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25251  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Purple Haze on Harmonica on: March 28, 2009, 11:33:37 PM
25252  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: March 28, 2009, 07:16:05 PM
I'll show it to my 9 year old son  wink
25253  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: March 28, 2009, 07:15:29 PM
For reasons not know to us, it is our understanding that his specific use of our name was edited out.  huh rolleyes
25254  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: March 28, 2009, 11:26:55 AM
5th post of the day
25255  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Declassified Secrets on: March 28, 2009, 11:18:39 AM
I haven't given this site a careful look yet, so caveat lector:
25256  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hezbollah in Mexico? on: March 28, 2009, 11:17:34 AM

25257  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: March 28, 2009, 11:00:06 AM
Welcome back Rachel!
25258  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / To be 6 again on: March 28, 2009, 08:17:04 AM

To Be 6 Again...


  A man was sitting on the edge of the bed, observing his wife, looking at herself in the mirror.  Since her birthday was not far off he asked what she'd like to have for her  Birthday.
' be six again', she replied, still looking in the mirror.   
  On the morning of her Birthday, he arose early, made her a nice big bowl of  Lucky Charms, and then took her to Six Flags theme park. What a day! He put her on every ride in the park; the Death Slide, the Wall of Fear, the Screaming Monster Roller Coaster, everything there was.   Five hours later they staggered out of the theme park. Her head was  reeling and her stomach felt  upside down.   He then took her to a McDonald's where he ordered her a Happy Meal with extra  f ries and a chocolate shake.
  Then it was off to a movie, popcorn, a soda pop, and her favorite candy,   M&M 's. What a fabulous adventure! Finally she wobbled home with her husband  and collapsed into bed exhausted. He leaned over his wife with a big smile and  lovingly asked, 'Well Dear, what was it like being six again??'
  Her eyes slowly opened and her expression suddenly changed. 'I meant my  dress size, you dumb ass!'
  The moral of the story: Even when a man is listening, he's gonna get it wrong.

25259  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A question for us here on: March 28, 2009, 07:45:10 AM
4th post of the day:

OK folks, I'd like to put it out there:  What do we think of the President's plan?  Do we support it?
25260  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Carbon Cap dilema on: March 28, 2009, 07:43:25 AM
Count me amongst those doubtful of nuclear power, but I post this thoughtful article anyway.


On the one hand, environmentalists claim that climate change is a "planetary emergency," perhaps the greatest threat ever to face humanity. On the other, nuclear energy is still verboten in the green catechism -- despite the fact that it provides roughly one-fifth of U.S. electricity, all of it free of carbon emissions. And without more nuclear power, it is nearly impossible to see even the glimmers of any low-emission future.

Zina SaundersJ. Wayne Leonard, chairman and CEO of Entergy Corp., one of the largest U.S. energy companies and the No. 2 generator of nuclear power, is no stranger to the many contradictions of American energy policy. "Everybody's gums are still bleeding from the '70s," he says of nuclear power, noting that today's technology is far superior to its Three Mile Island vintage.

The avuncular Mr. Leonard, who lives in Louisiana, made his name in nuclear, and over the last nine years as Entergy CEO he has achieved the highest total shareholder return in the nuclear power industry. But now his thoughts are concentrated on more lasting matters -- namely, his deep-seated concern about climate change.

Does he think nuclear energy has a larger role to play in that effort?

"Is it nuclear?" Mr. Leonard asks in Entergy's D.C. office. "Are you really going to mandate nuclear? I don't think so. I mean, mandate private businesses at the kind of prices we're taking about, and the kind of risks? That's pretty tough to do. You'd have to turn all of us into France" -- 79% of its electricity is nuclear -- "and have a government-sponsored program. I don't see that as consistent with what made this country into what it is today."

Mr. Leonard thinks like an economist. He talks about "efficiency" and "maximizing consumer surplus" the same way other utility executives talk about rate schedules and voltage. The most important thing the government can do on climate change, in Mr. Leonard's estimation, is to change the incentives for producing -- or, not producing -- carbon. His answer on the role of nuclear was revealing about his mentality: Set the price, and market forces, not government, will make the decisions.

"We see ourselves as a market economy, and that's created great wealth for society over time," he says, "but we're a market economy that doesn't have price signals for CO2."

Entergy belongs to the swarm of major energy companies that are -- contrary to type -- practically begging Washington to create a cap-and-trade program. Mr. Leonard supports President Barack Obama's plan to slash emissions 80% by 2050. It sounds strange: Lobbying the government to tax your products is generally not taught in business school.

But then, a lot of companies stand to make a bundle off cap and trade. Once Congress puts a ceiling on emissions, and then allows businesses to sell any of its extra allowances that stand for the right to emit, it is essentially creating the world's largest commodity market -- in carbon-backed securities. These will be extremely valuable, and everything comes down to how the government chooses to distribute them.

Mr. Leonard thinks the allowances should be auctioned off, rather than given away. So does the White House. Then the billions in new revenues that cap and trade would raise every year should be returned to the public. "Ideally you want to recycle it all, give all the money back," he says.

That's the purist's view on cap and trade -- and it puts him at odds with many of his peers at big coal-fired utilities like Duke Energy and American Electric Power that emit the most carbon. These companies signed on in the expectation that the allowances would be handed out at no charge. But economically, that is the same as selling them and giving the money to businesses -- i.e., as subsidies and corporate welfare. Mr. Leonard uses more diplomatic language: "Everybody's got their kind of own self-interest out there that they're tending to promote, once you get behind it."

It would be fair here to note Entergy's own self-interest: Only about 7% of its portfolio is coal, and the nuclear industry stands to benefit as much as any "green" business from a carbon crackdown. Then again, if Congress does create cap and trade, expect the next populist outcry to be for a windfall profits tax on nuclear.

Mr. Leonard acknowledges, though, that coal and other energy companies -- and their customers -- have legitimate reasons to worry about cap and trade: "No utility CEO likes to raise rates, and that's what would happen. Your rates go up no matter what," he says. And even if the government returns every dime of climate revenues to ratepayers, "That's a painful thing for utilities to have to endure, because angriness comes toward you, and somebody else gets the goodwill." Giving out the allowances, he does concede, could help the cushion the blow.

On pure economic grounds, Mr. Leonard seems to prefer a straight carbon tax, which would be simpler and more efficient than cap and trade. But he also notes that "the political will to go the tax route . . . is just not there. Nonexistent" -- namely because the use of the word "tax." The key, he says, is to design a cap-and-trade program that will "simulate the same thing a tax would do." That is, to achieve the increased energy prices essential to the success of cap and trade.

Mr. Leonard does evince a certain . . . uneasiness with the direction of climate politics. "The old adage of 'think globally, act locally' -- it still works," he says. "But with climate change, for it to really be effective, we have to take that thought much more completely and much more deeply than probably we've ever really thought about an issue."

He notes China's breakneck construction of conventional coal plants. China has already surpassed U.S. coal capacity and is on pace to double it sometime in the middle of the next decade. The U.S., he says, could close down every single coal plant immediately and that would be "working to a global solution, acting locally. But that wouldn't do much good in the scheme of things," because atmospheric CO2 concentrations would continue to rise as China continues to expand.

"We go to zero emissions in this country, and if China doesn't follow us, we're nowhere. . . . We've just ruined our economy, and we're nowhere," Mr. Leonard says. "We make mistakes here," meaning a poorly designed carbon system, "and we have a real problem." He goes on, "We talk about that we should lead, then people will follow, but that's kind of" -- he pauses -- "silly. China's not going to follow us because we're the United States. . . . You say, 'Shut down your plants' -- well, that's going to be a short conversation. They've got $2 trillion invested in their plants and they still aren't feeding all their people." He adds that "If we were China, we wouldn't shut our plants down either."

Mr. Leonard argues that the best way to square these circles is to channel U.S. basic research dollars into the technology that can retrofit existing coal plants with carbon capture technology. Most current funding is devoted to second-generation systems that are still 10 or 20 years away from commercial deployment, at best. "We should spend 99% of our time on the problem that we have today, and it ain't going away," he says, referring to coal emissions. He also sees retrofit technology as a realistic way to curb Chinese emissions: "They're going to follow because we can offer them something."

Mr. Leonard worries, too, that Congress may make matters worse as it takes up climate change legislation this spring or summer. One proposal that enjoys wide Democratic support is a "renewable portfolio standard," which would mandate that utilities generate a certain percentage of their electricity -- as high as 20% -- from renewable sources like wind or solar. Nuclear, naturally, does not qualify.

Mr. Leonard points to yet another energy policy contradiction, which is that a portfolio standard -- which Congress would impose on top of cap and trade -- would actually increase carbon emissions. Power companies would be more likely to use renewables to replace sources like natural gas, which is relatively lower in carbon but also expensive, rather than to displace coal, which is cheaper and more abundant but also produces more emissions.

While Mr. Leonard says -- repeatedly -- that Entergy has nothing against solar or wind, "Our view is that government shouldn't be in the business of picking technologies. . . . And we're moving down a path where we're mandating renewables instead of a price signal to do it. We're . . . moving toward a planned economy by mandating a technology. Well, if we're a planned economy, if we're mandating technologies, then we don't have a whole plan."

"The focus," Mr. Leonard reiterates, "should be on developing the cap-and-trade program: Setting the amount of reductions, where we want to be, setting the price signal that works so that it's not so high that it shuts down coal plants prematurely, and that's not so low that it becomes a loophole and people don't end up doing anything -- and all we end up doing is taxing people, and God knows what the government will do with that money."

"This needs to be done with a fine pen to get it right," he adds.

Still, the government is not exactly run by omniscient technocrats. Does he believe that Congress -- with its entrenched constituencies, its own self-interest, its many antibusiness biases -- can actually create a climate system that is as sensitive and efficient as he envisions? That is, can the political class actually write the same bill that economists would write?

"That is really the tough part," Mr. Leonard says. "The trade-offs are not simple. . . . With a well-crafted bill, the market will make those choices. Or you can do it with a planned economy, and hope you get it right."

We may find out.
25261  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Reich on: March 28, 2009, 07:38:26 AM
I disagree quite a bit with this piece, but post it anyway.  It is glibly plausible-- how do we respond?


Twenty-eight years ago, Ronald Reagan used the severe economic downturn of 1980-82 to implement an economic philosophy that not only gave force and meaning to a wide range of initiatives but also offered a way back to sustained economic growth. Is there a similarly powerful animating idea behind Obamanomics?

Chad CroweI believe there is -- and it's not a return to big government.

The expansive and expensive forays of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board into Wall Street notwithstanding, President Barack Obama's 10-year budget (whose projections may prove wildly optimistic if the economy fails to rebound by early next year) presents a remarkably conservative picture. In 10 years, taxes are expected to fall to around 19% of GDP, a lower level than the late 1990s. Spending is expected to drop to around 22.5% of GDP, about where it was under Ronald Reagan -- including nondefense discretionary spending at about 3.6% of GDP, its lowest since data on this were first collected in 1962.

The real distinction between Obamanomics and Reaganomics involves government's role in achieving growth and broad-based prosperity. The animating idea of Reaganomics was that the economy grows best from the top down. Lower taxes on the wealthy prompts them to work harder and invest more. When they do so, everyone benefits. Neither Reagan nor the apostles of supply-side economics explicitly promised that such benefits would "trickle down" to everyone else but this was broadly understood to be the justification.

Reaganomics surely marked the beginning of one of the longest bull markets in American history and generated enormous gains at the top. But its benefits were not widely shared. After the Reagan tax cuts, growth in the median wage slowed, adjusted for inflation. After George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, the median wage dropped. Meanwhile, an increasing share of total income went to the top 1% of income earners. In 1980, before Reagan took office, the highest-paid 1% took home 9% of total national income. By 2007, before the economy melted down, the richest 1% was taking home 22%.

Obamanomics, by contrast, holds that an economy grows best from the bottom up. The president proposes to increase taxes on the highest 2% of income earners starting in 2011. Those tax increases will fund more Pell grants allowing lower-income children to attend college, better pay for teachers that show they're worth it, broader access to health care, improved infrastructure, and more basic research. These and related expenditures are designed to help Americans become more productive. You might think of it as "trickle up" economics.

The key is public investment. Reaganomics did not view any public spending as an investment in the future except when it came to spending on the military. Hence, since 1980, federal spending on education, job training, infrastructure and basic research and development (apart from defense-related R&D) have all shrunk as a proportion of GDP. And apart from a modest expansion of health insurance available to poor children, there has been no significant attempt to make health insurance broadly affordable to Americans.

Obamanomics is premised on the central importance of public investments in the productivity of Americans. The logic is straightforward. Capital no longer remains within the borders of a nation where it is saved. It moves to wherever around the globe it can get the best return. Some of it flows as highly liquid investments that slosh across borders at the slightest provocation, as we're witnessing in the current financial crisis. But much takes the form of direct investments in new plants and equipment, telecommunications systems, laboratories, offices and -- most important of all -- jobs. Such capital goes to nations that can deliver high returns either because labor is cheap and taxes and regulations low or because labor is highly productive: well educated, healthy and supported by modern infrastructure.

In this way, every nation faces an implicit choice of whether its strategic advantage will lie in low costs or high productivity. For the better part of the last three decades America's job strategy has tended toward the former. But this inevitably exerts downward pressure on the real wages of a larger and larger portion of our population.

Only those Americans whose parents can afford to give them a high-quality private education and health care, and who can situate themselves in locations with excellent infrastructures of telecommunication, transportation, public health and safety, have been able to link up with global capital on more positive terms. But not even they are entirely secure economically, because they face growing shortages of talented people they can rely on within easy reach, and can't entirely avoid the disadvantages of a deteriorating public infrastructure, such as ever more congested roads and airports.

Obamanomics recognizes that the only resource uniquely rooted in a national economy is its people -- their skills, insights, capacities to collaborate, and the transportation and communication systems that link them together. Public investment is the key to attracting long-term private investment so that a nation's people can prosper.

Bill Clinton understood this but failed to do much about America's deteriorating public investments because he came to office during an economic expansion, when the major worry was excessive government spending leading to inflation. Mr. Obama comes to office during the biggest downturn since the Great Depression, and his plan represents the largest commitment to public investment in 30 years.

Regulation, done correctly, is also a form of public investment because it enables consumers and investors to be confident about what they're receiving, and ensures that the side-effects of trades don't harm the public. Reaganomics assumed that deregulated markets always function better. They do in many respects. But when they don't, all hell can break loose, retarding economic growth.

Energy markets were deregulated and we wound up with Enron. Food and drug safety has been neglected, resulting in contaminated products that have endangered consumers and threatened whole industries. Financial markets were deregulated and we now have a global meltdown. Obamanomics, by contrast, views appropriate regulation as an essential precondition for sustainable growth.

Under Reaganomics, government was the problem. It can still be a problem. But a central tenet of Obamanomics is that there are even bigger problems out there which cannot be solved without government. By building the economy from the bottom up, enhancing public investment, and instituting reasonable regulation, Obamanomics marks a reversal of the economic philosophy that has dominated America since 1981.

Mr. Reich is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and a former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton.

25262  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Accounts disputed on: March 28, 2009, 07:32:44 AM
JERUSALEM — Israel is pushing back against accusations of civilian abuse in its Gaza war, asserting that an overwhelming majority of its soldiers acted honorably and that the account of a killing of a woman and her two children appears to be an urban myth spread by troops who did not witness it.

Officers are stepping forward, some at the urging of the top command, others on their own, offering numerous accounts of having held their fire out of concern for civilians, helping Palestinians in need and punishing improper soldier behavior.

“I’m not saying that nothing bad happened,” Bentzi Gruber, a colonel in the reserves and deputy commander of the armored division, said in an interview. “I heard about cases where people shot where they shouldn’t have shot and destroyed houses where they shouldn’t have destroyed houses. But the proportion and effort and directions we gave to our soldiers were entirely in the opposite direction.”

The accusations caused a furor here and abroad because they came on top of others that the civilian death toll was high and that soldiers took an unusually aggressive approach in Gaza.

The accounts that have received the most attention came from a taped conversation of Gaza veterans at a pre-military course. The soldiers there told of a sniper killing a woman and her two children walking in a no-go zone and of another case in which an elderly woman was shot dead for approaching a commandeered house.

The army’s advocate general has opened an investigation and has not yet issued a report. But officers familiar with the investigation say that those who spoke of the killing of the mother and her children did not witness it and that it almost certainly did not occur. Warning shots were fired near the family but not at it, the officers said, and a rumor spread among the troops of an improper shooting.

The second killing may also not have occurred, they said, although a similar event was recounted by Col. Herzl Halevy in January in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

“We saw a woman coming toward us,” he said then. “We shouted at her. We warned her a number of times not to get closer. We made hand motions. She did not stop. We shot her. When we examined her body, we did not find a bomb belt.”

Israeli commanders defend such actions because they say they confronted armed women in Gaza and Hamas gunmen dressed as women and in other guises, like doctors.

“We had a woman run at us with a grenade in one hand and the Koran in the other,” Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, head of the military’s education corps, said in an interview in which he showed ethics kits distributed to commanders. “What we know till now is that there was no systematic moral failure. There were not more than a few — a very few — events still being investigated.”

Col. Roi Elkabets, commander of an armored brigade, told of occasions when fire was held. His troops saw “a woman, about 60 years old, walking with a white flag and six to eight children behind her, and behind them was a Hamas fighter with his gun.

“We did not shoot him.”

Almost everything about the Gaza operation has caused controversy: how many Palestinians were killed and what percentage were civilians, whether the rise in the number of religious Israeli soldiers has led to zealotry, and whether the use of enormous military force was a legitimate response to years of Hamas rocket fire on Israeli civilians.

The dispute is a proxy for a debate — both here and abroad — over whether Israel should shift its policy toward the Palestinians and whether Hamas should be seen more as a resistance movement or as a tool of Iranian ambition and terror.

Those who wish to press for an end to the occupation and settlement of the West Bank and to the boycott of Gaza so as to create a Palestinian state — either out of sympathy with Israel or contempt for it — have focused on the accounts of abuses. Those who think such moves would endanger Israel have dismissed them as a blood libel.

The debate began within hours of Israel’s attack in late December and continues daily. This week, Human Rights Watch issued a report citing six cases of improper use of white phosphorus by Israel and calling them evidence of war crimes. Israel has not completed its own study.

On Thursday, the military issued its first casualty count, saying 1,166 people were killed. Of those, it said 295 were noncombatants, 709 were what it called Hamas terror operatives and 162 were men whose affiliations remained unidentified.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza says that the number of dead is 1,417, of whom 926 were civilians and 236 combatants.

Both the military and the center have lists of names. The Israelis include some 250 policemen under “Hamas terror operatives.” The Palestinian center considers them noncombatants. The Israeli military argues that about 400 people die from natural causes in Gaza every month, a possible cause for the gap in the two counts.

Some soldiers have complained about the role of military rabbis and religious soldiers, saying that they have taken to their roles with the fervor of holy warriors, leading to more violence.

Stuart Cohen, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University who is religiously observant, says that the army has indeed grown more violent toward civilians in the past 25 years, partly because the Palestinians have. But he says it has nothing to do with the increase of religious soldiers.

For 12 years he has been studying the correspondence between religious soldiers and rabbis on combat morality, and overwhelmingly the rabbis have urged restraint. While he cannot measure how that advice has been put into practice, he suspects it has had a real effect. And other religious soldiers said their behavior in Gaza was especially respectful.

“When we entered houses, we actually cleaned up the place,” said Yishai Goldflam, 32, a religiously observant film student in Jerusalem whose open letter to the Palestinian owners of the house he occupied for some days was published in the newspaper Maariv. “There are always idiots who do immoral things. But they don’t represent the majority. I remember once when a soldier wanted to take a Coke from a store, and he was stopped by his fellow soldiers because it was the wrong thing to do.”

Yaron Ezrahi, a political theorist who lectures military commanders, said they rejected the notion of willful abuse by their troops. But the commanders say more civilians died than should have and attribute it to two factors: faulty intelligence that led to attacking the wrong houses, and a failure, after warning Palestinians to leave, to provide safe escape routes.

Israel lost only a handful of men and almost no equipment, which many attribute to its overwhelming use of force.

But the top commanders say their consciences are clean.

“The question is, did we do all we could do to avoid hitting civilians?” said General Shermeister, the chief education officer. “My answer is yes.”
25263  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BO's surge on: March 28, 2009, 07:28:27 AM
Third post of the day

President Obama unveiled his strategy for the war in Afghanistan yesterday, and there is much to like in it. Our main question -- and, we suspect, the world's -- is whether the new Commander in Chief is really prepared to devote the resources and political capital that his plan will need to succeed.

Such fortitude is essential because this new Afghan-Pakistan campaign will be both long and expensive. The President's claim yesterday that "the situation is increasingly perilous" overstates the immediate trouble; Afghanistan has nowhere near the level of violence that consumed Iraq in 2006 before President Bush's surge. But denying the "Afpak" border as a safe haven for al Qaeda and the worst Taliban elements will tax the patience of an already war-weary American public.

All the more so because Mr. Obama himself has spent so much time questioning America's antiterrorist mission abroad. While he tried, during the campaign, to distinguish Iraq (Bush's war) from Afghanistan (the good war), the truth is that they are both exercises in counterinsurgency and nation building. The irony is that both tasks are arguably easier in Iraq, because of its denser population and history of a stronger central government.

Mr. Obama barely mentioned foreign policy in his recent address to Congress. And with his vast domestic agenda, the temptation of political adviser David Axelrod will be to have Mr. Obama give this one speech and drop the subject. That is a good way to discover a year from now that he has opponents emerging on both his left and right in Congress.

The left is already restless, with Les Gelb now writing that "We can't defeat the Taliban" and we should thus gradually withdraw. That is the same Les Gelb who was Vice President Joe Biden's strategic partner in writing in 2006 that the surge was doomed and Iraq had to be partitioned. Mr. Biden was reportedly an internal skeptic about Mr. Obama's new strategy.

On the right, many Republicans will also begin to question the mission, much as Tom DeLay opposed Bill Clinton on the Balkans. Mr. Obama could help here if he could manage to bring himself to speak well of our success in Iraq. The Baghdad surge shows the U.S. can learn from its mistakes and prevail in a long counterinsurgency, and a President should celebrate that achievement.

Yet Mr. Obama kept falling back yesterday on his campaign trope that Afghanistan would be going well now if not for the detour in Iraq. It's more accurate to say that Afghanistan got markedly worse after Pakistan's government cut its 2006 deal in Waziristan that created a Taliban sanctuary. Mr. Obama is not going to sustain GOP support by continuing to campaign against George W. Bush.

For all of those political caveats, we believe the war is winnable. And Mr. Obama's strategy takes some important steps. The most significant is to reclaim the battle from NATO, which never really wanted the job. The U.S. will create a new command in Southern Afghanistan, where U.S. and Afghan troops will apply the lessons of Iraq. The irony here is that Mr. Obama is asserting U.S. primacy from the failing "multilateralism" of the Bush Administration, which made the mistake of assuming Europeans really believed in the fight. In the end, as usual, the 60,000 or so Yanks will have to do the bloodiest fighting and the Germans can man the supply lines out of harm's way.

Another step forward is the commitment of 4,000 more GIs to train and expand the Afghan army to 134,000 troops by 2011. We agree with strategists who say the ultimate goal should be 250,000 or more -- making the army a major employer and source of national unity. But Mr. Obama is right to say that Afghans will eventually have to learn to defend their own country.

Mr. Obama made much yesterday of an allegedly new willingness to engage elements of the Taliban. This is hardly as revolutionary as it sounds, since U.S. troops did something similar in Anbar Province in Iraq. It makes sense to try to peel away tribal chiefs and others who may be "Taliban" only because they are paid to be, or afraid not to be. But over time this will only work if the U.S. and Afghans can persuade these Taliban-for-hire that the allies can provide security against al Qaeda and the real Taliban.

Also mark us down as skeptics about his new call for "benchmarks" for the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments. As we learned in Iraq, benchmarks can measure the wrong things amid larger progress, and they also make it easier for Congress to find fault. No doubt both Kabul and Islamabad can do more as allies, but the best way to ensure that is with a broad, sustained U.S. commitment, not with what sound like orders from Washington.

Perhaps the best news in yesterday's speech is that Mr. Obama has now taken ownership of this war. One lesson he can learn from Iraq is that -- as hard as the fighting may get and as vociferous as the opposition at home may become -- Mr. Obama now has an obligation to stay the course until our soldiers can return home in victory and with honor.

25264  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT Graveyard Myths on: March 28, 2009, 07:26:33 AM
Second post of the day

Well, now that BO is president, the NYT prints things like this.  Anyway, posted here as part of my ongoing search for a sense of our strategy in Afg.

Graveyard Myths
Published: March 28, 2009

AS President Obama orders an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, he faces growing skepticism over the United States’ prospects there. Critics of the troop buildup often point out that Afghanistan has long been the “graveyard of empires.” In 1842, the British lost a nasty war that ended when fierce tribesmen notoriously destroyed an army of thousands retreating from Kabul. And, of course, the Soviets spent almost a decade waging war in Afghanistan, only to give up ignominiously in 1989.

But in fact, these are only two isolated examples. Since Alexander the Great, plenty of conquerors have subdued Afghanistan. In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes ravaged the country’s two major cities. And in 1504, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, easily took the throne in Kabul. Even the humiliation of 1842 did not last. Three and a half decades later, the British initiated a punitive invasion and ultimately won the second Anglo-Afghan war, which gave them the right to determine Afghanistan’s foreign policy.

The Soviet disaster of the 1980s, for its part, cannot be credited to the Afghans’ legendary fighting skills alone, as the mujahideen were kept afloat by billions of dollars worth of aid from the United States and Saudi Arabia and sophisticated American military hardware like anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, which ended the Soviets’ total air superiority.

In any case, today’s American-led intervention in Afghanistan can hardly be compared to the Soviet occupation. The Soviet Army employed a scorched-earth policy, killing more than a million Afghans, forcing some five million more to flee the country, and sowing land mines everywhere.

While the American military is killing too many Afghan civilians, in any given year the numbers are in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands. And even the most generous estimates of today’s Taliban insurgency suggest it is no more than 20,000 men. About 10 times as many Afghans fought against the Soviet occupation.

The Soviet experience in Afghanistan weighed heavily on the minds of Bush administration policymakers, who kept a “light footprint” lest Afghans rebuff American and allied soldiers as hated occupiers. But as it turned out, the Afghans were widely enthusiastic about being liberated from the Taliban. In an ABC/BBC poll conducted in 2005, a full four years after the fall of the Taliban, 8 in 10 Afghans expressed a favorable opinion of the United States — an extraordinary proportion in a Muslim nation — and the same number supported the American-led overthrow of the Taliban in their country.

And just last month, in a new poll by ABC and the BBC, 58 percent of Afghans named the Taliban as the greatest threat to their nation. Only 8 percent said it was the United States. And while only 47 percent of Afghans still had a favorable opinion of America, the Taliban fared far worse, with just 7 percent approval.

What Afghans want is for international forces to do what they should have been doing all along — provide them the security they need to get on with making a living. That means building up the Afghan Army and police, which are only about one-fourth the size of the security services in Iraq. This will not come cheap, but the cost of putting an Afghan soldier in the field is only one-seventieth that of sending an American. President Obama, who will travel to Europe for NATO’s 60th anniversary in early April, can ask those European countries that are reluctant to send additional troops to Afghanistan to instead contribute to a permanent fund to help pay for the expanded Afghan security services.

The United States should also focus on projects that will bring both security and economic benefits to Afghans. A key task is to secure the all-important road between Kabul and Kandahar, a once-pleasant freeway that has become a nightmarish gantlet of potential Taliban ambushes.

Afghanistan’s vast opium/heroin industry finances the Taliban and feeds rampant government corruption. The American Drug Enforcement Administration should make public the names of the top Afghan drug lords, including government officials, so that they can no longer act with impunity. And because Afghanistan’s court system is still incapable of handling major drug cases, Kabul should sign a treaty with Washington that would allow key heroin traffickers to be tried in the United States.

Measures like these would help return Afghanistan to something like the state it was before the Soviets invaded in 1979: a relatively peaceful country slowly building itself into something more than a purely agricultural economy.

Afghanistan is no longer the graveyard of any empire. Rather, it just might become the model of a somewhat stable Central Asian state.

Peter Bergen is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of “The Osama bin Laden I Know.”
25265  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: Puns on: March 28, 2009, 07:21:28 AM
Not that I agree very much with the author's hostility to punning, but I post this anyway.

Pun for the Ages
Published: March 28, 2009

THE inglorious pun! Dryden called it the “lowest and most groveling kind of wit.” To Ambrose Bierce it was a “form of wit to which wise men stoop and fools aspire.” Universal experience confirms the adage that puns don’t make us laugh, but groan. It is said that Caligula ordered an actor to be roasted alive for a bad pun. (Some believe he was inclined to extremes.)

Addison defined the pun as a “conceit arising from the use of two words that agree in the sound, but differ in the sense.” “Energizer Bunny Arrested! Charged with Battery.” No laugh? Q.E.D.

Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping. The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies. Odds are that a restaurant with a punning name — Snacks Fifth Avenue, General Custard’s Last Stand — hasn’t acquired its first Michelin star.

How have the great comic writers regarded puns? Jane Austen puns once, in “Mansfield Park,” and it serves to impeach the moral character of the offender. Mark Twain’s first book, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” enamored reviewers with its punlessness. There are “no contortions of words,” said a London paper. “His fun is entirely dependent upon the inherent humor in his writings.” The 20th century’s finest humorist, P. G. Wodehouse, doesn’t use them.

Shakespeare, however, does. Many are bawdy: puns operate, after all, on double entendre. Yet the poet is guilty less of punning than wordplay, which Elizabethan taste considered more a sign of literary refinement than humor; hence “puns” in seemingly inappropriate places, like a dying Mercutio’s “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

The true punster’s mind cycles through homophones in search of a quip the way small children delight in rhymes or experiment babblingly with language. Accordingly, the least intolerable puns are those that avoid the pun’s essential puerility. Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin, was a specialist. He could effortlessly execute the double pun: Noah’s Ark was made of gopher-wood, he would say, but Joan of Arc was maid of Orleans. Some Whately-isms are so complex that they nearly amount to honest jokes: “Why can a man never starve in the Great Desert? Because he can eat the sand which is there. But what brought the sandwiches there? Why, Noah sent Ham, and his descendants mustered and bred.”

Whately shows us that it is the punner himself who gives his art a bad name, by so frequently reaching for the obvious. Nothing vexes so much as a pun on a name, for instance. Yet even these can rise to wit if turned with finesse. Jean Harlow, the platinum-blond star of the 1930s, on being introduced to Lady Margot Asquith, mispronounced her given name to rhyme with “rot.” “My dear, the ‘t’ is silent,” said Asquith, “as in Harlow.” The writer Andrew Lang asked his friend Israel Zangwill if he would take a stand on an issue. Zangwill wrote back: “If you, Lang, will, I. Zangwill.”

Why do puns offend? Charles Lamb, a notorious punster, explained that the pun is “a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.” Surely puns silence conversation before they animate it. Some stricken with pun-lust sink so far into their infirmity that their minds become trained to lie in wait for words on which to work their wickedness. They are the scourge of dinner tables and the despised prolongers of office meetings, some letting fly as instinctively as dogs bark and frogs croak, no longer concerned even with drawing applause; they simply can’t help themselves.

I asked a friend of mine, an inveterate punster, whether he punned while on dates. “Sure, I pun on dates,” he replied. “On prunes and figs, too.” And well he might, considering the similitude between puns and fruit flies, both of which die practically the instant they are born, but not before breeding others.

But low as puns may be, they have been known to appeal to the loftiest minds. Samuel Johnson hated puns, but his friend Edmund Burke, whose intellectual powers daunted even Johnson, was notorious for pun-making (e.g., “What is [m]ajest[y], when stripped of its externals, but a jest?”) Still, Burke was conscious of his sin, revealed in an incident recorded in a friend’s journal: “Lord Mulgrave called to Burke one day at our table with a ‘so, Burke, you riot in puns now Johnson’s away.’ This made good sport for my lord and for the company, but Burke changed color and looked like Death.”

With Burkean contrition, I confess that in a Thai restaurant not long ago, following my company’s attempt to order three curry dishes, I suggested that we not get “curried away.” Punning, it seems, like every non-deadly sin, is easier to excuse than to resist.

Joseph Tartakovsky is a student at Fordham Law School.
25266  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Class at Inosanto Academy on: March 28, 2009, 12:34:05 AM
March 30th?

I am teaching privates on that day and presume the IAMA has its usual schedule.
25267  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: March 28, 2009, 12:21:44 AM
How old is he?
25268  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US troops into Pak? on: March 28, 2009, 12:18:37 AM
US laying ground for troops in Pak?
25269  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Class at Inosanto Academy on: March 27, 2009, 10:06:16 PM
Looking forward to tomorrow  cool
25270  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Murphy's hat on: March 27, 2009, 04:00:37 PM
Murphy At Mass

Murphy showed up at Mass one Sunday and the priest almost fell down when he saw him. Murphy had never been seen in church in his life.

After Mass, the priest caught up with Murphy and said, "Murphy, I am so glad ya decided to come to Mass, what made ya come?"

Murphy said, "I got to be honest with you Father, a while back, I misplaced me hat and I really, really love that hat. I know that McGlynn had a hat just like me hat, and I knew that McGlynn came to church every Sunday. I also knew that McGlynn had to take off his hat during Mass and figured he would leave it in the back of church. So, I was going to leave after Communion and steal McGlynn's hat."

The priest said, "Well, Murphy, I notice that ya didn't steal McGlynn's hat. What changed your mind?"

Murphy said, "Well, after I heard your sermon on the 10 Commandments, I decided that I didn't need to steal McGlynn's hat after all"

The priest gave Murphy a big smile and said; "After I talked about 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' ya decided you would rather do without your hat than burn in Hell, right?"

Murphy slowly shook his head and said, "No, Father, after ya talked about 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery' I remembered where I left me hat."
25271  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan on: March 27, 2009, 12:49:30 PM
27 March 2009

President Obama has just spoken on AfPak.  I closed my eyes and listened closely to his words, coming via the BBC from the other side of the world.

The President's words were disappointing.  He talked about our goal to reach a force level of 134,000 Afghan soldiers and 82,000 police by 2011.  This is not even in the neighborhood of being enough.  Further, the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire.  One can only expect that sometime in 2010, the President will again be forced to announce another increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

If there were not people like Gates and Petraeus up there, my gut would say to pull out.  It is only my faith in the military, and what I saw them accomplish against heavy odds in Iraq, that gives me hope.

Others would disagree with me.  A well placed and very experienced British officer just emailed me his impressions, to whit:

“An impressive statement of intent – I particularly liked the bits about bearing down on Afghan corruption and corruption in how USAID money is spent.  The speech inspires confidence and, as he is not Bush, it could encourage others to come to the party in a more meaningful way.

I don’t mean any offence about Bush as I for one see history judging him more favorably than contemporary commentators it’s just that the Europeans might follow Obama in a way that they never would Bush.”

And so my views clearly are not held by everyone.  Most British and American officers – especially American – have been far more positive about Afghanistan than I have been.  My confidence in them is great, and before publishing this I called London to talk about this.  Clearly there is more confidence coming from the British Army than meets the public eye.

25272  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: March 27, 2009, 12:36:05 PM
Sorry for my failed effort at laconic wit  smiley

In a free market, who gets something is determined by price.
25273  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Iron Balls on: March 27, 2009, 10:47:40 AM
Iron balls!
25274  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives/the American Creed on: March 27, 2009, 10:41:47 AM
I too like Newt a lot.

One of my deep concerns is that the Big Lie that "the free market caused it" is becoming accepted fact.
25275  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: March 27, 2009, 10:39:34 AM
"That said we will need to ration care anyway at some point."

The proper mechanism is called "price". grin
25276  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The 10th Amendment; States' Rebellion pending on: March 27, 2009, 10:10:43 AM
States Rebellion Pending
By Walter E. Williams

Our Colonial ancestors petitioned and pleaded with King George III to get his boot off their necks. He ignored their pleas, and in 1776, they rightfully declared unilateral independence and went to war. Today it's the same story except Congress is the one usurping the rights of the people and the states, making King George's actions look mild in comparison. Our constitutional ignorance -- perhaps contempt, coupled with the fact that we've become a nation of wimps, sissies and supplicants -- has made us easy prey for Washington's tyrannical forces. But that might be changing a bit. There are rumblings of a long overdue re-emergence of Americans' characteristic spirit of rebellion.

Eight state legislatures have introduced resolutions declaring state sovereignty under the Ninth and 10th amendments to the U.S. Constitution; they include Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington. There's speculation that they will be joined by Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada, Maine and Pennsylvania.

You might ask, "Isn't the 10th Amendment that no-good states' rights amendment that Dixie governors, such as George Wallace and Orval Faubus, used to thwart school desegregation and black civil rights?" That's the kind of constitutional disrespect and ignorance that big-government proponents, whether they're liberals or conservatives, want you to have. The reason is that they want Washington to have total control over our lives. The Founders tried to limit that power with the 10th Amendment, which reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

New Hampshire's 10th Amendment resolution typifies others and, in part, reads: "That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General (federal) Government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a General Government for special purposes, delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." Put simply, these 10th Amendment resolutions insist that the states and their people are the masters and that Congress and the White House are the servants. Put yet another way, Washington is a creature of the states, not the other way around.

Congress and the White House will laugh off these state resolutions. State legislatures must take measures that put some teeth into their 10th Amendment resolutions. Congress will simply threaten a state, for example, with a cutoff of highway construction funds if it doesn't obey a congressional mandate, such as those that require seat belt laws or that lower the legal blood-alcohol level to .08 for drivers. States might take a lead explored by Colorado.

In 1994, the Colorado Legislature passed a 10th Amendment resolution and later introduced a bill titled "State Sovereignty Act." Had the State Sovereignty Act passed both houses of the legislature, it would have required all people liable for any federal tax that's a component of the highway users fund, such as a gasoline tax, to remit those taxes directly to the Colorado Department of Revenue. The money would have been deposited in an escrow account called the "Federal Tax Fund" and remitted monthly to the IRS, along with a list of payees and respective amounts paid. If Congress imposed sanctions on Colorado for failure to obey an unconstitutional mandate and penalized the state by withholding funds due, say $5 million for highway construction, the State Sovereignty Act would have prohibited the state treasurer from remitting any funds in the escrow account to the IRS. Instead, Colorado would have imposed a $5 million surcharge on the Federal Tax Fund account to continue the highway construction.

The eight state legislatures that have enacted 10th Amendment resolutions deserve our praise, but their next step is to give them teeth.

25277  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: March 27, 2009, 08:48:04 AM
Grateful for this thread and its daily reminder to have my mind right.
25278  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for Reps/Conservatives/the American Creed on: March 27, 2009, 08:38:59 AM
At the moment   wink I disagree.

I think we are in serious danger of cultural transmission of the American Creed crossing a tipping point from which we may never recover.     Reagan was a clarion voice in the wilderness for many, many years before he was elected.  People trusted that he believed what he said because of this.
25279  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IBD: Surprising Facts on: March 27, 2009, 08:33:23 AM
second post

How U.S. Health Care Really Stacks Up
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, March 26, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Facts: A movie has been made solely to criticize it. The left treats it as if it's an invader that must be repelled. Most Americans, however, are satisfied with this object of so much hate — America's health care industry.


Read More: Health Care


Manipulative filmmaker Michael Moore says "we have the worst health care in the Western world" and has offered up Cuba as a paradigm for the U.S. to follow.

Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, who was nearly named the administration's health and human services secretary, says the "flaws in our health care system are pervasive and corrosive."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic presidential candidate, called the current health care market "predatory capitalism." Some Democrats go so far as to say the system is racist.

The kindest thing most Democrats will say about health care in the U.S. is that it's broken. Their talking points to back up the claim revolve around costs, America's low position (37th) in World Health Organization rankings and the number of uninsured.

The last is a useless measure, since only a small portion of the uninsured are chronically without coverage. So are the WHO rankings, which can't be trusted because of disparities in how countries compile statistics, demographic and cultural differences, and the WHO's leftist bias.

Which leaves us with the issue of costs.

Yes, with $2.5 trillion expected to be spent this year, health care in the U.S. is more expensive than in any other country, including Great Britain and Canada, whose nationalized, universal care systems are held up as models .

But what we spend isn't thrown down a rathole. The National Center for Policy Analysis has published a study, "10 Surprising Facts About American Health Care," that shows how Americans get something for the extra dollars they lay out. To wit:

• "Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers." Breast cancer mortality: 52% higher in Germany and 88% higher in the United Kingdom than in the U.S. Prostate cancer mortality: 604% higher in the U.K., 457% higher in Norway. Colo-rectal cancer mortality: 40% higher among Britons.

• "Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians." Rates for breast cancer (9%), prostate cancer (184%) and colon cancer among men (10%) are higher than in the U.S.

• "Americans have better access to treatment of chronic diseases than patients in other developed countries." Roughly 56% of Americans who could benefit are taking statin drugs. Only 36% of the Dutch, 29% of the Swiss, 26% of Germans, 23% of Britons and 17% of Italians who could benefit receive them.

• "Americans have better access to preventive cancer screenings than Canadians." Nine of 10 middle-aged American women have had a mammogram; 72% of Canadian women have. Almost every American woman (96%) has had a pap smear; fewer than 90% of Canadian women have. Roughly 54% of American men have had a prostate cancer test; fewer than one in six Canadian men have. Almost a third of Americans (30%) have had a colonoscopy; only 5% of Canadians have had the procedure.

• "Lower-income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians." Nearly 12% of U.S. seniors with below-median incomes self-report being in "excellent" health, while 5.8% of Canadian seniors say the same thing.

• "Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the United Kingdom." Canadians and Britons wait about twice as long, sometimes more than a year, to see a specialist, have elective surgery or get radiation treatment.

• "People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed." More than seven in 10 Germans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Britons say their health systems need either "fundamental change" or "complete rebuilding."

• "Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians." More than half (51.3%) of Americans are very satisfied with their health care services, while 41.5% of Canadians hold the same view of their system.

• "Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K." There are 34 CT scanners per million Americans. There are 12 per million in Canada and eight per million in Britain. The U.S. has nearly 27 MRI machines per million. Britain and Canada have 6 per million.

• "Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations." The top five U.S. hospitals conduct more clinical trials than all the hospitals in any other single developed nation; the most important recent medical innovations were developed here.

Can the nationalized, universal systems in Britain, Canada or anywhere else improve on this? No, but we can ruin our health care by following the policies of countries where medical treatment is far below the American standard.

25280  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: March 27, 2009, 08:20:31 AM
Ummm , , , has "no care" actually been the case?
25281  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times on: March 27, 2009, 08:19:11 AM
Third post of the day

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan and for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban there and in Pakistan, officials said Thursday.

In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating a strategy used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod governments in the region to take more responsibility for quelling the insurgency and building lasting political institutions.

“The era of the blank check is over,” Mr. Obama told Congressional leaders at the White House, according to an account of the meeting provided on the condition of anonymity because it was a private session.

The new strategy, which Mr. Obama will formally announce Friday, will send 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security forces on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that he already ordered to Afghanistan shortly after taking office, administration and Congressional officials said. But for now, Mr. Obama has decided not to send additional combat forces, they said, although military commanders at one point had requested a total of 30,000 more American troops.

Although the administration is still developing the specific benchmarks for Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said they would be the most explicit demands ever presented to the governments in Kabul and Islamabad. In effect, Mr. Obama would be insisting that two fractured countries plagued by ancient tribal rivalries and modern geopolitical hostility find ways to work together and transform their societies.

American officials have repeatedly said that Afghanistan has to make more progress in fighting corruption, curbing the drug trade and sharing power with the regions, while they have insisted that Pakistan do more to cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban. Mr. Obama telephoned President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan on Thursday to share the main elements of the strategic review.

Setting benchmarks for Pakistan could be particularly difficult. For years, the United States has simply paid bills submitted by the Pakistani government for counterterrorism operations, even during truces when its military was not involved in counterterrorism. Pakistan has resisted linking its aid to specific performance criteria and officials acknowledged that developing those criteria could be problematic.

The key elements of Mr. Obama’s plan, with its more robust combat force, its emphasis on training, and its far-reaching goals, foreshadow an ambitious but risky and costly attempt to unify and stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Obama is unveiling his approach at a time when the conflict is worsening, the lives of the people are not visibly improving, and the intervention by American-led foreign powers is increasingly resented.

The goals that Mr. Obama has settled on may be elusive and, according to some critics, even naïve. Among other things, officials said he planned to recast the Afghan war as a regional issue involving not only Pakistan but also India, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Central Asian states.

His plan envisions persuading Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on its longstanding enemy, India, so it can concentrate more on battling insurgents in its lawless tribal regions. That goal may be especially hard to achieve given more than a half century of enmity — including a nuclear arms race — between Pakistan and India.

All told, the 21,000 additional American troops that Mr. Obama will have authorized almost precisely matches the original number of additional troops that President George W. Bush sent to Iraq two years ago, bringing the overall American deployment in Afghanistan to about 60,000. But Mr. Obama avoids calling it a “surge” and resisted sending the full reinforcements initially sought by commanders.

Instead, Mr. Obama chose to re-evaluate troop levels at a series of specific moments over the next year, officials said. Approaching the issue in increments may be easier to explain to members of Mr. Obama’s own party who fear he is getting the country as entangled in Afghanistan as Mr. Bush did in Iraq.

The officials said Mr. Obama planned to frame the American commitment as a counterterrorism mission aimed at denying havens for Al Qaeda, with three main goals — training Afghan security forces, supporting the weak central government in Kabul and securing the population. While the new strategy will call for expanding Afghan security forces more rapidly, it will not explicitly endorse the request from American commanders to increase the national police and army to 400,000.

At the same time, Mr. Obama warned Congressional leaders that he would need more than the $50 billion in his budget plan for military operations and development efforts. Asked by lawmakers about the prospect of reconciliation with moderate members of the Taliban, officials said Mr. Obama replied that he wanted to sift out hard-core radicals from those who were fighting simply to earn money.

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, emerged from a briefing with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to declare that in his judgment the administration’s review “was right on track.” He said the new strategy would send a significant number of additional trainers to work with the Afghan National Army and police, part of an overall strategy to “transfer responsibilities to the Afghans, both militarily and in terms of economic development.”

Mr. Levin, who was part of a bipartisan group that pressed Mr. Bush to set benchmarks for Iraq two years ago, embraced the idea of doing the same again for Afghanistan. “There is a determination to set some benchmarks for Afghanistan, and that will be incredibly important,” Mr. Levin said. “We haven’t had them in Afghanistan.”

Republicans emerging from briefings at the White House and on Capitol Hill withheld comment. Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said in a statement that he “had a constructive meeting at the White House” and that he would “reserve public comment until the president makes his formal announcement.”

Dennis C. Blair, the administration’s director of national intelligence, said the United States still lacked intelligence about the power structures inside the country and other basic information necessary for a counterinsurgency campaign. “We know a heck of a lot more about Iraq on a granular level than we know about Afghanistan,” he said.

Speaking with reporters, Mr. Blair estimated that up to three quarters of the Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan could be peeled away from the Taliban’s leadership, most of whom are hiding in sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.
25282  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYTimes: David Brooks on: March 27, 2009, 08:14:40 AM
A surprising article from a NYTimes columnist who usually is quite the useful idiot:

Op-Ed Columnist
The Winnable War
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMy SpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy DAVID BROOKS
Published: March 26, 2009
Khyber Pass, Afghanistan

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I came to Afghanistan skeptical of American efforts to transform this country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, least-educated and most-corrupt nations on earth. It is an infinitely complex and fractured society. It has powerful enemies in Pakistan, Iran and the drug networks working hard to foment chaos. The ground is littered with the ruins of great powers that tried to change this place.

Moreover, we simply do not know how to modernize nations. Western aid workers seem to spend most of their time drawing up flow charts for each other. They’re so worried about their inspectors general that they can’t really immerse themselves in the messy world of local reality. They insist on making most of the spending decisions themselves so the “recipients” of their largess end up passive, dependent and resentful.

Every element of my skepticism was reinforced during a six-day tour of the country. Yet the people who work here make an overwhelming case that Afghanistan can become a functional, terror-fighting society and that it is worth sending our sons and daughters into danger to achieve this.

In the first place, the Afghan people want what we want. They are, as Lord Byron put it, one of the few people in the region without an inferiority complex. They think they did us a big favor by destroying the Soviet Union and we repaid them with abandonment. They think we owe them all this.

That makes relations between Afghans and foreigners relatively straightforward. Most military leaders here prefer working with the Afghans to the Iraqis. The Afghans are warm and welcoming. They detest the insurgents and root for American success. “The Afghans have treated you as friends, allies and liberators from the very beginning,” says Afghanistan’s defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Second, we’re already well through the screwing-up phase of our operation. At first, the Western nations underestimated the insurgency. They tried to centralize power in Kabul. They tried to fight a hodgepodge, multilateral war.

Those and other errors have been exposed, and coalition forces are learning. When you interview impressive leaders here, like Brig. Gen. John Nicholson of Regional Command South, Col. John Agoglia of the Counterinsurgency Training Center and Chris Alexander of the U.N., you see how relentless they are at criticizing their own operations. Thanks to people like that, the coalition will stumble toward success, having tried the alternatives.

Third, we’ve got our priorities right. Armies love killing bad guys. Aid agencies love building schools. But the most important part of any aid effort is governance and law and order. It’s reforming the police, improving the courts, training local civil servants and building prisons.

In Afghanistan, every Western agency is finally focused on this issue, from a Canadian reconstruction camp in Kandahar to the top U.S. general, David McKiernan.

Fourth, the quality of Afghan leadership is improving. This is a relative thing. President Hamid Karzai is detested by much of the U.S. military. Some provincial governors are drug dealers on the side. But as the U.N.’s Kai Eide told the Security Council, “The Afghan government is today better and more competent than ever before.” Reformers now lead the most important ministries and competent governors run key provinces.

Fifth, the U.S. is finally taking this war seriously. Up until now, insurgents have had free rein in vast areas of southern Afghanistan. The infusion of 17,000 more U.S. troops will change that. The Obama administration also promises a civilian surge to balance the military push.

Sixth, Pakistan is finally on the agenda. For the past few years, the U.S. has let Pakistan get away with murder. The insurgents train, organize and get support from there. “It’s very hard to deal with a cross-border insurgency on only one side of the border,” says Mr. Alexander of the U.N. The Obama strategic review recognizes this.

Finally, it is simply wrong to say that Afghanistan is a hopeless 14th-century basket case. This country had decent institutions before the Communist takeover. It hasn’t fallen into chaos, the way Iraq did, because it has a culture of communal discussion and a respect for village elders. The Afghans have embraced the democratic process with enthusiasm.

I finish this trip still skeptical but also infected by the optimism of the truly impressive people who are working here. And one other thing:

After the trauma in Iraq, it would have been easy for the U.S. to withdraw into exhaustion and realism. Instead, President Obama is doubling down on the very principles that some dismiss as neocon fantasy: the idea that this nation has the capacity to use military and civilian power to promote democracy, nurture civil society and rebuild failed states.

Foreign policy experts can promote one doctrine or another, but this energetic and ambitious response — amid economic crisis and war weariness — says something profound about America’s DNA.
25283  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / IBD: Imagine on: March 27, 2009, 08:01:13 AM
Imagine If A Republican Were President
By LARRY ELDER | Posted Thursday, March 26, 2009 4:20 PM PT

President Barack Obama, in an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, made a self-deprecating but ill-advised joke, in which he referred to the Special Olympics. He quickly apologized. Crisis averted. Fair enough.

But the real story is the media double standard: Imagine the uproar if a President John McCain made the Special Olympics comment.

For that matter, imagine if a President McCain mistook a White House window for a door, his secretary of Treasury had not paid taxes, he granted two dozen waivers to his no-lobbyists-in-government rule and he had promised bipartisanship but got only three across-the-aisle votes for his "stimulus" package.

Imagine if President McCain, after promising a "clean break" from his predecessor, retained "extraordinary rendition," the FISA program, the option of wiretapping without warrants and the option of using "enhanced interrogation techniques.

Or if he promised to close Gitmo, then said it would take as long as a year, but then our European allies refused to take in "detainees" from their own countries.

Or if he reneged on or fudged his promise to have all combat troops out of Iraq within "16 months of his presidency."

Or if he adopted for Afghanistan the same counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq, which, as a candidate, he'd criticized for not "achieving its objectives.

Or if he used the same "state secrets" argument as did the Bush administration in the same court case, to avoid turning over certain national security documents in an ACLU-brought case on behalf of an alleged torture victim/detainee.

Imagine if — on the campaign trail — a future President McCain had declared a nuclear-armed Iran "unacceptable" but agreed to engage in negotiations without preconditions, if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the new president he must apologize for 60 years of anti-Iranian activity, if President McCain then reached out to the Iranians in a televised address and, in response, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who holds ultimate authority in Iran — told him to a) drop animosity and criticism, b) end sanctions, c) unfreeze assets, and d) end "unconditional support" for Israel.

Imagine if President McCain acted "outraged" — as though he, his secretary of Treasury and a party leader (Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.) had not previously known about and approved the controversial AIG bonuses and that executives at Freddie and Fannie, failed institutions now taken over by government, were getting bonuses, too.

Or if, during this recession and after criticizing taxpayer-funded corporate retreats, President McCain and First Lady Cindy McCain threw taxpayer-funded White House parties nearly every night, hiring entertainers such as Stevie Wonder and the Jonas Brothers.

Imagine if, as sitting president, McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and cracked jokes, while — as the media would have written — "millions of Americans have lost their homes and their jobs with millions afraid they're next, yada, blah, etc."

Or if he tripled the projected annual deficit and intended, within a short period, to double the national debt. Or if he promised to "create or save" an ever-changing number of jobs — never offering a yardstick to define a "saved job."

Imagine that McCain's vice president made a number of gaffes, including not knowing the "recovery" Web site despite going on national television to promote it and revealing on television — through his wife — that he'd had the option of a job as secretary of State or VP — thus showing the administration's extreme disrespect toward the current secretary of state.

Imagine if, of the 18 important sub-Cabinet positions in the Treasury Department, none was filled. Or if, after promising "transparency," McCain wouldn't say where the TARP money had gone and who had gotten it. Or after receiving bailout money, the largest 20 financial institution recipients actually reduced lending — the opposite intent of the program.

Or if after saying that he wasn't a "socialist," McCain defended himself by asserting that "it wasn't on my watch" that we'd bought shares of banks — but omitted that, as senator, he'd supported and voted for it.

Or if he constantly said he'd "inherited" the deficit despite — as a senator — voting for TARP and other programs that had wildly increased it.

Imagine if President McCain ungraciously treated Prime Minister Gordon Brown from the U.K. — our closest and oldest ally — and gave him cheap, tacky gifts apparently picked up from the White House gift shop and someplace like Wal-Mart.

Imagine if, despite a reputation for "eloquence," President McCain relied on teleprompters for even the most minor of statements, verbally stumbling and flailing when the teleprompters malfunctioned.

Or if he broke protocol and tradition by pre-picking and giving notice to the reporters to be called on in press conferences. Or if he admonished the out-of-power party by denouncing a popular talk show host and imploring the opposite party to refuse to listen to him.

Imagine if the media kept referring to him as "popular" when his poll numbers were virtually identical to those of George W. Bush at the 50-day mark in their respective presidencies.

Or if his chief of staff, in a newspaper article about his achievements as a House member, said in front of a reporter that the opposition party could "go f*** themselves."

On the other hand, Cleveland State beat Wake Forest.
25284  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran recalibrates its strategy for Iraq on: March 27, 2009, 07:49:57 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Iran Recalibrates Its Strategy For Iraq
March 25, 2009
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani met for two hours Wednesday with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s foremost Shiite religious leader, in An Najaf, a holy city in southern Iraq. Earlier this month, Iranian Assembly of Experts Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani led a 105-person delegation to Iraq, where he too met with al-Sistani, Iraq’s three other grand ayatollahs, its president, prime minister and other politicians.

Larijani and Rafsanjani are two of Iran’s most powerful political figures. Both are part of the pragmatic conservative camp and are bitter rivals of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is seeking re-election in June. Larijani and Rafsanjani both view Ahmadinejad as a reckless leader, and they often coordinate with each other and with their allies to cast him in a negative light. And though al-Sistani welcomed Larijani and Rafsanjani to An Najaf, STRATFOR is told that he refused to host Ahmadinejad, whose radical views apparently do not sit well with the influential ayatollah in Iraq.

The Iranian visits to An Najaf go far beyond the petty political rivalries of Tehran. Regardless of whether a hard-liner like Ahmadinejad or a reformist like Mir Hossein Mousavi wins the election in June, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will still be the primary figure calling the shots as he mediates between the rival factions. In fact, the national election Iran really has to worry about is the one taking place next door in Iraq come December.

Iran’s primary goal is to consolidate Shiite influence in Iraq and use its foothold there for projecting Persian influence in the wider region. Iran’s “Plan A” for making this happen was to carve out a federal Shiite zone in Iraq’s oil-rich south. This would give Tehran a firmer grip on Iraq’s Shiite political factions, while also creating a tie to revenues from the oil fields. The main vehicle for the plan was the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), an allied Iraqi faction led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, which has devoted significant resources to pushing the idea of an autonomous zone in the south among Shiite voters.

So far, Iran’s Plan A has not progressed as hoped.

The ISCI took a beating in January’s provincial elections, while the more independent Shiite parties that prefer to keep their distance from Iran, like Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Hizb al-Dawah, Muqtada al-Sadr’s radical Shiite movement and the Fadhila Party, saw their popularity soar. In reviewing what went wrong, the ISCI recognized that its close affiliation with Iran, use of religious symbols in campaigning, false claims of al-Sistani’s backing and the push for the creation of a Shiite federal zone in southern Iraq all cost the party support. Ultimately, most Iraqi Shia favored more autonomous candidates, like al-Maliki, who have refused to tether themselves to Tehran when they have other, overarching political, security and economic interests to look after.

Those election results were a setback for Tehran and a sign of trouble to come for Iran’s ability to manage Iraqi Shiite politics. With the United States drawing down its military presence in Iraq and the Turks starting to get more involved in the Middle Eastern region, the time for Iran to consolidate its power in Iraq is now. The Iranians had known this would be no easy task, but they are realizing just how tough it will be now that the plan for an autonomous Shiite zone in Iraq seems unlikely to pan out soon. The best Iran can do between now and the Iraq’s election in December is to shore up support among the various Iraqi Shiite parties, stick to its usual tactics of playing Shiite rivalries against each other and use its commercial, intelligence and religious links to diversify its support base.

To get rid of obstacles like al-Maliki, the Iranians have a contingency plan that would call on their political allies, along with select Kurdish and Sunni groups, to try to unseat the prime minister through a soft coup. (Of course, it would still take a good deal of political maneuvering to get a no-confidence vote passed in Parliament.) Just as importantly, the Iranians must win the support of the Shiite clerical establishment in Iraq if they want their political allies to fare better in December polls. This explains the recent visits by powerbrokers like Rafsanjani and Larijani to An Najaf.

Iraq’s elections are still many months away, but the Iranians appear to be wasting no time in recalibrating their political strategy for Iraq. The fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 created an opening for Iranian expansion into the Arab world, but the United States — backed by the Arab powers and the Turks — remains the gatekeeper in Baghdad. Even as the United States winds down its war in Iraq, the Iranians will not be able to escape Washington’s shadow in their efforts to influence policy in Iraq. That is not to say the Iranians haven’t retained considerable influence to the west. But if Iran already is being forced to turn to Plan B, even as the United States is drawing down its military presence, any lingering ambitions to turn Iraq into an Iranian satellite are likely headed for disappointment.
25285  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin; Madison on: March 27, 2009, 07:40:11 AM
"The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy."

--Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations, circa 1774

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." --James Madison, Federalist No. 45
25286  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Our new strategy on: March 26, 2009, 11:45:53 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration will unveil a new Afghanistan strategy Friday that calls for devoting significant new resources to counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan and economic development in Pakistan, according to senior U.S. officials.

The administration now plans to send about 4,000 military trainers to Afghanistan -- in addition to the recently announced 17,000 additional troops -- and hundreds of diplomats and other civilian officials. The U.S. financial commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan will grow by billions of dollars per year under the plan.

Aid will be tied for the first time to performance benchmarks, though administration officials declined to specify what they were or how they'd be measured.

The Pentagon also is considering a new U.S. military command in southern Afghanistan that would assume responsibility for the American troops deploying there. The area is currently commanded by European NATO generals, and a new U.S. command would signal increasing American control over the war effort.

The moves are part of a broad push to prevent the stalemated Afghan war from destabilizing both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since taking office in January, President Barack Obama has announced plans to wind down military operations in Iraq next year and shift more military resources to Afghanistan. The president was to outline his approach in a White House address Friday morning.

President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan-Pakistan region means additional troops and civilian officials to counter narcotics trade in Southern Afghanistan and more financial aid for the economic development, says WSJ military correspondent Yochi Dreazen.
Senior U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about Afghanistan and Pakistan. The resurgent Taliban exert day-to-day control over many rural parts of Afghanistan and have pushed U.S. and Afghan military casualties to record highs. Militants in Pakistan have battled the Pakistani army to a draw in several regions of the country and carry out regular suicide bombings.

"There's a clear understanding that the status quo is not remotely sustainable in either country," said a U.S. official involved in the new approach.

The strategy will effectively focus U.S. efforts in Afghanistan on the narrow goal of defeating al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, a shift away from the Bush administration's broader nation-building efforts there.

Officials said the 4,000 American trainers, along with the additional diplomats and civilian officials, will be on the ground in Afghanistan by the fall.

The plan calls for expanded American diplomatic outreach inside and outside Afghanistan. U.S. officials will try to persuade moderate Taliban elements in Afghanistan to abandon violence and join the country's political process. American diplomats will also reach out to Tehran in the hope of winning Iranian assistance in stabilizing the country.

The new strategy is notable for the emphasis it places on Pakistan, which senior officials now see as critical to determining whether Afghanistan stabilizes or continues its downward spiral. The U.S. has given Pakistan more than $10 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S., mostly in military assistance. As part of its new strategy, the Obama administration plans to instead give Pakistan at least $1.5 billion in economic development aid in each of the next five years.

The economic aid will be accompanied by additional American strikes on militant targets inside Pakistan. U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials are drawing up a fresh list of terrorist targets for Predator drone strikes.

The policy changes come less than a week before Mr. Obama travels to France for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit devoted heavily to Afghanistan. Administration officials say Mr. Obama has come to accept that NATO nations are unlikely to contribute more combat troops to Afghanistan because of domestic political opposition.

Instead, White House officials say Mr. Obama will ask European nations to provide more military and police trainers to Afghanistan, as well as additional economic assistance to Pakistan.

The U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan has been a source of increasing friction within the military alliance. In response, Pentagon officials are firming up plans to redraw the balance of power between the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan, according to three military officers familiar with the deliberations.

The idea getting the most support calls for a U.S. military command in southern Afghanistan, the officers said. It would be led by a two-star American general.

Most of the American reinforcements are being deployed to the south of the country, a Taliban stronghold that is one of the largest opium-producing regions in the world. U.S. and NATO officials believe that the drug trade provides the Taliban with billions of dollars each year.

The Obama administration hopes to undercut the Taliban by launching a new counter-narcotics offensive in the Helmand River Valley and other parts of southern Afghanistan. The mission will be the primary focus of the U.S. reinforcements.

Under one facet of the plan, U.S. or Afghan troops will first offer Afghan farmers free wheat seed to replace their crops that produce opium. If the farmers refuse, U.S. or Afghan personnel will burn their fields, and then again offer them free replacement seeds. A senior U.S. military official described the approach as a "carrot, stick, carrot" effort.

—Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.
25287  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: MA shows what will happen on: March 26, 2009, 11:39:14 PM
Praise Mitt Romney. Three years ago, the former Massachusetts Governor had the inadvertent good sense to create the "universal" health-care program that the White House and Congress now want to inflict on the entire country. It is proving to be instructive, as Mr. Romney's foresight previews what President Obama, Max Baucus, Ted Kennedy and Pete Stark are cooking up for everyone else.

Mitt Romney.
In Massachusetts's latest crisis, Governor Deval Patrick and his Democratic colleagues are starting to move down the path that government health plans always follow when spending collides with reality -- i.e., price controls. As costs continue to rise, the inevitable results are coverage restrictions and waiting periods. It was only a matter of time.

They're trying to manage the huge costs of the subsidized middle-class insurance program that is gradually swallowing the state budget. The program provides low- or no-cost coverage to about 165,000 residents, or three-fifths of the newly insured, and is budgeted at $880 million for 2010, a 7.3% single-year increase that is likely to be optimistic. The state's overall costs on health programs have increased by 42% (!) since 2006.

Like gamblers doubling down on their losses, Democrats have already hiked the fines for people who don't obtain insurance under the "individual mandate," already increased business penalties, taxed insurers and hospitals, raised premiums, and pumped up the state tobacco levy. That's still not enough money.

So earlier this year, Mr. Patrick appointed a state commission to figure out how to control costs and preserve "this grand experiment." One objective is to change the incentives for preventative care and treatments for chronic disease, but everyone says that. It sometimes results in better health but always more spending. So-called "pay for performance" financing models, on the other hand, would do away with fee for service -- but they also tend to reward process, not the better results implied.

What are the alternatives? If health planners won't accept the prices set by the marketplace -- thus putting themselves out of work -- the only other choice is limiting care via politics, much as Canada and most of Europe do today. The Patrick panel is considering one option to "exclude coverage of services of low priority/low value." Another would "limit coverage to services that produce the highest value when considering both clinical effectiveness and cost." (Guess who would determine what is high or low value? Not patients or doctors.) Yet another is "a limitation on the total amount of money available for health care services," i.e., an overall spending cap.

The Institute for America's Future -- which is providing the intellectual horsepower (we use the term loosely) for reforms like those in Massachusetts -- argues that the cost overruns prove the state must cap how much insurers are allowed to charge consumers and regulate their profits. If Mr. Patrick doesn't get there first, that is. He reportedly told insurers and hospitals at a closed meeting this month that if they didn't take steps to hold down the rate of medical inflation, he would.

Even the single-payer cheerleaders at the New York Times have caught on to this rolling catastrophe. In a page-one story this month, the paper reported on the "expedient choice" that Mr. Romney and Democrats made to defer "until another day any serious effort to control the state's runaway health costs. . . . Those who led the 2006 effort said it would not have been feasible to enact universal coverage if the legislation had required heavy cost controls. The very stakeholders who were coaxed into the tent -- doctors, hospitals, insurers and consumer groups -- would probably have been driven into opposition by efforts to reduce their revenues and constrain their medical practices, they said."

Now they tell us. What really whipped along RomneyCare were claims that health care would be less expensive if everyone were covered. But reducing costs while increasing access are irreconcilable issues. Mr. Romney should have known better before signing on to this not-so-grand experiment, especially since the state's "free market" reforms that he boasts about have proven to be irrelevant when not fictional. Only 21,000 people have used the "connector" that was supposed to link individuals to private insurers.

Which brings us to Washington, where Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats are about to try their own Bay State bait and switch: First create vast new entitlements that can never be repealed, then later take the less popular step of rationing care when it's their last hope to save the federal fisc.

The consequences of that deception will be far worse than those in Massachusetts, however, given that prior to 2006 the state already had a far smaller percentage of its population uninsured than the national average. The real lesson of Massachusetts is that reform proponents won't tell Americans the truth about what "universal" coverage really means: Runaway costs followed by price controls and bureaucratic rationing.

25288  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere on: March 26, 2009, 07:48:10 PM
Amazing how the Crusades being a REACTION to Muslim conquest has been forgotten by so many , , ,
25289  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sgt Dockery earns Silver Star in Afg on: March 26, 2009, 06:19:58 PM
GI Earns Silver Star for Enemy Charge
 March 20, 2009
Army News Service

BAMBERG, Germany -- Staff Sgt. Lincoln V. Dockery said he didn't even see the grenade that sent shrapnel into his right forearm while charging insurgent fighters in Afghanistan's Korengal valley, Nov. 16, 2007.

"Someone yelled out, and I looked up and saw it coming. My hand went up and a hot, sharp feeling went through," he said.

Dockery, a combat engineer then assigned to a route clearance patrol with Company A of the 173rd Airborne Brigade's Special Troops Battalion, said he decided the injury wasn't major, and continued his charge up a hill into enemy fire and earning a Silver Star for valor. The medal and a Purple Heart were awarded here, March 11.

"I don't want to think about what would have happened had he not been there," said Capt. William Cromie, Dockery's platoon leader that day in Afghanistan. "It would have been a completely different day. While described in the infantry field manual, and taught at every schoolhouse in our career, if asked to charge into an enemy, uphill and within hand grenade range, most people only know yes as a book answer."

Dockery said the description of the mission for which the patrol departed from Forward Operating Base Asadabad in Kunar Province that day sounded like the description of their mission for any other day: "Out looking for bombs."

"My only concern was for the guys who worked under me," the 25-year-old Runnemede, N.J., native stated.

His concern became reality when the lead vehicle on the mission, a Husky mine-detecting vehicle, activated an improvised explosive device. Rocket-propelled grenades immediately started hitting the damaged vehicle and it became clear the convoy was in the middle of an ambush.

"Across [a nearby river] we could see RPGs and small-arms fire coming at us," Dockery said. "But when I looked over to the right, I could see that RPGs were hitting our side of the vehicle."

Dockery determined that another enemy fire team was hidden much closer, and that a quick decision had to be made.

"I realized the enemy was actually 20 meters from our position," he said. "If we didn't assault the hill they were attacking from, they would have taken us out. They couldn't miss with their weapons they were so close."

Dockery said his first move was to investigate the lead vehicle's driver, Pfc. Amador Magana, who could have been seriously injured or killed by the IED blast.

"I could see RPGs and rounds impacting all over the vehicle, and the front windshield was about to cave in from all the (AK-47) bullets," Dockery said.

Sneaking around from the other side and climbing up the back tire, he knocked on the window and saw that Magana was barely conscious, but not wounded. Magana managed to give a thumbs-up, he said, and soon stood up, manned his M-249 machine gun and returned fire on the enemy.

Dockery said he then made his decision to storm the hill.

The sergeant began making his way up the hill with one of his Soldiers, Spc. Corey Taylor, as their team members provided support from the convoy.

During the charge Dockery was injured, but he kept going, through hand grenade exchanges and incoming RPGs.

"The shrapnel didn't really hurt initially. We also had to dig shrapnel out of Taylor's leg later," he said.

The pair low-crawled the rest of the way up, watching bullets kick up rocks and dirt all around them, then pushed the enemy back from their position and found the IED command detonator and wire.

Indirect fire, air strikes and other close air support was called in later to deal with about 30 fleeing fighters, but Dockery's assault kept everyone else from the patrol alive.

"Hopefully anybody would have done the same thing I did that day," Dockery said, downplaying his role in the event.

Cromie, who was awarded a Silver Star July 12, 2008 for his own actions in Afghanistan that day, sees it differently. He said Dockey was nothing less than a hero.

Before the mission, Cromie had put Dockery in charge of his own squad and made him a patrol leader for the eight months the unit performed route clearance operations.

"I had an insurmountable amount of trust in him," Cromie said. "He was the most combat proven NCO in the platoon."

A brand new officer at the time, Cromie said having such a competent NCO was amazing, and that he will measure every one he works with up to Dockery.

"He's the best at what he does," the captain said.

Dockery has lived in Bamberg for eight years with his wife Dominika and son and daughter, Lincoln, 4, and Pria, 2. He said plans to stay there the rest of his life.

© Copyright 2009 Army News Service
25290  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gen. McCaffrey on: March 26, 2009, 06:16:46 PM

Gen. McCaffrey in 1996 -
Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy director, traveled to Mexico in March 1996 smoothing the way for an agreement between the two governments which has resulted in Mexican soldiers beginning to train at Ft. Bragg and other American bases, and in the gift of 73 "surplus" helicopters, four C-26 surveillance planes, night vision goggles, radios and other military equipment. In addition, the White House has requested $9 million in military aid for Mexico for fiscal year 1998 (up from $3 million in fiscal year 1996) for the purchase of new weapons from U.S. arms manufacturers. -

Gen McCaffrey 2009 -
The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 cal sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns. -
25291  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF on: March 26, 2009, 06:01:44 PM

Michigan Man Sentenced to 90 Days in Prison for Sex Act With Car Wash Vacuum

Thursday, March 26, 2009

SAGINAW, Mich. — A man police caught performing a sex act with a car wash vacuum has been sentenced to 90 days in prison.

Jason Leroy Savage must also submit to drug testing.

The 29-year-old from Michigan, was sentenced Wednesday at Saginaw County Circuit Court.

Savage pleaded no contest to indecent exposure last month.

Police say Savage was arrested after a resident called officers early on Oct. 16 to report suspicious activity at a car wash in Thomas Township, about 90 miles northwest of Detroit.

Savage's attorney, Philip Sturtz, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
25292  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: March 26, 2009, 03:38:13 PM
tral America: An Emerging Role in the Drug Trade
March 26, 2009

By Stephen Meiners

As part of STRATFOR’s coverage of the security situation in Mexico, we have observed some significant developments in the drug trade in the Western Hemisphere over the past year. While the United States remains the top destination for South American-produced cocaine, and Mexico continues to serve as the primary transshipment route, the path between Mexico and South America is clearly changing.

These changes have been most pronounced in Central America, where Mexican drug-trafficking organizations have begun to rely increasingly on land-based smuggling routes as several countries in the region have stepped up monitoring and interdiction of airborne and maritime shipments transiting from South America to Mexico.

The results of these changes have been extraordinary. According to a December 2008 report from the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center, less than 1 percent of the estimated 600 to 700 tons of cocaine that departed South America for the United States in 2007 transited Central America. The rest, for the most part, passed through the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Ocean en route to Mexico. Since then, land-based shipment of cocaine through Central America appears to have ballooned. Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland estimated in an interview with a Guatemalan newspaper that cocaine now passes through that country at a rate of approximately 300 to 400 tons per year.

Notwithstanding the difficulty associated with estimating drug flows, it is clear that Central America has evolved into a significant transshipment route for drugs, and that the changes have taken place rapidly. These developments warrant a closer look at the mechanics of the drug trade in the region, the actors involved, and the implications for Central American governments — for whom drug-trafficking organizations represent a much more daunting threat than they do for Mexico.

Some Background
While the drug trade in the Western Hemisphere is multifaceted, it fundamentally revolves around the trafficking of South American-produced cocaine to the United States, the world’s largest market for the drug. Drug shipment routes between Peru and Colombia — where the vast majority of cocaine is cultivated and produced — and the United States historically have been flexible, evolving in response to interdiction efforts or changing markets. For example, Colombian drug traffickers used to control the bulk of the cocaine trade by managing shipping routes along the Caribbean smuggling corridor directly to the United States. By the 1990s, however, as the United States and other countries began to focus surveillance and interdiction efforts along this corridor, the flow of U.S.-bound drugs was forced into Mexico, which remains the main transshipment route for the overwhelming majority of cocaine entering the United States.

A similar situation has been occurring over the last two years in Central America. From the 1990s until as recently as 2007, traffickers in Mexico received multiton shipments of cocaine from South America. There was ample evidence of this, including occasional discoveries of bulk cocaine on everything from small propeller aircraft and Gulfstream jets to self-propelled semisubmersible vessels, fishing trawlers and cargo ships. These smuggling platforms had sufficient range and capacity to bypass Central America and ship bulk drugs directly to Mexico.

By early 2008, however, a series of developments in several Central American countries suggested that drug-trafficking organizations — Mexican cartels in particular — were increasingly trying to establish new land-based smuggling routes through Central America for cocaine shipments from South America to Mexico and eventual delivery to the United States. While small quantities of drugs had certainly transited the region in the past, the routes used presented an assortment of risks. A combination of poorly maintained highways, frequent border crossings, volatile security conditions and unpredictable local criminal organizations apparently presented such great logistical challenges that traffickers opted to send the majority of their shipments through well-established maritime and airborne platforms.

In response to this relatively unchecked international smuggling, several countries in the region began taking steps to increase the monitoring and interdiction of such shipments. The Colombian government, for one, stepped up monitoring of aircraft operating in its airspace. The Mexican government installed updated radar systems and reduced the number of airports authorized to receive flights originating in Central and South America. The Colombian government estimates that the aerial trafficking of cocaine from Colombia has decreased by as much as 90 percent since 2003.

Maritime trafficking also appears to have suffered over the past few years, most likely due to greater cooperation and information-sharing between Mexico and the United States. The United States has an immense capability to collect maritime technical intelligence, and an increasing degree of awareness regarding drug trafficking at sea. Two examples of this progress include the Mexican navy’s July 2008 capture — acting on intelligence provided by the United States — of a self-propelled semisubmersible vessel loaded with more than five tons of cocaine, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s February 2009 interdiction of a Mexico-flagged fishing boat loaded with some seven tons of cocaine about 700 miles off Mexico’s Pacific coast. Presumably as a result of successes such as these, the Mexican navy reported in 2008 that maritime trafficking had decreased by an estimated 60 percent over the last two years.

While it is impossible to independently corroborate the Mexican and Colombian governments’ estimates on the degree to which air- and seaborne drug trafficking has decreased over the last few years, developments in Central America over the past year certainly support their assessments. In particular, STRATFOR has observed that in order to make up for losses in maritime and aerial trafficking, land-based smuggling routes are increasingly being used — not by Colombian cocaine producers or even Central American drug gangs, but by the now much more powerful Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

Mechanics of Central American Drug Trafficking
It is important to clarify that what we are defining as land-based trafficking is not limited to overland smuggling. The methods associated with land-based trafficking can be divided into three categories: overland smuggling, littoral maritime trafficking and short-range aerial trafficking.

The most straightforward of these is simple overland smuggling. As a series of investigations in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua demonstrated last year, overland smuggling operations use a wide variety of approaches. In one case, authorities pieced together a portion of a route being used by Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel in which small quantities of drugs entered Costa Rica from Panama via the international point of entry on the Pan-American Highway. The cocaine was often held for several days in a storage facility before being loaded onto another vehicle to be driven across the country on major highways. Upon approaching the Nicaraguan border, however, the traffickers opted to avoid the official port of entry and instead transferred the shipments into Nicaragua on foot or on horseback along a remote part of the border. Once across, the shipments were taken to the shores of the large inland Lake Nicaragua, where they were transferred onto boats to be taken north, at which point they would be loaded onto vehicles to be driven toward the Honduran border. In one case in Nicaragua, authorities uncovered another Sinaloa-linked route that passed through Managua and is believed to have followed the Pan-American Highway through Honduras and into El Salvador.

The second method associated with land-based trafficking involves littoral maritime operations. Whereas long-range maritime trafficking involves large cargo ships and self-propelled semisubmersible vessels capable of delivering multiton shipments of drugs from South America to Mexico without having to refuel, littoral trafficking tends to involve so-called “go-fast boats” that are used to carry smaller quantities of drugs at higher speeds over shorter distances. This method is useful to traffickers who might want to avoid, for whatever reason, a certain stretch of highway or perhaps even an entire country. According to Nicaraguan military officials, several go-fast boats are suspected of operating off the country’s coasts and of sailing outside Nicaraguan territorial waters in order to avoid authorities. While it is possible to make the entire trip from South America to Mexico using only this method — and making frequent refueling stops — it is believed that littoral trafficking is often combined with an overland network.

The third method associated with land-based drug smuggling involves short-range aerial operations. In these cases, clandestine planes make stops in Central America before either transferring their cargo to a land vehicle or making another short flight toward Mexico. Over the past year, several small planes loaded with drugs or cash have crashed or been seized in Honduras, Mexico and other countries in the region. In addition, authorities in Guatemala have uncovered several clandestine airstrips allegedly managed by the Mexican drug-trafficking organization Los Zetas. These examples suggest that even as overall aerial trafficking appears to have decreased dramatically, the practice continues in Central America. Indeed, there is little reason to expect that it would not continue, considering that many countries in the region lack the resources to adequately monitor their airspace.

While each of these three methods involves a different approach to drug smuggling, the methods share two important similarities. For one, the vehicles involved — be they speedboats, small aircraft or private vehicles — have limited cargo capacities, which means land-based trafficking generally involves cocaine shipments in quantities no greater than a few hundred pounds. While smaller quantities in more frequent shipments mean more handling, they also mean that less product is lost if a shipment is seized. More importantly, each of these land-based methods requires that a drug-trafficking organization maintain a presence inside Central America.

Actors Involved

There are a variety of drug-trafficking organizations operating inside Central America. In addition to some of the notorious local gangs — such as Calle 18 and MS-13 — there is also a healthy presence of foreign criminal organizations. Colombian drug traffickers, for example, historically have been no strangers to the region. However, as STRATFOR has observed over the past year, it is the more powerful Mexico-based drug-trafficking organizations that appear to be overwhelmingly responsible for the recent upticks in land-based narcotics smuggling in Central America.

Based on reports of arrests and drug seizures in the region over the past year, it is clear that no single Mexican cartel maintains a monopoly on land-based drug trafficking in Central America. Los Zetas, for example, are extremely active in several parts of Guatemala, where they engage in overland and short-range aerial trafficking. The Sinaloa cartel, which STRATFOR believes is the most capable Mexican trafficker of cocaine, has been detected operating a fairly extensive overland smuggling route from Panama to El Salvador. Some intelligence gaps remain regarding, for example, the precise route Sinaloa follows from El Salvador to Mexico or the route Los Zetas use between South America and Guatemala. It is certainly possible that these two Mexican cartels do not rely exclusively on any single route or method in the region. But the logistical challenges associated with establishing even one route across Central America make it likely that existing routes are maintained even after they have been detected — and are defended if necessary.

The operators of the Mexican cartel-managed routes also do not match a single profile. At times, Mexican cartel members themselves have been found to be operating in Central America. More common is the involvement of locals in various phases of smuggling operations. Nicaraguan and Salvadoran nationals, for example, have been arrested in northwestern Nicaragua for operating a Sinaloa-linked overland and littoral route into El Salvador. Authorities in Costa Rica have arrested Costa Rican nationals for their involvement in overland routes through that country. In that case, a related investigation in Panama led to the arrest of several Mexican nationals who reportedly had recently arrived in the area to more closely monitor the operation of their route.

One exception is Guatemala, where Mexican drug traffickers appear to operate much more extensively than in any other Central American country; this may be due, at least in part, to the relationship between Los Zetas and the Guatemalan Kaibiles. Beyond the apparently more-established Zeta smuggling operations there, several recent drug seizures — including an enormous 1,800-acre poppy plantation attributed to the Sinaloa cartel — make it clear that other Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are currently active inside Guatemala. Sinaloa was first suspected of increasing its presence in Guatemala in early 2008, when rumors surfaced that the cartel was attempting to recruit local criminal organizations to support its own drug-trafficking operations there. The ongoing Zeta-Sinaloa rivalry at that time triggered a series of deadly firefights in Guatemala, prompting fears that the bloody turf battles that had led to record levels of organized crime-related violence inside Mexico would extend into Central America.

Security Implications in Central America
Despite these concerns and the growing presence of Mexican traffickers in the region, there apparently have been no significant spikes in drug-related violence in Central America outside of Guatemala. Several factors may explain this relative lack of violence.

First, most governments in Central America have yet to launch large-scale counternarcotics campaigns. The seizures and arrests that have been reported so far have generally been the result of regular police work, as opposed to broad changes in policies or a significant commitment of resources to address the problem. More significantly, though, the quantities of drugs seized probably amount to just a drop in the bucket compared to the quantity of drugs that moves through the region on a regular basis. Because seizures have remained low, Mexican drug traffickers have yet to launch any significant reprisal attacks against government officials in any country outside Guatemala. In that country, even the president has received death threats and had his office bugged, allegedly by drug traffickers.

The second factor, which is related to the first, is that drug traffickers operating in Central America likely rely more heavily on bribes than on intimidation to secure the transit of drug shipments. This assessment follows from the region’s reputation for official corruption (especially in countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama and Guatemala) and the economic disadvantage that many of these countries face compared to the Mexican cartels. For example, the gross domestic product of Honduras is $12 billion, while the estimated share of the drug trade controlled by the Mexican cartels is estimated to be $20 billion.

Finally, Mexican cartels currently have their hands full at home. Although Central America has undeniably become more strategically important for the flow of drugs from South America, the cartels in Mexico have simultaneously been engaged in a two-front war at home against the Mexican government and against rival criminal organizations. As long as this war continues at its present level, Mexican drug traffickers may be reluctant to divert significant resources too far from their home turf, which remains crucial in delivering drug shipments to the United States.

Looking Ahead
That said, there is no guarantee that Central America will continue to escape the wrath of Mexican drug traffickers. On the contrary, there is reason for concern that the region will increasingly become a battleground in the Mexican cartel war.

For one thing, the Merida Initiative, a U.S. anti-drug aid program that will put some $300 million into Mexico and about $100 million into Central America over the next year, could be perceived as a meaningful threat to drug-trafficking operations. If Central American governments choose to step up counternarcotics operations, either at the request of the United States or in order to qualify for more Merida money, they risk disrupting existing smuggling operations to the extent that cartels begin to retaliate.

Also, even though Mexican cartels may be reluctant to divert major resources from the more important war at home, it is important to recognize that a large-scale reassignment of cartel operatives or resources from Mexico to Central America might not be necessary to have a significant impact on the security situation in any given Central American country. Given the rampant corruption and relatively poor protective security programs in place for political leaders in the region, very few cartel operatives or resources would actually be needed if a Mexican drug-trafficking organization chose to, for example, conduct an assassination campaign against high-ranking government officials.

Governments are not the only potential threat to drug traffickers in Central America. The increases in land-based drug trafficking in the region could trigger intensified competition over trafficking routes. Such turf battles could occur either among the Mexican cartels or between the Mexicans and local criminal organizations, which might try to muscle their way into the lucrative smuggling routes or attempt to grab a larger percentage of the profits.

If the example of Mexico is any guide, the drug-related violence that could be unleashed in Central America would easily overwhelm the capabilities of the region’s governments. Last year, STRATFOR considered the possibility of Mexico becoming a failed state. But Mexico is a far stronger and richer country than its fragile southern neighbors, who simply do not have the resources to deal with the cartels on their own.
25293  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An invitation to talk on: March 26, 2009, 12:00:59 PM
Iran: Accepting an Invitation to Talk
STRATFOR Today » March 26, 2009 | 1536 GMT

AFP/Getty Images
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on March 21, 2009 in Mashhad, IranIran confirmed March 26 that it will accept a U.S. invitation to participate in a U.N. conference at The Hague on March 31 regarding the future of Afghanistan. The conference, originally proposed by the United States, will be attended by delegates from more than 80 countries. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said that Iran still has yet to decide who it will send to the meeting on behalf of Tehran.

The acceptance of the U.S. invitation follows a televised address by U.S. President Barack Obama on the occasion of the Persian New Year, in which he offered a new “diplomatic beginning” with the Islamic Republic. The United States is not only publicly recognizing the staying power of the clerical regime, but is also acknowledging an Iranian sphere of influence that spreads to Southwest Asia in Afghanistan. While Iran is pleased to be in this diplomatic spotlight, it must also tread carefully. The Iranians made it clear in their response to Obama that the mere offering of talks is insufficient. Iran has geopolitical interests in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and Iran is motivated to develop its nuclear program, all of which clash with U.S. interests. If the United States is unwilling to shift its position on any of these issues, then Iran will not exhibit much eagerness to go beyond the talks and actually deal.

Still, Iran is not about to pass up an opportunity to show the world that it carries significant influence beyond the borders of the Islamic Republic. The United States and its NATO allies could use Iran’s assistance in Afghanistan, specifically in regard to the wealth of intelligence the Iranians have on Taliban and al Qaeda movements in the country. There is also potential for discussions over a supplemental supply route for coalition forces in southern Afghanistan that could run through Iran. Although Iran is willing to play the diplomatic game, tangible cooperation will come at a high price, particularly as the United States is building a strategy to engage “moderate” Taliban. On a tactical level, the Iranians might offer support to certain Taliban factions in Afghanistan with an aim of keeping U.S. and NATO forces tied down on its eastern frontier. But on a strategic level, the Iranians do not want to see their Taliban rivals back in power in any shape or form. This is just one of many core disputes that will complicate any new “diplomatic beginning” between Washington and Tehran.
25294  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Free Speech, the movie on: March 26, 2009, 10:47:55 AM
Hillary Clinton had her silver screen moment in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when the Justices heard a case that could determine the reach of campaign finance laws to control political advertising. The tone of the oral argument also hinted that five Justices on the Court may be increasingly leery of campaign-finance limits.

During the 2008 Presidential primaries, a nonprofit group called Citizens United produced a 90-minute documentary chronicling the exploits of then-Senator Clinton. Let's just say that "Hillary: the Movie" was not an endorsement. Because the film, and trailers for it, were scheduled to run in the heat of the race on cable TV, it ran afoul of campaign finance "reform" law.

Under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act, also known as McCain-Feingold, electioneering communications paid by corporations or unions that "expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate" cannot run within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of an election. Citizens United filed suit against the Federal Election Commission to assert its right to distribute the film.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a federal district court agreed with the FEC that the ban on electioneering communications should just as reasonably apply to a 90-minute movie as to a two-minute advertisement. Writ large, that's scary news. According to Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, who argued the case, the government could theoretically regulate other forms of pre-election corporate speech as well, including books and the Internet.

"That's pretty incredible," said Justice Samuel Alito. "You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?" Yes, Mr. Stewart said, if a corporation or union were paying for it. It would be possible to "prohibit the publication of the book using the corporate treasury funds."

With Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito has previously taken a cautious, piecemeal approach to campaign finance law. But as the current case shows, McCain-Feingold is a blunt instrument that gives federal bureaucrats the power to decide what kind of campaign advertising is allowed during an election. If "Hillary: the Movie" isn't allowed, then Michael Moore's documentaries should be banned, and newspaper endorsements would also be suspect despite a specific carve-out in the law. If newspapers didn't have that carve-out, then maybe so many editors wouldn't cheerlead for this kind of law.

McCain-Feingold is a frontal assault on political speech, and President Bush's decision to sign it while claiming to dislike it was one of the worst moments of his eight years in office. Citizens United gives the Justices a new opportunity to chip away at this attack on the First Amendment, and even better if they use it to declare the whole thing unconstitutional.

25295  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / IBD editorial on: March 26, 2009, 10:45:39 AM
Yes, Hugo Cheated
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Democracy: In a little-noted agency hearing, the CIA admitted that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez rigged his recall referendum in 2004. So why does he still merit global recognition as a democratically elected leader?


Read More: Latin America & Caribbean


Anyone who steals an election has no claim to democracy. But somehow there's an exception for Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who's still recognized as a "democratically elected" leader by the U.S. and others.

It now comes to light that the CIA cybersecurity experts know he fixed his 2004 recall referendum. Two weeks ago, at a field hearing before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in Orlando, Fla., CIA's Steve Stigall cited Venezuela, along with Macedonia and Ukraine, as examples of the risks of electronic voting.

Chavez, he said, controlled most voting machines and may have provided the program used to "randomly" select them for audit during a recount, the Miami Herald reported.

The problem went beyond cheating. The referendum was then certified as free and fair by none other than ex-President Jimmy Carter and recognized by the hemisphere as democratic.

That extended Chavez's term in power at a time when the real sentiment of voters was to throw him out. That, in turn, undercut Venezuela's opposition parties as political forces, making it nearly impossible for them to gain ground.

It also made Chavez obnoxious in international forums, using his false democratic legitimacy to undermine the interests of democratic nations while no one said anything.

He's about to play this like a fiddle at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, promising to "get the artillery out" against U.S. President Barack Obama in reflexive anti-Americanism all about reinforcing his grip on power.

While Carter was declaring Venezuela a democracy, the scam was not entirely unnoted. Mathematicians at universities like Yale, Johns Hopkins, MIT, University of Santa Cruz and in Venezuela all found a "very subtle algorithm" in the voting software that adjusted the ballot count in Chavez's favor, the Herald noted.

Carter dismissed them arrogantly and a New York Times editorial abusively told the Venezuelan opposition to "grow up," and accept Chavez as president. They shouldn't. And neither should we.

That the U.S. now recognizes this vote was a fraud means we should fix our mistake. It's vital for democracy in this hemisphere.

Not only do the enablers owe Venezuela's democrats an apology, the U.S. and others need to decertify Chavez a democratic leader in all international forums.

25296  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Soul Awakens on: March 26, 2009, 10:36:14 AM
By Tzvi Freeman
When the soul awakens, it descends like a fire from heaven. In a moment of surprise, we discover something so powerful, so beyond our persona, we cannot believe it is a part of us. Or, better, that we are a part of it.
25297  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wilson: Law and religion on: March 26, 2009, 10:32:13 AM
"Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. The divine law, as discovered by reason and the moral sense, forms an essential part of both."

--James Wilson, law lectures at the University of Pennsylvania
25298  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm): The Running Dog Game on: March 26, 2009, 12:40:48 AM
25299  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China's bluff on: March 26, 2009, 12:31:59 AM
Geopolitical Diary: China's Calculated Currency Rhetoric
March 25, 2009
One of the more popular conventional wisdoms is that the United States is in decline and that it is a simple matter to select options that will edge the United States out of its dominant position in the world. In an editorial published Tuesday, Chinese central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan spoke to one of the more popular financial conspiracy theories in this vein when he wrote that the time had come to establish a new scrip to replace the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency. The issue is close to Beijing’s heart: The Chinese reserve fund is a significant holder of U.S. debt, with some $750 billion in U.S. T-bills.

China does not purchase U.S. debt out of choice, but out of a lack of choice. China is a state with serious social stability issues that are mitigated only by state intervention in the economic structure to maintain mass employment. Since there isn’t much internal demand for the goods these employed masses produce — due in part to a high savings rate and low incomes — China must peddle its goods abroad. The U.S. consumer market, with annual sales of approximately $10 trillion, is roughly equivalent in bulk to the next six consumer markets combined. Sales to the United States and other countries hardwired into the American supply chain — which includes the bulk of East Asia — are the only reasonable option. And so the Chinese yuan has a de facto peg to the U.S. dollar.

That is hardly the extent to which the Chinese are bound to the dollar, however. Because China lacks the financial and industrial infrastructure needed to metabolize the massive revenues generated by exports, the income must be stored in some sort of non-Chinese asset. Outstanding U.S. T-bills currently total $11 trillion, which — with the notable exception of Japanese government debt, which very few foreigners even touch — is greater than the next five government debt issues combined, by a ratio of two to one. U.S. debt outsizes combined euro-denominated government debt by more than three to one.

Corporate debt isn’t much of an option either, even though the combined global corporate debt market is sufficiently large to absorb China’s currency reserves. Whenever an investor holds a substantial portion of any company’s debt, market liquidity is constrained and trading dynamics are altered. The solution is a highly diversified — and therefore actively managed — portfolio. But the administrative cost of a trillion-dollar portfolio so diversified that it does not affect the value of any particular asset would be staggering. In contrast, U.S. government debt is a one-stop shop that requires — at most — minimal management.

That China’s income is primarily in either dollars or dollar-linked currencies only strengthens the rationale for pouring surplus income into American assets in general, and U.S. government debt in particular. Plainly put, China cannot put its income anywhere else because there is no other option available. There have been some mild attempts to diversify, but a dearth of options means that “mild” is about as dynamic as a diversification program for China can get.

As to a world beyond the dollar, the issue is that a reserve currency is not decided upon; it creates itself. Two things are needed to create a reserve currency. First, there must be sufficient liquidity to support a global system. That requires a central bank with an enormous amount of autonomy from a state government, and the U.S. Federal Reserve is unparalleled on this count. Not even the European Central Bank can compete. Second, the economy upon which the currency is based must be large enough to withstand fluctuations caused by other economies buying and selling its assets in massive amounts. Again, the United States is the only economy that potentially could qualify.

Part and parcel of any replacement of the U.S. dollar would be a large-scale abandonment of U.S. T-bills as the core of Chinese currency reserves, which — as the conventional wisdom holds — would force intractable economic problems upon the United States. But a closer look reveals that this is not the case. First, selling U.S. T-bills en masse simply is not possible. Every seller requires a buyer, and the volumes at hand cannot be exchanged quickly. Second, starting down that road would cause the value of the securities in question to plummet, destroying the savings the Chinese have been building up for years. The so-called “nuclear option” really is not an option at all.

So why are the Chinese bringing this up in the first place? Beijing clearly has done the math already and knows that this idea — even if it had broad support — is a nonstarter. There are two reasons. First, officials in Beijing know that any direct confrontation — whether military or financial — with the United States would end in disaster for Chinese national interests. Therefore, they want to foster anything they can that would create an international structure to restrain American power; failing that, something that just gets people thinking in that direction will have to do. Second, China is more severely affected by the ongoing financial crisis than it would like the world to register. The Chinese need sustained international demand to maintain their export industries and, consequently, their high employment levels. Espousing rhetoric that makes it appear that you have more options than you do, while redirecting attention toward a foreign power, always plays well at home.

25300  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere on: March 26, 2009, 12:29:55 AM
Thread coherence nazi here.  The last 5 posts (including one by me  embarassed ) belong on Islam vs. Free Speech or the Communicating with Islam threads.
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