just 4% of gross domestic product. By contrast, at the nadir of Cold War defense spending under Jimmy Carter, the figure was 4.7%.

All this should argue for at least a modest recapitalization effort by an Obama administration, assuming it really believes a strong military is "necessary to sustain peace." A study by the Heritage Foundation makes the case that defense spending should rise to close to $800 billion over the next four years in order to stick to the 4% GDP benchmark. That's unrealistic in light of the financial crisis. But holding the line at current levels is doable -- and necessary.

But what if a President Obama doesn't actually believe in the importance of a strong military to keep the peace? Or has an attenuated idea of what qualifies as a "strong" military? Or considers military strength a luxury at a moment of financial crisis? Or thinks now is the moment to smash the Pentagon piggy bank to fund a second Great Society?

Does anyone really know where Mr. Obama's instincts lie? During the third debate, he cited former Marine Gen. James Jones as a member of his wise man's circle -- which was reassuring but odd, given that the general made a point of appearing at a McCain campaign event simply to distance himself from the Democratic candidate.

The Obama campaign has also produced a lengthy defense blueprint on its Web site. It reads more like a social manifesto, promising to "improve transition services," "make mental health a priority," and end "don't-ask, don't-tell." All very well, except the document is notably vague on naming the kinds of weapons systems Mr. Obama would actually support.

And so the question remains: If elected, which Obama do we get? The nuanced centrist or the man from Ben and Jerry's?

Some voters may like answers sometime before next Tuesday. Alternatively, they can click the button called "I'm Feeling Lucky."

Write to
24917  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Should have hit Syria a long time ago on: October 28, 2008, 06:02:44 AM
After five years and six months during which Syria has been an active accomplice to the insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. has finally struck back. Historians will be left to ponder how the course of the Iraq war might have changed if President Bush had acted sooner.

U.S. military sources are confirming that on Sunday U.S. special forces raided a location in eastern Syria that was being used by a network of Syrian military officials and al Qaeda-connected groups to smuggle foreign jihadists into Iraq. The Syrians, predictably, denounced the raid as "an outrageous crime" and an "unprovoked" attack on a "sovereign country."

The Syrians have an interesting definition of unprovoked and a curious notion of sovereignty. Even before U.S. troops took Baghdad, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explicitly warned that Syria was shipping military equipment to help Saddam Hussein, including night-vision goggles and antitank weapons. Only days after Baghdad fell, Mr. Bush warned Damascus against becoming a safe haven for top Iraqi Baathist officials. "We expect cooperation," he said, "and I'm hopeful we'll receive cooperation." Siding with Secretary of State Colin Powell over Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush dispatched Mr. Powell to Damascus in a show of postinvasion diplomatic goodwill.

President Bashar al Assad did not reciprocate, and Damascus soon became the capital in exile from which the Sunni insurgency was financed, organized and directed. In late 2003, Cofer Black, the State Department's Counterterrorism Coordinator, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Syria "needs to do a lot more" to stop terrorist infiltration, but added that he "remained optimistic that continued engagement with Syria will one day lead to a change in Syrian behavior."

It didn't. The following May, Mr. Bush ordered the minimum possible sanctions on Damascus under the Syria Accountability Act of 2003. Though Damascus offered some token intelligence cooperation, it also turned Damascus International Airport into the central hub through which jihadists from Morocco to Saudi Arabia could reach Iraq. Insurgent leaders were brazen enough to hold meetings, in Damascus hotels, that were known both to Syrian and U.S. intelligence.

Administration hawks urged more forceful action, including Predator missile strikes against terrorist hideouts in Syria. But the CIA and others valued ties to Syrian intelligence, and in January 2005 Mr. Bush decided instead to send then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Damascus to read Mr. Assad the riot act. Mr. Armitage succeeded in getting the Syrians to turn over Saddam's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan, a ringleader of the insurgency. This token cooperation, along with episodic Syrian efforts to police their border with Iraq, served mainly to disguise their ongoing support for the insurgency.

By the time the insurgency reached its height in 2006, more than 100 jihadists were coming into Iraq from Syria every month. According to U.S. military estimates, they accounted for between 80% and 90% of the suicide attacks, mainly against Iraqi civilians. Thanks to a combination of the surge, the Sunni Awakening and better internal monitoring by the Saudis and others of just who was boarding planes to Damascus, that flow has now slowed to about 20 a month.

Yet the Syrians continue to show little interest in aiding the U.S., despite recent efforts by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to court her Syrian counterpart, Walid Al-Moallem. Those efforts include inviting Syria to last year's Annapolis conference on Arab-Israeli peace and face-to-face meetings in Egypt and, just last month, New York.

Little wonder, then, that even the Iraqi government, which has sought good relations with its neighbor, has lost patience. "This area was a staging ground for activities by terrorist organizations hostile to Iraq," said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, in reference to the American raid. "The presence in Syria of groups that are hostile to Iraq and who contribute to terrorist activity against Iraqis hinders the progress of our relationship."

We wonder how differently the war in Iraq might have gone had the U.S. conducted this kind of raid as often as necessary in 2003 and 2004, or if it had put Mr. Assad on notice that his survival in power was at risk if he continued to support the insurgency. Our guess is that the war would have been shorter, far less bloody for American and Iraqi troops, and less politically costly to Mr. Bush.

There's a lesson in these Bush Administration mistakes for the next President, particularly if he is Barack Obama. The Syrians interpreted diplomatic accommodation in the face of their anti-American acts as a sign of weakness to exploit. Mr. Obama has promised he'll engage Syria diplomatically as part of an overall effort to end the conflict in Iraq. If he really wants to end the war faster, he'll pick up on Syria where the Bush Administration has now ended.

Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
24918  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYAT: Mosul on: October 28, 2008, 05:36:06 AM
Its the NY Times, so caveat lector:

MOSUL, Iraq — A new Iraqi military offensive is under way in this still violent northern city, but the worry is not only the insurgents who remain strong here. American commanders are increasingly concerned that Mosul could degenerate into a larger battleground over the fragile Iraqi state itself.

The problems are old but risk spilling out violently here and now. The central government in Baghdad has sent troops to quell the insurgency here, while also aiming at what it sees as a central obstacle to both nationhood and its own power: the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north and the Kurds’ larger ambitions to expand areas under their control.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is squeezing out Kurdish units of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, sending the national police and army from Baghdad and trying to forge alliances with Sunni Arab hard-liners in the province, who have deep-seated feuds with the Kurdistan Regional Government led by Massoud Barzani.

The Kurds are resisting, underscoring yet again the depth of ethnic and sectarian divisions here and the difficulty of creating a united Iraq even when overall violence is down. Tension has risen to the point that last week American commanders held a series of emergency meetings with the Iraqi government and Kurdish officials, seeking to head off violence essentially between factions of the Iraqi government.

“It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region.

Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”

The competing agendas of the Kurds and central government have nearly provoked violence before, but each side eventually grasped the risks. That may be the case now. At the moment, the Americans are hoping to refocus each side on fighting the insurgency rather than each other.

But the tensions underline that achieving basic security is only the first step toward deeper progress in Iraq — and that much remains, bitterly, unresolved.

Mosul falls outside the borders of the Kurdish region, but Mr. Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party came to control the provincial government after Sunni Arabs boycotted the provincial elections in 2005. The Kurds say, however, that they will not abandon the city until they reclaim five areas in Nineveh Province, putting them on a political collision course with the central government.

Tense personal relations between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Barzani worsened, officials on all sides say, after a standoff in September between the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish security forces, the pesh merga, in eastern Diyala Province. American forces helped contain that confrontation.

More broadly, the two men do not see eye to eye on issues as fundamental as the sharing of oil resources, the resolution of disputed internal borders and the shape of the Iraqi nation. The Kurds want a loose federation, while Mr. Maliki, playing on nationalist sentiments, is increasingly pushing for a strong central government.

Relations have deteriorated to the point that the Kurdish leadership has described Mr. Maliki as a new Saddam Hussein, recalling how Mr. Hussein ruthlessly crushed the Kurds in the 1980s. The borders of Iraqi Kurdistan were established as an internationally enforced security zone in 1991.

Testing Loyalties

In this latest offensive against insurgents, Mr. Maliki has been pushing to lessen Kurdish military influence here, and that is testing loyalties at a delicate time.

Mr. Maliki sent nearly 3,000 national policemen from Baghdad to Mosul to prop up the local force. The officers, almost all Shiites and Sunni Arabs, will be in charge of the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab west side of the city.

Predominantly Kurdish units of the army stationed in Nineveh are slowly being replaced by the mainly Sunni Arab and Shiite contingents.

The Defense Ministry also recently appointed Maj. Gen. Abdullah Abdul-Karim, Mr. Maliki’s brother-in-law, as the new commander of the Second Division on Mosul’s east side. Mr. Barzani, sensing a plot to purge the Iraqi Army in the north of its Kurdish leadership, personally intervened recently to freeze a ministerial order to transfer 34 Kurdish officers, said Col. Hajji Abdullah, a battalion commander in the Second Division.

“If the Arabs do not change now, things will get worse and I see confrontation,” Colonel Abdullah said.

In the turmoil, he and another officer in the division, Brig. Gen. Nadheer Issam, say their loyalties are first and foremost to Kurdistan.


Page 2 of 3)

“If I were made to choose, I would not even think for a second — I would leave the army,” General Issam said. “We have sacrificed too much fighting the Baathists,” he added, referring to Mr. Hussein’s political party.

 The United States has relied on Kurds from the very beginning in Mosul. Ignoring longtime enmities between the city and Mr. Barzani’s party, American Special Forces units accompanied pesh merga fighters beholden to the party when they took Mosul in April 2003. The United States drafted more pesh merga units into the city in 2004 and 2005 when the whole provincial government and the police force collapsed at the hands of insurgents.

Although many of the pesh merga units in Nineveh were merged into the national army, an estimated 5,000 men remained from an elite Kurdistan corps in the province’s north. All these actions have stoked anger in Mosul toward Americans and Kurds.

Karam Qusay, who works in the Zuhoor neighborhood of Mosul, said he wanted the city to be free of the Kurdish military presence, both in the army and outside of it.

“We wish they would leave,” he said. “We despise them.”

Mosul’s allegiance to Mr. Hussein was so staunch that the city was known as the “regime’s pillow.” Now Mr. Maliki appears to be trying to win over the city by playing on grievances toward the Kurds.

“The government wants to extend its authority, and this clashes with the will and ambitions of the Kurds,” said Maj. Ali Naji, a Sunni Arab in one of the army units sent recently from Baghdad. “I predict fighting between Iraqi forces and the pesh merga.”

Sami al-Askari, one of Mr. Maliki’s senior advisers, said he hoped that talks between his boss and Mr. Barzani would head off any such confrontation.

But he made the government’s position clear: that the presence of Kurdish forces outside of the national army and beyond the borders of Kurdistan was “unlawful.” And he said the refusal of Kurdish officers in the Iraqi Army to obey their transfer orders from Nineveh was a “mutiny that must be severely punished.”

The repercussions of a face-off between Baghdad and the Kurds in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, would be far more serious than the recent tensions in eastern Diyala.

Tenuous Security

Nineveh, wedged between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria and close to Turkey, remains a focal point for a number of Sunni insurgent groups linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown terrorist group that American officials say is led by foreigners, and to the Baath Party. Both are fighting the Americans, Mr. Maliki’s government and the Kurds.

Despite numerous offensives by American and Iraqi forces since the start of the year, security remains tenuous at best. This was underscored this month when 2,270 Christian families, according to the Human Rights Ministry, fled Mosul after a number of killings and other attacks against Christians.

The overall level of violence has dropped in Mosul to 9 or 10 attacks a day from an average of 40 a day a year ago.

Yet killings continue, and fear is palpable. Judges are so intimidated or corrupt that the Iraqi government has flown in judges from Baghdad. Their main job is to issue arrest warrants for wanted suspects.

People other than Christians are also being attacked. A senior provincial official was killed as he left a mosque last month. Even a man who makes tea in the provincial building was recently killed in what is probably the most secure part of the city, said an American official working with local authorities.

In his push to subdue Mosul and marginalize the Kurds, Mr. Maliki is trying to curry favor with disaffected Sunnis. Last week he sent his deputy, Rafie al-Issawi, a Sunni, here with promises of a reconstruction and investment initiative that would be coordinated this time by respected Sunnis from Mosul.

More significant, Mr. Maliki is courting former army officers and tribal leaders like Sheik Abdullah al-Humaidi, who leads the powerful Shammar tribe in western Nineveh. All are strong nationalists who believe that Kurds must be confined to the borders of Kurdistan drawn after the Persian Gulf war in 1991.


(Page 3 of 3)

General Thomas said Mr. Maliki was promoting Riad al-Chakerji, a Sunni Arab who is a former army general, as the next governor of Nineveh. Mr. Chakerji acts as an adviser to a committee set up to carry out the central government’s new economic initiatives for Mosul.

 “The central government must be very strong, especially now,” Mr. Chakerji said.

Mr. Chakerji, Sheik Humaidi and people like Hassan al-Luhaibi, a former Iraqi Army commander who led the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, have all joined a new political coalition known as Al Hadba, which will run in the coming provincial elections.

The coalition is led by Atheel al-Nujaifi, a prominent businessman who owns a ranch in Mosul that once supplied purebred Arabian horses to Mr. Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay.

A Call to Keep a Promise

Mr. Nujaifi said the United States military ignored the province’s enmity toward Mr. Barzani and turned itself into a party to the conflict when it relied on pesh merga forces upon arriving in Mosul.

He said that for Mr. Maliki to assert his authority in Mosul he must first make good on his promise to drive out Kurdish forces.

“Many insurgent groups will become law-abiding after that,” Mr. Nujaifi said.

Mr. Nujaifi and his brother Osama, a member of Parliament in Baghdad, blame the Kurds for instigating a campaign against the Christians in Mosul to deflect the central government’s pressure.

One Kurdish leader called the accusations “ludicrous,” and the United States military said it was most likely the work of militants linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

But a group of Christian leaders who met with General Thomas last week in the town of Qosh, outside Mosul, blamed the struggle between the central government and Kurdistan for the plight of their people. Sweeping out both sides, they said, may be the only way to restore calm and trust.

“You have done a great job removing Saddam’s regime,” the Rev. Bashar Warda told the general. “Continue with removing this regime, and start over again.”

24919  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Story on: October 28, 2008, 05:15:18 AM
"A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the
objects of the government; secondly, a knowledge of the means,
by which those objects can be best attained."

-- Joseph Story (Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833)

Reference: Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 206
24920  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 27, 2008, 05:57:45 PM
AND centrism gives us the economically incoherent McCain.  A major disaster in American political culture is being imprinted right now--aided and abetted by McC's pandering populism about greed on Wall Street being the cause-- NONE OF THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED BUT FOR THE GOVERNMENT/FED PRINTING TOO MUCH MONEY. GOLD FROM $250 TO $900?!?  BASKET OF COMMODITIES EXPLODING PRICES?!? OIL?!?  NEGATIVE INTEREST RATES?!? DOLLAR COLLAPSING?!?  ITS NOT LIKE THERE WEREN'T SOME REAL IN PLAIN SITE CLUES!!!

SERVING AS A MULTIPLIER WERE THE FMs, THE CRA, mark to market rules, etc.


Instead we get buffoonery from McC about Wall Street Greed and he's going to go after Wall Street even more than BO.  Barf.

OF COURSE, there was outrageous and unprincipled greed on Wall Street that greatly accelerated the process.  DUH.  Its Wall Street!  Its what they do!  AND THAT IS WHY YOU STICK TO YOUR F^&*(^(&G JOB OF KEEPING THE CURRENCY STABLE.
24921  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: October 27, 2008, 05:45:40 PM
Even though I support his efforts on a monthly basis, its been too long since I checked in with Michael Yon. 

There are several fine entries at

24922  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Ladros de Crafty Dog on: October 27, 2008, 11:11:19 AM
Hola a todos:

La vida de este foro depende de la participacion de Uds.  Este manana veo que el post de Mauricio tiene casi 60 "reads" (leidos?) pero todavia nadie ha respondido para continuar la platica.

Si' quieren un foro vibrante, dependara' en Uds.

La Aventura continua,
Marc/Crafty Dog
24923  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BO health plan on: October 27, 2008, 11:06:53 AM
Its the NY Times so caveat lector:

Businesses Wary of Details in Obama Health Plan
Published: October 26, 2008
AGAWAM, Mass. — Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City, is pretty sure he is about to get “whacked” by the new state law that requires employers to contribute to health care benefits for their workers or pay a $295-per-employee penalty. In order to avoid thousands of dollars in fines, Mr. Ratner is considering not adding part-time workers at his four pet supply stores in Western Massachusetts.

But the penalty in Massachusetts is picayune compared with what some health experts believe Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, might impose as part of his plan to provide affordable coverage for the uninsured. Though Mr. Obama has not released details, economists believe he might require large and medium companies to contribute as much as 6 percent of their payrolls.

That, Mr. Ratner said, would be catastrophic to a low-margin business like his, which has 90 employees, 29 of them full-time workers who are offered health benefits.

“To all of a sudden whack 6 to 7 percent of payroll costs, forget it,” he said. “If they do that, prices go up and employment goes down because nobody can absorb that.”

Writ large, that is one of the significant concerns about Mr. Obama’s health plan, which like this state’s landmark 2006 law would subsidize coverage for the uninsured by taxing employers who do not cover their workers. And it is a primary reason that so-called play-or-pay proposals have had an unsteady history for nearly two decades.

With Mr. Obama’s plan, business leaders say, the devil will be in the unknown details.

Mr. Obama would prohibit insurers from rejecting applicants because of medical conditions, require health insurance for children and create a new federal health plan to provide comprehensive coverage to the uninsured. Those beneath certain income levels would be granted tax credits to make premiums affordable, and small businesses would be offered tax credits to provide benefits.

The tax credits are projected to cost at least $110 billion. Mr. Obama has said he would pay for it primarily by raising income taxes on those making more than $250,000 and by reducing health spending. But when he announced the plan in May 2007, he emphasized that employers would share in the cost.

“We will ask all but the smallest businesses who don’t make a meaningful contribution today to the health coverage of their employees to do so by supporting this new plan,” he said.

Left undefined has been what size firms would be exempted, what constitutes a “meaningful contribution,” and how much noncompliant businesses would be required to pay. Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, badgered Mr. Obama in two of their debates to define the penalty, but Mr. Obama did not rise to the bait.

“We made a decision even before the plan was rolled out not to decide,” said David M. Cutler, a Harvard economist who speaks for the campaign on health care. “It’s not that there’s a decision out there that we’re not telling. It’s literally that we’ve decided not to decide.”

That may be smart politics. But it makes business groups nervous that Mr. Obama might impose an unmanageable burden. They also worry that any time his health plan faces a shortfall, businesses will be asked to up their ante, as has happened in Massachusetts.

“Play-or-pay can become a blank check to an already overcapitalized health care system,” said Helen B. Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents 300 companies.

Business groups also have concerns that Mr. McCain’s plan to change the tax treatment of health benefits would erode employer-sponsored insurance.

Mr. Cutler said the Obama campaign regarded play-or-pay less “as a revenue raiser” than as a way of “leveling the playing field.” It would hold accountable those employers whose uninsured workers might seek treatment in emergency rooms or enroll in government insurance plans, with costs subsidized by others through higher premiums and taxes. Mr. Cutler said the expense to businesses would be offset by savings from Mr. Obama’s proposals to reduce health spending, though that is an uncertain prospect.

Several econometric models have assumed that Mr. Obama would have to set his penalty near 6 percent of payroll (Mercer, a benefits consulting firm says that large employers typically pay 15 percent). Recent play-or-pay proposals in California and Pennsylvania put the figure at 3 or 4 percent, and both failed in part because of business opposition.


Page 2 of 2)

Hawaii is the only state that requires employers to provide health benefits, while Vermont, like Massachusetts, gently fines those who do not. Several other states have enacted similar laws over the last two decades, but they have been repealed, rejected by voters or challenged in court.

Economists believe the cost of health benefits is ultimately shifted to employees through lower wages. When wages cannot be lowered, layoffs may result. Katherine Baicker of Harvard and Helen G. Levy of the University of Michigan have projected that play-or-pay might push 224,000 workers into that category.
When negotiating their health plan, Massachusetts lawmakers rejected a payroll tax and instead set a “fair share contribution” that was low enough to appease businesses. The amount also was kept low to steer clear of the 1974 federal law prohibiting states from regulating multistate group insurance plans. Companies with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees were exempted.

State officials hoped the penalty would generate a little revenue, but recognized it was not likely to prompt employers to start offering coverage. It raised only $7.7 million in its first year, well under projections. So when a substantial budget gap opened in the $869 million health plan this year, Gov. Deval Patrick asked businesses to help fill the hole.

He compromised on a revised formula that is projected to bring in $30 million by increasing the number and average size of firms that will be penalized. The state expects 1,100 businesses to be fined, up from 855, or about 3 percent of eligible companies.

The deal left business leaders satisfied for the moment. They recognize that the $295 penalty is a fraction of the $4,000 that Massachusetts employers spend to insure an individual worker.

But businesses worry the state will raise their obligation each year. They argue they have already absorbed costs of insuring 159,000 workers with group coverage since the state began mandating insurance (a total of 439,000 have enrolled, giving the state the country’s highest insurance rate).

“You want the system to work,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “You just want to make sure there isn’t more cost-shifting to businesses because they are paying their fair share.”

State officials are gratified that — contrary to national trends — the share of employers offering health benefits has increased slightly. One fear about play-or-pay is that if the penalty is too low employers will stop offering coverage and pay the fines instead, shifting workers to government insurance programs.

But leaders here also are sensitive to the possibility that further increases in the penalty might stymie wage and job growth.

“In this day and age,” said Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, the state secretary of health and human services, “it wouldn’t take much of a change in policy to push some entities over the brink.”
24924  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: October 27, 2008, 10:46:32 AM

(Washington, DC)-MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and MICHELE M. LEONHART, Acting Administrator of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today the arrest of HAJI JUMA KHAN, a/k/a “Abdullah,” a/k/a “Haji Juma Khan Mohammadhasni,” an Afghan drug trafficker charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics with intent to support a terrorist organization. KHAN is among the first defendants to be prosecuted under the 2006 federal narco-terrorism statute.


According to the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Since at least 1999, KHAN led an international opium, morphine and heroin trafficking organization (the “Khan Organization”) based principally in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of southern Afghanistan. The Khan Organization arranged to sell morphine base, an opium derivative that can be processed into heroin, in quantities as large as 40 tons – enough to supply the entire United States heroin market for more than
two years. According to the Indictment, the Khan Organization also operated labs in Afghanistan that produced refined heroin and sold the drug in quantities of as much as 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, and more.

KHAN has been closely aligned with the Taliban, which was designated by the President of the United States as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group in 2002. The Taliban’s totalitarian government controlled Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until 2001, when it was removed from power by the United States and allied military forces. Since the United States’ military intervention, the Taliban has operated an insurgency aimed at re-establishing its control of Afghanistan and forcibly expelling the United States and its allies through terrorist tactics such as suicide bombings, improvised explosive
devices, shootings and kidnappings, which target American soldiers, Afghan political leaders, security contractors and civilians. The Taliban has publicly claimed credit for terrorist attacks, including a January 14, 2008 attack on civilians and employees at the Serena Hotel in Kabul, in which an American citizen was murdered.

The Taliban’s terrorist insurgency has been funded in part by drug traffickers who provide financing to the Taliban in exchange for protection for their drug routes, production labs, and opium poppy fields. KHAN has supported the Taliban’s efforts to forcibly remove the United States and its allies from Afghanistan by providing financial support in the form of drug proceeds.

 “Proceeds from HAJI JUMA KHAN's global drug trafficking organization funded the terrorist activities of the Taliban,” said DEA Acting Administrator MICHELE M. LEONHART. “His arrest disrupts a significant line of credit to the Taliban and will shake the foundation of his drug network that has moved massive quantities of heroin to worldwide drug markets.”


 Mr. GARCIA said: “The arrest of HAJI JUMA KHAN is another significant step in the continuing effort to combat terrorism by stopping the flow of narcotics proceeds that help fund the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.”

Mr. GARCIA praised the investigative work of the DEA, with the assistance of the British Serious Organised Crime Agency, and thanked the Turkish National Police and the Turkish Jandarma for their role in the case. He also thanked United States and international INTERPOL authorities for their support.

KHAN will be presented this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge RONALD L. ELLIS for initial appearance and arraignment. United States District Judge NAOMI REICE BUCHWALD will preside over future proceedings in this case; a conference is scheduled before Judge BUCHWALD for October 28, 2008, at 2:30 p.m.

If convicted, KHAN, 54, faces a maximum sentence of life and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics Trafficking Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys MARSHALL A. CAMP and EUGENE INGOGLIA are in charge of the prosecution.
24925  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / James Wilson: Marriage on: October 27, 2008, 09:43:25 AM
"The most important consequence of marriage is, that the husband
and the wife become in law only one person...  Upon this principle
of union, almost all the other legal consequences of marriage
depend.  This principle, sublime and refined, deserves to be
viewed and examined on every side."

-- James Wilson (Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, 1792)

Reference: The Works of James Wilson, Andrews, ed., vol. 1 (324)
24926  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Palin phenomenon on: October 26, 2008, 11:57:02 PM

Palin allies report rising campaign tension
By: Ben Smith
October 25, 2008 02:32 PM EST
Even as John McCain and Sarah Palin scramble to close the gap in the final days of the 2008 election, stirrings of a Palin insurgency are complicating the campaign's already-tense internal dynamics.

Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline.

"She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane," said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to "go rogue" in some of her public pronouncements and decisions.

"I think she'd like to go more rogue," he said.

The emergence of a Palin faction comes as Republicans gird for a battle over the future of their party: Some see her as a charismatic, hawkish conservative leader with the potential, still unrealized, to cross over to attract moderate voters. Anger among Republicans who see Palin as a star and as a potential future leader has boiled over because, they say, they see other senior McCain aides preparing to blame her in the event he is defeated.

"These people are going to try and shred her after the campaign to divert blame from themselves," a McCain insider said, referring to McCain's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, and to Nicolle Wallace, a former Bush aide who has taken a lead role in Palin's campaign. Palin's partisans blame Wallace, in particular, for Palin's avoiding of the media for days and then giving a high-stakes interview to CBS News' Katie Couric, the sometimes painful content of which the campaign allowed to be parceled out over a week.

"A number of Gov. Palin's staff have not had her best interests at heart, and they have not had the campaign's best interests at heart," the McCain insider fumed, noting that Wallace left an executive job at CBS to join the campaign.

Wallace declined to engage publicly in the finger-pointing that has consumed the campaign in the final weeks.

"I am in awe of [Palin's] strength under constant fire by the media," she said in an e-mail. "If someone wants to throw me under the bus, my personal belief is that the most graceful thing to do is to lie there."

But other McCain aides, defending Wallace, dismissed the notion that Palin was mishandled. The Alaska governor was, they argue, simply unready — "green," sloppy and incomprehensibly willing to criticize McCain for, for instance, not attacking Sen. Barack Obama for his relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Palin has in fact performed fairly well in the moments thought to be key for a vice presidential nominee: She made a good impression in her surprise rollout in Ohio and her speech to the Republican National Convention went better than the campaign could have imagined. She turned in an adequate performance at a debate against the Democratic Party's foremost debater.

But other elements of her image-making went catastrophically awry. Her dodging of the press and her nervous reliance on tight scripts in her first interview, with ABC News, became a national joke — driven home to devastating effect by "Saturday Night Live" comic Tina Fey. The Couric interview — her only unstaged appearance for a week — was "water torture," as one internal ally put it.

Some McCain aides say they had little choice with a candidate who simply wasn't ready for the national stage, and that Palin didn't forcefully object. Moments that Palin's allies see as triumphs of instinct and authenticity — the Wright suggestion, her objection to the campaign's pulling out of Michigan — they dismiss as Palin's "slips and miscommunications," that is, her own incompetence and evidence of the need for tight scripting.

But Palin partisans say she chafed at the handling.

"The campaign as a whole bought completely into what the Washington media said — that she's completely inexperienced," said a close Palin ally outside the campaign who speaks regularly to the candidate.

"Her strategy was to be trustworthy and a team player during the convention and thereafter, but she felt completely mismanaged and mishandled and ill advised," the person said. "Recently, she's gone from relying on McCain advisers who were assigned to her to relying on her own instincts."

Palin's loyalists say she's grown particularly disenchanted with the veterans of the Bush reelection campaign, including Schmidt and Wallace, and that despite her anti-intellectual rhetoric, her closest ally among her new traveling aides is a policy adviser, former National Security Council official Steve Biegun. She's also said to be close with McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who prepared her for the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate.

When a McCain aide, speaking anonymously Friday to The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, suggested that Palin's charge that Obama was "palling around with terrorists" had "escaped HQ's vetting," it was Scheunemann who fired off an angry response that the speech was "fully vetted" and that to attack Palin for it was "bullshit."

Palin's "instincts," on display in recent days, have had her opening up to the media, including a round of interviews on talk radio, cable and broadcast outlets, as well as chats with her traveling press and local reporters.

Reporters really began to notice the change last Sunday, when Palin strolled over to a local television crew in Colorado Springs.

"Get Tracey," a staffer called out, according to The New York Times, summoning spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt, who reportedly "tried several times to cut it off with a terse 'Thank you!' in between questions, to no avail." The moment may have caused ulcers in some precincts of the McCain campaign, but it was an account Palin's admirers in Washington cheered.

Palin had also sought to give meatier policy speeches, in particular on energy policy and on policy for children with disabilities; she finally gave the latter speech Friday, but had wanted to deliver it much earlier.

She's also begun to make her own ad hoc calls about the campaign's direction and the ticket's policy. McCain, for instance, has remained silent on Democrats' calls for a stimulus package of new spending, a move many conservatives oppose but that could be broadly popular. But in an interview with the conservative radio host Glenn Beck earlier this week, Palin went "off the reservation" to make the campaign policy, one aide said.

"I say, you know, when is enough enough of taxpayer dollars being thrown into this bill out there?" she asked. "This next one of the Democrats being proposed should be very, very concerning to all Americans because to me it sends a message that $700 billion bailout, maybe that was just the tip of the iceberg. No, you know, we were told when we've got to be believing if we have enough elected officials who are going to be standing strong on fiscal conservative principles and free enterprise and we have to believe that there are enough of those elected officials to say, 'No, OK, that's enough.'"

(A McCain spokeswoman said Palin's statement was "a good sentiment.")

But few imagine that Palin will be able to repair her image — and bad poll numbers — in the eleven days before the campaign ends. And the final straw for Palin and her allies was the news that the campaign had reported spending $150,000 on her clothes, turning her, again, into the butt of late-night humor.

"She never even set foot in these stores," the senior Republican said, noting Palin hadn't realized the cost when the clothes were brought to her in her Minnesota hotel room.

"It's completely out-of-control operatives," said the close ally outside the campaign. "She has no responsibility for that. It's incredibly frustrating for us and for her."

Between Palin's internal detractors and her allies, there's a middle ground: Some aides say that she's a flawed candidate whose handling exaggerated her weak spots.

"She was completely mishandled in the beginning. No one took the time to look at what her personal strengths and weaknesses are and developed a plan that made sense based on who she is as a candidate," the aide said. "Any concerns she or those close to her have about that are totally valid."

But the aide said that Palin's inexperience led her to her own mistakes:

"How she was handled allowed her weaknesses to hang out in full display."

If McCain loses, Palin's allies say that the national Republican Party hasn't seen the last of her. Politicians are sometimes formed by a signal defeat — as Bill Clinton was when he was tossed out of the Arkansas governor's mansion after his first term — and Palin would return to a state that had made her America's most popular governor and where her image as a reformer who swept aside her own party's insiders rings true, if not in the cartoon version the McCain campaign presented.

"There are people in this campaign who feel a real sense of loyalty to her and are really pleased with her performance and think she did a great job," said the McCain insider. "She has a real future in this party."
24927  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US SF hit AQ in Syria on: October 26, 2008, 11:50:17 PM
October 26, 2008

US Special Forces Launch Rare Attack Inside Syria

Filed at 10:06 p.m. ET

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as ''serious aggression.''

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.

''We are taking matters into our own hands,'' the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an ''uncontrolled'' gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Another witness said four helicopters were used in the attack.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 370-mile Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of militants, or warplanes violated Syria's airspace. But Sunday's raid was the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale. In May 2005, Syria said American fire killed a border guard.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the U.S. and Iraqi charges d'affaires to protest against the strike.

''Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria,'' the government statement said.

Syrian state television late Sunday aired footage that showed blood stains on the floor of a site under construction, with wooden beams used to mold concrete strewn on the ground. Akram Hameed, one of the injured, told the television he was fishing in the Euphrates and saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.

''One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked,'' the man in his 40s said. ''The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 meters (yards) away,'' he said.

The injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, told Syria TV that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.

''I ran to bring my child who was going to his father and I was hit,'' she said. The TV did not identify her by name.

The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.

Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Qaim Mayor Farhan al-Mahalawi.

The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.

He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the ''rat lines'' in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.

''The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria,'' the official said.

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a ''different story.''

''The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,'' Kelly said. ''We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement.''

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

''There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years,'' Kelly said.

The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.

The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.

Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.

Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.

Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.

Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.

The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.
24928  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War on: October 26, 2008, 11:47:59 PM
October 26, 2008

US Special Forces Launch Rare Attack Inside Syria

Filed at 10:06 p.m. ET

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as ''serious aggression.''

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.

''We are taking matters into our own hands,'' the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an ''uncontrolled'' gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Another witness said four helicopters were used in the attack.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 370-mile Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of militants, or warplanes violated Syria's airspace. But Sunday's raid was the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale. In May 2005, Syria said American fire killed a border guard.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the U.S. and Iraqi charges d'affaires to protest against the strike.

''Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria,'' the government statement said.

Syrian state television late Sunday aired footage that showed blood stains on the floor of a site under construction, with wooden beams used to mold concrete strewn on the ground. Akram Hameed, one of the injured, told the television he was fishing in the Euphrates and saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.

''One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked,'' the man in his 40s said. ''The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 meters (yards) away,'' he said.

The injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, told Syria TV that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.

''I ran to bring my child who was going to his father and I was hit,'' she said. The TV did not identify her by name.

The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.

Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Qaim Mayor Farhan al-Mahalawi.

The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.

He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the ''rat lines'' in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.

''The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria,'' the official said.

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a ''different story.''

''The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,'' Kelly said. ''We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement.''

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

''There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years,'' Kelly said.

The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.

The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.

Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.

Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.

Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.

Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.

The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.
24929  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: October 26, 2008, 09:40:21 PM
For a wonderful weekend of Cub Scout camping with my family.
24930  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: October 26, 2008, 07:53:23 PM
Which is why it would be helpful to precede posts of articles with a sentence or three description of why you are posting the article  smiley
24931  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 26, 2008, 04:21:22 PM
Anyone want to converse with CCP about the point(s) he raises?
24932  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Christians in Pakistan on: October 26, 2008, 04:17:47 PM
Pakistani Christians told to convert or die

Source: o+convert+or+die

Christians of south Punjab have received letters threatening death if they do not convert to Islam. In Jun3 2008, Islamic militants abducted Christians during worship. Pakistani police appear impotent.

About after a year, once again Christians of Shantinagar, a Christian village in south Punjab, Pakistan, received threatening letters by post, in which they were asked to convert to Islam or be ready to die or leave the area. Nine Christian religious and political leaders received the menacing mail on Sept. 3. Like previous mail, there is no dead line for the threat.

The letters say that, "Don't think we have forgotten you. We are after you and we will teach you a lesson if you do not obey our advice." The letters have no names of the senders but the message is almost the same. "Although each letter is a little different from others, the message are for conversion," Kaleem Dutt, one of the recipients of the letters told Minorities Concern of Pakistan (MCP) by phone. About fifteen days before these letters, few Christian families who live outside the village on their agricultural lands were attacked at night by some miscreants. They tortured them, beat them, insulted them and looted them. They also told the Christians to leave the area otherwise they will again and again be treated like this.

This is not the first time that Christians of this area received these sorts of letters. Last year, 10 Christians of the same village twice received the same type of correspondence with the same messages. That time the dead-line to convert to Islam was mentioned in the letters which was ten days. "Thanks God nothing happened after those ten days, so people feel relaxed," Saleem Dutt, a villager form Shantinagar told MCP. The new mail once again threatened Christians and they are so scared. They had informed the police officers of the special branch and arranged a security system around the village.

Last year, during the months of May, June and August, along with people of Shantinagar, religious minorities of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), especially Christians of Charsada and Peshawar, capital of NWFP, also received threatening letters from the unknown militants. The letters' message was to change their religions and convert to Islam. On June 21, 2008, Islamic militants kidnapped 16 Christians in a raid around 8pm while they were worshipping in the house of Salamat Masih, a Christian, in Peshawar. They were taken to the Khyber Agency, near the boarder with Afghanistan.

However, after couple of hours they were released after government's negotiation with the militants. Last year when Christians of Shantinagar received the intimidating letters, they immediately informed the police authorities about the letters and also gave the phone numbers of the threatening phone calls "but police did nothing," Christians complained. There are many militants groups active in the country especially in the tribal region of NWFP, but it is still not clear which militant group is behind these intimidating messages.

The Christians of Shantinagar are living under constant threat of attack by the militants. The apprehension of people of Shantinagar is genuine because on Feb. 6, 1997 this village was attacked by a mob of about 2000 people when the whole village was burnt and destroyed despite the presence of around 300 policemen outside the village. Christians were allegedly accused of insulting the Holy Quran. So, within hours, about 80 percent village was annihilated. Almost 800 houses were destroyed and 2500 people were affected. In the attack, about 2000 Bibles were burnt also. A judicial inquiry was held but still the findings of the inquiry are not made public. Moreover, police arrested 97 persons in this connection but nobody has been convicted so far.

The recent letters are a visible example of an attempt to force conversion of religious minorities in the country. In many cases, Christian, Hindu and Sikh women, have been kidnapped and forcibly married to Muslim men after conversion. Minority rights groups estimate that around 600 people a year are forcibly converted to Islam.
24933  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Libertarian Issues on: October 26, 2008, 04:11:12 PM
Well, looky, looky, look what we have here:

Government computers used to find information on Joe the Plumber
Investigators trying to determine whether access was illegal
Friday, October 24, 2008 8:57 PM
By Randy Ludlow

The Columbus Dispatch
"State and local officials are investigating if state and law-enforcement computer systems were illegally accessed when they were tapped for personal information about "Joe the Plumber."
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher became part of the national political lexicon Oct. 15 when Republican presidential candidate John McCain mentioned him frequently during his final debate with Democrat Barack Obama.
The 34-year-old from the Toledo suburb of Holland is held out by McCain as an example of an American who would be harmed by Obama's tax proposals.
Public records requested by The Dispatch disclose that information on Wurzelbacher's driver's license or his sport-utility vehicle was pulled from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database three times shortly after the debate.
Information on Wurzelbacher was accessed by accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department.
It has not been determined who checked on Wurzelbacher, or why. Direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information from BMV computers is restricted to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
Paul Lindsay, Ohio spokesman for the McCain campaign, attempted to portray the inquiries as politically motivated. "It's outrageous to see how quickly Barack Obama's allies would abuse government power in an attempt to smear a private citizen who dared to ask a legitimate question," he said.
Isaac Baker, Obama's Ohio spokesman, denounced Lindsay's statement as charges of desperation from a campaign running out of time. "Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully," he said.
The attorney general's office is investigating if the access of Wuzelbacher's BMV information through the office's Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway computer system was unauthorized, said spokeswoman Jennifer Brindisi.
"We're trying to pinpoint where it came from," she said. The investigation could become "criminal in nature," she said. Brindisi would not identify the account that pulled the information on Oct. 16.
Records show it was a "test account" assigned to the information technology section of the attorney general's office, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Thomas Hunter.
Brindisi later said investigators have confirmed that Wurzelbacher's information was not accessed within the attorney general's office. She declined to provide details. The office's test accounts are shared with and used by other law enforcement-related agencies, she said.
On Oct. 17, BMV information on Wurzelbacher was obtained through an account used by the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency in Cleveland, records show.
Mary Denihan, spokeswoman for the county agency, said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services contacted the agency today and requested an investigation of the access to Wurzelbacher's information. Cuyahoga County court records do not show any child-support cases involving Wurzelbacher.
The State Highway Patrol, which administers the Law Enforcement Automated Data System in Ohio, asked Toledo police to explain why it pulled BMV information on Wurzelbacher within 48 hours of the debate, Hunter said.
The LEADS system also can be used to check for warrants and criminal histories, but such checks would not be reflected on the records obtained by The Dispatch.
Sgt. Tim Campbell, a Toledo police spokesman, said he could not provide any information because the department only had learned of the State Highway Patrol inquiry today.
24934  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread on: October 26, 2008, 01:53:42 AM
I'd have voted for Margaret Thatcher for President of the United States in a flash.
24935  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 26, 2008, 01:46:42 AM

I found that interesting and will think about it.

Thank you,
24936  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: October 25, 2008, 01:28:17 PM
No shame in losing to BJ.  Is that his only post hormonal fight?  The insecurity that leads a fighter to take steroids to begin with can often prey upon his mind after he is off the steroids , , ,
24937  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Class at Inosanto Academy on: October 25, 2008, 01:23:57 PM
Misadventures at our end.  My sincere apologies.  No embarassed class today.  Class WILL be held next week.
24938  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: October 25, 2008, 02:26:57 AM

The "Great Moderator in the Sky" is in the back of the van in the dark on a laptop wireless connection.  Without reading them all, my snap impression is that each article is designed to address particular points of the article by the Harvard woman Muslim seriatim.  As is his wont, GM facilitates the misunderstanding by not including a one or two sentence description of the article e.g. The author mentions this Muslim Congressman.  Let's take a look at who he really is in this article." or something that would clue the read in as to why the article is there.

Anyway, I'm to bed soon.  You two will have to hash this out on your own. evil cheesy

24939  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: October 24, 2008, 05:51:36 PM
I'm on my way out the door so no time to give that a proper read.

I do note though that the Dems screamed concentraiton when the Reagan tax cuts took effect.  Turns out the reason was that the rick were allowing their wealth to be taxed at the lower rates under Reagan.  This proved hard for the Dems to comprehend , , ,  rolleyes
24940  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: October 24, 2008, 03:56:44 PM
Woof All:

I will be leaving in a couple of hours to take the family for a weekend of Cub Scout camping and probably will not have internet access until Sunday night.

The Adventure continues,
24941  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: October 24, 2008, 03:54:52 PM
Thank you.

A lot of Sherk's rep was built during his  , , , hormonal phase.  How has he been since then?
24942  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Fire Hydrant: Howls from Crafty Dog, Rules of the Road, etc on: October 24, 2008, 03:42:59 PM
Woof All:

I leave in a couple of hours for a weekend of Cub Scout camping with the family and may not have internet access until our return on Sunday evening.

24943  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: October 24, 2008, 01:34:59 PM
Fred Thompson sums things up:
24944  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: ACORN on: October 24, 2008, 01:05:36 PM
Whatever It Takes, Part Two

ACORN, the troubled left-wing activist group, has new headaches. Yesterday Michael Slater, head of its Project Vote, admitted that some 400,000 of its claimed 1.3 million newly registered voters were rejected by election officials as either duplicates or fraudulent -- i.e. it doesn't sound as if ACORN's vaunted "quality control" efforts were all that effective.

Some reasons why may be exposed next week in a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania in state court. The Web site PolitickerPA reports that Anita Moncrief, an ACORN worker in Washington D.C. from 2005 to 2008, will testify that the group engaged in "minimal to non-existent" checking of its voter registration work during her time with Project Vote.

The Republican suit, filed by Pittsburgh attorney Heather Heidelbaugh, demands that the Pennsylvania Secretary of State follow federal law requiring that first-time voters using an absentee ballot show some form of identification. It also seeks to have ACORN turn over its voter registration lists, identify registrants who signed up fraudulently and instruct them not to vote.

-- John Fund
24945  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Krauthammer on: October 24, 2008, 10:41:22 AM
From Washington Post

McCain for President
By Charles Krauthammer

Friday, October 24, 2008; A19

Contrarian that I am, I'm voting for John McCain. I'm not talking about bucking the polls or the media consensus that it's over before it's over. I'm talking about bucking the rush of wet-fingered conservatives leaping to Barack Obama before they're left out in the cold without a single state dinner for the next four years.

I stand athwart the rush of conservative ship-jumpers of every stripe -- neo (Ken Adelman), moderate (Colin Powell), genetic/ironic (Christopher Buckley) and socialist/atheist (Christopher Hitchens) -- yelling "Stop!" I shall have no part of this motley crew. I will go down with the McCain ship. I'd rather lose an election than lose my bearings.

First, I'll have no truck with the phony case ginned up to rationalize voting for the most liberal and inexperienced presidential nominee in living memory. The "erratic" temperament issue, for example. As if McCain's risky and unsuccessful but in no way irrational attempt to tactically maneuver his way through the economic tsunami that came crashing down a month ago renders unfit for office a man who demonstrated the most admirable equanimity and courage in the face of unimaginable pressures as a prisoner of war, and who later steadily navigated innumerable challenges and setbacks, not the least of which was the collapse of his campaign just a year ago.

McCain the "erratic" is a cheap Obama talking point. The 40-year record testifies to McCain the stalwart.

Nor will I countenance the "dirty campaign" pretense. The double standard here is stunning. Obama ran a scurrilous Spanish-language ad falsely associating McCain with anti-Hispanic slurs. Another ad falsely claimed that McCain supports "cutting Social Security benefits in half." And for months Democrats insisted that McCain sought 100 years of war in Iraq.

McCain's critics are offended that he raised the issue of William Ayers. What's astonishing is that Obama was himself not offended by William Ayers.

Moreover, the most remarkable of all tactical choices of this election season is the attack that never was. Out of extreme (and unnecessary) conscientiousness, McCain refused to raise the legitimate issue of Obama's most egregious association -- with the race-baiting Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Dirty campaigning, indeed.

The case for McCain is straightforward. The financial crisis has made us forget, or just blindly deny, how dangerous the world out there is. We have a generations-long struggle with Islamic jihadism. An apocalyptic soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. A nuclear-armed Pakistan in danger of fragmentation. A rising Russia pushing the limits of revanchism. Plus the sure-to-come Falklands-like surprise popping out of nowhere.

Who do you want answering that phone at 3 a.m.? A man who's been cramming on these issues for the past year, who's never had to make an executive decision affecting so much as a city, let alone the world? A foreign policy novice instinctively inclined to the flabbiest, most vaporous multilateralism (e.g., the Berlin Wall came down because of "a world that stands as one"), and who refers to the most deliberate act of war since Pearl Harbor as "the tragedy of 9/11," a term more appropriate for a bus accident?

Or do you want a man who is the most prepared, most knowledgeable, most serious foreign policy thinker in the United States Senate? A man who not only has the best instincts but has the honor and the courage to, yes, put country first, as when he carried the lonely fight for the surge that turned Iraq from catastrophic defeat into achievable strategic victory?

There's just no comparison. Obama's own running mate warned this week that Obama's youth and inexperience will invite a crisis -- indeed a crisis "generated" precisely to test him. Can you be serious about national security and vote on Nov. 4 to invite that test?

And how will he pass it? Well, how has he fared on the only two significant foreign policy tests he has faced since he's been in the Senate? The first was the surge. Obama failed spectacularly. He not only opposed it. He tried to denigrate it, stop it and, finally, deny its success.

The second test was Georgia, to which Obama responded instinctively with evenhanded moral equivalence, urging restraint on both sides. McCain did not have to consult his advisers to instantly identify the aggressor.

Today's economic crisis, like every other in our history, will in time pass. But the barbarians will still be at the gates. Whom do you want on the parapet? I'm for the guy who can tell the lion from the lamb.
24946  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: October 24, 2008, 09:20:47 AM
Doylestown, Pa.

The Barack Obama campaign occupies a storefront on N. Main Street across from the county courthouse. A stream of people filters through to pick up buttons or leaflets. The bulletin board lists a dozen staffers in this office and another in Bristol.

APNow try to find a John McCain outpost in Bucks County. Armed with an address, you'd get an unmarked, low, stand-alone office building on a four-lane state highway 15 minutes' drive from here. On the front door a small sign directs visitors to the McCain campaign around the corner and down the stairs to the basement. Two volunteers man phones, McCain posters or signs aren't readily available. Three paid staffers direct the Republican's campaign from a single office in this critical battleground.

Mr. McCain probably can't win the election without Pennsylvania. And both campaigns think it will be decided in the four "collar counties" around Philadelphia. Of them, Bucks (pop. 625,000) is a microcosm of the state. Rural northern "upper Bucks" is socially conservative, clinging -- as Mr. Obama famously said this year -- to guns and religion; the center around Doylestown is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, once dominated by Republican "moderates"; and "lower" Bucks around Bristol is blue-collar, formerly industrial, depressed, and tends to vote Democratic.

The "maverick" John McCain was supposed to play well with the independents and middle-of-the-road Democrats and Republicans in places like Bucks County. Hillary Clinton beat Mr. Obama by 34 points here, and carried 60 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. President Bush did miserably in the Philly suburbs in 2004, yet lost the state by a mere 2.5 points. To make this state red, the McCain camp figured: Start with the burbs. "We don't need to turn collar counties. We need to do better than W. did," says Jon Seaton, the McCain campaign manager for Ohio and Pennsylvania.

It hasn't gone Mr. McCain's way. As Wall Street tumbled, Barack Obama expanded a two point lead into double digits -- 10.5 points as of yesterday, according to RealClearPolitics. The one available poll on suburban Philadelphia showed the Democrat up comfortably in all four counties.

McCain strategists insist Pennsylvania votes close and polls will tighten. Mr. McCain appeared at three rallies in the state Tuesday, beginning at a paper mill in Bensalem, down the road from Doylestown. He was in the suburbs twice last week. His wife Cindy campaigned for him in Bucks County on Monday.

Having opted out of public financing, Mr. Obama's money edge (a record $618 million raised so far) enables him to run a better-staffed and more vibrant ground organization as well as dominate the air waves. At rallies McCain surrogates insist that "the state isn't for sale." But the Democrats have registered over 200,000 voters since June 1. Their lead over Republicans statewide is 1.2 million, double the gap in 2004. This election "saw the biggest switch ever" from one party to another in Pennsylvania, says pollster Michael Young.

The political winds were changing before the Obama juggernaut came along. Within living memory, the "collar" counties were rock-solid Republican. No more. In 2006, Chester elected its first Democrat to Congress in 82 years, and Democrats are gaining strength in Delaware County. In the past year Montgomery and Bucks counties flipped, with registered Democrats now outnumbering Republicans.

You see the consequences first at the local level. Five years ago in Doylestown, the mayor and all nine borough councilmen were Republicans. Now the mayor and six councilmen are Democrats. A watershed came in the 2006 elections when Patrick Murphy, who served in Iraq, ended a decade-long reign of moderate Republicans in the 8th Congressional district, which covers all of Bucks County. Doing his campaign rounds in Bristol, Mr. Murphy, 35 and married to a Republican, says, "People here were Rockefeller Republicans, not Bush Republicans. Now they're Blue Dog Democrats," adding, "I'm a veteran, I'm a gun owner."

Some say the Bush era's profligate spending, wars and social conservatism alienated the Republican moderates. Pat Poprik, the Bucks County Republican chairman, offers another explanation: Newcomers from New York and Philadelphia brought their liberal politics.

Whether it is Bucks County or the national Republican Party that's changed, the GOP's problems here predated John McCain and will outlive him. Pollster Terry Madonna and Mr. Young think that 2008 may be "Pennsylvania's last hurrah" as a swing state. If it turns solid blue, "such a shift would have enormous political implications, radically altering future Electoral College maps, thereby making it ever more difficult for the GOP to win national elections," they wrote this month.

Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal's editorial board.

Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
24947  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Would the last honest reporter please turn out the lights? on: October 24, 2008, 09:16:00 AM


First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC


By Orson Scott Card
 October 5, 2008

Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?

An open letter to the local daily paper -- almost every local daily paper in America:

I remember reading All the President's Men and thinking: That's journalism. You do what it takes to get the truth and you lay it before the public, because the public has a right to know.

This housing crisis didn't come out of nowhere. It was not a vague emanation of the evil Bush administration.

It was a direct result of the political decision, back in the late 1990s, to loosen the rules of lending so that home loans would be more accessible to poor people. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were authorized to approve risky loans.

What is a risky loan? It's a loan that the recipient is likely not to be able to repay.

The goal of this rule change was to help the poor -- which especially would help members of minority groups. But how does it help these people to give them a loan that they can't repay? They get into a house, yes, but when they can't make the payments, they lose the house -- along with their credit rating.

They end up worse off than before.

This was completely foreseeable and in fact many people did foresee it. One political party, in Congress and in the executive branch, tried repeatedly to tighten up the rules. The other party blocked every such attempt and tried to loosen them.

Furthermore, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were making political contributions to the very members of Congress who were allowing them to make irresponsible loans. (Though why quasi-federal agencies were allowed to do so baffles me. It's as if the Pentagon were allowed to contribute to the political campaigns of Congressmen who support increasing their budget.)

Isn't there a story here? Doesn't journalism require that you who produce our daily paper tell the truth about who brought us to a position where the only way to keep confidence in our economy was a $700 billion bailout? Aren't you supposed to follow the money and see which politicians were benefitting personally from the deregulation of mortgage lending?

I have no doubt that if these facts had pointed to the Republican Party or to John McCain as the guilty parties, you would be treating it as a vast scandal. "Housing-gate," no doubt. Or "Fannie-gate."

Instead, it was Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, both Democrats, who denied that there were any problems, who refused Bush administration requests to set up a regulatory agency to watch over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and who were still pushing for these agencies to go even further in promoting subprime mortgage loans almost up to the minute they failed.

As Thomas Sowell points out in a essay entitled Do Facts Matter? "Alan Greenspan warned them four years ago. So did the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President. So did Bush's Secretary of the Treasury."

These are facts. This financial crisis was completely preventable. The party that blocked any attempt to prevent it was ... the Democratic Party. The party that tried to prevent it was ... the Republican Party.

Yet when Nancy Pelosi accused the Bush administration and Republican deregulation of causing the crisis, you in the press did not hold her to account for her lie. Instead, you criticized Republicans who took offense at this lie and refused to vote for the bailout!

What? It's not the liar, but the victims of the lie who are to blame?

Now let's follow the money ... right to the presidential candidate who is the number-two recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae.

And after Freddie Raines, the CEO of Fannie Mae who made $90 million while running it into the ground, was fired for his incompetence, one presidential candidate's campaign actually consulted him for advice on housing.

If that presidential candidate had been John McCain, you would have called it a major scandal and we would be getting stories in your paper every day about how incompetent and corrupt he was.

But instead, that candidate was Barack Obama, and so you have buried this story, and when the McCain campaign dared to call Raines an "adviser" to the Obama campaign -- because that campaign had sought his advice -- you actually let Obama's people get away with accusing McCain of lying, merely because Raines wasn't listed as an official adviser to the Obama campaign.

You would never tolerate such weasely nit-picking from a Republican.

If you who produce our local daily paper actually had any principles, you would be pounding this story, because the prosperity of all Americans was put at risk by the foolish, short-sighted, politically selfish, and possibly corrupt actions of leading Democrats, including Obama.

If you who produce our local daily paper had any personal honor, you would find it unbearable to let the American people believe that somehow Republicans were to blame for this crisis.

There are precedents. Even though President Bush and his administration never said that Iraq sponsored or was linked to 9/11, you could not stand the fact that Americans had that misapprehension -- so you pounded us with the fact that there was no such link. (Along the way, you created the false impression that Bush had lied to them and said that there was a connection.)

If you had any principles, then surely right now, when the American people are set to blame President Bush and John McCain for a crisis they tried to prevent, and are actually shifting to approve of Barack Obama because of a crisis he helped cause, you would be laboring at least as hard to correct that false impression.

Your job, as journalists, is to tell the truth. That's what you claim you do, when you accept people's money to buy or subscribe to your paper.

But right now, you are consenting to or actively promoting a big fat lie -- that the housing crisis should somehow be blamed on Bush, McCain, and the Republicans. You have trained the American people to blame everything bad -- even bad weather -- on Bush, and they are responding as you have taught them to.

If you had any personal honor, each reporter and editor would be insisting on telling the truth -- even if it hurts the election chances of your favorite candidate.

Because that's what honorable people do. Honest people tell the truth even when they don't like the probable consequences. That's what honesty means. That's how trust is earned.

Barack Obama is just another politician, and not a very wise one. He has revealed his ignorance and naivete time after time -- and you have swept it under the rug, treated it as nothing.

Meanwhile, you have participated in the borking of Sarah Palin, reporting savage attacks on her for the pregnancy of her unmarried daughter -- while you ignored the story of John Edwards's own adultery for many months.

So I ask you now: Do you have any standards at all? Do you even know what honesty means?

Is getting people to vote for Barack Obama so important that you will throw away everything that journalism is supposed to stand for?

You might want to remember the way the National Organization of Women threw away their integrity by supporting Bill Clinton despite his well-known pattern of sexual exploitation of powerless women. Who listens to NOW anymore? We know they stand for nothing; they have no principles.

That's where you are right now.

It's not too late. You know that if the situation were reversed, and the truth would damage McCain and help Obama, you would be moving heaven and earth to get the true story out there.

If you want to redeem your honor, you will swallow hard and make a list of all the stories you would print if it were McCain who had been getting money from Fannie Mae, McCain whose campaign had consulted with its discredited former CEO, McCain who had voted against tightening its lending practices.

Then you will print them, even though every one of those true stories will point the finger of blame at the reckless Democratic Party, which put our nation's prosperity at risk so they could feel good about helping the poor, and lay a fair share of the blame at Obama's door.

You will also tell the truth about John McCain: that he tried, as a Senator, to do what it took to prevent this crisis. You will tell the truth about President Bush: that his administration tried more than once to get Congress to regulate lending in a responsible way.

This was a Congress-caused crisis, beginning during the Clinton administration, with Democrats leading the way into the crisis and blocking every effort to get out of it in a timely fashion.

If you at our local daily newspaper continue to let Americans believe --and vote as if -- President Bush and the Republicans caused the crisis, then you are joining in that lie.

If you do not tell the truth about the Democrats -- including Barack Obama -- and do so with the same energy you would use if the miscreants were Republicans -- then you are not journalists by any standard.

You're just the public relations machine of the Democratic Party, and it's time you were all fired and real journalists brought in, so that we can actually have a daily newspaper in our city.
24948  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena on: October 24, 2008, 09:07:18 AM
"I will state one more time that as long as the country's wealth keeps getting concentrated to a smaller and smaller percentage of the population we will get exactly what we are seeing."


That said, the question you raise is an interesting one.  If you would like to pursue it, please do so in the Politics thread.
24949  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin on: October 24, 2008, 09:01:19 AM

"That wise Men have in all Ages thought Government necessary
for the Good of Mankind; and, that wise Governments have always
thought Religion necessary for the well ordering and well-being
of Society, and accordingly have been ever careful to encourage
and protect the Ministers of it, paying them the highest publick
Honours, that their Doctrines might thereby meet with the greater
Respect among the common People."

-- Benjamin Franklin (On that Odd Letter of the Drum, April 1730)

Reference: Franklin Collected Writings, Lemay, ed., 148
24950  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Palin phenomenon on: October 24, 2008, 12:55:22 AM
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