Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on her book
on: November 15, 2009, 06:20:57 AM
Memoir Is Palin’s Payback to McCain Campaign Recommend
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: November 14, 2009
“Going Rogue,” the title of Sarah Palin’s erratic new memoir, comes from a phrase used by a disgruntled McCain aide to describe her going off-message during the campaign: among other things, for breaking with the campaign over its media strategy and its decision to pull out of Michigan, and for speaking out about reports that the Republican Party had spent more than $150,000 on fancy designer duds for her and her family. In fact, the most sustained and vehement barbs in this book are directed not at Democrats or liberals or the press, but at the McCain campaign. The very campaign that plucked her out of Alaska, anointed her the Republican vice-presidential nominee and made her one of the most talked about women on the planet — someone who could command a reported $5 million for writing this book.
In what reads like payback for McCain aides’ disparaging comments about her in the wake of the ticket’s loss to Barack Obama, Ms. Palin depicts the McCain campaign as overscripted, defeatist, disorganized and dunder-headed — slow to shift focus from the Iraq war to the cratering economy, insufficiently tough on Mr. Obama and contradictory in its media strategy. She also claims that the campaign billed her nearly $50,000 for “having been vetted.” The vetting, which was widely criticized in the press as being cursory and rushed, was, she insists, “thorough”: they knew “exactly what they’re getting.”
Some of Ms. Palin’s loudest complaints in this volume are directed at the McCain campaign’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt, ironically enough, was one of the aides to most forcefully make the case for putting her on the ticket in the first place, arguing to his boss, as Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson reported in their recent book “The Battle for America,” that she would shake up the race and help him get his “reform mojo back.” Robert Draper reported in The New York Times Magazine that neither Mr. Schmidt nor Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, apparently saw Ms. Palin’s “lack of familiarity with major national or international issues as a serious liability,” and that Mr. McCain, a former Navy pilot, saw the idea of upending the chessboard as a maverick kind of move.
All in all, Ms. Palin emerges from “Going Rogue” as an eager player in the blame game, thoroughly ungrateful toward the McCain campaign for putting her on the national stage. As for the McCain campaign, it often feels like a desperate and cynical operation, willing to make a risky Hail Mary pass in order to try to score a tactical win, instead of making a considered judgment as to who might be genuinely qualified to sit a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
In “Going Rogue,” Ms. Palin talks perfunctorily about fiscal responsibility and a muscular foreign policy, and more passionately about the importance of energy independence, but she is quite up front about the fact that much of her appeal lies in her just-folks, “hockey Mom” ordinariness. She pretends no particular familiarity with the Middle East, the Iraq war or Islamic politics — “I knew the history of the conflict,” she writes, “to the extent that most Americans did.” And she argues that “there’s no better training ground for politics than motherhood.”
A CNN poll taken last month indicates that 7 out of 10 Americans now think Ms. Palin is not qualified to be president, and even as ardent a conservative as Charles Krauthammer lamented in September 2008 “the paucity of any Palin record or expressed conviction on the major issues of our time.”
Yet, Mr. McCain’s astonishing decision to pick someone with so little experience (less than two years as the governor of Alaska, and before that, two terms as mayor of Wasilla, a town with fewer than 7,000 residents) as his running mate and Ms. Palin’s own surprisingly nonchalant reaction to Mr. McCain’s initial phone call about the vice president’s slot (she writes that it felt “like a natural progression”) underscore just how alarmingly expertise is discounted — or equated with elitism — in our increasingly democratized era, and just how thoroughly colorful personal narratives overshadow policy arguments and actual knowledge.
Indeed Ms. Palin suggests that she and her husband, Todd, are ideally qualified to represent the Joe Six Packs of the world because they are Joe Six Packs themselves. “We know what it’s like to be on a tight budget and wonder how we’re going to pay for our own health care, let alone college tuition,” she writes in “Going Rogue.” “We know what it’s like to work union jobs, to be blue-collar, white-collar, to have our kids in public schools. We felt our very normalcy, our status as ordinary Americans, could be a much-needed fresh breeze blowing into Washington, D.C.”
“Going Rogue” (written with an assist from Lynn Vincent, the editor of World, an evangelical magazine) is part cagey spin job, part earnest autobiography, part payback hit job. And its most compelling sections deal not with politics, but with Ms. Palin’s life in Alaska and her family. Despite an annoying tendency to gratuitously drop the names of lots of writers and philosophers — in the course of this book, she quotes or alludes to Pascal, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Paine, Pearl S. Buck, Mark Twain and Melville — she does a lively job of conveying the frontier feel of the 49th state, where television broadcasts were tape-delayed in her youth and they shopped for clothes “via mail order through the Sears catalog,” where “we don’t have big league professional sports teams or many celebrities (except famous dog mushers),” and so regard politics as a local sport.
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The self-portrait created in these pages recalls the early profiles of Ms. Palin that appeared in the wake of her debut on the national stage: a frontierswoman who knows how to field dress a moose; a feisty gal with lots of moxie and pep; a former beauty queen with a George W. Bush-like aptitude for mangling the English language (the first paragraph of the book contains the phrase “I breathed in an autumn bouquet that combined everything small-town America with rugged splashes of the Last Frontier”). She talks about juggling motherhood with politics, and gives a moving account of learning that her son Trig would be born with Down syndrome.
She recalls her initial feeling — “I don’t think I could handle that” — and her “sudden understanding of why people would grasp at a quick ‘solution,’ a way to make the ‘problem’ just go away,” though her own pro-life stance would deny women the choice of having an abortion.
Elsewhere in this volume, she talks about creationism, saying she “didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea” or from “monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.” In everything that happens to her, from meeting Todd to her selection by Mr. McCain for the Republican ticket, she sees the hand of God: “My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over.”
Just as Ms. Palin’s planned book tour resembles a campaign rollout — complete with a bus tour and pit stops in battleground states — so the second half of this book often reads like a calculated attempt to position the author for 2012. She tries to compare herself to Ronald Reagan, by repeatedly invoking his name and record. She talks about being “a Commonsense Conservative” and worrying about the national deficit. And she attempts to explain, rationalize or refute controversial incidents and allegations that emerged during the 2008 race.
She says she “never sought to ban any books” as mayor of Wasilla, and in fact has always had a “special passion for reading.” She suggests that the $150,000-plus designer clothes were the campaign’s idea, that she and her family are actually frugal coupon clippers who shop at Costco. And she says she was manipulated into doing that famous series of Katie Couric interviews (which would do much to cement an image of her as an easily caricatured ignoramus) by Nicolle Wallace, a communications aide for the campaign, and that Ms. Couric just seemed to want “to frame a ‘gotcha’ moment.”
Along the way, Ms. Palin acknowledges that she is a busy, “got to go-go-go” sort of person — and for an average hockey mom, pretty ambitious. “As every Iditarod musher knows,” she writes of the famous Alaska dog-sled race, “if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Who will default first?
on: November 14, 2009, 12:27:04 PM
Nov 11, 2009
THE BEAR'S LAIR
Which big country will default first?
By Martin Hutchinson
Of the world's six largest economies, three have budget and public debt positions that if allowed to fester will push those nations into bankruptcy (the seventh largest, Italy, also has a budget and debt position that is highly vulnerable, but its problems appear chronic rather than acute).
Given the proclivities of modern politicians for delaying pain and avoiding problems, it is likely that festering is just what those positions will do. So which major country, the United States, Japan or Britain, will default first on its foreign debt?
The other three of the six top economies, Germany, China and France, appear to have fewer problems but are not out of the woods entirely. Germany has substantial public debt because of the costs involved in integrating the former East Germany, but those costs are now mostly past and the current government is highly disciplined - thus Germany is now the most stable major economy. France is less disciplined; its debt level is similar to that of Germany but its budget deficit is much higher, at around 8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009, according to The Economist forecasting panel. However, its problems pale in comparison to those of the deficit-ridden trio. China has huge amounts of hidden debt in its banking system, which could well collapse, but its direct public debt is small, as is its budget deficit, so it is unlikely to enter formal default.
The worst budget balance of the three deficit countries is in Britain, where the forecast budget deficit for calendar 2009 is a staggering 14.5% of GDP. Furthermore, the Bank of England has been slightly more irresponsible in its financing mechanisms than even the Federal Reserve, leaving interest rates above zero but funding fully one third of public spending through direct money creation. Governor Mervyn King has a reputation in the world's chancelleries as a conservative man of economic understanding. He doesn't really deserve it, having been one of the 364 lunatic economists who signed a round-robin to Margaret Thatcher in 1981 denouncing her economic policies just as they were on the point of magnificently working, pulling Britain back from what seemed inevitable catastrophic decline.
King's quiet manner may be more reassuring to skeptics than the arrogance of "Helicopter Ben" Bernanke, the US Federal Reservechairman, but the reality of his policies is little sounder and the economic situation facing him is distinctly worse.
Britain has two additional problems not shared by the United States and Japan. First, its economy is in distinctly worse shape. Growth was negative in the third quarter of 2009, unlike the modest positive growth in the US and the sharp uptick in Japan. Moreover, whereas US house prices are now at a reasonable level, in terms of incomes (albeit still perhaps 10% above their eventual bottom), Britain's house prices are still grossly inflated, possibly in London even double their appropriate level in terms of income.
The financial services business in Britain is a larger part of the overall economy than in the US and the absurd exemption from tax for foreigners has brought a huge disparity between the few foreigners at the top of the City of London and the unfortunate locals toiling for mere mortal rewards. A recent story that the housing market for London homes priced above 5 million British pounds (US$8.3 million) was being reflated by Goldman Sachs bonuses indicates the problem, and suggests that the further deflation needed in UK housing will have a major and unpleasant economic effect.
A second British problem not shared by the US is its excessive reliance on financial services. As detailed in previous columns, this sector has roughly doubled in the last 30 years as a share of both British and US GDP. In addition, the sector's vulnerability to a restoration of a properly tight monetary policy has been enormously increased through its addiction to trading revenue. The US has many other ways of making a living if its financial services sector shrinks, and New York is only a modest part of the overall economy. Britain is horribly over-dependent on financial services, and the painful if salutary effects of London costs being pushed down to national levels by a lengthy recession are less likely to be counterbalanced by exuberant growth elsewhere.
The other question to be answered for all three countries is that of political will. If, as is certainly the case in Britain, deficits at the current levels will lead to default (albeit not for some years since the country's public debt is still quite low), then to avoid default tough decisions must be taken. Britain is in poor shape in this respect. Its prime minister, Gordon Brown, is largely responsible for the underlying budget problem, having overspent when Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, during the boom years, largely on added bureaucracy rather than on anything productive or value-creating. However, the opposition Conservatives, likely to take power next spring, are led by a center-leftist with a background in public relations and no discernable backbone or principles.
Britain has a history of such leaders, which it has managed to survive - the ineffable Harold Macmillan, in particular, who wanted to abolish the stock exchange and contemplated nationalizing the banks when they raised interest rates, was a man of outlook and temperament very similar to David Cameron's. Macmillan was notoriously prone to soft options that postponed economic problems, firing his entire Treasury team in pursuit of soft options in 1958 and leaving behind an appalling legacy of inflationary bubble on his retirement in 1963. If Cameron is truly like Macmillan, his government's response to economic and financial disaster will be one of wriggle rather than confrontation.
With neither party providing solutions to an economic crisis, the British public is likely to discover that, unlike in the crisis of 1976, no solutions will be found. Default (doubtless disguised as with Argentina as "renegotiation") would in that case inevitably follow.
The United States is in somewhat better shape than Britain. Its deficit is somewhat lower, at 11.9% of GDP in calendar 2009, although its debt level is higher if you include the direct debt of mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as you should. It also has lower overall levels of public spending, although spending is rising rapidly. Furthermore, it has a much more diverse economy and a healthier real estate market, so that further likely downturns in California and Manhattan real estateand the financial services sector can be easily overcome.
US pundits like to whine about the impending deficits in social security and healthcare, but the former is easily overcome by adjusting the retirement age while the latter could be greatly mitigated by simple cost-containment measures, such as limiting trial lawyer depredations, making the state pay for the "emergency room" mandate to treat the indigent and allowing interstate competition for health insurance. All those changes would be politically difficult, but they are clearly visible and involve no damaging cuts in vital services, unlike the changes that would probably be necessary in Britain.
The other US advantage is political: it has an alternative to overspending. Last Tuesday's election results were a useful shot across the bows of the overspending consensus that had developed in both the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations (as well as among the barons of Congress) since 2007. Whereas voter concern about spiraling deficits and public spending has no satisfactory outlet in Britain, it can now express itself clearly in the US, producing either a sharp change of policy by the current administration and Congress or a change of administration in 2012. Since the likelihood of a reversal of policy towards sound budgetary management is greater in the US than in Britain, the probability of eventual default is less.
Japan has already had its change of government, throwing out the faction of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) that regarded politics as the art of creating pointless infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Japanese electorate, faced in August with a no-good-choices problem similar to that of US voters last year and British voters next spring, replaced a long-serving overspending government with another committed to a different set of spending priorities rather than to ending the spending itself. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has cut back sharply on the infrastructure "stimulus" but is showing signs of replacing it with social spending. It is also committed to economically dozy policies such as reversing postal privatization, organized with such great political effort by prime minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2005.
Japan does however have a couple of advantages that may enable it to avoid default. First, its public debt carries very low interest rates, mostly below 2% per annum, and is owned almost entirely by its own citizens. What's more, state-owned entities such as the now un-privatized Postal Bank lend vast amounts of money to the government, acting as conduits to the less efficient bits of the public sector in the same way as do China's state-owned banks. This is appallingly bad for the efficiency of the economy and for living standards, but it postpones default and makes it less likely.
Second, it's not inevitable that the LDP's wasteful infrastructure spending will simply be replaced by wasteful social spending. Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii is reputed to be a budgetary hard-liner. Further, at least part of the DPJ's spending will take the form of handouts to families with children. That may increase domestic consumption compared with exports and thereby better balance the Japanese economy, increasing its growth potential marginally. Nevertheless, since Japan's public debt is currently around 200% of GDP, Japan is much closer to the default precipice than either the US or Britain. Thus, while the better structure of Japan's economy and its debt make Japan's probability of default lower than Britain's, it's likely that if both countries defaulted, Japan would do so first.
We have not experienced a debt default by a major economy since the 1930s. That three such defaults are currently conceivable indicates both the severity of the current downturn and the wrong-headedness of the policies taken to address it. If it happens, a major sovereign debt default of this kind will cause the seizure of global capital markets, prolonging downturn for a decade or more.
We'd all better hope the urge for fiscal responsibility hits London, Washington and Tokyo pretty damn soon.
Martin Hutchinson is the author of Great Conservatives (Academica Press, 2005).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: A teachable moment
on: November 14, 2009, 07:12:39 AM
by JAMES TARANTO
Seth Lipsky has a knack for seeing the bright side of things. A nearly 20-year veteran of this newspaper, including its editorial page, he cheerfully acknowledges the obvious: This is far from a golden age of free-market conservatism. Of President Obama, he tells me over lunch, "I sense that he has a very leftist, socialist-oriented worldview."
Yet this makes Mr. Lipsky anything but grim: "I for one find this very exciting. . . . We're just at a great moment."
Why? Because, he says, "America is in what I call a constitutional moment." Mr. Obama's efforts to expand government power raise basic questions about the constitutional limits of that power. "The enumerated-powers argument is enormous," Mr. Lipsky says. "It's just enormous, the ground that is open for contest here. . . . Right now, we're at a moment where we're not going to be able to turn to either the Congress or the executive branch for help on this." He believes "the only defense now, the only tool we have now, is the Constitution. That's why I call it a constitutional moment, as opposed to a political moment."
That makes it an auspicious moment for Mr. Lipsky's new book, "The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide." The U.S. Constitution is a brief document, taking up just 42 pages in a popular pocket-size edition from the Cato Institute. Mr. Lipsky expands it to 287 pages of 5 by 8 inches, by way of 327 lengthy footnotes in which he discusses each and every constitutional clause in the context of history, case law and current events. There are an additional 36 pages of bibliographic references, making it the only book I've seen in which the footnotes have endnotes.
Mr. Lipsky doesn't remember exactly when he thought of the idea, but he believes it was in the late 1980s. "I got into an argument over abortion and was talking to someone about the right to privacy," he recalls. "I looked at a pamphlet the government had issued with a text-only edition of the Constitution, and I realized I couldn't find the word 'privacy' in the Constitution. I began to think about a better edition." Mr. Lipsky's edition has an index, where the listing for "privacy, right to" directs the reader to the chapters on the Third, Ninth and 14th amendments.
As a newspaperman for 40-plus years—in addition to working for the Journal, he founded two papers of his own—Mr. Lipsky has built a career on the First Amendment. But his enthusiasm extends as well to the preamble, the original seven articles and the 26 other amendments.
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."For years I've been sending memos to people who worked for me—desk editors, reporters, editorial writers—constantly trying to raise their consciousness about the usefulness of the Constitution in editorial work," he says. "Usually these memos that I would send would be simple memos, like, 'Where the hell does the Congress get the power to do that?' or, 'The New York Sun will not carry a dispatch about the Second Amendment which does not quote Justice Story as saying the Second Amendment is the palladium of our liberties.'"
In 1968, after graduating from Harvard, Mr. Lipsky took a reporting job at the Anniston Star in Alabama. He was there just seven months before he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, but it was long enough to provide a formative experience. He visited Frank Johnson, then a federal district judge, who had been a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the desegregation of Montgomery buses after Rosa Parks's arrest. Johnson also presided over Lee v. Macon County, a school-desegregation case that began in 1963.
He told Mr. Lipsky about the trial: "The school board was ready to accede when Gov. [George] Wallace heard about it and ordered them not to. So Johnson gets [Wallace] into court, and he says, 'On what basis are you objecting to this order?' [The governor] says, 'Well, I'm the ex officio chairman of the state board of education, and under that authority, I'm telling them not to integrate the schools.'
"Johnson says, 'As ex officio chairman of the state board of education, you have the power to tell the school board of Macon County, Alabama, that they can't integrate the school?' And the governor says, 'Yes, your honor, I do.' The judge says, 'Well, then, I'm ordering you to integrate all 67 counties in Alabama.'"
In Vietnam, Mr. Lipsky worked as a combat reporter for Pacific Stars and Stripes. Returning to civilian life, he joined the Journal in Detroit, with later postings in Hong Kong, New York and Brussels. He left in 1990 to start an English-language weekly edition of the Forward, a venerable Yiddish newspaper. In 2002, he founded the daily New York Sun—or rather he revived it, the original Sun having folded in 1950. The new Sun attracted a small but influential readership and gave many aspiring writers their start. It ceased publication last year, although Mr. Lipsky and a small stable of writers still publish occasional stories at nysun.com.
The optimism that drove Mr. Lipsky to start a daily newspaper in the Internet age also informs his view of the prospects for American governance. "One of the wonderful things about the Constitution is that anybody can play," he says. "Ordinary people asking simple questions have affected the country in enormous ways using this document. . . . It's just astounding the way individual predicaments and problems are used by the [Supreme] Court to lay down broad principles in the country."
To prove his point, he cites examples from the 1930s, the 1960s and the current decade.
The 1935 case of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. U.S. was decided at a time when the liberal political juggernaut looked even more unstoppable than today. Mr. Lipsky describes the facts: Enforcing the National Industrial Recovery Act, which gave the president vast powers to regulate business, "government thugs went into the kosher butcher shop of the Schechter family in Brooklyn, and they arrested its proprietor on criminal charges."
Among the charges: permitting a housewife "to pick which chicken she wanted." This measure provoked some levity during oral arguments at the Supreme Court: "The judges are asking a question about, 'How is the housewife supposed to pick out her chicken when she can't look at it?' Schechter's lawyer reaches over his shoulder into an imaginary cage and starts pitching around for a chicken, and the Supreme Court started laughing."
The justices ruled unanimously in Schechter's favor and declared the act unconstitutional. "They ended the New Deal," Mr. Lipsky says. Then, with more feeling: "They ended the New Deal!" (This overstates the case somewhat. The court later upheld the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act.)
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) "involved this guy who was arrested in Florida for robbing a poolroom. He goes into the court and says, 'The Supreme Court says I have a right to a lawyer.' The judge says . . . something to the effect of, 'Not in the state of Florida, you don't.' He gets convicted; he gets sent to prison. While he's in prison, he goes to the prison library. This derelict basically writes an appeal to the Supreme Court . . . in pencil and paper—a pauper's petition that says, 'I have a right to a lawyer.' The Supreme Court notices it, assigns Abe Fortas"—who himself joined the court in 1965—"to defend him. He wins the right to a lawyer for everyone accused of a crime in America. The name of Clarence Earl Gideon will be remembered as long as there is a law."
Last year's District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms, exemplifies Mr. Lipsky's point that the language of the Constitution retains its power even when long ignored. "We've had 200 years, and nothing's ever been done about this," he says. "For 50 of the 200 years, the New York Times has been sneering at the idea of an individual right, and everybody's been talking about how this right belongs to the 'militia.'"
Yet by carefully analyzing the language of the Second Amendment, the court cast aside that musty conventional wisdom. Mr. Lipsky, who describes himself as "a partisan of the plain-language school of the law," applauds not just the result but the method the justices, in an opinion by Antonin Scalia, employed to reach it: "They really get into the language. I mean, the actual grammar, the sentence structure, the subordinate and not-subordinate clauses, which—forgive me, but I've been arguing for a generation and a half as an editorial writer, the plain language of this thing is plain."
Although anybody can play, not everybody can win. In 2003, the high court ruled against Susette Kelo and allowed the city of New London, Conn., to seize her house under eminent domain and turn the land over to private developers.
It's just unbelievable, that case," Mr. Lipsky says—and all the more so in light of the latest development, or rather the lack of development. On Monday, Pfizer Inc., which was to have built offices on the now-barren site, announced that it was leaving New London altogether as part of a consolidation move.
Such disappointments notwithstanding, Mr. Lipsky's passion for the Constitution is a tonic for political depression. If ObamaCare does become law, to take an especially worrying example, it isn't hard to imagine a lot of Americans facing "individual predicaments," including threats to their lives from government rationing. It's some comfort to think they'll be able to petition for a stay—and to demand an answer to the question in that old Lipsky memo: "Where the hell does the Congress get the power to do that?"
Mr. Taranto, a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, writes the Best of the Web Today column for OpinionJournal.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Many entries
on: November 13, 2009, 11:33:31 AM
"Human Felicity is produced not so much by great Pieces of good Fortune that seldom happen, as by little Advantages that occur every Day." --Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1771
"Strive to be the greatest man in your country, and you may be disappointed. Strive to be the best and you may succeed: he may well win the race that runs by himself." --Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1747
"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country." --George Washington, upon fumbling for his glasses before delivering the Newburgh Address, 1783
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it." --Thomas Paine, The Crisis, No. 4, 1777
"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing. And that you may be always doing good, my dear, is the ardent prayer of yours affectionately." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Martha Jefferson, 1787
"And as to the Cares, they are chiefly what attend the bringing up of Children; and I would ask any Man who has experienced it, if they are not the most delightful Cares in the World; and if from that Particular alone, he does not find the Bliss of a double State much greater, instead of being less than he expected." --Benjamin Franklin, Reply to a Piece of Advice
"[T]he importance of piety and religion; of industry and frugality; of prudence, economy, regularity and an even government; all ... are essential to the well-being of a family." --Samuel Adams, letter to Thomas Wells, 1780
"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." --George Washington, The Rules of Civility, 1748
"It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, 1785
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Acorn's role in housing bubble
on: November 13, 2009, 05:19:25 AM
By EDWARD PINTO
All agree that the bursting of the housing bubble caused the financial collapse of 2008. Most agree that the housing bubble started in 1997. Less well understood is that this bubble was the result of government policies that lowered mortgage-lending standards to increase home ownership. One of the key players was the controversial liberal advocacy group, Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).
The watershed moment was the 1992 Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act, also known as the GSE Act. To comply with that law's "affordable housing" requirements, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would acquire more than $6 trillion of single-family loans over the next 16 years.
Congress's goal was to force these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to purchase loans that had been originated by banks—loans that were made under the pressure of another federal law, the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), to increase lending in low- and moderate-income communities.
From 1977 to 1991, $9 billion in local CRA lending commitments had been announced. CRA lending by large banks increased dramatically after the affordable housing mandate was in place in 1993, growing to $6 trillion today. As Ellen Seidman, director of the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, said in a speech before the Greenlining Institute on Oct. 2, 2001, "Our record home ownership rate [increasing from 64.2% in 1994 to 68% in 2001], I'm convinced, would not have been reached without CRA and its close relative, the Fannie/Freddie requirements."
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.The 1992 GSE Act was the fuse, and the trillions of dollars in subsequent CRA and GSE affordable-housing loans would fuel the greatest housing bubble our nation has ever seen. But who lit the fuse?
The previous year, as Allen Fishbein, currently an adviser for consumer policy at the Federal Reserve, has noted, Acorn and other community groups were informally deputized by then House Banking Chairman Henry Gonzalez to draft statutory language setting the law's affordable-housing mandates. Interim goals were set at 30% of the single-family mortgages purchased by Fannie and Freddie, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development has increased that percentage over time. The goal of the community groups was to force Fannie and Freddie to loosen their underwriting standards, in order to facilitate the purchase of loans made under the CRA.
Thus a provision was inserted into the law whereby Congress signaled to the GSEs that they should accept down payments of 5% or less, ignore impaired credit if the blot was over one year old, and otherwise loosen their lending guidelines.
The proposals of Acorn and other affordable-housing advocacy groups were acceptable to Fannie. Fannie had been planning to use the carrot of affordable-housing lending to maintain its hold over Congress and stave off its efforts to impose a strong safety and soundness regulator to oversee the company. (It was not until 2008 that a strong regulator was created for Fannie and Freddie. A little over a month later both GSEs were placed into conservatorship; they have requested a combined $112 billion in assistance from the federal government, and much more will be needed over the next few years.)
The result of loosened credit standards and a mandate to facilitate affordable-housing loans was a tsunami of high risk lending that sank the GSEs, overwhelmed the housing finance system, and caused an expected $1 trillion in mortgage loan losses by the GSEs, banks, and other investors and guarantors, and most tragically an expected 10 million or more home foreclosures.
As a result of congressional and regulatory actions, the percentage of conventional first mortgages (not guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration or the Veteran's Administration) used to purchase a home with the borrower putting 5% or less down tripled from 9% in 1991 to 27% in 1995, eventually reaching 29% in 2007.
Fannie and Freddie acquired $1.2 trillion of loans from banks and other lenders from 1993 to 2007. This amounted to 62% of all such conventional home purchase loans with a down payment of 5% or less that were originated nationwide over the same period.
Fannie and Freddie also acquired $2.2 trillion in subprime loans and private securities backed by subprime loans from 1997 to 2007. Acorn and the other advocacy groups succeeded at getting Congress to mandate "innovative and flexible" lending practices such as higher debt ratios and creative definitions of income. And the serious delinquency rate on Fannie and Freddie's $1.5 trillion in high-risk loans was 10.3% as of Sept. 30, 2009.
This is about seven times the delinquency rate on the GSEs' traditional loans. Fifty percent of the high-risk loans are estimated to be CRA loans, with much of the remainder useful to the GSEs in meeting their affordable-housing goals.
The flood of CRA and affordable-housing loans with loosened underwriting standards, combined with declining mortgage interest rates—to 5% in 2003 from 10% in early 1991—resulted in a massive increase in borrowing capacity and fueled a house price bubble of unprecedented magnitude over the period 1997-2006.
Now this history may repeat itself as many of the same community groups are pushing Congress to expand CRA to cover all mortgage lenders, credit unions, insurance companies and others financial industry segments. Are we about to set the stage for another catastrophe?
Mr. Pinto was the chief credit officer at Fannie Mae from 1987 to 1989. He is currently a consultant to the mortgage-finance industry.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bone Density
on: November 13, 2009, 04:58:25 AM
Phys Ed: The Best Exercises for Healthy Bones
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS
Digital Images/Getty Images
Several weeks ago, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that should give pause to anyone who plans to live a long and independent life. The study looked at the incidence of hip fractures among older Americans and the mortality rates associated with them. Although the number of hip fractures has declined in recent decades, the study found that the 12-month mortality rate associated with the injury still hovers at more than 20 percent, meaning that, in the year after fracturing a hip, about one in five people over age 65 will die.
Meanwhile, another group of articles, published this month as a special section of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, underscore why that statistic should be relevant even to active people who are years, or decades, away from eligibility for Medicare. The articles detailed a continuing controversy within the field of sports science about exactly how exercise works on bone and why sometimes, apparently, it doesn’t.
“There was a time, not so long ago,” when most researchers assumed “that any and all activity would be beneficial for bone health,” says Dr. Daniel W. Barry, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, at Denver, and a researcher who has studied the bones of the elderly and of athletes. Then came a raft of unexpected findings, some showing that competitive swimmers had lower-than-anticipated bone density, others that, as an earlier Phys Ed column pointed out, competitive cyclists sometimes had fragile bones and, finally, some studies suggesting, to the surprise of many researchers, that weight lifting did not necessarily strengthen bones much. In one representative study from a few years ago, researchers found no significant differences in the spine or neck-bone densities of young women who did resistance-style exercise training (not heavy weight lifting) and a similar group who did not.
Researchers readily admit that they don’t fully understand why some exercise is good for bones and some just isn’t. As the articles in this month’s Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise make clear, scientists actually seem to be becoming less certain about how exercise affects bone. Until fairly recently, many thought that the pounding or impact that you get from running, for instance, deformed the bone slightly. It bowed in response to the forces moving up the leg from the ground, stretching the various bone cells and forcing them to adapt, usually by adding cells, which made the bone denser. This, by the way, is how muscle adapts to exercise. But many scientists now think that that process doesn’t apply to bones. “If you stretch bone cells” in a Petri dish, says Alexander G. Robling, an assistant professor in the department of anatomy and cell biology at Indiana University School of Medicine and the author of an article in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, “you have to stretch them so far to get a response that the bone would break.”
So he and many other researchers now maintain that bone receives the message to strengthen itself in response to exercise by a different means. He says that during certain types of exercise, the bone bends, but this doesn’t stretch cells; it squeezes fluids from one part of the bone matrix to another. The extra fluid inspires the cells bathed with it to respond by adding denser bone.
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Why should it matter what kind of message bones are receiving? Because, Professor Robling and others say, only certain types of exercise adequately bend bones and move the fluid to the necessary bone cells. An emerging scientific consensus seems to be, he says, that “large forces released in a relatively big burst” are probably crucial. The bone, he says, “needs a loud signal, coming fast.” For most of us, weight lifting isn’t explosive enough to stimulate such bone bending. Neither is swimming. Running can be, although for unknown reasons, it doesn’t seem to stimulate bone building in some people. Surprisingly, brisk walking has been found to be effective at increasing bone density in older women, Dr. Barry says. But it must be truly brisk. “The faster the pace,” he says — and presumably the greater the bending within the bones — the lower the risk that a person will fracture a bone.
There seems to be a plateau, however, that has also surprised and confounded some researchers. Too much endurance exercise, it appears, may reduce bone density. In one small study completed by Dr. Barry and his colleagues, competitive cyclists lost bone density over the course of a long training season. Dr. Barry says that it’s possible, but not yet proved, that exercise that is too prolonged or intense may lead to excessive calcium loss through sweat. The body’s endocrine system may interpret this loss of calcium as serious enough to warrant leaching the mineral from bone. Dr. Barry is in the middle of a long-term study to determine whether supplementing with calcium-fortified chews before and after exercise reduces the bone-thinning response in competitive cyclists. He expects results in a year or so.
In the meantime, the current state-of-the-science message about exercise and bone building may be that, silly as it sounds, the best exercise is to simply jump up and down, for as long as the downstairs neighbor will tolerate. “Jumping is great, if your bones are strong enough to begin with,” Dr. Barry says. “You probably don’t need to do a lot either.” (If you have any history of fractures or a family history of osteoporosis, check with a physician before jumping.) In studies in Japan, having mice jump up and land 40 times during a week increased their bone density significantly after 24 weeks, a gain they maintained by hopping up and down only about 20 or 30 times each week after that.
If hopping seems an undignified exercise regimen, bear in mind that it has one additional benefit: It tends to aid in balance, which may be as important as bone strength in keeping fractures at bay. Most of the time, Dr. Barry says, “fragile bones don’t matter, from a clinical standpoint, if you don’t fall down.”
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: November 13, 2009, 04:44:03 AM
KILLEEN, Tex. — Sgt. Kimberly D. Munley has been applauded as a hero across the nation for shooting down Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan during the bloody rampage at Fort Hood last week. The account of heroism, given by the authorities, attracted the attention of newspapers, the networks and television talk shows.
But the initial story of how she and the accused gunman went down in an exchange of gunfire now appears to be inaccurate.
Another officer, Senior Sgt. Mark Todd, 42, said in an interview Thursday that he fired the shots that brought down the gunman after Sergeant Munley was seriously wounded. A witness confirmed Sergeant Todd’s account.
In the interview, Sergeant Todd said he and Sergeant Munley had pulled up to the scene in separate cars at the same time. He said they began running up a small hill toward the building that held the processing center where unarmed soldiers reported for check-ups and vaccinations before deployment. The gunman was already outside, Sergeant Todd recalled.
“That’s when the bystanders were pointing in his direction,” he said. “And when we popped up, he was standing there, and we shouted our commands — ‘Police, drop your weapons!’ — and he just opened fire on us.”
Sergeant Todd said he was slightly in front of Sergeant Munley on the hill. “Once we took fire, she broke right and I broke left,” he said.
Sergeant Todd said he did not see Sergeant Munley get shot. He said he started to circle around the building, but then backtracked as panicked bystanders told him of the gunman’s movements.
“As it unfolded, I went a different direction and he went a different direction, and we met up in the front of the building,” he said.
Sergeant Todd said he then saw Sergeant Munley on the ground, wounded. He shouted again at the gunman to drop his weapon.
“Once I came around the front of the building, I caught his attention again, started shouting commands, and then he opened up a second time,” Sergeant Todd said. “And that’s when I returned fire, neutralized him and secured him.”
Citing the ongoing investigation, Sergeant Todd declined to give more details about the precise positions of Major Hasan, Sergeant Munley and himself during the gunfight. He also would not say how many times he shot Major Hasan with his 9 mm pistol, or what Major Hasan was doing. The whole encounter lasted only 45 seconds, he said.
Sergeant Todd’s account agrees with that of a witness who was at the processing center when the shooting occurred.
The witness, who asked not to be identified, said Major Hasan wheeled on Sergeant Munley as she rounded the corner of a building and shot her. Then Major Hasan turned his back and started putting another magazine into his semiautomatic pistol.
Sergeant Todd then rounded another corner of the building, found Major Hasan fumbling with his weapon and shot him, the witness said.
How the authorities came to issue the original version of the story, which made Sergeant Munley a national hero for several days and obscured Sergeant Todd’s role, remains unclear. (Military officials also said for several hours after the shooting that Major Hasan had been killed; he survived.)
Six days after the shooting, the military has yet to put out a full account of what happened.
On Thursday, Christopher Grey, a spokesman for Army Criminal Investigation Command, told reporters that Sergeants Todd and Munley both “engaged the armed suspect.”
“I would caution you from drawing final conclusions until all the evidence is analyzed,” Mr. Grey said at a news conference at Fort Hood, where he announced that Major Hasan had been charged in a military court with 13 counts of premeditated murder.
On Wednesday, Lt. Col. John Rossi, the fort’s deputy commander, refused to take questions about who shot Major Hasan or why the initial reports said it had been Sergeant Munley rather than Sergeant Todd.
“These questions are specific to the investigation, and I am not going to address that,” Colonel Rossi said.
Public affairs officials also declined to make Chuck Medley, the director of emergency services at the post, available. It was Mr. Medley, who oversees the post’s civilian police and fire departments, who gave the first account of how Sergeant Munley stopped the gunman.
Page 2 of 2)
On Tuesday night, Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, declined to say whether it was Sergeant Todd who had shot Major Hasan. “It could have been, but the final outcome will be determined by the results of the ballistics tests.” Colonel Lee said.
On Wednesday, Sergeant Todd’s wife, Lisa, said her husband had asked the Army to protect his identity immediately after the shootings.
Asked in the interview whether he had asked to be kept out of the limelight, Sergeant Todd said: “Initially I wanted to stay pretty low key. This is a tragic event. I don’t think the attention should be on me. The medics are the ones who saved everybody’s life.”
Sergeant Todd and Sergeant Munley offered their first public comments on the shooting Wednesday on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” They did not give a detailed chronology of what happened, nor did they say who had fired and hit the suspect.
Both are members of the civilian police force at Fort Hood.
Sergeant Todd said on the talk show that after he had fired at the suspect, he kicked his weapon away and placed him in handcuffs. He said it was the first time in his 25 years in law enforcement and the military that he had used his weapon.
“I just relied back on my training,” Sergeant Todd said. “We’re trained to shoot until there is no longer a threat. And once he was laying down on his back, his weapon just fell into his hand and I’m, like, ‘O.K., now’s the time to rush him and secure him.’ “
The confusion over what happened and the quickness of the military to label someone a hero seemed reminiscent of the case of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in 2003, when the Army initially reported that Private Lynch had been captured in Iraq after a Rambo-like performance in which she emptied her weapon and was wounded in battle. It was later learned she had been badly hurt in a vehicle accident during an ambush and was being well cared for by the Iraqis.
On Friday, the day after the Fort Hood shooting, Mr. Medley said Sergeant Munley had encountered Major Hasan, pistol in hand, chasing down a bleeding soldier. She fired at him, he turned, they rushed at each other firing and both fell, Mr. Medley said.
“He turned and charged her rapidly firing, and she did what she was trained to do,” Mr. Medley said that day. He added, “She is absolutely a hero.”
Several hours later, Colonel Rossi expanded upon the story slightly in speaking to reporters. He said Sergeant Todd had arrived at the scene in the middle of the gunfight and had also fired his weapon.
The witness, however, offered a detailed account. He said he was walking in a roadway between the main building, known as the Sportsdome, and five smaller buildings. Major Hasan was headed toward the main building, the witness said, when Sergeant Munley came around the corner of a smaller building. Major Hasan wheeled on her and shot her several times, the witness said. It was unclear whether she squeezed off a shot or not, but she fell over backward, with wounds in her legs and her wrist, the witness said.
Major Hasan then turned his back and began to shove another magazine into his pistol. He did not appear wounded, the witness said. A few seconds later, Sergeant Todd came around another corner of the same building, raised his weapon and fired several times at Major Hasan, who pitched over backward and stopped moving.
“He shot her, turned away from her and was reloading when he was shot,” said the witness, who was nearby.
On the Winfrey show, Sergeant Munley, 35, said the incident was confusing and chaotic. “There were many people outside pointing to where this individual was apparently located,” she said. “When I got out of my vehicle and ran up the hill, that’s when it started getting bad and we started encountering fire.”
Sergeant Todd, a native of San Diego, has spent most of his adult life as a military police officer in the Army. A specialist in training police dogs, he left the military police in 2007, after 25 years, to join the civilian force at Fort Hood. He has served at four bases in the United States and two in Germany. Joining the civilian force at Fort Hood was supposed to be a second, quieter career for him, he said in the interview.
He said he was not troubled about having shot Major Hasan, whose pistol, he said, ”looked like a howitzer” in his hand.
“There is a certain amount of fear, but you have to control it,” Sergeant Todd said. “You rely on your training, and your training takes over.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Some success in Afg
on: November 13, 2009, 04:37:53 AM
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
Published: November 12, 2009
JURM, Afghanistan — Small grants given directly to villagers have brought about modest but important changes in this corner of Afghanistan, offering a model in a country where official corruption and a Taliban insurgency have frustrated many large-scale development efforts.
Since arriving in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States and its Western allies have spent billions of dollars on development projects, but to less effect and popular support than many had hoped for.
Much of that money was funneled through the central government, which has been increasingly criticized as incompetent and corrupt. Even more has gone to private contractors hired by the United States who siphon off almost half of every dollar to pay the salaries of expatriate workers and other overhead costs.
Not so here in Jurm, a valley in the windswept mountainous province of Badakhshan, in the northeast. People here have taken charge for themselves — using village councils and direct grants as part of an initiative called the National Solidarity Program, introduced by an Afghan ministry in 2003.
Before then, this valley had no electricity or clean water, its main crop was poppy and nearly one in 10 women died in childbirth, one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Today, many people have water taps, fields grow wheat and it is no longer considered shameful for a woman to go to a doctor. If there are lessons to be drawn from the still tentative successes here, they are that small projects often work best, that the consent and participation of local people are essential and that even baby steps take years.
The issues are not academic. Bringing development to Afghans is an important part of a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at drawing people away from the Taliban and building popular support for the Western-backed government by showing that it can make a difference in people’s lives.
“We ignored the people in districts and villages,” said Jelani Popal, who runs a state agency that appoints governors. “This caused a lot of indifference. ‘Why should I side with the government if it doesn’t even exist in my life?’ ”
Jurm was tormented by warlords in the 1990s, and though it never fell to the Taliban, the presence of the central government, even today, is barely felt. The idea to change that was simple: people elected the most trusted villagers, and the government in Kabul, helped by foreign donors, gave them direct grants — money to build things like water systems and girls’ schools for themselves.
Local residents contend that the councils work because they take development down to its most basic level, with villagers directing the spending to improve their own lives, cutting out middle men, local and foreign, as well as much of the overhead costs and corruption.
“You don’t steal from yourself,” was how Ataullah, a farmer in Jurm who uses one name, described it.
The grants were small, often less than $100,000. The plan’s overall effectiveness is still being assessed by academics and American and Afghan officials, but the idea has already been replicated in thousands of villages across the country. Anecdotal accounts point to some success. There have even been savings. When villages in the Jurm Valley wanted running water, for instance, they did much of the work themselves, with help from an engineer. A private contractor with links to a local politician had asked triple the price. (The villagers declined.)
Even such modest steps have not come easily. Jurm presented many obstacles, and it took a development group with determined local employees to jump-start the work here. One basic problem was literacy, said Ghulam Dekan, a local worker with the Aga Khan Development Network, the nonprofit group that supports the councils here. Unlike the situation in Iraq, which has a literacy rate of more than 70 percent, fewer than a third of Afghans can read, making the work of the councils painfully slow. Villagers were suspicious of projects, believing that the people in the groups that introduced them were Christian missionaries.
“They didn’t understand the importance of a road,” Mr. Dekan said.
Most projects, no matter how simple, took five years. Years of war had smashed Afghan society into rancorous bits, making it difficult to resist efforts by warlords to muscle in on projects.
“They said, ‘For God’s sake, we can’t do this, we don’t have the capability,’ ” Mr. Dekan said. “We taught them to have confidence.”
(Page 2 of 2)
Muhamed Azghari, an Aga Khan employee, spent more than a year trying to persuade a mullah to allow a girls’ school. His tactic: sitting lower than the man, a sign of deference, and praising his leadership. He paid for the man to visit other villages to see what other councils had accomplished.
“Ten times we fought, two times we laughed,” Mr. Dekan said, using the Afghan equivalent of “two steps forward, one step back.”
When it came to women, villagers were adamant.
But forcing conditions would have violated a basic principle of the approach: never start a project that is not backed by all members of the community, or it will fail.
“People have to be mentally ready,” said Akhtar Iqbal, Aga Khan’s director in Badakhshan. If they are not, the school or clinic will languish unused, a frequent problem with large-scale development efforts.
Five years later, the village of Fargamanch has women’s literacy classes and a girls’ high school. Over all, girls’ enrollment in Badakhshan is up by 65 percent since 2004, according to the Ministry of Education. The number of trained midwives has quadrupled. Health has also improved. Now, 3,270 families have taps for clean drinking water near their homes, reducing waterborne diseases. The councils are also a check on corruption. When 200 bags of wheat mysteriously disappeared from the local government this year, council members demanded they be returned. (They were.) When a minister’s aide cashed a check meant for a transformer, Mr. Ataullah spent a week tracking down a copy. (The aide was fired.)
“The government doesn’t like us anymore,” Mr. Azghari said, laughing. “They want the old system back.”
While Badakhshan’s changes are fragile, the forces of modernization are growing. Televisions have begun to broadcast the outside world into villages. Phone networks cover more than 80 percent of the province, triple what the figure was in 2001. Perhaps most important, Afghans are tired of war, and seeing the benefits of a decade of peace might be enough to encourage new kinds of decisions. Ghulam Mohaiuddin, a farmer, seethes when he remembers the past.
“The jihad was useless,” he said, sitting cross-legged in his mud-walled house.
Suddenly, a loud blast went off, startling his guests. He laughed. It was the sound of canal construction, not a bomb.
“Now we’ve put down our weapons and started building,” he said, smiling.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson: FHA Going broke?
on: November 13, 2009, 04:32:53 AM
Until we have comments from an economically literate and honest source, here's this from POTH.
Housing Agency’s Cash Reserves Down Sharply
Brendan Smialowski for The New York TimesDavid H. Stevens, the Federal Housing Administration commissioner, during a Congressional hearing in October.
By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: November 12, 2009
The Federal Housing Administration, the government agency whose loan-insurance programs have become a crucial source of support for the housing market, said on Thursday that its cash reserves had dwindled significantly in the last year as more borrowers defaulted on their mortgages.
“There is a real risk. Nobody has a crystal ball,” said Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
The agency released an audit that spelled out the rapid deterioration of its finances. It is tightening loan standards in hopes it will not become another drain on the United States Treasury, but is reluctant to clamp down so much that it snuffs out the tentative recovery in housing.
How successfully the agency walks this tightrope could well determine whether the recovery gathers force, or whether home prices slide again — perhaps creating a fresh economic downturn.
As recently as a few weeks ago, the F.H.A. had said that even under the bleakest economic forecast, its cash cushion would quickly recover. On Thursday, it abandoned that position.
“There is a real risk. Nobody has a crystal ball,” Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development, said in an interview. “We recognize there is a possibility that the reserves go below zero and stay there.”
Still, Mr. Donovan stressed that the agency, which had a role in one out of five home purchases in the last year, would not need a direct taxpayer bailout.
“There is no extraordinary action that Congress or anyone else needs to take,” he said during a news conference in Washington.
Instead, the agency would borrow from the Treasury, under authority previously granted by Congress. In the worst case, involving a protracted recession, the audit said the F.H.A. would run out of capital in 2011 and have to borrow $1.6 billion from the Treasury to pay insurance claims, a relatively small sum.
That is not a situation the agency considers likely. In line with many analysts, the agency expects the housing market to turn down again over the next nine months and then to recover. Under this projection, foreclosures would be manageable and the reserves would quickly grow.
The F.H.A.’s annual audit was scheduled for release last week, but was mysteriously delayed at the last minute. On Thursday, as it released the document, the agency explained that it wanted its auditors to include more negative forecasts as a way of understanding the worst-case risk.
The audit showed reserves to be 0.53 percent of the total portfolio, far below the 2 percent minimum mandated by Congress and far less than the audit last year had forecast. In 2007, just before housing prices began their worst slump in decades, the reserves were above 6 percent.
Ann Schnare, a consultant who has analyzed the F.H.A. balance sheet, put the situation this way: “They’re running on empty.”
As the fortunes of the F.H.A. have deteriorated over the last few months, the agency has become a focal point for dissatisfaction over federal efforts to prop up the housing market.
It is drawing comparisons to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant agencies created by Congress to keep the mortgage market supplied with cash by buying up pools of home loans. With borrowers defaulting in the downturn, Fannie and Freddie have required enormous bailouts.
The F.H.A.’s role differs from that of Fannie and Freddie. Through its insurance, it helps marginal buyers get loans if they do not have the 20 percent down payment a traditional bank loan requires. The agency requires a 3.5 percent down payment. Critics say it went overboard and insured too many loans to unqualified borrowers in 2007 and 2008, a position with which the agency itself now agrees.
Nearly one in five loans it insured in 2007 falls into the category of “seriously delinquent,” it said Thursday. These loanholders are at least three months behind in their payments. For 2008 loans, 12 percent of them were seriously delinquent.
The F.H.A. says it is insuring loans to more financially secure buyers with higher credit scores. The average credit score of new borrowers, it said, is 693, compared with 633 two years ago.
In a sense, the agency is bulking up and giving as many loans as it can to qualified buyers as a way to diminish the relative size of the pool of problem loans. It guaranteed more than $360 billion in mortgages in the last year, four times the amount of 2007.
Critics say this is only increasing the size of the ultimate peril.
“They keep saying they’re going to outrun their problems, but some way, somehow, the taxpayer is going to end up on the hook,” said Edward Pinto, a former executive with Fannie Mae.
During the news conference, Secretary Donovan and the agency’s commissioner, David H. Stevens, said that the cash reserve, the figure that has fallen to 0.53 percent of loans outstanding, was merely a supplement to a much larger fund that the F.H.A. was holding against expected losses. Between the two accounts, the agency has $31 billion to cover losses over the next 30 years.
The F.H.A.’s problems stem from its rapid transition from a wallflower to the most popular student in class.
During the housing boom, buyers flocked to private subprime lenders, who offered deals that required no money down and no documentation. The F.H.A., which required its token down payment and documentation of the borrower’s earning power, lost ground.
But as the market tumbled and the subprime outfits failed, F.H.A. loans became the next best thing. Brian Montgomery, who ran the F.H.A. for the Bush administration, said in a recent interview that the agency felt it had no choice but to open the doors to a broader group of applicants.
Citing pressure from Congress and the White House, Mr. Montgomery said: “We had to let these loans through.”
Mr. Montgomery, now a consultant, says that anyone dismayed by the possibility of yet another bailout should feel a different emotion toward the Department of Housing and Urban Development and, for that matter, himself: gratitude.
“They should be going over to the H.U.D. building and frankly thanking the career staff for saving them from a depression,” Mr. Montgomery said.
Louise Story contributed reporting.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A big deal in the works?
on: November 13, 2009, 04:29:10 AM
A Speech, the Russian Economy and U.S. Relations
AS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DMITRI MEDVEDEV was preparing to make his second State of the State address on Thursday, some major shifts in Russian domestic and foreign policy appeared to be taking place. Those shifts seemed destined to affect not only the speech, but Russia as a whole.
The address was postponed for a month. The annual State of the State address can be delivered anytime in October or November, but STRATFOR sources in the Kremlin have said that the speech was put on hold while Medvedev awaited permission from Russia’s decision-maker-in-chief, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on launching massive economic reforms.
“The speech will be a test for U.S.-Russian relations.”
These reforms reportedly will be the heart of Medvedev’s speech. The global financial crisis hit Russia pretty hard, but it also has revealed some deep and dangerous inefficiencies in the Russian economy that could seriously damage the country in the future. As previously discussed, in order to combat these inefficiencies, Medvedev – along with his mentor, Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin — have come up with a plan to invite Western investment and technology back into the country, taking many key companies private and quashing mismanagement — mostly by the security services — in some critical Russian corporations.
These reforms have been highly controversial: They not only would reverse the centralization of the Russian economy – a trend that has been under way for the past four years – but would deprive many within the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) of their economic power.
On Wednesday, the day before Medvedev’s speech, we learned that criminal investigations have been launched into 22 state companies — all of which are tied to the FSB. Also, late Tuesday night, Medvedev signed a document calling for a major overhaul of state firms.
These are signs that Putin has signed off on the plan by Medvedev’s clan to reform the Russian economy. The president’s speech was expected to make those changes public.
But the speech also was to be a test for U.S.-Russian relations. The Russian presidents — first Putin, then Medvedev — have used the State of the State address as a vehicle for criticizing the West. Last year, Medvedev used Soviet-era rhetoric and declared Russia’s return to the ranks of the world’s great powers.
Relations between the United States and Russia seem to have taken a sharp downturn since that speech, with Washington continuing its support for former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states like Georgia and Poland, and with Russia continuing its support for Iran.
But Russia’s stance may be shifting. In the past week, Medvedev has said that he might be open to shifting Moscow’s position on Iran to support Western-organized sanctions. There also have been a string of statements out of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, pushing for Iran to agree to a nuclear deal with the West.
The question is whether Russia means it or not. Medvedev may be opening a window of opportunity for the United States on the Iran issue. The Russians know they need Western investment and technology in order to strengthen and stabilize their economy. But the West has not wanted to deal with Russia while there were no guaranteed protections for investors and Russia was supporting anti-Western regimes like Tehran.
Moscow could be stringing all these issues together — conceding on Iran, while giving the West an opportunity to forge a new economic relationship with Russia.
The tone of Medvedev’s speech therefore was expected to signal whether Russia is really going to extend an olive branch to the West or continue with the current standoff.
All of these gestures — the speech, economic reforms and shifts on Iran — come just ahead of a meeting between Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama, who will talk in Singapore on Sunday. And that could be the true litmus test of how serious both sides are about a change in relations.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq
on: November 12, 2009, 07:46:16 PM
Our man in Iraq is no longer there, but here are some letters from some of the Iraqi men from whom he worked. For reasons of OPSEC, no fotos:
Some goodbye correspondence I felt like sharing. I think it's important for you folks to see Iraqis as I have found many of them to be. Many, if not most, have a great goodness in their hearts. That is how I will remember them when I leave. They can do some stupid, dumb mierda but I have met many who have good hearts. I had to talk Headar out of giving me his Iraq national soccer team jersey yesterday. Can you imagine how precious a memory that is to him? Yet he wanted to give it to me.
I am at a loss of words as am writing this mail with sadness for your leaving the JALEA. I was fortunate to work with a great advisor like you and you added a huge experience to my career, I admired your knowledge and courage from the first moment I worked with you. And I would like to thank you so much for supporting me in many occasions.
You will be impossible to replace.
I hope all the best to you in your future endeavors.
I would be glad if you contact me at me personal e mail: xxxxxx
My best wishes to you and to your family.
--------- ---------- --------
Actually, I don't know how to start to express my gratefulness and appreciation for helping my country and people to rise them up especially in the Judicial Security Sector, which is the most significant element of the Power. In addition, the great efforts and time had been assigned for behalf of our country, by putting your life under risk and terrible circumstances, and leaving your family. So I would like to convey my thanks instead of the Iraqi people and wishing you all the goodness and luck in your life.
And I want to thank your family, and friends for their sustaining and encouraging for being away for a year
Greatly appreciation to stand beside Iraqi employees and try to get the best for them
I hope we can keep in contact: xxxx
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Now this IS a surprise
on: November 12, 2009, 06:39:18 PM
U.S. Moves to Seize 4 Mosques and Skyscraper Tied to Iran
U.S. Moves to Seize 4 Mosques and Skyscraper Tied to Iran
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: November 12, 2009
Filed at 6:18 p.m. ET
NEW YORK (AP) -- Federal prosecutors took steps Thursday to seize four U.S. mosques and a Fifth Avenue skyscraper owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization long suspected of being secretly controlled by the Iranian government.
In what could prove to be one of the biggest counterterrorism seizures in U.S. history, prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court against the Alavi Foundation, seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets.
The assets include bank accounts; Islamic centers consisting of schools and mosques in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston; more than 100 acres in Virginia; and a 36-story glass office tower in New York.
Confiscating the properties would be a sharp blow against Iran, which has been accused by the U.S. government of bankrolling terrorism and trying to build a nuclear bomb.
A telephone call and e-mail to Iran's U.N. Mission seeking comment were not immediately answered. Nor was a call to the Alavi Foundation.
It is extremely rare for U.S. law enforcement authorities to seize a house of worship, a step fraught with questions about the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
The action against the Shiite Muslim mosques is sure to inflame relations between the U.S. government and American Muslims, many of whom are fearful of a backlash after last week's Fort Hood shooting rampage, blamed on a Muslim American major.
The mosques and the skyscraper will remain open while the forfeiture case works its way through court in what could be a long process. What will happen to them if the government ultimately prevails is unclear. But the government typically sells properties it has seized through forfeiture, and the proceeds are sometimes distributed to crime victims.
Prosecutors said the Alavi Foundation managed the office tower on behalf of the Iranian government and, working with a front company known as Assa Corp., illegally funneled millions in rental income to Iran's state-owned Bank Melli. Bank Melli has been accused by a U.S. Treasury official of providing support for Iran's nuclear program, and it is illegal in the United States to do business with the bank.
The U.S. has long suspected the foundation was an arm of the Iranian government; a 97-page complaint details involvement in foundation business by several top Iranian officials, including the deputy prime minister and ambassadors to the United Nations.
''For two decades, the Alavi Foundation's affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations, in violation of a series of American laws,'' U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
There were no raids Thursday as part of the forfeiture action. The government is simply required to post notices of the civil complaint on the property.
As prosecutors outlined their allegations against Alavi, the Islamic centers and the schools they run carried on with normal activity. The mosques' leaders had no immediate comment.
Parents lined up in their cars to pick up their children at the schools within the Islamic Education Center of Greater Houston and the Islamic Education Center in Rockville, Md. No notices of the forfeiture action were posted at either place as of late Thursday.
At the Islamic Institute of New York, a mosque and school in Queens, two U.S. marshals came to the door and rang the bell repeatedly. The marshals taped a forfeiture notice to the window and left a large document sitting on the ground. After they left a group of men came out of the building and took the document.
The fourth Islamic center marked for seizure is in Carmichael, Calif.
The skyscraper, known as the Piaget building, was erected in the 1970s under the shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979. The tenants include law and investment firms and other businesses.
The sleek, modern building, last valued at $570 million to $650 million in 2007, has served as an important source of income for the foundation over the past 36 years. The most recent tax records show the foundation earned $4.5 million from rents in 2007.
Rents collected from the building help fund the centers and other ventures, such as sending educational literature to imprisoned Muslims in the U.S. The foundation has also invested in dozens of mosques around the country and supported Iranian academics at prominent universities.
If federal prosecutors seize the skyscraper, the Alavi Foundation would have almost no way to continue supporting the Islamic centers, which house schools and mosques. That could leave a major void in Shiite communities, and hard feelings toward the FBI.
The forfeiture action comes at a tense moment in U.S.-Iranian relations, with the two sides at odds over Iran's nuclear program and its arrest of three American hikers.
But Michael Rubin, an expert on Iran at the American Enterprise Institute, said the timing of the forfeiture action was probably a coincidence, not an effort to influence Iran on those issues.
''Suspicion about the Alavi Foundation transcends three administrations,'' Rubin said. ''It's taken ages dealing with the nuts and bolts of the investigation. It's not the type of investigation which is part of any larger strategy.''
Legal scholars said they know of only a few cases in U.S. history in which law enforcement authorities have seized a house of worship. Marc Stern, a religious-liberty expert with the American Jewish Congress, called such cases extremely rare.
The Alavi Foundation is the successor organization to the Pahlavi Foundation, a nonprofit group used by the shah to advance Iran's charitable interests in America. But authorities said its agenda changed after the fall of the shah.
In 2007, the United States accused Bank Melli of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and put the bank on its list of companies whose assets must be frozen. Washington has imposed sanctions against various other Iranian businesses.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: November 12, 2009, 11:25:42 AM
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An important shift?!?
on: November 12, 2009, 11:22:32 AM
The former foreign minister of the ousted Taliban regime, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, has said that one part of the Taliban movement is prepared to negotiate with the United States if Washington is ready to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, top Afghan Taliban commander in Kandahar Mullah Toor Jan said the Afghan Taliban movement has nothing to do with Pakistan’s main Taliban rebel group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, that the Afghan Taliban only targets U.S. and NATO forces, and that al Qaeda has no influence over the Afghan Taliban. Though the statements suggest the mainstream Afghan Taliban movement is positioning itself for substantive talks down the road with the United States, a U.S.-Taliban understanding — assuming it can be achieved — would not suffice to solve all of Washington’s problems in Afghanistan.
Part of the Taliban movement is prepared to negotiate with the United States if Washington is ready to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told CNN on Nov. 11. Muttawakil added that there is a huge difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban, as the former has an international agenda while the Taliban pose no threat to the world. He also said the Taliban are prepared to assure the world that Afghanistan will not be used as a launching pad for transnational attacks. Just one day before that, top Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Toor Jan (aka Abdul Manan) in the southeastern Afghan city of Spinboldak told Pakistani news channel Aaj TV that the Afghan Taliban movement has nothing to do with Pakistan’s main Taliban rebel group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Mullah Toor said that the Afghan Taliban only attacks U.S. and NATO forces, and that al Qaeda has no influence over the Afghan Taliban.
The statements suggest the mainstream Afghan Taliban movement is working hard to distinguish itself from al Qaeda and from the Pakistani Taliban, and that the Afghan Taliban could be ready to negotiate with the United States. Many obstacles still lie ahead for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, however.
Since Muttawakil’s surrender to U.S. forces shortly after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and his subsequent release from detention at Bagram air base in 2003, the Afghan Taliban leadership has found him useful as a conduit for communications with the West. While Muttawakil does not hold major influence over the Taliban movement, he has been engaged in a number of efforts to connect the Taliban with the U.S. government; so far, these have not born fruit.
In a July report, STRATFOR discussed how Mullah Omar would be willing to negotiate, but only for the right price. Though the Taliban have the initiative in the war, and the United States and its NATO allies are struggling to come up with a coherent strategy to deal with the Afghan insurgency, the Taliban realize the limits of their own power. This is not 1996, when the Taliban were able to take power in Kabul by force and later impose their writ upon as much as 95 percent of the country. The Taliban is not the same organization it was when it first arose in the mid-1990s, as the Taliban now is a moniker for a broad array of largely Pashtun Islamist militant factions on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border and Afghanistan no longer faces the kind of anarchy that allowed the Taliban to take power.
The Afghan Taliban realizes that to successfully stage a political comeback, it will need broad international recognition as a legitimate stakeholder in Afghanistan. This requires losing its designation as a terrorist organization — no easy feat given the shelter it offered the masterminds of Sept. 11 — explaining the recent bid to sharpen the distinction between itself and transnational jihadism.
While the Taliban are ready to deal on al Qaeda, they cannot accept a settlement that does not provide for a withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan. The Taliban are hoping they can exploit the sentiment within the West against a long-term military commitment to their advantage. Still, Western governments feel that at a minimum, they will need a limited military commitment in Afghanistan to guarantee the country does not once again become a safe-haven for transnational jihadists.
By saying the things the United States is most interested in hearing, the Afghan Taliban are hoping to expand the advantage they hold in terms of the insurgency into a political one. The current statements seem to offer Washington just the opening it has sought. Washington’s strategy calls for driving a wedge between pragmatic and more ideological segments of the Taliban as well as separating the Pashtun jihadist movement from al Qaeda. But the United States, assuming it can somehow get past the political hurdles of dealing with the leadership that harbored the group responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, still lacks the intelligence on the Taliban to be able to tell one faction apart from the other.
The only actor that has any semblance of an understanding of the internal configuration of the Afghan Taliban is Pakistan. Islamabad, however, has its hands full with its own indigenous Taliban rebellion, and has lost a certain degree of influence over the Afghan Taliban. Nonetheless, given the Pashtun ethnic linkages between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Islamabad is the only player that can help connect Washington with the Afghan Taliban. But the growing rift between Washington and the Pakistani military has made such cooperation less likely.
The multibillion-dollar Kerry-Lugar aid package has soured the Pakistani military on Washington, as have fears within Pakistani central command that the United States is out to denuclearize Islamabad. The gap between how Pakistan distinguishes between “good” versus “bad” Taliban and how the United States distinguishes reconcilable versus irreconcilable Taliban elements also will hamper such cooperation. Both sides’ efforts to categorize the Taliban into two parts ignore al Qaeda’s links across the entire Taliban landscape. And while the United States welcomes the Pakistani offensive against TTP rebels and their transnational allies, deep mistrust between the two sides remains, with Washington concerned about the scope of the offensive and Islamabad wondering about U.S. intentions with regard to Afghanistan (and troubled about an increased Indian role in Afghanistan and close U.S.-Indian relations).
Even Pakistani assistance in Afghanistan would not suffice to solve the United States’ problems there, however. Iran must also be brought on board if there is to be a settlement on Afghanistan, given Iran’s influence among the anti-Taliban forces as well as certain elements within the Pashtun jihadist movement — something Washington has acknowledged. Tensions over the nuclear negotiations are preventing any U.S.-Iranian consensus on Afghanistan, however. With the nuclear talks in limbo and the risk of a U.S. or Israeli military strike against Iran, any agreement on Afghanistan appears unlikely anytime soon.
Meanwhile, U.S. relations with Kabul have hit a serious low point given the fiasco over the recent Afghan presidential election and the Obama administration’s efforts to find an alternative to President Hamid Karzai. No alternative was found, and the effort ended up creating a rift among the forces previously united in their opposition to the Taliban.
Ultimately, each major stakeholder in Afghanistan whose participation is critical to a settlement — Kabul, the Taliban, Pakistan, and Iran — has a problematic relationship with the United States. If there is to be a settlement in Afghanistan, Washington will have to deal with each of these issues.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rove
on: November 12, 2009, 10:12:43 AM
By KARL ROVE
Republican victories in New Jersey and Virginia governors' races last week—despite eight campaign appearances in the two states by President Barack Obama—have unnerved Democrats.
Over the weekend, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod tried to calm jittery Democrats who might go wobbly on the president's ambitious agenda by telling NBC's Chuck Todd that next year's congressional elections will be "nationalized." Because they "will be a referendum on this White House," he said, voters will turn out for Mr. Obama. Mr. Todd summed up Mr. Axelrod's plans by saying, "It's almost like a page from the Bush playbook of 2002."
I appreciate the reference. Only two presidents have picked up seats in both houses of Congress for their party in their first midterm elections. One was FDR in 1934. The other was George W. Bush in 2002, whose party gained House seats and won back control of the Senate.
But those midterm elections might not be a favorable comparison for this White House. The congressional elections were nationalized seven years ago largely because national security was an overriding issue and Democrats put themselves on the wrong side of it by, among other things, catering to Big Labor.
At the time, there was a bipartisan agreement to create the new Department of Homeland Security. Democrats insisted that every inch of the department be subject to collective bargaining. They pushed for this even though sections of every other department can be declared off-limits to unionization for national security reasons. What Democrats wanted was shortsighted and dangerous. Voters pounded them for it.
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.Mr. Bush also had a record of bipartisanship that included winning passage of the No Child Left Behind Act with the support of Democrats Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. George Miller. And he had a popular agenda of tax cuts, regulatory reform, and sound leadership in the wake of 9/11 that the GOP could run on. Mr. Obama lacks a comparable foundation.
Instead, the narrative Obama White House officials are writing about themselves is that they are uncompromising, ungracious, and ready to run roughshod over popular opinion. They have mastered the Chicago way of politics: reward friends, punish enemies, and jam the opposition. Voters have a tendency to quickly grow tired of pugnacious governance.
That's only the beginning of Mr. Axelrod's problems. If the 2010 midterms are nationalized, they will be a referendum on Mr. Obama's increasingly unpopular policies. For example, in the newest Gallup survey released on Monday, only 29% say they'd advise their congressman to vote for the health-care bill. This is down from 40% last month. A Rasmussen poll out this week shows that 42% of Americans strongly oppose the bill, while only 25% strongly favor it.
Mr. Obama is increasingly seen as governing from the left—the latest Gallup poll shows that 54% of Americans say the president's policies have been mostly liberal and only 34% say they are mostly moderate. That's a risky position to be in when the country leans to the right.
High unemployment and the president's low approval on jobs and the economy (which is at 46% in a CNN/Opinion Research poll released last week), won't by themselves sink Democrats. But what will hurt are the beliefs that Mr. Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill was a flop and that he doesn't know how to speed up the economic recovery.
Mr. Obama's approval on handling the deficit in the CNN/Opinion Research survey is now 39%. The president's plans to triple the deficit over the next decade is causing a level of angst among independents that we haven't seen since Ross Perot ran for president in the 1990s. This angst has given Republicans a four-point lead in Gallup's generic ballot (48% to 44%), putting the party in a better position than it was in spring 1994, just a few months before its historic takeover of Congress.
About Karl Rove
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.
Before Karl became known as "The Architect" of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.
Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon Schuster. Email the author at Karl@Rove.com
or visit him on the web at Rove.com.
Or, you can send him a Tweet@karlrove.
.Democrats increasingly recognize their vulnerability. Of the 80 House Democrats whose districts were carried by Mr. Bush or John McCain, nine voted against the stimulus, 21 against a budget resolution that called for doubling the national debt in four years, 36 against cap and trade, and 36 against health care. Defections will grow. Nothing concentrates a troubled centrist's mind like a coming election.
Maybe the Obama inner sanctum realizes that its agenda is unpopular and will cost many Democrats their seats next year but calculates that enough will survive to keep the party in control of Congress. Perhaps they have decided that Mr. Obama's goal of turning America into a European-style social democracy is worth risking a voter revolt.
Many Democrats who will be on the ballot next year may come to a different conclusion. Nationalizing the elections over an unpopular agenda isn't likely to repeat Mr. Bush's feat of picking up congressional seats. It is, however, likely to lead to more Republican congressmen than are there now.
Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Surprise from Pravada on the Hudson
on: November 12, 2009, 10:03:50 AM
The NYTimes actually surprises by acknowledging this:
At Fort Hood, Witness Credits Second Officer
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
Published: November 11, 2009
KILLEEN, Tex. — Sgt. Kimberly D. Munley has been applauded as a hero across the nation for shooting down Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan during the bloody rampage at Fort Hood last week. The account of heroism, given by the authorities, attracted the attention of newspapers, the networks and television talk shows.
But the story of how the petite police officer and the accused gunman went down in an exchange of gunfire does not agree with the account of an eyewitness who had gone to the base’s processing center, where the shooting occurred, to conduct business before being deployed.
The witness, who asked not to be identified, said Major Hasan wheeled on Sergeant Munley as she rounded the corner of a building and shot her, putting her on the ground. Then Major Hasan turned his back on her and started putting another magazine into his semiautomatic pistol.
It was at that moment that Senior Sgt. Mark Todd, a veteran police officer, rounded another corner of the building, found Major Hasan fumbling with his weapon and shot him.
How the authorities came to issue the original version of the story, which made Sergeant Munley a national hero for several days and obscured Sergeant Todd’s role, remains unclear. (Military officials also said for several hours after the shooting that Major Hasan had been killed, although he had survived.)
Six days after the deadly shooting rampage at a center where soldiers were preparing for deployment, the military has yet to put out a full account of what happened.
At a news conference outside the post on Wednesday, Lt. Col. John Rossi refused to take questions about who shot Major Hasan or why the initial reports said it had been Sergeant Munley rather than Sergeant Todd.
“These questions are specific to the investigation and I am not going to address that,” Colonel Rossi said.
Public affairs officials also declined to make Chuck Medley, the director of emergency services at the post, available for questions. It was Mr. Medley, who oversees the post’s civilian police and fire departments, who gave the first account of how Sergeant Munley stopped the gunman.
On Tuesday night, Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, of the Army’s Office of the Chief of Public Affairs at the Pentagon, declined to say whether it was Sergeant Todd who had shot Major Hasan. “It could have been, but the final outcome will be determined by the results of the ballistics tests.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Sergeant Todd’s wife, Lisa, said he had asked the Army to protect his identity in the immediate aftermath of the shootings. Her husband did not consider himself to be the real hero of the day, she said. “They were in this together,” she said.
Neither Sergeant Todd nor Sergeant Munley were made available by the military for this article, but on Wednesday on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” they offered their first public comments on the shooting. They did not give a detailed chronology of what happened, nor did they say who had fired and hit the suspect.
Both are members of the civilian police force at Fort Hood. Sergeant Todd said on the talk show that he and Sergeant Munley had arrived at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center in separate squad vehicles about the same time.
Sergeant Todd acknowledged that he had played a major role in bringing the violence to an end. He said that he had fired at the suspect, kicked his weapon away and placed him in handcuffs. It was the first time in his 25 years in law enforcement and the military, Sergeant Todd said, that he had used his weapon.
“I just relied back on my training,” Sergeant Todd said. “We’re trained to shoot until there is no longer a threat. And once he was laying down on his back, his weapon just fell into his hand and I’m, like, ‘O.K., now’s the time to rush him and secure him.’ ”
The confusion over what happened and the quickness of the military to label someone a hero seemed reminiscent of the case of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in 2003, when the Army initially reported Private Lynch had been captured in Iraq after a Rambo-like performance in which she emptied her weapon and was wounded in battle. It was later learned she had been badly hurt in a vehicle accident during an ambush and was being well cared for by the Iraqis.
On Friday, the day after the Fort Hood shooting, Mr. Medley said Sergeant Munley had encountered Major Hasan, pistol in hand, chasing down a bleeding soldier. It was 1:27 p.m. She fired at him, he turned, they rushed at each other firing and both fell, Mr. Medley said.
“He turned and charged her rapidly firing, and she did what she was trained to do,” Mr. Medley said that day. He added, “She is absolutely a hero.”
(Page 2 of 2)
Several hours later, at a late-night news conference on the post, Colonel Rossi expanded upon the story slightly in speaking to reporters. He said Sergeant Todd had arrived at the scene in the middle of the gunfight and had also fired his weapon.
The eyewitness, however, offered a different account. He said he was walking in a roadway between the main building, known as the Sportsdome, and five smaller buildings. Major Hasan was headed toward the main building, the witness said, when Sergeant Munley came around the corner of a smaller building. Major Hasan wheeled on her and shot her several times, the witness said. It was unclear whether she squeezed off a shot or not, but she fell over backward, disabled with wounds in her legs and one of her wrists, the witness said.
Major Hasan then turned his back on her and began to shove another magazine into his pistol. He did not appear wounded, the witness said. A few seconds later, Sergeant Todd came around another corner of the same building. He raised his weapon and fired several times at Major Hasan, who pitched over backward and stopped moving.
“He shot her, turned away from her and was reloading, when he was shot,” said the witness, who was nearby.
On the Winfrey show, Sergeant Munley, 35, said the incident was confusing and chaotic. “There were many people outside pointing to where this individual was apparently located,” she said. “When I got out of my vehicle and ran up the hill, that’s when it started getting bad and we started encountering fire.”
Sergeant Todd, 42, is a native of California who spent most of his adult life as a military police officer in the Army. He left the military police after 25 years to join the civilian force at Fort Hood. Like most members of the military, he has moved around a lot, serving at four bases in the United States and two in Germany.
Ms. Todd said her husband did not seem upset in the wake of shooting Major Hasan.
“He say’s he’s O.K.,” she said. “And I have to take him at his word.”
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: November 12, 2009, 09:10:07 AM
As well she should. Munley acted bravely and is a hero. That said, I search for Truth and as such note with a touch of irritation a bit of the Jessica Lynch syndrome here. Note how the article refuses to candidly say that, contrary to initial reports, that it was Munley's partner who scored the kill.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A son'
on: November 11, 2009, 09:29:33 PM
November 8, 2009
A Brief Visit From My Soldier Son
By CHARLES RUSH
SEVERAL years ago, as Labor Day approached and parents nationwide began that end-of-summer ritual I know all too well — packing the children off to college — I found myself facing a new and particularly fraught task: preparing to return my son not to college but to war, to the mountain passes northeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
Instead of going to Staples to compare the features of the latest line of laptops or to pick out an alarm clock as I had done with our older children, I went shopping with Ian in the hunting section of Ray’s Sporting Goods, where we bought every last can of sandstone and olive green spray paint to camouflage his gear.
I am a minister in an affluent suburb of New York City. Nothing in my life had led me to expect that Veteran’s Day would honor the military service of a child of mine. But on Sept. 11, 2001, a morning when we lost many friends and neighbors, Ian left high school and drove to the top of the parking lot at Overlook Hospital in Summit, where he watched the second tower of the World Trade Center come down.
A varsity lacrosse player, he decided in the ensuing months that instead of following the path of his siblings and peers, he would enlist in the Army, the only senior at Summit High School to do so. Eventually he would become an Army scout with the 25th Infantry, doing reconnaissance work in the hunt for Al Qaeda militants.
It is strange when your child can be on the front lines, scouting the mountains of Afghanistan and still able to call you on your cellphone at the beach. But that is what Ian did that August from a satellite phone, the reception so clear it sounded like he was right down the road.
“Dad,” he said. “I’ve got some news.”
“Are you O.K.?”
“Yes, it’s all good. I’m coming home in two weeks on leave. But I need you to talk to Mom.”
“I’m getting married.”
Ian had always been an impulsive, passionate kid, and we knew that he and Brandi had been dating for a year — she was also in the Army in Afghanistan, stationed in Kandahar. So it wasn’t the wedding news that threw us as much as the fact that we would only have two weeks to prepare.
No matter. We assumed that it would be a modest affair, attended only by family and a few friends, given the short notice. But word spread quickly, and soon we found ourselves planning a wedding for 200. Luckily, nearly everyone who found out about the sudden ceremony volunteered to help, which is the only way we were able to get it done.
Ian and Brandi’s route home took them from Kandahar to Uzbekistan to Kuwait City and then to Frankfurt, where they rushed to make a commercial flight to Newark that was being held for them.
The pilot of that plane announced that they were awaiting two soldiers on leave from Afghanistan who were going home to get married, and when Ian and Brandi finally boarded, dressed in their fatigues, the passengers stood and applauded.
At our end, I got choked up to see them still in uniform as they came toward me carrying so little. Unlike our college kids, who can fill a Chevy Suburban and then some with all their clothing, furniture, books and electronics, all of Ian’s and Brandi’s gear fit into two Army backpacks.
When Ian hugged me, he felt strong, very strong.
For the rehearsal dinner, my wife and I and our future in-laws presented a slide show of Ian’s and Brandi’s childhoods — a review of the kind of outdoorsy people they had always been, with a lot of laughter and joking. But in the middle of the show I had a moment of emotional weakness, remembering a similar slide show someone put together for a funeral I had recently attended.
I never wanted to pass around photos of Ian while talking about how great he was when he was alive. The fear of death always hovers over the families of those on active duty. Sometimes you try to bargain with it or push it aside, but it’s always there. All I felt we could do that would be spiritually productive was to celebrate the wonder and goodness of life in the midst of our anxiety. What better occasion to do that than a wedding?
And what a wedding it was. The church filled with Ian’s friends who had delayed returning to college to be there — all beautiful young people, so handsome in their suits and evening dresses, on their way back to Georgetown, Middlebury, Duke and Brown.
They were respectful but surely curious at the spectacle. My son was a bit of a wild man in high school — not a person anyone would have predicted to be the first to marry. And in the college world his friends inhabit, especially the fraternity world, marriage is not exactly at the top of everyone’s list.
In the world of the enlisted men and women, however, a premium is placed on loyalty and steadfast support, and this translates into a high rate of marriage, even among young people who are only in their late teens and early 20s. Every day, from basic training to daily missions, where they depend on one another for survival and success, what really matters are loyalty and people who can be counted on. And so it was for Ian and Brandi.
We had to have the reception at our house as my son was just shy of 21 and could not legally drink. This was nothing new to him; American soldiers in Afghanistan are on dry deployment. They don’t have access to cash, either — just a credit card that can be used at the base.
There is precious little to spend it on anyway. Ian’s unit was hardly ever off duty, and often their missions in the field would go on for weeks at a time in those rugged, hostile mountains, periods during which he and his fellow scouts were self-sufficient and capable of sleeping anywhere at any time.
The evening before he had to return, after we finished buying the camo paint, we drifted over to the gun cases. I asked Ian about the sidearms they use in the Army, and he showed me the Glock 9 millimeter pistol that is standard issue. He told me officers complain about it because people can be shot two or three times and they keep running.
“How does the Army prepare soldiers spiritually to kill people?” I asked.
“You train over and over so that when you get there it isn’t a big deal,” he said.
But I worried for him because I knew it was a big deal. So far he had been able to avoid heavy sustained fire. Considering where he was, though, it seemed inevitable that he would engage in deadly combat, and that he would come back changed.
I wanted to stop and pray for his burden right then and there, but I did not. I just put my hand on his shoulder.
At home later, we had our last family meal before his mother and I would take them to the airport in the morning. He and Brandi were so rested from their two-week leave, so full of energy from being together and ready to make plans for a home. But all of that would have to wait until their tour was over. Back in Afghanistan they wouldn’t see each other for long periods of time, and when they did reunite they would literally set up their tent together. But they never once complained to us about this or anything else.
When I used to take my older kids to college, I’d always have to wake them up and get us all going on the morning of departure. Then there were all the last-minute items they typically needed, as well as cash for some extra bill they hadn’t anticipated. I used to joke that each hug cost me $100.
But the morning we took Ian and Brandi to the airport, my son was the one to wake us. It was well before dawn, but they were packed, ready to go and surprisingly alert, considering how little sleep they’d had. There would be no $100 hug.
As it happened, though, he did have one request involving money, though it was about his money, not mine. After spending a few minutes standing around the coffeepot, he handed me a folder. “Dad,” he said. “I need you to hold on to this for me.”
Inside were the records for a bank account he had opened with their wedding gifts, including the name of the teller if I ever needed to speak to her, and some deposit and withdrawal slips.
“The last couple of things are for you,” he said. “You may want to keep them separate.”
It was a power of attorney that would enable me to access his account in the event of his death.
I know I’m supposed to be a pro in these situations, but I could not stop a despairing rush of anxiety from surging through me. My eyes became blurry, and I had to turn away to regain my composure.
As we drove to the airport, nobody spoke. At the departure terminal, I parked the car and got out, and my wife and I and pulled Ian and Brandi close.
I didn’t want to let go of my son — I feared it might be our last hug. But I knew he needed us to be strong and to support them in what they had to do, so I made myself let go.
I kissed them each on the head and said, “You know who loves you.”
With that they turned and walked into the terminal. Ian still had that shuffle he had as a little boy. Despite the backpack and uniform, I saw him as the toddler he once was wearing footie pajamas and dragging his blanket behind him. But he was no longer that boy. He was a man, not yet 21, who looked as if he could handle anything. He had his arm around his wife in support. And just like that he was gone.
Charles Rush is senior minister of Christ Church in Summit, N.J.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Courting Russia
on: November 10, 2009, 11:49:45 PM
OURTING RUSSIA ON THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR ISSUE?
MONDAY MARKED THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FALL of the Berlin Wall, the beginning of
the collapse of the Soviet empire. The day holds mixed feelings for Russia, although
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was in Berlin to celebrate the anniversary. Russia
has come a long way since Nov. 9, 1989. After the collapse of the Soviet Union,
Russia fell into utter chaos for nearly a decade and has spent the second decade
since pulling itself back together politically, economically, and socially, and also
launching itself back onto the international stage.
One of the themes that Medvedev repeated while giving a series of interviews in
Germany was on Russia's current place within the international system -- as a
partner to European states, a counterbalance to the United States and as a mediator
within the Iranian situation.
It is this theme as mediator within the Iran negotiations that has really struck a
chord with STRATFOR, especially as so many twists in those negotiations have
occurred within the past few days -- all this leading to the question of whether
Russia is about to shift its international role within the Iran talks.
The past few days have been particularly busy for the players involved in the Iran
issue. Over the weekend, there were leaks from an International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) report stating that Iran had been experimenting with two-point implosion -- a
warhead configuration -- followed by Iran's rejection of an IAEA proposal to ship
Iran's nuclear material out of the country for enrichment, a deal that was said to
be in place after a meeting with the P-5+1 countries. Also on Monday, Iran announced
that the three hikers from the United States arrested on the Iraqi border with Iran
would be charged with espionage. With each of these issues, Iran was not only
dragging out negotiations with the West, but also raising the stakes.
"In the past, Russia has only been willing to give up its support for Iran if the
United States made large concessions, like its relationship within Russia's entire
sphere of influence -- a price Washington has not been willing to pay."
It would have been expected that Washington would come out with a new ultimatum to
Tehran, but instead announced that it was giving Iran more time to consider the
nuclear proposals. The announcement was as if the United States slammed on its
brakes on the Iran issue.
Even more baffling was that this announcement was made while Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak were in Washington to
meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and a string of security officials. The
Israelis have been relatively quiet on the Iranian nuclear issue while in
Washington, with Netanyahu saying that the international community needs to unite
against Iran, but not specifically responding to what seemed like the United States
giving Iran a free pass excusing its weekend antics.
This has led STRATFOR to question what Washington is telling the Israelis on what
the U.S. will be planning while giving Iran "more time." Other than the United
States also having its own motivations to drag out negotiations like the Iranians,
there are two options that come to mind: first would be that the United States is
planning a military intervention. The United States would not try to give many hints
if they were planning a surprise military strike, but would act as if it were still
interested in the negotiation process.
But Washington could be attempting a different option: to get Moscow to reverse its
support for Tehran.
Russia has traditionally been staunchly against sanctions on Iran. But in the last
few weeks, Moscow suddenly grew quiet. During this time, U.S., U.K. and French
officials have visited Russia to discuss the Iran issue. Moreover, STRATFOR sources
in Moscow have stated that the West has been much more vocal in the possibilities of
Western investment and cash going back into Russia, should Moscow want to be
partners with the West.
These incentives from the West have certainly given Russia something to think about.
In the past, Russia has only been willing to give up its support for Iran if the
United States made large concessions, like its relationship within Russia's entire
sphere of influence -- a price Washington has not been willing to pay. However, now
Russia may be willing to concede for a partial recognition within the sphere and the
Western cash into Russia.
Medvedev has already shown that he is open to this line of negotiations, saying that
he and Obama will be discussing Russia's economic issues as well as Iran when they
meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum this weekend in Singapore.
Now the devil will be in the details. Russia has been picky in the past in accepting
U.S. incentives, but this time there is the possibility that Russia may now be up
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics
on: November 10, 2009, 11:06:07 PM
A possibility I have been raising for some time. Would you also please post it on the China thread?
As far as its relevance for this thread here i.e. what would happen to Chinese purchases of US debt, I cannot reason out whether the bursting of the Chinese bubble would mean that our debt was their only option or whether they would cease buying altogether.
BBG: Forgive me, but IMHO that was one hideous article (said, of course, with Love). The stimulus hasn't worked not because of good or bad targeting but because its demand side economics (Keynesianism) which as I see it, doesn't work by definition. If I am not mistaken, total take of US cap gains tax is $200+ billion. Imagine the effect of lifting the cap gains tax altogether!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War, WMD issues
on: November 10, 2009, 05:11:20 AM
THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN THE IRAN SITUATION
THE IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SEEMS TO HAVE REJECTED the deal on nuclear material that
appeared to be in place after the meeting with the P-5+1 countries. The deal, which
centered on Iran's willingness to send its nuclear material to another country for
processing into peaceful nuclear material, was not rejected in any irrevocable
sense. A senior lawmaker in Iran indicated on Sunday that it might still be on the
table, and Iranian media discussed possible further negotiations. Iran is known for
creating ambiguity as a bargaining tool, but officials could be seeking to gain time
rather than bargaining -- though it is less than clear to what end.
The rejection comes in conjunction with a report that Iran has experimented with
two-point implosion -- a warhead configuration that is relatively simple, but
several steps beyond first-generation nuclear devices. If true, it would mean that
Iran might be closer to a weapon than previously thought (though the principal
hurdle is still enriching uranium to sufficient purity for use in a weapon, and that
ability remains questionable). Reports suggest that the United States, and perhaps
other members of the P-5+1, has been aware of this development for some time.
"Understanding Iran’s current thinking is becoming increasingly difficult."
The experiment was discovered by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), which means that the Iranians wanted them to discover it. Western
sources have said that the method used was a highly classified process and expressed
surprise that the Iranians would know how to do it. Clearly, the Iranians want to
show they are further along than previously thought. In that case, they should be
buying time -- but not letting the IAEA see papers. Understanding Iran’s current
thinking is becoming increasingly difficult.
Certainly the rejection of a deal and the revelation of the experiment have
ratcheted up tensions. The Russians responded, somewhat surprisingly, with a
statement from President Dmitri Medvedev that while Moscow does not want to see
sanctions imposed on Iran, "if there is no movement forward, no one is excluding
such a scenario." This is not so much a change in Russia’s position as a willingness
to increase the pressure on Tehran just days before Medvedev goes into talks with
U.S. President Barack Obama. The Iranians appeared to respond to Medvedev when
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament's foreign policy and national security
committee, demanded that the Russians fulfill promises and deliver the S-300
strategic air defense system, saying: "Avoiding delivery of S-300 defense system to
Iran, if that is Russia's official stance, would be a new chapter in breaking
promises by the Russians." The timing is obvious. The question is whether the
Iranians are referring only to the S-300 when they speak of broken Russian promises.
In the midst of these developments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is
traveling to the United States to address a Jewish meeting and meet with Obama. An
administration official confirmed that Obama and Netanyahu would meet but did not
say what would be on their agenda.
Initially, the Americans refused to commit to a meeting, though the Israelis openly
said they would like one. Given tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, the
thinking goes, the president would rather not meet with Netanyahu at the moment. Of
course, every meeting between U.S. and Israeli leaders takes place amid
Israeli-Palestinian tensions. More likely, in our minds, Obama did not want to have
to discuss the Iran question with Netanyahu. Indications are that Obama will make
and announce his position on Afghanistan this week or shortly thereafter. He wants
to announce it, we would guess, after the health care debate is finished, as he
doesn't want any political blowback on Afghanistan to undermine his flagship
domestic issue. The likely reason for the Americans' initial hesitance is that Obama
would not want to get involved with Iran just yet if he is announcing an Afghanistan
policy. He seems to be favoring a sequential approach -- in public at least.
The Iranians obviously see room for maneuvering. They have rejected the nuclear
agreement, but have not ruled out the possibility of a change in policy. They have
signaled an increased threat of weaponization, but with sufficient ambiguity to back
away from it. Russia has given something the Americans wanted, but not in any
absolute way. The Iranians responded by charging the Russians with betrayal, but not
from a member of the government -- and not in general, but specifically on the
S-300. The United States is holding its position that its patience is not endless,
without signaling the end of its patience. And the Israelis are hovering on the
Obama so far has kept Iran from becoming a major story. Health care and Afghanistan
have absorbed the media's attention. Thus, Obama has bought domestic space. But the
Iranians clearly will not deal without a major crisis first, and even then their
position is not clear. The Russians have not committed to anything but have made a
gesture. And the new technology Iran showed the IAEA is non-trivial. At some point
the Iran issue will become a top story, and Obama will have to take action. We
expect that to happen sooner rather than later.
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Sunni-Kurds
on: November 10, 2009, 04:29:07 AM
By GINA CHON
KIRKUK, Iraq -- Arab and Kurdish military commanders here are making efforts at cooperation despite their bitter political differences -- a surprising development that offers some hope that one of Iraq's most difficult ethnic divides may be narrowing.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Terry Cook, left, discusses security issues with peshmerga commander Brig. Gen. Sherko Fatah Namik at his headquarters in Kirkuk. Above hangs a portrait of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.
Kurdish and Arab politicians in Iraq have clashed over contested land, petroleum legislation and a draft constitution that the Kurdish semiautonomous enclave is pushing. Most recently, the two sides squabbled for weeks in Parliament over an election law governing next year's parliamentary polls. Lawmakers finally passed the legislation on Sunday.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said Arab-Kurd tensions are the country's biggest security threat. But over the past six months, in parts of Iraq's north, American commanders have brokered a quiet, if uneasy, détente between the two sides' military forces. Officers from Iraq's mostly Arab national army have started working with counterparts from the Kurdish regional government's armed militia, the peshmerga.
* WSJ.com/Mideast: News, video, graphics
American military officers in Kirkuk have persuaded Arab and Kurdish commanders to cooperate partly by emphasizing what it means to be a professional soldier, which is not being involved in politics. They tell them that the problems between Kurdish and Arab politicians in Baghdad, and between the Kurdish regional and Iraqi governments, need to be solved by the politicians -- that their job as soldiers is to take care of security.
When the Iraqi army's 12th Division, led by a former commander under Saddam Hussein, showed up in Kirkuk last year, Kurdish peshmerga commander Brig. Gen. Sherko Fatah Namik was ready for a fight. "If the Iraqi army comes here, I will kill them all," Gen. Namik told his American counterparts then.
These days, at twice-monthly meetings on a U.S. outpost, Gen. Namik's men, Iraqi army officers and U.S. officials coordinate security and talk out problems, participants from both sides say.
Gen. Namik isn't immune to the political debate. He often tells American commanders there needs to be a referendum on the status of Kirkuk, which he says will prove the city belongs to the Kurdish region. How voting will be held in Kirkuk, which is claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, had been the key hurdle holding up the election law. Still, Gen. Namik and Maj. Gen. Abdul Ameer of the Iraqi army -- the former commander under the Hussein regime -- have hammered out a joint-patrol plan for Kirkuk province, in which the U.S. military may play referee, though many Arab and Turkmen tribal and local government leaders oppose the plan. Such patrols for disputed Arab-Kurd areas were floated earlier this year by Gen. Odierno.
Cooperation between the two militaries is incremental but it has eased friction among security-service officials on both sides. There has been a surge in big bombing attacks across the region this year, even as overall violence in much of the rest of Iraq has eased. The peshmerga's contribution in northern Kirkuk province leaves Gen. Ameer free to focus on tamping down violence in the province's south.
Gen. Ameer initially opposed the peshmerga's presence in Kirkuk, saying they belonged in the Kurdish region, until he began meeting with Kurdish commanders, with the help of the U.S. military.
U.S. commanders also have proposed joint patrols in Gaware, an ethnically mixed rural area in Iraq's northern Ninewa province. Currently, peshmerga and Iraqi security forces staff their own checkpoints along a key route there, operated separately on opposite sides of the road. They don't coordinate their patrols, leaving big swaths of territory unguarded, U.S. commanders say. The cooperation hasn't been easy, requiring U.S. troops to play arbitrator, grievance counselor and devil's advocate. Recently, American officers worked to rein in the Kurdish intelligence agency, known as the Asayeesh. U.S. commanders told the Kurds the agency can't conduct offensive operations. That's the job of the Iraqi army or police, they argued.
Both sides say the new relationship would have been impossible without a strong push from the Americans. That has raised worry about whether it will endure once U.S. forces start to draw down as planned next year.
Gen. Namik joined the peshmerga in 1985, at age 16, to fight Mr. Hussein's oppressive regime. A year later, the central government launched a campaign of oppression in the north, killing at least 150,000 Kurds and displacing hundreds of thousands. After Baghdad's military defeat in the Gulf War, the Kurdish region was given semiautonomy in 1991. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Gen. Namik joined American forces as they entered Kirkuk that April. He has been based in the province since. In 2008, Baghdad sent in the Iraqi 12th Army division, headed by Gen. Ameer.
After several near-clashes, the U.S. military convinced peshmerga and Iraqi army commanders to sit down together at a lunch in March. The Iraqi army and local police, which are ethnically mixed but led by a Kurd, started to coordinate raids against insurgents in May.
In June, representatives from the Kurdish and Iraqi security forces began working together at a U.S. base in Kirkuk, exchanging intelligence and coordinating security efforts. "Gen. Ameer and I are friends," Gen. Namik says. "I've told him the Kirkuk issue is bigger than us and can't be solved by us. We're soldiers and we have to take care of security for all Iraqis."
Gen. Ameer said communication has been key to understanding each other because their efforts are now coordinated. Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammed al-Askari says the government supports cooperation between the Iraqi army and the peshmerga. Joint patrols involving the Iraqi army, peshmerga and U.S. forces in disputed areas of northern Iraq may start before the end of this year.
Write to Gina Chon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: November 09, 2009, 10:38:59 PM
A U.S.-ISRAELI CONVERGENCE
THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HAS SHIFTED ITS POSITION on Israeli settlements. U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered this statement Monday from Morocco at a
meeting with Arab foreign ministers: "For 40 years, successive American
administrations of both parties have opposed Israel's settlement policy. That is
absolutely a fact. And the Obama administration's position on settlements is clear,
unequivocal. It has not changed. And as the president has said on many occasions,
the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.
Now, the Israelis have responded to the call from the United States, the
Palestinians and the Arab world to stop settlement activity by expressing a
willingness to restrain settlement activity. They will build no new settlements,
expropriate no land, allow no new construction or approvals. And let me just say
this offer falls far short of what we would characterize as our position, or what
our preference would be. But if it is acted upon, it will be an unprecedented
restriction on settlements and would have a significant and meaningful effect on
restraining their growth."
This statement is worth quoting in its entirety, as it is a masterpiece of hiding
complexity in simplicity. The Obama administration first demanded that Israel halt
all settlement construction. The Israeli government refused, insisting that
construction already approved on land already expropriated would continue. The
administration has agreed to that. The key is in how Israel acts on this: that no
new approvals for settlement construction will be given. However, the approval of
such construction is an internal Israeli bureaucratic matter. Whether approval is
given depends on the Israeli interpretation of what has been approved at this point.
That is sufficient ambiguity to give the Israelis a great deal of latitude.
"The Obama administration has been running a dual-track policy toward Israel.. The
United States has now aligned with Israel on both tracks."
Just as interesting as the language is the reason for the shift. Recalling the
firmness with which Obama announced his position, the decision to shift carries with
it substantial costs. The Arabs are -- in general -- outraged. The outrage is to be
expected and was discounted by the United States. It does not change the ultimate
position of Egypt on either its peace treaty with Israel or its relations with the
United States. No one is going to switch sides. However, the decision does place
increased pressure on Fatah in its competition with Hamas. The U.S. position has
been to isolate Hamas, and this does not contribute to it. Therefore, the decision
should be seen not only as a concession to Israel, but as a willingness to
strengthen Hamas somewhat in its internal battles. That requires explanation.
We note the extensive ballistic missile defense exercises under way in Israel with
U.S. forces right now, called Juniper Cobra. Though this is a regular exercise, the
2009 iteration is of unprecedented scale and scope, attempting to integrate the
latest U.S. and Israeli systems. The exercise is clearly intended to test joint
capabilities and ensure mutually supportive interoperability in defending Israel
from ballistic missile attacks -- the obvious attacker being Iran or its surrogates
in Lebanon. It is also a political signal to Tehran that should air strikes be
ordered against Iran, the United States is capable and willing to join in protecting
Israel from air attack.
Juniper Cobra started a week late (odd for what are usually carefully prepared
international war games). It has lasted two weeks and is set to end this Thursday.
We assume that after the exercises, U.S. assets will be withdrawn, but that remains
to be seen. The exercise sends the signal that not only can the United States deploy
defensive forces to Israel, they are already deployed there. The deployment has to
be read by Iran as preparation for conflict, regardless of U.S. intentions. Iran has
to calculate for a worst-case scenario.
With Iran refusing to accept demands concerning its nuclear program, and with the
United States repeatedly saying that patience is running out, Washington needs to
send threats to Tehran. Juniper Cobra does that. But it also, therefore, is not a
time for serious rifts between Israel and the United States. The Obama
administration has been running a dual-track policy toward Israel, with the
Israeli-Palestinian talks on one track and U.S.-Israeli security cooperation on
another. The United States has now aligned with Israel on both tracks.
Israel has asserted that the United States has promised significant action in the
event that this round of talks with Iran fails. With sanctions not a serious
prospect at the moment, Iran is looking to see whether the U.S. position on Israel
will track with the settlements dispute or with Israel's Iran position. By shutting
down the dispute over settlements while Juniper Cobra is under way, Iran has been
given its answer.
Now -- and this is the interesting part -- whether the plan is to attack or the plan
is to bluff an attack, the actions would look identical. We cannot tell from this
what the Obama administration is planning on Iran, but it is clear to us what they
are signaling. Now the question is whether Iran takes this as a threat or a bluff.
Tensions will now ratchet up either way.
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China
on: November 09, 2009, 10:29:40 PM
Related to GM's and Doug's posts?
CHINA, THE U.S. AND GLOBAL TRADE TENSIONS
THE UNITED STATES, THE EUROPEAN UNION AND MEXICO asked the World Trade Organization
(WTO) on Wednesday to establish a dispute settlement panel and investigate China's
restrictions on exports of nine key raw materials. The parties had sought formal
consultations during the summer, but with the U.S. Trade Representative spokesperson
saying that consultations have been unsatisfactory, they now are moving on to the
next level in their protests. The request for a settlement panel is the latest
evidence of rising trade tensions as governments strive to recover from the global
recession. And more importantly, it draws attention to growing trade frictions
between the United States and China.
China claims the export restrictions are part of its pro-environmental resource
preservation policies. But the practice in question reveals something more integral
to China's economic system.
"A problem with this practice arises if one happens not to be China."
With a population of 1.3 billion people, China’s greatest fear is social
instability; therefore, the government goes to great lengths to keep employment
levels up. This requires maintaining production levels even in periods of low global
demand, rather than cutting back on excess capacity and creating hordes of
unemployed workers who might turn to protests. Hence, in the case of the raw
materials in the WTO situation, the central government directs industries to
stockpile massive amounts of raw materials for inputs and implements export
restrictions to ensure that the domestic supplies are high and domestic prices are
low. This cuts down on costs for producers, while subsidies are applied where needed
to make up for the lack of profits.
With a deluge of Chinese products pouring across the globe, competing manufacturers
are wiped out and China wins greater market share.
A problem with this practice arises if one happens not to be China. Prices for the
same raw materials are high because China is hoarding them, so manufacturers
elsewhere see costs rise and markets evaporate. This explains the unity in U.S., EU
and Mexican demands that China cease this practice. Export restrictions (not to
mention a variety of other charges against China) clearly violate WTO protocols --
and though Beijing did secure a list of exceptions when it joined the WTO, the
materials in this dispute are not included. According to WTO procedures, the four
countries will have 60 days to try to resolve the disputes through the consultation
process. It might be years before the trade body adjudicates a case like this. But
at present, it's the threat that counts.
Nevertheless, the timing of Washington's move seems counterintuitive. Next week,
U.S. President Barack Obama embarks on his first tour of Asia since taking office,
including a much-hyped three-day visit to China. Tensions are flaring on trade
issues ranging from tires, steel and chickens to intellectual property rights,
climate change policy, and broader economic matters like exchange rates and
deficits. Meanwhile, the Americans are concerned about China's stance on possible
U.S.-led sanctions against Iran, not to mention its expanding naval presence in the
South China Sea. At the meetings, both sides will seek to smooth out the ruffles:
Pledging cooperation despite differences and denouncing protectionism will be the
order of the day. So why would Washington want to escalate tensions now?
The answer lies in Obama's domestic situation. The president has come up against a
series of intractable problems that easily could spiral into crises for his
administration -- from the pending decision on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, to the
showdown over Iran's nuclear program, to relations with Russia. Domestic woes, too,
have piled up, including unemployment and the debate over health care reform.
But there is one sure way that the Obama administration can unify its core
constituency -- from union workers to human rights activists -- and galvanize
support when needed. And that is to take aim at China.
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
on: November 09, 2009, 10:06:57 PM
TWENTY YEARS AFTER THE FALL
By George Friedman
We are now at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning
of the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. We are also nearing the 18th
anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union itself. This is more than simply a
moment for reflection -- it is a moment to consider the current state of the region
and of Russia versus that whose passing we are now commemorating. To do that, we
must re-examine why the Soviet empire collapsed, and the current status of the same
forces that caused that collapse.
Russia's Two-Part Foundation
The Russian empire -- both the Czarist and Communist versions -- was a vast,
multinational entity. At its greatest extent, it stretched into the heart of Central
Europe; at other times, it was smaller. But it was always an empire whose
constituent parts were diverse, hostile to each other and restless. Two things tied
the empire together.
One was economic backwardness. Economic backwardness gave the constituent parts a
single common characteristic and interest. None of them could effectively compete
with the more dynamic economies of Western Europe and the rest of the world, but
each could find a niche within the empire. Economic interests thus bound each part
to the rest: They needed a wall to protect themselves from Western interests, and an
arena in which their own economic interests, however stunted, could be protected.
The empire provided that space and that opportunity.
The second thing tying the empire together was the power of the security apparatus.
Where economic interest was insufficient to hold the constituent parts together, the
apparatus held the structure together. In a vast empire with poor transportation and
communication, the security apparatus -- from Czarist times to the Soviet period --
was the single unifying institution. It unified in the sense that it could compel
what economic interest couldn't motivate. The most sophisticated part of the Russian
state was the security services. They were provided with the resources they needed
to control the empire, report status to the center and impose the center's decisions
through terror, or more frequently, through the mere knowledge that terror would be
the consequence of disobedience.
It was therefore no surprise that it was the security apparatus of the Soviet Union
-- the KGB under Yuri Andropov -- which first recognized in the early 1980s that the
Soviet Union's economy not only was slipping further and further behind the West,
but that its internal cohesion was threatened because the economy was performing so
poorly that the minimal needs of the constituent parts were no longer being
fulfilled. In Andropov's mind, the imposition of even greater terror, like Josef
Stalin had applied, would not solve the underlying problem. Thus, the two elements
holding the Soviet Union together were no longer working. The self-enclosed economy
was failing and the security apparatus could not hold the system together.
It is vital to remember that in Russia, domestic economic health and national power
do not go hand in hand. Russia historically has had a dysfunctional economy. By
contrast, its military power has always been disproportionately strong. During World
War II, the Soviets crushed the Wehrmacht in spite of their extraordinary economic
weakness. Later, during the Cold War, they challenged and sometimes even beat the
United States despite an incomparably weaker economy. The Russian security apparatus
made this possible. Russia could devote far more of its economy to military power
than other countries could because Moscow could control its population successfully.
It could impose far greater austerities than other countries could. Therefore,
Russia was a major power in spite of its economic weakness. And this gave it room to
maneuver in an unexpected way.
Andropov proposed a strategy he knew was risky, but which he saw as unavoidable. One
element involved a dramatic restructuring of the Soviet economy and society to
enhance efficiency. The second involved increased openness, not just domestically to
facilitate innovation, but also in foreign affairs. Enclosure was no longer working:
The Soviet Union needed foreign capital and investment to make restructuring work.
Andropov knew that the West, and particularly the United States, would not provide
help so long as the Soviet Union threatened its geopolitical interests even if doing
so would be economically profitable. For this opening to the West to work, the
Soviet Union needed to reduce Cold War tensions dramatically. In effect, the Soviets
needed to trade geopolitical interests to secure their economic interests. Since
securing economic interests was essential for Communist Party survival, Andropov was
proposing to follow the lead of Vladimir Lenin, another leader who sacrificed space
for time. In the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that ended Russian participation in World War
I, Lenin had conceded vast amounts of territory to Germany to buy time for the
regime to consolidate itself. Andropov was suggesting the same thing.
It is essential to understand that Andropov was a Party man and a Chekist -- a
Communist and KGBer -- through and through. He was not proposing the dismantling of
the Party; rather, he sought to preserve the Party by executing a strategic retreat
on the geopolitical front while the Soviet Union regained its economic balance.
Undoubtedly he understood the risk that restructuring and openness would create
enormous pressures at a time of economic hardship, possibly causing regime collapse
under the strain. Andropov clearly thought the risk was worth running.
After Leonid Brezhnev died, Andropov took his place. He became ill almost
immediately and died. He was replaced by Konstantin Chernenko, who died within a
year. Then came Mikhail Gorbachev -- the true heir to Andropov's thinking -- who
implemented Andropov's two principles. He pursued openness, or glasnost. He also
pursued restructuring, or perestroika. He traded geopolitical interests, hard-won by
the Red Army, for economic benefits. Contrary to his reputation in the West,
Gorbachev was no liberal. He actually sought to preserve the Communist Party, and
was prepared to restructure and open the system to do so.
As the security apparatus loosened its grip to facilitate openness and
restructuring, the empire's underlying tensions quickly went on display. When unrest
in East Germany threatened to undermine Soviet control, Gorbachev had to make a
strategic decision. If he used military force to suppress the uprising, probably
restructuring and certainly openness would be dead, and the crisis Andropov foresaw
would be upon him. Following Lenin's principle, Gorbachev decided to trade space for
time, and he accepted retreat from East Germany to maintain and strengthen his
economic relations with the West.
After Gorbachev made that decision, the rest followed. If Germany were not to be
defended, what would be defended? Applying his strategy rigorously, Gorbachev
allowed the unwinding of the Eastern European empire without intervention. The
decision he had made about Germany amounted to relinquishing most of Moscow's World
War II gains. But if regime survival required it, the price had to be paid.
The crisis came very simply. The degree of restructuring required to prevent the
Soviet Union's constituent republics from having an overarching interest in economic
relations with the West rather than with Russia was enormous. There was no way to
achieve it quickly. Given that the Soviet Union now had an official policy of ending
its self-imposed enclosure, the apparent advantages to the constituent parts of
protecting their economies from Western competition declined -- and with them, the
rationale for the Soviet Union. The security apparatus, the KGB, had been the engine
driving glasnost and perestroika from the beginning; the advocates of the plan were
not going to shift into reverse and suppress glasnost. But glasnost overwhelmed the
system. The Soviet Union, unable to buy the time it needed to protect the Party,
imploded. It broke apart into its constituent republics, and even parts of the
Russian Federation seemed likely to break away.
What followed was liberalization only in the eyes of Westerners. It is easy to
confuse liberalism with collapse, since both provide openness. But the former Soviet
Union (FSU) wasn't liberalizing, it was collapsing in every sense. What remained
administratively was the KGB, now without a mission. The KGB was the most
sophisticated part of the Soviet apparatus, and its members were the best and
brightest. As privatization went into action, absent clear rules or principles, KGB
members had the knowledge and sophistication to take advantage of it. As individuals
and in factions, they built structures and relationships to take advantage of
privatization, forming the factions that dominated the FSU throughout the 1990s
until today. It is not reasonable to refer to organized crime in Russia, because
Russia was lawless. In fact, the law enforcement apparatus was at the forefront of
exploiting the chaos. Organized crime, business and the KGB became interconnected,
and frequently identical.
The 1990s were a catastrophic period for most Russians. The economy collapsed.
Property was appropriated in a systematic looting of all of the former Russian
republics, with Western interests also rushing in to do quick deals on tremendously
favorable terms. The new economic interests crossed the new national borders. (It is
important to bear in mind that the boundaries that had separated Soviet republics
were very real.) The financial cartels, named for the oligarchs who putatively
controlled them (control was much more complex; many oligarchs were front men for
more powerful and discreet figures), spread beyond the borders of the countries in
which they originated, although the Russian cartels spread the most effectively.
Had the West -- more specifically the United States -- wanted to finish Russia off,
this was the time. Russia had no effective government, poverty was extraordinary,
the army was broken and the KGB was in a civil war over property. Very little
pressure could well have finished off the Russian Federation.
The Bush and Clinton administrations made a strategic decision to treat Russia as
the successor regime of the FSU, however, and refused to destabilize it further.
Washington played an aggressive role in expanding NATO, but it did not try to break
up the Russian Federation for several reasons. First, it feared nuclear weapons
would fall into the hands of dangerous factions. Second, it did not imagine that
Russia could ever be a viable country again. And third, it believed that if Russia
did become viable, it would be a liberal democracy. (The idea that liberal
democracies never threaten other liberal democracies was implanted in American
minds.) What later became known as a neoconservative doctrine actually lay at the
heart of the Clinton administration's thinking.
Russia Regroups -- and Faces the Same Crisis
Russia's heart was the security apparatus. Whether holding it together or tearing it
apart, the KGB -- renamed the FSB after the Soviet collapse -- remained the single
viable part of the Russian state. It was therefore logical that when it became
essential to end the chaos, the FSB would be the one to end it. Vladimir Putin, whom
the KGB trained during Andropov's tenure and who participated in the privatization
frenzy in St. Petersburg, emerged as the force to recentralize Russia. The FSB
realized that the Russian Federation itself faced collapse, and that excessive power
had fallen out of its hands as FSB operatives had fought one another during the
period of privatization.
Putin sought to restore the center in two ways. First, he worked to restore the
central apparatus of the state. Second, he worked to strip power from oligarchs
unaligned with the apparatus. It was a slow process, requiring infinite care so that
the FSB not start tearing itself apart again, but Putin is a patient and careful
Putin realized that Andropov's gamble had failed catastrophically. He also knew that
the process could not simply be reversed; there was no going back to the Soviet
Union. At the same time, it was possible to go back to the basic principles of the
Soviet Union. First, there could be a union of the region, bound together by both
economic weakness and the advantage of natural resource collaboration. Second, there
was the reality of a transnational intelligence apparatus that could both stabilize
the region and create the infrastructure for military power. And third, there was
the reversal of the policy of trading geopolitical interests for financial benefits
from the West. Putin's view -- and the average Russian's view -- was that the
financial benefits of the West were more harmful than beneficial.
By 2008, when Russia defeated America's ally, Georgia, in a war, the process of
reassertion was well under way. Then, the financial crisis struck along with
fluctuations in energy prices. The disparity between Russia's politico-military
aspirations, its military capability and its economic structure re-emerged. The
Russians once again faced their classic situation: If they abandoned geopolitical
interests, they would be physically at risk. But if they pursued their geopolitical
interests, they would need a military force capable of assuming the task. Expanding
the military would make the public unhappy as it would see resources diverted from
public consumption to military production, and this could only be managed by
increasing the power of the state and the security apparatus to manage the
unhappiness. But this still left the risk of a massive divergence between military
and economic power that could not be bridged by repression. This risk re-created the
situation that emerged in the 1970s, had to be dealt with in the 1980s and turned
into chaos in the 1990s.
The current decisions the Russians face can only be understood in the context of
events that transpired 20 years ago. The same issues are being played out, and the
generation that now governs Russia was forged in that crucible. The Russian
leadership is trying to balance the possible outcomes to find a solution. They
cannot trade national security for promised economic benefits that may not
materialize or may not be usable. And they cannot simply use the security apparatus
to manage increased military spending -- there are limits to that.
As a generation ago, Russia is caught between the things that it must do to survive
in the short run and the things it cannot do if they are to survive in the long run.
There is no permanent solution for Russia, and that is what makes it such an
unpredictable player in the international system. The closest Russia has come to a
stable solution to its strategic problem was under Ivan the Terrible and Stalin, and
even those could not hold for more than a generation.
The West must understand that Russia is never at peace with itself internally, and
is therefore constantly shifting its external relationships in an endless, spasmodic
cycle. Things go along for awhile, and then suddenly change. We saw a massive change
20 years ago, but the forces that generated that change had built up quietly in the
generation before. The generation since has been trying to pull the pieces back
together. But in Russia, every solution is merely the preface to the next problem --
something built into the Russian reality.
This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution towww.stratfor.com
Copyright 2009 Stratfor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: From Berlin to Baghdad
on: November 09, 2009, 08:28:20 PM
By FOUAD AJAMI
For all its menace and fanfare, Eastern European communism, one of its countless chroniclers observed, left the theater of history on tiptoe. The simple, surprising end came 20 years ago, Nov. 9, 1989, when an apparatchik of the German Democratic Republic read out a note announcing that the border that had cut through Germany would be opened for "private trips abroad." The Berlin Wall had fallen.
A mere two years earlier, in November 1987, there was a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, and even Mikhail Gorbachev—the fourth Soviet leader in three years—gave the appearance of normalcy. But it was too late for such pretense. The subjugation of that "other Europe" had come to an end.
"Gorbachev's role, though honorable, has been exaggerated," British historian Norman Davies writes in his monumental book, "Europe: A History." "He was not the architect of East Europe's freedom: he was the lock-keeper who, seeing the dam about to burst, decided to open the floodgates and to let the water flow. The dam burst in any case; but it did so without the threat of a violent catastrophe."
There were the Hungarians, in October of 1989, on the 33rd anniversary of the crushing of their national rebellion, abolishing the entire ruling Communist apparatus. There were the people in Prague again, a mere two decades after the snuffing out of their freedom, launching their Velvet Revolution. Poland wrote its own distinctive history. Its national church never faltered—a gifted primate of that church, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, rose to the papacy and helped steer his nation's history freedom's way. Its shipyard workers led a movement that made a seamless transition from workers' rights to the cause of national freedom.
It wasn't always pretty, the emancipation of these captive nations. Communism always carried within its doctrine the stern warning that national chauvinisms would spring to the fore were its "internationalism" to give way. Yugoslavia bore out that message. What rose from its graveyard were pitiless nationalisms whose crimes are indelibly etched in our memories. Tito had indeed held together an impossible country. Nor were matters pretty in Romania, no velvet revolution in the twisted, dark tyranny of the Ceaucescus. The march to ballots and free markets was not always an attractive, or a straightforward, tale.
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An angry, uncompromising Russian sage, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the oft-told story tells us, came to Washington in the summer of 1975 but was denied the opportunity to meet with President Gerald Ford. The story's significance shouldn't be overdone. Two generations of Americans had done their work "containing" the spread and the appeal of Communism.
But Soviet power seemed at its zenith in the 1970s. The cause of freedom was embattled—Jean-François Revel said a "totalitarian temptation" was in the air. Soviet troops and their proxies were deployed in Vietnam, Cuba, Yemen, Angola, Mozambique, etc. A nativist revolution had plunged Iran, America's "pillar" in the Persian Gulf, into a new darkness, and in affluent Western Europe a willful Euro-Communism had resonance all its own.
It was against this dismal background that Ronald Reagan had risen. He may not have known much about the foreign world, he may not have always been a master of his brief—the details and the execution and the discipline were supplied by his gifted collaborator, Secretary of State George Shultz—but he trusted his own instincts. He had his feel for history's march, his faith in human freedom. He had recoiled from all the talk about America's decline. He had boundless belief in the American mission in the world.
"I do have a strategy," Reagan said after one detailed briefing on the challenge of the Soviet Union: "We win, they lose!"
He was to be vindicated. Where political regimes had taken on an authoritarian cast in the 1970s, the number of countries that chose what broadly could be called political freedom increased by 50% between 1980 and 1990. The American strategic build-up in the Reagan years was of a scale that the Soviet Union could not match.
In Afghanistan, the last battle of the Cold War, the Soviet imperial thrust was broken. American weapons and American will, Saudi money, a Pakistani sanctuary, and a ragtag army of volunteers from the wider world of Islam broke the Soviet will. (We thought well of these volunteers then, they were freedom fighters, the mujahideen, and we nicknamed them "the mooj" in affection.)
It would stand to reason that 45 years of vigilance would spawn a desire for repose. The disputations of history had ended, we came to believe. Such was the zeitgeist of the '90s, the Nasdaq era, a decade of infatuation with globalization. The call of blood and soil had receded, we were certain then. Bill Clinton defined that era, in the way Ronald Reagan had defined his time. This wasn't quite a time of peace. Terrorists were targeting our military installations and housing compounds and embassies. A skiff in Aden rode against one of our battleships. But we would not give this struggle the label—and the attention—it deserved.
A Harvard academic had foreseen the shape of things to come. In 1993, amid this time of historical and political abdication, the late Samuel P. Huntington came forth with his celebrated "Clash of Civilizations" thesis. With remarkable prescience, he wrote that the end of the Cold War would give rise to civilizational wars.
He stated, in unadorned terms, the threat that would erupt from the lands of Islam: "The relations between Islam and Christianity, both Orthodox and Western, have often been stormy. Each has been the other's Other. The 20th century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity."
The young jihadists who shattered the illusions of an era practically walk out of Huntington's pages. We had armed the boys of the jihad in Afghanistan. They came to a conviction that they had brought down one infidel empire, and could undo its liberal rival.
A meandering road led from 11/9 to 9/11. The burning grounds of Islam are altogether different than the Communist challenge. There is no Moscow that serves as the seat of Jihadist power. This is a new kind of war and new kind of enemy, a twilight war without front lines.
But we shouldn't be surprised with some of history's repetitions. There are again the appeasers who see these furies of Islam as America's comeuppance, there are those who think we have overreached and that we are riding into storms of our own making. And in the foreign world there are chameleons who feign desire for our friendship while subverting our causes.
Once again, there arises the question in our midst of whether political freedom, broadly conceived, can and ought to be taken to distant lands. In the George W. Bush years, American power and diplomacy gave voice to a belief in freedom's possibilities. A different sentiment animates American practice today.
For the peoples of Islam, the question can be squarely put: Will they tear down their walls in the manner in which the people of Central and Eastern Europe tore down theirs? The people of Islam are thus sorely tested. They will have to show their own fidelity to liberty. Strangers with big guns and ample means can ride into their midst with the best of intentions and skills, but it is their own world, their own civilization, that is now in history's scales.
Mr. Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is the author of "The Foreigner's Gift" (Free Press, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / American History
on: November 09, 2009, 08:24:08 PM
In the debate over who deserves credit for causing the Berlin Wall to collapse on the night of November 9, 1989, many names come to mind, both great and small.
There was Günter Schabowski, the muddled East German politburo spokesman, who in a live press conference that evening accidentally announced that the country's travel restrictions were to be lifted "immediately." There was Mikhail Gorbachev, who made it clear that the Soviet Union would not violently suppress people power in its satellite states, as it had decades earlier in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. There were the heroes of Poland's Solidarity movement, not least Pope John Paul II, who did so much to expose the moral bankruptcy of communism.
And there was Ronald Reagan, who believed the job of Western statesmanship was to muster the moral, political, economic and military wherewithal not simply to contain the Soviet bloc, but to bury it. "What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term—the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history," he said in 1982, to the astonishment and derision of his critics. Now, there was the audacity of hope.
All of these figures played their part, as did a previous generation of leaders who insisted that the West had a moral duty to defend the little enclave of freedom in Berlin.
Fulfilling that duty came at a price—71 British and American servicemen lost their lives during the Berlin Airlift—that more "pragmatic" politicians might have gladly forgone for the promise of better relations with the Soviets. Not a few NATO generals thought the defense of Berlin needlessly exposed their forces in a militarily indefensible position while giving the Russians an opportunity to blackmail the West as they advanced on strategically more vital ground, particularly Cuba.
Yet if the West's stand in Berlin demonstrates anything, it is that moral commitments have a way of reaping strategic dividends over time. By ordering the airlift in 1948, Harry Truman saved a starving city and defied Soviet bullying. As importantly, he showed that the U.S. would not abandon Europe to its furies, as it had after World War I, thus helping to pave the way for the creation of NATO in April 1949.
By holding firm for 40 years, Truman and his successors transformed what was supposed to be the Atlantic alliance's weakest point into its strongest. To know what the West stood for during most of those years, one merely had to go to Berlin, see the Wall, consider its purpose, and observe the contrasts between the vibrant prosperity on one side of the city and the oppressive monotony on the other.
Those contrasts were even more apparent to the Germans trapped on the wrong side of the Wall. Barbed wire, closed military zones and the machinery of communist propaganda could keep the prosperity of the West out of sight of most people living east of the Iron Curtain. But that wasn't true for the people of East Berlin, many of whom merely had to look out their windows to understand how empty and cynical were the promises of socialism compared to the reality of a free-market system.
Yet it bears recalling that even these obvious political facts were obscure to many people who lived in freedom and should have known better. "Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy," said CBS's Dan Rather just two years before the Wall fell. And when Reagan delivered his historic speech in Berlin calling on Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," he did so after being warned by some of his senior advisers that the language was "unpresidential," and after thousands of protesters had marched through West Berlin in opposition.
It is a tribute to Reagan's moral and strategic determination, as it was to everyone else who played their part in bringing down the Wall, that they could see through the sophistries of Soviet propagandists, their Western fellow travelers, and the legions of moral equivocators and diplomatic finessers and simply look at the Wall.
"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle," George Orwell once said. That is what the heroes of 1989 did with unblinking honesty and courage for years on end until, at last, the Wall came tumbling down.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The Lords of Entitlement
on: November 09, 2009, 06:46:51 PM
Speaker Nancy Pelosi defied policy logic and public opinion late Saturday night, ramming through the House a nearly 2,000-page health-care leviathan that counts as the biggest expansion of the federal government since the New Deal. As President Obama likes to say, this was a "teachable moment" about our current government.
The vote was 220 to 215, with 39 House Democrats joining all but one Republican in opposition. Mrs. Pelosi had to cajole and bribe her way to the magic 218, and the list of her promises must be stacked to the ceiling.
The lone Republican, Joseph Cao, represents a Democratic-leaning Louisiana district and extracted a promise that Mr. Obama would increase Medicaid payments to his state, and even then he only voted after Democrats had already hit 218. Let no one suggest this was the "bipartisan" health reform that Mr. Obama has long promised.
The bill is instead a breathtaking display of illiberal ambition, intended to make the middle class more dependent on government through the umbilical cord of "universal health care." It creates a vast new entitlement, financed by European levels of taxation on business and individuals. The 20% corner of Medicare open to private competition is slashed, while fiscally strapped states are saddled with new Medicaid burdens. The insurance industry will have to vet every policy with Washington, which will regulate who it must cover, what it can offer, and how much it can charge.
We have little sympathy for the insurers, or for that matter most of the other medical providers who signed on to this process only to claim now to be appalled by the result. The insurance lobby—led by Aetna CEO Ron Williams—made the Faustian bet that it could trade new regulations for more new subsidized customers who would face a tax penalty if they didn't buy their insurance. The Pelosi bill includes the regulation but guts the tax penalty because it's unpopular. Insurers will thus have to cover more sick people with fewer dollars, as healthy folk opt out of coverage until they are sick.
This writing was on the wall months ago, but the insurers chose to play an inside game rather than shape public opinion. Judging by their weekend statement—criticizing the House bill but vowing to seek "bipartisan" reform—they will now throw themselves at the mercy of the Senate. Good luck with that. The real victims are their customers, most of whom will pay more for insurance as the new mandates raise costs.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Mrs. Pelosi's craftiest political turn was a last-minute compromise to strip federal funds from insurance plans that cover abortions. The deal—negotiated by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak and supported by the National Right to Life Committee—gave cover to 40-some Democrats to support the larger bill.
However, as subsidized costs soar, government will have no choice but to ration medical care, starting with the aged and grievously ill. Is pre-natal life more valuable than the elderly? We're reminded of the way pro-lifers supported Anthony Kennedy over Laurence Silberman for the Supreme Court in 1987 merely because Mr. Kennedy was a Catholic who claimed to personally oppose abortion. Mr. Stupak played the right-to-lifers like a Stradavarius.
The real importance of the abortion uproar is as preview of the politics that will dominate every medical coverage issue if ObamaCare becomes law. Every decision of what to insure or not—when an MRI can be used, or whether a stage-four breast cancer patient can get Avastin or some future expensive drug—will become subject to political intervention over moral disputes or budget constraints. Heretofore, these decisions have largely been made between a doctor and patient. This is the real "right to life" issue.
Perhaps the most unsurprising news in this drama was the collapse of the Blue Dog "deficit hawks." Enough of them always cave in the end to give Mrs. Pelosi her way. It's nonetheless worth noting the surrender of that most vocal scourge of deficits, Tennessee's Jim Cooper, who voted aye on grounds that the bill can be improved in the Senate.
But Max Baucus's Finance Committee bill includes a similar gimmick of making the numbers look good by using 10 years of new taxes to finance only seven years of spending (six in the House). The deficits explode in the second decade and beyond in both bills.
The House also contains a new government long-term insurance program that starts collecting premiums in 2011 but doesn't starting paying benefits until 2016 and then runs out of money in 2029. North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad called it "a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of" in an interview with the Washington Post in late October. Mr. Cooper has with a single vote made his entire career irrelevant.
Yet 39 other Democrats were given a pass on the vote, as the leadership knows how unpopular this bill is in most of America. They know this legislation is not the result of some national consensus in favor of expanding state power. Its passage was possible only because of temporary liberal majorities that are intent on fulfilling their dreams of a cradle-to-grave entitlement state. If they lose Blue Dog seats, or even their majority, in the short term, so be it. As the party of government, Democrats believe they will benefit in the long run from a much larger government.
Unless the Senate has an epiphany of common sense, Americans will be paying the bills for this willful exercise for generations to come.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Kelo
on: November 09, 2009, 06:02:18 PM
Pasting here BBG's post from the Libertarian thread:
fizer abandons site of infamous Kelo eminent domain taking
By: Timothy P. Carney
11/09/09 1:47 PM EST
The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.
But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes' seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.
To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of "public use."
The Hartford Courant reports:
Pfizer Inc. will shut down its massive New London research and development headquarters and transfer most of the 1,400 people working there to Groton, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday....
Pfizer is now deciding what to do with its giant New London offices, and will consider selling it, leasing it and other options, a company spokeswoman said.
Scott Bullock, Kelo's co-counsel in the case, told me: "This shows the folly of these redevelopment projects that use massive taxpayer subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain."http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/Pfizer-abandons-site-of-infamous-Kelo-eminent-domain-taking-69580497.html
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: ¿7 metros?
on: November 09, 2009, 05:06:17 PM
La pregunta planteada por Cecilio puede ser visto desde dos perspectivas-- de la persona con la pistola (p.e. un policia, un ciudano armado) o desde la perspectiva de la persona con el cuchillo (p.e. un ciudano en un pais donde su derecho de tener pistola no esta' reconocido por el estado.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Emergency Tips and Emergency Medicine
on: November 09, 2009, 05:00:13 PM
Subject: Fort Hood Account from JAG officer onsite
Since I don't know when I'll sleep (it's 4 am now) I'll write what happened (the abbreviated version. the long one is already part of the investigation with more to come. I'll not write about any part of the investigation that I've learned about since inevitably my JAG brothers and sisters are deeply involved in the investigation).
Don't assume that most of the current media accounts are very accurate. They're not. They'll improve with time. Only those of us who were there really know what went down. But as they collate our statements they'll get it right.
I did my SRP last week (Soldier Readiness Processing) but you're supposed to come back a week later to have them look at the smallpox vaccination site (it's this big itchy growth on your shoulder). I am probably alive because I pulled a ---------- and entered the wrong building first (the main SRP building).
The Medical SRP building is off to the side. Realizing my mistake I left the main building and walked down the sidewalk to the medical SRP building. As I'm walking up to it the gunshots start. Slow and methodical. But continuous.
Two ambulatory wounded came out. Then two soldiers dragging a third who was covered in blood. Hearing the shots but not seeing the shooter, along with a couple other soldiers I stood in the street and yelled at everyone who came running that it was clear but to "RUN!" I kept motioning people fast.
About 6-10 minutes later (the shooting continuous), two cops ran up. one male, one female. we pointed in the direction of the shots. they headed that way (the medical SRP building was about 50 meters away). then a lot more gunfire. A couple minutes later a balding man in ACU's came around the building carrying a pistol and holding it tactically.
He started shooting at us and we all dived back to the cars behind us. I don't think he hit the couple other guys who were there. I did see the bullet holes later in the cars. First I went behind a tire and
then looked under the body of the car. I've been trained how to respond to gunfire...but with my own weapon. To have no weapon I don't know how to explain what that felt like. I hadn't run away and stayed because I had thought about the consequences or anything like that. I wasn't thinking anything through.
Please understand, there was no intention. I was just staying there because I didn't think about running. It never occur red to me that he might shoot me. Until he started shooting in my direction and I realized I was unarmed.
Then the female cop comes around the corner. He shoots her. (according to the news account she got a round into him. I believe it, I just didn't see it. he didn't go down.) She goes down. He starts reloading. He's fiddling with his mags. Weirdly he hasn't dropped the one that was in his weapon. He's holding the fresh one and the old one (you do that on the range when time is not of the essence but in combat you would just let the old mag go).
I see the male cop around the left corner of the building. (I'm about 15-20 meters from the shooter.) I yell at the cop, "He's reloading, he's reloading. Shoot him! Shoot him!) You have to understand, everything was quiet at this point. The cop appears to hear me and comes around the corner and shoots the shooter. He goes down. The cop kicks his weapon further away. I sprint up to the downed female cop. Another captain (I think he was with me behind the cars) comes up as well. She's bleeding profusely out of her thigh. We take our belts off and tourniquet her just like we've been trained (I hope we did it right...we didn't have any CLS (combat lifesaver) bags with their awesome tourniquets on us, so we worked with what we had).
(Hmmm, , , not quite like initial reports , , ,)
Meanwhile, in the most bizarre moment of the day, a photographer was standing over us taking pictures. I suppose I'll be seeing those tomorrow. Then a soldier came up and identified himself as a medic.
I then realized her weapon was lying there unsecured (and on "fire"). I stood over it and when I saw a cop yelled for him to come over and secure her weapon (I would have done so but I was worried someone would mistake me for a bad guy).
I then went over to the shooter. He was unconscious. A Lt Colonel was there and had secured his primary weapon for the time being. He also had a revolver. I couldn't believe he was one of ours. I didn't want to believe it. Then I saw his name and rank and realized this wasn't just some specialist with mental issues. At this point there was a guy there from CID and I asked him if he knew he was the shooter and had him secured. He said he did.
I then went over the slaughter house. - the medical SRP building. No human should ever have to see what that looked like. and I won't tell you. Just believe me. Please. There was nothing to be done there.
Someone then said there was someone critically wounded around the corner. I ran around (while seeing this floor to ceiling window that someone had jumped through movie style) and saw a large African-American soldier lying on his back with two or three soldiers attending.
I ran up and identified two entrance wounds on the right side of his stomach, one exit wound on the left side and one head wound. He was not bleeding externally from the stomach wounds (though almost certainly internally) but was bleeding from the head wound. A soldier was using a shirt to try and stop the head bleeding. He was conscious so I began talking to him to keep him so. He was 42, from North Carolina, he was named something Jr., his son was named something III and he had a daughter as well. His children lived with him. He was divorced. I told him the blubber on his stomach saved his life. He smiled.
A young soldier in civvies showed up and identified himself as a combat medic. We debated whether to put him on the back of a pickup truck. A doctor (well, an audiologist) showed up and said you can't move him, he has a head wound. we finally sat tight.
I went back to the slaughterhouse. they weren't letting anyone in there. Not even medics. finally, after about 45 minutes had elapsed some cop showed up in tactical vests. someone said the TBI building was unsecured. They headed into there. All of a sudden a couple more shots were fired.
People shouted there was a second shooter. a half hour later the SWAT showed up. There was no second shooter. That had been an impetuous cop apparently. but that confused things for a while.
Meanwhile I went back to the shooter. the female cop had been taken away. a medic was pumping plasma into the shooter. I'm not proud of this but I went up to her and said "this is the shooter, is there anyone else who needs attention...do them first". She indicated everyone else living was attended to. I still hadn't seen any EMTs or ambulances.
I had so much blood on me that people kept asking me if I was ok. But that was all other people's blood. eventually (an hour and a half to two hours after the shootings) they started landing choppers. they took out the big Africa American guy and the shooter. I guess the ambulatory wounded were all at the SRP building. Everyone else in my area was dead.
I suppose the emergency responders were told there were multiple shooters. I heard that was the delay with the choppers (they were all civilian helicopters). they needed a secure LZ. but other than the initial cops who did everything right, I didnt' see a lot of them for a while.
I did see many a soldier rush out to help their fellows/sisters. there was one female soldier, I dont' know her name or rank but I would recognize her anywhere, who was everywhere helping people. a couple people, mainly civilians, were hysterical, but only a couple. one civilian freaked out when I tried to comfort her when she saw my uniform. I guess she had seen the shooter up close.
A lot of soldiers were rushing out to help even when we thought there was another gunman out there. this Army is not broken no matter what the pundits say. Not the Army I saw.
Then they kept me for a long time to come. oh, and perhaps the most surreal thing, at 1500 (the end of the workday on Thursdays) when the bugle sounded we all came to attention and saluted the flag. In the middle of it all.
This is what I saw. it can't have been real. But this is my small corner of what happened.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom
on: November 09, 2009, 04:40:52 PM
No URL on this yet, but seems to be legit:
British spies help prevent al Qaeda-inspired attack on New York subway
The plan, which reportedly would have been the biggest attack on America since 9/11, was uncovered after Scotland Yard intercepted an email.
The force alerted the FBI, who launched an operation which led to airport shuttle bus driver Najibullah Zazi, 24, being charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction
The Afghan is alleged to have been part of a group who used stolen credit cards to buy components for bombs including nail varnish remover.
The chemicals bought were similar to those used to make the 2005 London Tube and bus explosives which killed 52 people.
Zazi, from Denver, Colorado, is understood to have been given instructions by a senior member of al Qaeda in Pakistan over the internet.
US authorities allegedly found bomb-making instructions on his laptop and his fingerprints on batteries and measuring scales they seized.
A phone containing footage of New York's Grand Central Station, thought to have been made by him during a visit a week before his arrest, was also found along with explosive residue. Zazi was also said by informants to have attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
The alleged plot was unmasked after an email address that was being monitored as part of the abortive Operation Pathway was suddenly reactivated.
Operation Pathway was investigating an alleged UK terrorist cell but went awry after the then Met Police counter-terrorism head Bob Quick was pictured walking into Downing Street displaying top secret documents.
Eleven Pakistani suspects were arrested immediately after the gaffe but later released without charge.
However, security staff continued to monitor the email address which eventually yielded results.
The British discovery also came at just the right time – the US had threatened to sever intelligence links over the release of Lockerbie bomber Al Megrahi.
A British security source told The Sun: "This was excellent work and highlights the fact we produce good information.
"(The US authorities) were delighted with the intelligence we gave them and believe it helped prevent a catastrophic attack.
Published: 1:00PM GMT 09 Nov 2009