Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread
on: November 01, 2008, 05:24:01 AM
"I made the key points above. And she is not worth fighting or wasting time over. And I acknowledged that I like and respect Lou Dobbs; isn't that enough of a bone for you wolves? "
Umm , , , no
T0 make a POINT, you would have to back up your ASSERTIONS, assertions of things which are quite ugly btw, which you simply have not done. While I agree she can enjoy playing the provocateur (so what?) I enjoy reading MM most of the time find her to be someone who goes after liberal lunacies and specious liberal thinking. So before I throw her under the bus
as a racist bigot it is going to take more than what you´ve produced so far.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: October 31, 2008, 08:21:02 PM
Ahmadinejad is "not well", oil has dropped over 50%, the Iranian economy has serious problems, Iran has a serious problem with Afg opium, and the government is not popular.
If BO gets aggro in Afg-Pak, it might be easier for the Iranians to change course with Barack Hussein Obama.
Yeah, , , right , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread
on: October 31, 2008, 08:16:28 PM
I was hoping for some citations, some quotes, things of that sort , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: October 31, 2008, 08:06:47 PM
Bush received some 40-45% of the Latino vote in Texas for governor and did well when running for President too including a very strong majority of the Cuban vote in Florida.
What you say is precisely why he was so gung ho for amnesty and what has happened nationally with the Latino vote is exactly what happened to the Republican Party in CA after Gov. Wilson supported an initiative about no benefits for illegals.
Gore was shameless as VP in working to get the illegals vote for Dems, and BO will be worse with driver licenses for illegals, motor voter laws, and massive amnesty.
The Republicans are in a real existential bind on this issue.
If we want to continue this discussion lets take it over to the immigration thread.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: October 31, 2008, 04:15:18 PM
Not a stupid piece. I disagree of course
Security Should Be the Deciding Issue
By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
more in Opinion »
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As the scale of the economic crisis becomes clear and comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s are tossed around, there is a very real danger that America could succumb to the feeling that we no longer have the luxury of worrying about distant lands, now that we are confronted with a "real" problem that actually affects the lives of all Americans. As we consider whether various bailout plans help Main Street as well as Wall Street, the subtext is that both are much more important to Americans than Haifa Street.
One problem with this emotion is that it ignores the sequel to the Great Depression -- the rise of militaristic Japan marked by the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, and Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933, both of which resulted in part from economic dislocations spreading outward from the U.S. The inward-focus of the U.S. and the leading Western powers (Great Britain and France) throughout the 1930s allowed these problems to metastasize, ultimately leading to World War II.
Is it possible that American inattention to the world in the coming years could lead to a similarly devastating result? You betcha.
When Franklin Roosevelt replaced Herbert Hoover in the White House, the country's economy was in shambles but its security was not threatened. No American forces were engaged in significant military conflict; America faced no threats. The U.S. was largely disarmed militarily and disengaged internationally.
[Security Should Be the Deciding Issue] Corbis
Yet within a decade, American territory had been attacked for the first time in 130 years, a massive rearmament program was underway, and the U.S. was fighting a desperate struggle that spanned the globe and ultimately cost the lives of nearly half a million American service members. The seeds of that global conflict, unimaginable in 1933 given the relative weakness of Germany and Japan, were planted in the first years of the Roosevelt administration as FDR focused on the American economy.
Hoover had the distinction of being the last American president who did not command American troops in important conflicts. After FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower led the war in Korea that ended up shaping East Asia and the global economy profoundly.
John F. Kennedy's ill-fated efforts in Cuba shape Central America and the Caribbean to this day. He also made key decisions regarding Vietnam, followed, of course, by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. These decisions had major effects on American security and also helped launch a social revolution within the U.S.
Jimmy Carter's disastrous hostage rescue operation in Iran had profound implications for the U.S. there and throughout the region, as did his reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Ronald Reagan's failed policies in Lebanon in the early 1980s, leading to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983, shaped the nature of American involvement in that key region, and also the perception of the U.S., for two decades. His attack on Libya, on the other hand, effectively ended a significant terrorist threat to the U.S. It also laid the basis for the elimination of Libya's WMD program after 9/11.
George H.W. Bush fought in Panama and Iraq. Bill Clinton, who took office promising to focus "like a laser beam" on the economy, led U.S. forces to humiliation in Somalia, ineffective, pinprick responses to al Qaeda terrorism and to Saddam Hussein's provocations, and to large-scale conflict in the Balkans. The current administration inherited ongoing military operations in the Balkans and almost immediately confronted the consequences of President Clinton's policy failures in Afghanistan on 9/11.
The next president will not break this string of fighting presidents. He will inherit two ongoing wars involving more than 180,000 troops. He will face two global enemies -- al Qaeda and Iranian terror networks, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps/Quds Force and Hezbollah.
It is important to note here the distinction between an enemy and a threat. Threats are problems to be concerned about in the future; enemies are organizations trying to kill Americans right now. Al Qaeda and Iranian agents are both killing Americans on a regular basis and have proclaimed their determination to kill more. They are enemies, not threats, and they will confront the next president from day one.
There are threats too, such as Pakistan's instability, combined with its inability and unwillingness to confront the al Qaeda safe havens on its territory. The growth of al Qaeda organizations in Algeria and Somalia poses another. Russian adventurism on the borders of states to which the U.S. has already given security guarantees is still another. The dangers of nuclear proliferation if the North Korean regime collapses -- or if it does not -- are still another.
Lastly, the next president will almost certainly face Iran's arrival at the threshold of nuclear-weapons capability. This, combined with Iran's efforts to develop long-range (and ultimately intercontinental) ballistic missiles and its global terrorist networks, is a threat to America's allies and to Americans at home.
Whatever the parallels between the current economic situation and that of the early 1930s, the current international environment is by any comparison more dangerous for the U.S. than the one that led to World War II. This is not hyperbole, particularly considering a last factor. When France and Britain ignored developing dangers while handling them would have been possible and relatively inexpensive, America was able to bail them out, if at terrific cost. There is no one to save us if we make similar mistakes in the coming years.
The current economic crisis is extremely grave. It is hurting many Americans today and will hurt many more as it unwinds. It will end, however, as economic crises always do. The question is how long the recovery will take and how bad things will get before it takes hold.
This question should be at the forefront of voters' thinking as they consider the economic proposals of the two candidates for president, but not necessarily as they decide whom to vote for. Better policies can speed the recovery; worse ones can slow it -- but none are likely to prevent it.
The presidential impact on foreign-policy problems is much more direct. Skillful approaches can avoid or mitigate conflict; foolish ones can lead to cataclysms. And make no mistake -- mistaken policies will lead to the unnecessary deaths of Americans, and not just our soldiers. Any American who wants to travel outside the U.S. can be directly affected by the wisdom or folly of our foreign policy. Even those who never leave their own state must be concerned, as residents of New York, Arlington and Pennsylvania can attest.
The health of our economy rests on its fundamentals, and on the way the entire government -- the president, the Congress, the Federal Reserve, and the courts -- approach the problem. The lives of American citizens rest on the way the president interacts with our enemies. When people feel relatively safe, they vote their pocketbooks. When they feel endangered, they vote for security. The world today offers no reason for Americans to feel safe. If we want safety, we have to be ready to fight for it.
Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of "Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power" (AEI Press, 2008).
Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Big Tent GOP
on: October 31, 2008, 03:53:52 PM
Back to a Big-Tent GOP?
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
All eyes are on Tuesday. For the GOP, the real question is Wednesday.
That's the day the party will survey the damage of the 2008 election, and have to decide what it wants to be. Even if John McCain pulls out a win, the Grand Old Party will be in trouble. Contrary to recent liberal pronouncements, the conservative movement is not dead. But the GOP response to Tuesday will determine how long it remains on life support.
The GOP's problems are a result of a failure of action, not of philosophy. Everything, including this election, shows we remain a center-right country. If Barack Obama wins, it will be because he has doggedly (if not always believably) run to the right on everything from national security (wiretapping) to "tax cuts," guns and social issues.
Democrats may also achieve big gains in the House and Senate. But their wins in 2006 were the result of the party's decision to run "conservative" candidates -- pro-life, pro-gun and populist on economics. Democratic gains this year will come via similar candidates. The nation hasn't moved left; the Democratic Party has leaned right.
Because Nancy Pelosi and her old liberal bulls will likely overreach, the GOP will have an opportunity. But the risk is that Tuesday's results will cause panic, and exacerbate the reactionary, backward-looking behavior that has already done so much damage to the party.
[Potomac Watch] Getty Images
Republicans love to recollect Ronald Reagan, though they forget why. Reagan's strength was looking to the future -- and framing the issues of the day for Americans. When the focus had been balanced budgets, he made the issue the need for economic growth. When the debate had been détente, Reagan turned it into the need for a strong America. That tradition continued with the Contract with America, welfare reform, government reform, tort reform. George W. Bush tackled education.
Reagan's other great strength was not distinguishing between red and blue America. He offered a set of principles, and invited anyone who broadly subscribed to those principles into his political house. The result was that unlikely coalition of fiscal conservatives, defense hawks and social conservatives. These were the days of Reagan Democrats, of victories in states that now seem unwinnable to the GOP.
The further Republicans have moved away from this playbook, the further its fortunes have declined. The GOP was thrown out in 2006 because it had failed to evolve on the new issues facing Americans -- spiraling health-care costs, dwindling energy supplies, out-of-control entitlements. It spent its last years divvying up pork. As it has hit the electoral rocks, the party has also turned inward, harping on immigrants and gay marriage.
So come Wednesday, the Democrats will be energized -- and the GOP must make a choice.
The worst GOP instinct would be to mimic Britain's Tories after their 1997 shellacking by Tony Blair, becoming a "no" party that spends so much time howling against the opposition it forgets what to howl for. It could curl up and stoke bitter cultural fights (immigration, abortion) to rev up a dwindling base. It could cede its fortunes to an unreformed old guard who will happily wait out their retirements in the minority. It would be easy to do all this; the party has already had practice.
The other option is for the GOP to start elevating the new generation of reformers -- folks like Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor or Wisconsin's Paul Ryan. With them comes a new intellectual focus on today's issues. (See Mr. Ryan's recent blueprint for reforming taxes, entitlements and health care.) The Republican high point this year was when the party united to fix the energy mess. That ought to tell it something.
The party could also go back to recruiting real professionals ahead of career politicians. That's how the Senate obtained Dr. Tom Coburn who, because he isn't a lifer, hasn't been afraid to shame colleagues on earmarks or obscene spending.
Just as important, the party could again open its arms to those who should, naturally, gravitate to the GOP. Today's ballooning Hispanic community is socially conservative, the sort of up-and-comers who would appreciate lower taxes, more opportunity. America's YouTube generation is naturally entrepreneurial, and doesn't like anyone telling them what to do. If Republicans could tap into these sentiments, they'd widen the tent.
Doing so does not involve altering conservative principles. Politicians like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have shown it is possible to be for law and order, even while welcoming immigrants who want the American dream; and that it's possible to be pro-life without braying on the subject in a way that offends suburban moderates.
This transformation is necessary even if Mr. McCain wins. His difficulties have stemmed from his own struggle to articulate answers to the biggest American worries.
Parties have to evolve. This is a GOP opportunity, if it is smart enough to take it.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Clusterfcuk
on: October 31, 2008, 03:23:13 PM
From the WT forum:
I have resigned myself to the fact that Barack Obama, wlll be our next President, and that my Taxes and Fees, will go up in a BIG way.
To compensate for these increases, I figure, that the Customer will have to see an increase in my fees to them of about 10%.
I will also have to lay off 6 of my employees.
This really bothered me as I believe we are family here and didn't know how to choose who will have to go.
So, this is what I did:
I strolled thru the parking lot and found 8 Obama bumper stickers on my employees cars. I have decided these folks will be the first to be laid off.
I can't think of another fair way to approach this problem.
If you have a better idea, let me know.
I'm sending this letter to all the Business owners that I know.
Works for me.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: October 31, 2008, 03:16:39 PM
Strong Leads and Dead Ends in Nuclear Case Against Iran
By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 8, 2006; Page A01
Iranian engineers have completed sophisticated drawings of a deep subterranean shaft, according to officials who have examined classified documents in the hands of U.S. intelligence for more than 20 months.
Complete with remote-controlled sensors to measure pressure and heat, the plans for the 400-meter tunnel appear designed for an underground atomic test that might one day announce Tehran's arrival as a nuclear power, the officials said.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...020702126.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: October 31, 2008, 02:28:18 PM
October 31, 2008
In today's Political Diary:
- Return of the Clinton Administration
- John Kerry as Secretary of State?
- Pelosi's Punching Bag
- McConnell's Last Stand
- The Obama-Acorn Connection
Barack Obama and Bill Clinton still have deep differences, but they managed to make
nice while campaigning together this week in Florida.
Mr. Obama may pay Mr. Clinton the ultimate compliment if elected. He's likely to
appoint Chicago Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his new White House chief of staff and
John Podesta of the Center for American Progress as his transition chief. Mr.
Emanuel served in the Clinton White House as a top aide, and Mr. Podesta is a former
chief of staff for President Clinton.
The Associated Press reports that an aide to Rep. Emanuel, Sarah Feinberg, said in
an email that her boss "has not been contacted to take a job in an administration
that does not yet exist. Everyone is focused on Election Day, as they should be."
But the AP also confirms that both Mr. Emanuel and former Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle have received feelers about the top White House staff job.
Mr. Emanuel was the architect of the successful Democratic takeover of the House in
2006, and is well known for tough talk and hyper-aggressive tactics. Should he get
the job, the Obama White House might well take on the look and feel of the Clinton
political "war room" that Dick Morris ran in the mid-1990s. The longer Mr. Obama is
a candidate, the more he has seemed to appreciate the Clinton approach. If this is
the "change" Mr. Obama has in mind, voters may be surprised how much it turns out to
be an updated edition of the last Democratic White House.
-- John Fund
Who Will Run the 'No Preconditions' Portfolio?
Jostling for jobs in a Barack Obama Administration is well underway, especially the
plumb Secretary of State position. While Mr. Obama tends to keep his own counsel, he
has relied so far on a small circle of advisers -- headed by Tony Lake and Susan
Rice -- while selectively allowing an array of former Hillary Clinton backers into
his tent since he secured the nomination.
The elder statesman in his circle, Mr. Lake had a bad run atop the Clinton National
Security Council, then failed in his Senate confirmation bid for the CIA. He doesn't
sound eager to try his luck again at the State Department. Meanwhile, just like
George W. Bush's "Dr. Rice," Susan Rice is the candidate's closest adviser on
foreign affairs. But she's also young (44), rung up a spotty record in the Clinton
Administration (overseeing Africa policy) and may lack the gravitas expected in a
post recently held by the likes of Colin Powell and Warren Christopher.
Who are some other contenders? John Kerry tells friends in Boston that he and Mr.
Obama have "an understanding." Mr. Kerry is desperate for a change from the Senate
and clearly has his eye on State. Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel are two Republicans
who also might fit in an Obama Administration. A strike against Sen. Lugar is his
age (76) and the fact that he hardly seems an agent of "change." Mr. Hagel, the
Nebraska Republican, is leaving the Senate and agrees with Mr. Obama on most things,
primarily Iraq. But he's unpopular in the GOP and wouldn't win Mr. Obama many points
for "bipartisanship." Mr. Obama may prefer to stick with Robert Gates at the
Pentagon as his token Republican.
From the Democratic establishment, two names that come up for the state department
are Strobe Talbott and Richard Holbrooke, both intimate Clintonistas, Shunned by the
Obama crowd after the primaries, Mr. Holbrooke finally joined a "senior working
group" gathering in Richmond last week with the candidate. He hadn't been invited
last time. Sam Nunn and Lee Hamilton -- also on the long list -- were there too. "It
was done to keep them happy," says one Obama aide. Aside from his Hillary links, the
problem with Mr. Holbrooke is "he's too much his own guy. I don't think Obama wants
someone over there conducting his own foreign policy," my Obama source says.
Mr. Talbott, who served as No. 2 in the Clinton state department, would be easier to
control. He also heads the Brookings Institution, home to several other Obama
advisers, and (like several Obama associates) also happens to be a Rhodes Scholar.
"That seems to count a lot for those people," says one prominent Democrat.
If Mr. Obama wins next week, his personnel picks will shed light on a foreign policy
agenda that remains partly murky. He most clearly wants to withdraw from Iraq
quickly and make Afghanistan "Barack's War." But otherwise he's laid out a foreign
policy agenda consisting of more style than substance at this point.
-- Matthew Kaminski
Tilting at Nancy's Well-Fortified Windmill
Nancy Pelosi occupies one of the least competitive districts in the country. The
Speaker of the House routinely pulls in more than 80% of the vote, with Republican
challengers often struggling just to stay ahead of whichever wacky third-party
candidates happen to be running.
This year, the latter category is ably nailed down by Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war
activist best known for camping outside President Bush's Texas ranch. Ms. Sheehan,
who's running as an independent, has enlisted Roseanne Barr to record robo-calls on
her behalf and was this week escorted to an event by Sean Penn. With Ms. Sheehan in
the contest, the brave, hapless Republican in the race, Dana Walsh, says she's
"running against the two most dangerous women in America." In a district where
Democrats outnumber Republicans eight to one, she might be lucky to outpoll Ms.
Sheehan next Tuesday.
Ms. Walsh is an interior designer who admits in a campaign video that when the
financial crisis hit, she "was totally unprepared to understand it." She added:
"Most people in Congress didn't understand it either." Truth in politics.
While she's not unduly optimistic about her chances, Ms. Walsh maintains that
"someone has to run." And she's already raised twice as much money as Ms. Pelosi's
last Republican challenger. The vast majority of that money came not only from
outside the district, but from outside the state.
In her defense, Ms. Pelosi's extraordinarily safe seat is not the product of a
cynical gerrymander. Her district covers most of San Francisco and doesn't resemble
a snake slithering across the state to pick up just the right demographic to keep
Ms. Pelosi in office in perpetuity. Ms. Pelosi's dominance simply reflects the
ultraliberal politics of her town. Give Ms. Walsh credit, then, for standing up for
the principle that one-party elections have no place even in San Francisco.
-- Brian M. Carney
Will Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell be among the Republican casualties on Election
Day? In the latest Lexington Herald-Leader/WKYT poll, Mr. McConnell, the GOP Senate
leader, has slipped below the magic number for incumbents of 50%. If tradition
holds, he can't expect to win many late-deciding voters amid a barrage of attack ads
funded by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the closing days. Though
the Herald-Leader poll still has him clinging to a slim lead, 47% to 43%, he's
anything but a shoo-in.
Democrats relish the thought of knocking off Mr. McConnell as payback for the defeat
four years ago of their own then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Mr. McConnell's defeat
would also move them closer to a 60-seat, filibuster-proof Senate majority. One of
the party's top stars, Hillary Clinton, will even spend the last Sunday before
Election Day stumping for Mr. McConnell's Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford.
Democrats were emboldened by last year's crushing defeat of incumbent Republican
Gov. Ernie Fletcher by Steve Beshear. But they may be reading too much into that
victory. South Dakota voters saw Mr. Daschle as an "obstructionist" and sent him
packing in 2004 while giving President George W. Bush a reelection margin of 22
points. Mr. McConnell's situation is totally different. He's still a conservative in
a red state that will almost certainly vote overwhelmingly for the Republican
presidential candidate. In the past, Mr. McConnell has managed to hold his seat with
the largest victory margins of any Republican in Kentucky history.
At the moment, though, he's being flayed for his support of the $700 billion Wall
Street bailout -- which the state's other Republican senator, Jim Bunning, denounced
as "socialism." Kentucky voters have a hard time understanding why they should pay
for a financial meltdown that so far has barely touched their state. Still, Mr.
McConnell may start to get some credit for making the hard decisions as Kentucky
begins to feel the pain.
Then there's this: Both he and his opponent have taken to calling their contest "the
second most important" in the country because of the prospect of a Democratic
supermajority in the Senate. As Mr. McConnell told supporters Wednesday: "There is
nothing the far left would like better besides winning the White House than to take
me out." That argument may yet be salvation for him and several other embattled GOP
Senators around the country.
-- Brendan Miniter
'Election Deception,' California-style
The profligate spending of California's local governments means pols are going to
extreme lengths to grab revenue. Voters in more than two dozen California
jurisdictions, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, will be asked next week to
approve telephone tax increases. Thanks to misleading summaries on local ballots,
many will actually think they're voting for tax cuts.
The California Taxpayers' Association calls it "Deception 2008." Only two
jurisdictions, Eureka and Seaside, appear to have legitimate phone tax repeals on
It all started in 2006, when the U.S. Treasury ruled that an antiquated "utility
user tax," created to fund the Spanish-American War, no longer applies to many of
today's phone services. Local pols realized they would need to get voter approval to
continue collecting the hefty taxes. But how to dupe voters into going along?
Answer: With ballot proposals that offer modest "cuts" in the phone tax and don't
clearly mention that, absent a vote, the tax would disappear altogether.
In some jurisdictions, politicians have gone so far as to craft tricky language to
expand the taxes to text messaging and other digital services. Sacramento's "Utility
Tax Reduction and Fairness Measure," for instance, fails to mention the new services
subject to tax, but promises to "preserve funding for essential municipal services
like police, fire protection and youth programs."
Bottom line: California voters should exercise extreme caution before voting for
something that sounds like a reduction in the tax on talking.
-- James Freeman
Follow the Money
Earlier this week, Anita MonCrief, a former employee of Acorn's Project Vote,
testified in a Pennsylvania court that she was given donor lists from the Obama and
other Democratic campaigns so she could approach donors who had "maxed out" on
candidate donations but could still contribute to Project Vote's registration
Both the Obama campaign and Project Vote strenuously deny the charge. Project Vote
says it "does not have any cooperation with the Obama campaign." Team Obama's
Pennsylvania campaign spokesman, Sean Smith, added that anyone was free to download
a list of Obama's donors from the Internet.
Ms. MonCrief gave me spreadsheets of donors from several Democratic campaigns that
were clearly not downloaded from the Internet. In any case, it's illegal for a
nonprofit group to use Federal Election Commission lists to help its own activities.
If the Obama campaign did give its lists to Project Vote, that would be very strong
evidence of illegal coordination between the two entities.
Whether or not the Obama campaign shared its lists, it certainly hasn't shown any
interest in going beyond the letter of the law when it comes to disclosing its
donors to the general public. Despite pleas from campaign-finance reform groups such
as Common Cause and Democracy 21, Team Obama has refused to follow Senator McCain's
lead and release names of donors who have given less than $200, even though such
donors supplied half of the $605 million the Obama campaign raised through September
Perhaps one reason is that, as the Washington Post reported this week, the Obama
campaign has turned off its Address Verification System, or AVS, at its Web site.
That program should have stopped most contributions coming in from citizens of
foreign countries -- a violation of federal law. The Federal Election Commission,
which does receive a complete list of donors, has a list of several thousand small
Obama donors it suspects may have contributed illegally from foreign countries.
Somewhere Richard Nixon, who in inflation-adjusted terms previously set the record
for the most expensive and controversial presidential fund-raising apparatus ever in
1972, must be smiling at the audacity of Mr. Obama's fundraising.
-- John Fund
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: October 31, 2008, 12:37:06 PM
Counterintelligence Implications of Foreign Service National Employees
October 29, 2008 | 1836 GMT
Graphic for Terrorism Intelligence Report
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
Related Special Topic Page
* Tracking Mexico’s Drug Cartels
Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said Oct. 27 that five officials from the anti-organized crime unit (SIEDO) of the Office of the Mexican Attorney General (PGR) have been arrested for allegedly providing intelligence to the Beltrán Leyva drug trafficking organization for money. Two of the recently arrested officials were senior SIEDO officers. One of those was Fernando Rivera Hernández, SIEDO’s director of intelligence; the other was Miguel Colorado González, SIEDO’s technical coordinator.
This episode follows earlier announcements of the arrests in August of SIEDO officials on corruption charges. Medina Mora said that since July, more than 35 PGR agents have been arrested for accepting bribes from cartel members — bribes that, according to Medina Mora, can range from $150,000 to $450,000 a month depending on the quality of information provided.
Mexican newspapers including La Jornada are reporting that information has been uncovered in the current investigation indicating the Beltrán Leyva organization had developed paid sources inside Interpol and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and that the source in the embassy has provided intelligence on Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations. The source at the U.S. Embassy was reportedly a foreign service national investigator, or FSNI. The newspaper El Universal has reported that the U.S. Marshals Service employed the FSNI in question.
This situation provides us with a good opportunity to examine the role of foreign service national employees at U.S. missions abroad and why they are important to embassy functions, and to discuss the counterintelligence liability they present.
Foreign Service Nationals
U.S. embassies and consulates can be large and complicated entities. They can house dozens of U.S. government agencies and employ hundreds, or even thousands, of employees. Americans like their creature comforts, and keeping a large number of employees comfortable (and productive) requires a lot of administrative and logistical support, everything from motor pool vehicles to commissaries. Creature comforts aside, merely keeping all of the security equipment functioning in a big mission — things like gates, vehicle barriers, video cameras, metal detectors, magnetic locks and residential alarms — can be a daunting task.
In most places, the cost of bringing Americans to the host country to do all of the little jobs required to run an embassy or consulate is prohibitive. Because of this, the U.S. government often hires a large group of local people (called foreign service nationals, or FSNs) to perform non-sensitive administrative functions. FSN jobs can range from low-level menial positions, such as driving the embassy shuttle bus, answering the switchboard or cooking in the embassy cafeteria, to more important jobs such as helping the embassy contract with local companies for goods and services, helping to screen potential visa applicants or translating diplomatic notes into the local language. Most U.S diplomatic posts employ dozens of FSNs, and large embassies can employ hundreds of them.
The embassy will also hire FSNIs to assist various sections of the embassy such as the DEA Attaché, the regional security office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the anti-fraud unit of the consular section. FSNIs are the embassy’s subject-matter experts on crime in the host country and are responsible for maintaining liaison between the embassy and the host country’s security and law enforcement organizations. In a system where most diplomats and attachés are assigned to a post only for two or three years, the FSNs become the institutional memory of the embassy. They are the long-term keepers of the contacts with the host country government and will always be expected to introduce their new American bosses to the people they need to know in the government to get their jobs done.
Because FSNIs are expected to have good contacts and to be able to reach their contacts at any time of the day or night in case of emergency, the people hired for these FSNI positions are normally former senior law enforcement officers from the host country. The senior police officials are often close friends and former classmates of the current host country officials. This means that they can call the chief of police of the capital city at home on a Saturday or the assistant minister of government at 3 a.m. if the need arises.
To help make sure this assistance flows, the FSNI will do little things like deliver bottles of Johnny Walker Black during the Christmas holidays or bigger things like help the chief of police obtain visas so his family can vacation at Disney World. Visas, in fact, are a very good tool for fostering liaison. Not only can they allow the vice minister to do his holiday shopping in Houston, they can also be used to do things like bring vehicles or consumer goods from the United States back to the host country for sale at a profit.
As FSNs tend to work for embassies for long periods of time, while the Americans rotate through, there is a tendency for FSNs to learn the system and to find ways to profit from it. It is not uncommon for FSNs to be fired or even prosecuted in local court systems for theft and embezzlement. FSNs have done things like take kick-backs on embassy contracts for arranging to direct the contract to a specific vendor; pay inflated prices for goods bought with petty cash and then split the difference with the vendor who provided the false receipt; and steal gasoline, furniture items, computers and nearly anything else that can be found in an embassy.
While this kind of fraud is more commonplace in third-world nations where corruption is endemic, it is certainly not confined there; it can even occur in European capitals. Again, visas are a critical piece of the puzzle. Genuine U.S. visas are worth a great deal of money, and it is not uncommon to find FSNs involved in various visa fraud schemes. FSN employees have gone as far as accepting money to provide visas to members of terrorist groups like Hezbollah. In countries involved in human trafficking, visas have been traded for sexual favors in addition to money. In fairness, the amount that can be made from visa fraud means it is not surprising to find U.S. foreign service officers participating in visa fraud as well.
While it saves money, employing FSNs does present a very real counterintelligence risk. In essence, it is an invitation to a local intelligence service to send people inside U.S. buildings to collect information. In most countries, the U.S. Embassy cannot do a complete background investigation on an FSN candidate without the assistance of the host country government. This means the chances of catching a plant are slim unless the Americans have their own source in the local intelligence service that will out the operation.
In many countries, foreigners cannot apply for a job with the U.S. Embassy without their government’s permission. Obviously, this means local governments can approve only those applicants who agree to provide the government with information. In other countries, embassy employment is not that obviously controlled, but there still is a strong possibility of the host country sending agents to apply for jobs along with the other applicants.
It may be just coincidence, but in many countries the percentage of very attractive young women filling clerical roles at the U.S. Embassy appears many times higher than the number of attractive young women in the general population. This raises the specter of “honey traps,” or sexual entrapment schemes aimed at U.S. employees. Such schemes have involved female FSNs in the past. In one well known example, the KGB employed attractive female operatives against the Marine Security Guards in Moscow, an operation that led to an extremely grave compromise of the U.S. Embassy there.
Because of these risk factors, FSNs are not allowed access to classified information and are kept out of sections of the embassy where classified information is discussed and stored. It is assumed that any classified information FSNs can access will be compromised.
Of course, not all FSNs report to host country intelligence services, and many of them are loyal employees of the U.S. government. In many countries, however, the extensive power host country intelligence services can wield over the lives of its citizens means that even otherwise loyal FSNs can be compelled to report to the host country service against their wills. Whereas an American diplomat will go home after two or three years, FSNs must spend their lives in the host country and are not protected by diplomatic status or international conventions. This makes them very vulnerable to pressure. Additionally, the aforementioned criminal activity by FSNs is not just significant from a fiscal standpoint; Such activity also leaves those participating in it open to blackmail by the host government if the activity is discovered.
When one considers the long history of official corruption in Mexico and the enormous amounts of cash available to the Mexican drug cartels, it is no surprise that members of the SIEDO, much less an FNSI at the U.S. Embassy, should be implicated in such a case. The allegedly corrupt FNSI most likely was recruited into the scheme by a close friend or former associate who may have been working for the government and who was helping the Beltrán Leyva organization develop its intelligence network.
It appears that the FSNI working for the Beltrán Leyva organization at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City worked for the U.S. Marshals Service, not the DEA. This means that he would not have had access to much DEA operational information. An FSNI working for the U.S. Marshals Service would be working on fugitive cases and would be tasked with liaison with various Mexican law enforcement jurisdictions. Information regarding fugitive operations would be somewhat useful to the cartels, since many cartel members have been indicted in U.S. courts and the U.S. government would like to extradite them.
Even if the FSNI involved had been working for the DEA, however, there are limits to how much information he would have been able to provide. First of all, DEA special agents are well aware of the degree of corruption in Mexico, and they are therefore concerned that information passed on to the Mexican government can be passed to the cartels. The special agents also would assume that their FSN employees may be reporting to the Mexican government, and would therefore take care to not tell the FSN anything they wouldn’t want the Mexican government — or the cartels — to know.
The type of FSNI employee in question would be tasked with conducting administrative duties such as helping the DEA attaché with liaison and passing name checks and other queries to various jurisdictions in Mexico. The FSN would not be privy to classified DEA cable traffic, and would not sit in on sensitive operational meetings.
In the intelligence world, however, there are unclassified things that can be valuable intelligence. These include the names and home addresses of all the DEA employees in the country, for example, or the types of cars the special agents drive and the confidential license plates they have for them.
Other examples could be the FSNI being sent to the airport to pick up a group of TDY DEA agents and bringing them to the embassy. Were the agents out-of-shape headquarters-types wearing suits and doing an inspection, or fit field agents from a special operations group coming to town to help take down a high-value target? Even knowing that the DEA attaché has suddenly changed his schedule and is now working more overtime can indicate that something is up. Information that the attaché has asked the FSNI about the police chief in a specific jurisdiction, for example, could also be valuable to a drug trafficking organization expecting a shipment to arrive at that jurisdiction.
In the end, it is unlikely that this current case resulted in grave damage to DEA operations in Mexico. Indeed, the FSNI probably did far less damage to counternarcotics operations than the 35 PGR employees who have been arrested since July. But the vulnerabilities of FSN employees are great, and there are likely other FSNs on the payroll of the various Mexican cartels.
As long as the U.S. government employs FSNs it will face the security liability that comes with them. In general, however, this liability is offset by the utility they provide and the systems put in place to limit the counterintelligence damage they can cause.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rove: Polls
on: October 30, 2008, 07:24:41 AM
Don't Let the Polls Affect Your Vote
They were wrong in 2000 and 2004.By KARL ROVEArticle
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There has been an explosion of polls this presidential election. Through yesterday, there have been 728 national polls with head-to-head matchups of the candidates, 215 in October alone. In 2004, there were just 239 matchup polls, with 67 of those in October. At this rate, there may be almost as many national polls in October of 2008 as there were during the entire year in 2004.
Some polls are sponsored by reputable news organizations, others by publicity-eager universities or polling firms on the make. None have the scientific precision we imagine.
For example, academics gathered by the American Political Science Association at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington on Aug. 31, 2000, to make forecasts declared that Al Gore would be the winner. Their models told them so. Mr. Gore would receive between 53% and 60% of the two-party vote; Gov. George W. Bush would get between just 40% and 47%. Impersonal demographic and economic forces had settled the contest, they said. They were wrong.
Right now, all the polls show Barack Obama ahead of John McCain, but the margins vary widely (in part because some polls use an "expanded" definition of a likely voter, while others use a "traditional" polling model, which assumes turnout will mirror historical trends but with a higher turnout among African-Americans and young voters).
On Monday, there were seven nationwide polls, with the candidates as close as three points in the Investors Business Daily/TIPP poll and as far apart as 10 points in Gallup's "expanded" model. On Tuesday, the Gallup "traditional" model poll had the candidates separated by two points and the Pew poll had them separated by 15. On Wednesday, Battleground, Rasmussen and Gallup "traditional" model polls had the candidates separated by three points while Diageo/Hotline and Gallup "expanded" model polls had the spread at seven points.
Polls can reveal underlying or emerging trends and help campaigns decide where to focus. The danger is that commentators use them to declare a race over before the votes are in. This can demoralize the underdog's supporters, depressing turnout. I know that from experience.
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.
On election night in 2000 Al Hunt -- then a columnist for this newspaper and a commentator on CNN -- was the first TV talking head to erroneously declare that Florida's polls had closed, when those in the Panhandle were open for another hour. Shortly before 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Judy Woodruff said: "A big call to make. CNN announces that we call Florida in the Al Gore column."
Mr. Hunt and Ms. Woodruff were not only wrong. What they did was harmful. We know, for example, that turnout in 2000 compared to 1996 improved more in states whose polls had closed by the time Ms. Woodruff all but declared the contest over. The data suggests that as many as 500,000 people in the Midwest and West didn't bother to vote after the networks indicated Florida cinched the race for Mr. Gore.
I recall, too, the media's screwup in 2004, when exit-polling data leaked in the afternoon. It showed President Bush losing Pennsylvania by 17 points, New Hampshire by 18, behind among white males in Florida, and projected South Carolina and Colorado too close to call. It looked like the GOP would be wiped out.
Bob Shrum famously became the first to congratulate Sen. John Kerry by addressing him as "President Kerry." Commentators let the exit polls color their coverage for hours until their certainty was undone by actual vote tallies.
Polls have proliferated this year in part because it is much easier for journalists to devote the limited space in their papers or on TV to the horse-race aspect of the election rather than its substance. And I admit, I've aided and abetted this process.
In the campaign's final week, though, the candidates can offer little new substance, so attention turns to the political landscape, and there's no question Mr. McCain is in a difficult place.
The last national poll that showed Mr. McCain ahead came out Sept. 25 and the 232 polls since then have all shown Mr. Obama leading. Only one time in the past 14 presidential elections has a candidate won the popular vote and the Electoral College after trailing in the Gallup Poll the week before the election: Ronald Reagan in 1980.
But the question that matters is the margin. If Mr. McCain is down by 3%, his task is doable, if difficult. If he's down by 9%, his task is essentially impossible. In truth, however, no one knows for sure what kind of polling deficit is insurmountable or even which poll is correct. All of us should act with the proper understanding that nothing is yet decided.
As for me, I've already cast my absentee ballot in Kerr County, Texas -- joyfully, enthusiastically marking the straight Republican column. I would like to have joined the line Tuesday outside the polling place in Ingram, where I've been registered the past few years. But I will be in New York, part of the vast horde analyzing exit polls, dissecting returns, and pontificating on consequences. I'll thoroughly enjoy myself that night, and probably feel guilty the next morning. But this year's 728 national polls and the thousands of state polls made me do it.
Mr. Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: ACORN
on: October 30, 2008, 07:19:15 AM
An interesting idea SB.
Here's more on ACORN and BO:
Acorn, the liberal "community organizing" group that claims it will deploy 15,000 get-out-the-vote workers on Election Day, can't stay out of the news.
The FBI is investigating its voter registration efforts in several states, amid allegations that almost a third of the 1.3 million cards it turned in are invalid. And yesterday, a former employee of Acorn testified in a Pennsylvania state court that the group's quality-control efforts were "minimal or nonexistent" and largely window dressing. Anita MonCrief also says that Acorn was given lists of potential donors by several Democratic presidential campaigns, including that of Barack Obama, to troll for contributions.
The Obama campaign denies it "has any ties" to Acorn, but Mr. Obama's ties are extensive. In 1992 he headed a registration effort for Project Vote, an Acorn partner at the time. He did so well that he was made a top trainer for Acorn's Chicago conferences. In 1995, he represented Acorn in a key case upholding the constitutionality of the new Motor Voter Act -- the first law passed by the Clinton administration -- which created the mandated, nationwide postcard voter registration system that Acorn workers are using to flood election offices with bogus registrations.
Ms. MonCrief testified that in November 2007 Project Vote development director Karyn Gillette told her she had direct contact with the Obama campaign and had obtained their donor lists. Ms. MonCrief also testified she was given a spreadsheet to use in cultivating Obama donors who had maxed out on donations to the candidate, but who could contribute to voter registration efforts. Project Vote calls the allegation "absolutely false."
She says that when she had trouble with what appeared to be duplicate names on the list, Ms. Gillette told her she would talk with the Obama campaign and get a better version. Ms. MonCrief has given me copies of the donor lists she says were obtained from other Democratic campaigns, as well as the 2004 DNC donor lists.
In her testimony, Ms. MonCrief says she was upset by Acorn's "Muscle for Money" program, which she said intimidated businesses Acorn opposed into paying "protection" money in the form of grants. Acorn's Brian Kettering says the group only wants to change corporate behavior: "Acorn is proud of its corporate campaigns to stop abuses of working families."
Ms. MonCrief, 29, never expected to testify in a case brought by the state's Republican Party seeking the local Acorn affiliate's voter registration lists. An idealistic graduate of the University of Alabama, she joined Project Vote in 2005 because she thought it was empowering poor people. A strategic consultant for Acorn and a development associate with its Project Vote voter registration affiliate, Ms. MonCrief sat in on policy-making meetings with the national staff. She was fired early this year over personal expenses she had put on the group's credit card.
She says she became disillusioned because she saw that Acorn was run as the personal fiefdom of Wade Rathke, who founded the group in 1970 and ran it until he stepped down to take over its international operations this summer. Mr. Rathke's departure as head of Acorn came after revelations he'd employed his brother Dale for a decade while keeping from almost all of Acorn's board members the fact that Dale had embezzled over $1 million from the group a decade ago. (The embezzlement was confirmed to me by an Acorn official.)
"Anyone who questioned what was going on was viewed as the enemy," Ms. MonCrief told me. "Just like the mob, no one leaves Acorn happily." She believes the organization does some good but hopes its current leadership is replaced. She may not be alone.
Last August two of Acorn's eight dissident board members, Marcel Reed and Karen Inman, filed suit demanding access to financial records of Citizens Consulting Inc., the umbrella group through which most of Acorn's money flows. Ms. Inman told a news conference this month Mr. Rathke still exercises power over CCI and Acorn against the board's wishes. Bertha Lewis, the interim head of Acorn, told me Mr. Rathke has no ties to Acorn and that the dissident board members were "obsessed" and "confused."
According to public records, the IRS filed three tax liens totaling almost $1 million against Acorn this spring. Also this spring, CCI was paid $832,000 by the Obama campaign for get-out-the-vote efforts in key primary states. In filings with the Federal Election Commission, the Obama campaign listed the payments as "staging, sound, lighting," only correcting the filings after the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review revealed their true nature.
"Acorn needs a full forensic audit," Ms. MonCrief says, though she doesn't think that's likely. "Everyone wants to paper things over until later," she says. "But it may be too late to reform Acorn then." She strongly supports Barack Obama and hopes his allies can be helpful in cleaning up the group "after the heat of the election is gone."
Acorn's Mr. Kettering says the GOP lawsuit "is designed to suppress legitimate voters," and he says Ms. MonCrief isn't credible, given that she was fired for cause. Ms. MonCrief admits that she left after she began paying back some $3,000 in personal expenses she charged on an Acorn credit card. "I was very sorry, and I was paying it back," she says, but "suddenly Acorn decided that . . . I had to go. Since then I have gotten warnings to 'back off' from people at Acorn."
Acorn insists it operates with strict quality controls, turning in, as required by law, all registration forms "even if the name on them was Donald Duck," as Wade Rathke told me two years ago. Acorn whistleblowers tell a different story.
"There's no quality control on purpose, no checks and balances," says Nate Toler, who worked until 2006 as the head organizer of an Acorn campaign against Wal-Mart in California. And Ms. MonCrief says it is longstanding practice to blame bogus registrations on lower-level employees who then often face criminal charges, a practice she says Acorn internally calls "throwing folks under the bus."
Gregory Hall, a former Acorn employee, says he was told on his very first day in 2006 to engage in deceptive fund-raising tactics. Mr. Hall has founded a group called Speaking Truth to Power to push for a full airing of Acorn's problems "so the group can heal itself from within."
To date, Mr. Obama has declined to criticize Acorn, telling reporters this month he is happy with his own get-out-the-vote efforts and that "we don't need Acorn's help." That may be true. But there is no denying his ties with Acorn helped turbocharge his political career.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: October 30, 2008, 07:10:35 AM
For years, the military has been roiled by a heated internal debate over what kind of wars it should prepare to fight.
One faction, led by a host of senior officers, favors buying state-of-the-art weapons systems that would be useful in a traditional conflict with a nation like Russia or China. The other side, which includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates, believes the military should prepare for grinding insurgencies that closely resemble the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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SFC Thomas Wright scans the hills for signs of Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan.
The dispute has long been largely academic, since the soaring defense budgets in the years since the September 2001 terror attacks left plenty of money for each side's main priorities.
That is beginning to change, a casualty of the widening global financial crisis. With the economy slowing and the tab for the government's bailout of the private sector spiraling higher, Democratic lawmakers are signaling that Pentagon officials will soon have to choose which programs to keep and which to cut. In the long and unresolved debate about the military's future, a clearer vision of how best to defend America will emerge -- but not without one side ceding hard-fought ground.
"The services are used to the old approach, with everyone getting everything. But there's not enough money," says Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the Hawaii Democrat who heads the Air and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. "The due bill is finally coming in."
The two competing schools of thought each warn that making the wrong decisions now could imperil U.S. national security down the road. The military officials who favor buying advanced weapons believe that failing to invest in those systems today could leave U.S. forces ill-equipped to fight a modernized Russian or Chinese military in the future. Conversely, advocates of expanding the size of the ground forces argue that the military will be unable to meet the troop demands of the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to say nothing of conflicts elsewhere in the world, unless the Army and Marines recruit tens of thousands of additional troops.
The final decision will ultimately fall to the next administration, which will have to prioritize how to divvy up what may be a significantly smaller defense budget. Neither the Obama nor the McCain campaign has tipped its hand on whether to focus on asymmetric conflicts like Iraq or possible large-scale conventional wars.
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Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor during flight tests
In Congress, however, the wheels are already in motion. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha, who controls the congressional purse strings for defense issues, startled Pentagon officials recently when he said that longstanding plans to recruit more soldiers and Marines would need to be scaled back or canceled.
Mr. Abercrombie, meanwhile, has fought to cut funding from the Army's flagship weapons program, the $160 billion Future Combat Systems initiative, and says he hopes to pare it back next year, even after the program recently received full funding.
"I think we should focus on the troops who are in the field today, not on some Star Wars technology that may never work," he says.
U.S. policy makers have generally preferred to buy advanced weapons, believing that the American technological edge contributed to the U.S. victory in the Cold War and to the speedy defeat of Saddam Hussein's military in the first and second Iraq wars. The approach continues to attract enthusiastic adherents, particularly within the ranks of the various armed services themselves.
Despite terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and insurgency warfare abroad, supporters argue that it is far too soon to conclude that U.S. forces will never fight a conventional war again. They note that China, which has been dramatically expanding its military, still could target Taiwan, a close U.S. ally, if the island declares independence. They also note that Russia's recent invasion of Georgia showed that the U.S. might one day have to fight Moscow on behalf of American allies like Poland and Ukraine.
"Should we simply wish away China's increasing muscle, or a resurgent Russia's plans for a fifth-generation fighter that would surpass our top-of-the-line jet, the F-22 stealth fighter?" Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap wrote in an op-ed piece this year.
The other side in the debate argues that the enthusiasm for advanced weapons systems is misplaced. This faction, which includes Mr. Gates and many lawmakers, argues that a battery of expensive weapons are useless in counterinsurgency conflicts like Iraq, which pit U.S. forces against lightly armed but dogged foes. They say history is replete with examples of powerful militaries that were ultimately defeated by guerrilla fighters.
"The Chinese, Vietnamese, Sandinistas, Hezbollah, Palestinians and Chechnyans all triumphed over forces with superior military power," retired Marine officer Thomas X. Hammes wrote in "The Sling and the Stone," a 2006 book widely read in military circles. "The superior technology of the losers did not prove to be a magic solution."
The two sides have traded muffled potshots at each other for months. In a speech in May, Mr. Gates accused some military officials of "next-war-itis," which shortchanges current needs in favor of advanced weapons that might never be needed. The comment prompted some in the defense community, especially in the Air Force, to quietly chide Mr. Gates for "this-war-itis," a short-sighted focus on the present that could leave the armed forces dangerously unprepared down the road.
For the most part, soaring defense budgets have long kept Pentagon officials from having to settle the debate. For 2009, the Pentagon's base budget is $512 billion, which is up almost 7% from 2008 and at a historic level. Last year, supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan added more than $100 billion to the Pentagon's coffers.
With lawmakers talking openly of cutting back the defense budget, however, policy makers may soon have to make some difficult trade-offs.
"A lot of the key problems and questions that were already there had been kicked down the road, and they can't be kicked down the road any further," said Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
One of the thorniest issues is how many ground forces the U.S. military should have. Mr. Gates said last year that he wants to add 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines by 2012. President George W. Bush has endorsed the idea and regularly champions it in public remarks about the military.
But the idea is running into growing resistance on Capitol Hill. Mr. Murtha says the Pentagon won't be able to afford more soldiers and Marines, and needs to take better care of the troops it has.
"This is not academic anymore," he says. "This is the direction the budget is going to have to go."
Mr. Murtha believes that the military needs to focus instead on getting U.S. ground forces back in fighting shape for possible future operations against strategic threats like China and Russia.
"If you want to deter a war, you've got to be prepared," he says.
Replacing the weapons and vehicles that have been worn down after years of service in Iraq and Afghanistan will be expensive. Mr. Murtha, a supporter of some of the military's most advanced weapons, estimates the "reset" cost for the armed forces at $100 billion or more.
Mr. Gates, for his part, believes that curtailing the growth of the ground forces would be a "mistake," according to Pentagon spokesman Greg Morrell.
"Secretary Gates firmly believes that growing the Army and Marine Corps is essential to our national security," Mr. Morrell says. He adds that defense officials acknowledge that the Pentagon has "probably hit our high-water mark" in terms of defense spending, and that some cutbacks are inevitable.
One X-factor is the fate of Mr. Gates himself, who is being actively courted by advisers to both presidential candidates. Mr. Gates, who has a stopwatch in his suitcase ticking down to the end of the Bush administration's tenure, has said he is unlikely to stay on. But the defense chief is always careful to leave himself some wriggle room.
"Well, let me just say that I'm getting a lot more career advice and counseling than I might have anticipated," he told reporters earlier this month, laughing. "I think I'll leave it at that."
If Mr. Gates remains in his job for at least a year, that would leave him in a position to help settle, once and for all, the military's internal debate about its priorities.
Write to August Cole at email@example.com
and Yochi J. Dreazen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / T. Paine: Bless of freedom
on: October 30, 2008, 06:38:22 AM
"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men,
undergo the fatigues of supporting it."
-- Thomas Paine (The Crisis, no. 4, 11 September 1777)
Reference: resp. quoted
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Evil of Two Lessers
on: October 30, 2008, 01:55:02 AM
The Markets Are Weak Because the Candidates Are Lousy
The good news is that an Obama victory is already priced in.By GEORGE NEWMANArticle
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A lot has been said about the causes of the drastic drops -- and extreme volatility -- in stock prices and the impending recession. Blame has been heaped on low interest rates and dubious mortgage practices, and on the subsequent collapse of real-estate prices and the freeze in financial markets. But one other major factor has largely escaped attention.
To state the obvious: The valuation of an individual stock reflects the collective expectation of investors about a company's future profits, dividends and appreciation, and the same is true of the market as a whole. These profits, in turn, are greatly influenced by government policy on taxes, spending, subsidies, environmental and other regulations, labor laws, and the corporate legal climate. Investors have heard enough from both candidates in the last month or two to conclude that prospects for a flourishing, competitive, growing and reasonably free economy in a McCain administration are bad, and in an Obama administration far worse. (In fact, the market's bearish behavior over the last couple of months pretty closely tracks Barack Obama's gains.)
If you don't believe me, please answer a few questions:
- Have you thought of what a gradual doubling (and indexation) of the minimum wage, sailing through a veto-proof and filibuster-proof Congress, would do to inflation, unemployment and corporate profits? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how easily a Labor Department headed by a militant union boss would push through a "Transparency in Labor Relations" law that does away with secret ballots in strike votes, and what this would do to industrial peace? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how a Treasury Secretary George Soros would engineer the double taxation of the multinationals' world-wide profits, and what this would mean for investors (to say nothing of full-scale industrial flight from the U.S.)? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how an Attorney General Charles J. Ogletree would champion a trillion-dollar reparations-for-slavery project (whittled down, to be fair, to a mere $800-billion, over-10-years compromise), and what this would do to the economy? The market now has.
- Have you thought of what the virtual outlawing of arbitration -- exposing all industries to the fate of asbestos producers -- would do to corporate liability and legal bills? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how a Health and Human Services Secretary Hillary Clinton would fix drug prices (generously allowing 10% over the cost of raw materials), and what this would do to the financial health of the pharmaceutical industry (not to mention the nondiscovery of lifesaving drugs)? The market now has.
- Have you thought of a Secretary of the newly established Department of Equal Opportunity for Women mandating "comparable worth" pay practices for every company doing any business with government at any level -- where any residual gap between the average pay of men and women is an eo ipso violation? Have you thought about what this would do to administrative and legal costs, hiring practices, productivity and wage bills? The market now has.
- Have you thought of what confiscatory "windfall profits" taxes on oil companies would do to exploration, supply and prices? The market now has.
- Have you thought of how the nationalization of health insurance, the mandated coverage of ever more -- and more exotic -- risks, the forced reimbursement for excluded events, and the diminished freedom to match premium to risk would affect the insurance industry? The market now has.
- Have you thought of Energy Czar Al Gore's five million new green jobs -- high-paying, unionized and subsidized -- to replace, at five times the cost, what we are now producing without those five million workers, and what this will do to our productivity, deficit and competitiveness? The market now has.
I could go on, but you get the point. Nothing reveals Mr. Obama's visceral hostility to business more than the constant urging of our best and brightest to desert the productive private sector ("greed") and go into public service like politics or community organizing (i.e., organizing people to press government for more handouts). Who in his ideal world would bake our bread, make our shoes and computers, and pilot our airplanes is not clear.
And if you think all this comes from an ardent John McCain fan, you couldn't be more wrong. The Arizona Senator has made some terrible mistakes, one of them trying to out-demagogue Mr. Obama to the economic illiterates. This kind of pandering never works. Such populists and other economic illiterates will always go for the genuine article.
Mr. McCain should have asked some simple questions -- pertinent, educational and easily understood by ordinary voters. Such as:
- If the rise in the price of oil from $70 to $140 was due to "greed" (the all-purpose explanation of the other side for every economic problem), was the fall from $140 to $70 due to a sudden outbreak of altruism?
- If a bank is guilty both for rejecting a mortgage ("redlining") and for approving it ("greed" -- see above), how might a bank president keep his business out of trouble with the law?
- If the financial turmoil of the last year or so was caused by inadequate regulation, which party has controlled both Houses of Congress and all of its financial committees and subcommittees (where such regulation would originate) in the last two years?
- If we bemoan the sending of $750 billion a year to our enemies for imported oil, which party has prevented domestic drilling for decades that would have made us more self-sufficient?
- You were unhappy with Congress, and in 2006 you cast your lot with those who, like Mr. Obama now, promised "change." Are you happy with the changes that have taken place in the last two years?
None of these questions have been asked loudly or often enough, while the other message -- everything is bad, it's all Bush's fault, and McCain=Bush -- has sunk in. So given his own penchant for business bashing, a McCain win would merely count as damage control.
The market is forward looking. If it is unhappy with a president, it does not wait almost eight years before the numbers reflect it. If it really anticipated good times under Mr. Obama, the market would have gained 40% in anticipation of the transition. By losing that much, it seems to be saying the opposite.
The silver lining in all this is that the market has already "discounted" an Obama win, so if that happens you won't wake up on Nov. 5 to find your remaining savings down the drain. If the unexpected happens, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
Mr. Newman is an economist and retired business executive.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Argentina
on: October 29, 2008, 03:04:14 PM
Guau a todos:
Manana en la manana salgo en un viaje de 17 horas por la primera vez a Buenos Aires, Argentina para presentar un seminario para Nicolas.
Cuando yo vivia en Mexico, yo conocia a una Argentina muy graciosa y linda, con un acento lindisimo , , , una buena memoria
La Aventura continua!
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: El Dolar
on: October 29, 2008, 02:53:49 PM
Interesante el tema que planteas Blanca y de profunda importancia. Lamento no tener tiempo en este momento para conversar el tema, pero hoy me estoy preparando por un viaje de 17 horas a Buenos Aires para presentar un seminario para Nicolas.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / T. Friedman
on: October 29, 2008, 11:26:18 AM
I don't think as much of T. Friedman as he does, but this piece does make some fair points.
Sleepless in Tehran
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: October 28, 2008
I’ve always been dubious about Barack Obama’s offer to negotiate with Iran — not because I didn’t believe that it was the right strategy, but because I didn’t believe we had enough leverage to succeed. And negotiating in the Middle East without leverage is like playing baseball without a bat.
Well, if Obama does win the presidency, my gut tells me that he’s going to get a chance to negotiate with the Iranians — with a bat in his hand.
Have you seen the reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is suffering from exhaustion? It’s probably because he is not sleeping at night. I know why. Watching oil prices fall from $147 a barrel to $57 is not like counting sheep. It’s the kind of thing that gives an Iranian autocrat bad dreams.
After all, it was the collapse of global oil prices in the early 1990s that brought down the Soviet Union. And Iran today is looking very Soviet to me.
As Vladimir Mau, president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy, pointed out to me, it was the long period of high oil prices followed by sharply lower oil prices that killed the Soviet Union. The spike in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ‘80s helped bring down that overextended empire.
(Incidentally, this was exactly what happened to the shah of Iran: 1) Sudden surge in oil prices. 2) Delusions of grandeur. 3) Sudden contraction of oil prices. 4) Dramatic downfall. 5) You’re toast.)
Under Ahmadinejad, Iran’s mullahs have gone on a domestic subsidy binge — using oil money to cushion the prices of food, gasoline, mortgages and to create jobs — to buy off the Iranian people. But the one thing Ahmadinejad couldn’t buy was real economic growth. Iran today has 30 percent inflation, 11 percent unemployment and huge underemployment with thousands of young college grads, engineers and architects selling pizzas and driving taxis. And now with oil prices falling, Iran — just like the Soviet Union — is going to have to pull back spending across the board. Fasten your seat belts.
The U.N. has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005 because of Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment. But high oil prices minimized those sanctions; collapsing oil prices will now magnify those sanctions. If prices stay low, there is a good chance Iran will be open to negotiating over its nuclear program with the next U.S. president.
That is a good thing because Iran also funds Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the anti-U.S. Shiites in Iraq. If America wants to get out of Iraq and leave behind a decent outcome, plus break the deadlocks in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, it needs to end the cold war with Iran. Possible? I don’t know, but the collapse of oil prices should give us a shot.
But let’s use our leverage smartly and not exaggerate Iran’s strength. Just as I believe that we should drop the reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden — from $50 million to one penny, plus an autographed picture of Dick Cheney — we need to deflate the Iranian mullahs as well. Let them chase us.
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, compares it to bargaining for a Persian carpet in Tehran. “When you go inside the carpet shop, the first thing you are supposed to do is feign disinterest,” he explains. “The last thing you want to suggest is ‘We are not leaving without that carpet.’ ‘Well,’ the dealer will say, ‘if you feel so strongly about it ...’ ”
The other lesson from the carpet bazaar, says Sadjadpour, “is that there is never a price tag on any carpet. The dealer is not looking for a fixed price, but the highest price he can get — and the Iran price is constantly fluctuating depending on the price of oil.” Let’s now use that to our advantage.
Barack Hussein Obama would present another challenge for Iran’s mullahs. Their whole rationale for being is that they are resisting a hegemonic American power that wants to keep everyone down. Suddenly, next week, Iranians may look up and see that the country their leaders call “The Great Satan” has just elected “a guy whose middle name is the central figure in Shiite Islam — Hussein — and whose last name — Obama — when transliterated into Farsi, means ‘He is with us,’ ” said Sadjadpour.
Iran is ripe for deflating. Its power was inflated by the price of oil and the popularity of its leader, who was cheered simply because he was willing to poke America with a stick. But as a real nation-building enterprise, the Islamic Revolution in Iran has been an abject failure.
“When you ask young Arabs which leaders in the region they most admire,” said Sadjadpour, they will usually answer the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. “When you ask them where in the Middle East would you most like to live,” he added, “the answer is usually socially open places like Dubai or Beirut. The Islamic Republic of Iran is never in the top 10.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Gates: Deterrence theory
on: October 29, 2008, 10:37:13 AM
Caveat lector, its the NYT.
Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence
By THOM SHANKER
Published: October 28, 2008
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that the United States would hold “fully accountable” any country or group that helped terrorists to acquire or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates took questions after speaking Tuesday in Washington.
The statement was the Bush administration’s most expansive yet in trying to articulate a vision of deterrence for the post-Sept. 11 world. It went beyond the cold war notion that a president could respond with overwhelming force against a country that directly attacked the United States or its allies with unconventional weapons.
“Today we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group or other nonstate actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction — whether by facilitating, financing or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts,” Mr. Gates said.
The comments came in an address in which he said it was important to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal as a hedge against what he described as “rising and resurgent powers” like Russia or China, as well as “rogue nations” like Iran or North Korea and international terrorists.
By declaring that those who facilitated a terrorist attack would be held “fully accountable,” Mr. Gates left the door open to diplomatic and economic responses as well as military ones. And, to be sure, the United States has acted forcefully before against those who sheltered terrorists, with the invasion of Afghanistan to oust Al Qaeda and its Taliban government supporters after the attacks of Sept. 11.
His speech here before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was the latest signal that the administration was moving in its closing months to embrace more far-reaching notions of deterrence and self-defense.
On Monday, senior officials justified a weekend attack against a suspected Iraqi insurgent leader in Syria by saying the administration was operating under an expansive new definition of self-defense. The policy, officials said, provided a rationale for conventional strikes on militant targets in a sovereign nation without its consent — if that nation were unable or unwilling to halt the threat on its own.
By law, the new president must conduct a review of the nation’s nuclear posture, and Mr. Gates’s address could be viewed as advocating a specific agenda for the next occupant of the White House.
The first public indication that the administration was expanding the traditional view of nuclear deterrence came in a statement by President Bush in October 2006 that followed a test detonation of a nuclear device by North Korea. Mr. Bush said North Korea would be held “fully accountable” for the transfer of nuclear weapons or materials to any nation or terrorist organization.
The president was not as explicit then as Mr. Gates was on Tuesday in saying that the administration would extend the threat of reprisals for the transfer of nuclear weapons or materials to all countries, not just North Korea. Mr. Gates also expanded the threat to nations or groups that provide a broader range of support to terrorists.
Early this year, in a little-noticed speech at Stanford University, Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, also spoke of how the president had approved an expanded deterrence policy.
In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Gates argued for modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal because “as long as other states have or seek nuclear weapons — and potentially can threaten us, our allies and friends — then we must have a deterrent capacity.”
Although Mr. Gates earlier this year fired the Air Force secretary and chief of staff after the discovery of shortcomings in the service’s stewardship of nuclear weapons and components, he stressed that the nuclear arsenal was “safe, secure and reliable.”
“The problem is the long-term prognosis — which I would characterize as bleak,” he said.
Veteran weapons designers and technicians are retiring, and Congress has not voted for the money to build replacement warheads for an aging arsenal that can be produced without abandoning the nation’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, he said.
To that end, he endorsed a comprehensive test ban treaty if adequate verification measures could be negotiated.
Mr. Gates praised efforts to reduce the number of warheads, and predicted that the United States and Russia would at some point conclude another agreement limiting their arsenals.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: October 29, 2008, 10:23:35 AM
Bit of a tangent here:
I notice that this quote:
""You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour." - God"
is a bit longer than the usual "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods". Why is that? What you quote here resonates to me as being more what the original Hebrew would have said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Closer than the MSM says?
on: October 29, 2008, 10:19:07 AM
“Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama has been measuring for his White House curtains for months. Now, big plans have been made public for his $2 million election night victory party in Chicago. Sen. Obama is even talking quite candidly about his transition plans. And why not? After all, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll has Obama leading Republican nominee John McCain by 13 percentage points among both registered and likely voters. Of course, Obama’s largest cheering section—Big Media—long has been in the tank for the junior senator of Illinois. Even the liberal Pew Research Center finds that Obama’s ratio of favorable stories to overall stories was more than 2 1/2 times as large as Sen. McCain’s. But you might be surprised to learn that not every poll considers Obama’s coronation a fait accompli. An Associated Press poll has the race in a statistical dead heat. And the IBD/TIPP poll, considered to have been the most accurate in the 2004 presidential race, has Obama with a mere 1.1 percentage point lead, 44.8 percent to 43.7 percent with 11.6 percent undecided. Thus, the race for president is far closer than the media masses have led you to believe. And how delicious it would be if the media’s ‘election’ of Barack Obama suppresses his numbers and leads to an Electoral College landslide for John McCain. Talk about being hoisted by your own petard.” —Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: A republic; Hamilton
on: October 29, 2008, 10:12:06 AM
"The republican is the only form of government which is not
eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind."
-- Thomas Jefferson (Letter to William Hunter, 11 March 1790)
Reference: Bartlett's; check LOA edition
“It is an unquestionable truth, that the body of the people in every country desire sincerely its prosperity. But it is equally unquestionable that they do not possess the discernment and stability necessary for systematic government. To deny that they are frequently led into the grossest of errors, by misinformation and passion, would be a flattery which their own good sense must despise.” —Alexander Hamilton
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Clusterfcuk
on: October 28, 2008, 09:53:26 PM
Comments Obama's First 100 Days
by Patrick J. Buchanan
Undeniably, a powerful tide is running for the Democratic Party, with one
week left to Election Day.
Bush's approval rating is 27 percent, just above Richard Nixon's Watergate
nadir and almost down to Carter-Truman lows. After each of those presidents
reached their floors -- in 1952, 1974, 1980 -- the opposition party captured
the White House.
Moreover, 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans think the nation is on the
wrong course, and since mid-September, when McCain was still slightly ahead,
the Dow has lost 4,000 points -- $5 trillion to $6 trillion in value.
Leading now by eight points in an average of national polls, Barack Obama
has other advantages.
Not a single blue state is regarded as imperiled or even a toss-up, while
Obama leads in six crucial red states: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia,
Ohio, Missouri and Colorado. Should McCain lose one of the six, he would
have to win Pennsylvania to compensate for the lost electoral votes. But the
latest Pennsylvania polls show Barack with a double-digit lead.
Lately moving into the toss-up category are Nevada, North Dakota, Montana
and Indiana. All voted twice for George W. Bush.
Not only is Obama ahead in the state and national polls, he has more money,
is running far more ads, has a superior organization on the ground, attracts
larger crowds, and has greater enthusiasm and more media in camp. And new
voter registrations heavily favor the Democrats.
Though Congress is regarded by Americans with a disdain bordering on
disgust -- five of six Americans think it has done a poor job -- Democratic
majorities are certain to grow. Indeed, with Democrats favored by 10 points
over Republicans, Nancy Pelosi's majority could grow by 25 seats and Harry
Reid could find himself with a filibuster-proof majority of 60 senators.
Democrats already have 49, plus two independents: Socialist Bernie Sanders
and Independent Joe Lieberman. Their challengers are now ahead in New
Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Minnesota, Oregon and
Colorado, with a chance of picking up Georgia, Alaska, Kentucky and
We may be looking at a reverse of 1980, when Reagan won a 10-point victory
over Jimmy Carter, and Republicans took the Senate and, working with Boll
Weevil Democrats, effective control of the House.
With his tax cuts, defense buildup and rollback policy against the "Evil
Empire," Reagan gave us some of the best years of our lives, culminating in
America's epochal victory in the Cold War.
What does the triumvirate of Obama-Pelosi-Reid offer?
Rep. Barney Frank is calling for new tax hikes on the most successful and a
25 percent across-the-board slash in national defense. Sen. John Kerry is
talking up new and massive federal spending, a la FDR's New Deal.
Specifically, we can almost surely expect:
-- Swift amnesty for 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens and a drive to
make them citizens and register them, as in the Bill Clinton years. This
will mean that Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona will soon move out
of reach for GOP presidential candidates, as has California.
-- Border security will go on the backburner, and America will have a
virtual open border with a Mexico of 110 million.
-- Taxes will be raised on the top 5 percent of wage-earners, who now carry
60 percent of the U.S. income tax burden, and tens of millions of checks
will be sent out to the 40 percent of wage-earners who pay no federal income
tax. Like the man said, redistribute the wealth, spread it around.
-- Social Security taxes will be raised on the most successful among us, and
capital gains taxes will be raised from 15 percent to 20 percent. The Bush
tax cuts will be repealed, and death taxes reimposed.
-- Two or three more liberal activists of the Ruth Bader Ginsberg-John Paul
Stevens stripe will be named to the Supreme Court. U.S. district and
appellate courts will be stacked with "progressives."
-- Special protections for homosexuals will be written into all civil rights
laws, and gays and lesbians in the military will be invited to come out of
the closet. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dead.
-- The homosexual marriages that state judges have forced California,
Massachusetts and Connecticut to recognize, an Obama Congress or Obama court
will require all 50 states to recognize.
-- A "Freedom of Choice Act" nullifying all state restrictions on abortions
will be enacted. America will become the most pro-abortion nation on earth.
-- Affirmative action -- hiring and promotions based on race, sex and sexual
orientation until specified quotas are reached -- will be rigorously
enforced throughout the U.S. government and private sector.
-- Universal health insurance will be enacted, covering legal and illegal
immigrants, providing another powerful magnet for the world to come to
America, if necessary by breaching her borders.
-- A federal bailout of states and municipalities to keep state and local
governments spending up could come in December or early next year.
-- The first trillion-dollar deficit will be run in the first year of an
Obama presidency. It will be the first of many.
Welcome to Obamaland!
Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill,
Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West
Lost the World, "The Death of the West,", "The Great Betrayal," "A Republic,
Not an Empire" and "Where the Right Went Wrong."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / StratforThe financial crisis in Russia
on: October 28, 2008, 02:33:18 PM
The Financial Crisis in Russia
Stratfor Today » October 28, 2008 | 1012 GMT
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on the geopolitics of the global financial crisis. Here, we examine how the global financial crisis will impact a resurgent Russia.
Standard & Poor’s rating service lowered Russian long-term sovereign credit rating outlook to negative Oct. 23 because of projections that Moscow will need to inject more credit into the faltering Russian banking sector. A credit rating indicates the agency’s estimation of a state’s ability to maintain debt payments, so in this case S&P believes that ongoing efforts to address the financial crisis could overtax the Russian government. The cut in debt rating comes as the yield on Russian government 20-year bonds has increased eight basis points (a 0.08 percent rise in yield) to 10.94 percent, indicating that the foreign appetite for Russian bonds is quickly dropping as credit becomes scarce and investors seek investments they feel are more secure. The bond yield of Russia’s largest company, natural gas behemoth Gazprom — which is also the single greatest source of Russian total external debt — has thus skyrocketed, and it now stands at almost 700 basis points above emerging sovereign debt. Meanwhile, the Russian stock exchange closed below 550 on Oct. 24, wrapping up a precipitous fall that has destroyed 80 percent of its value since May.
International Economic Crisis
The Financial Crisis in the United States
The Financial Crisis in Europe
Hungary: Hints of a Wider European Crisis
The Financial Crisis in Japan and China
Methodology by George Friedman
The International Economic Crisis and Stratfor’s Methodology
The Geopolitics of Russia: Permanent Struggle
A comprehensive flight of investor capital is occurring in Russia for a number of reasons. This situation is placing great pressure on the Kremlin to use its capital reserves — the third largest in the world — to prop up the Russian banking sector and the main engines of the Russian economy: the energy and mineral sectors. In the short run, Moscow’s massive capital reserves will allow it to weather the global liquidity crisis and increase government control over all sectors of the economy. In the long run, however, Russia might face a dearth of capital as it drains its coffers trying to pump cash into the system, putting vital capital expenditure projects (such as improving infrastructure, improving oil and natural gas field development, and military spending) on hold to the detriment of its ability to face off with the West. The result will be an economy that has far more in common with the Soviet Union than with post-Soviet Russia — even post-Soviet Russia under Vladimir Putin. And that will affect Russia’s bid to reassert itself globally.
The Russian Golden Goose and the Liquidity Crisis
Russian state coffers contain roughly $650 billion. The money is actually divided into three different funds, with the international capital reserves accounting for the bulk ($515.7 billion as of Oct. 17) and the rest split between the National Welfare Fund and the Reserve Fund, Moscow’s long-term security blankets. The coffers have been filled with the profits from steadily rising commodity prices over the last five years, allowing Russia to amass a $50 billion budget surplus at the end of 2007 and pay off the majority of its externally held government debt.
The $650 billion figure, however, is down from $750 billion as recently as 3 months ago. This is due to the cost of the August intervention in Georgia (which cost $16.1 billion) combined with the huge number of liquidity injections (to the tune of roughly $90 billion) the state has had to make since the Sept. 16 and Oct. 6 Russian stock market crashes and in response to concerns about the stability of Russian banks.
Liquidity injections into the stock market and Russian banks were necessary because nearly $63 billion in foreign investment was pulled out of Russia immediately following the August intervention in Georgia. Foreign investors also withdrew because of a previous loss of confidence due to Russian disregard for investor rights, and because of a loss of confidence in Russian company and government bonds as the global liquidity crisis took root.
While embarrassing, the flight of foreign money from the stock market is not the Kremlin’s primary concern. The bigger problem is the collapse of confidence in Russian bonds and borrowers, the premier sources of foreign capital for funding the expensive projects of Russian energy and mineral giants.
Russian companies, as well as foreign investors looking to invest into Russia, prefer to raise capital through bonds because it does not mean taking input from foreigners on how to run their business. It also allows them to keep everything about their firms, from ownership and management structures to profits and managerial techniques, out of the public eye. Foreign bond holders only want a return at an agreed-upon date. With political risk created by the Georgian war combined with the global liquidity crisis, however, foreign investors have abandoned Russian bonds for safer investments, such as U.S. Treasury bills, elsewhere. This has left Russian companies without the ability to raise crucial capital.
Kremlin Tools to Combat the Liquidity Crisis
To inject liquidity into the system, the Kremlin first turned to the oligarchs, forcing them to inject between 10 percent and 30 percent of their total wealth into the markets and banks to shore up the financial system immediately after the Sept. 16 stock market crash. At an all-night mandatory meeting held in the Kremlin following the crash, oligarchs were ordered to plunge cash into their own faltering stocks, buy collapsing financial institutions directly, or simply fork over the cash and/or shares. Using oligarch money has the positive effect, at least from the Kremlin’s perspective, of further consolidating control over the oligarchs’ assets and decision making.
This move quickly drained the oligarchs of much of their on-hand cash, however. In the weeks since, they have largely seen their cash reserves exhausted by the combination of appeasing Kremlin demands and suffering losses from various margin calls. (In essence, they have been forced to immediately repay loans taken out to buy stock.) The only way for the oligarchs to repay these loans is to sell assets at cut-rate prices or stocks at depressed prices. So while the oligarchs are still rich in assets, they are now poor in cash, and are being forced to liquidate parts of their empires to remain liquid.
RUSAL kingpin Oleg Deripaska has been forced to ditch his Canadian auto parts venture, while Norilsk Nickel’s Vladimir Potantin is shopping around for buyers for his platinum mine in the U.S. state of Montana. Both have had to divest themselves of massive amounts of stock. In total, the 20 richest Russian oligarchs have lost personally or through their companies a combined $188.4 billion — and that figure comes only from publicly available information. While the oligarchs are still extremely wealthy, they have now been forced to give up or have lost sizable chunks of their fortunes, particularly in assets abroad. This renders them, as a tool for shoring up liquidity, a spent force for the purposes of stabilizing Russia.
This means that the Kremlin now has to pick up the slack with its own resources — namely, its $650 billion cash reserves — and that the worst of the liquidity problems are yet to come. In particular, Moscow will have to figure out how to isolate itself from the foreign liabilities accrued by its banks, both government and private, and by its energy and mineral companies.
Total Russian external debt as of June stood at $527.1 billion, of which banks — whether private or government owned — owed a whopping $228.9 billion. Domestic credit in Russia, which lacks a good system for circulation and accumulation, has always been scarce. This means Russian banks rely upon access to foreign capital to fund everything from car loans, mortgages and personal loans to Russian energy and mineral companies’ capital expenditures.
The problem with such a sizable debt is that while the ruble depreciates against the rising U.S. dollar because of Russian economic instability, capital flight and decreasing commodity prices (which act upon both the ruble and dollar simultaneously, increasing the dollar and decreasing the ruble), foreign debts made out in dollars begin to appreciate in value. Since the crisis began, the ruble has already dropped by a quarter, increasing the cost of servicing dollar-denominated debt by a like amount. The Kremlin will have to act fast to cover the debts of the banking sector, or else the debt might become unserviceable for the banks, which take in most of their revenue in rubles.
This of course assumes that the Russian consumers who took out the mortgages, car loans and personal loans will continue to service their debts, and that there will not be any significant bank run — far from a certainty given the notoriously bank-skeptical Russian populace. If the ruble continues to depreciate, Russian consumers might be unable to service their debts. This applies particularly to loans originally denominated in foreign currencies. The problem is widespread in Central Europe and the Balkans, and especially in Hungary, where foreign banks used the Swiss franc for consumer lending.
The other issue is the debt of the 14 largest Russian energy and mineral companies, which account for $142.1 billion of $185.4 billion non-bank privately held external debt. Particularly notable are the debts of Gazprom ($55 billion), Rosneft ($23 billion), RUSAL ($11.2 billion), TNK-BP ($7.5 billion), Evraz ($6.4 billion), Norilsk ($6.3 billion) and LUKoil ($6 billion). These debts are held in various dollar-, euro- and yen-denominated loans, and bonds, which are usually dollar-denominated. Unlike domestic Russian banks, which receive revenue in rubles, the energy and mineral giants will not have to contend with the problem of the appreciating dollar, because they receive their commodity-driven revenue in dollars. (All of world’s commodities are priced in dollars.) But these firms will have to contend with ever-decreasing revenue from which to service their loans as oil and minerals/metals decline in price. Oil and nickel are already down 55 percent and nearly 80 percent, respectively, from their peaks.
The Kremlin’s Choice
The Kremlin thus faces a choice between not spending its cash and risking countrywide private defaults by its banks and major companies, which would in turn trigger a complete collapse of the Russian financial system, or spending its reserves to shore up the system and severing nearly all links between Russia and the wider world. This really is not much of a choice, as the threat of further dollar appreciation against the ruble is nearly inevitable. Therefore, the Kremlin will most likely spend approximately $400 billion to buy up all of Russia’s foreign-held debt — $230 billion in bank debt and another $180 billion in various companies’ debts. (Russia lacks the option of printing currency, since the ruble is not worth much to begin with.)
Such a step would obviously drain Russia’s coffers, taking the maximum total reserves down to $250 billion. But this will have an upside. In addition to ending all outstanding foreign funding vulnerabilities, this move would make the entire Russian economy and financial system owe nearly all of its debt directly to the Kremlin. In one stroke, Russia will have recreated the financial system of the Soviet era, with all the political control that implies. (Ironically, by repaying the nearly $400 billion of its companies’ and banks’ foreign loans, the Kremlin will inadvertently also inject much-needed liquidity into Western and Japanese banks. The end result will go a long way toward recapitalizing the global banking system.)
But not all would be smooth sailing under this scenario. Russia needs massive amounts of capital to keep its long-term energy production and export industries healthy, and with energy prices weak, it simply cannot even attempt to generate the necessary funds itself. As foreign capital dries up and commodity prices fall, Russian energy companies will have no choice but to forgo capital expenditure projects that are vital for revamping Russia’s Soviet-era transportation infrastructure and increasing dwindling production in maturing oil and natural gas fields.
Russia has an excellent tool for addressing part of this problem. Unlike oil, natural gas prices do not respond to market change; fixed pipeline infrastructure combined with the difficulty of transporting the stuff gives the supplier much more pricing power. As the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and Europe’s largest supplier, Russia already has plans in the works to increase its prices to more than $500 per 1,000 cubic meters as of Jan. 1, 2009. Russia is not only certain to stick to this planned price hike despite falling global energy prices, but it also could increase the price further to buy itself some more time and income.
Despite the direness of its situation, Russia is not about to collapse. In reality, all this means is that Russia’s experience in grafting some elements of Western capitalism to the Russian political system is over. (Moscow’s bid to adopt Western economics wholesale died years ago.) Having a system where Russian firms cannot tap foreign capital markets and are instead dependent on the state is precisely how the Soviet state maintained operational and political control. It might not be central planning per se, but it is not too far off. For a number of reasons, such an economic system makes sense for a country as large and difficult to invest in privately as Russia.
But while Russia might hold together domestically, the Kremlin will need to rethink some of its broader international objectives. Increased international influence is a pricey affair, whether it means buying Ukrainian elections; shoring up Moscow’s presence in Georgia; pressuring the Baltic states; cozying up to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; restoring its influence in the Middle East; fostering anti-ballistic missile defense social activism in the Czech Republic; or just generally increasing its intelligence activities abroad and updating its military capacity.
Ultimately, Russian stability in the post-Yeltsin era has depended on having free cash to direct where needed, when needed and in almost limitless quantities. For that, reduced access to international capital and a mere $250 billion reserve fund in an era of falling income might prove insufficient. Russia might be on the brink of a massive political consolidation into a stronger core state, but the liquidity crunch cannot help but limit its wider options. Simply put, Russia might be able to speak with a clearer voice, but its ability to project that voice has just been constrained.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: October 28, 2008, 02:29:02 PM
Running Against Reid, Pelosi and What's-His-Name.
Senator John McCain's snake-bit campaign may finally have hit on a theme that could resonate with independent voters in the runup to next Tuesday's election.
He has begun raising the specter of what a complete Democratic takeover of Washington would mean. He told a crowd in New Mexico last weekend that if Mr. Obama were elected, the public would have no effective brake on the liberal agenda of Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"Senator Obama's tax increase would put even more people out of work," Mr. McCain said. "But that is exactly what's going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington. We can't let that happen. Are you ready for Obama, Pelosi and Reid?"
Other Republicans are raising the dire prospect of one-party government. Senator Liddy Dole of North Carolina is running an ad warning voters not to hand Democrats "a blank check."
All of this harkens back to one of the most successful GOP rescue operations in recent political history. As Bob Dole fell behind the charismatic Bill Clinton in 1996, Republicans boldly appealed to independents to vote in favor of divided government. They put out ads featuring a fortune-teller gazing into a crystal ball showing over-the-top scenes of Biblical devastation, plague and conflict. An announcer warned: "Remember the last time Democrats ran everything? The largest tax increase in history. Government-run health care. More wasteful spending. Who wants that again? Don't let the media stop you from voting. And don't hand Bill Clinton a blank check."
It worked. Republicans kept control of Congress. Haley Barbour, then GOP national chairman and now governor of Mississippi, said at the time voters had responded to the idea of an insurance policy against one-party rule. With time running out, the GOP is resurrecting this golden oldie in hopes that independent voters may not like the idea of having the government completely controlled by the trio of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
-- John Fund
The Disarming Mr. Obama
There's at least one government program Democrats are planning to cut deeply next year. Rep. Barney Frank last week told the editorial board of his home district's South Coast Standard-Times that defense spending will be slashed by 25% in the next Congress. He said such dramatic cuts would likely force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and a rollback in Pentagon plans for high-tech weaponry. "We don't need all these fancy new weapons," the Massachusetts liberal told the paper's editors.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has made similar comments on the campaign trail. In a video circulating on the Web (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnTaWTfwsFU&feature=related
), he says he intends to cut "tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending" at the Pentagon. "I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our investments in future combat systems." He also would institute a new oversight panel to monitor the DoD's existing planning panel to make sure "it is not used to justify unnecessary spending."
On his campaign Web site, Mr. Obama says he also wants to increase the size of Army by 65,000 and the Marine Corps by 27,000, while expanding health care, special ops, civil affairs and other specialties and introducing a "Military Families Advisory Board." The Pentagon has worked in recent years to reduce overhead and increase what it calls "the tooth to tail ratio." Mr. Obama's clear agenda is to invest in more military tail, less tooth.
-- Brendan Miniter
Ted Stevens Joins the Pantheon
We now know that the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" championed by Alaska GOP Senator Ted Stevens did indeed lead somewhere: to the end of his career.
The senator was convicted yesterday on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts from the Alaskan oil-services company Veco on his financial disclosure forms.
Make no mistake. The fall of Ted Stevens was tied directly to his endless quest for earmarks -- pork barrel projects -- he could drag home to Alaska. While the federal indictment did not allege a clear quid-pro-quo, Veco CEO Bill Allen was demonstrably seeking earmarks from Mr. Stevens when he helped renovate the senator's house in suburban Anchorage while forgetting to send the senator most of the bills.
I vividly recall a conversation with Mr. Stevens about the earmark process back in 2006, when the testy senator was chairmonster of the Appropriations Committee. Our talk was surreal as he claimed "discretionary federal spending isn't out of whack," despite all evidence to the contrary.
But he also had moments of blinding candor. He acknowledged that a lot of the spending earmarks wouldn't have passed Constitutional muster before the Great Society. "Back when I was a lawyer in the Interior Department under Eisenhower, we wouldn't have dreamed much of this was anything but a state and local responsibility," he said. "But now that these are the rule, there is no one more tenacious in seeing my state is taken care of."
Sadly, Mr. Stevens also took care of himself, accepting gifts "on loan" for his house that ranged from a used La-Z-Boy recliner to an awful fish sculpture that he never reported on his financial disclosure forms.
There hasn't been a more sordid end to a Congressional career since former House Speaker Jim Wright resigned over bulk sales of a vanity press book or former House Ways and Means Chairman Daniel Rostenkowski went to prison for pilfering postage stamps and office furniture from the House.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day
"[A]ccording to The Huffington Post, Obama's lack of experience is immune from criticism because he attended Ivy League schools, ‘was a serious and successful student,’ is a well-traveled, published author, and has a diverse background. Heck, he's me! Yet, in every one of my encounters with America's rural communities, the diversity of my privileged experience was eclipsed by the depth of theirs. I had rhetoric; they had well-measured speech, punctuated by forbearing silences. I had easy answers; they knew there was no such thing. It is not that the Republican base is anti-intellectual, as David Broder claims; they are anti-elitist. An Ivy League education is hardly a universal signal of competence in anything other than the liberal cultural canon " -- Joan Chevalier, a New York City speechwriter and essayist, writing in the Boston Globe.
From Joe the Plumber to Joe the Non-Taxpayer
Under Barack Obama's tax plan, millions of Americans who have zero federal income tax liability would nonetheless receive tax rebate checks from the government. Liberals claim these handouts are not really handouts, but would partially offset what recipients pay in FICA taxes for Social Security and Medicare. That's how Mr. Obama can claim 95% of Americans would receive a "tax cut" under his plan.
How big is the bill for Mr. Obama's rebate program? A new study from the Heritage Foundation counts a prospective 10 million net new recipients of federal dollars, who would receive an average of more than $2,000 each year. That adds up to a massive $20 billion-a-year new welfare program. The left-leaning Tax Policy Center similarly forecasts a massive increase in spending on Obama's "refundable tax credits."
Now we know where a President Obama would spend some of the money he takes from Joe the Plumber. With Washington staring at a near-trillion-dollar deficit next year, his interest in "spreading the wealth" clearly isn't a sideshow. It's a central priority even amid the country's unprecedented economic troubles.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Attorney General's office infiltrated
on: October 28, 2008, 06:55:27 AM
second post of the morning
MEXICO CITY -- In what could be one of Mexico's worst cases of drug-related
corruption in a decade, Mexican officials alleged that a drug cartel
infiltrated the highest levels of Mexico's attorney general's office, paying
people there as much as $450,000 a month to get sensitive information about
The Sinaloa cartel, based in Mexico's western Sinaloa state, may even have
placed a mole inside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City who fed the drug lords
information from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a
copy of an arrest warrant reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and reported
earlier by Mexican newspaper El Universal.
View Full Image
Agency France-Presse/Getty Images
Mexican police with alleged members of a drug cartel arrested in Mexico City
"We are currently investigating this issue along with our Mexican
counterparts," a DEA spokesman said.
Two senior Mexican antidrug officials were arrested in recent weeks in
connection with the scandal and charged with crimes related to drug
trafficking, officials said on Monday. At the time of his arrest in early
October, one of the men, Fernando Rivera, was deputy director general of
intelligence at the attorney general's organized-crime unit. Officials said
Mr. Rivera was the main liaison between the attorney general's office and
the Mexican army in coordinating antidrug efforts. The other person arrested
was Miguel Colorado, the technical coordinator of the antidrug unit. His
duties included assigning federal agents to various raids against drug
Lawyers for the men couldn't immediately be identified; in Mexico, most
court trials are closed to the public until a verdict is issued, making
contact with defendants and identifying their lawyers difficult.
Many federal agents have died during raids in the past few years, and others
have been murdered by cartel hit men, officials say.
In total, some 35 officials from the organized crime unit have been arrested
and are being investigated, officials said. Officials said they had dubbed
the continuing investigation "Operation Clean-Up."
The scandal reflects the difficulty of President Felipe Calderón's efforts
to crack down on Mexico's drug cartels. Mexico is the main trans-shipment
point for cocaine entering the U.S., U.S. and Mexican officials say, and is
widely seen as having overtaken Colombia's drug war in importance. So far
this year, an estimated 3,700 people have died in violence from the drug
war, most of them involved in the drug trade, according to counts kept by
Mexican news organizations.
Since taking office in November 2006, Mr. Calderón has deployed tens of
thousands of soldiers to different parts of Mexico to wrest back control of
areas under the cartels' sway. But since the crackdown, the number of deaths
related to drug violence has increased, according to the Mexican government.
The emerging scandal may be one of the most serious instances of drug
corruption to emerge since 1997 when Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo was
arrested shortly after being named head of Mexico's antidrug agency. Gen.
Gutiérrez was convicted of being in the pay of drug lord Amado Carrillo
Fuentes, known as the "Lord of the Skies," who later died while undergoing
The scandal is likely to be a setback for deepening cooperation between
Washington and Mexico City in the war on drugs, observers say. Under the
"Merida Initiative," the U.S. government will provide Mexico with $400
million in equipment and training a year for the next three years. Both
sides have said cooperation is much better nowadays than in the past --
especially in the wake of the 1997 scandal.
Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said the scandal would lead to an
overhaul of how his agency recruits, trains, and checks on its employees.
Mr. Medina Mora suggested that the investigations could yet implicate more
"The investigation continues and we do not rule out that there are other
people who could have taken part in crimes that will be called to account,"
Mr. Medina Mora said. An adviser to Mr. Medina Mora said he hoped with the
arrests, officials had cut out "70% of the cancer" in the institution.
The investigation started as far back as December, according to a Mexican
government official, when the names of some Mexican officials began
surfacing in documents seized during raids of drug gangs.
In late June and early July, a Mexican former U.S. Embassy employee in
Mexico City was arrested and later testified that he had passed along
critical information to the Beltrán Leyva gang, a key part of the Sinaloa
cartel, in exchange for money. The witness, code-named "Felipe," also
accused several high-ranking Mexican officials, including Mr. Rivera.
"Felipe" said in his testimony that on one occasion, he was paid $30,000
from a man code-named "19" who worked with the Beltrán Leyva gang in
exchange for providing information about coming arrests of cartel members.
Deputy Attorney General Marisela Morales said Monday that higher-ranking
officials got much more money than "Felipe." She accused Messrs. Rivera and
Colorado of receiving "payments from $150,000 to $450,000 a month" for
information that would enable the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel to avoid
"searches, investigations, and arrest warrants" as well as obtain
information about rival drug gangs.
Write to David Luhnow at email@example.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mexican cartels dominate the Americas
on: October 28, 2008, 06:53:34 AM
Mexican cartels dominate the Americas
As the most powerful drug trafficking force in the region, Mexican organized crime has spread far beyond the country in search of supplies for drugs to meet US demand, Sam Logan writes for ISN Security Watch.
By Sam Logan for ISN Security Watch
Assassinations related to drug trafficking in Mexico are on pace to pass 4,000 this year. By any count, violence in Mexico is at historical highs, and it is bad for business. Since the end of 2007, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon increased government pressure on organized crime, both the Sinaloa and the Gulf cartels have reached beyond Mexican boundaries to source supplies, secure trafficking routes and kill rivals.
Heavy pressure on Colombian drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) opened the door for Mexicans to control a greater share of the cocaine supply chain. They now control cocaine routes out of Colombia from Andean ports to wholesale points well inside the United States. But pressure on supply routes and other areas of operation inside Mexico has forced these DTOs abroad. Guatemala, Peru and Argentina are a natural fit - corruption thrives and there is little to no government presence on borders and in many pockets of the country.
As Mexican criminals reach beyond their country to expand control over various drug-trafficking routes in the Americas, they bring a decades old violent brand of business - money or a bullet. Honor and pride push them further to kill anyone who cheats or betrays. Beyond the blood is a trail of dirty money that further corrupts, where Mexican DTOs have been linked to the electoral campaign of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.
"Mexican drug traffickers go into locations where there are no laws or regulations," Michael Sanders, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington DC, told ISN Security Watch.
With billions of dollars to spend, little serious competition and a de facto presence in a number of countries, it is not a far stretch to consider that Central and South America have already become their domain.
The release valve
Pressure in Mexico has forced DTOs there into Guatemala, a neighboring Central American country that serves as a release valve, where they operate alternative supply routes with little trouble from the local government.
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom publicly claimed on 5 September that his office and residential space was bugged by at least seven listening devices. Days later, few were surprised to learn one of his top intelligence officers, Gustavo Solano, was behind the espionage. Colom blamed the breech in security on the powerful influence of organized crime. Analysts believe the information gathered from the listening devices was sold to members of Los Zetas operating in Guatemala.
At least 300 members of Los Zetas operate in eight of Guatemala's 22 departments, according to Guatemalan news reports and a 17 October article in Mexican daily El Universal. The Guatemalan National Police believe there is a concentration of Mexican organized crime along the Guatemalan-Mexico border in the Peten department, on the country's stunted Caribbean coast, and placed in strategic locations on the borders with Honduras and El Salvador.
A 25 March shoot-out in the Guatemalan department of Zacapa left 11 dead, most of them Guatemalan criminals. Authorities believe the Zetas, formerly the military arm of the Gulf Cartel, consolidated power in the Central American country on that day, taking control over an old Gulf Cartel supply route that since at least 2004 has taken advantage of low altitude air space between two mountain ranges with no radar coverage to bring in planes. Most of this activity today is concentrated in the Sayaxche municipality of Peten, conveniently located on the border with Mexico and just miles away from a well-paved Mexican highway that leads north into the Mexican state of Chiapas, another area closely controlled by Los Zetas.
The other focus of Calderon's government offensive, the Sinaloa Cartel, has taken heavy losses due to the presence of thousands of soldiers in the states of Michoacan, Sinaloa and Sonora, the DTO's primary areas of operation.
Members of this cartel - once considered run solely by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman - in the past few years have branched into the methamphetamine business. The Sinaloa Cartel and other, smaller Mexican DTOs, now supply at least 80 percent of all methamphetamines consumed in the US according to the DEA's Sanders.
To launder proceeds from the sale of cocaine and meth (also known as "crystal" or "ice"), members of the Sinaloa Cartel have worked through front companies in Panama to move money back into Colombia where they are constantly pushing for more control up the supply chain.
"The Mexicans are in Colombia to purchase cocaine directly from coca labs to lower their costs," Roman Ortiz, director of Security and Post-Conflict Studies with Bogota-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), told ISN Security Watch in a recent phone interview.
Mexican DTOs, likely members of the Sinaloa Cartel, are active in Peru for the same reason, as recent violence in Peru suggests Mexican organized crime has joined with what the Peruvian government calls the Shining Path to spur coca leaf and poppy production in the country's highlands.
Backup in the Andes
By 15 October, a number of alleged Shining Path attacks left 17 people dead, 15 of them soldiers. Analysts in Peru believe these attacks may be related to the presence of Mexican DTOs who have hired back country militants to protect their supply routes out of the mountains, especially in the Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica and Junin provinces of Peru - provinces where the Shining Path has caused trouble in the past.
Peru is considered South America's number two source for cocaine and poppy, the raw material source for heroin. Poppy fields, grown at high altitudes in Peru for opium collection, have been considered an illicit cash crop since 2005, when the Peruvian National Police announced the presence of some 5,000 acres of poppy flowers cultivated at over 15,000 feet in the country's southern highlands.
Between January and October 2008 the National Police registered seizures of 103 kilograms of opium paste, indicating the continued presence of poppy cultivation. Over roughly the same period, Peruvian police seized some 20 tonnes of cocaine, worth over US$2 billion according to Reuters and local reports.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime concluded in its 2007 Andean coca survey that production in Peru is up by four percent in Peru, compared to five percent in Bolivia and 27 percent in Colombia.
In early September, Peruvian police seized three tonnes of cocaine hidden in 200 separate bumpers used by boats to prevent damage when docking. At the time of the seizure, a concurrent operation in eight separate points in Lima netted 30 men (some of them Mexican) and Peruvian police believe were working directly for the Sinaloa Cartel, according to a 6 September article in Peruvian daily El Comercio.
South American ephedrine supply
When the Mexican government passed a law on 2 July making all cold medicines that use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine illegal, methamphetamine traffickers, in need of the same precursor chemicals to cook their drugs, were forced to look south.
Not weeks after the Mexican law came into effect, Argentine police arrested on 18 July nine Mexicans and one Argentine who had rented a luxury residence in the Buenos Aires suburbs to cook methamphetamines. A month later, authorities discovered a warehouse where tanks of ephedrine were stored. The meth lab and ephedrine storage tanks were directly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.
At the top of the Argentine methamphetamine racket was Jesus Martinez Espinoza, an operator with the Sinaloa Cartel who traveled to Argentina to secure a source of ephedrine for methamphetamine production locally in Argentina and abroad in Mexico. He relied on three Argentine men, including Sebastian Forza, who had deep connections in the pharmaceutical industry, as his principal suppliers of ephedrine.
"Argentina can legally import 37 tonnes of ephedrine," the DEA's Sanders told ISN Security Watch, adding, "in 2006 Argentina imported 5 tonnes of ephedrine, and in 2007 Argentina imported 26 tonnes." Still 11 tonnes under the legal limit.
When Martinez's scheme began to unravel in mid July, his local connections had to go. All three Argentine businessmen disappeared on 7 August. Their bodies were found six days later in a ditch outside of Buenos Aires. Forza and the other two were handcuffed and sprayed with bullets. The triple homicide shocked Argentines, who are not accustomed to such assassination-style murders. The news catalyzed a massive investigation that led to Martinez's arrest in Asuncion, Paraguay, just hours before he was to board a flight to Mexico.
Investigations into Forza's past found a long line of bounced checks and deep debt. One of his former associates killed himself. And along with one of the other men allegedly killed by Martinez's men, Forza contributed as much as US$118,000 to the electoral campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Over the course of 2008, Mexican organized crime has been tied not only to the triple-homicide in Buenos Aires and the bugging of the office and bedroom of the Guatemalan president, but also to the deaths of five Mexican men, found with their throats slit in Birmingham, Alabama; the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy in Las Vegas, Nevada; and possibly violence in the Peruvian high country.
Between the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels, Mexican organized crime has proven ties with local operators in a list of countries from the US south through Central and South America, including Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Argentina.
"When considering methamphetamines, Mexican organized crime is the strongest in the region," Sanders said, pointing out that the countries in Latin America with relaxed chemical import regulations will likely become targets for Mexican DTOs in the future.
"South America has become increasingly part of [Mexico's] hunting grounds, and Guatemala is already deeply involved," Bruce Bagley, chairman of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami, told ISN Security Watch adding, "these guys are not deterred by borders."
The only other criminal organization that has had this breadth of reach and disregard for national sovereignty was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Billions more in profits, and potentially thousands more operatives with no political ideology, poise Mexican drug traffickers to become the region's next major security challenge.
Today these criminal groups represent the number one threat to national security in Mexico. Tomorrow, other countries such as Guatemala, Peru and Argentina may make the same claim.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Staph
on: October 28, 2008, 06:25:44 AM
Staph Germs Are Getting More Difficult to Treat, Studies Say
WASHINGTON -- Drug-resistant staph bacteria picked up in ordinary community settings are increasingly acquiring "superbug" powers and causing far more serious illnesses than they have in the past, doctors reported Monday.
These widespread germs used to be easier to treat than the dangerous forms of staph found in hospitals and nursing homes.
"Until recently we rarely thought of it as a problem among healthy people in the community," said Rachel Gorwitz of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now, the germs causing outbreaks in schools, on sports teams and in other social situations are posing a growing threat. A CDC study found that at least 10% of cases involving the most common community strain were able to evade the antibiotics typically used to treat them.
"They're becoming more resistant and they're coming into the hospitals," where they swap gene components with other bacteria and grow even more dangerous, said Keith Klugman, an infectious disease expert at Emory University. "It's really a major epidemic."
The germ is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. People can carry it on their skin or in their noses with no symptoms and still infect others -- the reason many hospitals isolate and test new patients to see if they harbor the bug.
MRSA mostly causes skin infections. Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow was just hospitalized for a staph infection, his second in recent years, and the team reportedly has had at least six cases in the past three years.
But the germ can be life-threatening if it gets into the bloodstream, lungs or organs. Pneumonia, sinus infections and even "flesh-eating" wounds due to MRSA are on the rise, doctors reported Monday at an infectious diseases conference in Washington.
About 95,000 serious infections and 20,000 deaths due to drug-resistant staph bacteria occur in the United States each year.
To treat them, "we've had to dust off antibiotics so old that they've lost their patent," said Robert Daum, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago.
The CDC used a network of hospitals in nine cities and states to test samples of the most common community MRSA strain, USA300, over the last few years.
MRSA usually is resistant only to penicillin-type drugs. But 10% of the 824 samples checked also could evade clindamycin, tetracycline, Bactrim or other antibiotics.
"The drugs that doctors have typically used to treat staph infections are not effective against MRSA," and family doctors increasingly are seeing a problem only hospital infection specialists once did, Dr. Gorwitz said.
Even more worrisome: many of these community strains had features allowing them to easily swap genes and become even hardier.
Also at the conference:
-Doctors from Spain reported the first hospital outbreak of MRSA resistant to linezolid, a last-resort drug sold by Pfizer Inc. as Zyvox in the U.S. and Zyvoxid in Europe. A dozen intensive care patients got pneumonia and bloodstream infections last spring and the outbreak was controlled after use of the antibiotic was severely curbed, said Dr. Miguel Sanchez of Hospital Clinico San Carlos in Madrid.
-Georgetown University saw a spike in sinus infections due to MRSA. The germ accounted for 69% of the staph-caused cases in the hospital between 2004 and 2006 compared with 30% from 2001 to 2003.
-Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that more than half of staph-caused pneumonia cases from 2005 through 2007 were due to MRSA.
-Doctors from Case Western Reserve University and the VA Medical Center in Cleveland found that by the time hospitals isolated and tested new patients to see if they harbored MRSA, many had already contaminated their skin and surroundings. Within about a day of being admitted, roughly a third had already started to spread the germ.
Hospital screening is controversial, and has had mixed success, said M. Lindsay Grayson, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
The nation's Veterans Affairs hospitals began universal MRSA testing in 2007. Illinois and some other states have adopted or are considering laws requiring hospitals to test high-risk and intensive-care patients for MRSA.
The conference is a joint meeting of the American Society for Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Copyright © 2008 Associated Press\
Experts Say Staph Is Common Problem for Athletes
By KATIE THOMAS
Published: October 24, 2008
The news in football this week often seemed ripped from the pages of a journal on infectious disease.
Skip to next paragraph
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The Browns’ Kellen Winslow had his second staph infection in three years.
Analysis and discussion of the N.F.L. on the New York Times pro football blog.
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First there was Kellen Winslow, who received a one-game suspension after accusing the Browns of concealing his staph infection. Then there was the news that Peyton Manning had developed a similar condition in his left knee earlier this year. Finally, there was Tom Brady, whose rehabilitation from knee surgery has reportedly been delayed because of an unidentified infection, also in his left knee.
Despite the outbreak of headlines, several experts in sports medicine and epidemiology said the news only served to highlight how prevalent infections — especially staph infections — are among professional athletes and in the community at large.
“It seems like most of these are single-case episodes,” said Jeff Hageman, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What we know is that staph is one of the most common causes of skin infection in the community,” he said, accounting for between 12 million to 14 million doctor visits a year.
Like athletes in other contact sports, football players are prone to staph infections because of their sport’s skin-on-skin contact, the frequency of cuts and the warm, moist conditions in locker rooms, which encourage the growth of bacteria. Because they are regulars in surgery wards, athletes are susceptible to infections there, too.
Garden-variety versions of the staphylococcus bacteria are easily treated and have lurked in locker rooms for years, but the problem has received heightened attention in recent years because of the emergence of a strain known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is resistant to some types of antibiotics. Serious cases of MRSA have derailed the careers of a handful of N.F.L. players, including Brandon Noble, a former defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, and Jeff Novak, a guard for the Jacksonville Jaguars who later sued the team doctor for malpractice.
“These things are here, they’re very serious,” said Noble, who had two bouts of MRSA in 2005 and is now the defensive line coach at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. With high-profile players in the news, he said, “maybe it’ll wake some people up and get the ball rolling.”
Winslow has not said whether his staph infection — his second in three years — was MRSA, but Manning’s infection was not, according to a statement the Colts released Friday. Brady, who contracted his infection after surgery, has not categorized it.
Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the National Football League, said the teams’ trainers and doctors met annually to discuss infections and other health concerns. “It’s an issue across the country,” he said. “It’s not an N.F.L. or a football player issue.”
A 2005 survey by the N.F.L. Team Physicians Society found that of the 30 teams that responded, 13 said a player had contracted a MRSA infection in recent years, for a total of 60 infections across the league. Andrew Tucker, the president of the society and the team doctor for the Ravens, said teams had access to information about staph infections through an internal injury reporting database, but the N.F.L. declined to release the data.
Football teams increased their efforts to battle staph after 2003, when a MRSA outbreak among the Rams resulted in eight infections. The Rams invited the C.D.C. to investigate their facility, and a 2005 study revealed some nose-wrinkling results — towels were being shared by as many as three players on the field, trainers did not always wash their hands when treating wounds, and players did not take showers before entering whirlpools. Football players were also taking antimicrobial drugs at 10 times the rate of the general public.
Jim Anderson, the Rams’ head trainer, said he was surprised when MRSA even turned up on ultrasound equipment and in the cold pools. Since then, the Rams have been more diligent about disinfecting surfaces in the locker rooms and other facilities. Like other teams, they speak to players before each season about sanitary practices, imparting common-sense advice like washing one’s hands, treating open cuts, and not sharing drinks.
“The biggest thing was making them aware of it,” Anderson said. Since then, although a handful of Rams players have developed staph, none have been MRSA.
After Winslow criticized the Browns for concealing his illness from teammates — a claim the team denies and that led to his suspension, which he is appealing — several news media reports noted that the Browns have had six cases of staph infections since 2005. Bill Bonsiewicz, a Browns spokesman, said in an e-mail message that Browns players have contracted seven cases of staph since 1999, including two MRSA cases separated by a few years. “Both players were aggressively treated and each returned to the field within a few weeks,” Bonsiewicz said. He declined to name the players, citing privacy reasons.
Tucker and Hageman said the frequency of staph infections among Browns players — spread over so many years — did not appear to be out of the ordinary. “You’re talking about one or two per year,” Tucker said. “That’s not a lot.”
Noble said that although teams were making an effort to prevent MRSA, eradicating the bacteria was nearly impossible. Locker rooms, after all, are filthy places. “There’s mud, there’s blood, there’s sweat, there’s spit,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of big, gross guys in a room together.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena
on: October 28, 2008, 06:09:25 AM
Barney Frank will not soon be named secretary of defense or, insha'Allah, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. So there's really no reason to fear that his recent call to cut defense spending by 25% is a harbinger of what to expect in an Obama administration.
APThen again, maybe there is.
When it comes to defense, there are two Barack Obamas in this race. There is the candidate who insists, as he did last year in an article in Foreign Affairs, that "a strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace"; pledges to increase the size of our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines while providing them with "first-rate equipment, armor, incentives and training"; and seems to be as gung-ho for a surge in Afghanistan as he was opposed to the one in Iraq.
And then there is the candidate who early this year recorded an ad for Caucus for Priorities, a far-left outfit that wants to cut 15% of the Pentagon's budget in favor of "education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger [and] deficit reduction."
"Thanks so much for the Caucus for Priorities for the great work you've been doing," says Mr. Obama in the ad, before promising to "cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending . . . slow our development of future combat systems . . . not develop new nuclear weapons."
Joe Biden also cut an ad for the group that was even more emphatic: "I'll tell you what we cannot afford . . . a trillion-dollar commitment to 'Star Wars,' new nuclear weapons, a thousand-ship Navy, the F-22 Raptor."
Mr. Biden is right that we can't afford a thousand-ship Navy, not that anyone has proposed it. Current levels of funding don't quite suffice to operate 300 ships, or about half the number the U.S. had at the end of the Reagan arms buildup. The Navy would be satisfied with 313.
Current funding is also just adequate to purchase about 65 new planes for the Air Force each year, even as the average age of each plane creeps upward to nearly 24 years. Last year, the entire fleet of F-15Cs -- the Air Force's mainstay fighter -- was grounded after one of the planes came apart in midair. Spending on maintenance alone is up more than 80% from a decade ago. Is that another defense item Mr. Biden thinks we can't afford?
(As for nuclear weapons, the U.S. hasn't built a new warhead in decades. Its mainstay, the W76, is widely suspected of being unreliable, yet Congress has resisted funding the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead.)
Maybe it seems odd that the Pentagon, whose budget for 2009 runs to well over $500 billion -- not including the supplemental $165 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan -- should struggle to afford the equipment it needs.
But it's not odd. We've been fighting two wars, straining people and equipment. Weapons have generally become more complex and expensive. President Clinton's "procurement holiday" punted the modernization problems to the present. And even after the Bush buildup, defense spending amounts to just 4% of gross domestic product. By contrast, at the nadir of Cold War defense spending under Jimmy Carter, the figure was 4.7%.
All this should argue for at least a modest recapitalization effort by an Obama administration, assuming it really believes a strong military is "necessary to sustain peace." A study by the Heritage Foundation makes the case that defense spending should rise to close to $800 billion over the next four years in order to stick to the 4% GDP benchmark. That's unrealistic in light of the financial crisis. But holding the line at current levels is doable -- and necessary.
But what if a President Obama doesn't actually believe in the importance of a strong military to keep the peace? Or has an attenuated idea of what qualifies as a "strong" military? Or considers military strength a luxury at a moment of financial crisis? Or thinks now is the moment to smash the Pentagon piggy bank to fund a second Great Society?
Does anyone really know where Mr. Obama's instincts lie? During the third debate, he cited former Marine Gen. James Jones as a member of his wise man's circle -- which was reassuring but odd, given that the general made a point of appearing at a McCain campaign event simply to distance himself from the Democratic candidate.
The Obama campaign has also produced a lengthy defense blueprint on its Web site. It reads more like a social manifesto, promising to "improve transition services," "make mental health a priority," and end "don't-ask, don't-tell." All very well, except the document is notably vague on naming the kinds of weapons systems Mr. Obama would actually support.
And so the question remains: If elected, which Obama do we get? The nuanced centrist or the man from Ben and Jerry's?
Some voters may like answers sometime before next Tuesday. Alternatively, they can click the button called "I'm Feeling Lucky."
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Should have hit Syria a long time ago
on: October 28, 2008, 06:02:44 AM
After five years and six months during which Syria has been an active accomplice to the insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. has finally struck back. Historians will be left to ponder how the course of the Iraq war might have changed if President Bush had acted sooner.
U.S. military sources are confirming that on Sunday U.S. special forces raided a location in eastern Syria that was being used by a network of Syrian military officials and al Qaeda-connected groups to smuggle foreign jihadists into Iraq. The Syrians, predictably, denounced the raid as "an outrageous crime" and an "unprovoked" attack on a "sovereign country."
The Syrians have an interesting definition of unprovoked and a curious notion of sovereignty. Even before U.S. troops took Baghdad, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explicitly warned that Syria was shipping military equipment to help Saddam Hussein, including night-vision goggles and antitank weapons. Only days after Baghdad fell, Mr. Bush warned Damascus against becoming a safe haven for top Iraqi Baathist officials. "We expect cooperation," he said, "and I'm hopeful we'll receive cooperation." Siding with Secretary of State Colin Powell over Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush dispatched Mr. Powell to Damascus in a show of postinvasion diplomatic goodwill.
President Bashar al Assad did not reciprocate, and Damascus soon became the capital in exile from which the Sunni insurgency was financed, organized and directed. In late 2003, Cofer Black, the State Department's Counterterrorism Coordinator, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Syria "needs to do a lot more" to stop terrorist infiltration, but added that he "remained optimistic that continued engagement with Syria will one day lead to a change in Syrian behavior."
It didn't. The following May, Mr. Bush ordered the minimum possible sanctions on Damascus under the Syria Accountability Act of 2003. Though Damascus offered some token intelligence cooperation, it also turned Damascus International Airport into the central hub through which jihadists from Morocco to Saudi Arabia could reach Iraq. Insurgent leaders were brazen enough to hold meetings, in Damascus hotels, that were known both to Syrian and U.S. intelligence.
Administration hawks urged more forceful action, including Predator missile strikes against terrorist hideouts in Syria. But the CIA and others valued ties to Syrian intelligence, and in January 2005 Mr. Bush decided instead to send then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Damascus to read Mr. Assad the riot act. Mr. Armitage succeeded in getting the Syrians to turn over Saddam's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan, a ringleader of the insurgency. This token cooperation, along with episodic Syrian efforts to police their border with Iraq, served mainly to disguise their ongoing support for the insurgency.
By the time the insurgency reached its height in 2006, more than 100 jihadists were coming into Iraq from Syria every month. According to U.S. military estimates, they accounted for between 80% and 90% of the suicide attacks, mainly against Iraqi civilians. Thanks to a combination of the surge, the Sunni Awakening and better internal monitoring by the Saudis and others of just who was boarding planes to Damascus, that flow has now slowed to about 20 a month.
Yet the Syrians continue to show little interest in aiding the U.S., despite recent efforts by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to court her Syrian counterpart, Walid Al-Moallem. Those efforts include inviting Syria to last year's Annapolis conference on Arab-Israeli peace and face-to-face meetings in Egypt and, just last month, New York.
Little wonder, then, that even the Iraqi government, which has sought good relations with its neighbor, has lost patience. "This area was a staging ground for activities by terrorist organizations hostile to Iraq," said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, in reference to the American raid. "The presence in Syria of groups that are hostile to Iraq and who contribute to terrorist activity against Iraqis hinders the progress of our relationship."
We wonder how differently the war in Iraq might have gone had the U.S. conducted this kind of raid as often as necessary in 2003 and 2004, or if it had put Mr. Assad on notice that his survival in power was at risk if he continued to support the insurgency. Our guess is that the war would have been shorter, far less bloody for American and Iraqi troops, and less politically costly to Mr. Bush.
There's a lesson in these Bush Administration mistakes for the next President, particularly if he is Barack Obama. The Syrians interpreted diplomatic accommodation in the face of their anti-American acts as a sign of weakness to exploit. Mr. Obama has promised he'll engage Syria diplomatically as part of an overall effort to end the conflict in Iraq. If he really wants to end the war faster, he'll pick up on Syria where the Bush Administration has now ended.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYAT: Mosul
on: October 28, 2008, 05:36:06 AM
Its the NY Times, so caveat lector:
MOSUL, Iraq — A new Iraqi military offensive is under way in this still violent northern city, but the worry is not only the insurgents who remain strong here. American commanders are increasingly concerned that Mosul could degenerate into a larger battleground over the fragile Iraqi state itself.
The problems are old but risk spilling out violently here and now. The central government in Baghdad has sent troops to quell the insurgency here, while also aiming at what it sees as a central obstacle to both nationhood and its own power: the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north and the Kurds’ larger ambitions to expand areas under their control.
The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is squeezing out Kurdish units of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, sending the national police and army from Baghdad and trying to forge alliances with Sunni Arab hard-liners in the province, who have deep-seated feuds with the Kurdistan Regional Government led by Massoud Barzani.
The Kurds are resisting, underscoring yet again the depth of ethnic and sectarian divisions here and the difficulty of creating a united Iraq even when overall violence is down. Tension has risen to the point that last week American commanders held a series of emergency meetings with the Iraqi government and Kurdish officials, seeking to head off violence essentially between factions of the Iraqi government.
“It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region.
Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”
The competing agendas of the Kurds and central government have nearly provoked violence before, but each side eventually grasped the risks. That may be the case now. At the moment, the Americans are hoping to refocus each side on fighting the insurgency rather than each other.
But the tensions underline that achieving basic security is only the first step toward deeper progress in Iraq — and that much remains, bitterly, unresolved.
Mosul falls outside the borders of the Kurdish region, but Mr. Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party came to control the provincial government after Sunni Arabs boycotted the provincial elections in 2005. The Kurds say, however, that they will not abandon the city until they reclaim five areas in Nineveh Province, putting them on a political collision course with the central government.
Tense personal relations between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Barzani worsened, officials on all sides say, after a standoff in September between the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish security forces, the pesh merga, in eastern Diyala Province. American forces helped contain that confrontation.
More broadly, the two men do not see eye to eye on issues as fundamental as the sharing of oil resources, the resolution of disputed internal borders and the shape of the Iraqi nation. The Kurds want a loose federation, while Mr. Maliki, playing on nationalist sentiments, is increasingly pushing for a strong central government.
Relations have deteriorated to the point that the Kurdish leadership has described Mr. Maliki as a new Saddam Hussein, recalling how Mr. Hussein ruthlessly crushed the Kurds in the 1980s. The borders of Iraqi Kurdistan were established as an internationally enforced security zone in 1991.
In this latest offensive against insurgents, Mr. Maliki has been pushing to lessen Kurdish military influence here, and that is testing loyalties at a delicate time.
Mr. Maliki sent nearly 3,000 national policemen from Baghdad to Mosul to prop up the local force. The officers, almost all Shiites and Sunni Arabs, will be in charge of the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab west side of the city.
Predominantly Kurdish units of the army stationed in Nineveh are slowly being replaced by the mainly Sunni Arab and Shiite contingents.
The Defense Ministry also recently appointed Maj. Gen. Abdullah Abdul-Karim, Mr. Maliki’s brother-in-law, as the new commander of the Second Division on Mosul’s east side. Mr. Barzani, sensing a plot to purge the Iraqi Army in the north of its Kurdish leadership, personally intervened recently to freeze a ministerial order to transfer 34 Kurdish officers, said Col. Hajji Abdullah, a battalion commander in the Second Division.
“If the Arabs do not change now, things will get worse and I see confrontation,” Colonel Abdullah said.
In the turmoil, he and another officer in the division, Brig. Gen. Nadheer Issam, say their loyalties are first and foremost to Kurdistan.
Page 2 of 3)
“If I were made to choose, I would not even think for a second — I would leave the army,” General Issam said. “We have sacrificed too much fighting the Baathists,” he added, referring to Mr. Hussein’s political party.
The United States has relied on Kurds from the very beginning in Mosul. Ignoring longtime enmities between the city and Mr. Barzani’s party, American Special Forces units accompanied pesh merga fighters beholden to the party when they took Mosul in April 2003. The United States drafted more pesh merga units into the city in 2004 and 2005 when the whole provincial government and the police force collapsed at the hands of insurgents.
Although many of the pesh merga units in Nineveh were merged into the national army, an estimated 5,000 men remained from an elite Kurdistan corps in the province’s north. All these actions have stoked anger in Mosul toward Americans and Kurds.
Karam Qusay, who works in the Zuhoor neighborhood of Mosul, said he wanted the city to be free of the Kurdish military presence, both in the army and outside of it.
“We wish they would leave,” he said. “We despise them.”
Mosul’s allegiance to Mr. Hussein was so staunch that the city was known as the “regime’s pillow.” Now Mr. Maliki appears to be trying to win over the city by playing on grievances toward the Kurds.
“The government wants to extend its authority, and this clashes with the will and ambitions of the Kurds,” said Maj. Ali Naji, a Sunni Arab in one of the army units sent recently from Baghdad. “I predict fighting between Iraqi forces and the pesh merga.”
Sami al-Askari, one of Mr. Maliki’s senior advisers, said he hoped that talks between his boss and Mr. Barzani would head off any such confrontation.
But he made the government’s position clear: that the presence of Kurdish forces outside of the national army and beyond the borders of Kurdistan was “unlawful.” And he said the refusal of Kurdish officers in the Iraqi Army to obey their transfer orders from Nineveh was a “mutiny that must be severely punished.”
The repercussions of a face-off between Baghdad and the Kurds in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, would be far more serious than the recent tensions in eastern Diyala.
Nineveh, wedged between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria and close to Turkey, remains a focal point for a number of Sunni insurgent groups linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown terrorist group that American officials say is led by foreigners, and to the Baath Party. Both are fighting the Americans, Mr. Maliki’s government and the Kurds.
Despite numerous offensives by American and Iraqi forces since the start of the year, security remains tenuous at best. This was underscored this month when 2,270 Christian families, according to the Human Rights Ministry, fled Mosul after a number of killings and other attacks against Christians.
The overall level of violence has dropped in Mosul to 9 or 10 attacks a day from an average of 40 a day a year ago.
Yet killings continue, and fear is palpable. Judges are so intimidated or corrupt that the Iraqi government has flown in judges from Baghdad. Their main job is to issue arrest warrants for wanted suspects.
People other than Christians are also being attacked. A senior provincial official was killed as he left a mosque last month. Even a man who makes tea in the provincial building was recently killed in what is probably the most secure part of the city, said an American official working with local authorities.
In his push to subdue Mosul and marginalize the Kurds, Mr. Maliki is trying to curry favor with disaffected Sunnis. Last week he sent his deputy, Rafie al-Issawi, a Sunni, here with promises of a reconstruction and investment initiative that would be coordinated this time by respected Sunnis from Mosul.
More significant, Mr. Maliki is courting former army officers and tribal leaders like Sheik Abdullah al-Humaidi, who leads the powerful Shammar tribe in western Nineveh. All are strong nationalists who believe that Kurds must be confined to the borders of Kurdistan drawn after the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
(Page 3 of 3)
General Thomas said Mr. Maliki was promoting Riad al-Chakerji, a Sunni Arab who is a former army general, as the next governor of Nineveh. Mr. Chakerji acts as an adviser to a committee set up to carry out the central government’s new economic initiatives for Mosul.
“The central government must be very strong, especially now,” Mr. Chakerji said.
Mr. Chakerji, Sheik Humaidi and people like Hassan al-Luhaibi, a former Iraqi Army commander who led the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, have all joined a new political coalition known as Al Hadba, which will run in the coming provincial elections.
The coalition is led by Atheel al-Nujaifi, a prominent businessman who owns a ranch in Mosul that once supplied purebred Arabian horses to Mr. Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay.
A Call to Keep a Promise
Mr. Nujaifi said the United States military ignored the province’s enmity toward Mr. Barzani and turned itself into a party to the conflict when it relied on pesh merga forces upon arriving in Mosul.
He said that for Mr. Maliki to assert his authority in Mosul he must first make good on his promise to drive out Kurdish forces.
“Many insurgent groups will become law-abiding after that,” Mr. Nujaifi said.
Mr. Nujaifi and his brother Osama, a member of Parliament in Baghdad, blame the Kurds for instigating a campaign against the Christians in Mosul to deflect the central government’s pressure.
One Kurdish leader called the accusations “ludicrous,” and the United States military said it was most likely the work of militants linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
But a group of Christian leaders who met with General Thomas last week in the town of Qosh, outside Mosul, blamed the struggle between the central government and Kurdistan for the plight of their people. Sweeping out both sides, they said, may be the only way to restore calm and trust.
“You have done a great job removing Saddam’s regime,” the Rev. Bashar Warda told the general. “Continue with removing this regime, and start over again.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Story
on: October 28, 2008, 05:15:18 AM
"A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the
objects of the government; secondly, a knowledge of the means,
by which those objects can be best attained."
-- Joseph Story (Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833)
Reference: Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 206
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: October 27, 2008, 05:57:45 PM
AND centrism gives us the economically incoherent McCain. A major disaster in American political culture is being imprinted right now--aided and abetted by McC's pandering populism about greed on Wall Street being the cause-- NONE OF THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED BUT FOR THE GOVERNMENT/FED PRINTING TOO MUCH MONEY. GOLD FROM $250 TO $900?!? BASKET OF COMMODITIES EXPLODING PRICES?!? OIL?!? NEGATIVE INTEREST RATES?!? DOLLAR COLLAPSING?!? ITS NOT LIKE THERE WEREN'T SOME REAL IN PLAIN SITE CLUES!!!
SERVING AS A MULTIPLIER WERE THE FMs, THE CRA, mark to market rules, etc.
THE WORLD-WIDE NATURE OF THE MELTDOWN PHENOMENON SHOWS THAT BY INFLATING AND DEVALUING THE WORLD's DOMINANT CURRECNY, THE FED HAS EXPORTED A LIQUIDITY FLOOD THROUGHOUT THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM.
Instead we get buffoonery from McC about Wall Street Greed and he's going to go after Wall Street even more than BO. Barf.
OF COURSE, there was outrageous and unprincipled greed on Wall Street that greatly accelerated the process. DUH. Its Wall Street! Its what they do! AND THAT IS WHY YOU STICK TO YOUR F^&*(^(&G JOB OF KEEPING THE CURRENCY STABLE.