Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ethics Report leaked
on: October 30, 2009, 12:04:27 PM
Congressional ethics report leaked, reveals names http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091030/ap_on_bi_ge/us_congress_leaked_ethics_report
By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer Larry Margasak, Associated Press Writer – Fri Oct 30, 9:10 am ET
WASHINGTON – Internal investigations into the conduct of over two dozen House members have been exposed in an extraordinary, Internet-era breach of security involving the secretive process by which Congress polices lawmaker ethics.
Revelations of the mostly preliminary inquiries by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — also known as the Ethics committee — and a panel that refers cases to it shook the chamber as lawmakers were immersed in a series of scheduled votes Thursday.
The panel announced that it was investigating two California Democrats — Reps. Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson — even as its embarrassed leaders took pains to explain that several other lawmakers also were identified in the leaked confidential committee memo but may have done nothing wrong.
The committee said it was investigating whether Waters used her influence to help a bank in which her husband owned stock, and whether the couple benefited as a result. Separately, the panel is looking into whether Richardson failed to disclose required information on her financial disclosure forms and received special treatment from a lender.
In the midst of a busy legislative day, ethics chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., went to the House floor to announce that a confidential weekly report of the committee from July had leaked out in a case of "cyber-hacking."
A committee statement said that its security was breached through "peer to peer file sharing software" by a junior employee who was working from home. The staff member was fired.
The July report contains a summary of the committee's work at the time, but Lofgren said no inferences should be made about anyone whose name is mentioned.
The committee typically makes a public announcement about its activities only when it begins an investigation of potential rule-breaking, which is conducted by an investigative subcommittee whose members also are made public.
However, the weekly reports include a summary of the committee's work at an earlier stage, when its members and staff scrutinize lawmakers to see whether an investigation is warranted.
The Washington Post reported in its online edition Thursday that the document was disclosed on a publicly accessible computer network and made available to the newspaper by a source familiar with such networks.
The Post reported that more than 30 lawmakers and a few staff members were under scrutiny, including nearly half the members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
The previously disclosed inquiry involves lawmakers who steered appropriations to clients of a now-defunct lobbying firm and received campaign contributions from the firm and its clients.
The names included three lawmakers previously identified in the inquiry: the chairman of the defense subcommittee, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.; and Reps. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., and James Moran, D-Va.
The Post said others whose names were in the report included Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., and Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.
The committee, however, has not announced an investigation of any of these lawmakers.
Waters is the No. 3 Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee and chairwoman of its subcommittee on housing. She has been an influential voice in the committee's work to overhaul financial regulations.
Waters came under scrutiny after former Treasury Department officials said she helped arrange a meeting between regulators and executives at OneUnited Bank last year without mentioning her husband's financial ties to the institution.
Her husband, Sidney Williams, holds at least $250,000 in the bank's stock and previously had served on its board. Waters' spokesman, Michael Levin, said Williams was no longer on the board when the meeting was arranged.
Waters has said the National Bankers Association, a trade group, requested the meeting. She defended her role in assisting minority-owned banks in the midst of the nation's financial meltdown and dismissed suggestions she used her influence to steer government aid to the bank.
"I am confident that as the investigation moves forward the panel will discover that there are no facts to support allegations that I have acted improperly," Waters said in a statement.
The committee unanimously voted to establish an investigative subcommittee to gather evidence and determine whether Waters violated standards of conduct.
The committee said it would investigate "alleged communications and activities with, or on behalf of, the National Bankers Association or OneUnited Bank" and "the benefit, if any, Rep. Waters or her husband received as a result."
The committee also voted unanimously to investigate whether Richardson violated House rules, its Code of Conduct or the Ethics in Government Act by failing to disclose property, income and liabilities on her financial disclosure forms.
The investigation also will determine whether Richardson received an impermissible gift or preferential treatment from a lender, "relating to the foreclosure, recission of the foreclosure sale or loan modification agreement" for her Sacramento, Calif., property.
Richardson said she has been subjected to "premature judgments, speculation and baseless distractions that will finally be addressed in a fair, unbiased, bipartisan evaluation of the facts."
"Like 4.3 million Americans in the last year who faced financial problems because of a personal crisis like a divorce, death in the family, unexpected job and living changes and an erroneous property sale, all of which I have experienced in the span of slightly over a year, I have worked to resolve a personal financial situation," she said in a statement.
The committee ended an investigation of Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and released a report finding no ethical violations. It investigated whether Graves used his position on the House Small Business Committee to invite a longtime friend and business partner of his wife to testify at a committee hearing on the federal regulation of biodiesel and ethanol production
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Honduras
on: October 30, 2009, 11:25:31 AM
The US continues its meddling ways against Honduran democracy and in alliance with Chavez's ally/pawn. WTF?
Honduras: The U.S. Brokers a Deal
Stratfor Today » October 30, 2009 | 1525 GMT
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (L) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon on Oct. 30 after talksAfter months of political deadlock, interim Honduran President Roberto Micheletti and ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya came to a compromise late on Oct. 29. The agreement represents a breakthrough for the two parties and for international mediation led (in this round) by the United States, which had sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon to the Central American nation to help hammer out a compromise.
According to Micheletti, the concord has eight points of agreement, which include turning control of the armed forces over to the Supreme Electoral Council, guaranteeing international and domestic recognition of presidential elections scheduled for Nov. 29 and the elimination of all sanctions against Honduras by foreign powers. The deal also grants the possibility that Zelaya could return to office and finish the last three months of his term.
While the deal looks solid on the surface, the details have left room for maneuvering. Essentially, in order to return, Zelaya will have to be approved by both the Supreme Court and the Congress -- two bodies that resoundingly rejected him and supported his ouster in the first place. Even if Zelaya does get back into the presidential position, it appears that he will not have command of the military. These weakened powers are likely why Zelaya hopes that he will gain congressional approval (not to mention the collective need for an end to the imbroglio), and it may indeed be sufficient.
It would appear that this agreement has allowed Zelaya to save face while still guaranteeing the validity of the upcoming election that was critical for the interim government, and that the United States had threatened not to recognize. But there are stumbling blocks ahead. If Zelaya fails to be approved by the Congress and the Supreme Court, it is possible that things will not go as planned, with the state's stability in the balance.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters)
on: October 30, 2009, 10:39:22 AM
By MICHAEL W. MCCONNELL
Last week's announcement that "Pay Czar" Kenneth Feinberg slashed compensation for executives at seven large financial firms by an average of 50% stunned Wall Street, stoked the fires of populist resentment, and troubled economists. Will this government-mandated pay cut drive the most talented professionals away from these companies, endangering their recovery? Does it augur further politicization of economic decisions?
Lost in the arguments over economics and political theory, however, is a more basic question: Was this action constitutional?
Mr. Feinberg's ukase is the most prominent example (and not just by the Obama administration) of the exercise of power by an individual unilaterally appointed by the executive branch without Senate confirmation—and thus outside the ordinary channels of Congressional oversight. Earlier this month, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution conducted hearings into the constitutional basis for this practice, which many see as an end-run around checks and balances. The Obama administration declined Sen. Russ Feingold's (D., Wisc.) invitation to send a witness to the hearing to explain the constitutional basis for its various "czars."
So who is Kenneth Feinberg, and where did he get the power to set pay for executives at private firms?
As part of the hastily enacted and seldom-read legislation establishing the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to "require each TARP recipient to meet appropriate standards for executive compensation." To carry out this task, last June the Treasury promulgated an emergency "Interim Final Rule," waiving ordinary requirements for a public comment period.
As part of this emergency rule, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner created the office of "Special Master" for compensation, delegated his TARP authority to set compensation standards to this officer, and appointed Mr. Feinberg (a lawyer and mediator) to this position, without obtaining Senate confirmation.
Therein lies the problem. The Appointments clause of the Constitution, Article II, section 2, provides that all "Officers of the United States" must be appointed by the president "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate." This means subject to confirmation, except that "the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment" of "inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments."
There is no doubt that Mr. Feinberg is an "officer" of the United States. The Supreme Court has defined this term (Buckley v. Valeo, 1976) as "any appointee exercising significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States." Mr. Feinberg signed last week's orders setting pay levels for executives at Bank of America, AIG, Chrysler Financial, Citigroup, GMAC, General Motors and Chrysler. They have the force of law and are surely an exercise of "significant authority" pursuant to an Act of Congress. He is not a mere "employee," acting at the direction of a superior. That means his office is subject to the requirements of the Appointments Clause.
While somewhat more disputable, Mr. Feinberg's is probably an "inferior" officer, defined as one subject to supervision and removal by a member of the cabinet. Although he has substantial discretion and independence, Mr. Feinberg reports to the secretary of the Treasury, who can fire him any time for any reason. This means that Congress could, if it wished, vest the appointment of the pay czar in the secretary, without any need for Senate confirmation.
But Congress has not done so. On the contrary, it vested the authority to implement TARP's compensation provision in the secretary of the Treasury. The secretary may sub-delegate that power to someone else—but that someone must be an "officer" properly appointed "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate."
The Supreme Court observed in Buckley v. Valeo that the provisions governing appointments under the Constitution reflect more than "etiquette or protocol." They embody the Founders' conviction that all power under U.S. laws must be exercised by officers with constitutional authority.
The Founders understood that the president and heads of the executive departments could not single-handedly carry out the law, so they required Senate confirmation as what the Federalist Papers call "an excellent check" on abuse or favoritism by the president. Yes, there are some offices so inferior that this check may be eliminated—but it is for Congress to judge which ones these may be. Congress and Congress alone has power to dispense with the safeguard of the confirmation process.
The power to set compensation at large American businesses is especially subject to potential abuse, favoritism, arbitrariness, or political manipulation. It is no reflection on Kenneth Feinberg, who has a sterling reputation and who appears to have approached these sensitive duties with a spirit of commendable integrity, to say that the checks and balances of the Constitution should be scrupulously observed. They were not. Because he is not a properly appointed officer of the United States, Mr. Feinberg's executive compensation decisions were unconstitutional.
Mr. McConnell is on the faculty of Stanford University Law School, director of its Constitutional Law Center, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was a federal judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals from 2002-2009.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: October 30, 2009, 10:37:31 AM
It's been a decade since Turkey threatened to invade Syria because Damascus was harboring Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdish PKK terrorist group. "We will say 'shalom' to the Israelis on the Golan Heights" is how one Turkish newspaper then described the country's mood, capturing its attitude toward Syrians and Israelis alike.
Times change—and so do countries. Earlier this month, Turkey cancelled an annual multinational air force exercise because Israel was scheduled to participate in it, despite historically close ties between the Turkish and Israeli militaries. In a recent interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that "there is no doubt he is our friend."
Mr. Erdogan was also among the first to offer Ahmadinejad a congratulatory call after June's fraudulent elections and has called Iran's nuclear program "peaceful and humanitarian." As for Syria, relations have never been warmer: The two countries are even planning joint military exercises.
Nations do not have the luxury of picking their neighbors, and the Turks can certainly be forgiven for not wanting to be at daggers drawn along several hundred miles of common borders. But what's happened to Turkey's foreign policy—and the values that inform those policies—since Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party came to power in 2003 looks more like a fundamental shift in Turkey's strategic priorities than it does a mere relaxing of regional tensions.
In January, for instance, Mr. Erdogan publicly rebuked Shimon Peres at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, calling the Israeli President a "liar" and saying—in connection to the war in Gaza—that "when it comes to killing, you know well how to kill." Soon thereafter, Mr. Erdogan hosted a dinner in honor of Ali Osman Taha, the vice president of Sudan. Apparently, there were no lectures about Darfur.
Nor has Israel been the only country in the Middle East affected by Turkey's changing attitudes. As analyst Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes, "the AKP's foreign policy has not promoted sympathy toward all Muslim states. Rather, the party has promoted solidarity with Islamist, anti-Western regimes (Qatar and Sudan, for example) while dismissing secular, pro-Western Muslim governments (Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia)." That also goes among the Palestinians, where Mr. Erdogan has called on the world to recognize Hamas while being dismissive of Mahmoud Abbas, the Authority's more secular-minded president.
In other words, Mr. Erdogan's turn against Israel is symptomatic of a broader shift in Turkish policy, one that cannot bode well for core U.S. interests. As a secular Muslim state, Turkey has been a pillar of NATO and a bulwark against the political radicalism (Communist, Baathist, Islamist) of its various neighbors. Now Mr. Erdogan may be gambling that Turkey's future lies at the head of the Muslim world, rather than at the tail of its Western counterpart.
Perhaps none of this should be all that surprising, given how long Europe has brushed off Turkish ambitions to join its Union. One may hope that the Turks, who have long been proud of their traditions of secularism, tolerance, freedom, and as a bridge between East and West, may not be so tempted to trade them in for darker glories.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Existential Dread
on: October 30, 2009, 10:35:26 AM
By YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI
The postcard from the Home Front Command that recently arrived in my mailbox looks like an ad from the Ministry of Tourism. A map of Israel is divided by color into six regions, each symbolized by an upbeat drawing: a smiling camel in the Negev desert, a skier in the Golan Heights. In fact, each region signifies the amount of time residents will have to seek shelter from an impending missile attack. If you live along the Gaza border, you have 15 seconds after the siren sounds. Jerusalemites get a full three minutes. But as the regions move farther north, the time drops again, until finally, along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, the color red designates "immediate entry into a shelter." In other words, if you're not already inside a shelter don't bother looking for one.
The invisible but all-pervasive presence on that cheerful map of existential dread is Iran. If Israel were to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran's two terrorist allies on our borders—Hezbollah and Hamas—would almost certainly renew attacks against the Israeli home front. And Tel Aviv would be hit by Iranian long-range missiles.
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.On the other hand, if Israel refrains from attacking Iran and international efforts to stop its nuclearization fail, the results along our border would likely be even more catastrophic. Hezbollah and Hamas would be emboldened politically and psychologically. The threat of a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv would become a permanent part of Israeli reality. This would do incalculable damage to Israel's sense of security.
Given these dreadful options, one might assume that the Israeli public would respond with relief to reports that Iran is now considering the International Atomic Energy Agency's proposal to transfer 70% of its known, low-enriched uranium to Russia for treatment that would seriously reduce its potential for military application. In fact, Israelis from the right and the left have reacted with heightened anxiety. "Kosher Uranium," read the mocking headline of Israel's largest daily, Yediot Aharonot. Media commentators noted that easing world pressure on Iran will simply enable it to cheat more easily. If Iranian leaders are prepared to sign an agreement, Israelis argue, that's because they know something the rest of us don't.
In the last few years, Israelis have been asking themselves two questions with increasing urgency: Should we attack Iran if all other options fail? And can we inflict sufficient damage to justify the consequences?
As sanctions efforts faltered, most Israelis came to answer the first question affirmatively. A key moment in coalescing that resolve occurred in December 2006, when the Iranian regime sponsored an "International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust," a two day meeting of Holocaust deniers. For Israelis, that event ended the debate over whether a nuclear Iran could be deterred by the threat of counter-force. A regime that assembles the world's crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.
Opinion here has been divided about the ability of an Israeli strike to significantly delay Iran's nuclear program. But Israelis have dealt with their doubts by resurrecting a phrase from the country's early years: Ein breira, there's no choice. Besides, as one leading Israeli security official who has been involved in the Iranian issue for many years put it to me, "Technical problems have technical solutions." Israelis tend to trust their strategic planners to find those solutions.
In the past few months, Israelis have begun asking themselves a new question: Has the Obama administration's engagement with Iran effectively ended the possibility of a military strike?
Few Israelis took seriously the recent call by former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to shoot down Israeli planes if they take off for Iran. But American attempts to reassure the Israeli public of its commitment to Israel's security have largely backfired. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent threat to "obliterate" Iran if it launched a nuclear attack against Israel only reinforced Israeli fears that the U.S. would prefer to contain a nuclear Iran rather than pre-empt it militarily.
On the face of it, this is not May 1967. There is not the same sense of impending catastrophe that held the Israeli public in the weeks before the Six Day War. Israelis are preoccupied with the fate of Gilad Shalit (the kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas), with the country's faltering relations with Turkey, with the U.N.'s denial of Israel's right to defend itself, and with an unprecedented rise in violent crime.
But the Iranian threat has seeped into daily life as a constant, if barely conscious anxiety. It emerges at unexpected moments, as black humor or an incongruous aside in casual conversation. "I think we're going to attack soon," a friend said to me over Sabbath dinner, as we talked about our children going off to the army and to India.
Now, with the possibility of a deal with Iran, Israelis realize that a military confrontation will almost certainly be deferred. Still, the threat remains.
A recent cartoon in the newspaper Ma'ariv showed a drawing of a sukkah, the booth covered with palm branches that Jews build for the autumn festival of Tabernacles. A voice from inside the booth asked, "Will these palm branches protect us from Iranian missiles?"
Israelis still believe in their ability to protect themselves—and many believe too in the divine protection that is said to hover over the fragile booths. Both are expressions of faith from a people that fear they may once again face the unthinkable alone.
Mr. Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and a contributing editor to the New Republic.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PP part 2
on: October 30, 2009, 10:30:04 AM
Business & Economy
Regulatory Commissars: Oil Off Limits for Thriving Bears
Believing themselves to be smarter than the average bear, bureaucrats in the Obama administration continue their quest to create a, well, bear market -- at least for oil. The White House decided to designate more than 200,000 square miles of Alaskan land and coastline as "critical habitat" for polar bears -- the same bear population that has reached greater numbers than previously recorded in history. In fact, despite what Al Gore and his fellow global warmists would have us believe, the population has actually risen by 40 percent since 1974.
This new non-endangered species habitat is enormous enough to qualify as the third largest state in the union, placing it between Texas and California in terms of square miles. Former UnitedHealth general counsel and now Assistant Interior Secretary Tom Strickland claimed at a news conference that the greatest threat to the bear is Arctic ice melt and that "we will continue to work to protect the polar bear and its fragile environment."
However, the new designation as a critical habitat is the first step in requiring even more government consideration of the supposed negative effect on the escalating polar bear numbers before allowing oil and gas development. The state of Alaska responded by filing a complaint in an effort to stop the listing under the Endangered Species Act.
In the meantime, some 30 percent of the world's gas supplies and 4 percent of the estimated global oil supply will be placed off limits because of this deceitful claim that the polar bear population is endangered. Next up, the loggerhead turtle, which, if listed as endangered, would bring regulations on everything along the eastern seaboard, including what lights you can put on the ocean-facing side of your house.
Income Redistribution: Public Option Phones
Bill Clinton may have declared in 1996, "The era of big government is over," but Obama must have missed the message. Never in American history has the era of big government encroached on so many areas of our lives -- and with more on the docket. We can now add another one to the list: Safelink Wireless, a "government supported program that provides a free cell phone and airtime each month for income-eligible customers," all paid for with "Obama money" -- and you know where that comes from.
SafeLink is an extension of or adjunct to the FCC program known as "Lifeline and Link-up." In a nutshell, "poor" people, often already on the dole with other state and federal welfare programs, can apply to receive a free cell phone and 70 minutes of airtime per month from TracFone Wireless, Inc. The Lifeline program pays one-half (up to $30) of installation costs for wired telephone service at a primary residence and provides up to a $10 per month discount for basic monthly service. Oh well, at least these recipients are required to pay some of the costs from their bi-monthly "county" checks. The program uses funds from those little universal service fund (USF) charges that show up on our phone bills. Of course, Lifeline program participants are exempt from USF charges on their bills.
Once again, we're left scratching our heads and searching for the Article and Section of the Constitution under which free phones can be found.
Barack Obama's Flying Circus
If Monty Python were a financial news agency, we could imagine the headline "Dow Exceeds 10,000 to Much Rejoicing." The media devoted multiple column inches and minutes of airtime to that event last week, but few asked, "Why?" The short answer is currency devaluation. Barack Obama's strategy of talking down the U.S. economy has produced its first dividend for his administration, a surging Dow supported by foreign investment. But, like agricultural commodities in the 1970s and commercial real estate in the 1980s, these gains are due solely to the weakness of our currency rather than the strength of our economy. A dollar with lower value makes buying American assets more attractive to foreigners. Each of those previous examples saw a short term increase in values followed by profit taking and a long-term decline. Sure the Dow is over 10K, but what's the dollar worth?
Furthermore, the market bottomed out at 6,500 before beginning its recovery in March, when, as The Washington Times points out, "[T]he Obama administration stopped trying to talk down the economy." Also, "The bottom line is obvious. Part of the increase in stock prices is illusory from the falling dollar. A lot of the remaining increase is simply a recovery from the Obama administration's rhetoric talking down the market." Unfortunately, if they're not talking it down, they're trying to beat it down with regulations.
That doesn't mean that Team Obama won't take credit for any improvement in the market or the economy as a whole. When the newest estimate of 3.5 percent economic growth in the third quarter was announced this week, Obama said the country has "come a long way" since his inauguration, and the new figures are "an affirmation that this recession is abating and the steps we've taken have made a difference." The White House went further Friday, claiming that the $787 billion stimulus has "created or saved" at least 650,000 jobs, or one million if all spending is considered. Yet unemployment is 9.8 percent and rising, so most of those jobs must have been "saved" -- which is a clever way of saying we'll never know.
Culture & Policy
Around the Nation: Swine Flu Emergency!
The Obama administration has, for the second time in six months, declared the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, a national emergency. The administration first made this declaration in April, but perhaps they needed a bit more time to stir up the desired frenzy. And set up a Web site -- flu.gov. Americans are now running to the hospital by the thousands, overcrowding emergency rooms and standing in line for their shots when often the provider has already run out of vaccine. However, all this panic is driven not as much by their physical symptoms as by a government-run campaign of hysteria.
The administration has made much of the fact that approximately 1,000 Americans have died and another 20,000 have been hospitalized after falling ill with H1N1. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, these numbers, while tragic, are actually much smaller than the number of deaths each year from more commons strains of flu. As a matter of fact, Australia and New Zealand, which did not use the H1N1 vaccine, have reported fewer flu deaths this year than in the past.
The declaration of a national emergency has also increased the powers of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She now has the authority, for as long as this "crisis" lasts, to sidestep certain federal laws that govern the use of tax dollars for medical treatment.
While some claim this is an administrative move that will allow the government to preempt a possible pandemic, for others it brings to the forefront issues concerning the quality and reliability of government-controlled health care. Imagine, for example, that we really were in danger of dying from a disease for which the government's much bragged about supply of vaccinations had fallen so woefully short?
American journalist H.L. Mencken once said, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." Perhaps flu.gov stands for "Fear-mongering Leftists Unlimited."
Second Amendment: NJ Court Says No Right to Buy Handgun
"A New Jersey appeals court has concluded that Americans have no Second Amendment right to buy a handgun," CBS News reports. "[T]he superior court upheld a state law saying that nobody may possess 'any handgun' without obtaining law enforcement approval and permission in advance." Given that the Supreme Court ruled last year in DC v. Heller that the Second Amendment guarantees "the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," this ruling is a bit surprising. New Jersey Appellate Division Judge Stephen Skillman, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said that Heller "has no impact upon the constitutionality of" the state law.
It's true that the Supreme Court avoided some larger questions in Heller, even specifically saying that the ruling does "not address the licensing requirement." However, the Second Amendment to the Constitution reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Based on our reading of that plain language, there's nothing in there about permission from a court or law enforcement for particular arms. We hope the Supreme Court addresses this question when it hears McDonald v. Chicago, challenging Chicago's handgun ban, later this year.
Climate Change This Week: China, India, Cats and Dogs
Lashing out at the growing skepticism that global warming is real, Barack Obama last week blasted as agenda-driven "[t]he naysayers" who "pretend that this is not an issue." According to Obama, "From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to produce and use energy." But the issue may not be important enough, even to the president. It seems he will skip the much-touted Copenhagen climate conference and instead drop by Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize.
Could this be because "racing" China and India came to a screeching halt last Thursday when they nixed mandatory carbon emissions constraints, effectively pulling out of any Copenhagen treaty? These two nations recognize what Obama denies and what Wang Jin wrote in China's Science Times journal: "The real intention is not for the global temperature increase, but for the restriction of the economic development of the developing countries."
Meanwhile, two professors from New Zealand have actually suggested ditching cats and dogs in favor of edible pets -- and, no, we're not talking animal crackers. In their book, "Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living," Brenda and Robert Vale contend that when you account for food production and carbon emissions, a cat is about as a bad for the environment as a Volkswagen Golf, a medium-size dog is twice as destructive as a Toyota Land Cruiser, and two hamsters are equivalent to a plasma TV. The authors write, "There is certainly some truth in the fact that if we have edible pets like chickens for their eggs and meat, and rabbits and pigs, we will be compensating for the impact of other things on our environment."
What to do with the surplus of Rovers and Fluffies? Perhaps they should be served à la carte at Copenhagen. Given such consistently outlandish arguments from the global warming crowd, we don't expect any waiting lines at Copenhagen diners.
From the 'Non Compos Mentis' File
In a no doubt fleeting act of fairness and balance, CNN's Campbell Brown actually stuck up for rival Fox News in an interview this week with White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. And it didn't take long for Jarrett's answers to turn humorous. Here's the exchange:
Brown: So do you think Fox News is biased?
Jarrett: Well, of course they're biased. Of course they are.
Brown: Okay. Then do you also think that MSNBC is biased?
Jarrett: Well, you know what? This is the thing. I don't want to -- actually, I don't want to just generalize all Fox is biased or that another station is biased. I think what we want to do is look at it on a case-by-case basis. And when we see a pattern of distortion, we're going to be honest about that pattern of distortion.
Brown: But you only see that at Fox News? That's all that -- you have spoken out about Fox News.
Jarrett: That's actually not true. I think that what the administration has said very clearly is that we're going to speak truth to power.
It's quite amusing how quickly Jarrett backpedaled when confronted with her own bias; she clearly wasn't prepared for the MSNBC question. Not that Brown acknowledged CNN's bias, mind you.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: October 30, 2009, 10:29:15 AM
Digest · Friday, October 30, 2009
"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread." --Thomas Jefferson
Government & Politics
Just When You Thought It Was Safe
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) unveiled an $894 billion health care takeover bill Thursday; the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost at $1.055 trillion. The bill, a combination of three separate committee bills, should be light reading for our nation's lawmakers, though -- it weighs in at a scant 1,990 pounds, er, pages.
The "reform" plan includes the dreaded "public option" that many thought might be dead and buried. The public option would create a government-run insurance plan to "compete" with private insurance. The obvious problem -- at least to those who understand the free market -- is that it would have several negative effects on health care and the economy. Many employers would drop their insurance coverage in favor of the small penalty paid to the federal government in exchange for putting employees on the government dole. Indeed, an estimated 120 million customers would leave private insurers. With fewer people buying private insurance, many insurance companies would increase rates, further restrict coverage, or go out of business altogether, thus creating a vicious death spiral.
Such a scenario would, of course, suit Pelosi and other Democrats just fine. They continue to condemn the "immoral" and "obscene" profits made by the insurance industry, though as it turns out, those profits are not so obscene after all, but are around 2 percent.
The public option is so unpopular that Pelosi is now trying to re-brand it, suggesting the "consumer option" or the "competitive option" as alternatives. "You'll hear everyone say, 'There's got to be a better name for this,'" Pelosi said. "When people think of the public option, public is being misrepresented, that this is being paid for with their public dollars."
Uh, Nancy, it will be. And by their great grandchildren's dollars.
The bill will "provide" insurance for up to 36 million people by broadly expanding Medicaid and by giving subsidies to moderate-income Americans so they can buy insurance from either private companies or the new government-run plan. "Can buy" in this case means "have to buy" because of a newly minted unconstitutional mandate to buy insurance. And, the subsidies would be paid for in part with a surtax on individuals earning more than $500,000 and couples earning more than $1 million.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is working on an "opt out" provision for states that don't wish to participate in the public option, though he's not gaining much support. As currently written, the opt-out would cost states even more money because of the additional funding measures (read: strings) attached.
It would be similar to federal education guidelines, which states can opt out of -- at the expense of federal funding -- or the federally mandated drinking age states can ignore -- if they don't want federal highway money. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) pointed out last week that the federal government used to regulate speed limits, and again, states could "opt out" at the loss of federal highway funding.
It seems that Don Corleone Reid's public option is an offer states can't refuse.
Quote of the Week
"It's not free. ... Someone's going to have to pay for it and you bet it's going to be the taxpayer." --Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) on the "public option"
The BIG Lie
Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan is a rarity among Democrats -- one who believes the federal government shouldn't pay for abortions. When President Obama told a joint session of Congress in September that "under our plan no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions," Stupak wondered how that was possible when both the House and Senate bills allow federal funding of insurance plans that cover abortions.
In speaking with the president about this apparent contradiction, Stupak found it's only the (unwritten) health care reform plan in Obama's mind that doesn't fund abortions. Unfortunately, the bill the president would sign is one of those thousand-plus page behemoths circulating through both houses of Congress -- or a combination of both.
Stupak wanted to add a prohibition similar to the longstanding Hyde Amendment preventing funding of abortions to the House bill but was told by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "I will not have my amendment." Instead, placed in the House plan was a "compromise" where just one provider in each state's insurance exchange is required to cover abortions. Some compromise.
From the Left: Barney Speaks Frankly
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) got a little too comfortable on MSNBC recently and let slip what many of Americans already fear. After taking a few moments to blame Republicans for ruining big government's reputation, Frank said, "We are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area." This from a man whose fingerprints were all over the drive to force mortgage lenders to grant home loans to fiscally risky candidates in order to increase minority home ownership. The end result of that move was, of course, the subprime mortgage meltdown and the resulting economic mess we're mired in today.
Frank, chairman of the House Banking Committee, is now one of the principal architects of sweeping regulatory changes to the financial services industry. These changes are meant to prevent the rampant speculation that caused the credit crisis; in reality they're more likely to strangle our free market system and send wealth-creating capital investment overseas. What Frank said is all too true: Democrats aim to expand government in every area, period.
New & Notable Legislation
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) has introduced legislation to freeze credit card interest rates. "At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, jacked up rates can quickly create crushing debt," Dodd said in a statement. "People need to be responsible with their money, but they shouldn't be taken to the cleaners by outrageous rates." This follows a bill passed in May -- the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act -- which bars rate increases without a 45-day notification. Since that bill is due to take effect in February, banks, not being stupid, are raising their rates now. Thanks, Chris. All we need now is a law that forbids banks from canceling cards or refusing credit for any customers. Why do Democrats think that problems created by regulation can be fixed only with more regulation?
New York Congressional Special Election
The special election to fill the upstate New York congressional seat vacated when Republican John McHugh was cleverly appointed secretary of the Army by Barack Obama has quickly become the most controversial race this year.
The Democrat candidate is businessman and lawyer Bill Owens, but the real contest here is between Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who is even leading in some polls, and Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava. As we have previously noted, Hoffman, a self-made millionaire, assumed the Conservative mantle after local GOP leaders picked the shamefully liberal Scozzafava as their candidate.
National Republican figures have come out in force to back either Hoffman or Scozzafava, and by doing so they have outlined the ideological battle lines that exist within the GOP. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed Scozzafava, a New York Assemblywoman. Gingrich said that it's not his place to question the wisdom of local party leaders, while he also expressed concern that if "we're going to purge the party of anybody who doesn't agree with us 100 percent [then] that guarantees Obama's re-election."
Gingrich may have a point here, but looking at Scozzafava's background, one might wonder if she's agreed with the Party even 10 percent of the time. She has been tied to ACORN and their leftist Working Families Party, she is pro-choice, pro-stimulus package and pro-card check for unions. In fact, she makes party-jumpin' Arlen Specter look like a Reaganite.
Hoffman, on the other hand, is an avowed fiscal conservative who carries a strong message of bringing economic responsibility to Washington. Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Dick Armey, Fred Thompson and Rick Santorum have all lined up behind him. They have all stressed the importance of sticking to the conservative principles that are, or at least were, the backbone of the Republican Party.
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Warfront With Jihadistan: 'Dithering' Continues
The commander in chief has taken some well-deserved lumps of late for "dithering" on this decision regarding troop numbers in Afghanistan. Indeed, it's been two months since General Stanley McChrystal made his urgent request to President Obama for more troops. During a visit to Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Monday, Obama said, "I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way." To reiterate what we said last week in response to a similar comment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, perhaps Obama should tell this to our troops in Afghanistan, understaffed and looking death in the eye.
No worries, though -- John F. Kerry has his back. The new Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman declared that Gen. McChrystal's plan "goes too far, too fast." Let the record show that the Massachusetts Democrat was for winning in Afghanistan before he was against it. Five years ago, he ran against George W. Bush and repeatedly droned that Bush had "taken his eye off the ball" by seeking to also win in Iraq.
As columnist Ken Blackwell writes, "Kerry made his career as an outspoken advocate for the Nuclear Freeze of the 1980s. We now know that the Freeze movement was largely financed by the Kremlin. But even back then, American advocates of the Nuclear Freeze had the satisfaction of knowing they wanted the U.S. to back down in the face of Soviet threats while Britain's Margaret Thatcher, West Germany's Helmut Kohl, and even France's Francois Mitterrand wanted us to stand firm. With a record of being wrong on virtually every issue involving American interests and national security, there is only one question left about the long-faced Massachusetts senator: How has John Kerry managed to avoid winning a Nobel Peace Prize?"
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports, "US drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be breaking international laws against summary executions, the UN's top investigator of such crimes said." UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston said, "The problem with the United States is that it is making an increased use of drones/Predators [which are] particularly prominently used now in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan." He added, "My concern is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law."
Obviously, our objective is not to kill innocent civilians, and the drones have been highly successful against terrorists, particularly in Pakistan. That's probably why the UN is now so "concerned." According to AFP, "Since August 2008, around 70 strikes by unmanned aircraft have killed close to 600 people in northwestern Pakistan." Admittedly, it's often difficult to tell the difference between regular "people" and terrorists, but AFP makes no attempt to distinguish the two. They're almost as UN-helpful as the UN.
Department of Military Correctness: 'Don't Ask' Discharges
As mentioned two weeks ago, Barack Obama announced that he remains committed to scrapping the Pentagon's 16-year-old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which was implemented in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. The policy itself weakened the military's historic ban on homosexuals serving in the military. One of the arguments used by homosexual activists trying to overturn DADT is that discharging openly homosexual soldiers threatens national security by significantly reducing troop numbers. As so often occurs with leftist arguments, once facts are checked, the argument falls apart.
In examining the latest data on military discharges, it turns out that the number of military personnel discharged for homosexuality was less than 1 percent of the total number discharged for all other reasons. For example, according to Pentagon numbers for 2008, some 634 soldiers were discharged for homosexuality, which is only 0.338 percent of the 187,331 total discharges in 2008. Got that? One-third of 1 percent of all discharges was for violating DADT, and that number has remained consistent over the years. So, while the actual affect of these discharges on the U.S. military is negligible, according to homosexual activists, this loss threatens national security.
What actually threatens our national security is the loss of military discipline, cohesion and moral standing that occurs when agenda driven pressure groups and spineless lawmakers attempt to "normalize" an abnormal behavior in the ranks -- a fact recognized by our Founders. During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington had homosexuals drummed out of the ranks and punished; Thomas Jefferson authored a bill proposing castration as a punishment for sodomy; and the Continental Congress directed that American officers "discountenance and suppress all dissolute, immoral, and disorderly practices," which included sodomy. Ah, but there's nothing like "evolving standards."
Defense Bill Signed
Barack Obama signed the $680 billion defense authorization bill Wednesday. The bill contains the unrelated provision extending so-called "hate crimes" protections to homosexuals and others with gender-disorientation pathology. The measure had failed on its own for years, so Democrats shamelessly attached it to the must-pass defense bill. That failure is largely due to the fact that it makes certain thoughts a crime. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) summed it up: "Hate crimes legislation is antithetical to the First Amendment, unnecessary and will have a chilling effect on religious freedom."
Meanwhile, the defense bill contains provisions far more deleterious to national defense, such as terminating production of the F-22. Of gutting the nation's air superiority, Obama crowed that he was being fiscally responsible: "When Secretary Gates and I first proposed going after some of these wasteful projects, there were a lot of people who didn't think it was possible, who were certain we were going to lose, who were certain that we were going to get steamrolled. Today, we have proven them wrong." He then added, "There's still more fights that we need to win." (Like the fight against bad grammar, maybe?)
Obviously, to Democrats, "defense" means pushing aberrant sexual behavior while leaving the nation defenseless.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Legal issues in MA instruction
on: October 30, 2009, 10:13:13 AM
A shy friend sidebars:
some times advice is being given and taken as gospel, i.e.
"Thanks for the liability instruction" when if fact it may not be true.
While MA advice is subjective, as are political beliefs the law
is much more straightforward. Perhaps I am wrong, I am not
an attorney, however I have dealt with contracts on numerous
occasions. The idea of an "X" marking the spot has nothing to do
with the validity of the contract to my knowledge. To put them on yellow
stickums simply keeps the contract "clean", but the validity is not affected.
I hope others on this site do not rely on the legal opinion offered
by Kaju Dog (no offense meant to him) and think they can void a
contract at whim simply because they were instructed to sign next to the "X".
a person about to sign a contract
is guilty of negligence in failing to ascertain the contents of
the paper, he is bound by his signature, even though he labors
under a mistake as to the nature of the transaction there ex-
pressed. It may therefore be laid down as a general rule
that, if a person able to read a document signs it without
reading it, he is ordinarily to be regarded as negligent, and
he cannot avoid the contract because he thought the document
embodied a transaction of a different nature.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: El Fire Hydrant: (Noticias)
on: October 29, 2009, 06:54:02 PM
Disculpenme todos por favor mi participacion limitada en dias recientes.
Preparaciones por un viaje de negocio importante se me han estado consumiendo mi tiempo.
Salgo en dos dias y regreso el 12 de Noviembre. Mientras yo estoy (este'?) de viaje, es poco probable que yo participe mucho aqui.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: October 29, 2009, 06:01:00 PM
I share the feelings.
Cato Institute - 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. - Washington D.C 20001
State ‘Opt-Out’ Proposal: a Ruse within a Ruse
Posted by Michael F. Cannon
President Obama and his congressional allies want to create yet another government-run health insurance program (call it Fannie Med) to cover yet another segment of the American public (the non-elderly non-poor).
The whole idea that Fannie Med would be an “option” is a ruse.
Like the three “public options” we’ve already got – Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – Fannie Med would drag down the quality of care for publicly and privately insured patients alike. Yet despite offering an inferior product, Fannie Med would still drive private insurers out of business because it would exploit implicit and explicit government subsidies. Pretty soon, Fannie Med will be the only game in town – just ask its architect, Jacob Hacker.
Now the question before us is, “Should we allow states to opt out of Fannie Med?” It seems a good idea: if Fannie Med turns out to be a nightmare, states could avoid it.
But the state opt-out proposal is a ruse within a ruse.
Taxpayers in every state will have to subsidize Fannie Med, either implicitly or explicitly. What state official will say, “I don’t care if my constituents are subsidizing Fannie Med, I’m not going to let my constituents get their money back”? State officials are obsessed with maximizing their share of federal dollars. Voters will crucify officials who opt out. Fannie Med supporters know that. They’re counting on it.
A state opt-out provision does not make Fannie Med any more moderate. It is not a concession. It is merely the latest entreaty from the Spider to the Fly.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nobody questions that
on: October 29, 2009, 11:18:12 AM
Alexander's Essay – October 29, 2009
'Nobody Questions That'?
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson
Never before has there been more evidence of outright contempt for our Constitution than under the current liberal hegemony presiding over the executive and legislative branches of our federal government.
The protagonist of this Leftist regime is, of course, Barack Hussein Obama, who promised his constituents, "This is our moment, this is our time to turn the page on the policies of the past, to offer a new direction. We are fundamentally transforming the United States of America. And generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was our time" [emphasis added].
Obama proclaimed, "Everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- to lay a new foundation for growth."
In his inaugural speech, Obama declared, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works," signaling his rejection of the old paradigm, which pitted the conservative position, "government is the problem," against the liberal position, "government is the solution."
Thus, by virtue of his election to the presidency nearly one year ago, he believes he has the authority to establish a new paradigm to "fundamentally transform" our nation by creating "a new foundation."
However, if we are a nation of laws with a national government limited by our Constitution, and, indeed, we are, then Obama has no legal authority to "transform" our government.
Those who laid our constitutional foundation were very clear about its limits on government.
Our Constitution's principle author, James Madison, wrote, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined [and] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce."
Concerning the legislature's authority, Thomas Jefferson asserted: "[G]iving [Congress] a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole [Constitution] to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please. Certainly, no such universal power was meant to be given them. [The Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect."
Madison added, "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions."
But too many among us have become so fixated on the superficial parameters of today's political debates rather than demand an answer to that most essential question: What is the constitutional authority for Obama's proposals now being debated in Congress?
For example, amid all the acrimony over Obama's transformation of health care, the debate should not be centered on which plan is better, but whether constitutional authority exists for any of the plans under consideration.
Unfortunately, such inquiry is scarce, and hardly noted.
Last week, however, three leading Democrats in Congress were asked during news conferences to cite the constitutional authority for their healthcare proposals. To a one, they responded with answers that betrayed unmitigated arrogance and a disdain for our Constitution second to none in our nation's noble history.
"Are you serious? Are you serious?" replied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when asked specifically about the constitutional authority for Obama's health care proposal. Pelosi's spokesman later clarified, "You can put this on the record: That is not a serious question. That is not a serious question." (Apparently, there was an echo in the chamber.)
Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attempted to answer the question by demonstrating his illimitable ignorance on the subject: "Well, in promoting the general welfare the Constitution obviously gives broad authority to Congress to effect [a mandate that individuals must buy health insurance]. The end that we're trying to effect is to make health care affordable, so I think clearly this is within our constitutional responsibility."
Perhaps Hoyer should take a basic civics course on the "General Welfare" clause in Article 1, Section 8, as written by James Madison. On the limitations of the Constitution, Madison wrote: "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents..."
Finally, Democrat Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (where Rule of Law once prevailed), responded to the question of constitutional authority by insisting, "We have plenty of authority. ... I mean, there's no question there's authority. Nobody questions that. Where do we have the authority to set speed limits on an interstate highway? The federal government does that on federal highways." (No, actually, the states set speed limits, and only misinterpretation of the Commerce Clause by judicial activists could be construed to give the federal government such authority.)
As for Obama, his publicist, Robert Gibbs, claimed, "I won't be confused as a constitutional scholar, but I don't believe there's a lot of -- I don't believe there's a lot of case law that would demonstrate the veracity of [questions about constitutional authority]."
For sure, nobody will confuse Gibbs with a scholar of any stripe. And, we would remind Gibbs that when the Clintonistas attempted to nationalize healthcare (18 percent of the U.S. economy) back in 1994, the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office issued this piece of analysis: "The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate ... would impose a duty on individuals as members of society [and] require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government."
Remarkably, neither Obama's bête noire, Fox News, nor any nationally syndicated conservative column, devoted air time or print to these egregiously errant responses.
To be sure, there are a few Republicans who have questioned Obama's authority. Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed an amendment requiring swift judicial review of the health care folly if it is ultimately passed into law. Not surprisingly, Democrat Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, refused to take up Hatch's amendment, insisting that it was a matter for the Judiciary Committee -- the very committee chaired by the aforementioned Senator Patrick "We have plenty of authority" Leahy.
In order to divine the real source the Left claims as its authority for "fundamentally transforming the United States of America," consider this congressional inquiry from last March.
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann dared ask Obama's tax cheat Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, "What provision in the Constitution could you point to gives authority for the actions that have been taken by the Treasury since March of '08?"
Geithner responded, "Oh, well, the -- the Congress legislated in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act a range of very important new authorities."
Bachmann tried again: "Sir, in the Constitution. What in the Constitution could you point to gives authority to the Treasury for the extraordinary actions that have been taken?"
Geithner's response: "Every action that the Treasury and the Fed and the FDIC is -- is -- has been using authority granted by this body -- by this body, the Congress."
The "authority granted by this body, the Congress."
In every successive Congress since 1995, conservative Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg has sponsored the Enumerated Powers Act (HR 1359), which requires that "Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act."
The measure continues to fail, however, because of a dirty little secret: There is no legitimate constitutional authority for almost 70 percent of current federal government programs, and, thus, no authority for the collection of taxes to fund such activities.
Though Obama swore to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," and every member of Congress has pledged "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," and "bear true faith and allegiance to the same," Democrats, and too many Republicans, have forsaken their sacred oaths.
In doing so, they have inflicted grievous injury upon our Constitution, thereby placing our Essential Liberty in eminent peril.
In May 1775, at the onset of the hostilities that gave rise to our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution calling on the states to prepare for rebellion. In its preamble, John Adams advised his countrymen to sever all oaths of allegiance to the Crown.
Since that time, generations of American Patriots have honored their oaths, shed their blood, given their lives -- but not to the crown of any man or a partisan sect. Instead, these sacrifices have been made to support and defend our Constitution and the Rule of Law it established.
Put simply, there is no authority for a "constitutional rewrite" by Barack Hussein Obama, nor Nancy Pelosi, nor Steny Hoyer, nor any like-minded revisionists. Such contempt for our Constitution, such willful violation of their sacred oaths is a disgrace to the selfless dignity of generations of Patriots before them.
At present, we have a gang of outlaws at the helms of the executive and legislative branches. Under such despots, we are being unlawfully taxed without lawful representation. Sound familiar?
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strat: Rebounding Jihad
on: October 29, 2009, 09:44:06 AM
Iraq: A Rebounding Jihad
October 28, 2009
By Scott Stewart
On Oct. 25, militants in Iraq conducted a coordinated attack in which they detonated large vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) at the federal Ministry of Justice building and the Baghdad Provincial Council building nearly simultaneously. The two ministries are located in central Baghdad near the Green Zone and are just over a quarter of a mile apart.
The bomb-laden vehicles were driven by suicide operatives who managed to detonate them in close proximity to the exterior security walls of the targeted buildings. The attack occurred just before 10:30 a.m. on a workday, indicating that it was clearly designed to cause maximum casualties -- which it did. The twin bombing killed more than 150 people and wounded hundreds of others, making it the deadliest attack in Baghdad since the April 18, 2007, attacks against Shiite neighborhoods that killed more than 180 people.
The Oct. 25 attack was very similar in design and target set to an attack on Aug. 19, in which coordinated VBIEDs were detonated at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry buildings, along with a string of smaller attacks in other areas of the city. The Foreign Ministry building is located in the same part of Baghdad as the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad Provincial Council, while the Finance Ministry is located a short distance away and across the river. The Aug. 19 attacks, which also were launched shortly after 10 a.m., killed at least 95 people and wounded hundreds.
On Oct. 26, in a statement posted to the jihadist al-Fallujah Web site, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) claimed responsibility for the attack against the Justice Ministry and Baghdad Provincial Council. The group had also previously claimed responsibility for the Aug. 19 attack against the Foreign and Finance ministries. Judging from the targets chosen and the use of suicide bombers, it is likely that the ISI was indeed responsible for both attacks.
These recent attacks in Baghdad reveal a great deal about the ISI and its capabilities. They also provide a glimpse of what might be in store for Iraq in the run-up to the 2010 national parliamentary and general elections, which are scheduled to be held in January.
The Islamic State of Iraq
The ISI is not a single entity but a coalition of groups that includes al Qaeda's Iraqi franchise. This coalition was formed as a result of a conscious decision by jihadist leaders to put an Iraqi face on jihadist efforts in the country rather than have the movement characterized by foreign leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This transformation was illustrated by the fact that an Iraqi named Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was named to lead the ISI and that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pledged his allegiance to al-Baghdadi and the ISI in November 2006. This change enabled the ISI coalition to build stronger ties to the local Sunni tribal elders and to expand its support network in the Sunni-controlled areas of the country.
This link to the local Sunni leadership backfired when the Awakening Councils composed of Sunni Iraqis -- many of whom were former militants -- helped clamp down on the ISI. Because of this, large suicide attacks are less common then they were at the peak of the insurgency (and of overall violence) in 2007. But the Sunni elders never allowed the ISI to be totally dismantled. They saw the coalition as a useful tool in their negotiations with the Shia and Kurds, to ensure that they got what they saw as their fair share of power.
During the crackdown on the ISI that accompanied the U.S. surge of troops into Iraq, many of the foreign fighters were forced to leave the country and flee to greener pastures (many of them went to Pakistan and Afghanistan). However, the core jihadist operatives associated with ISI who survived and remained in Iraq were both battle-hardened and highly skilled after years of combat against coalition forces. As seen by these recent attacks, the ISI retains a great deal of its capability. It has demonstrated that it is still able to gather intelligence, plan attacks, acquire ordnance, build reliable IEDs and execute spectacular attacks in the center of Baghdad against government ministry buildings.
A tactical look at the Oct. 25 attack can tell us a great deal about the state of ISI. Perhaps the most obvious thing that can be ascertained is that ISI appears to have no problem securing large quantities of explosives. The two vehicles used in the attack are reported to have contained approximately 1,500 and 2,200 pounds of high explosives. (The larger of the two vehicles was apparently used to target the Justice Ministry.) The photos and videos of the two attack sites would seem roughly consistent with those estimates. From the damage done, it is obvious that the devices employed in the attack were very large and not merely 50 or 100 pounds of high explosives stuffed in the trunk of a car. The ISI not only needs money to purchase such explosive material (or a facility to produce it), but it also must be able to discreetly transport and store the material. So we are talking about vehicles for moving explosives around, places for caching the material and shops where the VBIEDS can be fabricated without detection.
It is also important to note that the two devices functioned as designed -- they did not malfunction or have a low-order detonation where only a portion of the main charge exploded. Whoever built these two large devices (and the two from the August attack) not only had access to thousands of pounds of high explosives but knew what they were doing. Assembling a large VBIED and getting it to actually function as designed is not as easy as it might seem; it takes a great deal of expertise. And the ISI's various bombmakers have accumulated a wealth of bombmaking experience while constructing IEDs of all sorts -- including a large number of massive VBIEDs -- used in many of the hundreds, if not thousands, of terrorist attacks that the ISI's constituent groups have conducted since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Reports suggest that the devices used in the Oct. 25 attack were hidden in two small passenger buses, and that those buses were new enough to blend into the traffic in the government sector of Baghdad. It appears that the ISI used the buses to get around the greater scrutiny paid to vehicles used in past attacks like cargo and tanker trucks. It will be interesting to see whether the buses can be traced and where the ISI obtained them. Following the attack, small buses will now be placed under heightened scrutiny -- meaning we can anticipate that the group may switch to another type of vehicle for the next round of attacks. (Jihadists in Iraq have used everything from bicycles to ambulances for their VBIEDs.)
We have not seen a final report on how the completed devices got to Baghdad -- whether they were manufactured outside Baghdad and then smuggled through the various security checkpoints, or if they were constructed in Baghdad from explosives smuggled into the city in smaller quantities. There are some Iraqi politicians who are saying that devices of this size could only have passed through security with inside collaboration, and there are certainly some members of the Iraqi security forces who are either sympathetic to the jihadist cause or have been placed into the security forces to act as agents of influence. However, if the explosives were well-hidden in a nice, new passenger bus with proper documentation, or if the explosives were brought into the city in smaller quantities and the VBIEDs were constructed in Baghdad, it is quite possible that the attackers did not require high-level inside assistance to conduct the attack.
Of course, if the ISI did not have high-level inside assistance for this attack, then it means that it possesses a sophisticated network capable of gathering intelligence, planning attacks and acquiring and smuggling large quantities of explosives into the heart of Baghdad without detection -- which is not an inconsequential thing. If the ISI conducted this attack without any significant inside help, the problem is far greater that if it had; regardless of political settlements or purges of the security forces, the network will remain in place. It will be much harder to ferret out if it is external.
The ministry buildings that were attacked were secured by exterior security perimeters that prevented the vehicles carrying the explosive devices from getting right up next to them. However, they were not hardened facilities and did not present a truly hard target for the attackers. The buildings were standard office buildings built during more peaceful times in Iraq and had lots of windows. They were also built in close proximity to the street and did not have the standoff distance required to provide protection against a large VBIED. Standoff distance had been provided for these buildings previously when the streets around them were closed to traffic, but the streets were opened up a few months back by the Iraqi government as a sign that things were returning to normal in Baghdad. In past VBIED attacks in Baghdad, the ISI was forced to attack soft targets or targets on the perimeter of secure zones. The opening of many streets to traffic in 2009 has expanded the group's targeting possibilities -- especially if it can use large devices to overcome the limited protection that short standoff distance affords at targets like those recently struck.
Hardened construction, protective window film, and perimeter walls and barricades are useful, and such measures can be effective in protecting a facility against a small IED. They also certainly saved lives on Oct. 25 by not allowing the VBIEDs to pull up right next to the facilities, where they could have caused more direct structural damage and killed more people inside the buildings. (It appears that many of those killed were commuters on the street.) However, distance is the most critical thing that protects a facility against an attack with a very large VBIED, and the ministry buildings attacked by the ISI on Oct. 25 lacked sufficient standoff distance to protect them from 1,500- and 2,200-pound VBIEDs.
In practical terms, there are very few capital cities anywhere in the world that provide the space for effective standoff distance for their ministry-level buildings. Even in Washington, streets had to be closed to traffic around buildings like the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon to provide adequate standoff. There is often a great deal of tension between city officials who desire a smooth flow of traffic and security officials attempting to guard facilities against attack.
Following the Oct. 25 attacks, the Iraqi government has increased security around government facilities (as it did after the Aug. 19 attack), but the steps taken are mainly just short-term security measures that tend to gloss over the larger long-term problem of balancing security with feelings of normalcy in Baghdad and throughout Iraq.
Since August, the ISI has attacked the Iraqi Finance Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry and the Baghdad Provincial Council, and these attacks are being used to send a number of signals.
First, the jihadists in the ISI are attempting to split the existing power-sharing agreement in Baghdad. If the Sunni, Shia and Kurds can reach a final understanding, the jihadists lose their value as a bargaining lever for the Sunni elders and will rapidly lose their operational space (and likely their lives). Second, if the Sunni, Shia and Kurds can form a stable government, the jihadists lose all hope of forming their aspired-for caliphate in Iraq. The ISI needs chaos in Iraq to have any hope of stepping into power like the Taliban did in Afghanistan.
The local Sunni leaders likely are providing at least some level of support to the ISI -- or, at the very least, they are turning a blind eye to the various ISI activities that are almost certainly based out of Sunni-controlled areas. The Sunni sheikhs are using the ISI to send a message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the Sunnis must be accommodated if there is to be real peace and stability in Iraq. One sticking point for the Sunni elders is that a large percentage of the Awakening Council members have not been integrated into the security forces as promised. Of course, the Shia and Kurds then use these attacks as an excuse for why the Sunnis cannot be trusted -- and it all becomes a vicious circle.
The political situation that is driving the security problems in Iraq is complex and cannot be easily resolved. There are many internal and external players who are all trying to influence the final outcome in Iraq for their own benefit. In addition to the internal squabbles over power and oil wealth, Iraq is also a proxy battleground where the United States and Iran are attempting to maintain and assert influence. Regional players like the Saudis, Syrians and Turks also will take a keen interest in the elections and will certainly attempt to influence them to whatever degree they can. The end result of all this meddling is that peace and stability will be hard to obtain.
This means that terrorist attacks likely will continue for the foreseeable future, including attacks by the ISI. If the attacks in August and October are any indication, the remainder of the run-up to the January elections could prove quite bloody.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: First Time Fraudsters
on: October 29, 2009, 08:49:44 AM
It's hard not to laugh when viewing the results of the federal first-time home-buyer tax credit. The credit, worth up to $8,000 for the purchase of a home, has only been available since April of last year. Yet news of the latest taxpayer-funded mortgage scam has traveled fast. The Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, recently told Congress that at least 19,000 filers hadn't purchased a home when they claimed the credit. For another 74,000 filers, claiming a total of $500 million in credits, evidence suggests that they weren't first-time buyers.
Among those claiming bogus credits, at least some of them were definitely first-timers. The credit has already been claimed by 500 people under the age of 18, including a four-year-old. This pre-K housing whiz likely bought because mom and dad make too much to qualify for the full credit, which starts to phase out at $150,000 of income for couples, $75,000 for singles.
As a "refundable" tax credit, it guarantees the claimants will get cash back even if they paid no taxes. A lack of documentation requirements also makes this program a slow pitch in the middle of the strike zone for scammers. The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department are pursuing more than 100 criminal investigations related to the credit, and the IRS is reportedly trying to audit almost everyone who claims it this year.
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.Speaking of the IRS, apparently its own staff couldn't help but notice this opportunity to snag an easy $8,000. One day after explaining to Congress how many "home-buyers" were climbing aboard this gravy train, Mr. George appeared on Neil Cavuto's program on the Fox Business Network. Mr. George said his staff has found at least 53 cases of IRS employees filing "illegal or inappropriate" claims for the credit. "In all honesty this is an interim report. I expect that the number would be much larger than that number," he said.
The program is set to expire at the end of November, so naturally given its record of abuse, Congress is preparing to extend it. Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia is so pleased with the results that he wants to expand the program beyond first-time buyers and double the income limits.
This is the point in the story when a taxpayer's sense of humor is bound to give way to a different emotion. The credit's cost is running at about $1 billion a month and $15 billion for the year. Also, even when employed by an honest buyer, it's another distortion that drives capital into housing and away from other more productive uses. For America's tens of millions of tax-paying renters, it's another subsidy they provide for their neighbors to be able to sell their houses at a higher price.
While the credit seems to have boosted home sales, many of those sales would have happened anyway and have merely been stolen from the future. Meanwhile, the credit continues to distort the housing market and postpone the day when home prices can find a floor that is a basis for a stable recovery.
More than two years into the housing bust, trillions of dollars in taxpayer losses or guarantees via Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and amid an ongoing plague of redefaults in federal programs to prevent foreclosures, politicians are still trying to manipulate housing prices. And leave it to Congress to design a program that even a four-year-old can scam.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson: Concerns raised over FBI
on: October 29, 2009, 08:39:17 AM
Published: October 28, 2009
WASHINGTON — After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in Africa in October 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United States soil.
Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or links to the teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities, including in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The operation unfolded as the Bush administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules.
The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.”; The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.
In seeking the revised rules, the bureau said it needed greater flexibility to hunt for would-be terrorists inside the United States. But the manual’s details have alarmed privacy advocates.
One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat. Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor — as long as it is not the only one — when selecting subjects for scrutiny.
“It raises fundamental questions about whether a domestic intelligence agency can protect civil liberties if they feel they have a right to collect broad personal information about people they don’t even suspect of wrongdoing,” said Mike German, a former F.B.I. agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union.
But Valerie Caproni, the F.B.I.’s general counsel, said the bureau has adequate safeguards to protect civil liberties as it looks for people who could pose a threat.
“Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good seriously miss the mark,” Ms. Caproni said. “The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.”
The manual authorizes agents to open an “assessment” to “proactively” seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats.
Agents may begin such assessments against a target without a particular factual justification. The basis for such an inquiry “cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation,” the manual says, but the standard is “difficult to define.”
Assessments permit agents to use potentially intrusive techniques, like sending confidential informants to infiltrate organizations and following and photographing targets in public.
F.B.I. agents previously had similar powers when looking for potential criminal activity. But until the recent changes, greater justification was required to use the powers in national security investigations because they receive less judicial oversight.
If agents turn up something specific to suggest wrongdoing, they can begin a “preliminary” or “full” investigation and use additional techniques, like wiretapping. But even if agents find nothing, the personal information they collect during assessments can be retained in F.B.I. databases, the manual says.
When selecting targets, agents are permitted to consider political speech or religion as one criterion. The manual tells agents not to engage in racial profiling, but it authorizes them to take into account “specific and relevant ethnic behavior” and to “identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities.”
Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates, said the F.B.I. was harassing Muslim-Americans by singling them out for scrutiny. Her group was among those that sued the bureau to release the manual.
“We have seen even in recent months the revelation of the F.B.I. going into mosques — not where they have a specific reason to believe there is criminal activity, but as ‘agent provocateurs’ who are trying to incite young individuals to join a purported terror plot,” Ms. Khera said. “We think the F.B.I. should be focused on following actual leads rather than putting entire communities under the microscope.”
Ms. Caproni, the F.B.I. lawyer, denied that the bureau engages in racial profiling. She cited the search for signs of the Somali group, Al Shabaab, linked to the Minneapolis teenager to illustrate why the manual allows agents to consider ethnicity when deciding where to look. In that case, the bureau worried that other such teenagers might return from Somalia to carry out domestic operations.
Agents are trained to ignore ethnicity when looking for groups that have no ethnic tie, like environmental extremists, she said, but “if you are looking for Al Shabaab, you are looking for Somalis.”
Among the manual’s safeguards, agents must use the “least intrusive investigative method that effectively accomplishes the operational objective.” When infiltrating an organization, agents cannot sabotage its “legitimate social or political agenda,” nor lead it “into criminal activity that otherwise probably would not have occurred.”
Portions of the manual were redacted, including pages about “undisclosed participation” in an organization’s activities by agents or informants, “requesting information without revealing F.B.I. affiliation or the true purpose of a request,” and using “ethnic/racial demographics.”
The attorney general guidelines for F.B.I. operations date back to 1976, when a Congressional investigation by the so-called Church Committee uncovered decades of illegal domestic spying by the bureau on groups perceived to be subversive — including civil rights, women’s rights and antiwar groups — under the bureau’s longtime former director, J. Edgar Hoover, who died in 1972.
The Church Committee proposed that rules for the F.B.I.’s domestic security investigations be written into federal law. To forestall legislation, the attorney general in the Ford administration, Edward Levi, issued his own guidelines that established such limits internally.
Since then, administrations of both parties have repeatedly adjusted the guidelines.
In September 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey signed the new F.B.I. guidelines that expanded changes begun under his predecessor, John Ashcroft, after the Sept. 11 attacks. The guidelines went into effect and the F.B.I. completed the manual putting them into place last December.
There are no signs that the current attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., plans to roll back the changes. A spokeswoman said Mr. Holder was monitoring them “to see how well they work” and would make refinements if necessary.
The F.B.I., however, is revising the manual. Ms. Caproni said she was taking part in weekly high-level meetings to evaluate suggestions from agents and expected about 20 changes.
Many proposals have been requests for greater flexibility. For example, some agents said requirements that they record in F.B.I. computers every assessment, no matter how minor, were too time consuming. But Ms. Caproni said the rule aided oversight and would not be changed.
She also said that the F.B.I. takes seriously its duty to protect freedom while preventing terrorist attacks. “I don’t like to think of us as a spy agency because that makes me really nervous,” she said. “We don’t want to live in an environment where people in the United States think the government is spying on them. That’s an oppressive environment to live in and we don’t want to live that way.”
What the public should understand, she continued, is that the F.B.I. is seeking to become a more intelligence-driven agency that can figure out how best to deploy its agents to get ahead of potential threats.
“And to do that,” she said, “you need information.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wilson 1791
on: October 29, 2009, 08:25:57 AM
"It is the duty of parents to maintain their children decently, and according to their circumstances; to protect them according to the dictates of prudence; and to educate them according to the suggestions of a judicious and zealous regard for their usefulness, their respectability and happiness." --James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Part 5
on: October 29, 2009, 08:23:48 AM
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 5: Putin Struggles for Balance
October 29, 2009 | 1139 GMT
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is at a decision point. After spending a decade consolidating political and economic power, he has to choose how to deal with Russia's troubled economy. Amid tensions between the Kremlin's two powerful clans, Putin's decision could leave Russia's political structure in tatters.
Editor's Note: This is the final part of a five-part series examining the Russian political clans and the coming conflict between them.
Related Special Topic Page
Special Series: The Kremlin Wars
Click here to download a PDF of this report
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spent a decade gaining control over the Russian political and economic system. However, economic difficulties are affecting Russia's political structure, and the remedy could break the whole system apart.
After coming to power in 1999, Putin spent five years getting a firm grip on the Russian political system. During the next five years, he focused on managing the balance between the Kremlin's rival power clans -- one led by Vladislav Surkov, currently Putin's first aide and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's deputy chief of staff, and the other led by Igor Sechin, currently deputy prime minister -- while recentralizing the economy. In consolidating the economy, Putin granted these clans the unchecked ability to put many of Russia's largest and most important firms under state control.
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series Introduction): The War Begins
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 1: The Crash
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 2: The Combatants
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 3: Rise of the Civiliki
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 4: Surkov Presses Home
This consolidation generally was more about giving the state control over Russia's vast strategic resources and purging influence from abroad or from those hostile to the Kremlin than about making economically sound decisions. The benefits of high energy prices and a surge of foreign investment into Russia made up for shortcomings in economic planning. But those good times have ended. Energy prices are considerably lower now, and foreign investment has dried up. Furthermore, many of those put in charge of the firms now managed by the Russian state did not know how to run a business. These firms collapsed during the ongoing global economic crisis, deeply damaging the Russian economy.
Putin has not been blind to the mismanagement and overextension in the economic consolidation, or to the long-term outlook for the Russian economy. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has presented Putin with a proposal to partially liberalize the economy, remove the poor managers, and put business-minded people in charge of the firms in the hopes of returning those firms to functionality and possibly profit. Putin might be considering these reforms, but he is not putting himself in a position to spearhead them. Though any real reforms inside Russia will require his approval, Putin has made sure that Kudrin and Medvedev are the public faces of those reforms. That way, if the reforms work, Putin could take the credit for approving them; if they fail, Kudrin -- and possibly even Medvedev -- would take the fall.
But beyond the chances of success or failure for Kudrin's proposed economic reforms is another problem: The reforms could compromise the balanced political system Putin has worked so carefully to construct and maintain.
Almost all of the managers that need to be purged under Kudrin's plan are members of the same power clan -- the siloviki, run by Sechin. Their removal would overturn the balance of power that has allowed Putin to rule for the past decade. It would leave Surkov's clan nearly unchecked in the Kremlin, and Surkov is already a powerful figure. He has been diversifying his power and, in addition to ruling over the Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU), now holds the loyalty of the liberal economic reformers called the civiliki, including Kudrin.
This is not the first time Putin has faced competing factions. During the first few years of Putin's presidency, he secured a landslide victory in 2003 Duma elections that gave his party, United Russia, dominance in the government. But Putin had to purge competing elements in the Yeltsin Family, the oligarchs, the security services and the St. Petersburg liberals. He wiped out some of these factions, like the Yeltsin Family and the oligarchs. He purged the non-loyal forces from the security services and St. Petersburgers and molded them into new factions. It is this second move that led to the rise of the clans led by Sechin and Surkov.
Putin's reign in Russia has always depended on balance, and now one of his top lieutenants is in a position to gain more power than Putin is comfortable with. Surkov knows he can never officially control Russia, but his ambition is to run it from behind the scenes. He has been fairly successful in this so far, but rival clan leader Sechin and his followers in the Federal Security Service (FSB) have always kept him and his GRU power base in check. Kudrin's plan, along with a few more changes to the system, would remove most of Surkov's obstacles. Moreover, Surkov is starting to garner a cult-like loyalty inside Russia that would make any Kremlin leader nervous. Putin knows Surkov is not trying to lead Russia officially, but his concern is that with Surkov's growing power, Putin could be displaced as Russia's chief decision-maker.
Besides Putin's desire to remain in control, the other concern is the response from the siloviki -- mainly made up of former KGB and current FSB personnel -- to a tip in the balance of power. The siloviki have never a secret of their loathing toward Surkov, his GRU and the civiliki. They would not stand for Surkov making the major decisions in the Kremlin. Russia can remain powerful only under authoritarian control, and that is something Surkov could never accomplish. Over the last decade, Putin managed to gain the loyalty of all the different Kremlin factions. Surkov could destroy that delicate balance.
Putin could disregard Kudrin's plan, leaving Sechin's people in their current positions and ignoring any plans for privatization. That would maintain the power balance, and contain Surkov to a degree, but the economic tools that Russia would have at its disposal would become far less useful. Or Putin could allow very limited business privatization and restructuring in order to keep the system stable in the short run, disregarding the long-term effects of the current economic model. This means that at any time, if Kudrin's plans start to destabilize Russia politically, those plans could be abandoned and Kudrin or Medvedev blamed for the effects. Putin would hardly be the first Russian leader to allow the economy to crumble in order to maintain political control.
Putin could also implement Kudrin's reforms but politically hive off Kudrin and the civiliki from Surkov's clan and establish the civiliki as their own clan. Since Putin is an expert at creating balance, there has been some discussion that if Sechin's clan is about to lose some of its power and Surkov is about to become stronger, Surkov's clan could be split in two to make up for the imbalance.
This looks very similar to Vladimir Lenin's tripartite system, which involved the creation of a system within the Kremlin in which three clans play off of each other to keep balance. In Lenin's system, the KGB was one clan, the GRU was another and the third was a non-intelligence group sometimes simply called the State. In Putin's model, the FSB under Sechin would continue as one clan, Surkov's clan would oversee only the GRU and then the civiliki would form the third group, led by either Medvedev or Kudrin. For Lenin, the tripartite system worked in the short term, but it ultimately failed as the intelligence groups infiltrated the State.
Surkov has already thought of this option and knows Putin is considering it. However, he views the civiliki as being too dependent to form their own clan and feels they will always have some level of loyalty to him. Considering that the civiliki generally lack leadership and do not have a power base independent of Surkov, a successful application of the tripartite model would require greater management skills than Putin currently has.
Putin's Attention Span
Another problem for Putin is how much time and effort will be required to restructure Russia's economy, attempt to keep balance inside the Kremlin, and prevent a powerful Kremlin figure from threatening Putin's control. Putin and Russia have enough other concerns outside the country.
Russia is currently consolidating its periphery by bringing former Soviet states back into its orbit. Russia is in the middle of purging Western influence in Belarus, Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Moscow is also working to prevent states further out on its periphery -- especially in Central Europe -- from becoming more pro-Western and allowing countries like the United States to have a presence there.
Russia has also been creating informal alliances with other regional powers like Germany, Turkey and Iran in order to counter the United States' global power and ability to work within Russia's sphere of influence.
If Putin is faced with a crisis at home, whether economic or political, he could have to pull back on Russia's bold moves abroad. Recently, with Russia consolidated and stable and the United States bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, Moscow has been able to make some major regional shifts in Eurasia. If this situation changes and Russia has to deal with domestic strife, then by the time Russia is stable enough to be able to act abroad again, the United States could once more be free to counter Moscow's moves.
It all hinges on Putin's decisions about managing Russia's faltering economy while maintaining control over those vying for power inside Russia. Putin has been successful when faced with such turmoil before, but it is unclear if that success can be repeated.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Well done!
on: October 29, 2009, 02:27:42 AM
Imam Who Led Radical Islam Group Killed in FBI Raid
Feds: Imam Who Led Radical Islam Group Killed in FBI Raid
DETROIT — A man described as a leader of a radical Sunni Islam group in the U.S. was fatally shot Wednesday afternoon while resisting arrest and exchanging gunfire with federal agents, authorities said.
Agents at a warehouse in Dearborn were trying to arrest Luqman Ameen Abdullah, 53, on charges that included conspiracy to sell stolen goods and illegal possession and sale of firearms. Ten followers listed in a criminal complaint were also being rounded up in the area.
Abdullah refused to surrender, fired a weapon and was killed by gunfire from agents, FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said.
In a court filing, the FBI said Abdullah, also known as Christopher Thomas, was an imam of a Black Muslim radical group named Ummah whose primary mission is to establish an Islamic state within the United States.
No one was charged with terrorism. But Abdullah was "advocating and encouraging his followers to commit violent acts against the United States," FBI agent Gary Leone said in an affidavit.
"He regularly preaches anti-government and anti-law enforcement rhetoric," Leone said. "Abdullah and his followers have trained regularly in the use of firearms, and continue to train in martial arts and sword fighting."
Leone said members of the national group mostly are black and some converted to Islam while in prisons across the United States.
"Abdullah preaches that every Muslim should have a weapon, and should not be scared to use their weapon when needed," Leone wrote.
It was not immediately clear how many of the other 10 suspects were in custody.
The group believes that a separate Islamic state in the U.S. would be controlled by Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, who is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Colorado for shooting two police officers in Georgia in 2000, Leone said. Al-Amin, a veteran of the black power movement, started the group after he converted to Islam in prison.
"They're not taking their cues from overseas," said Jimmy Jones, a professor of world religions at Manhattanville College and a longtime Muslim prison chaplain. "This group is very much American born and bred."
The movement at one time was believed to include a couple of dozen mosques around the country. Ummah is now dwarfed in numbers and influence by other African-American Muslim groups, particularly the mainstream Sunnis who were led by Imam W.D. Mohammed, who recently died.
By evening, authorities still were working the scene near the Detroit-Dearborn border and the warehouse was surrounded by police tape.
The U.S. attorney's office said an FBI dog was also killed during the shootout.
Abdullah's mosque is in a brick duplex on a quiet, residential street in Detroit. A sign on the door in English and Arabic reads, in part, "There is no God but Allah."
Several men congregated on the porch Wednesday night and subsequently attacked a photographer from The Detroit News who was taking pictures from across the street. Ricardo Thomas had his camera equipment smashed and had a bloody lip from the attack.
Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Dearborn, said the FBI had briefed him about Wednesday's raids and told him they were the result of a two-year investigation.
"We know that this is not something to be projected as something against Muslims," Hamad said.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The New Kitty Genovese
on: October 29, 2009, 12:21:17 AM
Gang rape raises questions about bystanders' roleBy Stephanie Chen, CNNOctober 28, 2009 5:19 p.m. EDT
"Genovese syndrome" was coined after dozens watched or heard a killer attack Kitty Genovese and did nothing.STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Psychologists say bystanders in large groups are less likely to take action
Police: As many as 20 people watched gang rape spanning over two hours
Bystanders didn't report assault to police and some participated in the attack
Some experts argue the witnesses may have feared retaliation from the gang(CNN) -- For more than two hours on a dark Saturday night, as many as 20 people watched or took part as a 15-year-old California girl was allegedly gang raped and beaten outside a high school homecoming dance, authorities said.
As hundreds of students gathered in the school gym, outside in a dimly lit alley where the victim was allegedly raped, police say witnesses took photos. Others laughed.
"As people announced over time that this was going on, more people came to see, and some actually participated," Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department told CNN.
The witnesses failed to report the crime to law enforcement, Gagan said. The victim remained hospitalized in stable condition. Police arrested five suspects and more arrests were expected.
So why didn't anyone come forward?
Criminology and psychology experts say there could be a variety of reasons why the crime wasn't reported. Several pointed to a problematic social phenomenon known as the bystander effect. It's a theory that has played out in lynchings, college riots and white-collar crimes.
Under the bystander effect, experts say that the larger the number of people involved in a situation, the less will get done.
Video: Girl gang-raped for hours
Video: Gang rape outside school dance
Video: Can witnesses be prosecuted? RELATED TOPICS
"If you are in a crowd and you look and see that everyone is doing nothing, then doing nothing becomes the norm." explains Drew Carberry, a director at the National Council on Crime Prevention.
Carberry said witnesses can be less likely to report a crime because they reinforce each other with the notion that reporting the crime isn't necessary. Or, he says, witnesses may think another person in the crowd already reported the incident. The responsibility among the group becomes diffused.
"Kids learn at a young age when they observe bullying that they would rather not get involved because there is a power structure," Carberry adds.
The phrase bystander effect was coined in the 1960s after people watched or heard a serial killer stalk and stab a woman in two separate attacks in the Queens neighborhood of New York.
Kitty Genovese struggled with the attacker on the street and in her building. She shrieked for help and was raped, robbed and murdered. When witnesses in the building were questioned by police about why they remained silent and failed to act, one man, according to the 1964 New York Times article that broke the story, answered, "I didn't want to be involved."
Though the number of people who saw or heard Genovese struggle was eventually disputed, her case still became symbolic of a kind of crowd apathy that psychologists and social scientists call the "Genovese syndrome."
"I don't propose people get involved by running over and trying to stop it," the 73-year-old brother of Kitty Genovese told CNN, referring to the California gang rape case. Instead, Vincent Genovese advocates a call to 911. "Everyone has a cell phone," he said. "There is no excuse for people not to react to a situation like that."
A similar incident took place at a New Bedford, Massachusetts, bar in 1983. Witnesses said several men threw a woman on a pool table where they raped and performed oral sex on her. Several witnesses failed to call police.
"The people in the bar didn't do anything. They just let it happen," said Richard Felson, a professor of crime, law and justice at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania.
This detached mentality can be especially pervasive among youth, who are too young to comprehend what victimization means, said Salvatore Didato, an organizational psychologist in New York. When a teenager -- or anyone -- doesn't have a personal bond to the victim, they are less likely to help out.
Experts say sometimes bystanders see the victim as less important than the person committing the crime, who appears to wield power. "The victim to them is a non-person," Didato said.
But in California, it's illegal for a witnessed crime involving children to go unreported. The Sherrice Iverson Child Victim Protection Act passed in 1999 makes it a misdemeanor to fail to report a crime against a child. However, the bill only applies to victims 14 or younger. The victim in the California gang-rape case was 15.
Phil Harris, a criminal justice professor at Temple University, who has studied juveniles and group situations for nearly three decades, offered another hypothesis on why as many as 20 witnesses failed to notify police. He said the witnesses could have been angry themselves -- or had a problem with the victim.
Richmond Police Department officials said some of the witnesses in the California gang rape ended up participating in the sexual assaults.
"A lot of kids don't know how to express anger and they are curious when anger is expressed," Harris said.
Scientific studies over the last decade have shown that adolescent brain development occurs into the 20s, which makes it hard for teens to make decisions, criminologists say. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court took this research into consideration when it ruled that children could not be given the death penalty.
It is still unclear the ages of the male witnesses who gathered around the victim in California and watched.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Northeastern University criminologist Jack McDevitt says he believes the California gang rape was too violent -- and lasted too long -- to be the result of the bystander effect alone.
McDevitt, who specializes in hate crime research, says the male witnesses may have kept quiet out of fear of retaliation. In his research, witnesses who live in violent communities often fear stepping forward because snitching isn't tolerated.
Snitching could also bring dangerous consequences to their friends and family. "They don't believe the system will protect them from the offender," he said. "They think the offender will find out their name."
That may have been the case in Chicago, Illinois, in September when an honor student was beaten to death by four teenage boys outside a school. Video captured by a bystander showed several students watching the attack, but police have found many of the witnesses tight-lipped in the South side community where violence has been prevalent. Police have charged three suspects with murder.
While information from the Richmond Police Department in the coming weeks may reveal more about the bystanders and attackers, crime experts say one thing is clear: Third parties can affect the outcome of a crime. Witnesses have the power to deter violence -- or stop a crime from going on, experts say.
Bystanders could have prevented the gang rape from lasting more than two hours, if they had reported the crime to authorities sooner.
The victim was found under a bench, semi-conscious.
"This just gets worse and worse the more you dig into it," Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department. "It was like a horror movie. I can't believe not one person felt compelled to help her."
Nick Valencia contributed to this report.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm) Training Camp Feb 6-7
on: October 28, 2009, 09:33:28 PM
Woof Dog Mark et al:
The date is now confirmed as February 6-7. While the exact location has not been determined, it will be in the South Bay/Hermosa Beach area.
Also I am delighted to confirm that we will have Kenny Johnson joining us as a guest instructor. I know Kenny via Rigan Machado. KJ is a world class MMA Wrestling coach. For example, he was the MMA Wrestling Coach on Team Noguiera on TUF. He coaches Anderson Silva, BJ Penn, Lyoto Machida and others of that ilk.
We got to know each other when I asked him for a lesson to help me with certain wrestling based questions I had (re "the Rico" and my lousy underhooks) He was very intrigued by what I was doing and we began light sparring and exchanging knowledge. This has continued. A month or two ago he came by my Monday Kali Tudo class and we taught together.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT
on: October 28, 2009, 09:17:08 AM
Fears of a New Chill in Home Sales
By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: October 27, 2009
Even as new figures show house prices have risen for three consecutive months, concerns are growing that the real estate market will be severely tested this winter.
Artificially low interest rates and a government tax credit are luring buyers, but both those inducements are scheduled to end. Defaults and distress sales are rising in the middle and upper price ranges. And millions of people have lost so much equity that they are locked into their homes for years, a modern variation of the Victorian debtor’s prison that is freezing a large swath of the market.
“Plenty of pain yet to come,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist for MFR. He is forecasting an imminent resumption of price declines.
This summer, housing seemed at last to be stabilizing. A flood of last-minute buyers trying to conclude a deal before the tax credit expires Nov. 30 helped push up the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index a seasonally adjusted 1 percent in August, it was announced on Tuesday.
That was the first time since early 2006 that the widely watched measure of 20 metropolitan areas put together three consecutive increases.
While underlining the importance of that long-awaited rise, Maureen Maitland, the S.& P. vice president for index services, warned, “Everything is up for grabs this winter.”
Consumers seem acutely aware of the strains ahead. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell unexpectedly in October, after reaching its high for the year in September, the board announced on Tuesday.
The only hot sector of the real estate market has been foreclosures. Investors and first-time buyers have been competing for these, often creating bidding wars. But with the economy still weak, many analysts expect more foreclosures.
Another factor likely to weigh on home sales in the coming months is a rise in interest rates. As the Federal Reserve ceases its buying of mortgage-backed securities, rates may well drift up to 6 percent, from 5 percent.
Worries about the fragility of the housing market, fanned by the real estate industry, may prompt an extension of the tax credit. The controversial program has spurred as many as 400,000 buyers, including Brenda Colon, a nurse in Las Vegas.
“If you had told me in January that I would be buying a house, I would have laughed,” said Ms. Colon, 48, who lives with her two daughters and granddaughter. “But the tax credit was just the kicker to throw me over.”
Yet despite the tax credit and other local and federal incentives for homebuyers in Las Vegas, prices there are continuing to fall, shedding 0.8 percent in August. The city’s home prices have declined on average more than 55 percent from their peak, more than in any other metropolis.
Whenever the tax credit finally expires, Las Vegas and every other city will have to confront the inevitable question after all such stimulus packages: what will motivate the buyers of tomorrow?
“In my office, people were buying homes left and right because of that tax credit,” said Kitty Berberick, who works for an insurance company in Las Vegas. “That credit was a godsend.”
Ms. Berberick, 62, could not strike a deal in time, and now has signed another lease for her apartment. If the credit is not extended, she said, she is likely to give up the search entirely until the market really crashes.
This, of course, is the sort of fatalistic attitude that relentlessly drove down prices last fall.
“Everyone keeps telling me, it’s going to go down before it goes up,” Ms. Berberick said. “I hope it does, because then I can buy.”
The recovery is both modest and tentative when measured against the preceding plunge. Prices have fallen nearly a third from their peak, and are down 11.4 percent over the last year.
In most major cities, it is as if the housing boom never happened. Prices over all are back to where they were in the fall of 2003. Some cities have been pushed down even more: In Cleveland, prices are at 2001 levels; in Detroit they’re at 1995.
It is the magnitude of this decline that makes Karl E. Case, the Wellesley professor for whom the Case-Shiller index is partly named, an optimist.
While acknowledging “there are a lot of dangers out there,” Mr. Case said “housing is as affordable as it’s been in 20 years. I don’t see a very rapid recovery, but I think we’ve seen the bottom.”
Sixteen of the 20 cities in the index rose in August, including San Francisco, up 2.6 percent, and Minneapolis, which rose 2.3 percent. Besides Las Vegas, three cities fell: Charlotte, Cleveland and Seattle. New York was up 0.3 percent.
The Case-Shiller numbers on prices lag behind the National Association of Realtors’ report on existing-home sales, which has been issued for September. Sales were up 9.4 percent from August, with the tax credit again getting much of the credit.
Critics of the credit argue that the number of those who merely qualify for it — and gladly take it — greatly outnumber those it is precisely intended to assist: people who would not have bought a house otherwise. That means, they argue, that the government is essentially paying more than $40,000 for each purchase that would not have occurred without the credit.
That is an expensive proposition, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center who has closely followed the issue. “The bigger threat to the housing market is not the reduction in demand from the end of the credit, but the continuing wave of foreclosures we’re likely to see over the next 18 months,” he said.
In California, there is strong evidence that foreclosures are beginning to migrate from the subprime inland areas to the more exclusive coastal region.
According to MDA DataQuick, third-quarter notices of default in Santa Barbara were up 25 percent from 2008; in San Luis Obispo, they rose 46 percent; in Marin County, they were up 66 percent.
Defaults in hard-hit Sacramento, by contrast, were up only 10 percent. In Merced County in the Central Valley, an epicenter of the bust, they actually fell.
While defaults are only the first stage in foreclosure, Mr. Shapiro, the MFR economist, expects many formerly creditworthy homeowners to go under. He says he thinks the recent improvement in Case-Shiller numbers is an aberration rather than the beginning of a long-term improvement, with consequences for the larger economy.
“Another leg down in home prices, even if much more limited than the initial move, would nonetheless weigh on consumer spending,” Mr. Shapiro said, adding that he did not expect a second recession
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Biden, Iran, Russia, FSU
on: October 28, 2009, 08:52:19 AM
George Friedman and Peter Zeihan | Tuesday, 27 October 2009
tags : Biden, Iran, Obama, Russia, StratforRussia, Iran and the Biden speech
The Obama Administration's aggressive diplomacy in Eastern Europe could sink its hopes for a peaceful resolution of its conflict with Iran.
This article was first published on the Stratfor website. George Friedman, is chairman and CEO of Stratfor. Peter Zeihan is a Stratfor analyst.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden toured several countries in Central Europe last week, including the Czech Republic and Poland. The trip comes just a few weeks after the United States reversed course and decided not to construct a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in those two countries. While the system would have had little effect on the national security of either Poland or the Czech Republic, it was taken as a symbol of U.S. commitment to these two countries and to former Soviet satellites generally. The BMD cancellation accordingly caused intense concern in both countries and the rest of the region.
While the Obama administration strongly denied that the decision to halt the BMD deployment and opt for a different BMD system had anything to do with the Russians, the timing raised some questions. Formal talks with Iran on nuclear weapons were a few weeks away, and the only leverage the United States had in those talks aside from war was sanctions. The core of any effective sanctions against Iran would be placing limits on Iran's gasoline imports. By dint of proximity to Iran and massive spare refining capability, the Russians were essential to this effort -- and they were indicating that they wouldn't participate. Coincidence or not, the decision to pull BMD from Poland and the Czech Republic did give the Russians something they had been demanding at a time when they clearly needed to be brought on board.
The Biden Challenge
That's what made Biden's trip interesting. First, just a few weeks after the reversal, he revisited these countries. He reasserted American commitment to their security and promised the delivery of other weapons such as Patriot missile batteries, an impressive piece of hardware that really does enhance regional security (unlike BMD, which would grant only an indirect boost). Then, Biden went even further in Romania, not only extending his guarantees to the rest of Central Europe, but also challenging the Russians directly. He said that the United States regarded spheres of influence as 19th century thinking, thereby driving home that Washington is not prepared to accept Russian hegemony in the former Soviet Union (FSU). Most important, he called on the former satellites of the Soviet Union to assist republics in the FSU that are not part of the Russian Federation to overthrow authoritarian systems and preserve their independence.
This was a carefully written and vetted speech: It was not Biden going off on a tangent, but rather an expression of Obama administration policy. And it taps into the prime Russian fear, namely, that the West will eat away at Russia's western periphery -- and at Russia itself -- with color revolutions that result in the installation of pro-Western governments, just as happened in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004-2005. The United States essentially now has pledged itself to do just that, and has asked the rest of Central Europe to join it in creating and strengthening pro-Western governments in the FSU. After doing something Russia wanted the United States to do, Washington now has turned around and announced a policy that directly challenges Russia, and which in some ways represents Russia's worst-case scenario.
What happened between the decision to pull BMD and Biden's Romania speech remains unclear, but there are three possibilities. The first possibility is that the Obama administration decided to shift policy on Russia in disappointment over Moscow's lack of response to the BMD overture. The second possibility is that the Obama administration didn't consider the effects of the BMD reversal. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the one had nothing to do with the other, and it is possible that the Obama administration simply failed to anticipate the firestorm the course reversal would kick off in Central Europe and to anticipate that it would be seen as a conciliatory gesture to the Russians, and then had to scramble to calm the waters and reassert the basic American position on Russia, perhaps more harshly than before. The third possibility, a variation on the second scenario, is that the administration might not yet have a coordinated policy on Russia. Instead, it responds to whatever the most recent pressure happens to be, giving the appearance of lurching policy shifts.
The why of Washington decision-making is always interesting, but the fact of what has now happened is more pertinent. And that is that Washington now has challenged Moscow on the latter's core issues. However things got to that point, they are now there -- and the Russian issue now fully intersects with the Iranian issue. On a deeper level, Russia once again is shaping up to be a major challenge to U.S. national interests. Russia fears (accurately) that a leading goal of American foreign policy is to prevent the return of Russia as a major power. At present, however, the Americans lack the free hand needed to halt Russia's return to prominence as a result of commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Kremlin inner circle understands this divergence between goal and capacity all too well, and has been working to keep the Americans as busy as possible elsewhere.
Distracting Washington While Shoring Up Security
The core of this effort is Russian support for Iran. Moscow has long collaborated with Tehran on Iran's nuclear power generation efforts. Conventional Russian weapon systems are quite popular with the Iranian military. And Iran often makes use of Russian international diplomatic cover, especially at the U.N. Security Council, where Russia wields the all-important veto.
Russian support confounds Washington's ability to counter more direct Iranian action, whether that Iranian action be in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq or the Persian Gulf. The Obama administration would prefer to avoid war with Iran, and instead build an international coalition against Iran to force it to back down on any number of issues of which a potential nuclear weapons program is only the most public and obvious. But building that coalition is impossible with a Russia-sized hole right in the center of the system.
The end result is that the Americans have been occupied with the Islamic world for some time now, something that secretly delights the Russians. The Iranian distraction policy has worked fiendishly well: It has allowed the Russians to reshape their own neighborhood in ways that simply would not be possible if the Americans had more diplomatic and military freedom of action. At the beginning of 2009, the Russians saw three potential challenges to their long-term security that they sought to mitigate. As of this writing, they have not only succeeded, they have managed partially to co-opt all three threats.
First, there is Ukraine, which is tightly integrated into the Russian industrial and agricultural heartland. A strong Ukrainian-Russian partnership (if not outright control of Ukraine by Russia) is required to maintain even a sliver of Russian security. Five years ago, Western forces managed to short-circuit a Kremlin effort to firm up Russian control of the Ukrainian political system, resulting in the Orange Revolution that saw pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko take office. After five years of serious Russian diplomatic and intelligence work, Moscow has since managed not just to discredit Yushchenko -- he is now less popular in most opinion polls than the margin of error -- but to command the informal loyalty of every other candidate for president in the upcoming January 2010 election. Very soon, Ukraine's Western moment will formally be over.
Russia is also sewing up the Caucasus. The only country that could challenge Russia's southern flank is Turkey, and until now, the best Russian hedge against Turkish power has been an independent (although certainly still a Russian client) Armenia. (Turkish-Armenian relations have been frozen in the post-Cold War era over the contentious issue of the Armenian genocide.) A few months ago, Russia offered the Turks the opportunity to improve relations with Armenia. The Turks are emerging from 90 years of near-comatose international relations, and they jumped at the chance to strengthen their position in the Caucasus. But in the process, Turkey's relationship with its heretofore regional ally, Azerbaijan (Armenia's archfoe), has soured. Terrified that they are about to lose their regional sponsor, the Azerbaijanis have turned to the Russians to counterbalance Armenia, while the Russians still pull all Armenia's strings. The end result is that Turkey's position in the Caucasus is now far weaker than it was a few months ago, and Russia still retains the ability to easily sabotage any Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.
Even on the North European Plain, Russia has made great strides. The main power on that plain is the recently reunified Germany. Historically, Germany and Russia have been at each other's throats, but only when they have shared a direct border. When an independent Poland separates them, they have a number of opportunities for partnership, and 2009 has seen such opportunities seized. The Russians initially faced a challenge regarding German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel is from the former East Germany, giving her personal reasons to see the Russians as occupiers. Cracking this nut was never going to be easy for Moscow, yet it succeeded. During the 2009 financial crisis, when Russian firms were snapping like twigs, the Russian government still provided bailout money and merger financing to troubled German companies, with a rescue plan for Opel even helping Merkel clinch re-election. With the Kremlin now offering to midwife -- and in many cases directly subsidize -- investment efforts in Russia by German firms such as E.On, Wintershall, Siemens, Volkswagen and ThyssenKrupp, the Kremlin has quite literally purchased German goodwill.
Washington Seeks a Game Changer
With Russia making great strides in Eurasia while simultaneously sabotaging U.S. efforts in the Middle East, the Americans desperately need to change the game. Despite its fiery tone, this desperation was on full display in Biden's speech. Flat-out challenging the Central Europeans to help other FSU countries recreate the revolutions they launched when they broke with the Soviet empire in 1989, specifically calling for such efforts in Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia, is as bald-faced a challenge as the Americans are currently capable of delivering. And to ensure there was no confusion on the point, Biden also promised -- publicly -- whatever support the Central Europeans might ask for. The Americans have a serious need for the Russians to be on the defensive. Washington wants to force the Russians to focus on their own neighborhood, ideally forgetting about the Iranians in the process. Better yet, Washington would like to force the Russians into a long slog of defensive actions to protect their clients hard up on their own border. The Russians did not repair the damage of the Orange Revolution overnight, so imagine how much time Washington would have if all of the former Soviet satellites started stirring up trouble across Russia's western and southern periphery.
The Central Europeans do not require a great deal of motivation. If the Americans are concerned about a resurgent Russia, then the Central Europeans are absolutely terrified -- and that was before the Russians started courting Germany, the only regional state that could stand up to Russia by itself. Things are even worse for the Central Europeans than they seem, as much of their history has consisted of vainly attempting to outmaneuver Germany and Russia's alternating periods of war and partnership.
The question of why the United States is pushing this hard at the present time remains. Talks with the Iranians are under way; it is difficult to gauge how they are going. The conventional wisdom holds that the Iranians are simply playing for time before allowing the talks to sink. This would mean the Iranians don't feel terribly pressured by the threat of sanctions and don't take threats of attack very seriously. At least with regard to the sanctions, the Russians have everything to do with Iran's blase attitude. The American decision to threaten Russia might simply have been a last-ditch attempt to force Tehran's hand now that conciliation seems to have failed. It isn't likely to work, because for the time being Russia has the upper hand in the former Soviet Union, and the Americans and their allies -- motivated as they may be -- do not have the best cards to play.
The other explanation might be that the White House wanted to let Iran know that the Americans don't need Russia to deal with Iran. The threats to Russia might infuriate it, but the Kremlin is unlikely to feel much in the form of clear and present dangers. On the other hand, blasting the Russians the way Biden did might force the Iranians to reconsider their hand. After all, if the Americans are no longer thinking of the Russians as part of the solution, this indicates that the Americans are about to give up on diplomacy and sanctions. And that means the United States must choose between accepting an Iranian bomb or employing the military option.
And this leaves the international system with two outcomes. First, by publicly ending attempts to secure Russian help, Biden might be trying to get the Iranians to take American threats seriously. And second, by directly challenging the Russians on their home turf, the United States will be making the borderlands between Western Europe and Russia a very exciting place.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: October 28, 2009, 08:34:18 AM
Continuing our search for truth with the second post of the day-- a cynic might note that this piece takes a position favorable to those who would reject McChrystal's plan and that the author is looking for a job , , ,
By DAVID ADAMS AND ANN MARLOWE
From the beginning of 2007 to March 2008, the 82nd Airborne Division's strategy in Khost proved that 250 paratroopers could secure a province of a million people in the Pashtun belt. The key to success in Khost—which shares a 184 kilometer-long border with Pakistan's lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas—was working within the Afghan system. By partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces and a competent governor and subgovernors, U.S. forces were able to win the support of Khost's 13 tribes.
Today, 2,400 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Khost. But the province is more dangerous.
Mohammed Aiaz, a 32-year-old Khosti advising the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team, puts it plainly: "The answer is not more troops, which will put Afghans in more danger." If troops don't understand Afghan culture and fail to work within the tribal system, they will only fuel the insurgency. When we get the tribes on our side, that will change. When a tribe says no, it means no. IEDs will be reported and no insurgent fighters will be allowed to operate in or across their area.
Khost once had security forces with tribal links. Between 1988 and 1991, the Soviet client government in Kabul was able to secure much of eastern and southern Afghanistan by paying the tribal militias. Khost was secured by the 25th Division of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which incorporated militias with more than 400 fighters from five of Khost's 13 major tribes. The mujahedeen were not able to take Khost until internal rifts among Pashtuns in then-President Mohammed Najibullah's government resulted in a loss of support for the militias in Khost and, eventually, the defection of the 25th Division in April 1991.
The mistake the Najibullah government made was not integrating advisers to train the tribal militias and transform them into a permanent part of the government security forces. During the Taliban period between 1996-2001 the 25th Division dispersed amongst the tribes. Many fled to Pakistan.
When the U.S. invaded in 2001, the 25th Division, reformed under the command of Gen. Kilbaz Sherzai, immediately secured Khost. But the division was disbanded by the new Afghan government for fear of warlordism.
Today, some elements of the 25th still work for the Americans as contract security forces. However, the ANA now stationed in Khost is mainly composed of northern, non-Pashtun Dari speakers, and it is regarded as a foreign body. Without local influence and tribal support, the ANA tends to stay on its bases.
Part of this is our fault. We built the ANA in our own Army's image. Its soldiers live on nice bases and see themselves as the protectors of Afghanistan from conventional attacks by Pakistan. But to be effective, the ANA must be structured more like a National Guard, responsible for creating civil authority and training the police.
We saw how this could work in the Tani district of Khost starting in 2007. By assisting an ANA company—with a platoon of American paratroopers, a civil affairs team from the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, the local Afghan National Police, and a determined Afghan subgovernor named Badi Zaman Sabari—we secured the district despite its long border with Pakistan.
Raids by the paratroopers under the leadership of Lt. Col. Scott Custer were extremely rare because the team had such good relations with the tribes that they would generally turn over any suspect. These good tribal relations were strengthened further by meeting the communities' demands for a new paved road, five schools, and a spring water system that supplies 12,000 villagers.
Yet security has deteriorated in Khost, despite increases of U.S. troops in mid-2008. American strategy began to focus more on chasing the insurgents in the mountains instead of securing the towns and villages where most Khostis live.
The insurgents didn't stick around to get shot when they saw the American helicopters coming. But the villagers noticed when the roads weren't built on time and the commanders never visited.
Meanwhile, the increasing number of raids on Afghan homes alienated many of Khost's tribal elders. The Afghan National Police in Tani and many other districts of Khost were afraid to patrol in their uniforms and official vehicles lest they be killed by insurgents. The ANA in Tani rarely left the district center, which came to resemble a small fortress. Having lost support of the tribes, Badi Zaman Sabari was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2009, by insurgents led by the longtime mujahedeen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani. They are the main belligerents focused on undermining ISAF's efforts in southeast Afghanistan.
A major reason for our slow progress in Afghanistan is that, because of turnovers in leadership and changes in strategy, we continue to fight one-year wars and forget about the long term. When we become fixated on clearing insurgents, we lose focus on the tribes, which are critical to our success. The proper recipe is not clear, hold and build. As we learned in Khost, it is befriend, secure, build governance—and then hold. Without a consistent strategy of enlisting tribal cooperation, more troops will simply find more trouble in the Pashtun belt.Cmdr. Adams commanded the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team from March 2007 to March 2008. He is now the prospective commander of the nuclear submarine the USS Santa Fe. Ms. Marlowe did four embeds with American forces in Khost during 2007-2008.
Cmdr. Adams commanded the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team from March 2007 to March 2008. He is now the prospective commander of the nuclear submarine the USS Santa Fe. Ms. Marlowe did four embeds with American forces in Khost during 2007-2008.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Brit Captain Peter Lake
on: October 28, 2009, 07:43:28 AM
Second post of the morning:
Resistance hero 'told to leave'
Capt Lake was known by his French field name Jean-Pierre Lenormand
A British officer who trained French Resistance fighters during World War II was told to "go home" by Charles de Gaulle, newly released files show.
Peter Lake was awarded the Military Cross and France's Croix de Guerre for his actions in the run-up to D-Day.
But just three months after the Allied landings, the leader of Free France told him he had "no business" there.
Mr Lake died in June aged 94, but his account of the meeting has been released by the National Archives.
It is contained within his Special Operations Executive personnel file and describes a meeting with Gen de Gaulle in the town of Saintes, south-west France, on 18 September 1944.
Nom de guerre
Mr Lake, then a captain, spoke fluent French and was known by the field name Jean-Pierre Lenormand.
He decided to join a number of French officers who went along to greet the general, but was surprised by the conversation that followed.
General de Gaulle: "Jean-Pierre, that's a French name."
Mr Lake: "My nom de guerre, mon general."
Gen de Gaulle: "What are you doing here?"
Mr Lake: "I belong to the Inter-Allied Mission for Dordogne, and I am at the moment with Dordogne troops at Marennes, mon general."
Gen de Gaulle: "But what are you doing here?"
Mr Lake: "I am training certain troops for special operations."
Gen de Gaulle: "Our troops don't need training. You have no business here."
Mr Lake: "I obey the orders of my superiors."
Gen de Gaulle: "You have no business here, I say. You have no right to exercise a command."
Mr Lake: "Mon general, I exercise no command."
Gen de Gaulle: "We don't need you here. It only remains for you to leave. You too must go home. Return, return quickly. Au revoir."
Later, Mr Lake noted: "The whole dialogue passed very quickly and in a tone of voice which there was no mistaking.
"It was so unexpected that I must confess I was far too taken aback to reply intelligently, and I think the majority of those present had similar reactions."
Capt Lake was parachuted into France in April 1944
Despite the incident, Mr Lake was highly regarded by senior Army commanders and was referred to in an official report as "modest, unassuming, but possessed of considerable authority".
"His dust-up with de Gaulle showed him to be a good diplomat, level-headed and intelligent," the report added.
Mr Lake was parachuted into the Dordogne on the night of 9 April 1944 and immediately began training teams of resistance operatives.
To do this he organised "evening classes" in subjects such as sabotage, but recalled that his first sortie was with fighters who were "armed like pirates, behaved like pirates and expected me to do likewise".
After the D-Day landings on 6 June, Mr Lake said the situation became "very precarious" as the Germans stepped up attacks on the resistance.
Nevertheless, in mid-June he carried out a daring operation to blow up a major railway line.
Mr Lake returned to Britain in October 1944 and went on to have a successful career with the UK consular service. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8328282.stm
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Kali Tudo Working Examples
on: October 28, 2009, 07:36:31 AM
a) I'm told, but have not yet seen, that there was a Running Dog guard pass in a recent episode.
b) I don't know its provenance for Shogun Rua, but his dramatic KO of Chuck Liddell sure looked like a Zirconia to me
c) Again, I don't know its provenance but I think it was by Josh Neer in this past Saturday's UFC that we saw Figure 8 striking against the guard as I teach in "the Running Dog Game".
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread
on: October 28, 2009, 07:23:22 AM
The following effort to drum up business showed up in my email box this AM. The subject matter is interesting, but I have no idea as to whom these folks are or the veracity of the contents.
Hart, King & Coldren
A Professional Law Firm
Providing Legal Services to the Mixed Martial Arts and Apparel Communities
CAMO Presents Report at California State Athletic Commission Meeting
As an interested member of the MMA community, I attended the California State Athletic Commission meeting on Monday, October 26, 2009 to monitor the progress of the commission’s delegation of its oversight authority for mixed martial arts to the not-for-profit organization CAMO (California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization). CAMO presented its first quarterly report to the commission at the meeting.
CAMO assured the commission that its website www.camo-mma.org
would be up and running about the time of the October 26, 2009 meeting. CAMO indicated the site would include a full list of rules and regulations, the ability to sign up and get licensed, the ability to search for fighters and promoters who have created a profile, official’s records, and would list official amateur MMA and Pankration fight results and records. As of today, the website is still not fully functional.
CAMO told the commission that it's in the process of obtaining official 8 ounce gloves and rash guards to be used in competition by all amateur MMA fighters. The commission granted CAMO’s request to use 7 ounce gloves temporarily, until the 8 ounce gloves are ready.
Finally, CAMO told the commission it should be ready to oversee amateur events in November 2009, and has tentatively set its first Pro-Am event for late November 2009.
We encourage all members of the MMA community to closely watch the newly formed amateur division of the sport which includes not only the participants in the amateur events, but also the promoters, fighters, and others involved in the professional side as well. The integrity of the sport deserves everyones attention.
Hart, King & Coldren is a law firm dedicated to serving the legal needs of the mixed martial arts inindustry. Our practice focuses on contract disputes, civil litigation, brand and product licensing, intellectual property protection, commercial transactions, and compliance with California licensing and regulatory agencies. We can help your business resolve legal issues quickly and efficiently.
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for a free initial legal consultation.
Jock Marlo, Esq.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Navy PO2, EOD2 Mike Monsoor
on: October 28, 2009, 07:10:20 AM
I BET YOU DIDN'T SEE THIS IN THE NEWSPAPER OR ON THE 6 O'CLOCK NEWS"
The Sailor Pictured Below Is Navy Petty Officer PO2 (Petty Officer, Second Class) EOD2 (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Second Class) "MIKE MONSOOR"
April 5th, 1981 ~ September 29th, 2006
Was Awarded "The Congressional Medal Of Honor" Last Week, For Giving His Life In Iraq , As He Jumped On, And Covered With His Body, A Live Hand Grenade That Was Accidentally Dropped By A Navy Seal Saving The Lives Of A Large Group Of Navy Seals That Was Passing By!
During Mike Monsoor's Funeral,
At Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery , In San Diego , California .
The Six Pallbearers Removed The Rosewood Casket From The Hearse,
And Lined Up On Each Side Of Mike Monsoor's Casket,
Were His Family Members, Friends, Fellow Sailors, And Well-wishers.
The Column Of People Continued From The Hearse, All The Way To The Grave Site.
What The Group Didn't Know At The Time Was,
Every Navy Seal
(45 To Be Exact)
That Mike Monsoor Saved That Day Was Scattered Throughout The Column!
As The Pallbearers Carried The Rosewood Casket
Down The Column Of People To The Grave Side.
The Column Would Collapse.
Which Formed A Group Of People That Followed Behind.
Every Time The Rosewood Casket Passed A Navy Seal,
He Would Remove His Gold Trident Pin From His Uniform,
And Slap It Down Hard,
Ca us ing The Gold Trident Pin To Embed Itself
Into The Top Of The Wooden Casket!
Then The Navy Seal Would Step Back From The Column, And Salute!
Now For Those,
Who Doesn't Know What A Trident Pin Is or What It Looks Like?
Here Is The Definition And Photo!
After One Completes The Basic Navy Seals Program Which Lasts For Three Weeks,
And Is Followed By Seal Qualification Training,
Which Is 15 More Weeks Of Training,
Necessary To Continue Improving Basic Skills And To Learn New Tactics And Techniques,
Required For An Assignment To A Navy Seal Platoon.
After successful completion,
Trainees Are Given Their Naval Enlisted Code,
And Are Awarded The Navy Seal Trident Pin.
With This Gold Pin They Are Now Officially Navy Seals!
It Was Said,
That You Could Hear Each Of The 45 Slaps From Across The Cemetery!
By The Time The Rosewood Casket Reached The Grave Site,
It Looked As Though It Had A Gold Inlay From The 45 Trident Pins That Lined The Top!
This Was A Fitting End To An Eternal Send-Off For A Warrior Hero!
This Should Be Front-Page News!
Instead Of The Garbage We Listen To And See Every Day.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Official resigns in protest
on: October 28, 2009, 12:14:55 AM
U.S. Official Matthew Hoh Resigns in Protest of Afghanistan War Policy
Filed Under:Foreign Policy, Afghanistan
Matthew Hoh, the senior U.S. civilian in Afghanistan's Zabul province, resigned in protest because he believes the American effort there is simply fueling the insurgency, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. Hoh, a former Marine Corps captain who also served in Iraq, wrote a four-page letter to the State Department's head of personnel in September, and his resignation became official last week.
"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote in the letter. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."
Hoh's letter caused a stir in the Obama administration, and he was hastened to meetings with senior U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington. They praised his record of service and begged him to stay, offering him new positions in both locations. Hoh initially accepted the Washington job, but changed his mind a week later.
Hoh said that his act of protest and decision to speak out were painful, even "nauseating" at times, but he was strongly motivated by the friends he had lost on the battlefield and the mental anguish he has experienced since returning home. "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right,' " he explained, adding that he "is not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love."
Hoh will meet with Joe Biden's foreign policy adviser this week, and will advise a reduction in troops. He said he feels the U.S. "has an obligation for it not to be a bloodbath," but that Afghans are resistant to what they see as a military occupation.
A few months ago I had a very interesting conversation here in LA with an Afghani taxi driver who clearly had been no ordinary man back in Afghanistan. The following tracks very closely with what he told me. Bottom line for him: The whole thing was about business.
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Tue, October 27, 2009 -- 9:10 PM ET
Brother of Afghan President Is on C.I.A. Payroll, Officials Say
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a
suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium
trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence
Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according
to current and former American officials.
The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, and
those financial ties and the agency's close working
relationship with him raise significant questions about
America's war strategy, which is currently under review at
the White House.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / MA Muslim accused of plot
on: October 28, 2009, 12:14:12 AM
Mass man accused of plot to kill U.S politicians
By DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer Denise Lavoie, Ap Legal Affairs Writer Wed Oct 21, 7:57 pm ET
BOSTON – A Massachusetts man and two friends tried and failed to get into terrorist training camps and then plotted to kill two prominent U.S. politicians and randomly shoot people at American shopping malls, authorities said Wednesday.
Tarek Mehanna, who recently taught at a Muslim school in Worcester, was arrested early Wednesday at his parents' suburban Boston home.
Mehanna was charged with conspiring with two other men — an American now in Syria and another man who is cooperating with authorities — to provide support to terrorists.
Ultimately, the trio never came close to pulling off an attack. Authorities say they never got the terrorist training they sought — that the men told friends they were turned down because of their nationality, ethnicity or inexperience, or that the people they'd hoped would get them into such camps were either in jail or on a religious pilgrimage.
The men abandoned the mall attack plans after their weapons contact said he could find only handguns, not automatic weapons.
The men used code words such as "peanut butter and jelly" for fighting in Somalia and "culinary school" for terrorist camps, and talked extensively of their desire to "die on the battlefield," according to court documents.
Mehanna, who has taught math and religion at Alhuda Academy, made a defiant court appearance hours after his arrest. He refused to stand to hear the charge against him and finally did — tossing his chair loudly to the floor — only after his father urged him to do so.
"This really, really is a show," his father, Ahmed Mehanna, said as his son was being led away in handcuffs. When asked if he believed the charges against his son, he said, "No, definitely not."
Prosecutors said Mehanna worked with two men from 2001 to May 2008 on the conspiracy that, over time, intended to "kill, kidnap, maim or injure" soldiers and two politicians who were members of the executive branch but are no longer in office. Authorities refused to identify the politicians and said they were never in danger.
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Loucks said the men justified the planned attacks on malls because U.S. civilians pay taxes to support the U.S. government and because they are "nonbelievers," Loucks said. He refused to identify the targeted malls.
Mehanna — who received a doctorate in 2008 from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston, where his father is a professor — allegedly conspired with Ahmad Abousamra, who authorities say is now in Syria.
Mehanna, 27, is being held without bail until his next court appearance on Oct. 30.
"I'm confident that the American people will put aside their fears and instead rely on the fairness guaranteed by our Constitution," said his attorney, J.W. Carney Jr. "Mr. Mehanna is entitled to that."
Rola Yaghmour, 20, of Shrewsbury and her family are friends with the Mehannas and she said she couldn't believe the new charges against Mehanna, calling him a "good man."
"He's not going to go crazy in a mall. There's no way he would do something like that," she said. "I read it and I was laughing, and I was like, 'They have to be kidding.' Because there's no way he would do something like that. It makes no sense. I was in shock. That's not like him at all nor his family, nothing of them at all."
Mehanna first was arrested in November and charged with lying to the FBI in December 2006 when asked the whereabouts of Daniel Maldonado, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for training with al-Qaida to overthrow the Somali government.
Authorities said Wednesday that Mehanna and his conspirators had contacted Maldonado about getting automatic weapons for their planned mall attacks, but he told them he could only get handguns.
Court documents filed by the government say that in 2002, Abousamra became frustrated after repeatedly being rejected to join terror groups in Pakistan — first Lashkar e Tayyiba, then the Taliban.
"Because Abousamra was an Arab (not Pakistani) the LeT camp would not accept him, and because of Abousamra's lack of experience, the Taliban camp would not accept him," Williams wrote in the affidavit.
Mehanna and Abousamra traveled to Yemen in 2004 in an attempt to join a terrorist training camp, according to court documents.
Mehanna allegedly told a friend, the third conspirator who is now cooperating with authorities, that their trip was a failure because they were unable to reach people affiliated with the camps.
Abousamra said he was rejected by a terror group when he sought training in Iraq because he was American, authorities said.
___ Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay, Bob Salsberg and Russell Contreras in Boston, Eric Tucker in Sudbury, Mass., and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report from Boston.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Watches and Time
on: October 27, 2009, 09:12:13 AM
third post of the AM
By JAMES SHINN
Those of us in the Bush administration who were responsible for its "Afghan Strategy Review" kept our mouths shut when we handed over the document to the Obama transition team last fall. We didn't want to box in the new administration.
And when President Barack Obama and his advisers rolled out their own Afghanistan strategy on March 27, I was quietly pleased. It came to basically the same conclusion we had: The paramount goal was to squash terrorism through counterinsurgency and better governance in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs promised the press corps at the time that its strategy would be "fully resourced." Later, in August, Gen. Stanley McChrystal's assessment of the situation in Afghanistan was leaked. It was a road map to implement precisely the Obama strategy that was announced in March.
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.But one key element of both the Bush and Obama strategies is getting lost in the debate—that we must apply the military and economic resources for the time required to achieve our goals. As the Obama administration's March 27 White Paper notes, "There are no quick fixes to achieve U.S. national security interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
The average counterinsurgency war lasts a decade and a half; the successful British campaign in Malaya in the 1950s, for example, took 12 years. Even if Gen. McChrystal gets the 40,000 additional troops he has requested, there is unlikely to be short-term progress in meeting any of the security "metrics" that opponents of the war in Afghanistan will try to insert into the defense appropriations for carrying out the president's strategy.
What the White House says—or doesn't say—about a long-term commitment is hugely important. Americans are famously impatient, and there is cruel wisdom in the oft-quoted Taliban boast that "NATO has all the watches, but we have all the time." Most Afghans are sitting on the fence, waiting to see who wins. Our allies are nervously looking for the exits, and the Pakistanis and the Iranians are hedging their bets in case the U.S. decides to pull the plug.
Meanwhile, as the Obama national security apparatus publicly wrings its hands over strategy, the media promote half-baked solutions to Afghanistan that further confuse friends and enemies while ignoring the crucial matter of time. Three of the least sensible solutions are "remote control" counterterrorism, a grand regional solution to disputes between neighboring states (including a resolution of the Kashmir territorial dispute between India and Pakistan), and the negotiation of a peace deal with the Taliban.
Replacing the hard work of counterinsurgency and nation-building with Predator drones and Special Operations defies geography and common sense. A Predator has a range of 400 miles: It is 600 miles from Pakistan's Waziristan region to the Arabian Sea.
From where are you going to fly the drones? What intelligence will be available to guide the drones or special ops if we abandon Kabul and Islamabad to fight on their own?
A "regional" solution that convinces India, Pakistan and Iran (among others) that their interests are better served by a stable Afghanistan than by backing proxy forces there is a laudable undertaking. But it would take years of patient diplomacy, in which the terms and pace of NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan will be the central item of negotiation. Fat chance of striking a deal if you're already gone.
As for a deal with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his leadership council, the Quetta Shura, forget about it. They have no incentive to lay down their arms if they still think time is on their side.
The Taliban will eventually come down from the hills, probably in dribs and drabs, when they've been sufficiently pummeled by the combined Afghan National Army and NATO forces, seen their base among the Afghan people undermined by improved governance, and had their sanctuaries in Pakistan squeezed from the East. This is going to take time.
Time was very much on the mind of Afghanistan's Minister of the Interior Hanif Atmar recently, when I visited him in his office in Kabul—shards of glass still on the floor from the suicide bomb attack on the nearby Indian Embassy a few days earlier. "All the Taliban have to do is blow things up," he said. "We have a lot more things to worry about. Despite the deteriorating security situation in parts of the country, we still have a window of time to prevail, if we and our American allies have sufficient resolve."
I also visited Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil on a dusty street in the Karte Char district. A sleepy policeman with an AK-47 outside was the only symbol of his house arrest. He was Mullah Omar's secretary and then both a spokesman and foreign minister for the Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan until his capture in 2001. Today he remains an interlocutor between the Karzai government and the Quetta Shura up in the mountains. I thought he'd be a good judge of Taliban resolve.
Time was on his mind, too. He was puzzled by the drawn-out pace of the Obama administration's strategy deliberations. He took care to distance the Quetta Shura's objectives (to govern Afghanistan and remove foreign troops) from the goals of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan across the border (which are close to those of al Qaeda, namely to bring down the government in Islamabad and establish a greater Islamic Caliphate).
In response to my skeptical questions, he also drew a distinction between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. "But the longer this war drags on, the harder it is to separate our interests from theirs," he said.
Mullah Mutawakil's sparse quarters featured a Koran, several volumes of Islamic jurisprudence and a television. "I watch the news, and the Turkish soap operas," he confessed with a smile. He wasn't wearing a watch.
Mr. Shinn was assistant secretary of defense for Asia (2007-2008) and one of the authors of the Bush administration's Afghan Strategy Review. He previously served in the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The TARP slush fund
on: October 27, 2009, 09:08:48 AM
The Troubled Asset Relief Program will expire on December 31, unless Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner exercises his authority to extend it to next October. We hope he doesn't. Historians will debate TARP's role in ending the financial panic of 2008, but today there is little evidence that the government needs or can prudently manage what has evolved into a $700 billion all-purpose political bailout fund.
We supported TARP to deal with toxic bank assets and resolve failing banks as a resolution agency of the kind that worked with savings and loans in the 1980s. Some taxpayer money was needed beyond what the FDIC's shrinking insurance fund had available. But TARP quickly became a Treasury tool to save failing institutions without imposing discipline (Citigroup) and even to force public capital onto banks that didn't need it. This stigmatized all banks as taxpayer supplicants and is now evolving into an excuse for the Federal Reserve to micromanage compensation.
TARP was then redirected well beyond the financial system into $80 billion in "investments" for auto companies. These may never be repaid but served as a lever to abuse creditors and favor auto unions. TARP also bought preferred stock in struggling insurers Lincoln and Hartford, though insurance companies are not subject to bank runs and pose no "systemic risk." They erode slowly as customers stop renewing policies.
TARP also became another fund for Congress to pay off the already heavily subsidized housing industry by financing home mortgage modifications. Not one cent of the $50 billion in TARP funds earmarked to modify home mortgages will be returned to the Treasury, says the Congressional Budget Office.
As of the end of September, Mr. Geithner was sitting on $317 billion of uncommitted TARP funds, thanks in part to bank repayments. But this sum isn't the limit of his check-writing ability. Treasury considers TARP a "revolving fund." If taxpayers are ever paid back by AIG, GM, Chrysler, Citigroup and the rest, Treasury believes it has the authority to spend that returned money on new adventures in housing or other parts of the economy.
A TARP renewal by Mr. Geithner could thus put at risk the entire $700 billion. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) and former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins sit on TARP's Congressional Oversight Panel. They warn that the entire taxpayer pot could be converted into subsidies. They are especially concerned about expanding the foreclosure prevention programs that have been failing by every measure.
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Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
.TARP inspector general Neil Barofsky agrees that the mortgage modifications "will yield no direct return" and notes charitably that "full recovery is far from certain" on the money sent to AIG and Detroit. Mr. Barofsky also notes that since Washington runs huge deficits, and interest rates are almost sure to rise in coming years, TARP will be increasingly expensive as the government pays more to borrow.
Even with the banks, TARP has been a double-edged sword. While its capital injections saved some banks, its lack of transparency created uncertainty that arguably prolonged the panic. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson recently admitted to Mr. Barofsky what everyone figured at the time of the first capital injections. Although they claimed in October 2008 they were providing capital only to healthy banks, Mr. Bernanke now says some of the firms were under stress. Mr. Paulson now admits that he thought one in particular was in danger of failing. By forcing all nine to take the money, they prevented the weaklings from being stigmatized.
Says Mr. Barofsky, "In addition to the basic transparency concern that this inconsistency raises, by stating expressly that the 'healthy' institutions would be able to increase overall lending, Treasury created unrealistic expectations about the institutions' conditions and their ability to increase lending."
The government also endangered one of the banks that they considered healthy at the time. In December, Mr. Paulson pressured Bank of America to complete its purchase of Merrill Lynch. His position is that a failed deal would have hurt both firms, but this is highly speculative. Mr. Barofsky reports that, according to Fed documents, the government viewed BofA as well-capitalized, but officials believed that its tangible common equity would fall to dangerously low levels if it had to absorb the sinking Merrill.
In other words, by insisting that BofA buy Merrill, Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke were spreading systemic risk by stuffing a failing institution into a relatively sound one. And they were stuffing an investment bank into one of the nation's largest institutions whose deposits were guaranteed by taxpayers. BofA would later need billions of dollars more in TARP cash to survive that forced merger, and when that news became public it helped to extend the overall financial panic.
Treasury and the Fed would prefer to keep TARP as insurance in case the recovery falters and the banking system hits the skids again. But the more transparent way to address this risk is by buttressing the FDIC fund that insures bank deposits and resolves failing banks. The political class has twisted TARP into a fund to finance its pet programs and constituents, and the faster it fades away, the better for taxpayers and the financial system.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: October 27, 2009, 09:01:22 AM
If Honduras manages to preserve its democracy despite U.S. pressure to abandon it, the tiny Central American country may wind up thanking Nicaragua's Danny Ortega, of all people.
Last week, President Ortega inadvertently provided the best defense yet of the Honduran decision this summer to remove Manuel Zelaya from the presidency. Nicaragua has a one-term limit for presidents, and Mr. Ortega's term expires in 2011. However, the Nicaraguan doesn't want to leave, and so he asked the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court to overturn the constitutional ban on his re-election.
Last week the court's constitutional panel obliged him. The Nicaraguan press reported that the vote was held before three opposition judges could reach the chamber in time for the session. Three alternative judges, all Sandinistas, took their place and the court gave Mr. Ortega the green light. Mr. Ortega has decreed that the ruling cannot be appealed.
This is classic strong-man stuff on Hugo Chávez's Venezuela model. Mr. Ortega's approval rating is in the low-30% range and he'd have a hard time winning a fair election against a united opposition. But he controls the nation's electoral council, and in the 2008 municipal races—the most important elected checks on the president—the council refused to provide a transparent accounting of the vote tally. It also blocked international and local observers, and the vote was marred by claims of widespread fraud. The international community watched all this but did nothing. And now Mr. Ortega is taking the next chavista step toward indefinite rule.
Hondurans deposed Mr. Zelaya because he was showing similar designs on changing their constitution to be able to run again and stay in power. Hondurans have to live in Mr. Ortega's neighborhood, and their action against Mr. Zelaya may well have saved them from Nicaragua's fate.
No doubt we can look forward to strong denunciations from our President and our Secretary of State.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams, 1780
on: October 27, 2009, 08:58:45 AM
"Religion in a Family is at once its brightest Ornament & its best Security." --Samuel Adams, letter to Thomas Wells, 1780
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: October 27, 2009, 08:57:42 AM
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 4: Surkov Presses Home
October 27, 2009 | 1138 GMT
Vladislav Surkov, who serves as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's deputy chief of staff and leads one of the Kremlin's two main political clans, has given his support to a plan to reform the Russian economy. The plan, proposed by a group of liberal-leaning economists called the civiliki, would help Surkov divest Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, the rival clan leader, of power. Surkov has a specific list of goals that would help him tip the balance of power in Russia in his favor.
Editor's Note: This is part four in a five-part series examining the Russian political clans and the coming conflict between them.
Since the current recession has exposed the weaknesses in the Russian economy, the reform plans designed by Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and a class of liberal-leaning economists called the civiliki have caught Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's attention. But before Putin could take Kudrin's plan seriously, the civiliki needed support from a major power player in the Kremlin. That man is none other than Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's deputy chief of staff and one of the two major Kremlin clan leaders, Vladislav Surkov. Surkov's motivation for supporting the civiliki plan is not the same as Kudrin's, however; the finance minister seeks a technical overhaul of the system, while Surkov's goal is to further his own political ambitions.
Surkov: The Gray Cardinal
Surkov is a unique player within the Kremlin. Being half Chechen and half Jewish, Surkov has long known that his pedigree would hinder him from ever holding Russia's top offices. Instead, he has positioned himself as the "gray cardinal" -- the one who masterminds power behind the scenes -- for Russia's leaders. Surkov came to this position by methodically climbing up the ranks and leaving a long list of former bosses behind him. Some of the most notable heavyweights Surkov helped bring down are Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev and oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Among his experience is a reportedly long and deep history with the shadowy Russian Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in the former Soviet states and Central Europe. He is now the GRU's chief strategist.
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series Introduction): The War Begins
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 1: The Crash
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 2: The Combatants
The Kremlin Wars (Special Series), Part 3: Rise of the Civiliki
Surkov has diversified his power base inside the Kremlin by securing the loyalty of the civiliki. These economically Western-leaning technocrats -- lawyers, economists and financial experts -- have been a powerful group since the fall of the Soviet Union, but have been leaderless since the 1990s after they were blamed for many of the economic troubles that wracked the country. Surkov recognized the liberal reformers' potential and offered them protection as part of his growing political clan.
The civiliki's loyalty has given Surkov an alternative power base to the GRU-linked bureaucrats and a new group of followers to maneuver into key positions in the Kremlin. A key example is Medvedev -- a civil lawyer by trade -- whom Surkov groomed to succeed Putin as president in 2008 to prevent another security official from taking the position. Not only did Surkov consolidate the liberal economists into one group but also came up with the term "civiliki" as a kind of play on words with the term "siloviki," which is the common name for Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin's clan and those in the FSB. The term civiliki stems from Medvedev's civil law degree and Surkov's desire to mold Russia's civil society.
Surkov has also sought to diversify his power across Russia. He is the chief ideologist behind the spread of nationalism throughout the country. He planted the seeds for a stronger Russia among the upcoming generations by creating the Nashi youth movement, which is reminiscent of the Soviet Komsomol youth. The Nashi -- estimated to number at 600,000 -- are tasked with promoting nationalism and loyalty to the state and helping to rid Russia of its enemies. They are a formidable force in the country and have been known to prevent anti-government rallies, pressure media critical of the Kremlin and make life difficult for foreigners and their businesses in Russia. The Nashi also promote academic achievement and hope to create the next generation of business and government leaders. They are fiercely loyal to Surkov, though he cannot legally be part of the organization because he is a government worker.
While Surkov has expanded his power throughout Russia, his greatest obstacle has been the rival clan led by Igor Sechin, which derives its power from the Federal Security Services (FSB, formerly KGB). It has never been a secret that the GRU and FSB have been adversaries since the creation of Soviet Russia, and it is only natural that Russia's two main clans are based within its two formidable intelligence agencies. Of course, Putin also had a hand in designing the current clan structure, splitting most government, economic and business institutions between the clans in order to balance them and prevent either the GRU or the FSB from becoming dominant.
But Surkov has been working to shift this balance by diversifying his clan away from the GRU and enveloping many different groups throughout Russia.
Tipping the Balance
The civiliki's plan to fix the Russian economy is based partially on purging forces that have placed personal interests above economic soundness. In this, they are mostly targeting members of Sechin's clan -- the siloviki, or "strong men," who are former FSB agents put in positions of financial or business leadership. It is not clear that this is an entirely fair assessment, since so many in Russia were guilty of gorging on cheap credit during the boom years preceding the financial crisis. Regardless, the motivation for the civiliki's desire to purge the siloviki is not political; rather, it is because the reformers see no reason for FSB intelligence operatives to run businesses or financial institutions in Russia because they lack the applicable business skills. Surkov has latched onto this concept as a way to finally eliminate much of the Sechin clan's power.
Typically, the civiliki would be wary of Surkov's politicization of their plan. However, over the summer the gray cardinal approached Kudrin -- the architect of the civiliki plan -- with a deal: Surkov would support the civiliki's reform plan if Kudrin helped Surkov with certain aspects of his plan to purge Sechin's clan from power.
But Surkov's plan is very risky and complicated, and involves infiltrating all the proper channels through which he can pursue his enemies in the Kremlin and its companies and industries. Surkov's plan has two parts -- one that targets the siloviki's economic institutions, and one that targets their positions in the Kremlin.
Part 1: The Witch Hunt
First, Surkov intends to go after the main companies and institutions from which Sechin's clan derives either power or funds. Under the civiliki's plan, companies that have been mismanaged or are financially unsound -- according to their assessments -- would be privatized. Surkov is taking this a step further and wants to launch a series of inquiries and audits targeting very specific state corporations all controlled by the Sechin clan.
In Russia, it is common for companies being targeted by the Kremlin to face audits, tax lawsuits and other legal investigations intended to pressure the companies or lead them to being purged or swallowed up by the state. The problem is that for Surkov to attempt to use such a tactic against either state or pro-Kremlin companies, he would have to go through the Federal Tax Service or Federal Customs Service, which are run by Sechin's people.
But this looks like it could soon change. As part of Surkov's clan, Medvedev has jumped on the civiliki's economic reform bandwagon. Publicly, the president has recently started suggesting that he could begin investigating Russian firms he deems inadequately run. He said on Oct. 23 that there will be changes in how state firms are organized and even hinted that some firms could be shut down if they do not comply. This is occurring because over the summer, Medvedev and Surkov worked on drafting legislation through the Presidential Council on Legal Codification that would allow the government to "eliminate certain state corporations" -- meaning these new maneuvers would not require going through the usual proper channels. All the details on Medvedev and Surkov's ability to target firms are not known, but quite a few details have been leaked to STRATFOR that indicate Surkov's seriousness.
Instead of trying to purge Sechin's control over the Federal Tax Service and Federal Customs Service, Surkov has started to create alternative avenues for investigations into powerful Sechin-linked and state-owned companies by going through the Prosecutor General's office, run by Surkov clan member Yuri Chaika, and Russia's Supreme Arbitrage Court, which was taken over recently by pro-Surkov official Anton Ivanov. Also in recent months, the Prosecutor General's office has bolstered its legal authority to work with the Audit Chamber and Federal Antimonopoly Service -- both run by Surkov loyalists, Sergei Stepashin and Igor Artemev. These bodies are very powerful and important tools necessary to effectively targeting weighty state firms.
According to STRATFOR sources, preparations to start the paperwork on these investigations into certain state and Sechin-linked companies could begin as early as Nov. 10. This will be the test for Surkov to see if he can legally purge Sechin's influence.
Surkov has a very precise list of companies and agencies to investigate.
At the top of the list is Rosoboronexport, the state defense exports, technologies and industrial unit. Rosoboronexport is one of the largest moneymakers for the state after energy, earning $7 billion in foreign arms sales in 2009 with another possible $27 billion in contracted orders. Rosoboronexport is led by one of the larger FSB personalities, Sergei Chemezov, who uses arms sales and production for the FSB's political agenda. However, the agency has been accused of hindering the arms industry's ability to keep up with sales and of making it harder for Russia to gain new military technology. Rosoboronexport has also grown unwieldy in that it also now controls non-defense assets like carmakers and metallurgical companies. Furthermore, Surkov does not like the FSB overseeing an organization that should in theory fall under the GRU, since it is military-related.
Next on the list is Russian oil giant Rosneft, which is considered the rival to the Surkov clan's natural gas giant Gazprom. The two companies have been in competition since an attempted merger between them failed in 2005. The competition heated up when each company crossed into the other's territory, with Gazprom opening an oil subsidiary and Rosneft purchasing natural gas assets. Rosneft would be one of the more difficult companies for Surkov's group to target, since symbolically it is considered one of the state champions. It is also the key moneymaking enterprise for the Sechin clan.
After Rosneft are two government bodies that handle a large percentage of the state's money and are overseen by siloviki or Sechin-linked people. The Housing Maintenance Fund, which handles between $3 billion to $5 billion annually, is facing accusations that no one independent from Sechin has checked on where the funds are being spent and that the fund is simply a front for the FSB's activities in Russia. The second body is the large Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA), which oversees all registrations of deposits into banks in Russia and insures most of the country's banks -- an incredibly powerful tool for the FSB. Kudrin has been so incensed by what he has called the mismanagement and misuse of the DIA that he placed himself on the agency's board over the summer. But now Kudrin and the rest of Surkov's group want to purge the siloviki from these institutions.
Also on Surkov's list are:
State nuclear corporation Rosatom, which controls nuclear power, nuclear weapons companies and other nuclear agencies
Olympstroy, the state corporation responsible for construction for the 2014 Olympics
State-owned Russian Railways, one of the largest railway companies in the world, which is run by Sechin loyalist Vladimir Yakunin
Avtodor, a new state-owned company responsible for revamping Russia's crumbling roads and highways (and therefore slated for vast amounts of investment to flow into its coffers)
Aeroflot, Russia's largest passenger airline, which is chaired by former KGB agent Viktor Ivanov and has been struggling during the financial crisis
It isn't clear what Surkov's ultimate goal is in investigating these companies -- whether he intends to destroy them, dismantle them, bring them under the control of his own clan or just privatize them so they are no longer in Sechin's grasp, or a mixture of these options. It is, however, clear that if he succeeds, Surkov would wipe out the siloviki's economic base and take away many of the tools they now use to operate effectively in the country.
Part 2: Kremlin Power Positions
The second part of the plan has to do with Surkov's goal of purging a few key Kremlin politicians from their positions in order to tip the balance of power in his favor. The positions on this list include the president's chief of staff, the interior minister and Kremlin speechwriters.
Rumors are already beginning to fly around Moscow that Sechin loyalist Sergei Naryshkin, who had until recently been considered a rising star within the Kremlin, will be soon ousted from his place as Medvedev's chief of staff. Surkov sees Naryshkin's placement just under the president and over Surkov as a major infiltration by the Sechin clan into his realm. STRATFOR sources have indicated that Naryshkin will be ousted on the grounds that he never successfully implemented Medvedev's anti-corruption campaign.
Next on the list is the Interior Ministry, led by FSB agent Rashid Nurgaliyev. As interior minister, Nurgaliyev oversees 250,000 troops and his own police units. Recently, certain powerful pieces of the ministry, such as the Ministry for Emergency Situations, have been broken off and are now outside Sechin's control.
Lastly, within the Kremlin, pro-Sechin and FSB-trained speechwriters have been sidelined. These longtime writers, like Dzhakhan Polliyev, are being pushed aside and new Surkov-trained writers like Eva Vasilevskaya and Alexei Chadaev are now writing speeches for Medvedev, Putin and others. This is very important in how the leaders portray the small nuances of power within and beyond Russia.
The point of the governmental changes is for Surkov to get his people into positions of power so that his group can actually change policy and tip the balance of power inside Russia. Surkov is not looking to make Russia more efficient, like the civiliki are -- though it is the civiliki's plans giving Surkov the tools and opportunity to try to achieve his goals.
Surkov has legitimate justification for quite a few of his changes, based on the civiliki's recommendations to fix the economy, but the rest of the changes are an incredibly bold step to tip the balance of power.
Putin has noticed this boldness. Moreover, Putin has noticed a lot of the large changes Surkov has made over the past few years to get more power for himself and his clan and diversify his power base inside Russia.
The issues now are how much further Putin will allow Surkov to go, and what Putin is willing to sacrifice to clip the wings of the gray cardinal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pakistan
on: October 27, 2009, 08:50:35 AM
Commentary posing as news-- from Pravda on the Hudson? Shocking!
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Obama administration is putting pressure on Pakistan to eliminate Taliban and Qaeda militants from the country’s tribal areas, but the push is straining the delicate relations between the allies, Pakistani and Western officials say.
The Pakistani military’s recent heavy offensive in South Waziristan has pleased the Americans, but it left large parts of Pakistan under siege, as militants once sequestered in the country’s tribal areas take their war to Pakistan’s cities. Many Pakistanis blame the United States for the country’s rising instability.
When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Pakistan this week, as she is scheduled to do, she will find a nuclear-armed state consumed by doubts about the value of the alliance with the United States and resentful of ever-rising American demands to do more, the officials said.
The United States is also struggling to address Pakistan’s concerns over the conditions imposed on a new American aid package of $7.5 billion over five years that the Pakistani military denounced as designed to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.
The Obama administration has endorsed the Pakistani Army’s recent offensive in South Waziristan, suggesting it showed overdue resolve. But it has also raised concerns about the Pakistani Army’s long-term objectives. How South Waziristan plays out may prove to be a bellwether for an alliance of increasingly divergent interests.
The special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, said Friday that the Obama administration would be trying to find out whether the army was simply “dispersing” the militants or “destroying” them, as the United States would like.
From the number of troops in South Waziristan, it was not clear that the army wanted to “finish the task,” said a Western military attaché, who spoke on the condition of anonymity according to diplomatic protocol.
The army would not take over South Waziristan as it had the Swat Valley, where the military is now an occupying force after conducting a campaign in the spring and summer that pushed the Taliban out, the officials said.
It remains to be seen how the campaign will play out in a region where the army has failed in the past, analysts said. The army has sent about 28,000 soldiers to South Waziristan to take on about 10,000 guerrillas, a relatively low ratio, according to military specialists.
In all, of the roughly 28,000 soldiers, there are probably about 11,000 army infantrymen, said Javed Hussain, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier. Instead of a ratio of one to one, he said, the ratio should be at least five to one.
The army appeared to have no plans to occupy South Waziristan, but rather to cut the militants “to size,” said Tariq Fatemi, who served briefly as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States in 1999.
With the uncertainty of American plans in Afghanistan, and the strong sentiment in Pakistan that India was “up to no good” in the restive province of Baluchistan and the tribal areas, Mr. Fatemi said, the army would not abandon the militant groups that it has relied on to fight as proxies in Afghanistan and in Kashmir against India.
The goal in South Waziristan, Mr. Fatemi said, was to eliminate the leadership that had become “too big of their boots” with the attacks on Pakistan’s cities. The army would like to find more pliant replacements as leaders, he said.
The militants’ war against the cities in the past three weeks had produced a wave of fear that shored up support for the army to fight back in South Waziristan, many Pakistanis said.
But the terror has also amplified complaints that the unpopular civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is seen as slavishly pro-American, is unable to cope with the onslaught.
Mr. Zardari, whose relations with the Pakistani military appear increasingly strained, has not addressed the nation since the militants unfurled their attacks or since the army launched the offensive in South Waziristan.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik was pelted with stones last week when he visited the International Islamic University after two suicide bomb attacks on the campus killed six students, including women.
After the attack at the university, the government ordered all schools and universities closed in Punjab, the most populous province, a move that affected Pakistani families like never before.
“The impact is being felt in every home, before it was just the North-West Frontier Province,” said Jahangir Tareen, a member of Parliament and a member of the cabinet under President Pervez Musharraf.
When schools were ordered re-opened Monday, parents were still unhappy.
“The mood is as bleak as I remember,” said a well-to-do parent in Lahore who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “The government says the private schools must open, but security is up to the schools. Where is the government?”
The range and different style of attacks in the urban areas, particularly in Islamabad, the capital, and the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi, surprised Pakistani security officials, said a Western diplomat who is in frequent contact with them.
The Pakistani security services knew that sleeper cells had been put in place in both cities in the past six months, but their strength was unknown, the diplomat said. “These were not your scared suicide bomber boys from the villages, these were well trained commandos,” the diplomat said.
The assassination of an army brigadier as he drove through Islamabad last week further unnerved people, demonstrating that the militants had a cadre of spotters or observers probably marshaled from the increasing number of students attending radical religious schools in the capital, the diplomat said.
Whatever President Obama decides about troop levels in Afghanistan, Pakistan sees the United States and NATO headed for the exits, an outcome that encourages Pakistan to hang onto the militants that it has used as proxies, the Western diplomat said.
The fact that the United States had so far failed to persuade India to restart talks with Pakistan and that it was doing little to curb what Pakistan sees as the undue influence of India in Afghanistan was unsettling for Pakistan, Mr. Fatemi, the former ambassador, said.
On top of everything else, that feeling was driving a surge of anti-American sentiment, even among the elite, some Pakistanis said, increasing the challenges ahead.
“There is a general perception in the educated class that Pakistan is paying a very heavy price for fighting alongside the United States,” said Ashfaq Khan, a prominent economist and dean of the business school at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / While President Hamlet decides
on: October 27, 2009, 08:46:00 AM
This from Pravda on the Hudson, so caveat lector:
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — Forced to confront the rising insurgency in once peaceful northern Afghanistan, the German Army is engaged in sustained and bloody ground combat for the first time since World War II.
A German soldier stands guard in a compound in Kunduz Province. Two men from his company were killed in June, among 36 German soldiers who have died in the Afghan war. More Photos »
Soldiers near the northern city of Kunduz have had to strike back against an increasingly fierce campaign by Taliban insurgents, while carrying the burden of being among the first units to break the German taboo against military combat abroad that arose after the Nazi era.
At issue are how long opposition in Germany will allow its troops to stay and fight, and whether they will be given leeway from their strict rules of engagement to pursue the kind of counterinsurgency being advocated by American generals. The question now is whether the Americans will ultimately fight one kind of war and their allies another.
For Germans, the realization that their soldiers are now engaged in ground offensives in an open-ended and escalating war requires a fundamental reconsideration of their principles.
After World War II, German society rejected using military power for anything other than self-defense, and pacifism has been a rallying cry for generations, blocking allied requests for any military support beyond humanitarian assistance.
German leaders have chipped away at the proscriptions in recent years, in particular by participating in airstrikes in the Kosovo war. Still, the legacy of the combat ban remains in the form of strict engagement rules and an ingrained shoot-last mentality that is causing significant tensions with the United States in Afghanistan.
Driven by necessity, some of the 4,250 German soldiers here, the third-largest number of troops in the NATO contingent, have already come a long way. Last Tuesday, they handed out blankets, volleyballs and flashlights as a goodwill gesture to residents of the village of Yanghareq, about 22 miles northwest of Kunduz. Barely an hour later, insurgents with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed other members of the same company.
The Germans fought back, killing one of the attackers, before the dust and disorder made it impossible to tell fleeing Taliban from civilians.
“They shoot at us and we shoot back,” said Staff Sgt. Erik S., who, according to German military rules, could not be fully identified. “People are going to fall on both sides. It’s as simple as that. It’s war.”
The sergeant added, “The word ‘war’ is growing louder in society, and the politicians can’t keep it secret anymore.”
Indeed, German politicians have refused to utter the word, trying instead to portray the mission in Afghanistan as a mix of peacekeeping and reconstruction in support of the Afghan government. But their line has grown less tenable as the insurgency has expanded rapidly in the west and north of the country, where Germany leads the regional command and provides a majority of the troops.
The Germans may not have gone to war, but now the war has come to them.
In part, NATO and German officials say, that is evidence of the political astuteness of Taliban and Qaeda leaders, who are aware of the opposition in Germany to the war. They hope to exploit it and force the withdrawal of German soldiers — splintering the NATO alliance in the process — through attacks on German personnel in Afghanistan and through video and audio threats of terrorist attacks on the home front before the German elections last month.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior American and allied commander in Afghanistan, is pressing NATO allies to contribute more troops to the war effort, even as countries like the Netherlands and Canada have begun discussing plans to pull out. Germany has held out against pleas for additional troops so far.
Ties between Germany and the United States were strained last month over a German-ordered bombing of two hijacked tanker trucks, which killed civilians as well as Taliban. Many Germans, from top politicians down to enlisted men, thought that General McChrystal was too swift to condemn the strike before a complete investigation.
Germany’s combat troops are caught in the middle. In interviews last week, soldiers from the Third Company, Mechanized Infantry Battalion 391, said they were understaffed for the increasingly complex mission here. Two men from the company were killed in June, among 36 German soldiers who have died in the Afghan war.
The soldiers expressed frustration over the second-guessing of the airstrike not only by allies, but also by their own politicians, and over the absence of support back home.
While the intensity of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s south has received most attention, the situation in the Germans’ part of the north has deteriorated rapidly. Soldiers said that just a year ago they could patrol in unarmored vehicles. Now there are places where they cannot move even in armored vehicles without an entire company of soldiers.
American officials have argued that an emphasis on reconstruction, peacekeeping and the avoidance of violence may have given the Taliban a foothold to return to the north.
German officers here said they had adjusted their tactics accordingly, often engaging the Taliban in firefights for hours with close air support. In July, 300 German soldiers joined the Afghan Army and National Police in an operation in Kunduz Province that killed more than 20 Taliban fighters and led to the arrests of half a dozen more.
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called the operation “a fundamental transition out of the defensive and into the offensive.”
Germany’s military actions are controlled by a parliamentary mandate, which is up for renewal in December. The German contingent has unarmed drones and Tornado fighter jets, which are restricted to reconnaissance and are not allowed to conduct offensive operations.
German soldiers usually stay in Afghanistan for just four months, which can make it difficult to maintain continuity with their Afghan partners. The mandate also caps the number of troops in the country at 4,500.
A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, called the mandate “a political straitjacket.”
A company of German paratroopers in the district of Chahar Darreh, where insurgent activity is particularly pronounced, fought off a series of attacks and stayed in the area, patrolling on foot and meeting with local elders for eight days and seven nights.
“The longer we were out there, the better the local population responded to us,” said Capt. Thomas K., the company’s commander. Another company relieved them for three days but then abandoned the position, where intelligence said that a bomb was waiting for the next group of German soldiers.
“Since we were there, no other company has been back,” the captain said.
Stefan Pauly contributed reporting from Berlin.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US Support for Israel strong
on: October 26, 2009, 11:14:16 PM
Survey: US support for Israel strong
Oct. 26, 2009
JPost.com Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
The American people's strong support for Israel remains constant and their support for action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power has substantially increased, according to a new nationwide survey released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday.
The survey's findings demonstrate that Americans recognize Israel as a strong and loyal US ally, are skeptical about "peace dividends" that would be realized by Israel stopping all settlement construction and believe that a Palestinian state must not be established until the Palestinians demonstrate a commitment to end violence and accept Israel's legitimacy.
The 2009 Survey of American Attitudes on Israel, The Palestinians and Prospects for Peace in the Middle East, a national telephone survey of 1,200 American adults, was conducted September 26-October 4, 2009 by Marttila Communications of Washington, D.C. and Boston.
"This latest survey of the American people, coming at a time of a full range of challenging issues facing Israel and the region demonstrates anew the breadth and depth of American public support for Israel from a variety of perspectives," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "Americans see Israel as a loyal ally to the US, as being very serious about wanting to achieve peace with the Palestinians and as deserving the sympathy of the American people in the conflict with the Palestinians."
Foxman also noted a changing dynamic regarding Iran and the nuclear issue. "The significant increase in Americans viewing Iran as a threat and supporting, if nothing else works, US or Israeli military options against Iran, reflect a new and needed sense of urgency about the issue in light of Iran's oppressive policies and the discovery of a secret Iranian nuclear plant," he said. "This is the first time a majority of Americans - 54 percent - support such an option for the US"
Some two thirds of Americans consider Israel a strong and loyal US ally, as previous surveys showed. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 64% believe that Israel is serious about achieving peace with the Palestinians, with three-to-one respondents expressing more sympathy with Israel than the Palestinians, when asked to choose a side. Support for US involvement in the peace process rose by nine percentage points to 39% since 2007, but 48% believe the two sides must ultimately solve their own problems.
With recent US efforts to freeze Israeli settlement activity, 53% of those questioned believe that even if Israel halts all construction Arab leaders will continue to refuse Israel's right to exist. Some 61% believe that the conflict will continue for years with 51% claiming that Palestinian divisions are an obstacle to peace and 56% saying no Palestinian state should be established until Palestinians cease violence and accept Israel's legitimacy.
Concerning the question of the Iranian threat, 63% of the respondents consider Iran an immediate or short-term security threat to the Middle East compared to 50% in 2007. There has also been significant gain in those who would support either Israel or the US using military action to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, with 57% of Americans supporting an Israeli hit, up from 42% in 2007, and 54% supporting a US campaign, up from 47% in 2007.