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25051  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton, Federalist 78-- the Judiciary on: May 27, 2011, 10:48:03 AM
"Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them." --Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 78, 1788
25052  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: June 18-19 Guro Crafty in Memphis, TN on: May 27, 2011, 09:05:21 AM
Me too.  Glad to see all the support, not just from our Memphis folks, but from nearby and not-so-nearby people.
25053  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Prayers for Prof. Wally Jay on: May 27, 2011, 09:04:08 AM
Prayers for Prof. Wally Jay, whom we have heard is in the hospital due to a stroke.
25054  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Syria, Iran on: May 26, 2011, 09:58:50 PM

Mohsen Chizari gets around.

A top commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Chizari was hit with sanctions last week by the Obama administration. Given his nationality, one might assume that he was sanctioned in relation to the Iranian regime's nuclear pursuits or its crackdown on dissidents. In fact, Chizari, the Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani, and the organization itself were targeted for abetting oppression somewhere else: Syria.

According to the U.S. government, the Iranians are complicit in the Assad regime's "human rights abuses and repression of the Syrian people."

If Chizari's name sounds familiar, it may be because he was arrested by U.S. troops in Baghdad in December 2006. According to media reports, Chizari was detained while inside the compound of Iraqi Shiite leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim with another Quds Force commander. The two men were reportedly in possession of detailed reports about weapons shipments into Iraq, including of so-called explosively formed projectiles, which were responsible for the deaths of scores of U.S. soldiers. Chizari was subsequently expelled into Iran by the Iraqi government.

It should come as little surprise that Chizari has shown up in both hot spots. Wherever there's trouble, he'll be there to aid the troublemakers or stir things up himself.

The Quds Force reports directly to Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and it serves as the linchpin in Iran's regional strategy. Iran funds and arms groups like Hezbollah to threaten Israel and thwart democracy-building in Lebanon. And it equips terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan to stymie U.S. efforts to establish peace and security in those places. In all of these cases, the Quds Force is the regime's instrument of choice.

Iran's leaders crowed when popular uprisings unseated their old foes Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. But the travails of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad have clearly caused concern in Tehran. Assad is a longtime ally of Iran, and under his rule Syria has served as a conduit eastward for foreign fighters to enter Iraq to fight U.S. troops, and for Iranian weaponry to flow westward to arm Hezbollah and Hamas. Damascus is essentially the bar scene from "Star Wars" for terrorists in the Middle East, providing a locale where Iranian allies such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad can coordinate unperturbed.

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Associated Press
Syrian President Bashar Assad
.Were Assad to fall, a key link in Iran's strategic chain across the region would be broken. While Iran could possibly find work-arounds to supply Hezbollah, such as by sea or air, it would lose both strategic depth and an eager ally. Furthermore, if protesters in Syria were to inspire Iran's own democracy activists to redouble their efforts, the Iranian regime would find itself in serious peril. Thus it is unsurprising that it has dispatched the Quds Force to help Assad stop the Arab Spring at his doorstep.

Iran's latest involvement in Syria should be a wake-up call. Iran's direct assistance in the Syrian regime's crackdown has attracted criticism from many quarters; it's even put Tehran at odds with erstwhile allies such as Turkey. Iran's actions have also contributed to a shift in the Obama administration's approach toward Tehran. In addition to imposing sanctions on Chizari and his ilk, on April 22 President Obama said that Assad was mimicking Iran's "brutal tactics."

Ultimately, tough words and sanctions will not be enough. Chizari and his exploits in Iraq and Syria represent one facet of the threat posed by Iran. If our hopes for freedom and stability in the region are to be realized, we must defeat Iran's efforts to expand its power and influence—above all by denying it the nuclear weapons that would further its destabilizing designs.

Mr. Singh is the managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.

25055  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan: Unsustainable on: May 26, 2011, 09:56:11 PM
second post of the day:

Saw Paul Ryan interviewed by Bret Baier this evening.  Very impressive guy, able to express himself clearly, briefly, confidently, and effectively-- but I agree where he is right now (Chairman of House Budget Committee IIRC) is where he can do the most good. 

We're at a funny place. The American establishment has finally come around, in unison, to admitting that America is in crisis, that our debt actually threatens our ability to endure, that if we don't make progress on this, we are going to near our endpoint as a nation. I am struck very recently by the number of leaders in American business, politics and journalism who now get a certain faraway look at the end of an evening or a meal and say, "It's worse than people think, you know." The debt crisis in Europe is not easing but worsening, the U.S. bond markets could bail tomorrow, the culture of Washington will kill any serious attempts at reform . . .

The American establishment, on both sides of the political divide, is admitting as never before that we are in an existential challenge. And this is progress. It was not always so! It wasn't so two years ago.

That's one takeaway from this week's Peterson Foundation fiscal summit in Washington. Bill Clinton spoke of "permanent structural deficits" and warned that "arithmetic still matters." We must focus on entitlement spending, he said, "for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: That's where the money is." Virginia's Democratic Sen. Mark Warner: "Congress is Thelma and Louise in that car headed for the cliff." Obama administration economic adviser Gene Sperling—more on him in a minute—called for "serious discussion" of the specifics of a debt-reducing plan.

Republicans were on the same page. No one said, "We can grow our way out of this thing," or "The negative effects of chronic debt are exaggerated, let's look at the positive side." They would have been laughed out of the room.

The people, of course, saw the crisis coming before most politicians did, and every elected official in Washington is now quick to preface interviews with, "The people were ahead of us on this." They say this with an air of discovery, the little Sherlocks. The people were ahead of them. Public concern began to deepen in the polls after the introduction of the new spending bills that followed the crash of 2008. Voter concern was made vivid in the 2009 and 2010 elections, when centrists voted like old-style Republicans who worried about red ink.

Elected officials began to get the message. Now they've got it. Our spending and debt are—and it is interesting that this is the first great buzzword of the new decade—"unsustainable."

But here's how we're in a funny place. The great question now is whether the people who alerted the establishment to the crisis will trust that establishment to deal with it. The people have been like Paul Revere riding through the night warning, "The bankruptcy is coming!" It's unclear whether they'll now trust the politicians to take the right action.

There are many reasons the public might resist Washington's prescriptions, and we know what they are. There are data demonstrating that people like government programs but not government costs. Many people feel they've personally played by all the rules and will reject any specific cuts or taxes that will put new burdens on them.

There's also this. The very politicians who are trying to get us out of the mess are the politicians who got us into the mess. Why would anyone trust them? As Alan Simpson admitted, for generations politicians "were told to go to Washington and bring home the bacon. Go get the money!" Now they must change: "You can't bring home the bacon anymore, because the pig is dead."

Some of the politicians talking about how to stop the spending crisis are the same politicians who, for many years, said there was no crisis. They're like forest creatures who denied there was a fire when everyone else could smell the smoke and hear the crackle. Then the flames roar in, and the politicians say, "Follow me, I know the path out of the blaze!" It will be hard for them to win the trust that will get the American people to back a path out and through.

Rep. Paul Ryan was at the summit, soldiering on. His main problem on Medicare is that people fear the complexities and demands of a new delivery system.

People who draw up legislation, people capable of mastering the facts of the huge and complicated federal budget, often think other people are just like them. It's almost sweet. But normal people don't wear green eyeshades. Republicans think people will say, when presented with new options for coverage, "Oh good, another way to express my freedom! I can study health insurance now and get a policy that will benefit not only me but our long-term solvency!" But normal people are more likely to sit slouched at the kitchen table with their head in their hands. "Oh no, another big decision, another headache, 50 calls to an insurance company, another go-round with the passive-aggressive phone answerer who, even though she's never met me, calls me Freddy as she puts me on hold."

Republicans believe government gives insufficient respect to the ability of people to decide things for themselves, and that's true. But it's also true that normal humans don't relish making informed decisions about things they're not sure of, and that carry big personal implications.Here's the great thing about Medicare: You turn 65 and it's there. They give you a card and the nurse takes it.  (MARC: This seems to me to be a very perceptive observation.)

Supporters of Mr. Ryan's Medicare plan must talk very specifically about how this would all work, and why it would make your life better, not worse. They also have to make two things clearer. One is that if nothing is done to change Medicare, the system will collapse. You'll give the card to the nurse and she'll laugh: "We don't take that anymore." This already happens in doctors offices. Without reform it will happen more often.

Democrats, on the other hand, should be forced to answer a question. If you oppose the highly specific Ryan plan, fine, but tell us your specific proposal. How will you save Medicare? Will you let it die?

If Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling's presentation at the summit was indicative of White House strategy, then we're in trouble. Because that strategy comes down to windy and manipulative statements about how "we're all in this together" but GOP proposals "will lead to millions of children . . . losing their coverage." He added: "We are not criticizing their plan, we are explaining it."

It is a long time since I've seen such transparent demagoguery, such determined dodging. It's obvious the White House political plan for 2012 is this: The Democrats will call for fiscal discipline and offer no specifics or good-faith starting points. They will leave the Republicans to be specific, and then let them be hanged with their candor. Democrats will speak not of what they'll do but only of what they would never do, such as throw grandma out in the snow. In honeyed tones, Mr. Sperling said both parties should "hold hands and jump together," like Butch and Sundance. But it was clear Sundance was going to stop at the edge of the cliff and hope Butch gets broken on the rocks.

25056  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tax Policy on: May 26, 2011, 09:43:20 PM
Exactly so.

BTW Hillary's amazing futures trading profits  wink were a commodity straddle scheme which made sense only under the 70% rates of the late 70s.  When rates came down under Reagan to 30% major amounts of money that had been hiding in tax shelters (real estate with accelerated depreciation was ideal for this) no longer had reason to do so and allowed itself to be exposed to taxation.  This led to an amazing statistical increase in the numbers of millionaires which liberals decried as an increasing concentration of wealth  rolleyes when really it meant a higher taxation on the cash flow previously hidden by the non-cash expenditures of accelerated depreciation.
25057  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Israel's dilema on: May 26, 2011, 04:20:13 PM
Thank you BD

My third post of the day:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor speaking to the AIPAC conference, May 22:

The following story illustrates Israel's dilemma. A Palestinian woman from Gaza arrives at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba for lifesaving skin treatment for burns over half her body. After the conclusion of her extensive treatment, the woman is invited back for follow-up visits to the outpatient clinic. One day she is caught at the border crossing wearing a suicide belt. Her intention? To blow herself up at the same clinic that saved her life.

What kind of culture leads one to do that? Sadly, it is a culture infused with resentment and hatred. It is this culture that underlies the Palestinians' and the broader Arab world's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. This is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the '67 lines.

And until Israel's enemies come to terms with this reality, a true peace will be impossible.

And the reality, as we say in Hebrew, is "Ahm Yisrael Chai: The people of Israel live. And what they want is to live in peace. If the Palestinians want to live in peace in a state of their own, they must demonstrate that they are worthy of a state.

To Mr. Abbas, I say: Stop the incitement in your media and your schools. Stop naming public squares and athletic teams after suicide bombers. And come to the negotiating table when you have prepared your people to forego hatred and renounce terrorism—and Israel will embrace you. Until that day, there can be no peace with Hamas. Peace at any price isn't peace; it's surrender. For the survival of Israel, for the security of America and peace of the world, now is that time and right here is the place to begin.

25058  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Mercury emissions on: May 26, 2011, 04:14:14 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued 946 pages of new rules requiring that U.S. power plants sharply reduce their (already low) emissions of mercury and other air pollutants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims that while the regulations will cost electricity producers $10.9 billion annually, they will save 17,000 lives and generate up to $140 billion in health benefits.

There is no factual basis for these assertions. To build its case against mercury, the EPA systematically ignored evidence and clinical studies that contradict its regulatory agenda, which is to punish hydrocarbon use.

Mercury has always existed naturally in Earth's environment. A 2009 study found mercury deposits in Antarctic ice across 650,000 years. Mercury is found in air, water, rocks, soil and trees, which absorb it from the environment. This is why our bodies evolved with proteins and antioxidants that help protect us from this and other potential contaminants.

Another defense comes from selenium, which is found in fish and animals. Its strong attraction to mercury molecules protects fish and people against buildups of methylmercury, mercury's biologically active and more toxic form. Even so, the 200,000,000 tons of mercury naturally present in seawater have never posed a danger to any living being.

How do America's coal-burning power plants fit into the picture? They emit an estimated 41-48 tons of mercury per year. But U.S. forest fires emit at least 44 tons per year; cremation of human remains discharges 26 tons; Chinese power plants eject 400 tons; and volcanoes, subsea vents, geysers and other sources spew out 9,000-10,000 additional tons per year.

VAll these emissions enter the global atmospheric system and become part of the U.S. air mass. Since our power plants account for less than 0.5% of all the mercury in the air we breathe, eliminating every milligram of it will do nothing about the other 99.5% in our atmosphere.

In the face of these minuscule risks, the EPA nevertheless demands that utility companies spend billions every year retrofitting coal-fired power plants that produce half of all U.S. electricity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which actively monitors mercury exposure, blood mercury counts for U.S. women and children decreased steadily from 1999-2008, placing today's counts well below the already excessively safe level established by the EPA. A 17-year evaluation of mercury risk to babies and children by the Seychelles Children Development Study found "no measurable cognitive or behavioral effects" in children who eat several servings of ocean fish every week, much more than most Americans do.

The World Health Organization and U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry assessed these findings in setting mercury-risk standards that are two to three times less restrictive than the EPA's.

The EPA ignored these findings. Instead, the agency based its "safe" mercury criteria on a study of Faroe Islanders, whose diet is far removed from our own. They eat few fruits and vegetables, but they do feast on pilot-whale meat and blubber that is laced with mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—but very low in selenium. The study has limited relevance to U.S. populations.

As a result, the EPA's actions can be counted on to achieve only one thing—which is to further advance the Obama administration's oft-stated goal of penalizing hydrocarbon use and driving a transition to unreliable renewable energy.

The proposed standards will do nothing to reduce exaggerated threats from mercury and other air pollutants. Indeed, the rules will worsen America's health and well-being—especially for young children and women of child-bearing age. Not only will they raise heating, air conditioning and food costs, but they will scare people away from eating nutritious fish that should be in everyone's diet.

America needs affordable, reliable electricity. It needs better health and nutrition. It needs an EPA that focuses on real risks, instead of wasting hard-earned taxpayer and consumer dollars fabricating dangers and evidence.

Mr. Soon, a natural scientist at Harvard, is an expert on mercury and public health issues. Mr. Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

25059  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Rove on NY's 26th vote on: May 26, 2011, 04:07:27 PM

Five and a half weeks after House Republicans passed their budget, Democrats and liberal pundits have decided it is political kryptonite that will fatally weaken the GOP.

Their evidence is Tuesday's special election in New York's 26th district, where Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin for a vacant congressional seat. This is not just any congressional district, but one carried by George W. Bush and John McCain in the last two presidential elections, and one represented for 58 years by a Republican.

Liberals can barely contain their glee. MSNBC's Ed Schultz said the outcome left "Republicans scrambling" while the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne said "it will petrify" Republicans. Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) said it proved "Democrats have the keys to drive the budget debate and play offense in 2012."

Most, but not all, of this is wishful thinking. Ms. Hochul won a plurality (47%) of the votes, not a majority, getting only one percentage point more than Barack Obama as he was losing the district in 2008. Not exactly a compelling performance.

Democrats won only because a third-party candidate—self-proclaimed tea partier Jack Davis—spent a reported $3 million of his own money. Absent Mr. Davis as a spoiler—he got 9% of the vote—Democrats would never have made a serious bid for this district, nor won if they did. Ironically, Mr. Davis ran for the same seat in the last three elections as a Democrat. This year he ran as a populist conservative.

Still the question remains: Did the Medicare reforms proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and supported by Ms. Corwin play a role in the outcome? The answer is yes, though not with the blunt force and trauma some Democrats are claiming.

Polling by American Crossroads (an independent expenditure group with which I'm associated) showed that while Ms. Hochul's Medicare attacks galvanized Democrats, they swayed few independents. Among voters who had an unfavorable view of Ms. Corwin, just 20% focused on Medicare, with most Democrats already voting for Ms. Hochul.

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Associated Press
Jane Corwin
.A larger percentage of those voters with an unfavorable opinion of Ms. Corwin's campaign—26%—were concerned about an ugly on-camera incident involving her chief of staff yelling at Mr. Davis in a parking lot. These voters felt Mr. Davis was being unfairly harassed. The defection of these overwhelmingly Republican and independent voters doomed Ms. Corwin.

That's not to say Medicare didn't play an important role. Ms. Hochul pummeled Ms. Corwin over it. The GOP candidate did not respond with TV ads until the campaign's closing week, and only then with an ad many voters thought lacked credibility. It alleged Ms. Hochul had endorsed Medicare and Social Security cuts that she claimed she had not.

An earlier, more aggressive explanation and defense of the Ryan plan would have turned the issue: 55% in the Crossroads survey agreed with GOP arguments for the Ryan reforms while just 36% agreed with the Democrats' arguments against it.

Next year, Republicans must describe their Medicare reforms plainly, set the record straight vigorously when Democrats demagogue, and go on the attack. Congressional Republicans—especially in the House—need a political war college that schools incumbents and challengers in the best way to explain, defend and attack on the issue of Medicare reform. They have to become as comfortable talking about Medicare in the coming year as they did in talking about health-care reform last year.

There needs to be preparation and self-education, followed by extensive town halls, outreach meetings, visits to senior citizen centers, and the use of every available communications tool to get the reform message across.

A good starting point is Mr. Ryan's message from his speech at the Economic Club of Chicago that his Medicare reform package "makes no changes for those in or near retirement, and offers future generations a strengthened Medicare program they can count on, with guaranteed coverage options, less help for the wealthy, and more help for the poor and the sick."

The populist note is especially important: When he starts receiving Medicare, Bill Gates should bear a greater share of his health-care costs than the less healthy or less wealthy.

Defense, no matter how robust, well-informed and persistent, is insufficient. Republicans must also go on offense. Democratic nonchalance towards Medicare's bankruptcy in 2024 and the crushing debt it will leave for our children gives the GOP the chance to depict Democrats as tone deaf, irresponsible and reckless. The country can't afford Democratic leaders who simply order the orchestra to play louder as the Titanic tilts and begins to slide under.

Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of "Courage and Consequence" (Threshold Editions, 2010).

25060  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Stephen Moore: 62%?!? on: May 26, 2011, 04:01:28 PM

Unless I am missing something, there is a pears and apples problem comparing the 62% and the 70% number of the pre-Reagan years in that the former includes other taxes and the latter does not, but the fundamental point about the cumulative effect of the various taxes, current and proposed, in the present environment is profound.

Media reports in recent weeks say that Senate Democrats are considering a 3% surtax on income over $1 million to raise federal revenues. This would come on top of the higher income tax rates that President Obama has already proposed through the cancellation of the Bush era tax-rate reductions.

If the Democrats' millionaire surtax were to happen—and were added to other tax increases already enacted last year and other leading tax hike ideas on the table this year—this could leave the U.S. with a combined federal and state top tax rate on earnings of 62%. That's more than double the highest federal marginal rate of 28% when President Reagan left office in 1989. Welcome back to the 1970s.

Here's the math behind that depressing calculation. Today's top federal income tax rate is 35%. Almost all Democrats in Washington want to repeal the Bush tax cuts on those who make more than $250,000 and phase out certain deductions, so the effective income tax rate would rise to about 41.5%. The 3% millionaire surtax raises that rate to 44.5%.

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 .But payroll taxes, which are income taxes on wages and salaries, must also be included in the equation. So we have to add about 2.5 percentage points for the payroll tax for Medicare (employee and employer share after business deductions), which was applied to all income without a ceiling in 1993 as part of the Clinton tax hike. I am including in this analysis the employer share of all payroll taxes because it is a direct tax on a worker's salary and most economists agree that though employers are responsible for collecting this tax, it is ultimately borne by the employee. That brings the tax rate to 47%.

Then last year, as part of the down payment for ObamaCare, Congress snuck in an extra 0.9% Medicare surtax on "high-income earners," meaning any individual earning more than $200,000 or couples earning more than $250,000. This brings the total tax rate to 47.9%.

But that's not all. Several weeks ago, Mr. Obama raised the possibility of eliminating the income ceiling on the Social Security tax, now capped at $106,800 of earnings a year. (Never mind that the program was designed to operate as an insurance system, with each individual's payment tied to the benefits paid out at retirement.) Subjecting all wage and salary income to Social Security taxes would add roughly 10.1 percentage points to the top tax rate. This takes the grand total tax rate on each additional dollar earned in America to about 58%.

Then we have to factor in state income taxes, which on average add after the deductions from the federal income tax roughly another four percentage points to the tax burden. So now on average we are at a tax rate of close to 62%.

Democrats have repeatedly stated they only intend to restore the tax rates that existed during the Clinton years. But after all these taxes on the "rich," we're headed back to the taxes that prevailed under Jimmy Carter, when the highest tax rate was 70%.

Taxes on investment income are also headed way up. Suspending the Bush tax cuts, which is favored by nearly every congressional Democrat, plus a 3.8% investment tax in the ObamaCare bill (which starts in 2014) brings the capital gains tax rate to 23.8% from 15%. The dividend tax would potentially climb to 45% from the current rate of 15%.

Now let's consider how our tax system today compares with the system that was in place in the late 1980s—when the deficit was only about one-quarter as large as a share of GDP as it is now. After the landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986, which closed special-interest loopholes in exchange for top marginal rates of 28%, the highest combined federal-state marginal tax rate was about 33%. Now we may be headed to 62%. You don't have to be Jack Kemp or Arthur Laffer to understand that a 29 percentage point rise in top marginal rates would make America a highly uncompetitive place.

What is particularly worrisome about this trend is the deterioration of the U.S. tax position relative to the rest of our economic rivals. In 1990, the highest individual income tax rate of our major economic trading partners was 51%, while the U.S. was much lower at 33%. It's no wonder that during the 1980s and '90s the U.S. created more than twice as many new jobs as Japan and Western Europe combined.

It's true that the economy was able to absorb the Bush 41 and Clinton tax hikes and still grow at a very rapid pace. But what the soak-the-rich lobby ignores is how different the world is today versus the early 1990s. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, over the past two decades the average highest tax rate among the 20 major industrial nations has fallen to about 45%. Yet the highest U.S. tax rate would rise to more than 48% under the Obama/Democratic tax hikes. To make matters worse, if we include the average personal income tax rates of developing countries like India and China, the average tax rate around the world is closer to 30%, according to a new study by KPMG.

What all this means is that in the late 1980s, the U.S. was nearly the lowest taxed nation in the world, and a quarter century later we're nearly the highest.

Despite all of this, the refrain from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and most of the Democrats in Congress is our fiscal mess is a result of "tax cuts for the rich." When? Where? Who? The Tax Foundation recently noted that in 2009 the U.S. collected a higher share of income and payroll taxes (45%) from the richest 10% of tax filers than any other nation, including such socialist welfare states as Sweden (27%), France (28%) and Germany (31%). And this was before the rate hikes that Democrats are now endorsing.

Perhaps there can still be a happy ending to this sad tale of U.S. decline. If there were ever a right time to trade in the junk heap of our federal tax code for a pro-growth Steve Forbes-style flat tax, now's the time.

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

25061  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 26, 2011, 03:29:40 PM
"If you are terminally ill with less than a year to live, you can smoke anything you want.  But at the end of the year, unlike the released and Lockerbie bomber, you have to keep your part of the bargain."

Does this mean Grandma has to commit hara-kiri if she is still alive?  Isn't that against the law?  cheesy

25062  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: May 26, 2011, 03:22:24 PM
Egypt has announced that it will be opening up the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip this coming Saturday. The move represents a shift in the attitude of Cairo toward the Palestinian territory and is informed by both domestic and foreign policy needs. More important, the move has the potential to create complications between Israel and Egypt.

Egypt has decided to permanently open the Rafah border crossing, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any restrictions for the flow of Palestinian traffic coming from Gaza into Egypt. For starters, it will only be a daytime thing between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and there will be no border crossing on Fridays and holidays. Then there is a restriction in terms of demographics — women will be allowed to go back and forth without a visa but men between the ages of 18 and 40 will require a visa, while those who are not within this age bracket will be allowed free movement. It’s not clear right now what will be the rules regulating the flow of goods because that’s the big concern in terms of weapons coming in, which is a primary concern for Israel and of course the Egyptians share that concern because they don’t want a spillover of any militant traffic moving back and forth between their country and the Palestinian territory.

There are a number of reasons why Egypt has decided that it will open up the Rafah border crossing. One has to do with the reconciliation that is taking place and is being brokered by Cairo between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah and the efforts toward the formation of a unity government. One of the ways in which Hamas was brought onto the table was that Cairo allow for the opening of the border crossings so this was an incentive which has resulted in Hamas moving forward on the efforts to reconcile with Fatah. That is very important for Egypt because it wants to be able to take a greater ownership over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially as it is trying to manage a transition at home and given the regional turmoil that is taking place in the form of popular unrest in the other Arab countries.

The biggest implication is the Israeli concern about how the opening of this border crossing is going to impact Israeli security, knowing that while Hamas may be ruling Gaza and may not necessarily have an interest in hostilities with Israel but then Hamas does not have a monopoly over the militant landscape in Gaza. There are many rival factions that engage in unilateral firing of rockets and there are forces within Hamas that are not comfortable with the reconciliation and insist on maintaining the path of militancy. So from an Israeli point of view this isn’t good news, but then again it’s difficult to imagine that Egypt went ahead with this policy shift and did not take Israel into confidence. For Israel, the big problem is they have very little faith in this working such that militants don’t take advantage of the opening of this border crossing.

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25063  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: May 26, 2011, 03:02:38 PM
25064  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: May 26, 2011, 02:12:19 PM
Good post Doug.
25065  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 26, 2011, 02:10:37 PM
Does anyone know if this forum has a "Poll" function?   I'd love to see a vote on who is "winning" this conversation!
25066  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Fascism, liberal fascism, progressivism, socialism: on: May 26, 2011, 10:20:14 AM

Out of Business

Mises Daily: Thursday, May 26, 2011 by A Manufacturer

The last few years as an executive in a manufacturing company gave me a frighteningly close look at the inner workings of regulators in our government. Maybe I'm just naïve, but what I discovered was shocking.

In the past, I realized our leaders were disingenuous when they spoke about "creating jobs" and "improving the economy." Now, I have a slightly different take. After my experiences this year, and after giving this a lot of thought, I am adamant that our leaders have no business in the first place "creating jobs," or "improving the economy," or even claiming they have the ability to do so.

In fact, I have witnessed the loss of jobs as a direct result of regulations by unnamed and unelected bureaucrats, who are backed up by threats of prosecution from the government. Our government is stifling job creation.

Although I am not a conspiracy theorist, I am certain that if I wrote about my experience with specifics, the company for which I work would suffer retribution by our government. I do not have the right to put them in jeopardy. And if the legal department of my employer knew I was writing this, they would "lose it." For these reasons, I feel it necessary to write anonymously and with some imprecision.

This fear of retribution, in and of itself, is a powerful statement about the sad conditions in which we live and do business in the United States.

So, here is the sanitized version of my story:

My employer makes very expensive pieces of equipment for use in an industry that has itself sustained undeserved attacks by our government and by unscrupulous so-called environmentalists.[1]

In any case, our pieces of equipment (let's call them tractors) use expensive components (let's call them engines) made and sold by Americans. The engines are used by American workers in multiple states and they make more energy available for Americans. That fact alone attracts the ire of some. But the fact that our service is very valuable and produces large profits makes the industry and the service an irresistible target.

This year, I learned that one agency of the federal government has created and is enforcing rules that strictly limit the types and numbers of engines we can buy to make our tractors. They limit how many of each type of engine we can buy in a year, and they limit the grand total we can buy. This is offensive for many reasons — not the least of which is that we would hire more people if we were allowed to make more tractors.

I could make an endless list of the unseen and damaging effects of their nonsense. But here is a short list:

Without these rules, we would hire more welders, assemblers, and accountants. This would result in the improvement of our local economy, because the new employees and their families would all need food, clothing, housing, entertainment, etc.

To keep up with our increased demand for the tractor engines we need, the engine manufacturers, their employees, and their families would benefit.  The companies to which we sell tractors would hire more operators. Their families and the places they shop at would benefit.

The companies who request our product would become more profitable, resulting in expansions, bonuses, etc.

And, last (and totally forgotten) are the American citizens. Each and every citizen would benefit from the larger supply of energy and the resultant lower prices.

Some people might say that it is good to limit the numbers of these engines in order to protect the environment. But that argument only holds water long enough for a ten-second sound bite. The reality is that this destructive government agency also has rules that permit smaller versions of the same engines. What that means is that we would be permitted to create 50 tractors using the (approved) smaller engines instead of 20 using the larger ones. It is true that the larger engine pollutes more than the smaller one. But using the smaller engines would require more tractors to be built and more fuel to bring them to the job sites. In other words, using fewer tractors with the larger (evil) engines produces fewer net emissions than more tractors with the smaller (approved) engines would.

So, who is causing all this, and why are they doing it?


You can answer that question for yourself by discovering who benefits from the regulations. The list includes the politicians who use these issues to their advantage regardless of the truth. It includes the government bureaucrats who want more power to justify their own salaries and positions. It also includes reporters who can't wait for the next "breaking news" about an "environmental threat," or "dire emergency." And it includes university professors and other academic elites who come in to petition for huge government grants and to get paid to speak as "experts." The dark irony is that all these supposed protectors are really engaging in a self-serving round robin of deceit.

The truth is they are horrifically destructive to the prosperity and well-being of all Americans. But because their public faces hide the despicable truth, they have been able to get away with it.

Our only hope is to get these people out of business — literally and figuratively. I've got to be honest, though. It won't be easy. They are fighting for their livelihoods, too.

25067  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison, Federalist 41 on: May 26, 2011, 09:33:12 AM
"Every man who loves peace, every man who loves his country, every man who loves liberty ought to have it ever before his eyes that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the Union of America and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it." --James Madison, Federalist No. 41.

25068  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gun Humor on: May 26, 2011, 09:32:07 AM
Arizona Department of Safety Officer pulled over a pick-up truck owner for a faulty taillight. When the officer approached the driver, the man
behind the wheel handed the officer his driver’s license, insurance card and
a concealed weapon carry permit.

The officer took all the documents, looked them over and said. "Mr..
Smith, I see you have a CCP. Do you have any weapons with you?"

The driver replied, " Yes sir, I have a 357 handgun in a hip holster, a
..45 in the glove box and a .22 derringer in my boot."

The officer looked at the driver and asked, "Anything else?"

"Yes sir, I have a Mossberg 500 12 gauge and an AR-15 behind the seat."

The officer asked if the man was driving to or from a shooting range
and the man said he wasn't, so the officer bent over and looked into the
driver's face and said "Mr. Smith, you're carrying quite a few guns.
May I ask what you are afraid of?

Mr. Smith locked eyes with the officer and calmly answered,
   "Not a fucking thing!"

25069  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Spengler on: May 26, 2011, 09:26:07 AM
 Israel as Middle Eastern hegemon
By Spengler

Like the vanishing point in a perspective painting, long-term projections help us order our perceptions of what we see in front of us today. Here's one to think about, fresh from the just-released update of the United Nations' population forecasts: At constant fertility, Israel will have more young people by the end of this century than either Turkey or Iran, and more than German, Italy or Spain.

Population aged 15 to 24 years, Israel vs selected countries

Source: United Nations Population Division

With a total fertility rate of three children per woman, Israel's total
population will rise to 24 million by the end of the present century. Iran's fertility is around 1.7 and falling, while the fertility for ethnic Turks is only 1.5 (the Kurdish minority has a fertility rate of around 4.5).

Not that the size of land armies matters much in an era of high-tech warfare, but if present trends continue, Israel will be able to field the largest land army in the Middle East. That startling data point, though, should alert analysts to a more relevant problem: among the military powers in the Middle East, Israel will be the only one with a viable population structure by the middle of this century.

That is why it is in America's interest to keep Israel as an ally. Israel is not only the strongest power in the region; in a generation or two it will be the only power in the region, the last man standing among ruined neighbors. The demographic time bomb in the region is not the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank, as the Israeli peace party wrongly believed, but rather Israel itself.

The right way to read this projection is backwards: Israelis love children and have lots of them because they are happy, optimistic and prosperous. Most of Israel's population increase comes from so-called "secular" Israelis, who have 2.6 children on average, more than any other people in the industrial world. The ultra-Orthodox have seven or eight, bringing total fertility to three children.

Europeans, Turks and Iranians, by contrast, have very few children because they are grumpy, alienated and pessimistic. It's not so much the projection of the demographic future cranked out by the United Nations computers that counts, but rather the implicit vision of the future in the minds of today's prospective parents.

People who can't be bothered to have children presumably have a very dim view of days to come. Reams have been written, to be sure, about Europe's demographic tailspin. Less has been said about Persian pessimism and Anatolian anomie.

Paradoxically, this makes Israel's present position dangerous, for its enemies understand that they have a very brief window in which to encircle the Jewish superpower. The collapse of Egypt and possibly that of Syria shortens this window. Nothing short of American support for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state on the 1949 armistice lines followed by economic sanctions against Israel, though, is likely to make a difference, and this seems unlikely.

Israel already is a high-tech superpower. Israeli leads the Group of 7 industrial nations in patent applications. As Professor Reuven Brenner of McGill University wrote in the January 2010 issue of First Things:
Today Israel's venture capital industry still raises more funds than any other venue except the United States. In 2006 alone, 402 Israeli hi-tech companies raised over $1.62 billion - the highest amount in the past five years. That same year, Israel had 80 active venture capital funds and over $10 billion under management, invested in over 1,000 Israeli start-ups.
Maintaining the stunning progress of the past decade will be a challenge, because Israel's high-tech sector received a one-time boost from Russian emigration. As Brenner observes:
Of the million Russians who moved to Israel during the 1980s and 1990s, more than 55 percent had post-secondary education, and more than half held academic and managerial positions in their former country ... This made Israel the world leader in the scientist and engineer workforce, followed by the United States with 80 and Germany with 55 scientists and engineers per 10,000 members of its labor force.
Israel's prowess in the arts matches its accomplishments in technology and business. Israel has become something of a superpower in that most characteristically Western art form, classical music. In a July 21, 2010, survey of Israeli music for the webzine Tablet, I wrote, "Israelis take to classical music - the art form that most clearly creates a sense of the future - like no other people on earth, to the point that music has become part of Israel's character, an embodiment of the national genius for balancing hope and fear."

Israel has one the largest local audience for chamber music recitals of any country in the world, and its leading musicians occupy top slots around the world - for example Guy Braunstein, concertmaster (principal violin) of the Berlin Philharmonic.

This, I believe, explains the implacable hostility of Israel's neighbors, as well as the Europeans. It is the unquenchable envy of the dying towards the living. Having failed at Christianity, and afterward failed at neo-pagan nationalism, Europe has reconciled itself to a quiet passage into oblivion.

Israel's success is a horrible reminder of European failure; its bumptious nationalism grates against Europe's determination to forget its own ugly embrace of nationalism; and its implicitly religious raison d'etre provokes post-Christian rage. Above all, it offends Europe that Israel brims with life. Some of Europe's great nations may not survive the present century. At constant fertility, Israel will have more citizens than any of the Eastern European countries where large numbers of Jews resided prior to the Holocaust.

Total population, Israel vs selected Eastern European countries (constant fertility scenario)

Source: United Nations Population Division

In the constant fertility scenario, Israel will end the century at a median age of 32, while Poland will have a median age of 57. That is an inherently impossible outcome, because in that case most of Poland's population would be elderly dependents. To support them, the remaining young people would have to emigrate and work overseas (perhaps in Israel).

The Muslim world, meanwhile, is turning grey at an unprecedented rate. Turkey's and Iran's median age will surpass the 40-year mark by mid-century, assuming constant fertility, while Israel's will stabilize in the mid-30s. Europe will become an impoverished geriatric ward.

Median age in years (constant fertility assumption)

Source: United Nations Population Division

The implications of these trends have not escaped the leaders of the affected countries. "If we continue the existing trend, 2038 will mark disaster for us," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned in May 2010 (see The heart of TurknessAsia Times Online, March 23, 2011).

I do not know whether Erdogan chose the year 2038 by statistical projection, or whether he consulted the Muslim counterpart of Harold Camping, but it will do as well as any. Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, has warned repeatedly of "national extinction" if the country's low birth rate persists.

What happens to Egypt and Syria in this scenario is of small importance. Neither country will come out of the present crisis in any condition to fight, if they come out of it at all. Egypt's social structure - with two-fifths of the country immured in extreme rural poverty, and another quarter starving on thin subsidies in Cairo and Alexandria - simply is not viable.

It needed only one swift kick to shatter, and that came from the doubling of food prices. The rebellion that deposed Hosni Mubarak made things much worse; the collapse of tourism and other sources of foreign exchange, the jump in import prices, and flight capital have left Egypt without the funds to cover half its annual import bill. The country will be broke by year-end, despite US President Barack Obama's aid package (The hunger to come in Egypt Asia Times Online, May 10, 2011).

Development economists have known for years that a disaster was in the works. A 2009 World Bank report on Arab food security warned, "Arab countries are very vulnerable to fluctuations in international commodity markets because they are heavily dependent on imported food. Arab countries are the largest importers of cereal in the world. Most import at least 50 percent of the food calories they consume." The trouble is that the Arab regimes made things worse rather than better.

Egypt's rulers of the past 60 years intentionally transformed what once was the breadbasket of the Mediterranean into a starvation trap. They did so through tragedy, not oversight. Keeping a large part of one's people illiterate on subsistence farms is the surest method of social control.

Crop yields in Egypt are a fifth of the best American levels, and by design, for no Egyptian government wished to add more displaced peasants to the 17 million people now crowded into Cairo. Syrian President Basher al-Assad made a few tentative steps in this direction, and got a 100,000 landless farmers living in tent cities around Damascus (Food and Syria's failure Asia Times Online March 29, 2011).

Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak did not invent the system. Post-revolutionary Russia imprisoned its peasants on collective farms; as the Mexican historian Enrique Krauze showed (in his 1992 book TextosHereticos), post-revolutionary Mexico emulated the Stalinist model of social control and imposed its own system of collective farms during the 1930s.

Mexico eventually dumped a fifth of its population on its northern neighbor, mainly rural people from the impoverished south. The remaining Mexican poor provided an inexhaustible source of foot-soldiers for the drug cartels with which the Mexican government is fighting a low-intensity civil war.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, postponed these problems for three generations. It is governable only by military rule, de facto or de jure, because the military is the only institution that can take peasants straight from the farm and assimilate them into a disciplined social structure.

There is no civil society underneath the military. The collapse of Mubarak's military dictatorship came about when food price inflation revealed its incapacity to meet the population's basic needs. But the collapse of military rule and the flight of the army-linked oligarchy that milked the Egyptian economy for 60 years is a near-term disaster.

In place of the orderly corruption over which Mubarak presided, there is a scramble on the part of half-organized political groups to get control of the country's shrinking supply of basic goods. Civic violence likely will claim more lives than hunger.

Refugees from Libya and Tunisia have swamped the refugee camps on the closest Italian island, and hundreds have drowned in small boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean. By the end of this year, tourists on the Greek islands may see thousands of small boats carrying hungry Egyptians seeking help. Europe's sympathy for the Arab side may vanish under an inundation of refugees.

Events are most likely to overtake diplomacy. The sort of economic and demographic imbalances implied by the projections shown above reflect back into the present. Chaos in Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries probably will pre-empt the present focus on Israel and the Palestinians. It would not be surprising if the Palestinians were to mount another Intifada, or Egypt and Syria were to initiate one last war against Israel. It might be their last opportunity.

But I rate the probably of another war at well under 50%. The internal problems of Egypt and Syria are more likely to make war too difficult to wage.

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. Comment on this article in Spengler's Expat Bar forum.
25070  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: May 26, 2011, 09:18:01 AM
Egypt's caretaker government said it will permanently open its border with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the latest signal that post-revolutionary Egypt is breaking with the past regime's more cooperative policies toward Israel.

Israel relied on the cooperation of Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak to back up its blockade of Gaza, which began in 2007 after Hamas militants wrested control of the coastal Palestinian enclave from the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Mubarak's policy was extremely unpopular in Egypt. To the consternation of Israel, the military-led government that took over when protests ousted Mr. Mubarak three months ago has taken more populist positions.  Egypt upset Israel last month when it announced it had brokered a unity pact that brought together Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which is led by the more secular Fatah party. A day later, Cairo said it would open the Rafah border crossing, but the move was delayed in what many saw as an incentive for rival Palestinian factions to implement the reconciliation accord.

Egypt's decision to open the border highlighted the growing isolation of Israel, amid new friction between Israel and the U.S. Those tensions broke out last week when President Barack Obama publicly pressed Israel to make concessions on its borders to facilitate a peace deal with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting Washington, promptly rejected that overture.

On Wednesday, Egyptian officials spoke of the plight of the Palestinian people, and the need for Israel to do more to end the conflict.

"The Egyptian side is doing what they see fit for the sufferings of the people in Gaza. And the occupying power, they too have an obligation toward the people in the territory," said Menha Bakhoum, a spokeswoman for Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "This is the only thing we can tell the Israelis: They too have obligation towards [the Palestinians]."

Hamas officials welcomed the move. "We appreciate what the Egyptian government has done,'' said a spokesman for the organization.

Israeli officials said the border opening could erode Israeli security by allowing militants and weapons into the territory. "Israel is concerned with the potential opening of the crossing without proper control monitoring what's going in and what's going out. Even today the situation is not good enough,'' said an Israeli official.

Analysts said Mr. Netanyahu's hard-line stance has intensified popular pro-Palestinian pressure on Egypt's caretaker military government, which will hold power until parliamentary elections in September and the presidential vote that follows.

Members of Egypt's supreme military council, "like all politicians in Egypt, need to demonstrate a lot of daylight between themselves and the policies of the Mubarak era," said Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

View Full Image
.Some of the revolutionary fervor that felled the Mubarak regime in February has since turned against Israel. Several demonstrations have been held in front of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, most recently to commemorate the anniversary of what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe—Israel's declaration of statehood in 1948.

Police arrested nearly 200 protesters and used tear gas and shot live rounds in the air to disperse the crowds.

A Pew Research Center poll published in late April said 54% of Egyptians wanted to cancel Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Egypt is one of only two Arab nations that have formal diplomatic ties with Israel.

Ms. Bakhoum said only Palestinian men between the ages of 18 and 40, with some exemptions, will need visas to cross Egypt's border with Gaza. She said she hadn't been told why there was a visa restriction.

The Israeli government will have no say on who will be granted visas, Ms. Bakhoum said.

In the years after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and before Hamas's takeover in 2007, Israeli security officials were able to veto passage of Gazans at the border under a U.S.-brokered agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

The opening would allow the general public in Gaza to pass without Israeli monitoring.

Palestinians have relied on a network of tunnels under the Gaza border into Egypt to bypass the nearly four-year-old Israeli blockade.

Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, said that Israel will, at minimum, seek to clarify what security mechanisms will be used at the border. He said he believed Egypt was opening the border to reward Hamas for saying it would reconcile with the Western-backed Fatah party.

"This is a kind of reward for Hamas behaving according to Egyptian expectations," he said. "This is also a kind of leverage over Hamas—an attempt to tell them that they have a lot to lose if they misbehave."

Security for the Palestinian side of the border is a bone of contention between Palestinian factions. While the Palestinian Authority says it is the job of its security forces, Hamas will be reluctant to hand over control of the sensitive crossing point.

25071  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: May 26, 2011, 01:41:03 AM
"Lots of prominent commentators do not have the dedication to detail found here."

Around here we search for Truth.

The Adventure continues!
25072  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc) on: May 25, 2011, 06:24:43 PM
a) Well, as a first person layman's story, of course it is not sicentific.  smiley

b)  "2) intravenous reception of HIV-infected semen".  Ummm , , , I am almost too afraid to ask, but when I read "intravenous" I think of a needle connected to a tube connected to a bag of some fluid inserted into the forearm of a patient in a hospita.  I hope we are not talking about this with bags of semen?  shocked 

c) "The African studies are about circumcision reducing HIV transmission from HIV-infected *women* to *men* in sex."    I could be wrong, but this is not my understanding.  Do you have a citation? 

d) "The wife was spared HIV infection because she had a healthy vagina that kills the HIV virus in the semen."   I am well aware of the power of the vagina over my mind and body, but did not know that its powers extended to killing HIV.  Any citations?

e) " Likewise, her husband may elect to have a circumcision as an adult." A lot more problematic in adulthood!

f) All procedures have their risks, and accepting your data for this conversation the risks are rather small in contrast to the benefits.

Anyway, sounds like you are against circumcission and that is fine.  The problem is when personal matters are subjected to mob rule.   As for female circumcission, can you really not tell the difference?

25073  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: May 25, 2011, 06:07:57 PM
Ummm , , , just what are the standards for determining the line between state and federal responsibility in this sort of thing?
25074  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China-Phillipines on: May 25, 2011, 05:34:34 PM
The Philippine government continues to assess its security situation following a series of alleged incursions by the Chinese into disputed territories.

On May 20, just before the Chinese defense minister paid a visit to the Philippines, a report came out suggesting that two Chinese fighter jets had flown over Philippine territory in the disputed Spratly Islands. The story was initially played up as Chinese fighter jets shadowing Philippine patrol aircraft in the area but what later came out is that the Philippine OV-10s, which were patrolling the area, saw what they thought were contrails of fighter jets flying much higher and straight over the territory. But by bringing up a story right before the defense minister visited, it became a hot issue going into the talks.

The Spratly Islands are disputed by many claimants including the Philippines and China. Traditionally, control over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea was primarily an issue of sea-lane control and the ability to interdict sea lanes. But more recently, there’s been active investigation, active exploration and exploitation of deep-sea mineral resources of oil and gas off the ocean floor and as additional exploration takes place, the issue of the South China Sea and control over these islands becomes much more significant.

One of the reasons the issue is being played up so much in the Philippines is the Defense Ministry is trying to find ways to obtain more and more modern military resources, and this plays into the relationship of the United States. The United States is the primary supplier of military equipment to the Philippines, but the United States also still has an alliance structure with the Philippines. But it’s unclear what level of confrontation it would take before the United States would actually really take action against China, and as we’ve seen in Chinese interventions in Japanese territorial waters or in disputed territories and Chinese actions in the Philippines, we haven’t seen a concerted effort from the United States to counter this at this point and that leaves a certain amount of confusion and uncertainty amongst these nations.

The Philippines really does have to walk a careful balance. China is the regional power in their area, China’s major economic partner for the Philippines. At the same time, the United States again is a significant economic partner and an alliance partner.

For the United States, whether it’s the Philippines drawing them in or the U.S. trying to get involved with Vietnam in this issue or even Malaysia, the expansion of Chinese activity in the South China Sea has become a significant issue for U.S. security in the long-term. And the United States is looking very clearly at what the Chinese are doing the South China Sea and beginning to reshape U.S. defense policy in the region to maintain U.S. control over access in the area.

25075  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Nate Diaz on: May 25, 2011, 05:32:03 PM
A few monts ago C-Guard Dog sent me a clip of a Nate Diaz fight in which he did something very much like a Dracula , , , without the footwork and, by out criteria perhaps with the less preferred hand for how things were lined up, but looking like a Dracula nonetheless.  C-GD wondered in Nate had been watching our Kali Tudo DVDs  grin  This week Nate had a very interesting fight which he finished in the final seconds of the first round which had some strikes which looked to my eye similar to things I have been showing in our DVDs.  Certainly I can't say he has been watching our DVDs! but it would tickle my vanity greatly if he were , , ,
25076  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: May 25, 2011, 05:01:00 PM
That BO was, once again, turning on an ally. 

Also, he misdescribed the SCOTUS 8th Amendment ruling on CA prison population.

Overall, I thought the theme of the day's show to be sound, but the Catch 22 of his analysis of Pakistan and the sloppiness of his description of the 8th amendment case irked me.
25077  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China on: May 25, 2011, 04:58:34 PM
Most countries celebrated this month's slaying of Osama bin Laden as an unadulterated good, but two of them are reacting with ambivalence. China and Pakistan have found the death of the al Qaeda leader an opportune time to solidify a relationship that has a distinct anti-American odor. Pakistan wants to play the "China card." And China wants to further its narrow national interests, no matter the broader consequences.

Islamabad's reaction to bin Laden's death is understandable if unjustifiable. U.S. special forces felled the terrorist on Pakistani soil without Pakistani foreknowledge. Pakistani leaders felt compelled to appeal to nationalist sentiment by decrying the violation of sovereignty—even if by harboring terrorists Pakistan has lost its right to sovereignty.

It also has reason to fear its standing in Washington. Questions linger about Pakistani knowledge of or support for bin Laden's long stay in Abbottabad. Naturally, there is a steady drumbeat in Washington to reexamine the entire relationship with Pakistan, including the generous provision of aid.

From a Pakistani perspective, it then makes sense to ease the pressure from Washington by embracing China. With a "China card," Islamabad is assured an ally who can stand up for it in international circles as well as provide capital. Visiting Beijing last week, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani praised China as "an all weather friend"—in stark contrast to you-know-who. President Asif Zardari declared that the Pakistan-Sino relationship was unmatched "by any other relationship between two sovereign countries."

Mr. Gilani also secured the delivery of 50 JF-17 multirole fighter jets. Receiving aircraft from China—already Pakistan's largest supplier of weaponry by far—must have been all the more satisfying coming a month after its arch rival India turned down two U.S. fighter bids. It sent a message that Islamabad's relations with Beijing are more stable than New Delhi's with Washington.

.Beijing offers its ally more support than just fighters. While China announced it was happy that bin Laden was dead, it quickly followed with expressions of sympathy for Pakistan and praise for its less-than-stellar record of fighting terrorism. China's foreign ministry explained that China "will continue to support Pakistan formulating…counter-terrorism strategies based on its own national conditions…." From this point of view, the U.S was supposed to respect Pakistan's "national conditions" while going after the world's most wanted man.

Finally, Pakistan and China agreed that Beijing will operate the strategically positioned port in Gwadar, Pakistan. The port has raised concerns in New Delhi and Washington for the ability it gives the Chinese navy to operate in the Indian Ocean.

These Sino-Pakistani transactions are an intensification of a blossoming relationship. Just last year, China circumvented its obligations as a member of the Nuclear Supplier's Group to sell two new nuclear reactors to Pakistan with no strings attached. An unstable Pakistan with a burgeoning nuclear arsenal is the stuff of nightmare security scenarios for the rest of the world, and yet Beijing decided to sell it more nuclear material.

Pakistan's interests are clear here. But what explains China's disturbing diplomacy?

China's Pakistan policy has three objectives. First, Beijing sees Islamabad as a way to distract India from its great-power aspirations. An India concerned about a Pakistan threat is an India that cannot compete with China. Second, China wants to get into the great-power maritime game by operating ports throughout the Indian Ocean. Chinese projection of maritime power in the Indian Ocean can pose a threat to Indian and American naval mastery. Third, China wants help from Pakistan in keeping Islamic radicals from entering its Western province of Xinjiang.

From a charitable point of view, China is simply advancing its narrow national interests. But China's very concept of its national interest is the problem at hand.

China's pursuit of narrow interests, consequences be damned, is the equivalent of taking a wrecking ball to the current international order. It has pursued its interests before with Iran and North Korea, and the results of that are evident. The only reason China can afford to behave irresponsibly in these cases is because American arms and diplomacy are there to save the day.

Indeed, the international order the United States promotes and maintains—however imperfectly at times—benefits all those who want to join it. It produces public goods like the freedom of navigation in the seas, keeps the peace between great powers and leads in the fight against nuclear proliferation and terrorism that threaten the whole world—including pressuring countries that harbor terrorists, even if it sometimes violates their sovereignty. Washington cannot accomplish these strategic tasks if Beijing actively thwarts it.

China's Pakistan diplomacy offers a glimpse of one possible future in international politics. Beijing is clearly building up its power to challenge Washington's dominance and frustrate its goals, but it doesn't provide a responsible alternative to U.S. primacy. Should China succeed in undermining American aims, the world will not face a choice between Chinese or American leadership. Rather, Chinese behavior is leading to a choice between order and chaos.

Mr. Blumenthal is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
25078  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: May 25, 2011, 04:29:38 PM
For the record, I thought GB's remarks yesterday on Pakistan were unsound and unfair. 
25079  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 25, 2011, 04:18:15 PM
Question:  "Where does personal responsibility come in?"

Answer:  Personal responsibility comes in when you take care of your dying wife.
25080  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / And so it goes , , , on: May 25, 2011, 04:11:16 PM
25081  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Gates on Iraq on: May 25, 2011, 01:37:35 PM
Second post of the day:

'Something we could not have predicted five months ago is that Iraq would emerge as the most advanced Arab democracy in the entire region. As messy as it is, when you think back to the months and months that it took to form a government, and the fact that the conflict was political, they weren't in the streets shooting each other. The government wasn't in the streets shooting its people."

Those musings about the Arab Spring don't come from John McCain or Joe Lieberman. That was Bob Gates, speaking yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute, where he delivered one of his last major speeches as a member of the Obama Administration. The soon-to-depart Defense Secretary was responding to a question about the U.S. interest in Iraq, which Mr. Gates said is to sustain "a model for a multisectarian, multi-ethnic society in the Arab world that shows that democracy can work."

Well, well. Mr. Gates's comments are especially remarkable because he was a member of President George W. Bush's 2006 Iraq Study Group, which recommended what amounted to a staged retreat instead of the troop surge that Mr. Bush eventually endorsed and that defeated the insurgency.

Mr. Gates also expanded yesterday on the strategic opportunities that Iraq has opened in the autocratic Middle East, especially as an ally against Iranian ambitions. He sees "a mutual interest both in Iraq and in the United States in sustaining this relationship" after the scheduled pullout of about 50,000 troops at the end of the year, with the U.S. military supporting logistics, intelligence and airspace defense.

Mr. Gates said it would send "a powerful signal to the region that we're not leaving, that we will continue to play a part. I think it would be reassuring to the Gulf states. I think it would not be reassuring to Iran, and that's a good thing."

The Pentagon chief cautioned that the choice is Iraq's, but "I think as is often the case in Iraq, it will take some time for the political leaders to figure out a way to move forward on this, and all I can say is that from the standpoint of Iraq's future but also our role in the region, I hope they figure out a way to ask. And I think that the United States will be willing to say yes when that time comes."

The main case for toppling Saddam Hussein was to protect America from what everyone thought were his weapons of mass destruction, but a secondary argument was to give Iraqis a chance to govern themselves in a way that would become a model for the region and, perhaps, a U.S. ally.

Lo and behold, Mr. Gates is saying that Iraq is that model, and that even the Obama Administration now sees a democratic Iraq as a potential bulwark for American interests in the Gulf. The rest of the press corps won't acknowledge it, but Mr. Gates is more or less saying: mission accomplished.

25082  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Holding Warren accountable on: May 25, 2011, 01:33:42 PM
I'd go further than this editorial.  It seems to me like there's a real separation of powers problem here:

No one in Washington does moral indignation better than Elizabeth Warren, the de facto head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And yesterday she was in high dudgeon on Capitol Hill attempting to repel efforts to hold her new bureaucracy more accountable. We hope Republicans keep at it.

As George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki explained at the same hearing yesterday, the consumer bureau's structure "may be unprecedented in American history." It has a single director, accountable only to the President. Its annual budget isn't subject to Congressional appropriations. Its regulations may be overturned by the new Financial Stability Oversight Council—a point Mrs. Warren likes to repeat—but only with the very high bar of a two-thirds vote.

That's why a May 2 letter from 44 Senate Republicans to President Obama deserves attention. The Senators propose three reforms: a board of directors to oversee the bureau; submitting the agency's budget to annual Congressional appropriations; and letting other regulators assess the implications of new bureau rules on the safety and soundness of the financial system.

Under the Dodd-Frank law, the bureau's director reports only to the President and can only be removed for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance." So a single person who's very hard to fire would have regulatory authority over consumer financial products and services ranging from mortgages to credit cards. Other financial regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, are governed by a board.

The bureau's director can also set the agency's budget annually, with a ceiling of several hundred million dollars. As the Senators point out, there's no mechanism to ensure those taxpayer monies are used prudently. Other consumer protection agencies face annual Congressional budget scrutiny—an ever more important democratic check amid ballooning deficits. Mrs. Warren yesterday evaded this criticism by calling the bureau a "banking regulator" and comparing it to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which isn't subject to Congressional appropriations.

But her bureau isn't a traditional banking regulator like the Federal Reserve or OCC that ensure the safety and soundness of the financial system. The bureau's mandate is to regulate consumer-financial products, while the impact on bank health is someone else's problem. For precisely this reason, House Republicans want to let the Financial Stability Oversight Council overturn a bureau rule with a simple majority, rather than two-thirds.

Mrs. Warren's response to these efforts has been to say her critics want to "stick a knife in the ribs" of the agency; release a statement claiming Congress intends to "defund, delay, and defang" her agency "before it can help one family"; and in written testimony yesterday, declare that, "While making baseless claims might be shrewd tactics for those who want to undermine the Bureau's work, they are flatly wrong."

Mrs. Warren knows all about shrewd. Though her bureau doesn't assume full powers until July and President Obama still hasn't formally nominated a bureau director, she has been among those trying to extort $20 billion from banks for their mortgage foreclosure mistakes. She's also stacking her agency with liberals who want to allocate credit and punish the banks.

The political betting is that Mr. Obama will continue to evade Senate scrutiny by giving her a recess appointment as director. If Republicans won't put her agency out of business, the least they can do is rein it in.

25083  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Circumcission and the SF initiative on: May 25, 2011, 01:29:55 PM
This is the story of how my husband's circumcision saved my life.

It's a personal story, but let it also serve as a public health rebuttal to the proposed ban on male circumcision that will be on the San Francisco ballot this November.

San Francisco's ballot initiative would prohibit circumcision on all males under the age of 18. It would allow no religious exemptions, and it apparently gives no regard to the numerous studies demonstrating that male circumcision can substantially reduce—by more than 50%—the transmission of the HIV virus during sex.

"Communities, and especially women, may benefit much more from circumcision interventions than had previously been predicted, and these results provide an even greater imperative to increase scale-up of safe male circumcision services," concludes a study published this year in the peer-reviewed journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Peter, my husband, was born with hemophilia, best known as the disease of Victorian royals (and for good reason, since the guilty gene passed through the brood of Queen Victoria right down to the doomed young son of Russia's last czar). Those who suffer from hemophilia lack the crucial factor in the blood that makes it clot.

When we are cut, we all bleed—usually, we need only a Band-Aid and some pressure to stem the flow. Except for the most minor injuries, hemophiliacs almost always need more. Specifically, they need a transfusion of the blood factor of which their DNA made them bankrupt.

As a result of one such clotting factor transfusion prior to 1985, Peter became HIV-positive.

A baby rests on a pillow sounded by family members, immediately following his Bris, a Jewish circumcision ceremony in San Francisco. San Francisco voters in November will be asked to weigh in on what was until now a private family matter: male circumcision.
.Today, the U.S. blood supply has been cleaned up significantly, reducing the chance of such transmission to almost nil. But before the risk was known and blood screening had been introduced, the risk to hemophiliacs was enormous.

Peter and I had met and fallen in love at college. We married in 1977, and by the 1980s we were getting ready to have children. I had already suffered two lost pregnancies and we were eager to try again.

I remember reading the earliest news stories about AIDS, a mysterious new blood-borne disease, and freezing with the intuitive knowledge that whatever was borne through the blood could be borne into Peter's blood—and, by accident, perhaps mine, too. Since we were trying to get me pregnant, we had stopped using any birth control. How innocent it seems in retrospect that even when I suffered our second lost pregnancy in 1984, Peter had gamely whispered in my ear, "Don't worry. I'll knock you up again."

But we had no chance. Soon thereafter, it was confirmed that the very blood products that had helped save and heal and improve the lives of so many hemophiliacs also had the power to infect them with AIDS. As for sex—as they say in Brooklyn, fuggedaboutit. In politer terms, Peter's hematologists advised us to cease and desist getting pregnant again. Our mutual, sad assumption in the months that ensued: Not only had our love not produced a baby, but it may well have doomed me, too.

And then our very own HIV test results—his and hers—arrived. Peter was positive. I was negative. How had it happened that I never became HIV-positive myself?

It wasn't until recently that we knew: He was circumcised. Actually, I should say, now I know. Peter died in 1999.

But here is the reason I am alive today: In the same way that circumcision vastly diminishes the chance of infecting women with the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer, studies suggest that circumcision also helps guard against the transmission of the HIV virus. In both cases, cells on the inside of the male foreskin are implicated in spreading the virus. But if the foreskin is removed, a source of infection is also removed.

So there you have it: My husband's circumcision saved my life.

That reprieve allowed us to make the decision to adopt a child (our son, now 22, who will soon graduate from college). And it impressed on me the importance of public health decisions that unwittingly can save a life—which in this case happened to be mine. If the San Francisco initiative passes, and encourages other communities to do the same, who knows whose lives won't be saved.

Ms. Cole is the author of the memoir "After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges" (Simon & Schuster, 1992) and the book columnist for the Psychotherapy Networker.

25084  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 25, 2011, 01:23:59 PM

I love ya man, but on a human level that is one of the more profoundly clueless things you've said.   rolleyes

25085  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: The Jihadist Strategy for Pakistan on: May 25, 2011, 01:19:49 PM

The United States and the Jihadist Strategy for Pakistan

On Monday, Pakistani security forces secured a key naval aviation base in Karachi after a 17-hour standoff with a team of jihadist operatives. Details remain sketchy of how this group, composed of as few as six and as many as 20 militants, was able to make its way into the high-security facility to destroy one U.S. supplied P-3C Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft and damage a second. What is clear, however, is that this latest attack is among the most significant to have targeted the country’s military establishment since the jihadist insurgency intensified in 2007.

The attack comes within three weeks of the U.S. unilateral military operation that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden at a compound a mere three-hour drive from the capital. The discovery that the al Qaeda leader had been residing in a house for years at walking distance from the country’s military academy reinforced long-held international suspicions that elements within the Pakistani military-intelligence complex were sheltering al Qaeda’s apex leadership. The attack on the navy in Karachi shapes another related perception that the country’s security forces are unable to protect their own assets from jihadist attacks.

“Ironically, the Pakistani security establishment, which cultivated Islamist militants for its foreign policy objectives, is now the only thing standing in the way of the country descending into a jihadist anarchy.”
We have a paradoxical situation in which enemies of the state are being protected by elements within the security establishment, which itself as an institution is the target of the same jihadists. This warped situation works well for the strategic objectives of al Qaeda and its allies within the South Asian nation. Pakistani jihadists and their al Qaeda allies are happy to see the United States and the international community increase pressure on Islamabad and more important, engage in increased unilateral operations inside the country due to the lack of confidence in Islamabad’s intent and/or capability to deal with the situation on its own.

The ultimate jihadist dream is to create the circumstances in which the United States invades Pakistan either because of the fear that the Pakistanis have become weak to the point that they are unable to contain the jihadist threat, or worse, that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were in danger of falling into the hands of radical forces. Each attack the jihadists launch against Pakistani security forces is designed to augment the American perception of threat. Demonstrating that the jihadists have significantly penetrated the country’s security organs further shapes this dynamic.

A U.S. invasion of Pakistan is the ideal outcome for the jihadists because they know that short-term American goals may undermine the state, but the long-term geopolitical interest of the United States in Pakistan is a strong Pakistan. So, they are happy to settle for increasing U.S. unilateral operations in the country. These, the jihadists hope, would help increase the anti-American sentiment and aggravate the mutual mistrust between Washington and Islamabad. The more the United States becomes aggressive toward Pakistan, the more it undermines the Pakistani state and its ability to govern a country that has already been significantly weakened by deteriorating political, security and economic conditions.

The jihadists have never been able to overthrow a sitting government in any Muslim country because they lack the capabilities to do so. But a template exists in the form of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s when the country was in a state of chaos after years of civil war. The jihadists use this model wherever they operate — Iraq, Yemen, Somalia — with the goal of gradually eroding the incumbent state.

A key catalyst in this regard is U.S. military intervention, which from the jihadists’ point of view cannot be totally dismissed in the Pakistani context. Increasing U.S. action in Pakistan or pressure on Islamabad could lead to rifts within the military-intelligence complex — the one entity that stands in the way of jihadists’ being able to take over the state. In other words, the jihadist attacks on their own are not capable of bringing down the Pakistani state, and al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban are aware of this.

Therefore, these attacks are designed to exacerbate fears that Pakistan is a failing state and gradually compel the United States to increase its overt and unilateral military and intelligence footprint in the country. The Sept. 11 attacks were designed to achieve the same goal and force the United States to invade Saudi Arabia. Washington didn’t take the bait and instead sent forces into Afghanistan and Iraq, thwarting the jihadist strategy.

A decade later, however, the jihadists seem to be creating the kind of circumstances in which the United States is slowly being pushed into Pakistan. Ironically, the Pakistani security establishment, which historically has cultivated Islamist militants for its foreign policy objectives, is now the only force standing in the way of the country descending into a jihadist anarchy. For the jihadists, the most effective way of weakening the Pakistani state is to play upon American fears and force it into a country of 180 million people.

From the point of view of al Qaeda and its allies, Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, would make for one large Talibanistan, which would have catastrophic implications for the region and the world at large. Thus, there is a method to the jihadist madness in Pakistan — to get the United States to help them achieve what they can’t on their own. Therefore, bin Laden’s death, at the hands of American forces engaged in an unprecedented unilateral action on Pakistani soil, may have helped the jihadist cause in a way that the life of the al Qaeda founder could not.

25086  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: May 25, 2011, 12:05:30 PM
Many of the Republican presidential hopefuls should be able to beat President Obama in 2012. This president has a track record now and, thus, many vulnerabilities. If he is not our "worst president," as Donald Trump would have it, his sweeping domestic initiatives—especially his stimulus package and health-care reform—were so jerry-built and high-handed that they generated a virtual revolution in America's normally subdued middle class.

The president's success in having Osama bin Laden killed is an exception to a pattern of excruciatingly humble and hesitant leadership abroad. Mr. Obama has been deeply ambivalent about the application of American power, as if a shameful "neocolonialism" attends every U.S. action in the world. In Libya he seems actually to want American power to diminish altogether.

This formula of shrinking American power abroad while expanding government power at home confuses and disappoints many Americans. Before bin Laden, 69% of Americans believed the country was on the wrong track, according to an Ipsos survey. A recent Zogby poll found that only 38% of respondents believed Mr. Obama deserved a second term, while 55% said they wanted someone new.

And yet Republicans everywhere ask, "Who do we have to beat him?" In head-to-head matchups, Mr. Obama beats all of the Republican hopefuls in most polls.

The problem Mr. Obama poses for Republicans is that there has always been a disconnect between his actual performance and his appeal. If Hurricane Katrina irretrievably stained George W. Bush, the BP oil spill left no lasting mark on this president. Mr. Obama's utter confusion in the face of the "Arab spring" has nudged his job-approval numbers down, but not his likability numbers, which Gallup has at a respectable 47.6%. In the mainstream media there has been a willingness to forgive this president his mistakes, to see him as an innocent in an impossible world. Why?

There have really always been two Barack Obamas: the mortal man and the cultural icon. If the actual man is distinctly ordinary, even a little flat and humorless, the cultural icon is quite extraordinary. The problem for Republicans is that they must run against both the man and the myth. In 2008, few knew the man and Republicans were walloped by the myth. Today the man is much clearer, and yet the myth remains compelling.

What gives Mr. Obama a cultural charisma that most Republicans cannot have? First, he represents a truly inspiring American exceptionalism: He is the first black in the entire history of Western civilization to lead a Western nation—and the most powerful nation in the world at that. And so not only is he the most powerful black man in recorded history, but he reached this apex only through the good offices of the great American democracy.

Thus his presidency flatters America to a degree that no white Republican can hope to compete with. He literally validates the American democratic experiment, if not the broader Enlightenment that gave birth to it.

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 .He is also an extraordinary personification of the American Dream: Even someone from a race associated with slavery can rise to the presidency. Whatever disenchantment may surround the man, there is a distinct national pride in having elected him.

All of this adds up to a powerful racial impressionism that works against today's field of Republican candidates. This is the impressionism that framed Sen. John McCain in 2008 as a political and cultural redundancy—yet another older white male presuming to lead the nation.

The point is that anyone who runs against Mr. Obama will be seen through the filter of this racial impressionism, in which white skin is redundant and dark skin is fresh and exceptional. This is the new cultural charisma that the president has introduced into American politics.

Today this charisma is not as strong for Mr. Obama. The mere man and the actual president has not lived up to his billing as a historical breakthrough. Still, the Republican field is framed and—as the polls show—diminished by his mere presence in office, which makes America the most socially evolved nation in the world. Moreover, the mainstream media coddle Mr. Obama—the man—out of its identification with his exceptionalism.

Conversely, the media hold the president's exceptionalism against Republicans. Here is Barack Obama, evidence of a new and progressive America. Here are the Republicans, a cast of largely white males, looking peculiarly unevolved. Add to this the Republicans' quite laudable focus on deficit reduction and spending cuts, and they can be made to look like a gaggle of scolding accountants.

How can the GOP combat the president's cultural charisma? It will have to make vivid the yawning gulf between Obama the flattering icon and Obama the confused and often overwhelmed president. Applaud the exceptionalism he represents, but deny him the right to ride on it as a kind of affirmative action.

A president who is both Democratic and black effectively gives the infamous race card to the entire left: Attack our president and you are a racist. To thwart this, Republicans will have to break through the barrier of political correctness.

Mr. McCain let himself be intimidated by Obama's cultural charisma, threatening to fire any staff member who even used the candidate's middle name. Donald Trump shot to the head of the Republican line by focusing on Mr. Obama as a president, calling him our "worst" president. I carry no brief for Mr. Trump, but his sudden success makes a point: Another kind of charisma redounds to those willing to challenge political correctness—those unwilling to be in thrall to the president's cultural charisma.

Lastly, there must be a Republican message of social exceptionalism. America has more social mobility than any heterogeneous society in history. Isn't there a great Republican opportunity to be had in urging minorities to at last move out of their long era of protest—in which militancy toward the very society they struggled to join was the way ahead? Aren't Republicans uniquely positioned to offer minorities a liberation from both dependency and militancy?

In other words, isn't there a fresh new social idealism implicit in conservative principles? Why not articulate it and fight with it in the political arena? Such a message would show our president as unevolved in his social thinking—oh so 1965. The theme: Barack Obama believes in government; we believe in you.

Mr. Steele is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Among his books is "White Guilt" (Harper/Collins, 2007).

25087  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Good Paul Ryan video on Medicare on: May 25, 2011, 11:34:32 AM
25088  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 25, 2011, 11:24:18 AM
Somehow, I'm not worried about Iran getting its hands on a bunch of pot , , , Indeed, it might mellow them out a bit.
25089  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Stay or go? on: May 25, 2011, 08:52:04 AM
Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Iraq to host U.S. troops beyond the end of the year to maintain stability and keep Iran at bay, echoing the growing concerns of U.S. military officials that the government in Baghdad isn't moving fast enough to request an extension of the U.S. troop presence.

Mr. Gates predicted the U.S. would accede to such a request to send a message to American allies and Iran that the U.S. isn't withdrawing from the region, he said in remarks to a think tank in Washington on Tuesday.

"It would be reassuring to the Gulf States. It would not be reassuring to Iran, and that is a good thing," Mr. Gates said.

Some military officials say that without a continued U.S. presence, Iraq is likely to fall into the orbit of Iran. In a paper released Tuesday, Frederick Kagan, an influential defense analyst, argued that without a continued U.S. presence, Iraq would also be vulnerable to continued insurgent-style attacks from Iran-backed proxies or even a full-scale invasion by Iran.

U.S. military bases and personnel in Iraq have come under increasing attacks from mortar fire and bombings, in what the military says is an effort to drive the Americans from the country. Two U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

Mr. Gates said a continued American presence in Iraq would help sustain the "investment in treasure and lives" the U.S. has made in Iraq and help show other countries in the Middle East that a "multisectarian, multi-ethnic" democracy in the Arab world will work.

Under the current agreement between Baghdad and Washington, the U.S. must withdraw nearly all of its troops by the end of this year. The U.S. military would like to keep about 10,000 troops in Iraq, a number the Obama administration is likely to approve, U.S. officials have said.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that it would rotate two brigades and a division headquarters into Iraq this summer, a move that would position the U.S. to maintain a substantial force in the country should Baghdad request an extension.

Mr. Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who regularly advises military commanders, argued in his paper, which was released Tuesday, that Iraq won't be able to defend itself against Iran and its agents without a U.S. troop presence.

"The Iraqi Security Forces will not be able to defend Iraq's sovereignty, independence from Iran, and internal stability without American assistance, including some ground forces, for a number of years," Mr. Kagan wrote.

Many Iraqi lawmakers say they believe there is a parliamentary majority in Iraq supporting a continued U.S. troop presence. But the influential pro-Iranian cleric, Moqtada al Sadr, is pushing lawmakers to block a request.

Some Iraqi officials have said privately that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports keeping U.S. troops, but he won his current term with the backing of Mr. Sadr's supporters.

A Sadr bloc spokesman said the group continues to view the American presence as an occupation and would hold a peaceful protest on Thursday.

Iraq has a long history of brinksmanship in its dealings with the U.S., but with the Americans due to begin shuttering bases, a last-minute deal could come too late for the Pentagon.

"Time is your enemy," said a senior military official.

Officials have said the U.S. military is four months away from a logistical point-of-no-return, when it would need to begin the final dismantling of remaining military installations and sending equipment out of the country to withdraw on time.

There were at least 162 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq last month, up from 128 in March and 93 in February, according to a foreign security company in Iraq that tracks the data. The surge in attacks last month coincided with a rash of American military, political and diplomatic visits to the country.

"Various extremist groups and illegal militias have said they will increase attacks against U.S. forces and they are trying to do that to claim credit for driving out our forces," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Iraq.

—Munaf Ammar contributed to this article.
25090  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The 8th: Cruel and Unusual on: May 25, 2011, 08:49:58 AM

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion forcing California to cut its inmate population sharpened his divide with conservative colleagues over what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Backed by the court's four liberals, Justice Kennedy has delivered a series of opinions since 2005 that have abolished the death penalty for minors and for adult criminals who left their victims alive. A Kennedy ruling also required that juvenile offenders be given an opportunity to seek parole unless their crimes included murder.

And on Monday, the Reagan appointee wrote the decision prohibiting California from housing inmates in prisons incapable of providing with them essential medical care—even if that requires the release of felons before they complete their sentences.

The prisoner-rights decisions mark a striking contrast to the court's trajectory since the mid-2000s, when President George W. Bush elevated Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy
.Together with them and veteran justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Justice Kennedy has formed a majority to uphold gun rights, permit unfettered corporate and union political spending and undo certain limits on governmental support of religion.

But when it comes to the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments," Justice Kennedy has championed a doctrine that echoes the liberal Warren Court of the 1950s and '60s: that the prohibition be applied, as Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in 1958, according to "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

“To incarcerate, society takes from prisoners the means to provide for their own needs. … A prison's failure to provide sustenance for inmates may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death.

Justice Anthony Kennedy

The Warren opinion referred to English precedents dating to the Magna Carta and said the "basic concept underlying the Eighth Amendment is nothing less than the dignity of man."

Justice Kennedy cited Chief Justice Warren's opinion Monday, then applied it to the California case. "Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons," Justice Kennedy wrote.

More Eighth Amendment cases could reach the high court in coming years. While the court approved a three-drug recipe for lethal injections in 2008, some suppliers of the narcotics have dropped out of the business and states have substituted other chemicals.

That could invite challenges from condemned prisoners alleging that untested formulas would cause unconstitutional levels of pain.

And new cases may test the implications of Justice Kennedy's earlier opinions limiting punishments for underage offenders. This month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found it constitutional to sentence a 14-year-old to life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

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Justice Antonin Scalia
.Justice Kennedy has looked to social science and modern practices in his earlier decisions outlawing the harshest punishments. "By protecting even those convicted of heinous crimes, the Eighth Amendment reaffirms the duty of the government to respect the dignity of all persons," he wrote in the 2005 opinion Roper v. Simmons, abolishing the death penalty for juveniles.

Such positions have put him at odds with Justice Scalia, who misses no opportunity to stress his contempt for Chief Justice Warren's "evolving standards" formula.

"I detest that phrase," Justice Scalia said at a law-school forum in 2005, "because I'm afraid that societies don't always mature. Sometimes they rot." In his Monday dissent—joined only by Justice Thomas—Justice Scalia wrote that Justice Kennedy's opinion was unprecedented, even under "our judge-empowering 'evolving-standards of decency' jurisprudence."

t would absurd to suggest—that every single one of those prisoners has personally experienced torture or a lingering death.

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Scalia says he construes constitutional provisions according to their original meaning. Dissenting from Justice Kennedy's Roper opinion, Justice Scalia said "cruel and unusual" originally meant that judges could only impose punishments authorized by the legislature, rather than fashion their own.

On Monday, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito filed a separate dissent that avoided mention of the "evolving standards" or "dignity" concepts.

Justice Kennedy's opinion included an array of anecdotes regarding prison conditions in California, where "as many as 54 prisoners may share a single toilet" and a psychiatric patient was "held in a cage for nearly 24 hours, standing in a pool of his own urine, unresponsive and nearly catatonic."

Justice Scalia replied that the Constitution doesn't authorize judges to prescribe "rules for the 'decent' running of schools, prisons and other government institutions." He offered his own vivid image, saying that many of those released wouldn't be ill inmates but "fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym."

25091  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Oil Traders sued by Feds on: May 25, 2011, 08:31:31 AM
After oil prices surged past $100 a barrel in 2008, suspicions that traders had manipulated the market led to Congressional hearings and regulatory investigations. But they produced no solid cases in the record run-up in gasoline prices.

Ahmadinejad Backs Out of Key Role at OPEC (May 25, 2011) But on Tuesday, federal commodities regulators filed a civil lawsuit against two obscure traders in Australia and California and three American and international firms.

The suit says that in early 2008 they tried to hoard nearly two-thirds of the available supply of a crucial American market for crude oil, then abruptly dumped it and improperly pocketed $50 million.

The regulators from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission would not say whether the agency was conducting any other investigations into oil speculation. With oil prices climbing again this year, President Obama has asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to set up a working group to look into fraud in oil and gas markets and “safeguard against unlawful consumer harm.”

In the case filed Tuesday, the defendants — James T. Dyer of Australia, Nicholas J. Wildgoose of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and three related companies, Parnon Energy of California, Arcadia Petroleum of Britain and Arcadia Energy, a Swiss company — have told regulators they deny they manipulated the market.

If the United States proves the claims, the defendants may give up $50 million in profits that were believed to be made as a result of the manipulation and also pay a penalty of up to $150 million.

The commodities agency says the case involves a complex scheme that relied on the close relationship between physical oil prices and the prices of financial futures, which move in parallel.

In a matter of a few weeks in January 2008, the defendants built up large positions in the oil futures market on exchanges in New York and London, according to the suit, filed in the Federal Court in the Southern District of New York.

At the same time, they bought millions of barrels of physical crude oil at Cushing, Okla., one of the main delivery sites for West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for American oil, the suit says. They bought the oil even though they had no commercial need for it, giving the market the impression of a shortage, the complaint says.

At one point they had such a dominant position that they owned about 4.6 million barrels of crude oil, estimating that this represented two-thirds of the seven million barrels of excess oil then available at Cushing, according to lawsuits.

This type of oil is also the main driver of prices of the futures contracts, and their actions caused futures prices to rise, the authorities say. “They wanted to lull market participants into believing that supply would remain tight,” the agency said. “They knew that as long as the market believed that supply was tight and getting even tighter, there would be upward pressure on the prices of W.T.I. for February delivery relative to March delivery, which was their goal.”

The traders in mid-January cashed out their futures position, and then a few days later began to bet on a decline in oil futures, with Mr. Wildgoose remarking in an e-mail about the “inevitable puking” of their position on an unsuspecting market, the federal lawsuit says.

In one day, Jan. 25, they then dumped most of their holdings of West Texas Intermediate oil, and profited by the drop in futures.

The traders repeated the buying and selling in March 2008, and were preparing to do it again in April but stopped when investigators contacted them for information, the suit says.

Between January and April, average gas prices rose roughly to $3.50 a gallon, from $3. It was not until later in 2008, after the defendants had ceased their reported actions, that oil prices soared higher — reaching $145 that July. By the end of the year, prices had fallen to about $44. The Texas oil is now around $100.

Many other factors were at work, including tight oil supplies in the Middle East and fears that a growing global economy would consume more oil. Yet the enforcement action by the commodities regulator was the first credible evidence that a small group of traders also played a role in manipulating prices.

“This will  help to satisfy the desire to find a culprit and throw them under the wheels of justice,” said Michael Lynch, an oil market specialist at Strategic Energy and Economic Research, a consulting firm.

Calls to Arcadia Petroleum in London were not immediately returned. A person who answered the phone at Arcadia Energy in Switzerland said that he was unaware of the complaints and that Mr. Dyer and Mr. Wildgoose were on vacation and unavailable for comment.

In the last few years, the commission has settled a handful of cases of manipulation in the natural gas market.

In 2007, it settled charges for $1 million against the Marathon Petroleum Company for trying to manipulate West Texas Intermediate crude oil in 2003.

The agency brought an action similar to its latest case in 2008, asserting that Optiver Holding, a proprietary trading fund based in the Netherlands with a Chicago affiliate, used a trading program in 2007 to issue orders to manipulate the crude oil market. The case is pending. It involved claims of manipulation of futures contracts for light sweet crude, New York Harbor heating oil and New York Harbor gasoline.

Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

25092  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH editorial on: May 25, 2011, 08:25:53 AM
Refusing to answer the door is a grounds for kicking it in?


What’s wrong with the police kicking in the door of an apartment after they smell marijuana drifting from it, if they knock hard, announce who they are and then hear what sounds like evidence being destroyed?

Related in News
Search Allowed if Police Hear Evidence Being Destroyed (May 17, 2011) Some lower courts have said the answer is pretty much everything, because the police themselves created the pretext for barging in. But the Supreme Court ruled last week that such a warrantless search does not necessarily violate the Fourth Amendment, according to a vague new standard for determining whether the police violated the protection against unreasonable search, or threatened to do so.

They sent the case back to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which is going to have a hard time understanding the new standard — and in any case never resolved whether any evidence was, in fact, destroyed.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lone dissenter in this strange decision, wisely warned that the new rule gave the police “a way routinely to dishonor” the constitutional requirement that they obtain a warrant, by manufacturing an exception to it. There are already exceptions for “exigent circumstances,” emergencies like an imminent risk of death or a danger evidence will be destroyed. But the urgency usually exists when the police arrive at the scene. In this case, the police caused the exigent circumstances themselves.

The new rule undermines the rule of law by shifting the power to approve a forced entry from a magistrate to the police. It empowers the police to decide whether circumstances allow them to kick in the door.

The majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito Jr. says that the “exigent circumstances” rule applies even though the police triggered the danger that evidence would be destroyed. Apartment-dwellers with nothing to hide, the justice said, are at fault if they don’t take advantage of their right to refuse entry when the police knock. (As if this would be realistic even in Justice Alito’s neighborhood.)

Justice Ginsburg asks, “How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity?”

Her dissent is a reminder of the enduring value of privacy, as well as of her value to American law. It is unsettling that she is the only justice to insist that the law hold the line on its definition of exigent circumstances so that our “officers are under the law,” as Justice Robert Jackson once put it. But it is reassuring to have her stand up for the Fourth Amendment and to police power that is literally and constitutionally unwarranted.

25093  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams 1781: the vote; Madison, Federalist 39, a republic on: May 25, 2011, 08:22:56 AM
"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual - or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country." --Samuel Adams, in the Boston Gazette, 1781

"If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people,  and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior." --James Madison, Federalist No. 39
25094  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Samuel Adams 1781 on: May 25, 2011, 08:21:28 AM

"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual - or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country." --Samuel Adams, in the Boston Gazette, 1781

25095  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor on Netanyahu's speech on: May 24, 2011, 06:05:43 PM
Some points in here with which I distinctly disagree, others make sense:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress on May 24 spending a lot of his time on the threat posed by Iran and explaining the reason why Israel has not been able to proceed on the peace path outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama and the presidents before him.

The gist of Netanyahu’s argument was that, while Israel is ready to make very painful concessions in this peace deal, it is the Palestinians that have been blocking the peace process. He also maintained that Jerusalem will not be divided and that Israel will not make large concessions on its security or on the borders of a future Palestinian state.

A great deal of attention has been paid to a very specific line in Obama’s speech from last week, where he said the borders of Israel and Palestine will be based on the lines of 1967 with mutually agreed swaps. This was portrayed by much of the media as a major U.S. policy shift and led Netanyahu to declare to the Israeli lobby in Washington that those 1967 borders are indefensible.

There is absolutely nothing groundbreaking in what Obama actually said. The 1967 lines refer to the borders before the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and basically went beyond the border outlined in the 1949 armistice between Israel and Arab states.

Obama is not saying that the 1967 lines will be the exact same borders of a two-state solution; he is saying negotiations need to be held for those mutually agreed swaps that would deal with the very contentious issues of East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements. Obama said he was explicit in what he meant, but no matter which way you look at this issue, this is an issue that remains very much clouded in controversy. The only new aspect to Obama’s roadmap for peace was perhaps the urgency in which he is conveying his message. This does not change the fact that Israel is very unlikely to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, especially at a time when the Palestinians are in a fledgling unity government that includes Hamas, which refuses still recognize Israel’s right to exist. As Netanyahu put it, he declared Hamas the Palestinian version of al Qaeda and called on Fatah to rip up its agreement with Hamas if it wants to negotiate seriously with Israel.

Now, the biggest challenge to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in the surrounding environment to the conflict itself. Egypt is undergoing a very shaky political transition, and the military regime there is also trying to keep a lid on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Jordan meanwhile is facing much higher levels of political pressure from its Islamist opposition, and the Syrians are throwing all of their effort into putting down a country-wide uprising. Meanwhile, the threat of a third Palestinian intifada continues to loom.

The past 33 years of Israeli history have been largely quiescent, for Israeli standards. Now, Israel faces threats on nearly all of its frontiers. Obama argued that this very uncertainty in the region is exactly why Israel cannot afford to delay the peace process any longer, and why both Israel and the United States should avoid ending up on the wrong side of history, as he put it. This is a point that Israel will likely strongly disagree with. It also brings up a much more important question, one that we addressed in this week’s “Geopolitical Weekly,” of whether there really is a true “Arab Spring” capable of bringing about democratic revolutions that would be friendly to U.S., much less Israeli, interests.

Meanwhile, as Netanyahu emphasized in his speech, a big focus for Israel, and what arguably should be the focus for the United States, concerns Iran, where the United States has yet to devise and effective strategy to counterbalance the Iranians that are waiting to fill a power vacuum in Iraq following the U.S. withdrawal. That remains a key point the Obama presidency must address, and it is largely one that is ignored by the effects of the Arab Spring.

25096  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Baraq and the Arab Spring on: May 24, 2011, 05:52:49 PM
Some distinct gaps here e.g. that candidate BO sedulously worked to undermine the efforts GF sees him as now supporting but as always an interesting analysis:


May 24, 2011 | 0902 GMT

Obama and the Arab Spring
By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech last week on the Middle East. Presidents make many speeches. Some are meant to be taken casually, others are made to address an immediate crisis, and still others are intended to be a statement of broad American policy. As in any country, U.S. presidents follow rituals indicating which category their speeches fall into. Obama clearly intended his recent Middle East speech to fall into the last category, as reflecting a shift in strategy if not the declaration of a new doctrine.

While events in the region drove Obama’s speech, politics also played a strong part, as with any presidential speech. Devising and implementing policy are the president’s job. To do so, presidents must be able to lead — and leading requires having public support. After the 2010 election, I said that presidents who lose control of one house of Congress in midterm elections turn to foreign policy because it is a place in which they retain the power to act. The U.S. presidential campaign season has begun, and the United States is engaged in wars that are not going well. Within this framework, Obama thus sought to make both a strategic and a political speech.

Obama’s War Dilemma
The United States is engaged in a  broad struggle against jihadists. Specifically, it is engaged in a war in Afghanistan and is in the terminal phase of the Iraq war.

The Afghan war is stalemated. Following the death of Osama bin Laden, Obama said that the Taliban’s forward momentum has been stopped. He did not, however, say that the Taliban is being defeated. Given the state of affairs between the United States and Pakistan following bin Laden’s death, whether the United States can defeat the Taliban remains unclear. It might be able to, but the president must remain open to the possibility that the war will become an extended stalemate.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, but that does not mean the conflict is over. Instead, the withdrawal has opened the door to Iranian power in Iraq. The Iraqis lack a capable military and security force. Their government is divided and feeble. Meanwhile, the Iranians have had years to infiltrate Iraq. Iranian domination of Iraq would open the door to  Iranian power projection throughout the region. Therefore, the United States has proposed keeping U.S. forces in Iraq but has yet to receive Iraq’s approval. If that approval is given (which looks unlikely), Iraqi factions with clout in parliament have threatened to renew the anti-U.S. insurgency.

The United States must therefore consider its actions should the situation in Afghanistan remain indecisive or deteriorate and should Iraq evolve into an Iranian strategic victory. The simple answer — extending the mission in Iraq and increasing forces in Afghanistan — is not viable. The United States could not pacify Iraq with 170,000 troops facing determined opposition, while the 300,000 troops that Chief of Staff of the Army Eric Shinseki argued for in 2003 are not available. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine how many troops would be needed to guarantee a military victory in Afghanistan. Such surges are not politically viable, either. After nearly 10 years of indecisive war, the American public has little appetite for increasing troop commitments to either war and has no appetite for conscription.

Obama thus has limited military options on the ground in a situation where conditions in both war zones could deteriorate badly. And his political option — blaming former U.S. President George W. Bush — in due course would wear thin, as Nixon found in blaming Johnson.

The Coalition of the Willing Meets the Arab Spring
For his part, Bush followed a strategy of a coalition of the willing. He understood that the United States could not conduct a war in the region without regional allies, and he therefore recruited a coalition of countries that calculated that radical Islamism represented a profound threat to regime survival. This included Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan, and Pakistan. These countries shared a desire to see al Qaeda defeated and a willingness to pool resources and intelligence with the United States to enable Washington to carry the main burden of the war.

This coalition appears to be fraying. Apart from the tensions between the United States and Pakistan, the unrest in the Middle East of the last few months apparently has undermined the legitimacy and survivability of many Arab regimes, including key partners in the so-called coalition of the willing. If these pro-American regimes collapse and are replaced by anti-American regimes, the American position in the region might also collapse.

Obama appears to have reached three conclusions about the Arab Spring:

It represented a genuine and liberal democratic rising that might replace regimes.
American opposition to these risings might result in the emergence of anti-American regimes in these countries.
The United States must embrace the general idea of the Arab risings but be selective in specific cases; thus, it should support the rising in Egypt, but not necessarily in Bahrain.
Though these distinctions may be difficult to justify in intellectual terms, geopolitics is not an abstract exercise. In the real world, supporting regime change in Libya costs the United States relatively little. Supporting an uprising in Egypt could have carried some cost, but not if the military was the midwife to change and is able to maintain control. (Egypt was more an exercise of regime preservation than true regime change.) Supporting regime change in Bahrain, however, would have proved quite costly. Doing so could have seen the United States lose a major naval base in the Persian Gulf and incited spillover Shiite protests in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province.

Moral consistency and geopolitics rarely work neatly together. Moral absolutism is not an option in the Middle East, something Obama recognized. Instead, Obama sought a new basis for tying together the fraying coalition of the willing.

Obama’s Challenge and the Illusory Arab Spring
Obama’s conundrum is that there is still much uncertainty as to whether that coalition would be stronger with current, albeit embattled, regimes or with new regimes that could arise from the so-called Arab Spring. He began to address the problem with an empirical assumption critical to his strategy that  in my view is questionable, namely, that there is such a thing as an Arab Spring.

Let me repeat something I have said before: All demonstrations are not revolutions. All revolutions are not democratic revolutions. All democratic revolutions do not lead to constitutional democracy.

The Middle East has seen many demonstrations of late, but that does not make them revolutions. The 300,000 or so demonstrators concentrated mainly in Tahrir Square in Cairo represented a tiny fraction of Egyptian society. However committed and democratic those 300,000 were, the masses of Egyptians did not join them along the lines of what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 and in Iran in 1979. For all the media attention paid to Egypt’s demonstrators, the most interesting thing in Egypt is not who demonstrated, but the vast majority who did not. Instead, a series of demonstrations gave the Egyptian army cover to carry out what was tantamount to a military coup. The president was removed, but his removal would be difficult to call a revolution.

And where revolutions could be said to have occurred, as in Libya, it is not clear they were democratic revolutions. The forces in eastern Libya remain opaque, and it cannot be assumed their desires represent the will of the majority of Libyans — or that the eastern rebels intend to create, or are capable of creating, a democratic society. They want to get rid of a tyrant, but that doesn’t mean they won’t just create another tyranny.

Then, there are revolutions that genuinely represent the will of the majority, as in Bahrain. Bahrain’s Shiite majority rose up against the Sunni royal family, clearly seeking a regime that truly represents the majority. But it is not at all clear that they want to create a constitutional democracy, or at least not one the United States would recognize as such. Obama said each country can take its own path, but he also made clear that the path could not diverge from basic principles of human rights — in other words, their paths can be different, but they cannot be too different. Assume for the moment that the Bahraini revolution resulted in a democratic Bahrain tightly aligned with Iran and hostile to the United States. Would the United States recognize Bahrain as a satisfactory democratic model?

The central problem from my point of view is that the Arab Spring has consisted of demonstrations of limited influence, in non-democratic revolutions and in revolutions whose supporters would create regimes quite alien from what Washington would see as democratic. There is no single vision to the Arab Spring, and the places where the risings have the most support are the places that will be least democratic, while the places where there is the most democratic focus have the weakest risings.

As important, even if we assume that democratic regimes would emerge, there is no reason to believe they would form a coalition with the United States. In this, Obama seems to side with the neoconservatives, his ideological enemies. Neoconservatives argued that democratic republics have common interests, so not only would they not fight each other, they would band together — hence their rhetoric about creating democracies in the Middle East. Obama seems to have bought into this idea that a truly democratic Egypt would be friendly to the United States and its interests. That may be so, but it is hardly self-evident — and this assumes democracy is a real option in Egypt, which is questionable.

Obama addressed this by saying we must take risks in the short run to be on the right side of history in the long run. The problem embedded in this strategy is that if the United States miscalculates about the long run of history, it might wind up with short-term risks and no long-term payoff. Even if by some extraordinary evolution the Middle East became a genuine democracy, it is the ultimate arrogance to assume that a Muslim country would choose to be allied with the United States. Maybe it would, but Obama and the neoconservatives can’t know that.

But to me, this is an intellectual abstraction. There is no Arab Spring, just some demonstrations accompanied by slaughter and extraordinarily vacuous observers. While the pressures are rising, the demonstrations and risings have so far largely failed, from Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was replaced by a junta, to Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia by invitation led a contingent of forces to occupy the country, to Syria, where Bashar al Assad continues to slaughter his enemies just like his father did.

A Risky Strategy
Obviously, if Obama is going to call for sweeping change, he must address the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Obama knows this is the graveyard of foreign policy: Presidents who go into this rarely come out well. But any influence he would have with the Arabs would be diminished if he didn’t try. Undoubtedly understanding the futility of the attempt, he went in, trying to reconcile an Israel that has no intention of returning to thegeopolitically vulnerable borders of 1967 with a Hamas with no intention of publicly acknowledging Israel’s right to exist — with Fatah hanging in the middle. By the weekend, the president was doing what he knew he would do and was switching positions.

At no point did Obama address the question of Pakistan and Afghanistan or the key issue: Iran. There can be fantasies about uprisings in Iran, but 2009 was crushed, and no matter what political dissent there is among the elite, a broad-based uprising is unlikely. The question thus becomes how the United States plans to deal with Iran’s emerging power in the region as the United States withdraws from Iraq.

But Obama’s foray into Israeli-Palestinian affairs was not intended to be serious; rather, it was merely a cover for his broader policy to reconstitute a coalition of the willing. While we understand why he wants this broader policy to revive the coalition of the willing, it seems to involve huge risks that could see a diminished or disappeared coalition. He could help bring down pro-American regimes that are repressive and replace them with anti-American regimes that are equally or even more repressive.

If Obama is right that there is a democratic movement in the Muslim world large enough to seize power and create U.S.-friendly regimes, then he has made a wise choice. If he is wrong and the Arab Spring was simply unrest leading nowhere, then he risks the coalition he has by alienating regimes in places like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia without gaining either democracy or friends.
25097  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 24, 2011, 05:37:11 PM
The wittiness of the lo-flo toilets is noted, as is the failure to note that in point of fact , , , they got the wrong apartment.
25098  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China on: May 24, 2011, 05:04:24 PM
The Crafty Doctrine was formulated in the context of Afpakia.  Pakistan having a patron in China, perhaps giving it a seaport, is a major new variable.
25099  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Now that's funny on: May 24, 2011, 01:48:27 PM
25100  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 24, 2011, 01:44:08 PM
When it wasn't reasonable to wait for a warrant grin

And if I remember correctly the suspect did not know the police were after him.  He simply went home.   The risk of destruction of evidence was triggered by the knock.
The police could have waited while sending for a warrant.  Oh wait!  Maybe they couldn't have gotten one (on the dealing charge) because they had only a 50% (or less if there were more than two apartments) chance of giving the judge the right address , , ,  rolleyes  Is a 50% chance of getting the right place a sufficient % for you?
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