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24951  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, budget process on: April 13, 2011, 04:12:09 PM
I had occasion to be in a California Board of Equalization office today (this is CA's IRS).  Lots of purple on the walls and some purple SEIU shirts to be seen.  Naturally I was wearing my "Nobama: Keep the change!" t-shirt  wink

I must say that I was pleasantly shocked at being taken quickly, and treated with considerable humanity by the bureaucrat in question.  She definitely let me slide on something that could have been a big inconvenience, and trusted me to phone in to her information that I did not have with me.

With business concluded, she politely queried about my shirt.  I commented that BO IMHO was a nice man but was bankrupting us.  She answered that he came in at a tough time, when anyone taking office would not have looked good.  I allowed that that had merit and we continued the conversation.  Naturally, I beat her up with simple facts, which I made sure to do in a nice and respectful way.  It was a nice conversation and ended well, in a positive spirit.  I had the impression that I had given her some things to think about.
24952  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Mini Gathering in New Braunfels, TX - May 7th on: April 13, 2011, 03:50:17 PM

You have email.
24953  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Secy Clinton on: April 13, 2011, 12:34:00 PM
WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Arab leaders on Tuesday to accelerate economic and political reforms to meet the growing demands of their publics, but refrained from calling for rulers in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria to step down.

Mrs. Clinton's comments illustrate the selective approach the Obama administration continues to employ in responding to the political uprisings that have surged across the Middle East and North Africa since January.

The secretary of state has aggressively called for the resignations of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in recent months, but suggested to Tuesday's gathering of Arab and American policy makers that other Arab rulers might still play a role in their countries' futures if they embrace political and economic liberalization.

"We know that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time," Mrs. Clinton told the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. "Going forward, the United States will be guided by careful consideration of all the circumstances on the ground and by our consistent values and interests."

The calls for democratic change in Bahrain and Yemen have placed Washington in a diplomatic bind, as both countries' leaders have provided significant cooperation in combating terrorism and the regional influence of Iran.

Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which patrols the oil-rich Persian Gulf. And Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has allowed the U.S. to conduct airstrikes inside his country against suspected al Qaeda members.

Still, Bahrain and Yemen have both launched bloody crackdowns on their political oppositions in recent weeks. The relatively subdued U.S. response has drawn criticism from human-rights activists who accuse Washington of employing a double standard in the region.

Mrs. Clinton said the U.S. would continue to press the governments in Manama and San'a to liberalize, but also said they could be part of the solution.

"The United States has a decades-long friendship with Bahrain that we expect to continue long into the future," Mrs. Clinton said. "We have made clear that security alone cannot resolve the challenges facing Bahrain."

The Obama administration also has been restrained in calling for leadership change in Syria, despite President Bashar al-Assad's significant role in challenging U.S. interests in the Mideast. Mr. Assad is Iran's closest Arab ally and directly arms and funds militant groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

In recent weeks, Syrian security forces have killed hundreds of anti-Assad protesters, according to human-rights groups. But Mrs. Clinton was careful in her speech Tuesday not to suggest that Washington is seeking Mr. Assad's ouster. Privately, U.S. officials have voiced concerns that the Syrian leader's fall could lead to sectarian strife.

"President Assad and the Syrian government must respect the universal rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms that they have been denied," she said.

Mrs. Clinton praised the revolutions that have toppled the decades-old dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. But sShe stressed that both countries must continue with political and economic changes to ensure their political transitions breed democratic governments that meet the needs of their young, rapidly growing populations. She specifically cited the need for the emerging systems to embrace free markets, combat extremism and promote the rights of women and religious minorities.

"The United States will work with people and leaders across the region to create more open, dynamic and diverse economies," Mrs. Clinton said.

Washington's top diplomat said the Obama administration will increasingly provide financial and technical assistance to help Mideast countries transition to democracy. She said a fund has already been created, with $150 million already committed to assisting Egypt. The U.S.'s Overseas Private Investment Corp. has also committed $2 billion to support private-sector investments in the region, Mrs. Clinton said.

24954  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude on: April 13, 2011, 12:29:09 PM
Grateful for my Pretty Kitty!
24955  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Government on: April 13, 2011, 12:21:21 PM
Well, that sounds rather scary  shocked
24956  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Government on: April 13, 2011, 10:16:27 AM

So to what sources do we look to define the "Executive Power"?
24957  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Uneasy Relationship on: April 13, 2011, 10:14:28 AM
Pakistan's Uneasy Relationship with the United States

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha visited Washington on Monday and met with CIA Director Leon Panetta. The trip gave Islamabad a chance to express its anger over the Raymond Davis affair. The CIA contractor’s shooting on the streets of Lahore of two Pakistani citizens – followed by his lengthy detention and subsequent release – has generated waves of criticism amid the Pakistani populace, and has plunged the ISI-CIA relationship into a state of tension that surpasses the normal uneasiness that has always plagued the alliance between Washington and Islamabad.

“The Pakistani concern is that the U.S. will simply rush through a settlement in Afghanistan and exit the country without creating a sustainable post-war political arrangement. This would leave Pakistan to pick up the pieces.”
Pasha’s central demand in the meeting with his American counterpart was reportedly that the United States hand over more responsibility for operations currently carried out by the CIA over Pakistani soil. This primarily means unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes, immensely unpopular with the average Pakistani, but quietly seen as necessary by the political and military establishment, which has an interest in degrading the capability of the Pakistani Taliban. UAV strikes are most politically damaging for Islamabad when the joystick is in the hands of a foreigner; the thinking goes that handing over the controls to a Pakistani at home would greatly reduce popular objections to the bombing missions in northwest Pakistan. Tactically speaking, Pakistan would encounter problems of capability if it ever actually put its own people to the task of running the UAV missions, but this point is rendered moot by the fact that Washington would almost certainly never allow the ISI – seen as a hostile intelligence agency – to have access to some of America’s most secret technology. The same day as Pasha’s visit, the media reported that Pakistan had also demanded Washington dramatically reduce the number of CIA operatives and Clandestine Special Operations Forces working inside of Pakistan. Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani reportedly wants 335 such personnel to leave the country, in addition to CIA “contractors” like Davis.

These demands reflect the general Pakistani complaint that it is not seen as an equal by the U.S. government. Islamabad has cooperated with Washington for almost a decade in its war in Afghanistan, though that cooperation is not always forthcoming and helpful in the eyes of the United States. Despite being on the receiving end of billions of dollars of U.S. military aid, Pakistan asserts that the myopic focus on security since 2001 has prevented it from developing its own economy. Washington would counter that without security aid, Pakistan would not have developed to the extent that it has, not to mention issues of corruption and how that has hindered the Pakistani economy. Whatever the reality may be, this encapsulates the Pakistani view toward its relationship with Washington. Indeed, an interview given by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on April 10 focused extensively on Americans’ lack of empathy regarding the help Pakistan is asked to provide Washington on the Afghan front. In addition to pointing to the existence of large amounts of natural gas that are not being developed for export because the issue falls low on the list of priorities created by the Afghan War, Zardari likened the impact of the Afghan War on Pakistan’s border region to the intractability of the Mexican drug war on the borderlands of Texas, saying many U.S. politicians do not understand the impact American foreign policy has in the AfPak region. He also specifically called out members of the U.S. Congress for suffering from “deadline-itis,” a term he coined to describe the compulsion to push ahead with the self-imposed deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan regardless of the realities on the ground.

The United States knows that Pakistan is a critical ally in the Afghan War due to the intelligence it can provide on the various strands of Taliban operating in the country, but it simply does not trust the Pakistanis enough to hand over UAV technology or control over UAV strikes to Islamabad. With time running out before the start of its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Pakistani concern is that Washington will simply rush through a settlement in Afghanistan and exit the country without creating a sustainable post-war political arrangement. This would leave Pakistan to pick up the pieces.

Zardari is expected to visit the United States next month and will likely bring up the issue during the trip. He will remind U.S. President Barack Obama of Islamabad’s view that it is in the United States’ interests to utilize Pakistan’s knowledge of Afghan politics in order to come to a real settlement in Afghanistan. Forming a makeshift solution through securing large cities and leaving the countryside in a state of disorder will only plant the seeds for an eventual resurgence of Taliban in the country, which would lead to bigger problems down the line for Pakistan. Gen. David Petraeus has noted publicly that the United States doesn’t have the intelligence capabilities to succeed in Afghanistan on its own, meaning that it needs Islamabad’s help.

The Pakistanis see an opportunity in the current geopolitical environment to garner concessions from Washington that it would otherwise not be able to demand. Washington is distracted by myriad crises in the Arab world at the moment and AfPak is no longer the main course on its plate, as was the case for some time in the earlier days of the Obama presidency. Obama, who billed Afghanistan as the “good war” during his 2008 campaign, would very much like to point to some sort of success there when running again in 2012. For this, he would need Pakistan’s help. The United States is being driven by short-term needs to preclude any sort of serious concessions being made to Islamabad, however. This weakens the Pakistani state just when Washington needs a strong one to help wield its influence in preventing Afghanistan from reverting back to its pre-Sept. 11 days. This is where Pakistan’s leverage lies. However, the question of just how strong it is remains unanswered.

24958  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Rebels hijack Daffy's phone network on: April 13, 2011, 08:40:56 AM
MARGARET COKER in Abu Dhabi and CHARLES LEVINSON in Benghazi, Libya
A team led by a Libyan-American telecom executive has helped rebels hijack Col. Moammar Gadhafi's cellphone network and re-establish their own communications.

The new network, first plotted on an airplane napkin and assembled with the help of oil-rich Arab nations, is giving more than two million Libyans their first connections to each other and the outside world after Col. Gadhafi cut off their telephone and Internet service about a month ago.

That March cutoff had rebels waving flags to communicate on the battlefield. The new cellphone network, opened on April 2, has become the opposition's main tool for communicating from the front lines in the east and up the chain of command to rebel brass hundreds of miles away.

While cellphones haven't given rebel fighters the military strength to decisively drive Col. Gadhafi from power, the network has enabled rebel leaders to more easily make the calls needed to rally international backing, source weapons and strategize with their envoys abroad.

To make that possible, engineeers hived off part of the Libyana cellphone network—owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, which is run by Col. Gadhafi's eldest son—and rewired it to run independently of the regime's control. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, asked about the rebel cellphone network, said he hadn't heard of it.

A Libyan rebel stood guard Tuesday on a checkpoint between Brega and Ajdabiya. Rebels now can use cellphones to communicate between the front lines and opposition leaders.

.Ousama Abushagur, a 31-year-old Libyan telecom executive raised in Huntsville, Ala., masterminded the operation from his home in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Abushagur and two childhood friends working as corporate managers in Dubai and Doha started fund-raising on Feb. 17 to support the political protests that were emerging in Libya. By Feb. 23, when fighting had erupted, his team delivered the first of multiple humanitarian aid convoys to eastern Libya.

But while in Libya, they found their cellphones and Thuraya satellite phones jammed or out of commission, making planning and logistics challenging.

Security was also an issue. Col. Gadhafi had built his telecommunications infrastructure to fan out from Tripoli—routing all calls through the capital and giving him and his intelligence agents full control over phones and Internet.

On March 6, during a flight back to the United Arab Emirates after organizing a naval convoy to the embattled city of Misrata, Mr. Abushagur says he drew up a diagram on the back of a napkin for a plan to infiltrate Libyana, pirate the signal and carve out a network free of Tripoli's control.

What followed was a race against time to solve the technical, engineering and legal challenges before the nascent rebel-led governing authority was crushed under the weight of Col. Gadhafi's better-equipped forces. After a week of victories in which the rebels swept westward from Benghazi toward Col. Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the rebel advance stalled and reversed on March 17, when the United Nations approved a no-fly zone and government forces kicked off a fierce counterattack.

In a sign of deepening ties between Arab governments and the Benghazi-based administration, the U.A.E. and Qatar provided diplomatic support and helped buy the several million dollars of telecommunications equipment needed in Benghazi, according to members of the Libyan transitional authority and people familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, rebel military commanders were using flags to signal with their troops, a throw-back that proved disastrous to their attempts at holding their front lines.

"We went to fight with flags: Yellow meant retreat, green meant advance," said Gen. Ahmed al-Ghatrani, a rebel commander in Benghazi. "Gadhafi forced us back to the stone age."

Renewed signal jamming also meant that rebel leaders and residents in Benghazi had little warning of the government forces' offensive across east Libya and the March 19 attempted invasion of Benghazi, which sparked panicked civilian evacuations of the city.

.Mr. Abushagur watched the government advances with alarm. His secret cellphone operation had also run into steep problems.

The Chinese company Huawei Technologies Ltd., one of the original contractors for Libyana's cellular network backbone, refused to sell equipment for the rebel project, causing Mr. Abushagur and his engineer buddies to scramble to find a hybrid technical solution to match other companies' hardware with the existing Libyan network. Huawei declined to comment on its customers or work in Libya. The Libyan expats in the project asked that their corporate affiliations be kept confidential so that their political activities don't interfere with their work responsibilities. Without Huawei, the backing from the Persian Gulf nations became essential—otherwise it is unlikely that international telecom vendors would have sold the sophisticated machinery to an unrecognized rebel government or individual businessmen, according to people familiar with the situation.

"The Emirates government and [its telecommunications company] Etisalat helped us by providing the equipment we needed to operate Libyana at full capacity," said Faisal al-Safi, a Benghazi official who oversees transportation and communications issues.

U.A.E. and Qatari officials didn't respond to requests for comment. Emirates Telecommunications Corp., known as Etisalat, declined to comment.

By March 21, most of the main pieces of equipment had arrived in the U.A.E. and Mr. Abushagur was ready to ship them to Benghazi with three Libyan telecom engineers, four Western engineers and a team of bodyguards.

 After 42 years under Moammar Gadhafi's rule, it's hard to imagine what Libya could look like without the dictator in power. WSJ's Neil Hickey reports from Washington on the cloudy outlook for the north African nation.
.But Col. Gadhafi's forces were still threatening to overrun the rebel capital and trying to bomb its airport. Mr. Abushagur diverted the team and their equipment to an Egyptian air base on the Libyan border. Customs bureaucracy cost them a week, though Egypt's eventual approval was another show of Arab support for rebels. Egypt's governing military council couldn't be reached for comment.

Once in Libya, the team paired with Libyana engineers and executives based in Benghazi. Together, they fused the new equipment into the existing cellphone network, creating an independent data and routing system free from Tripoli's command.

The team also captured the Tripoli-based database of phone numbers, giving them information necessary to patch existing Libyana customers and phone numbers into their new system—which they dubbed "Free Libyana." The last piece of the puzzle was securing a satellite feed through which the Free Libyana calls could be routed—a solution provided by Etisalat, according to Benghazi officials.

On April 2, Mr. Abushagur placed a test call on the system to his wife back in Abu Dhabi. "She's the one who told me to go for it in the first place," he said.

International calling from Libya is still limited to the few individuals and officials in eastern Libya who most need it. Incoming calls have to be paid for by prepaid calling cards, except for Jordan, Egypt and Qatar.

Domestic calling works throughout eastern Libya up until the Ajdabiya, the last rebel-held town in the east. An added bonus of the new network: It is free for domestic calls, at least until Free Libyana gets a billing system up and running.

—Loretta Chao, Shireen El-Gazzar and Sam Dagher contributed to this article.
24959  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jefferson 1808 on: April 13, 2011, 08:24:15 AM

"The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Shelton Gilliam, 1808

24960  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Government on: April 13, 2011, 08:21:22 AM
I very much agree with the point made about Congress failing to exert its powers.  Perhaps I am a simpleton, but I do not get why the House Republicans simply do not pass the budget they want and refuse to pass anything else.  Spending bills must originate in the House, yes?  Wouldn't this leave Obama and the Dems in the position of having to "shut down" the govt. or shut up?

As usual BD raises an interesting point about Article II.  Would you flesh this out for us a bit please BD?
24961  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 10 Reasons to Support Herman Cain on: April 13, 2011, 08:15:03 AM
Top Ten Reasons to Support Herman Cain for President
By C. Edmund Wright
Even those conservatives who will not vote for Herman Cain to win the Republican nomination should hope that he does run -- and that his candidacy lasts a long time during the nomination process, perhaps even succeeding.

Not the least of reasons is that a Cain candidacy would be a hoot.  And I do not mean that in a derisive or condescending way at all.  I mean that it would be the kind of doggone honest and refreshing campaign the country needs.  It would be the opposite of the stale McCain run.  Cain does not speak Washington drivel, and he's not afraid to take a strong position.  Dare I say it?  He'll call a spade a spade, and he'll reach across the aisle only to smack someone down.  He will admit what McCain would not: that we do have a lot to fear from an Obama presidency.

Herman Cain is peerless among the long list of potential candidates -- and his impact on the field and the direction of the party will be in the direction of free enterprise, less government, and speaking with boldness -- you know, pretty much the opposite of what the GOP has done since Newt's Congress lost steam in the mid- to late '90s. 

To codify, here are the top reasons to support Cain based on my observation of the man over a period of years:

10. The "race card": A Cain candidacy not only takes the race card off the table -- it might in fact put it in the Republicans' camp.  Frankly, Cain is "blacker" than Obama in every way imaginable.  He does not have a white parent.  He has a slight black dialect and does not "turn it off" to impress Harry Reid or Joe Biden, nor does he "amp it up" to impress Jeremiah Wright.   

As Obama's presidency has shown, America did not need a black president.  What America needs is to just get over the race thing, period.  Cain is over it, and I bet he would flat-out tell Obama to get over it, too.

9. Been there, done that: Cain brings a lot of "been there, done that" to the office, and that is in stark contrast not only to Obama, but to almost anyone else running.  Cain is not shy about making fun of politicians' lack of understanding of the reality of the free-enterprise system, and certainly no group embodies that ignorance more than Obama and his administration.  Making a payroll; dealing with employees, the IRS, the INS, insurance companies; dealing with rents, lawsuits, unemployment commissions, etc. -- Cain has been there, done that.  Obama has not.

8. Not forgettable: One Herman Cain soundbite is worth ten from, what's his name?  Oh, yeah, Pawlenty.  Cain's boldness and confidence and accent and voice will cut through the noise out there, and this makes his candidacy dangerous even if he faces some financial handicaps versus other folks running.  He is a talk radio host now by trade and knows how to hold folks' attention.

7. Will break every rule set for him by "strategists": This one might be my favorite.  Cain has never counted on political strategists to get him where he is now, and this alone separates him from all other candidates.  Lord help the first "strategist" from the RNC who advises Cain to "tone it down" or "soften his position."

6. Will really get under the skin of the Washingtonian class: A Cain candidacy would drive David Brooks to apoplexy.  Charles Krauthammer -- doing his best to run off legions of his longtime fans -- would no doubt find some Palinesque reasons to object to Cain.  And those are the conservative ruling-class folks.  Imagine what the liberals will say about this non-Ivy league, non-elected Southern black guy running for president.  I can't wait to hear it.

5. Will not get in way of the 2010 Congress' momentum: This might be the most important reason to support a Cain candidacy.  He has gained momentum as part of the Tea Party movement that was the defining factor in the 2010 congressional elections.  A Cain candidacy would be in lockstep with what the country told Congress it wanted in November 2010.  It will be an extension of the 2010 campaign, and that's preferable to a presidential election that will distract from the 2010 results.

4. Never held office before: While Cain's opponents -- on both sides of the aisle -- are licking their chops over this one, they should rethink this.  Mr. Cain already has a lethal (can we still say that?) response to this one: "Everyone in Washington has held public office before.  How's that working out for you?"  Case closed.

3. Ann Coulter's second-favorite pick: So Ann's first choice is Chris Christie, and Cain comes in second.  With some 25 names floating around out there, being number 2 on anyone's list is pretty good at this point in the game.  Besides, I predict that Cain will overtake Christie on Ann's list.  Cain is more conservative and even less afraid to speak his mind.  While I love Christie's boldness on the issues where he is conservative, he will wobble off to the Jersey left a bit on some issues.  Cain will not. 

2. Will not be cowed by the new speech police: The attempt by the left to silence conservatives in light of the Tucson shootings will not be the last.  And you can bet that when they do, some on the right will recoil and fall prey, regardless of how mindless the attempts are.  If you have followed Herman Cain, you know that this will not be an issue for him.

And the number one reason to support a Cain candidacy?  It opens the door to a ticket of Cain and Haley Barbour in some order.  OK, maybe this is not earthshaking, but imagine the "racist Republican Party" putting forth a national ticket including a drawlin' Mississippi good ol' boy and a black businessman who still speaks a smidgen of Ebonics.

This would be the hope and change America thought they were getting in 2008.  This would be ticket not so much of "racial healing" as it would be the ticket of "just get over the race thing."  Because liberalism is joined at the hip with the race pimp industry, a liberal African-American cannot by definition do for the country what a black conservative can.  A black liberal winning reinforces counterproductive stereotypes.  A conservative black winning crushes them.  Period.

Yes, I know that reasons number one and ten seem a lot alike.  They are.  We have just about destroyed our country trying to put this issue to bed, and the result is that tensions are higher than they were before Obama was elected.  Which we predicted.

A Cain presidency would actually go a long way towards solving this.  And besides, Mr. Cain has some great ideas for getting government out of our way and letting America be America again.  And we all need that.
91 Comments on "Top Ten Reasons to Support Herman Cain for President"
24962  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Palo Venezolano on: April 12, 2011, 10:42:42 PM
24963  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, budget process on: April 12, 2011, 08:09:12 PM
That was quite lucid.
24964  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Israel's Iron Dome on: April 12, 2011, 07:48:12 PM
Dispatch: Israel's Iron Dome
April 12, 2011 | 1923 GMT
Click on image below to watch video:

Military analyst Nathan Hughes examines Israel’s new defense against rockets fired from Gaza and its political significance for both the Israelis and Palestinians.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Iron Dome is a new evolving dynamic in the struggle between Hamas, other Palestinian militant factions and Israel in the Gaza Strip. Iron Dome is intended to intercept and shoot down Palestinian rockets — larger, longer-range rockets, from the Qassam to the larger Grad and Fajr threats. Though it is only a preliminary, essentially preoperational deployment, it is already taking on both current and future potential significance.

Currently, two Iron Dome batteries are deployed near larger population centers in southern Israel. But as currently conceived, it would take over 20 batteries to defend against rockets fired from the Gaza Strip alone. Offensive rockets tend to be inherently cheaper than more sophisticated defensive interceptors to protect against them. And this is certainly the case in Gaza, where on the lower end of the spectrum Qassam rockets that are essentially homemade in garages can cost as little as several hundred dollars to assemble, while the new interceptors used with Iron Dome are thought to cost as much as $50,000 apiece. This sort of dynamic allows for cheaper rockets fired in mass to overwhelm the limited magazines of defensive batteries, though this is not traditionally how Hamas or Hezbollah have deployed their artillery rockets, and there’s not a whole lot of sign yet that Hamas is adjusting its tactics accordingly.

The precise details of Iron Dome’s recent performance and its engagement parameters are unlikely to be discussed in the public domain in too much detail. But the bottom line is that any weapon system, when it’s first deployed on the battlefield, is confronted almost invariably with operational realities and unforeseen circumstances for which it wasn’t originally designed. So while you’re unlikely to see perfect or even near-perfect performance out of a weapon system, these are exactly the experiences that allow engineers to further refine and improve the weapon system as its deployed more fully. In the meantime, Israel certainly has an incentive to talk up the effectiveness and performance of the limited Iron Dome batteries that are currently deployed, while Hamas at the same time has the opposite incentive — to reject its performance, and as we’ve already seen out of Hamas, to sort of mock the price disparity between the rockets that Hamas fires and what Israel is spending to attempt to defend against them.

Ultimately, Hamas continues to fear ongoing isolation behind an Israeli blockade supported by an Egyptian regime in Cairo. The prospect of that continued isolation combined with an even moderately effective system to defend against Hamas’ larger, longer-range rockets, which remain its most effective way to continue to hit back at the Israelis, has got to be a matter of concern for Hamas, even if the prospect for more full fielding of the system is still years down the road.

24965  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: April 12, 2011, 10:35:16 AM
What role the absence of economic opportunity?  And why is it absent?
24966  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The Arab Risings, Israel, & Hamas on: April 12, 2011, 10:34:05 AM
The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas
April 12, 2011

By George Friedman

There was one striking thing missing from the events in the Middle East in past months: Israel. While certainly mentioned and condemned, none of the demonstrations centered on the issue of Israel. Israel was a side issue for the demonstrators, with the focus being on replacing unpopular rulers.

This is odd. Since even before the creation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism has been a driving force among the Arab public, perhaps more than it has been with Arab governments. While a few have been willing to develop open diplomatic relations with Israel, many more have maintained informal relations: Numerous Arab governments have been willing to maintain covert relations with Israel, with extensive cooperation on intelligence and related matters. They have been unwilling to incur the displeasure of the Arab masses through open cooperation, however.

That makes it all the more strange that the Arab opposition movements — from Libya to Bahrain — have not made overt and covert cooperation with Israel a central issue, if for no other reason than to mobilize the Arab masses. Let me emphasize that Israel was frequently an issue, but not the central one. If we go far back to the rise of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his revolution for Pan-Arabism and socialism, his issues against King Farouk were tightly bound with anti-Zionism. Similarly, radical Islamists have always made Israel a central issue, yet it wasn’t there in this round of unrest. This was particularly surprising with regimes like Egypt’s, which had formal relations with Israel.

It is not clear why Israel was not a rallying point. One possible explanation is that the demonstrations in the Islamic world were focused on unpopular leaders and regimes, and the question of local governance was at their heart. That is possible, but particularly as the demonstrations faltered, invoking Israel would have seemed logical as a way to legitimize their cause. Another explanation might have rested in the reason that most of these risings failed, at least to this point, to achieve fundamental change. They were not mass movements involving all classes of society, but to a great extent the young and the better educated. This class was more sophisticated about the world and understood the need for American and European support in the long run; they understood that including Israel in their mix of grievances was likely to reduce Western pressure on the risings’ targets. We know of several leaders of the Egyptian rising, for example, who were close to Hamas yet deliberately chose to downplay their relations. They clearly were intensely anti-Israeli but didn’t want to make this a crucial issue. In the case of Egypt, they didn’t want to alienate the military or the West. They were sophisticated enough to take the matter step by step.

Hamas’ Opportunity

A second thing was missing from the unrest: There was no rising, no intifada, in the Palestinian territories. Given the general unrest sweeping the region, it would seem logical that the Palestinian public would have pressed both the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Hamas to organize massive demonstrations against Israel. This didn’t happen.

This clearly didn’t displease the PNA, which had no appetite for underwriting another intifada that would have led to massive Israeli responses and disruption of the West Bank’s economy. For Hamas in Gaza, however, it was a different case. Hamas was trapped by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. This blockade limited its ability to access weapons, as well as basic supplies needed to build a minimally functioning economy. It also limited Hamas’ ability to build a strong movement in the West Bank that would challenge Fatah’s leadership of the PNA there.

Hamas has been isolated and trapped in Gaza. The uprising in Egypt represented a tremendous opportunity for Hamas, as it promised to create a new reality in Gaza. If the demonstrators had succeeded not only in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak but also in forcing true regime change — or at least forcing the military to change its policy toward Hamas — the door could have opened for Hamas to have increased dramatically its power and its room to maneuver. Hamas knew that it had supporters among a segment of the demonstrators and that the demonstrators wanted a reversal of Egyptian policy on Israel and Gaza. They were content to wait, however, particularly as the PNA was not prepared to launch an intifada in the West Bank and because one confined to Gaza would have had little effect. So they waited.

For Hamas, a shift in Egyptian policy was the opening that would allow them to become militarily and politically more effective. It didn’t happen. The events of the past few months have shown that while the military wanted Mubarak out, it was not prepared to break with Israel or shift its Gaza policy. Most important, the events thus far have shown that the demonstrators were in no position to force the Egyptian military to do anything it didn’t want to do. Beyond forcing Mubarak out and perhaps having him put on trial, the basic policies of his regime remained in place.

Over the last few weeks, it became apparent to many observers, including the Hamas leadership, that what they hoped for in Egypt was either not going to happen any time soon or perhaps not at all. At the same time, it was obvious that the movement in the Arab world had not yet died out. If Hamas could combine the historical animosity toward Israel in the Arab world with the current unrest, it might be able to effect changes in policy not only in Egypt but also in the rest of the Arab world, a region that, beyond rhetoric, had become increasingly indifferent to the Palestinian cause.

Gaza has become a symbol in the Arab world of Palestinian resistance and Israeli oppression. The last war in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, has become used as a symbol in the Arab world and in Europe to generate anti-Israeli sentiment. Interestingly, Richard Goldstone, lead author of a report on the operation that severely criticized Israel, retracted many of his charges last week. One of the Palestinians’ major achievements was shaping public opinion in Europe over Cast Lead via the Goldstone Report. Its retraction was therefore a defeat for Hamas.

In the face of the decision by Arab demonstrators not to emphasize Israel, in the face of the apparent failure of the Egyptian rising to achieve definitive policy changes, and in the face of the reversal by Goldstone of many of his charges, Hamas clearly felt that it not only faced a lost opportunity, but it was likely to face a retreat in Western public opinion (albeit the latter was a secondary consideration).

The Advantage of Another Gaza Conflict for Hamas

Another Israeli assault on Gaza might generate forces that benefit Hamas. In Cast Lead, the Egyptian government was able to deflect calls to stop its blockade of Gaza and break relations with Israel. In 2011, it might not be as easy for them to resist in the event of another war. Moreover, with the uprising losing steam, a war in Gaza might re-energize Hamas, using what would be claimed as unilateral brutality by Israel to bring far larger crowds into the street and forcing a weakened Egyptian regime to make the kinds of concessions that would matter to Hamas.

Egypt is key for Hamas. Linked to an anti-Israel, pro-Hamas Cairo, the Gaza Strip returns to its old status as a bayonet pointed at Tel Aviv. Certainly, it would be a base for operations and a significant alternative to Fatah. But a war would benefit Hamas more broadly. For example, Turkey’s view of Gaza has changed significantly since the 2010 flotilla incident in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish civilians on a ship headed for Gaza. Turkey’s relationship with Israel could be further weakened, and with Egypt and Turkey both becoming hostile to Israel, Hamas’ position would improve. If Hamas could cause Hezbollah to join the war from the north then Israel would be placed in a challenging military position perhaps with the United States, afraid of a complete breakdown of its regional alliance system, forcing Israel to accept an unfavorable settlement.

Hamas had the same means for starting a war it had before Cast Lead and that Hezbollah had in 2006. It can still fire rockets at Israel. For the most part, these artillery rockets — homemade Qassams and mortars, do no harm. But some strike Israeli targets, and under any circumstances, the constant firing drives home the limits of Israeli intelligence to an uneasy Israeli public — Israel doesn’t know where the missiles are stored and can’t take them out. Add to this the rocket that landed 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and Israeli public perceptions of the murder of most of a Jewish family in the West Bank, including an infant, and it becomes clear that Hamas is creating the circumstances under which the Israelis have no choice but to attack Gaza.

Outside Intervention

After the first series of rocket attacks, two nations intervened. Turkey fairly publicly intervened via Syria, persuading Hamas to halt its attacks. Turkey understood the fragility of the Arab world and was not interested in the uprising receiving an additional boost from a war in Gaza. The Saudis also intervened. The Saudis provide the main funding for Hamas via Syria and were themselves trying to stabilize the situation from Yemen to Bahrain on its southern and eastern border; it did not want anything adding fuel to that fire. Hamas accordingly subsided.

Hamas then resumed its attack this weekend. We don’t know its reasoning, but we can infer it: Whatever Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria or anyone else wanted, this was Hamas’ historic opportunity. If Egypt returns to the status quo, Hamas returns to its trap. Whatever their friends or allies might say, missing this historic opportunity would be foolish for it. A war would hurt, but a defeat could be turned into a political victory.

It is not clear what the Israelis’ limit is. Clearly, they are trying to avoid an all-out assault on Gaza, limiting their response to a few airstrikes. The existence of Iron Dome, a new system to stop rockets, provides Israel some psychological comfort, but it is years from full deployment, and its effectiveness is still unknown. The rockets can be endured only so long before an attack. And the Goldstone reversal gives the Israelis a sense of vindication that gives them more room for maneuver.

Hamas appears to have plenty of rockets, and it will use them until Israel responds. Hamas will use the Israeli response to try to launch a broader Arab movement focused both on Israel and on regimes that openly or covertly collaborate with Israel. Hamas hopes above all to bring down the Egyptian regime with a newly energized movement. Israel above all does not want this to happen. It will resist responding to Hamas as long as it can, but given the political situation in Israel, its ability to do so is limited — and that is what Hamas is counting on.

For the United States and Europe, the merger of Islamists and democrats is an explosive combination. Apart, they do little. Together, they could genuinely destabilize the region and even further undermine the U.S. effort against jihadists. The United States and Europe want Israel to restrain itself but cannot restrain Hamas. Another war, therefore, is not out of the question — and in the end, the decision to launch one rests with Hamas.

24967  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word on: April 12, 2011, 10:23:51 AM
 cheesy cheesy cheesy
24968  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california on: April 12, 2011, 09:59:52 AM

We are launching efforts in California to pick up more Congressional Support.  Success and strength will achieved through growing our numbers.  Being strong in all 53 of our congressional districts will carry the day.  You are invited to join us on a Telephone Conference Call on Wednesday, April 13th, at 7:00 pm.  Dial-In Number:  (610) 214-0000

                               Access Code:  960846

This call will provide us with an opportunity to meet and greet, and discuss efforts we are making in the districts to promote Fair Tax.  We would of course like to discuss areas where we can help and support.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours in the cause,
John Wesley Nobles
CA Volunteer State Director

Click here to visit the homepage for this group

If the text above does not appear as a clickable link, you can visit the web address:

24969  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: How to cut government spending on: April 11, 2011, 10:54:06 AM

God & Country, Strength & Honor
Freedom & Responsibility

24970  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor 2d quarter forecast on: April 11, 2011, 10:19:49 AM
In our 2011 annual forecast, we highlighted three predominant issues for the year: complications with Iran surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the struggle of the Chinese leadership to maintain stability amid economic troubles, and a shift in Russian behavior to appear more conciliatory, or to match assertiveness with conciliation. While we see these trends remaining significant and in play, we did not anticipate the unrest that spread across North Africa to the Persian Gulf region.

In the first quarter of 2011, we saw what appeared to be a series of dominoes falling, triggered by social unrest in Tunisia. In some sense, there have been common threads to many of the uprisings: high youth unemployment, rising commodity prices, high levels of crony capitalism, illegitimate succession planning, overdrawn emergency laws, the lack of political and media freedoms and so on. But despite the surface similarities, each has also had its own unique and individual characteristics, and in the Persian Gulf region, a competition between regional powers is playing out.

When the Tunisian leadership began to fall, we were surprised at the speed with which similar unrest spread to Egypt. Once in Egypt, however, it quickly became apparent that what we were seeing was not simply a spontaneous uprising of democracy-minded youth (though there was certainly an element of that), but rather a move by the military to exploit the protests to remove Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose succession plans were causing rifts within the establishment and opening up opportunities for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

As we noted in our annual forecast; “While the various elements that make up the state will be busy trying to reach a consensus on how best to navigate the succession issue, several political and militant forces active in Egypt will be trying to take advantage of the historic opportunity the transition presents.” In this quarter, we see the military working to consolidate its control, balance the lingering elements of the pro-democracy movement, and keep the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces in check. Cairo is watching Israel very carefully in this respect, as Israeli military actions against the Palestinians or against southern Lebanon could force the Egyptian leadership to reassess the peace treaty with Israel, and give the Islamist forces in Egypt a political boost.

In Bahrain, we saw Iran seeking to take advantage of the general regional discontent to challenge Saudi interests. The Saudis intervened militarily, and for now appear to have things locked down in their smaller neighbor. Tehran is looking throughout the region to see which levers it is willing or capable of pulling to keep Saudi Arabia unbalanced while not going so far as to convince the United States it should keep a large force structure in Iraq. Countering Iran is Turkey, which has become more active in the region. The balancing between these two regional powers will be a major element shaping the second quarter and beyond.

We are entering a very dynamic quarter. The Persian Gulf region is the center of gravity, and the center of a rising regional power competition. A war in or with Israel is a major wild card that could destabilize the area further. Amid this, the United States continues to seek ways to disengage while not leaving the region significantly unbalanced. Off to the side is China, more intensely focused on domestic instability and facing rising economic pressures from high oil prices and inflation. Russia, perhaps, is in the best position this quarter, as Europe and Japan look for additional sources of energy, and Moscow can pack away some cash for later days.

Middle East
Table of Contents
Middle East
South Asia
East Asia
Former Soviet Union
Sub-Saharan Africa
Latin America

Regional Trend: Iran’s Confrontation with the Arab World

The instability in the Middle East carrying the most strategic weight is centered on the Persian Gulf, where Bahrain has become a proxy battleground between Iran and its Sunni Arab rivals. Iran appears to have used its influence and networks to encourage or exploit rising unrest in Bahrain as part of a covert destabilization campaign in eastern Arabia, relying on a Shiite uprising in Bahrain to attempt to produce a cascade of unrest that would spill into the Shiite-heavy areas of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia responded by sending military forces into its island neighbor.

Continued crackdowns and delays in political reforms will quietly fuel tensions between the United States and many of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states as Washington struggles between its need to complete the withdrawal from Iraq and to find a way to counterbalance Iran. The Iranians hope to exploit this dilemma by fomenting enough instability in the region to compel the United States and Saudi Arabia to come to Tehran for a settlement on Iranian terms or to fracture U.S.-Saudi ties, thereby drawing Washington into negotiations to end the unrest and thus obtain the opportunity to withdraw from Iraq. So far, that appears unlikely. Iran has successfully spread alarm throughout the GCC states, but it will face a much more difficult time in sustaining unrest in eastern Arabia in the face of intensifying GCC crackdowns.

Iran probably will have to resort to other arenas to exploit the Arab uprisings. In each of these arenas, Iran also will face considerable constraints. In Iraq, for example, Iran has a number of covert assets at its disposal to raise sectarian tensions, but in doing so, it risks upsetting the U.S. timetable for withdrawal and undermining the security of Iran’s western flank in the long term.

In the Levant, Iran could look to its militant proxy relationships with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories to provoke Israel into a military confrontation on at least one front, and possibly on two. An Israeli military intervention in the Gaza Strip would put pressure on the military-led regime in Egypt as it attempts to constrain domestic Islamist political forces. Syria, which carries influence over the actions of the principal Palestinian militant factions, can be swayed by regional players like Turkey to keep this theater contained, but calm in the Levant is not assured for the second quarter given the broader regional dynamic.

In the Arabian Peninsula, Iran can look to the Yemeni-Saudi borderland, where it can fuel an already-active al-Houthi rebellion with the intent of inciting the Ismaili Muslim communities in Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces in hopes of sparking Shiite unrest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. This represents a much more roundabout method for trying to threaten the Saudi kingdom, but the current instability in Yemen affords Iran the opportunity to meddle amid the chaos.

Regional Trend: War in Libya, Fears in Egypt

Libya probably will remain in a protracted crisis through the next quarter. Though the Western leaders of the NATO-led military campaign have tied themselves to an unstated mission of regime change, an air campaign alone is unlikely to achieve that goal. Gadhafi’s support base, while under immense pressure, largely appears to be holding on in western Libya. The eastern rebels meanwhile remain an amateurish group that is not going to transform into a competent militant force within three months. The more the rebels attempt to advance westward across hundreds of miles of desert toward Tripoli, the easier Gadhafi’s forces can fall back to populated areas where NATO is increasingly unable to provide close air support for fear of inflicting civilian casualties. The geography and military realities in Libya promote a stalemate, and the historic split between western Tripolitania and eastern Cyrenaica will persist. The elimination of Gadhafi by hostile forces or by someone within his regime cannot be ruled out in this time frame, nor can a potential political accommodation involving one of Gadhafi’s sons or another tribal regime loyalist. Though neither scenario is likely to rapidly resolve the situation, a stalemate could allow some energy production and exports to resume in the east.

Coming out of its own political crisis, Egypt sees an opportunity in the Libya affair to project influence over the oil-rich eastern region and position itself as the Arab power broker for Western countries looking to earn a stake in a post-Gadhafi scenario. However, domestic constraints probably will inhibit Egyptian attempts to extend influence beyond its borders as Cairo continues its attempts to resuscitate the Egyptian economy and prepare for elections slated for September. Egypt also has a great deal to worry about in Gaza, where it fears that a flare-up between Palestinian militant factions and Israeli military forces could embolden the Egyptian opposition Muslim Brotherhood and place strains on the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Regional Trend: Syria Locking Down

The minority Alawite Syrian regime will resort to more forceful crackdowns in an attempt to quell spreading unrest. There is no guarantee that the regime’s traditional tactics will work, but Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government appears more capable than many of its embattled neighbors in dealing with the current unrest. The crackdowns in Syria occurring against the backdrop of a stalemated Libyan military campaign will expose the growing contradictions in U.S. public diplomacy in the region, as the United States and Israel face an underlying imperative to maintain the al Assad regime in Syria which, while hostile, is weak and predictable enough to be preferable to an Islamist alternative. Both the GCC states and Iran will attempt to exploit Syria’s internal troubles in trying to sway the al Assad regime to their side in the broader Sunni-Shiite regional rivalry, but Syria will continue managing its foreign relations in a cautious manner, keeping itself open to offers but refusing commitment to any one side.

Regional Trend: Rising Turkey

The waves of unrest lapping at Turkey’s borders are accelerating Turkey’s regional rise. This quarter will be a busy one for Ankara, as the country prepares for June elections expected to see the ruling Justice and Development Party consolidate its political strength. Turkey will be forced to divide its attention between home and abroad as it tries to put out fires in its backyard. The crisis in Libya provides Turkey an opportunity to re-establish a foothold in North Africa, while in the Levant Turkey will be playing a major role in trying to manage the situation in Syria to avoid a spillover of Kurdish unrest into its own borders. Where Turkey is most needed, and where it actually holds significant influence, is in the heart of the Arab world: Iraq. Iran’s destabilization attempts in eastern Arabia and the United States’ overwhelming strategic need to end its military commitment to Iraq will put Turkey in high demand for both Washington and the GCC states as a counterbalance to a resurgent Iran.

Regional Trend: Yemen in Crisis

The gradual erosion of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime over the next quarter will plant the seeds for civil conflict. Both sides of the political divide in Yemen agree that Saleh will be making an early political exit, but there are a number of complications surrounding the transition negotiations that will extend the crisis. As tribal loyalties continue to fluctuate among the various political actors and pressures pile on the government, the writ of the Saleh regime will increasingly narrow to the capital of Sanaa, allowing rebellions elsewhere in the country to intensify.

Al-Houthi rebels of the Zaydi sect in the north are expanding their autonomy in Saada province bordering the Saudi kingdom, creating the potential for Saudi military intervention. An ongoing rebellion in the south as well as a resurgence of the Islamist old guard within the security apparatus opposing Saleh will meanwhile provide an opportunity for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to expand its areas of operation. Saleh’s eventual removal — a goal that has unified Yemen’s disparate opposition groups so far — will exacerbate these conditions, as each party falls back to their respective agendas. Saudi Arabia will be the main authority in Yemen trying to manage this crisis, with its priority being suppressing al-Houthi rebels in the north.

South Asia
Table of Contents
Middle East
South Asia
East Asia
Former Soviet Union
Sub-Saharan Africa
Latin America

Regional Trend: Intensifying Taliban Actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Our annual forecast remains on track for Afghanistan. With the spring thaw, operations by both sides will intensify, but decisive progress on either side is unlikely. The degree to which the Taliban is capable of mounting offensive operations and other intimidation and assassination efforts in this quarter and the next will offer an opportunity to assess the impact of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations. It may also reveal the Taliban’s core strategy for the year ahead, namely, whether it intends to intensify the conflict or hunker down to encourage and wait out the ISAF withdrawal.

The Pakistani counterinsurgency effort has made some progress in the tribal areas, but the Pakistani Taliban have yet to really ramp-up operations. The tempo of operations that the Pakistani Taliban are able to mount and sustain this quarter and next will be telling in terms of the strength of the movement after Islamabad’s efforts to crack down.

The Raymond David case brought ongoing tensions between the United States and Pakistan over the U.S.-jihadist war to an all-time high in the past quarter. Though the issue of the CIA contractor killing two Pakistani nationals was resolved via a negotiated settlement, the several weeklong public drama has emboldened Islamabad, which the Pakistanis will build upon to try to shape American behavior. While a major falling out between the two countries is unlikely, the Raymond Davis incident as well as the increasing perception in the region that Washington’s position has been significantly weakened will allow Pakistan to assert itself in terms of the overall U.S. strategy for South Asia, and especially on Afghanistan.

Islamabad will be trying to leverage further gains by Afghan Taliban insurgents to move the United States toward a negotiated settlement and exit strategy that does not create problems for Pakistan. However, there is little sign of meaningful negotiation or political accommodation so far this year. While there have been efforts to reach out behind the scenes, neither side is likely ready to give enough ground for real discussions to begin.

24971  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Jefferson 1821 on: April 11, 2011, 08:16:56 AM
"The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Spencer Roane, 1821

24972  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Teeth in OR on: April 10, 2011, 11:45:04 PM
24973  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Movies on: April 10, 2011, 04:56:14 PM
Although I am sympathetic to much of the philosophy in the book, I found it a horrible read.   I can't even remember if I finished it. cheesy
24974  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / SAS officers busted on: April 10, 2011, 04:48:34 PM
24975  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action on: April 10, 2011, 12:36:23 PM
Dear Readers:  Please note there are four prior posts in this thread today.
24976  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Cyber Jihad on: April 10, 2011, 12:34:48 PM
Certainly not impossible, but also is it not possible that it builds connections and goodwill with the young-aspiring-to-civilization-ver-barbarism portion of the mideast?
24977  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US helping mid-east rebels on: April 10, 2011, 10:54:54 AM,0,6680200.story
24978  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: US, Japan, Russia support Reunification on: April 10, 2011, 09:50:56 AM
The Korean peninsula was divided by the world’s great powers as World War II came to an end. That division persists today, of course, and is the greatest source of instability in East Asia, thanks largely to North Korea’s belligerence.

The division also feeds a sentiment in both Koreas of victimization, the sense that outsiders hurt us, ripped us apart.

In many discussions about Korean reunification between, for instance South Koreans and Americans, the statement “We didn’t ask for this” is the ultimate trump card a South Korean can pull to make the American stop, reconsider themselves and feel a twinge of guilt.

In South Korea, there’s also another way that this sense of victimization manifests itself. Many South Koreans say they believe that, even now, the world’s great powers don’t want the two Koreas to get back together.

Well, it’s rare that a moment presents itself for other countries to actually say how they feel about the reunification of the two Koreas, but it happened Friday afternoon in Seoul.

Ambassadors from three of South Korea’s neighbors spoke at a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded think tank associated with the Ministry of Unification, which deals with North Korea-related matters.

Now, normally, the words of diplomats are a bit convoluted and, well, boring, so journalists like us usually just summarize them.

But on Friday, each of the three ambassadors talked about experiences in which South Koreans had told them they didn’t think the country they represent wanted reunification to happen. And each of them had a strong, succinct response that yes, actually, they would like to see the Koreas reunite with Seoul in the lead.

So we decided to give them to you without a filter on this post.

We should point out – as the hosts of the KINU conference did several times – that China’s ambassador to South Korea was also invited to Friday’s meeting, had confirmed his attendance but canceled at the last minute. In other words, the stance many of us would like to hear on the topic, Beijing’s, remains a mystery.

The key statements from the diplomats:

Kathleen Stephens, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea

“The U.S. vision on Korean unification is in the context of our vision for the entire Asia-Pacific region. We want to see shared prosperity, shared peace and genuine stability. It’s within that context that we support reunification – too long postponed, too long delayed, too tragically prolonged – by peaceful means and in accordance with the wishes of the Korean people.

“President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak in June 2009 signed a joint vision statement, a vision of the U.S.-Korea relationship. I want to read to you one sentence, there’s more, but one sentence, because this is our vision. ‘Through our alliance, we aim to build a better future for all people on the Korean peninsula, establishing a durable peace on the peninsula and leading to peaceful reunification on the principles of free democracy and a market economy.’

“That’s what we’re trying to do. Now, I emphasize this because nothing has disturbed me more over the years than at times having it suggested to me by Korean friends or others that somehow the United States thinks the division of the Korean peninsula is right or even serves U.S. interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We look, from the perspective now of 2011, at the division of this peninsula and at the division of the Korean people as one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century.”

Muto Masatoshi, Japan Ambassador to South Korea

“I want to talk about [South] Korean people’s perception of how Japanese look at unification. A lot of people used to say we are negative or reluctant to support it. People would say Japan does not want a very strong country next to us. Well, that is not true. That is not based on reality or how our relations are.

“The reunification of Korea is a big benefit for us. I would like to quote three reasons for that.

“First of all, the reduction of tension on the Korean peninsula will certainly promote peace and stability in East Asia.

“Second, with reunification, we will have a big market here and big business opportunities will emerge out of reunification.

“Thirdly, South Korea is very active in promoting peace and stability and prosperity in the world. Korea is a very good partner in our international relations. And we would like to see a very strong partner next to us, which has a very similar interest to us.”

Konstantin Vnukov, Russia Ambassador to South Korea

“The situation on the Korean peninsula directly affects the security of the Russian people who live very close on the neighboring Russian Far East as well as influences the large scale, rapid-development plans of my government for Siberia and the Russia Far East region.

“From this point of view, the establishment in future of a democratic, prosperous and friendly-towards-us united Korea fully reflects Russian political and economic interests.

“We are convinced that there is no alternative to political and diplomatic settlement of the situation. Moreover, the six-party talks from our point of view is the optimal mechanism for making necessary decisions on all the issues, including, of course, the main issue, which is the nuclear problem.

“Using our obvious advantages, in particular good relations with both Korean states … Russia is doing everything possible to normalize the situation on the peninsula.”

24979  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: April 10, 2011, 09:43:32 AM
Second post of the morning

CAIRO—Soldiers beat hundreds of protesters with clubs and fired heavy volleys of gunfire into the air in a pre-dawn attack that broke up a demonstration in Cairo's central Tahrir Square in a sign of increasing tensions between Egypt's ruling military and the country's protest movement.

A force of about 300 soldiers swept into the square around 3 a.m. and waded into a tent camp in the center where protesters had formed a human cordon to protect several army officers who joined their demonstration, witnesses said.
Several hundred protesters remained Saturday morning in Tahrir Square, where many continued to protest against the military's lack of action on prosecuting former regime officials.  Witnesses to Friday night's violence waved spent bullet cartridges left over from the confrontation. A woman who gave her name only as Enas said she saw as many as 10 protesters shot dead last night.

"We said to the army, 'why are you doing this? We are all family,'" Ms. Enas said. "They said 'you want to make Cairo burn, so we will make it burn."

Ms. Enas said protesters were shot as they tried to protect a group of about eight soldiers who were sleeping among the protesters in a tent in the middle of Tahrir Square. Several soldiers had joined the protests against the military in defiance of threats from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that any soldier caught participating would face a military court.

The troops dragged an unknown number of protesters away, throwing them into police trucks.

"I saw women being slapped in the face, women being kicked," cried one female protester, who was among several who took refuge in a nearby mosque. Troops surrounded the mosque and heavy gunfire was heard for hours. Protesters in the mosque reported large numbers of injured, including several wounded by gunfire.

The assault came hours after protesters poured into Tahrir Square in one of Egypt's largest marches in two months, marking growing frustration among many here at the military's perceived slowness in removing and prosecuting officials from the deposed regime.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A protester waves his national flag as tens of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday to demand further government purges.
.Friday's "Day of Trial and Cleansing" drew several thousand protesters, one of the biggest gatherings since President Hosni Mubarak was replaced on Feb. 11 by an interim high council of military officers, a show of the abiding strength of Egypt's youth-led protest movement.

The gathering also demonstrated how the prosecution of lingering elements of the old regime, such as Mr. Mubarak and his top aides and officials, will be a critical task for Egypt's military officers if they hope to maintain their high standing among the public.

"People feel they are not doing enough—and if they are doing enough, it's too slow," said Ahmed Wahba, 41, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is leading Egypt's transition toward democracy. Mr. Wahba, who was protesting in the crowded square Friday, said the Egyptian public won't be satisfied until they "see Mubarak in the middle of [Tahrir] Square, locked up or executed."

Mr. Wahba was standing in front of a mock cage containing an effigy of Mr. Mubarak that demonstrators had erected at one end of the square. People also carried signs with images of the former speaker of parliament's upper house, Safwat Al Sharif, behind bars, and chanted that Mubarak-appointed local governors and mayors should be dismissed from power.

 WSJ's Margaret Coker had a first-hand seat to the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. She joins Simon Constable to discuss what's likely to happen next as these Middle East countries transition to new governments.
.Egypt's attorney general has investigated and arrested some of what protesters say are the most-hated characters from the former ruling National Democratic Party. Earlier this week, prosecutors banned travel and froze the personal finances of Mr. El Sherif; Fathi Sorour, the speaker of parliament's lower house; and Zakariya Azmi, Mr. Mubarak's former chief of staff. Mr. Azmi was arrested Wednesday, according to Mena, Egypt's state news agency, along with former housing minister Ibrahim Suleiman. But several demonstrators say the effort has proceeded at a pace they say indicates the sway the old regime still holds over the military leaders who deposed them. These people say delays in the investigations give officials time to put what they say are embezzled assets in foreign accounts.

Another former housing minister, as well as former tourism and interior ministers, have also been arrested on charges of corruption. Ahmed Ezz, a high-level party official and close confidant of the former president's son, Gamal Mubarak, is also in prison awaiting trial.

"We need our money to come back. We will stay here until our money comes again," said protester Mohammed Garib.

Friday's numbers were bolstered by the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful Islamist political group and a champion of democratic reforms under Mr. Mubarak's rule. The Brotherhood's official call for members to participate in the demonstrations came after two months in which the group was seen as working closely with military leaders.

Following the violence on Friday night, the Brotherhood released a statement blaming the military's attacks on elements of the former regime who hope to cling to power by inciting chaos. The statement praised the military-led transition to democracy and called on Egyptians to continue supporting the armed forces.

The dissatisfaction with the military seems to have spread to within the ranks. In YouTube videos posted this week, at least two Egyptian soldiers said they would participate in Friday's protests. On Thursday, Maj. Mohamed Askar, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, told CNN that any soldiers who participate in the demonstration will face an "immediate military tribunal."

Despite demonstrators' pique, it remains unclear whether their demands match those of Egypt's 80 million people. According to a poll released this week by the New York-based International Peace Institute, 77% of Egyptians said they still view the military favorably. A separate 2008 poll by the New York-based Charney Research group showed a 90% approval rate.

Protesters nevertheless took Friday's large turnout as a vote of confidence for a youth movement whose power to sway public opinion appeared to have been fading.

The revolutionary youth were humbled when voters accepted a set of controversial constitutional amendments in a referendum in mid-March despite their forceful campaign urging Egyptians to vote "no." Protests last Friday, also organized to seek the prosecution of former regime officials, drew far fewer people.

"Obviously, the Supreme Council is not supporting the people's interests," said Ahmed Naguib, one of the protest leaders who said he helped plan Friday's march in Tahrir Square. "So the people are taking into their own hands what the military council should be taking into their own hands."

24980  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Bahrain on: April 10, 2011, 09:26:53 AM

MANAMA, Bahrain—Nearly a month after the arrival of troops from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain has become more deeply divided along sectarian lines and is thus a growing threat to become a flashpoint in the broader confrontation between the U.S. and its Arab allies and Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Although Bahrain is a tiny island with a population of fewer than one million people, its large Shia Muslim population and its location between Sunni Muslim-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shia Muslim-led Iran has made unrest there a focal point of regional security concerns for both the U.S. and the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia.

After meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said publicly that the U.S. has "evidence" of Iranian meddling in Bahrain. He declined to reveal what proof the U.S. had of Iranian interference. Bahrain's government, led by a ruling Al Khalifa family long allied with the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia, has complained vociferously about Iran's vocal support for the island's Shia population and provocative coverage on Iranian-backed television stations that reach Bahrain.

Like Mr. Gates and the Saudis, the Bahraini government also has intimated knowledge of more direct efforts by Iran and its ally Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, to incite unrest in Bahrain. The Bahrain government also has offered no evidence of specific plots or operational links between Iranian groups or Hezbollah and Bahrianis involved in the protests.

U.S. officials have said they don't believe Iran or other outside groups were behind large-scale demonstrations in Bahrain over the past two months. But they remain concerned that heightened sectarian tensions could provide openings for Iran and Hezbollah to expand their influence in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region.

Yet tensions show little sign of abating as Bahrain's government has expanded a forceful crackdown, arresting hundreds of opposition leaders, activists and protesters under an emergency decree. Most, though not all, are Shiites. Between 300 and 400 people have been detained, many in nighttime raids on their homes, according to human-rights activists. Meanwhile, government-owned companies have announced they have fired hundreds of employees who missed work during the protests or were identified as participating in protests the government considered illegal or inappropriate.

Teachers, doctors and other professionals the government accuses of participating in protests—some of them at their workplaces—also have lost their jobs, and more than a dozen have been jailed. Al Wefaq, the leading mainstream Shiite political party, said a total of 1,000 workers have lost their jobs at the national oil company, the national telecom company and other government firms. The companies have announced smaller numbers, totaling several hundred workers. They have said the workers violated contracts and left work during strikes that were called illegally by union leaders.

The government also shut down the country's sole independent newspaper this week after it published what the government described as "false" photos of demonstrators being beaten. The paper was allowed to begin publishing the next day after its prominent editor, Mansoor al Jamri, resigned. He said editors published the photos without realizing they were from demonstrations that weren't in Bahrain.

Opposition leaders and activists say the government's crackdown appears aimed at stifling all dissent along with protests. "They don't want people to open their mouths," said Abdulla Alderazi, head of the Bahrain Human Rights Society. "But you're just adding fuel to the fire."

The opposition groups, which carried on talks with the government but declined full-scale negotiations before troops from across the causeway that links the island to Saudi Arabia arrived, say they now are willing to negotiate with mediation. But the government, which feels pressure from the minority Sunni Muslim population to deal harshly with protest leaders, has announced that political reform discussions take place in the partially elected Parliament.

That's likely to mean the Shiite opposition groups won't participate. Opposition politicians resigned during the protests. This week, the remaining, largely Sunni parliamentarians, accepted most of those resignations.

"We will have a dialogue through the parliament," said Isa AlKooheji, a Sunni parliamentarian who participated in the previous discussions with the opposition parties before the talks broke down.

The government is moving to address some economic demands by the Shiite community, which has long complained of discrimination and inequities. This week, the government approved plans to build 50,000 new homes over the next decade. The program will be funded in part with a $10 billion aid package the other Gulf Arab states have agreed to provide over the next 10 years.

Still, many leaders on both sides of the divide worry that tensions will only continue to rise until some sort of political solution can be found to bring both communities back into negotiations or meaningful political reforms. "We have a sectarian divide like Bahrain hasn't seen in a hundred years," said one person close to the government. "There's no question that a political solution is the only way out."

Write to Bill Spindle at

24981  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: WI election on: April 10, 2011, 09:13:53 AM

Democracy can be a messy business, but it shouldn't be as big a mess at it's been this week in Wisconsin. A nail-biter of a state supreme court election turned into a political uproar on Thursday with the discovery of 14,000 previously overlooked votes in conservative-leaning Waukesha County. The new totals gave incumbent Justice David Prosser a lead of some 7,500 votes over challenger and union favorite JoAnne Kloppenburg and guaranteed weeks if not months of more political heartburn.

Democrats pounced on the new totals, claiming the error must be evidence of partisanship, and state assembly minority leader Peter Barca suggested that Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus's long-time Republican affiliation made the incident "troubling." He's right on competence grounds, though perhaps not on the partisanship. One of Ms. Nickolaus's Democratic colleague attests that overlooking all of the votes in Brookfield, a Milwaukee suburb, was a computer mistake, not a fraud, and that the vote count is accurate.

We're glad to hear it, but the sudden appearance of thousands of missing votes takes place in a hyperpartisan environment with mistrust already high. Before the disappearing ballots were discovered, Ms. Kloppenburg had made a speech declaring victory. Wisconsin voters will rightly wonder how someone could overlook all of the votes in a major suburb.

Democracy requires trust to work, and GOP Governor Scott Walker would be wise to call for an independent review of what happened, as well as hearings on the state's election system. Wisconsin's same-day registration laws have already created a low bar for voter identification that increases the opportunity for fraud. The vote counting technology and process also need an upgrade.

Some will say that county clerks who supervise elections should be nonpartisan, but the lack of labels can merely disguise partisanship. Some on the right and left will say judges shouldn't have to endure elections, but the problem here wasn't who was on the ballot but how the ballots were counted. Retention elections are one way voters can keep the judiciary accountable. If judges want to avoid elections, then they should accept term limits.

Mr. Walker has become union enemy number one after his reforms to government collective bargaining, though Mr. Prosser's apparent victory shows the argument is far from settled. The Governor can now use the Waukesha blunder as an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to restore public trust in elections.

24982  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Internet Sales Tax on: April 10, 2011, 09:10:57 AM

Governor Pat Quinn recently added to his reputation as America's most taxing politician by signing a law applying the state's 6.25% sales tax to Internet purchases made in Illinois. Within hours, Amazon, the online book and merchandise seller, announced it would discontinue using any of its 9,000 Illinois small business affiliates to avoid having to collect the tax. Congratulations, Governor.

The issue of whether and how states should tax Internet sales is back as one of the hottest in state legislatures. Colorado, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island already impose some version of what has become known as the "Amazon tax," and at least a dozen other deficit-plagued states are advancing similar bills. This political brawl unites liberals with brick-and-mortar retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target, against taxpayers and such online retailers as Amazon and Overstock. Internet sales reached $165 billion last year and have been growing by nearly 15% annually.

The first issue is whether the Amazon tax is constitutional. New York's law is now being challenged in court as a violation of the Supreme Court's landmark 1992 Quill decision. In that case the High Court ruled that a state cannot impose a tax on a company if it does not have a physical presence in that state.

This decision originally applied to mail order sales, but the same principle applies to firms that sell over the Internet. If the company does not have an office, store or warehouse inside a state, the state cannot compel the firm to collect sales tax. Illinois and others are trying to broaden the concept of physical presence to include doing business with any affiliate inside the state's borders, such as online advertisers.

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Associated Press
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn
.The Quill standard may be the last line of defense against what would become a raid by governments at all levels on interstate online commerce. One virtue of the U.S. federal system is that it allows states to compete on tax policies. The courts should insure that a firm has a genuine physical presence in the state—not merely an online presence—to impose its taxing power. States retain the right to collect a "use tax" from their residents who make purchases from out-of-state companies or over the Internet.

Even if the courts rule against online sellers, states are fantasizing if they believe this tax will raise as much money as they hope. As in Illinois, Amazon has announced that it will cease doing any business with affiliates in any state that imposes this tax, and the firm hasn't been bluffing. So far it has closed its affiliate program in every state with the tax, except New York (where the law is under challenge).

Paul Dion, head of Rhode Island's revenue analysis office, says that "To date nobody has come forward to remit sales tax to us under that [online sales tax] statute." North Carolina's tax office reports that the state had raised all of $4.6 million as of January from the new tax, a small fraction of what legislators predicted. A study by the Tax Foundation has found that because of the retaliatory steps taken by Amazon, Rhode Island and North Carolina may have lost money because online marketing companies have closed down, or relocated outside the state.

Retailers are understandably worried about competition from online sellers, and there is no doubt that sales taxes influence where and how people make purchases. One irony of this fight is that the same liberals who claim that taxes don't affect behavior are telling state legislators to tax Internet sales or people will buy everything online or outside the state to avoid paying taxes.

The big retailers say that imposing state sales tax on e-commerce will level the playing field. But Internet firms don't use government services in the way that retailers do. If Amazon's headquarters in Seattle catches fire, no Illinois fire fighter is going to put it out. It also seems an undue burden to require Internet firms to comply with 8,000 separate sales tax jurisdictions around the country. The retailers have tried for years to get Congress to approve a "streamlined sales tax" compact among the states as a way to collect Internet taxes, but this seems unlikely to pass and many states would refuse to join in any case.

The best outcome would be for states to begin to rethink their tax policies in this new era of e-commerce. For states to impose sales taxes as high as 8% or even 10% may no longer be feasible, much as a U.S. corporate tax rate of 35% is no longer competitive with the rest of the world.

Smart states are rethinking their spending commitments, and they will also have to adapt by broadening their sales tax base and lowering rates. Many states exempt about half of their consumption base from sales tax, including groceries, barbers, drugs, legal services, hospitals and more. States could broaden the base and cut their rates in half.

The biggest false claim is that e-commerce will bankrupt states. This is what retailers and state legislatures said after the Quill decision, but sales tax receipts soared in the decade afterward. The most important influence on state tax receipts is economic growth, and revenues in some states are already returning to their pre-recession peaks.

If Governor Quinn weren't so busy driving business out of Illinois, he might not have to pretend he can raise revenue from taxing the Internet.

24983  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mookie Al Sadr says on: April 10, 2011, 08:40:24 AM

Iraq: Al-Sadr Warns U.S. Troops To Leave
April 9, 2011 1334 GMT
Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr will "escalate military resistance" and set off his Mehdi Army if U.S. forces do not leave Iraq, a spokesman for al-Sadr said April 9 in a speech written by al-Sadr to tens of thousands of followers, Reuters reported. A senior aide to the leader said al-Sadr's followers were "all time bombs and detonators" at the hands of al-Sadr. The speech said an extension of the U.S. "occupation" would lead to military resistance and the withdrawal of the freeze on the Mehdi Army as well as an increase of peaceful and public resistance via sit-ins and protests.
24984  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / David Horowitz on: April 10, 2011, 08:27:36 AM
24985  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Muslim Brotherhood on: April 10, 2011, 08:17:37 AM

Two months after Hosni Mubarak's ouster, Egyptian politics are a dervish of confused agitation. Each day, it seems, a new party forms to fill liberal, Nasserist, Marxist, Islamist and other niches. A joke has it that 10% of Egyptians plan to run for president.

"All Egyptians now think they are Che Guevara, Castro or something," says Essam el-Erian, a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, bursting into laughter. "This is democracy."

Amid this political ferment, the Brotherhood is an exception: a well-funded, organized and established force. Founded in 1928, it's also the grandaddy of the Mideast's political Islamist movements. The Brotherhood was banned from politics 57 years ago and focused on business, charity and social ventures. But the secretive fraternity always aspired to power.

Now free elections due later this year offer the Brotherhood their best opportunity. The group says it believes in "Islamic democracy," but what does that really mean? I spent a week with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it turns out the answers are far from monolithic, though often far from reassuring.

Shortly before midnight on Monday, Mohamed Baltagi walks into his office in a middle-class Cairo apartment block and apologizes for the late hour. Brotherhood leaders are all over the place these days—on popular evening chat shows, at public conferences, setting up their new Freedom and Justice Party, or advising the military regime on the interim constitution. The revolution made Dr. Baltagi, an ear-nose-and-throat specialist, a prominent face of what might be called the Brotherhood's progressive wing.

Dr. Baltagi, who is 47, led the group's informal 88-strong caucus in Egypt's parliament during a limited democratic experiment from 2005-10. He wears a moustache and gray business suit and expresses regret that U.S. diplomats shunned him and other Brothers during their time in parliament. The Brotherhood's green flag—with the group's motto "Islam is the solution"—sits on his desk next to the Egyptian tricolor. While the most senior Brotherhood leadership sat out the first few days of anti-Mubarak protests, Dr. Baltagi was in Tahrir Square from the start of the 18-day uprising. He was the only Brother on the 10-member revolutionary steering committee. "It's not a revolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, or of the Islamists," he says. "It's the revolution of all Egyptians."

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AFP/Getty Images
Egyptians in Alexandria celebrate after Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office.
.Unprompted, Dr. Baltagi brings up the charge that Islamists prefer "one man, one vote, one time." "As far as I know," he says, Islamists in Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere were victims, not perpetrators, of repression. Iran's theocracy, to him and every other Brother I spoke to, is a Shiite apostasy irrelevant to Sunni Muslim countries. The Muslim Brothers recently lost elections for student union posts at state-run Cairo University, which the group dominated in the past. "We accepted that," he says. "We accept democracy."

He says the revolution will change the Brotherhood. For the first time, his organization considers its goal in Egypt the establishment of a civic not a religious state, as close to "secular" as an Islamist group might come in words. After some internal wrangling, the Brothers said they could live with an elected Christian woman as president of Egypt—a merely symbolic concession since the odds of that happening are less than zero.

The new environment has already exposed internal tensions. Any push for transparency runs against six decades of cloak-and-dagger Brotherhood habits. "We will be working openly in front of everyone," says Dr. Baltagi, "talking openly about our members, programs, fund raising."

So how many Brotherhood members are there? He gives a nervous, almost apologetic smile and says, "for now that is a secret." He offers little more on funding beyond that members tithe and include generous businessmen.

Its conservative culture jars the younger, tech-savvy Brothers. The leadership announced that all members must support the new Freedom and Justice Party, angering especially the youth wing of the group.

A week ago Friday, the Brotherhood didn't call out its supporters to join other anti-Mubarak groups in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the "January 25th Revolution." Islam Lotfi, a 33-year-old lawyer, was one of numerous "young Brothers" who went anyway. The tensions inside the Brotherhood, he says, "are very normal. It is a gap between generations."

Mr. Lotfi has a smoothly shaved, round face and works closely with youth activists across the spectrum. "We want wider opportunities to work inside" the hierarchical Brotherhood, he adds. "It's not accepted by a culture that doesn't believe in young people." Two-thirds of Egypt's 80 million people are under the age of 30.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fatouh, a leader of the Brotherhood's middle generation, last week refused to fall in line behind Freedom and Justice, instead backing another religious-leaning party. He wants to bring the discontented younger Brothers with him. Dr. El-Erian, a physician who sits on the group's 15-member ruling Guidance Bureau, waves off the defection. "In Israel you have many religious parties," he says. "You can have many Islamist parties [that] can cohere together and make alliances" in a future parliament.

The Brotherhood has seen splits before, with no serious consequences. Fifteen years ago, Abou Elela Mady, then the youngest member of its Shura Council, left to found the Wasat (or Center) Party. He says the Brotherhood's new, tolerant positions are nothing more than "tactical" moves to reassure anxious Egyptians, the military and the West.

Mr. Mady, whose party will compete with the Brothers for the large conservative and poor chunk of the electorate, says he wouldn't form a coalition with them. The Mubarak regime called Wasat a Trojan Horse for Islamists. He likens his group to Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party.

Mr. Mady, who is 53, fits the profile of many current and former Brothers. Born into a lower-class family, he did well in school and got an engineering degree. He joined the Brotherhood in the late 1970s through the university unions. The Brotherhood seeks out ambitious outcasts—a sort of geeky fraternity for those who study hard and feel awkward around girls.

He left the party, he says, because "I wanted to be more open-minded. . . . I now can watch TV, listen to music and shake a woman's hand without feeling you were doing something wrong. Most members frown on it," he says. "The challenge of freedom for the Muslim Brotherhood is much more difficult than the challenge of an authoritarian regime. . . . They have to give concrete answers to difficult questions" about Egypt's future political and economic course.

Then there are Egypt's adherents of Salafist Islam, which in its most extreme version is practiced by Osama bin Laden. After last Friday's demonstrations, Salim Ghazor takes me to a large gathering in a lower-class Cairo neighborhood. A line of buses has brought the faithful from across Egypt to the Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque. Lit by a faint moon, bearded men in billowing gellabiyas walk past women in black niqabs into Egypt's oldest mosque. "Islam is the religion and the country," reads a sign.

The Muslim Brothers, who favor Western clothes and neatly trimmed facial hair, have clashed with the traditional Salafists, who looked down on political activity until the revolution. Mr. Ghazor, a teacher, once backed the Brotherhood but went over to the Salafists. "The Brothers care about politics more than the application of Islam," he says. Yet Brothers tend to practice the Salafist brand of Islam—raising the possibility that their movement could become Salaficized.

Here's a sampling. At the prayer meeting, the Salafist cleric Ahmed Farid calls out: "Those who refuse to abide by Islamic law will suffer and be damned." Another, Said Abdul Razim, gives advice for the Coptic Christian minority, about 10% of Egypt's population: "If they want peace and security, they should surrender to the will of Islamic Shariah."

On Sunday, I drive to Alexandria, the famed Mediterranean port, to meet the Brotherhood's rising star. Sobhi Saleh, 58, is a former parliamentarian and lawyer whom the military picked for the committee that drafted a raft of amendments to the interim constitution. No other anti-Mubarak political group was represented on the body. In the next parliament, Mr. Saleh would likely help draft a permanent new constitution. "People will be surprised how open-minded we will be," he promises.

Mr. Saleh rehearses the Brotherhood's plans to "purify laws" and "implement Shariah" in Egypt. It wouldn't, he says, be of the Taliban variety. Alcohol would be banned in public spaces. Women would be required to wear the hijab headscarf, but not the full-bodied niqab. These laws are intended to "protect our feelings as an Islamic society," he says.

As for the rights of Coptic Christians, he says that "Muslims have to protect Copts"—a patronizing view held by many Islamists. (Dr. Baltagi, by contrast, had offered that Copts are "fellow citizens.")

Having been a left-wing nationalist in his youth, Mr. Saleh waves away complaints about the Brotherhood's possible dominance over political life. "I do not care about the opinions of secularists who are against their own religion," he says. "If they were real liberals they should accept others and their right to express themselves."

But aren't the Brothers proposing to limit their right to self-expression? "We would ban activities in the public square, not in private space. Islam is against spreading unethical behavior and this is the difference between Islamic democracy and Western democracy. In Islam, everything that is against religion is banned in public. You"—meaning the West—"selectively ban behavior. We are only against those who are against religion and try to diminish it." This view seems to allow limited tolerance of dissenting opinions or minority rights.

The Brotherhood abandoned violence against Egypt's government in the 1970s, but it endorses Hamas and other armed Islamic movements. Every Brotherhood member I spoke to calls the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Camp David accords existing international law that a future government might reopen. Egypt's liberals say the same.

"Israel treats us as enemies," says Mr. Saleh. "If they are enemies for all its neighbors, why is it there?" Should Israel exist? "When they admit our peoples' rights," he says, referring to Palestinians, "we can study this."

The appeal of the Brotherhood remains hard to gauge, with no proper polls, few parties or elections in living memory. The group's candidates took 20% in a partially contested parliamentary poll in 2005, and it aims to win a third of seats this year.

The Brothers won't field a presidential candidate, a savvy move to soothe nerves and avoid governing responsibility. They can wait. Anyway, the military seems to prefer an establishment figure like Amr Moussa, the recent chief of the Arab League. The secular parties are immature, numerous and elitist—not the best recipe for electoral success.

"No one needs to be afraid of us," says Dr. El-Erian. "We need now five years of national consensus of reform, to boost the new democratic system, and then have open political competition." How seriously one chooses to take such reassurances depends on whether the Brotherhood ends up as just another political party in a freer Egypt or stays a religiously-driven cause.

"Skeptical optimism" is a phrase often heard in Egypt these days. Religion wasn't the galvanizing force in Egypt's revolution, and the Brotherhood's 83-year-old brand of political Islam looks its age compared to ideas of modernity and freedom that excited the crowds in Tahrir Square. You don't find the fervency of religious extremism here as in, say, Pakistan. If the generals today or a future regime allow space for pluralism to flourish, Egypt could build on its weak foundations and accommodate a changed Muslim Brotherhood. That assumes, not altogether safely, that the worst instincts of would-be authoritarians in military, clerical or Brother garb are kept in check, and the Arab world's most important democratic transition stays on track.

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

24986  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Meanwhile , , , on: April 10, 2011, 07:43:19 AM
On March 17, St. Patrick's Day, a dozen Marines, coated in mud, were sloshing through poppy fields in southern Afghanistan. Walking point for the patrol, Lance Cpl. Cody "Yaz" Yazzie swept a small metal detector back and forth. Twelve grunts from the Third Platoon followed carefully in his footsteps.

Back in the U.S., the news was dominated by events in Libya, the start of March Madness in college basketball and the latest court appearance of Lindsay Lohan. The fighting season in Afghanistan had begun, too, but in the U.S., the decade-old war is now largely ignored.

It can't be ignored here in the farm fields of Sangin district, where the Taliban have buried thousands of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). One wire is attached to a flashlight battery and another to a plastic jug of explosives, and each is glued to a thin board. When one board is pressed against the other, the wires make contact, sparking an explosion.

Over the past six months, two members of the Third Platoon of Kilo Company, Fifth Marine Regiment, have been killed, two have lost limbs and eight have suffered shrapnel or bullet wounds. A quarter of the original platoon is now gone.

I had embedded with the platoon once before, in January, so the routine was familiar. A point man on a patrol detects one or more IEDs, and then a Taliban gang in civilian clothes usually opens fire. Marine snipers and machine-gunners shoot back, while a squad maneuvers around the flank, forcing the enemy to retreat.

Nighttime brings an interlude. The Taliban stay snug indoors, safe from night-vision devices. Third Platoon lives in cave-like rooms inside an abandoned compound. In the evening, the young men, all in their early 20s, act their raucous age, playing loud music and laughing hilariously at absurd jokes.

When I rejoined the platoon in mid-March, the rhythm hadn't changed. We were only an hour into the patrol when Yaz detected a wire buried in the soil. He snipped it and marked the location of the explosives for disposal by engineers. The patrol proceeded north, passing pulverized compounds and a few groups of men who stared with flat hostility. The Marines ignored them. With no police or language capabilities, the platoon knew who was an enemy only when he opened fire.

On the roof of a small, square house, a large white Taliban flag was flying. "That's the classic Italian salute," Lt. Vic Garcia, the platoon commander, said. "There's probably an IED hidden inside."

Now on his third combat tour, Lt. Garcia has infused his platoon with an aggressive instinct, but he's not foolhardy. "We're looking for a fight," he said. "But we think before we move. There's no way we'll search an empty house."

Over the radio came a report of a dozen motorcyclists converging to our front. We watched as several families ran from the fields into their compounds. About 700 yards away, two motorcyclists puttered to a stop and sat watching us.

"We got a dicker [watcher]," Sgt. Joseph Myers said. "He's crawling in the ditch to our left."

The rules of engagement forbid shooting a man for crawling forward to take a closer look or for talking on a hand-held radio, but such actions usually tip off an attack. For several minutes, the Marines watched the Taliban watching them. No shots were fired, so Yaz slowly led the patrol to the west.

The motorcyclists paralleled our movement, keeping their distance. It reminded me of an old Western movie, with the Comanches riding along the skyline, staying out of range of the cavalry's rifles. In this case, the Taliban knew they were safe as long as they didn't display weapons. Eventually we headed back to base, and the motorcyclists drove off in the opposite direction.

Since September, the Third Platoon has shot somewhere between 125 and 208 Taliban—as many as one enemy killed per patrol. That rate may not seem high, but the cumulative effect has been crushing. Marine tactics, like Ohio State football, have the subtle inevitability of a steamroller.

"We got a radio intercept yesterday," Lt. Garcia said. "Some Talib leaders in Pakistan were chewing out the local fighters for quitting. The locals yelled back, 'Marines run toward our bullets.'"

When we arrived at the Marine base a few miles away, Capt. Nick Johnson, the commander of Kilo Company, was waiting. He had watched the patrol's movement via video streamed from a tethered blimp overhead. I said it reminded me of the blimp at the Super Bowl.

"That's a different world," replied Capt. Johnson, who is on his third combat tour. "In the States, a bad day for a guy on his way to the office is a flat tire. A bad day out here is a double amputee. The public pays attention to Charlie Sheen. No one's heard of Sgt. Abate."

Sgt. Matthew Abate is the Third Platoon's hero. When a patrol hit a minefield in late October, Sgt. Abate had left his safe position and run to apply tourniquets and carry out the screaming, grievously wounded men. He was killed in action five weeks later, but only the platoon remembers his name.

When the U.S. military withdrawal begins this summer, the generals will declare success. But no one knows what will happen after that. Half of the Third Platoon believes the Afghan government will succeed, and half believes the country will remain a mess, with continued tribal fighting. Either way, airpower will prevent the Taliban from seizing Kabul.

The members of the platoon do not care about bringing freedom and development to Afghanistan. They are here because they believe they're defending America. They have volunteered to serve, and most of them will leave the military after four years, with no pension or benefits. They endure the mud, heat, stench, blood, fatigue and terror of lost limbs and lost lives. There is hard bark on these young men.

What bothers them is that the valor of grunts like Sgt. Abate goes without much public recognition. Hollywood's recent war movies tend to feature psychotics instead of heroes. Only one Medal of Honor has been awarded to a living infantryman in 10 years, and the paperwork for a second one has languished for 18 months.

The grunts chose their profession, and they draw satisfaction from their Spartan existence. Almost every member of the Third Platoon said he wanted to be right where he was, living in a cave on the most dangerous battlefield in Afghanistan. It has been a long war, and the American public has understandably lost interest, but these soldiers have not lost their devotion to the mission or their country.

—Mr. West's latest book is "The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan."
24987  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Japan's Earthquake on: April 10, 2011, 07:27:23 AM

 shocked shocked shocked
24988  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Entrepeneurship on: April 10, 2011, 07:19:24 AM
One of the E4 being pushed by Glenn Beck is Entrepeneurship.  If America is to become again what we are meant to be Entrenpeneurship must be allowed and encouraged to flourish. Coincidentally enough, here's this by the author of the Dilbert comic:

I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That's like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn't it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship?

Scott Adams
 .I speak from experience because I majored in entrepreneurship at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. Technically, my major was economics. But the unsung advantage of attending a small college is that you can mold your experience any way you want.

There was a small business on our campus called The Coffee House. It served beer and snacks, and featured live entertainment. It was managed by students, and it was a money-losing mess, subsidized by the college. I thought I could make a difference, so I applied for an opening as the so-called Minister of Finance. I landed the job, thanks to my impressive interviewing skills, my can-do attitude and the fact that everyone else in the solar system had more interesting plans.

The drinking age in those days was 18, and the entire compensation package for the managers of The Coffee House was free beer. That goes a long way toward explaining why the accounting system consisted of seven students trying to remember where all the money went. I thought we could do better. So I proposed to my accounting professor that for three course credits I would build and operate a proper accounting system for the business. And so I did. It was a great experience. Meanwhile, some of my peers were taking courses in art history so they'd be prepared to remember what art looked like just in case anyone asked.

One day the managers of The Coffee House had a meeting to discuss two topics. First, our Minister of Employment was recommending that we fire a bartender, who happened to be one of my best friends. Second, we needed to choose a leader for our group. On the first question, there was a general consensus that my friend lacked both the will and the potential to master the bartending arts. I reluctantly voted with the majority to fire him.

But when it came to discussing who should be our new leader, I pointed out that my friend—the soon-to-be-fired bartender—was tall, good-looking and so gifted at b.s. that he'd be the perfect leader. By the end of the meeting I had persuaded the group to fire the worst bartender that any of us had ever seen…and ask him if he would consider being our leader. My friend nailed the interview and became our Commissioner. He went on to do a terrific job. That was the year I learned everything I know about management.

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Turning the Classroom Upside Down
.At about the same time, this same friend, along with my roommate and me, hatched a plan to become the student managers of our dormitory and to get paid to do it. The idea involved replacing all of the professional staff, including the resident assistant, security guard and even the cleaning crew, with students who would be paid to do the work. We imagined forming a dorm government to manage elections for various jobs, set out penalties for misbehavior and generally take care of business. And we imagined that the three of us, being the visionaries for this scheme, would run the show.

We pitched our entrepreneurial idea to the dean and his staff. To our surprise, the dean said that if we could get a majority of next year's dorm residents to agree to our scheme, the college would back it.

It was a high hurdle, but a loophole made it easier to clear. We only needed a majority of students who said they planned to live in the dorm next year. And we had plenty of friends who were happy to plan just about anything so long as they could later change their minds. That's the year I learned that if there's a loophole, someone's going to drive a truck through it, and the people in the truck will get paid better than the people under it.

The dean required that our first order of business in the fall would be creating a dorm constitution and getting it ratified. That sounded like a nightmare to organize. To save time, I wrote the constitution over the summer and didn't mention it when classes resumed. We held a constitutional convention to collect everyone's input, and I listened to two hours of diverse opinions. At the end of the meeting I volunteered to take on the daunting task of crafting a document that reflected all of the varied and sometimes conflicting opinions that had been aired. I waited a week, made copies of the document that I had written over the summer, presented it to the dorm as their own ideas and watched it get approved in a landslide vote. That was the year I learned everything I know about getting buy-in.

“Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers? That's like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn't it make sense to teach them something useful instead?

For the next two years my friends and I each had a private room at no cost, a base salary and the experience of managing the dorm. On some nights I also got paid to do overnight security, while also getting paid to clean the laundry room. At the end of my security shift I would go to The Coffee House and balance the books.

My college days were full of entrepreneurial stories of this sort. When my friends and I couldn't get the gym to give us space for our informal games of indoor soccer, we considered our options. The gym's rule was that only organized groups could reserve time. A few days later we took another run at it, but this time we were an organized soccer club, and I was the president. My executive duties included filling out a form to register the club and remembering to bring the ball.

By the time I graduated, I had mastered the strange art of transforming nothing into something. Every good thing that has happened to me as an adult can be traced back to that training. Several years later, I finished my MBA at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. That was the fine-tuning I needed to see the world through an entrepreneur's eyes.

If you're having a hard time imagining what an education in entrepreneurship should include, allow me to prime the pump with some lessons I've learned along the way.

Combine Skills. The first thing you should learn in a course on entrepreneurship is how to make yourself valuable. It's unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it's easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well. I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The "Dilbert" comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That's how value is created.

Fail Forward. If you're taking risks, and you probably should, you can find yourself failing 90% of the time. The trick is to get paid while you're doing the failing and to use the experience to gain skills that will be useful later. I failed at my first career in banking. I failed at my second career with the phone company. But you'd be surprised at how many of the skills I learned in those careers can be applied to almost any field, including cartooning. Students should be taught that failure is a process, not an obstacle.

Find the Action. In my senior year of college I asked my adviser how I should pursue my goal of being a banker. He told me to figure out where the most innovation in banking was happening and to move there. And so I did. Banking didn't work out for me, but the advice still holds: Move to where the action is. Distance is your enemy.

Scott Adams
 .Attract Luck. You can't manage luck directly, but you can manage your career in a way that makes it easier for luck to find you. To succeed, first you must do something. And if that doesn't work, which can be 90% of the time, do something else. Luck finds the doers. Readers of the Journal will find this point obvious. It's not obvious to a teenager.

Conquer Fear. I took classes in public speaking in college and a few more during my corporate days. That training was marginally useful for learning how to mask nervousness in public. Then I took the Dale Carnegie course. It was life-changing. The Dale Carnegie method ignores speaking technique entirely and trains you instead to enjoy the experience of speaking to a crowd. Once you become relaxed in front of people, technique comes automatically. Over the years, I've given speeches to hundreds of audiences and enjoyed every minute on stage. But this isn't a plug for Dale Carnegie. The point is that people can be trained to replace fear and shyness with enthusiasm. Every entrepreneur can use that skill.

Write Simply. I took a two-day class in business writing that taught me how to write direct sentences and to avoid extra words. Simplicity makes ideas powerful. Want examples? Read anything by Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett.

Learn Persuasion. Students of entrepreneurship should learn the art of persuasion in all its forms, including psychology, sales, marketing, negotiating, statistics and even design. Usually those skills are sprinkled across several disciplines. For entrepreneurs, it makes sense to teach them as a package.

That's my starter list for the sort of classes that would serve B students well. The list is not meant to be complete. Obviously an entrepreneur would benefit from classes in finance, management and more.

Remember, children are our future, and the majority of them are B students. If that doesn't scare you, it probably should.

—Mr. Adams is the creator of "Dilbert."
24989  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Dowd on Dylan on: April 10, 2011, 07:05:46 AM
Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind
Published: April 9, 2011
Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out.

The idea that the raspy troubadour of ’60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout — even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Qaddafi’s family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.
Before Dylan was allowed to have his first concert in China on Wednesday at the Worker’s Gymnasium in Beijing, he ignored his own warning in “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — “Better stay away from those that carry around a fire hose” — and let the government pre-approve his set.

Iconic songs of revolution like “The Times They Are a-Changin,’ ” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” wouldn’t have been an appropriate soundtrack for the 2,000 Chinese apparatchiks in the audience taking a relaxing break from repression.

Spooked by the surge of democracy sweeping the Middle East, China is conducting the harshest crackdown on artists, lawyers, writers and dissidents in a decade. It is censoring (or “harmonizing,” as it euphemizes) the Internet and dispatching the secret police to arrest willy-nilly, including Ai Weiwei, the famous artist and architect of the Bird’s Nest, Beijing’s Olympic stadium.

Dylan said nothing about Weiwei’s detention, didn’t offer a reprise of “Hurricane,” his song about “the man the authorities came to blame for something that he never done.” He sang his censored set, took his pile of Communist cash and left.

“The Times They Are Not a-Changin’,” noted The Financial Times under a picture of the grizzled 69-year-old on stage in a Panama hat.

“Imagine if the Tea Party in Idaho said to him, ‘You’re not allowed to play whatever,’ you’d get a very different response,” said an outraged Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch.

A 22-year-old Dylan did walk off “The Ed Sullivan Show” when CBS censors told him he couldn’t sing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”

But he’s the first to admit he cashes in.

David Hajdu, the New Republic music critic, says the singer has always shown a tension between “not wanting to be a leader and wanting to be a celebrity.”

In Hajdu’s book, “Positively 4th Street,” Dylan is quoted saying that critics who charged that he’d sold out to rock ’n’ roll had it backward.

“I never saw myself as a folksinger,” he said. “They called me that if they wanted to. I didn’t care. I latched on, when I got to New York City, because I saw (what) a huge audience there was. I knew I wasn’t going to stay there. I knew it wasn’t my thing. ... I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow.”

“Folk music,” he concluded, “is a bunch of fat people.”

He can’t really betray the spirit of the ’60s because he never had it. In his memoir, “Chronicles,” he stressed that he had no interest in being an anti-establishment Pied Piper and that all the “cultural mumbo jumbo” imprisoned his soul and made him nauseated.

“I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of,” he said.

He wrote that he wanted to have a house with a white picket fence and pink roses in back, live in East Hampton with his wife and pack of kids, eat Cheerios and go to the Rainbow Room and see Frank Sinatra Jr. perform.

“Whatever the counterculture was, I’d seen enough of it,” he wrote. He complained of being “anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent.”

Performing his message songs came to feel “like carrying a package of heavy rotting meat,” he wrote.

Hajdu told me that Dylan has distanced himself from his protest songs because “he’s probably aware of the kind of careerism that’s apparent in that work.” Dylan employed propaganda to get successful but knows those songs are “too rigidly polemical” to be his best work.

“Maybe the Chinese bureaucrats are better music critics than we give them credit for,” Hajdu said, adding that Dylan was now “an old-school touring pro” like Frank Sinatra Sr.

Sean Wilentz, the Princeton professor who wrote “Bob Dylan in America,” said that the Chinese were “trying to guard the audience from some figure who hasn’t existed in 40 years. He’s been frozen in aspic in 1963 but he’s not the guy in the work shirt and blue jeans singing ‘Masters of War.’ ”

Wilentz and Hajdu say you can’t really censor Dylan because his songs are infused with subversion against all kinds of authority, except God. He’s been hard on bosses, courts, pols and anyone corrupted by money and power.

Maybe the songwriter should reread some of his own lyrics: “I think you will find/When your death takes its toll/All the money you made/Will never buy back your soul.”
24990  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH editorial: Kagan dissents on: April 10, 2011, 06:16:43 AM
Perhaps Big Dog can comment here, but this is an area in Constitutional law where I am not clear in my thinking.  The Bill of Rights was written and passed it did not apply to the States and many States (a majority?) did support particular religions without oppressing other religions.  With Incoporation this changed, but I am not getting the distress of Kagan and the NY Times editorial board here; the State is not directing the money to a particular religion, the citizen is.  What is the problem?


In the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling about a school-choice program in Arizona, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion leaves intact a program that has disbursed almost $350 million of state funds, most of it to schools choosing students on the basis of religion.

The holding all but overrules a landmark decision of the Warren court, Flast v. Cohen. As Justice Elena Kagan says powerfully in her first dissent, “by ravaging Flast in this way,” the majority “damages one of this nation’s defining constitutional commitments.”

The First Amendment’s establishment clause — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” — is meant to protect citizens even when they are not harmed. Before, under Flast, a taxpayer could ask a court to enforce this central right. Now, under this ruling, a taxpayer all but can’t, and any government can use the tax system to avoid challenges to financing of religion.

The only difference between cases considered under Flast since 1968 and the current one is the means of government spending. In past cases, it has come through appropriations. In this case, the money comes through a tax credit: any taxpayer can redirect up to $500 of what he or she owes the state to a nonprofit that uses the money for scholarships. What the court calls a tax credit and Arizona calls a voluntary cash contribution is, concretely, a redirected tax payment.

Justice Kennedy, in an opinion clearly intended to overturn legal precedent, says that the program’s financing comes from taxpayers taking advantage of this credit, not from the state, so the taxpayers bringing the lawsuit can claim no harm from the state and lacked standing to sue. To Justice Kagan, “this novel distinction,” has “as little basis in principle as it has in our precedent.” Whether a state finances a program with cash grants or targeted tax breaks, the effect is the same. Taxpayers bear the cost.

Since the Flast case, she writes, “no court — not one — has differentiated between these sources of financing in deciding about standing.” In five cases where taxpayers challenged tax expenditures, the court has dealt with the merits “without questioning the plaintiffs’ standing.” The court has relied on some of these decisions as “exemplars of jurisdiction” in other cases. (“Pause on that for a moment,” the justice entreats.)

When this case was argued last fall, the convolutions of the Arizona program seemed intended to mask its violation of the Constitution. The court’s ruling is another cynical sleight of hand, which will reduce access to federal courts while advancing endorsement of religion.

24991  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: April 09, 2011, 08:29:25 PM
@Doug:  cool
24992  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: April 09, 2011, 08:24:14 PM
Eastern Baghdad is Mookie Sadr territory, yes?  I read his point is to stop hit burbles coming out of some in the White House about extending the stay of the US Army in Iraq.  The US staying longer than promised would be a huge red flag to several powerful groups in Iraq besides Sadr.

24993  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Free Running Training Facility on: April 09, 2011, 08:19:25 PM
24994  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Reality begins to assert itself on: April 09, 2011, 08:50:25 AM
After being pushed and pulled this year by tumult in the Middle East and the quake in Japan, the world's financial markets are increasingly being driven by economic fundamentals, including inflation and interest rates.

The winners in the shift have been precious metals and emerging-market currencies such as the Brazilian real and the Korean won—a sign of the growing split between healthier and still-sluggish quarters of the global economy such as Japan, the U.S. and parts of Europe.

 .The shift is roiling markets around the world. Several currencies and precious metals hit all-time or multiyear highs Friday. Some Asian governments intervened in the currency markets on two different days this week, buying billions of dollars to drive down the value of their soaring currencies, traders said.

Gold hit a new record and posted its biggest weekly gain in a year. Silver closed above $40 an ounce Friday for the first time in 31 years and has more than doubled over the past year.

Rising inflation is a key factor driving the emerging market currencies and precious metals. "For the longest time, people were concerned that inflation would start to build to levels where central banks are moved into action," says Mark Enman, head of global trading at Man Investments (USA) LLC. "That point was somewhere on the horizon, and now the horizon is here."

 .Investors who believe inflation can be tamed are buying currencies in countries where central banks are raising interest rates to control prices. So far this year, central banks in at least 18 developing economies have raised interest rates, according to RBC Capital Markets. That diverse list includes China, which raised rates this past week, along with Israel, Poland and Uruguay. Brazil and India were virtually alone in raising rates last year.

Those higher rates make the currencies more attractive, leading to big flows of capital into those countries. Brazil, after months of fighting the tide of money into the country, this week allowed its currency to rise sharply to help its own fight against inflation. Other central banks, especially in Asia, continue to battle investors who are bidding up the value of their currencies in order to protect the competitiveness of export industries.

The impact of rates was a focus this week when the European Central Bank raised interest rates by one-quarter of a percentage point, becoming the first central bank among the world's three major currencies to boost rates. The euro rose just over 1% against the dollar Friday, its biggest one-day gain since the start of the year, and is up 1.65% over the past week.

The U.S. currency also lost 1.4% against the Australian dollar and was even weaker against the Brazilian real, falling 2.7%.

The moves in gold and currencies come as economic officials are about to convene in Washington late next week for the annual spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Officials from the Group of Seven developed economies meet Thursday, and the broader Group of 20 talks Friday.

High on the agendas is how the rest of the world will help Egypt and Tunisia revamp their economies. But currencies are always part of the conversation in these meetings, both in private and public comments. The wording of communiques is seen by officials and markets as a way for governments to send smoke signals to investors and to pressure each other.

The dollar and yen are weakening against nearly all global currencies because the relatively slow economic recoveries of America and Japan mean their central banks are unlikely to raise interest rates in coming months. After spiking to a record high after last month's Japanese earthquake, the yen has fallen more than 5% against the dollar in the past three weeks—a significant move for a major currency—and fell more against other currencies.

U.S. investors are worried about the Federal Reserve's "quantitative easing" plan of bond buying, which ends in June. In anticipation of lower demand for bonds from the Fed, they have been driving up the yields on U.S. Treasurys, which rose to their highest level in a month. The possible shutdown of the U.S. government over the budget impasse added to the anxiety.

The past few weeks have been a contrast to previous months, when worries about the European governments defaulting on their debts or of upheaval in Middle Eastern countries had assets moving in lock-step. When fear was the prevailing emotion, the dollar rose, and when investors were less worried, riskier assets ranging from the euro to oil to stocks took off.

Now, all different assets are moving based on their own fundamentals. U.S. stocks have continued to rise—even as the dollar sinks—because American corporations are profitable, strong and growing.

—Carolyn Cui and Matt Whittaker contributed to this article.
Write to Tom Lauricella at and Justin Lahart at

24995  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BATF ordering agents to not cooperate? on: April 09, 2011, 08:45:03 AM
Grassley says emails suggest ATF blocking Senate gun probe

By Jerry Seper

The Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, who has questioned whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed suspected gun smugglers to purchase assault rifles that later may have been used in the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, wants to know if ATF has ordered its agents not to cooperate in his investigation of the shooting.

In a letter Friday to ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson, Sen. Charles E. Grassley said emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act "appear to contain proposed guidance" on how to respond to questions from the senator's office, including instructions that agents were "in no way obligated to respond" and should refer inquiries in the matter to ATF's office of congressional affairs.

The Iowa Republican described the emails as "further attempts to prevent direct communications with my office" by telling agents they were "not authorized to disclose non-public information.

"It is of grave concern because, as you know, such attempts to prevent direct communications with Congress are not a lawfully authorized activity of any officer or employee of the United States whose salary is paid with appropriated funds," he wrote.

Mr. Grassley has raised questions on whether ATF allowed suspected gun smugglers to purchase and keep assault rifles that later were used to kill Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, and if the agency allowed the sale of the weapons to "known and suspected straw purchasers for an illegal trafficking ring near the Southwest border." He said two of those weapons reportedly were recovered at the site of the Terry shooting.

The senator said ATF agents told his staff the agency, as part of "Project Gunrunner" and its "Fast and Furious" component, allowed guns to "walk" across the border, despite warnings from agents in the field that the policy would result in somebody getting killed. "Fast and Furious" was a gunrunning sting set up by ATF that funneled more than 1,700 smuggled weapons from Arizona to Mexico.

Terry, 40, was attempting to arrest bandits who prey on illegal aliens when he was fatally shot about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Grassley said ATF had been tracking the gun purchases of one of those arrested in the shooting, Jaime Avila, since November 2009 when he made his first buys at a Glendale, Ariz., gun shop. He said Avila bought three more weapons at the same dealer on Jan. 9, 2010, and three AK-47 assault rifles on Jan. 16. Over the next several months, he said ATF continued to track his multiple firearms purchases, including two purchases of .50-caliber rifles in June 2010.

While at least one Arizona gun dealer wanted to stop participating in sales "like those to Avila," he said ATF encouraged the dealer to continue selling to suspected traffickers.

After the Terry shooting, law enforcement officials recovered from the scene two assault rifles that were traced by the agency and matched two of the three rifles purchased by Avila "and tracked by ATF nearly a year earlier."

The Justice Department has denied that guns sold in purchases sanctioned by federal firearms agents were later used in the shootout that left Terry dead. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ronald Weich said in a letter to Mr. Grassley that the claim was false.

In his letter, Mr. Grassley said that for Congress to exercise its oversight authority and act as a check on executive power, it was "crucial" that agency employees were free to communicate directly with members of Congress and their committee staffs. He said without such unfiltered communications, "Congress would still be unaware of and unable to inquire about the serious allegations involving the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the sales of weapons to known and suspected gun traffickers."

Among the emails noted by Mr. Grassley was one to ATF Deputy Director Billy Hoover regarding suggestions on how agents should be directed to respond to congressional requests.

"Since our investigation began, I've continued to be contacted by agents and others within ATF about wrongdoing regarding Fast and Furious at the ATF and the Justice Department," Mr. Grassley said. "If people have concerns they should be able to express themselves without feeling pressure from their bosses."

He said one agent who contacted him was George Gillett, assistant special agent in charge of the ATF's Phoenix field division, who chose to disclose to the agency that he had protected contacts with Congress. Mr. Grassley said the contact was "an essential component of our inquiry," noting that the high-ranking ATF agent had participated in two meetings with staffs from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
24996  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH's Gail Collins on: April 09, 2011, 08:36:40 AM
Donald Trump has written a letter complaining about me.

 “Her storytelling ability and word usage (coming from me, who has written many bestsellers), is not at a very high level,” he penned.
Although Trump and I have had our differences in the past, I never felt it was personal. In fact, until now, I have refrained from noting that I once got an aggrieved message from him in which he misspelled the word “too.”

But about the letter. Mainly, it’s a list of alleged evidence that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Trump has made this the centerpiece of his faux presidential campaign, falling further and further into the land of the lunatic fringe. I find this a disturbing spectacle — a little like seeing a guy you know from the neighborhood suddenly turn up in the middle of Times Square with his face painted blue and yelling about space aliens.

“Bill Ayers wrote ‘Dreams From My Father,’ I have no doubt about it,” Trump told Joe Scarborough, who reported on

Ayers is the former ’60s radical who became a huge Republican talking point in 2008 because he had once given a house party for Obama when he was running for state senate. It’s a pretty big jump from coffee and cookies to writing an entire book, but I guess that’s what neighbors are for.

“That first book was total genius and helped get him elected,” Trump continued. “But you can tell Obama did the second book himself because it read like it was written by somebody of average intelligence with a high school education.”

Did I mention that, in his letter, Trump complained about my calling him a “birther” because the word was “very derogatory and meant in a derogatory way”? Obama, of course, graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School — if you can believe Columbia and Harvard Law.

“Three weeks ago I thought he was born in this country. Right now I have some real doubts. I have people that actually have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they’re finding,” Trump announced on “Today.”

Trump does not actually seem to have people studying, or even Googling. Still, he sounds very self-assured. This is because before he was a reality-show host, he was in the New York real estate business, a profession in which it is vital to be able to say imaginary things with total certainty. (“I have five other people who are begging me to sell them this property. Begging.”)

Let’s run over some of his arguments:

THE GRANDMOTHER STORY “His grandmother in Kenya stated, on tape, that he was born in Kenya and she was there to watch the birth,” Trump wrote. This goes back to a trans-Atlantic telephone call that was made in 2008 by Ron McRae, an Anabaptist bishop and birther, to Sarah Obama, the president’s 86-year-old stepgrandmother. He asked her, through an interpreter whether she was “present when he was born in Kenya.”  The translator responded: “She says, yes, she was. She was present when Obama was born.”

It is at this point that some of the tapes floating around the Web stop, which means that the listener doesn’t get to hear the follow-up, which makes it very clear that Sarah Obama misunderstood. The full conversation ends with the interpreter saying, for the umpteenth time: “Hawaii. She says he was born in Hawaii. In the state of Hawaii, where his father, his father was learning there. The state of Hawaii.”

THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE If only Hawaii made its birth records public, and charged people a thousand dollars a pop to look at them, the state’s budget problems would be solved by the conspiracy theorists. However, it doesn’t. If you were born in Hawaii and request a copy of your birth certificate, you get a certification of live birth, which the federal government accepts for passports. Barack Obama requested his in 2007, and his campaign posted it on the Internet.

“A certificate of live birth is not even signed by anybody. I saw his. I read it very carefully. It doesn’t have a serial number. It doesn’t have a signature,” said Trump on “Today.”

The document has the stamped signature of the state registrar. The University of Pennsylvania’s made a pilgrimage to the Obama campaign headquarters, examined the document, felt the seal, checked the serial number and reported that it looked fine.

THE EMPTY PHOTO ALBUM “Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere,” Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference to great applause. “In fact, I’ll go a step further. The people that went to school with him, they never saw him; they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.”

This week on CNN, Suzanne Malveaux played Trump clips of Hawaiians reminiscing about the schoolchild Obama for a documentary the network had done on the president.

“Look, I didn’t say that ... If he was 3 years old or 2 years old or 1 year old and people remember him, that’s irrelevant,” Trump responded. “You have to be born in this country.”

Recent polls have shown Trump running second among potential Republican primary voters. I believe this is not so much an indication of popularity as a desperate plea to be delivered from Mitt Romney.
24997  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CA Gun owners! on: April 09, 2011, 01:42:35 AM
24998  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DB Tribal Gathering Fighter List on: April 08, 2011, 05:59:13 PM
BTW, remember that ALL fighters must have their registration form in before they are officially confirmed.  Just appearing on this thread is not enough.  This thread is simply for us to get a preliminary sense of who is coming, for fighters to set up fights, and general banter.
24999  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Mona Charen on Hamilton on: April 08, 2011, 08:05:41 AM
His face adorns the $10 bill, but as Richard Brookhiser, host of "Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton" (airing on PBS April 11), finds when conducting a quick street canvas -- many Americans cannot identify him.

"Washington has a monument," Brookhiser intones. "Jefferson has a memorial. It's often said that New York City is Hamilton's monument."

That would be more than enough for any man, yet, as this engrossing film from producer Michael Pack makes clear, it doesn't quite do justice to the genius of Hamilton. First secretary of the Treasury, a drafter of the Constitution, author of two-thirds of the Federalist Papers, and father of the U.S. economy, Hamilton was also the prototype of the self-made American success -- the original Horatio Alger hero, and then some.

Unlike the planters, wealthy merchants, and successful lawyers from established families who comprised the other founders, Hamilton was born in the Virgin Islands, "the bastard brat of a Scotch peddler," as John Adams sneered in one of his less charitable moments. (To be fair, Hamilton could be lacerating about Adams, too.)

He was a bastard -- but some brat. At age 11, orphaned and penniless, Hamilton found work in a St. Croix counting house. There he learned that strong application could yield advancement. He was so gifted at administration that his boss was willing to leave the 14-year-old Alexander in full charge of the business when he left for four months.

Also in St. Croix, Hamilton saw the suffering of slaves, forced to work endless hours in the scorching sun harvesting sugar cane. The camera lingers on the lanky, bamboo-shaped stalks. Most slaves, Brookhiser notes, "died within seven years." Hamilton became a fervent and lifelong opponent of slavery.

So prodigious were his talents that a few of the merchants on St. Croix sponsored his emigration to the colonies to further his education. He was 16. Within the next two decades, he would serve as deputy to Gen. George Washington, achieve glory in battle himself, excel at the law, and, from nothing, create for his adopted country its first monetary system, its first fiscal system, its first accounting system, and its first central bank. He also founded the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, and the New York Post. In a touching moment, the film captures the ritual in which newly minted Coast Guard officers -- to this day -- salute the grave of the service's founder.

Historical documentarians face a problem -- no footage. Most resort to long pans of period paintings, or linger over photographs and sunsets, or throw in the occasional actors in period costume marching off to battle, along with talking heads. There's nothing wrong with that style (Ken Burns, the master of the genre, has a great new film on Prohibition coming in October). But this film takes a different approach, setting itself firmly in the contemporary world -- the world that Hamilton did so much to create.

Brookhiser travels from a prison in the Virgin Islands, where he chats with women who, like Hamilton's mother, are behind bars, to the People's Court for a re-enactment of one of Hamilton's famous law cases, to the hectic streets of New York City, pulsing with business. He and Bernard-Henri Levi play-act the meeting between Hamilton and Talleyrand. He chats with Larry Flynt about the sex scandal that nearly ended Hamilton's career, and with former gang members about the touchy matter of honor, which did end his life.

To appreciate Hamilton fully, it's necessary to set the stage, as Brookhiser and historian Ron Chernow do, explaining that after the Revolution, the United States was an economic cripple, deeply in debt, its currencies nearly worthless as a result of inflation.

"We were," says Chernow, "the deadbeat of world finance. We were like a Third World country." Hamilton steered the new republic toward solvency. (We could use him now!)

Unlike the other founders, Chernow notes, who had mainly "pre-capitalist worldviews" with a strong bias toward agriculture, and who tended to see commerce and manufacturing as "corrupting influences," Hamilton foresaw that the United States could become a great trading nation. From his earliest days in the St. Croix counting house, doing business with people from around the world speaking many languages, Hamilton understood that wealth is created by trade and commerce, not just from the soil.

Hamilton was an economic wizard, but also a profound political philosopher, a deep-dyed patriot, a gifted administrator who served as Washington's informal "prime minister" during the first president's term -- and also a human being with weaknesses and foibles. He spoke brilliantly, the film reminds us, but sometimes too much. He might have bitten his tongue a bit more on the subject of Vice President Aaron Burr. But he did not, and the film takes us, reluctantly but inexorably, to the dueling ground at Weehawken, N.J., where we feel anew that day's terrible toll.
25000  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / France struggles in Libya, reality b*tch slaps Baraq on: April 08, 2011, 07:51:46 AM
From: "Stratfor" <>
To: "Akita23" <>
Subject: France Struggles in Libya as the U.S. Focuses Elsewhere
Date: Thursday, April 07, 2011 10:07 PM

April 8, 2011


France responded to rising criticism Wednesday from eastern Libyan rebels stating that NATO is not doing enough to protect them from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, as the air campaign nears the three-week mark. The rebels posit that NATO is overly concerned with avoiding civilian casualties, and as a result, it is allowing the Libyan army to regain territory lost during its low point last week. Indeed, the army's most recent counteroffensive has taken it back through Brega, with Ajdabiya now within its sights once again, while the rebel enclave of Misrata in western Libya continues to get bombarded by loyalist forces on a daily basis. France, which was the biggest proponent of involvement in Libya from the start, would very much like to step up the intensity of the campaign against Gadhafi, but is handicapped by the rules of engagement that NATO is operating under and the inherent limitations of airpower. Thus, French officials took time Wednesday to explain (in couched terms) why it is not Paris' fault that NATO jets are not pursuing the enemy more aggressively and how France was trying to adjust the way the military operation is being conducted.

"The United States was conspicuously absent from Wednesday's debate over whether NATO is doing enough in Libya."

French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe and French Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud both said Wednesday that NATO’s aversion to killing civilians is the main problem facing the operation. While Juppe was slightly less direct in his criticism of NATO, Paris clearly sees the current situation as unlikely to lead to any real success on the battlefield. More than two weeks of daily airstrikes have taken out almost all of the easy targets, and Gadhafi has shifted his tactics to avoid drawing enemy fire, meaning that a stalemate is fast approaching. Indeed, Juppe expressed fears that at the current pace, NATO forces risk getting "bogged down" in a situation that has the ability to linger on for months without producing a clear-cut winner.
NATO officials tried to defend its record in response to the rebel criticism and the French complaints, with one spokesman saying Wednesday that its planes have flown more than 1,000 sorties -- with at least 400 of them strike sorties -- in the last six days, and on April 5 alone it flew 155 sorties, with almost 200 planned for Wednesday. This is unlikely to mollify concerns from those who want more intense action, however, about the potential for the Libyan intervention to accomplish nothing but create an uneasy, de facto partition. As no one -- not even Paris -- wants to put boots on the ground, though, the best solution Jupee could proffer was to broach the topic of NATO's timid approach with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a Wednesday meeting. There, he was expected to push the suggestion for NATO to create a safe sea lane connecting Misrata to Benghazi, so that supplies could be shipped in by unknown naval forces.

The United States was conspicuously absent from Wednesday's debate over whether NATO is doing enough in Libya. While French foreign policy is focused almost entirely on Africa (where France is involved in two conflicts, the other being the Ivory Coast), Washington’s attention span is divided between Libya and the Persian Gulf.

The Persian Gulf may appear a lot calmer than it did three weeks ago, but the challenge of containing Iran looms large. Washington is seeking now to mend damaged ties with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that felt they did not receive enough American support during February and March. In addition, Washington is likely having second thoughts about its scheduled withdrawal from Iraq this summer, and suspects that Iran may have been seeking to foment much of the instability that was seen in Bahrain, which had a slight ripple effect on the situation in Saudi Arabia's own Shiite-rich Eastern province.
?U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited both Riyadh and Baghdad Wednesday, while U.S. Central Command Gen. James Mattis was in Manama, three regional capitals that form a line of American Arab alliances that serve as strong counters to Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Maintaining the balance of power between the Saudis (and by extension, the other five Gulf Cooperation Council countries, as well as Iraq) and Iranians in the Persian Gulf is of the utmost importance for the United States, certainly more important than anything that might occur in Libya. ?

Gates visited Saudi Arabia at a time in which relations between the United States and the kingdom are at their lowest in nearly a decade, as a result of what Riyadh viewed as American indecisiveness during not just the uprising in Bahrain, but also in Egypt and elsewhere. Saudi King Abdullah canceled a meeting in March with Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, officially due to his health. However, it could have been seen as anger over how Washington was treating allied regimes during the midst of the popular unrest that has been spreading across the region since January. While he was there, he made the strongest comments to date by U.S. officials about the role of Iranian meddling in the region, saying for the first time that the United States has explicit evidence of a destabilization campaign hatched by Tehran. This was music to Saudi ears, as Riyadh and its GCC cohorts have been pushing this notion for the past several weeks in public, and the past several years in private, as seen by the WikiLeaks cables from Riyadh.

Meanwhile, Mattis' presence in Bahrain was a sign that while the United States may still be committed to the al-Khalifa family engaging in reforms, it is not about to abandon them in the face of the popular uprising that has largely been suppressed. Washington's support for Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, is by extension support for Saudi Arabia, as Shiite unrest in one directly affects the Shiite population in the other.
?It was most interesting that Gates ended his trip in Baghdad, where the United States is trying to withdraw forces by the end of the year. Washington is officially still committed to its withdrawal timetable, especially with U.S. President Barack Obama now officially back in campaign mode for the 2012 elections. Iraq was labeled by Obama during the 2008 campaign as the "wrong war" and has staked a large chunk of his political capital upon following through with a pledge to withdraw. But the events of 2011, and the strategic imperative of maintaining the balance of power in the Persian Gulf as a means of countering Iranian power, may be cause for a broken promise, or a slightly delayed one at least.


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