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25251  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Travel on: January 09, 2011, 11:17:02 AM
Navigating the Airfare Maze Online Gets Tougher
Published: January 7, 2011
With online travel sites battling with some airlines, where does that leave travelers shopping for flights online? The simple answer is that they’re going to have to do more digging.  Airlines are pulling their fares from travel Web sites amid a standoff over the fees that carriers pay to list their flights.

American Airlines removed its flight listings from last month, when the companies could not agree on a new contract, and Delta withdrew its fares from, and More recently, dropped American flight listings. Delta has also notified,,, and that it will no longer allow its fares to be included on their Web sites in the United States and Canada after Friday.

The moves represent a standoff over the fees that airlines must pay to list their flights with online travel agencies. And at least one major fare distributor, Sabre, which runs a computer system that allows travel agents to see flight and fare information, joined the fray on Wednesday, announcing that it would end its distribution deal with American in August — a month before the end of its contract — and, in the meantime, would make American fares harder to see in its displays.

But American and Delta are not the only airlines becoming more selective about where their fares appear online. JetBlue, Virgin America and Spirit have increasingly been offering special fare sales only through their own Web sites. And some low-cost carriers, including Southwest and Allegiant Air, have long refused to list fares at online agencies or fare aggregators like, requiring travelers to visit the airlines’ own Web sites to see their flights.

So what’s the best way to search for fares now? Currently, there is no one-stop shopping site that includes all fares, but it is possible to cover your bases using only a few sites.

Start with ITA Software, which provides the technological backbone for many air fare shopping sites. It offers an easy way to narrow down the cheapest days to fly by allowing anyone to scan an entire month’s worth of fares for the cheapest rate. Click on “search airfares now” in the middle of the home page, then enter your departure date and destination and select “see calendar of lowest fares” to see which travel days yield the lowest rates. Travelers can also narrow searches by the number of stops and length of trip. But to book the actual ticket, users must go to another site, like the airline’s.

Cover your bases by adding a so-called meta-search site like, or, which don’t sell plane tickets but search hundreds of travel sites at once. Doing this will give you an idea of the best rates available from various sites. Each meta-search site configures its technology and accesses fares slightly differently, which can affect results. The sites also tend to differentiate themselves through special partnerships., for example, receives fares from ITA Software; Amadeus, a global distribution system; and some airlines directly, including American and Delta. FareCompare licenses air fare data from more than 500 airlines via the Airline Tariff Publishing Company, which consolidates and distributes airline fares worldwide.

Before you hit the buy button, check out, a site with actual people who manually search for fares and will sometimes uncover cheaper fares than the other sites. It often captures sales from Allegiant and Southwest, as well as special, last-minute fares that airlines often save for their own Web sites, like “JetBlue Cheeps” which are put on sale on Tuesdays via Twitter and listed only at

For trips to Europe, consider, a Danish travel search site that scours the airlines’ own Web sites as well as online agencies that focus on low-cost carriers, like LyddAir, which operates flights from Lydd Airport in Southeast Kent in Britain to Le Touquet in France. It also compares rates with more than 4,000 high-speed train routes across Europe — a valuable service, as trains are often more convenient in Europe than planes. One caveat: Because of the way Momondo pulls fares, it may show expired fares in its results.

To help evaluate prices, consider, which offers a Price Predictor that uses algorithms to determine whether a fare is likely to rise or fall in the next seven days; this can help when trying to decide whether to buy now or wait for a better rate. Students can also consult or, which offer special deals for anyone enrolled in college or graduate school.

And for those who care most about the quality of the flight experience, there are a couple of notable mentions. Rather than a long list of fares, sorts fares according to an “agony” index that factors in price, length of flight and number of connections. In a similar vein,, evaluates flights by 11 criteria, including legroom, aircraft age and on-time performance.
25252  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH speaks to this thread on: January 09, 2011, 11:11:52 AM
Hanging On as the Boundaries ShiftBy ARTHUR S. BRISBANE
Published: January 8, 2011

FOUR months as public editor has given me a working list, perhaps only that, of the challenges The Times faces and the faults readers find in this most important of American newspapers. As a representative of the reader, I’d like to post that list today and invite you to consider it, then add to it as you will.

Earl Wilson/The New York Times
More Public Editor Columns
.The Public Editor's Journal
.Phone: (212) 556-7652

Address: Public Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

The blending of opinion with news is a good place to start. Although there is a distinct separation between the Editorial Page operation headed by Andrew Rosenthal and the news operation headed by Bill Keller, the news pages are laced with analytical and opinion pieces that work against the premise that the news is just the news.

The most glaring recent example that drew my eye was the Dec. 15 front-page column by David Leonhardt analyzing the debate over health care reform. The piece, a day-two follow-up to the news that a federal judge in Virginia had overturned the health care law’s central provision, drew complaints from readers like Sheila R. Markin of Sarasota, Fla., who wrote: “The Times does itself no good by putting these articles on the front page. It loses its status as an objective newspaper.”

She added, “I want my newspaper to be known for its unbiased articles on the front page.” Ms. Markin nailed it with this last sentence. I have no problem with Mr. Leonhardt’s analysis; he’s an accomplished economics writer and is entitled to his view. It was The Times’s decision to place it on Page 1 that posed the difficulty, sending the message that The Times’s take on health care is synonymous with Mr. Leonhardt’s, which some see as progressive or liberal.

The issue of opinion versus news in the news pages is, I think, one of boundaries. In my experience, people value boundaries, rely on them and grow uncomfortable when they move.

And here’s another form of boundary-slippage that readers complain about, one that is technology-driven. Once upon a time, the final print edition set a final, definitive version of a story and headline, leaving for posterity an immutable document of record, albeit one gathering dust in the newspaper morgue. No more. Now, appearing online, stories often undergo more frequent updates and headline changes. The same story often appears under distinctly different headlines in print, on the Web and on the other digital devices the Times feeds.

Amy Goldstein, a reader from Princeton, N.J., wrote to me that she found all this versioning problematic. “How does the newspaper of record handle this?” she asked, referring to changing versions of an obituary of the movie director Arthur Penn. “I read something, and now poof, it’s gone without a trace.”

While the requirements of digital publishing sometimes make things go “poof,” in other ways the digital environment commits things to a kind of immortality that itself is sometimes unwelcome.

In one case I wrote about, I argued that the paper had run roughshod in using the names of a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old who were named in a civil suit. But there is no fix for a problem like this after-the-fact. When it comes to the notion of expunging the identities, Times policy is strict: the electronic record is not to be changed. To me, this argues for taking far more care in protecting individuals’ privacy in the first place.

Indeed, taking sufficient care on the front end of reporting and publishing is one of the most difficult challenges for The Times as news consumption shifts rapidly to digital venues like the Web, tablets and cellphones. The newspaper scored a clear victory in this respect with its handling of the WikiLeaks material. With its deep roster of experienced reporters and computer-aided reporting expertise, The Times carefully mounted a responsible assemblage of coverage.

Floyd Abrams, the prominent First Amendment lawyer, gives The Times’s WikiLeaks work very high marks. And he notes that the stakes are huge, given the peril that news organizations face when dealing with secret material — dealings that could potentially subject them to prosecution under the Espionage Act.

“Once the legislature or the judiciary gets the notion that the entities before it are reckless,” Mr. Abrams warns, “the less likely they are to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Unfortunately, though, the pressure at The Times to produce in a high-speed news environment sometimes leads to much less careful work. You could ask Greg Brock, the senior editor who handles corrections for The Times. In 2010, he told me, The Times corrected 3,500 errors, most commonly spellings, dates and historical facts.

“What leads to these type errors?” Mr. Brock said. “Reporters and editors are rushed on deadline; they simply fail to double-check; the reporter misreads her notes. But many of these errors stem from Googling a name and taking the spelling — or historical fact — as gospel.”

Speed has other ill effects. For journalists charged with feeding the digital news flow, life is a barely sustainable cycle of reporting, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and, in some cases, moderating the large volume of readers who comment online. I applaud these journalists for their commitment but worry that the requirements of the digital age are translating into more errors and eventual burnout.

Certainly, as Mr. Brock also notes, the digital age has spawned a growing chorus of bloggers who closely monitor The Times. “A blogger points out an error, challenges something The Times has published and urges its followers to write The Times,” he said. “So they do so by the hundreds — particularly on politically charged issues.”

Looking ahead, the twin demands of digital and print will remain for the foreseeable future (and p.s., it’s not readily foreseeable). The Times will have to maintain deep investments in both domains while the media mix sorts itself out — an expensive proposition that puts pressure on The New York Times Company’s already slim profit margin.

So it seems that, as the New Year dawns, boundaries will continue to shift, the pressures will mount, and much will depend on the success of The Times’s pending launch of its pay model — the pay-to-use system designed to generate revenue for the currently free

One thing I know I can count on: The readers will weigh in. Their passionate view — from outside the newspaper’s 52-story bubble on New York’s West Side — provides an essential balance and perspective that helps keep The New York Times on track.


25253  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Taseer's son's eulogy for his dad on: January 09, 2011, 11:05:13 AM
Lahore, Pakistan

TWENTY-SEVEN. That’s the number of bullets a police guard fired into my father before surrendering himself with a sinister smile to the policemen around him. Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, was assassinated on Tuesday — my brother Shehryar’s 25th birthday — outside a market near our family home in Islamabad.

The guard accused of the killing, Mumtaz Qadri, was assigned that morning to protect my father while he was in the federal capital. According to officials, around 4:15 p.m., as my father was about to step into his car after lunch, Mr. Qadri opened fire.

Mr. Qadri and his supporters may have felled a great oak that day, but they are sadly mistaken if they think they have succeeded in silencing my father’s voice or the voices of millions like him who believe in the secular vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

My father’s life was one of struggle. He was a self-made man, who made and lost and remade his fortune. He was among the first members of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party when it was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the late 1960s. He was an intellectual, a newspaper publisher and a writer; he was jailed and tortured for his belief in democracy and freedom. The vile dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq did not take kindly to his pamphleteering for the restoration of democracy.

One particularly brutal imprisonment was in a dungeon at Lahore Fort, this city’s Mughal-era citadel. My father was held in solitary confinement for months and was slipped a single meal of half a plate of stewed lentils each day. They told my mother, in her early 20s at the time, that he was dead. She never believed that.

Determined, she made friends with the kind man who used to sweep my father’s cell and asked him to pass a note to her husband. My father later told me he swallowed the note, fearing for the sweeper’s life. He scribbled back a reassuring message to my mother: “I’m not made from a wood that burns easily.” That is the kind of man my father was. He could not be broken.

He often quoted verse by his uncle Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of Urdu’s greatest poets. “Even if you’ve got shackles on your feet, go. Be fearless and walk. Stand for your cause even if you are martyred,” wrote Faiz. Especially as governor, my father was the first to speak up and stand beside those who had suffered, from the thousands of people displaced by the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 to the family of two teenage brothers who were lynched by a mob last August in Sialkot after a dispute at a cricket match.

After 86 members of the Ahmadi sect, considered blasphemous by fundamentalists, were murdered in attacks on two of their mosques in Lahore last May, to the great displeasure of the religious right my father visited the survivors in the hospital. When the floods devastated Pakistan last summer, he was on the go, rallying businessmen for aid, consoling the homeless and building shelters.

My father believed that the strict blasphemy laws instituted by General Zia have been frequently misused and ought to be changed. His views were widely misrepresented to give the false impression that he had spoken against Prophet Mohammad. This was untrue, and a criminal abdication of responsibility by his critics, who must now think about what they have caused to happen. According to the authorities, my father’s stand on the blasphemy law was what drove Mr. Qadri to kill him.

There are those who say my father’s death was the final nail in the coffin for a tolerant Pakistan. That Pakistan’s liberal voices will now be silenced. But we buried a heroic man, not the courage he inspired in others. This week two leading conservative politicians — former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan — have taken the same position my father held on the blasphemy laws: they want amendments to prevent misuse.

To say that there was a security lapse on Tuesday is an understatement. My father was brutally gunned down by a man hired to protect him. Juvenal once asked, “Who will guard the guards themselves?” It is a question all Pakistanis should ask themselves today: If the extremists could get to the governor of the largest province, is anyone safe?

It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.

Shehrbano Taseer is a reporter with Newsweek Pakistan.

25254  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Gates says US will counter on: January 09, 2011, 10:54:54 AM
BEIJING — The Pentagon is stepping up investments in a range of weapons, jet fighters and technology in response to the Chinese military buildup in the Pacific, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Saturday on the eve of his visit to Beijing.

Despite billions of dollars in proposed Pentagon budget cuts that Mr. Gates announced this past week, he said that the Chinese development of its first radar-evading fighter jet, as well as an antiship ballistic missile that could hit American aircraft carriers, had persuaded him to make improvements in American weaponry a priority.

“They clearly have potential to put some of our capabilities at risk, and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs,” Mr. Gates said.

At the same time Mr. Gates doused China’s proud rollout this past week of its new stealth fighter jet, the J-20, saying that even though it was a matter for concern, there “is some question about just how stealthy” it is.

Mr. Gates made his comments to reporters before arriving Sunday night in Beijing, where he is on a three-day visit for talks with Chinese generals and President Hu Jintao that are meant to promote a more open and stable relationship between the American and Chinese militaries.

It is unclear what effect Mr. Gates’s comments will have on the talks, which are occurring a week before President Hu is to meet with President Obama in Washington.

The American weapons that Mr. Gates was referring to included investments in a new long-range nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, which the Pentagon had stopped developing in 2009, as well as a new generation of electronic jammers for the Navy that are designed to thwart a missile from finding and hitting a target. At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Mr. Gates said that the jammers would improve the Navy’s ability to “fight and survive” in waters where it is challenged.

Mr. Gates was also referring to continued investment in the Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s newest radar-evading fighter jet.

The Pentagon provided no estimate on Saturday of the total cost of the three programs or others meant to counter the Chinese buildup in the Pacific.

Although Pentagon officials say that China is a generation or more behind the United States in military technology, Mr. Gates said he has been worried about the Chinese buildup in his four years as defense secretary. And acknowledged that the Pentagon and intelligence agencies had underestimated how quickly the Chinese could act.

“We’ve been watching these developments all along,” Mr. Gates said.

“I’ve been concerned about the development of the antiship cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job,” he added. “We knew they were working on a stealth aircraft. I think that what we’ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted.”

Mr. Gates said he hoped his talks with Chinese leaders would reduce the need for more American weaponry in the Pacific. He also said that if Chinese leaders considered the United States a declining power because of the financial crisis, they were wrong.

“I’ve watched this sort of cyclical view of American decline come around two or three times, perhaps most dramatically in the latter half of the 1970s,” Mr. Gates said. “And my general line for those both at home and around the world who think the U.S. is in decline is that history’s dustbins are filled with countries that underestimated the resilience of the United States.”

25255  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Loose Lips almost sink ship on: January 09, 2011, 10:50:48 AM
Charleston Harbor, Jan. 9, 1861

Capt. Abner Doubleday rose early and went up to the parapet of Fort Sumter, scanning the surrounding waters with his telescope. He had seen something flashing out there the night before: a pilot boat signaling that a vessel was approaching Charleston Harbor in the darkness.

Since their move into the fortress two weeks before, Doubleday and his comrades in the small Union garrison had been looking out over that harbor in despair, as the besieging Carolinians were joined by volunteer units from across the Deep South. “If we ascended to the parapet,” he later recalled, “we saw nothing but uncouth State flags, representing palmettos, pelicans and other strange devices. No echo seemed to come back from the loyal North to encourage us. Our glasses in vain swept the horizon; the one flag we longed to see was not there.”

Library of CongressThe Star of the West enters Charleston Harbor, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
But now, in the morning sunlight, he suddenly saw that longed-for flag, the familiar Stars and Stripes. It was coming across the harbor, fluttering atop the mast of a large merchant steamer making her way up the channel. Doubleday quickly realized which vessel it was. He and the other officers had learned of this steamship and her top-secret mission to Fort Sumter the day before – from an article in a newspaper.

A week earlier, President James Buchanan, prodded into action by the general-in-chief of the Army, Winfield Scott, had at last decided to send reinforcements and provisions to the beleaguered Sumter garrison. Scott had urged that every possible step be taken to keep news of the expedition from getting out. Instead of using a Navy vessel, he chartered an ordinary steamship, the Star of the West. She was to clear New York Harbor as if bound on a regular voyage to New Orleans. Arms, ammunition and 200 federal troops were loaded by tugboats when the ship was discreetly out of sight of the city’s wharves.

Library of CongressHeadline in the New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1861.But the plan had sprung a leak. Actually, multiple leaks. New York longshoremen and tugboat pilots were not noted for their discretion, and by the evening of the Star’s departure, word had reached the city’s newspaper editors – for whom a scoop easily trumped any mere issues of national security. “SECRET MOVEMENTS OF UNITED STATES TROOPS,” blared a headline in the Herald, above a story describing the expedition down to its last detail. Similar reports appeared in papers from Massachusetts to Georgia (including The New York Times).

By that point, however, the secessionist authorities in South Carolina were already fully informed. Buchanan’s secretary of the interior, Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, had learned of the plan, resigned his post and promptly telegraphed Charleston.

The mission’s intended beneficiaries – the loyal troops at Fort Sumter and their commander, Maj. Robert Anderson – were among the last to learn of it. Washington had no secure telegraph line to the garrison, and so the War Department had mailed Anderson a letter. It traveled more slowly than the Star did. When Sumter’s officers saw a newspaper report of the expedition on Jan. 8, they “could not credit the rumor,” Doubleday wrote. “To publish all the details of an expedition of this kind, which ought to be kept a profound secret, was virtually telling South Carolina to prepare her guns to sink the vessel.”

Now the captain watched in astonishment as that very ship – the supposed journalistic figment – puffed laboriously up the channel. Then the crash of a rebel cannon split the morning air.

Doubleday, without waiting to see where the shot hit, rushed headlong downstairs to alert Anderson, who was still in bed. The major ordered his men to their battle stations. They hurried to load and prime Sumter’s cannons.

The Star was still under fire. Solid shot hurtled toward her from a battery on Morris Island manned by teenage cadets from the Citadel, the local military academy. Luckily, the youths were far from expert artillerists, and their cannonballs mostly splashed harmlessly into the water; one or two struck the steamer but did little damage. The American flag on her foremast dipped and rose again, as if the captain were trying to signal the fort. Clearly he expected Sumter’s guns to open upon the rebels and protect him.

Almost at that moment, more cannon fire boomed out, from a different direction: Fort Moultrie, across the channel. The Carolinians were attacking from two directions now. And still Sumter’s gunners stood watching, immobile, awaiting orders; clutching the lanyards that they might pull at any moment to set their own cannons roaring in reply. The entire scene seemed surreal, almost unbelievable: a citadel that had very recently been their own fortress was now firing upon the American flag. One of the lieutenants – a Union officer who bore the improbable and unfortunate name Jefferson C. Davis – begged Major Anderson to unleash his guns on Moultrie.

Anderson hesitated and seemed about to give the order. But another lieutenant, the Virginian Richard K. Meade, began remonstrating with Anderson, reminding him that the first shot from Sumter would mean civil war. Just then, across the channel, the Star began to swing her bow around into a turn.

“Hold on; do not fire,” Anderson said. “I will wait.”

Across the harbor, from the Charleston waterfront, an anxious Carolinian was watching the drama unfold. He was William Henry Trescot, who until recently had been assistant secretary of state in the Buchanan administration, but had just returned home to cast his lot with the rebellion. Now he stood, shuddering, as he thought of Anderson’s garrison and the fate that would befall them if a full-scale artillery battle began. His summer house was a few hundred yards from their former quarters at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island; the Union soldiers had been his friends – occasionally his dinner guests – in peacetime.

“Almost every summer day after breakfast, I used to light my cigar, walk over to Fort Moultrie, sit down in the piazza, and talk away the long morning,” Trescot wrote soon afterward. “It is mortifying to send a cannonball into bowels which have digested your hospitality gratefully and thoroughly. To kill them is almost as bad as to be killed ourselves.”

But the Star of the West was heading out again toward the open sea. The guns around the harbor fell silent, giving way once more to the cries of seagulls and the muted sigh of the waves. Trescot would have no reason to be mortified. Not yet.


Sources: Abner Doubleday, “Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-’61”; Samuel Wylie Crawford, “The History of the Fall of Fort Sumpter”; New-York Tribune, Jan. 9, 10, and 14, 1861; New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1861; Macon Daily Telegraph, Jan. 7, 1861; Boston Evening Transcript, Jan. 8, 1861; New York Times, Jan. 7 and 10, 1861; Maury Klein, “Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War”; William W. Freehling, “The Road to Disunion, Vol. 2: Secessionists Triumphant.”

25256  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Guro Crafty in Israel May 6-7 on: January 09, 2011, 10:22:28 AM

Noa shermister nakash


25257  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gov. Brown on: January 09, 2011, 09:56:56 AM
Gov. Brown is off to an interesting start.  Apparently he has dissolved some positions including the office of the First Lady and the Secretary of Education--  sensibly noting that it duplicated the work of the Board of Education.  This is good!!!  Unfortunately I gather that he has replaced those members of this board in favor of school choice with those opposed.  This is very popular with his supporter, the Teachers Union.  tongue  Oh yeah, and apparently he wants Prop 13 repealed.  This would be a disaster for the Denny household and could well be the straw that breaks our back for staying in CA.
Odysseus-like, Jerry Brown journeys back to his ancestral home.

Sing in me, Muse, and tell the story of the godlike Jerry Brown,

Who became a political wanderer, skilled in the ways of the campaign,

After he forfeited his father's throne

In an ill-fated bid to take the proud halls of the faraway Beltway.

Begin, Muse, with the electoral rout that drove the son of the infrastructure-rich Pat Brown from his home

When the soft-throated San Diego mayor bested him in pitched battle, and

Made Brown eat small potatoes as he snatched the treasure meant for the Golden's State's lord.

The pop-star-dating pol spent years clinging to his Spartan mattress, his trademark blue Plymouth and even Malathion,

While the much-suffering goddess Minerva looked down at the exploits of those who picked up her shield:

The buttoned-down George Deukmejian, who booted the law-bending Rose Bird from her bench,

Pete Wilson, who told his short-haired troops they were eff-ing irrelevant,

Gray Davis, the gleaming-white warrior who declared that Sacramento was worse than Vietnam,

Even though, Zeus-like, he friggin' kept the lights on,

Until Conan, with his broad arms and flashing savage sword, recalled him.

Having been driven from office, the son of Pat Brown set sail for Japan.

When sated with Zen, he voyaged to Kolkata.

He poured libations for the sick and sat at the feet of the gamma-shaped Mother Theresa.

Buffeted by the fickle gods, he railed against the political machine,

Then he lunged to control that wine-dark apparatus in his yearning to take the helm of the state Democratic Party.

After pitched battle, he defeated the fair-haired Steve Westly

And flexed his fundraising prowess among the glittering swells

Who deride Proposition 13 from their super-size homes atop California's steep hills.

Then an old yearning stirred deep inside him one day.

The Jesuit prince looked into the mirror and said, "You must be, by your looks,

The infrastructure-rich Pat Brown's boy."

Thus spake the wheedling siren who lured him back toward presidential politics.

The wily Jerry Brown then proclaimed an "anti-politics gospel"

With an 800 number and $100 donation limit.

Once again, he tasted the bitter dreck of rejection.

He spent days squatting on his haunches, brooding

Until he found comfort in the soft breast of talk radio

With like-minded listeners who lapped up his honeyed words.

He then governed over Oakland Ecopolis, "both far away and very near,"

Only to battle NIMBYs, Birkenstock-shod and goose-loving scolds --

Fools -- who fought his plan to dot downtown with sleek towers

And wield the sword of eminent domain to pummel Revelli Tire into a parking lot.

On a starry night, his lusty spearman Jacques Barzaghi -- no Nestor he --

Dipped his oar poorly toward the realm where lawyers rule

And moaning, Frere Jacques slipped into the wine-dark sea.

Many years passed, and the quake-shaky Bay Bridge remained unfixed.

The squire of Jack London Square turned his gaze toward Sacramento

And found there bountiful photo opportunities -- Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, greedy corporations! --

In the office of the attorney general, a worthy perch for a once and future governor.

As he bided his time, bickering lawmakers assembled in their much-greased halls,

Inhaling the smoke of thighbones burnt as an offering to the gods,

They picked their teeth and spoke aloud their private thoughts:

"My word, how voters take elected officials to task!

All their afflictions come from us, we hear,

And what of their own stupid choices on ballot propositions?"

The much-suffering goddess Minerva looked down at the belching louts --

Casting dice, spanking lobbyists and cursing term limits --

And she longed for the day of the son's return, when she would whisper in his ear that he better replace his red-faced official portrait.

Many years passed, and the quake-shaky Bay Bridge remained unfixed.

The wily Jerry Brown, son of the infrastructure-rich Pat Brown,

Laid out the tools he would need to seize the primary in pitched battle --

His winged words, the fey mention of a certain former squeeze,

And other odd bits he could throw at the doglike media.

Without throwing his spear, he smote the ruby-throated Gavin Newsom,

Felled by his own whether-you-like-it-or not boast on his shining city's steps.

Heeding his own counsel, and that of the clear-thinking Anne Gust,

He withstood the calls of his political suitors to hurl all of his coins, and the wealth of many families

Toward the well-oiled army of political mercenaries -- cretins -- who feasted on the carcass of their own Republican Party,

Slain in the service of the maid-eating queen of eBay, butcher of many sheep.

Using winged words both random and cryptic, he emerged the master of debate,

As Meg Whitman's spearmen, weighed down with plunder and spoils, collapsed, quietly spewing foul oaths.

And so the wily Jerry Brown returned to his ancestral home and sat upon his father's and his own erstwhile throne.
25258  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Erickson: Winners do not go on shooting sprees on: January 09, 2011, 09:13:46 AM
The Media & The Shooter

Posted by Erick Erickson (Profile)

Sunday, January 9th at 6:00AM EST

“The tea party movement won in November. Winners don’t go on shooting sprees.”This morning we pray for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her family, and the other victims of the heinous violence in Arizona.

It should not be, but the media, under the guise of “a full exposition” of the evil in Arizona, is back to subtly and not so subtly pinning the blame for the attempted assassination of the Congresswoman and the related shootings on the tea party movement, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, me, you, and everyone right of center.

Let’s be crystal clear: this is the supposedly objective news media doing this, not the openly, partisan left, though it is fueling the media witch hunt. And from what we now know, it is not just media malpractice, but a lie.

Ironically, by perpetuating the lie — by even treating it as a legitimate topic of consideration to revisit the accusations of violence and hate the media tried to run with prior to the November election — that the right and the tea party incited this evil act, the left and media may very well incite violence against the right.

Today, the Sunday Shows will all be from Arizona. There will, I have no doubt, be many of them wanting to know if “rhetoric” and “tea parties” and “opposition to Barack Obama” did this.

They will also bring up, as they did yesterday, Sarah Palin putting Gabrielle Giffords on her target list for defeat with a rifle scope symbol over her district.

Here is what will either not be brought up, or if brought up, will only be mentioned in passing.

Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, the largest left-wing community online, put Gabrielle Giffords on a target list with a bullseye. Just as Sarah Palin removed her post, Markos has removed his.  Another Daily Kos writer, just the other day, penned a post saying Congresswoman Giffords was dead to him.

But then there is the real culprit — the shooter himself.  A friend of the shooter’s described the shooter as decidedly “left-wing” as recently as 2007.  On YouTube, he flagged as a favorite video one of a person dressed as a terrorist burning the American flag. Only a lunatic or a leftist would do that.  His favorite work was not a Glenn Beck book, but a staple of every left-wing bookshelf, the Communist Manifesto.  In the Communist Manifesto, there are numerous, frequent calls for violence against the bourgeoisies.

Left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall’s most recent book calls for a violent response from the left against the right.  Barack Obama himself told left-wing activists, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

The point of all of this is not to blame Ted Rall, Mr. Obama, Media Matters, MSNBC, any other particular person or group on the left, or the left in general. It is also not to say in any way, shape, or form that the guy is of the left. If, however, we take the evidence as presented and not as the media and left would have it presented, the shooter very clearly is not of the right.

More precisely, the shooter is neither left-wing nor right-wing. He is crazy and evil — a word not used enough. The guy is very clearly not of the tea party movement, not a Dittohead, not led by Sarah Palin, me, or anyone else on the right.

But the media, at least as of this morning and its accumulated coverage so far on this matter, could not care less. The media is intent on yet again exploring right-wing rhetoric and tea party hate. Left-wingers yesterday were falling all over themselves to blame everyone on the right for the horrific shooting.

The media today, as it begins more expansive reporting, will not let the facts get in the way of making the right, yet again, responsible for violence it neither incited nor enabled. In the process, the media’s credibility will continue to shrink.

By the way, as an exit thought, the tea party movement won in November. Winners don’t go on shooting sprees.

25259  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA School Program on: January 09, 2011, 08:46:39 AM
Woof Gord:

This being the first time for a DBMA SP seminar it is natural that there is a certain element of leaping into the unknown.  That said, I will note that in order to leave time for the host's tournament, there will be fewer hours of teaching by me than the usual two five hour days of a typical Guro Crafty DBMA seminar.  Also different will be that in contrast to my usual free-wheeling ways, the curriculum is  rather fixed.  Do count on this though, there will be opportunity to sweat a bit while swinging sticks with vigor  grin  By all means, make your wife happy!  grin
25260  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude on: January 09, 2011, 08:35:53 AM
At a bar mitzvah yesterday for a cousin, grateful to watch my daughter dance for the first time.
25261  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: January 08, 2011, 04:30:44 PM
Seriously deranged , , ,
25262  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / BO wants you to have an internet ID on: January 08, 2011, 04:21:05 PM
President Obama is putting plans in motion to give the Commerce Department authority to create an Internet ID for all Americans, a White House official told

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt told the website it is "the absolute perfect spot in the U.S. government" to centralize efforts toward creating an "identity ecosystem" for the Internet.

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace is currently being drafted by the Obama administration and will be released by the president in a few months.

"We are not talking about a national ID card. We are not talking about a government-controlled system. What we are talking about is enhancing online security and privacy, and reducing and perhaps even eliminating the need to memorize a dozen passwords, through creation and use of more trusted digital identities," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said at an event Friday at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, according to

Locke added that the Commerce Department will be setting up a national program office to work on this project.

The move has raised eyebrows about privacy issues.

"The government cannot create that identity infrastructure," Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology told the website. "If I tried to, I wouldn't be trusted."

Schmidt stresses that anonymity will remain on the Internet, saying there's no chance that "a centralized database will emerge."

25263  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chowchilla going under on: January 08, 2011, 08:39:04 AM
Chowchilla, Calif. has failed to make its January payment on a bond issued to make expensive renovations to its city hall.

We warned you on Tuesday that city was on the brink and could foreshadow similar cases across the country.

Now Chowchilla has crossed the line.

The 11,000-person town got into this situation through a massive collapse in home prices and bad fiscal management, not least of which was an $8 million city hall project. Earlier this year the city posted a technical default by depleting its bond reserve fund to make a payment.  And the outlook isn't good. The next step could be moving city operations into the local police department to save on overhead costs or just disincorporating the city.

Read more:
25264  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Lunatics now rule the asylum on: January 08, 2011, 08:36:37 AM
An Indian friend who is an astute observer of these things comments:

The recent murder of the governor of punjab in pakistan marks an important turning point in pakistan's death spiral. The RAPE (Rabid Anglicized Pakistani Elite) class has been effectively silenced. 500 muslim priests refused to perform the last rites of the man. The body guard who shot the governor, did so with apparent agreement of other body guards (I guess the nukes are safe though). The shooter was brought to court and showered with rose petals, lawyers fighting to defend him!. As background the governor was shot for supporting a christian woman who was handed down a death sentence for blasphemy following a verbal altercation with other muslim women, who had refused to accept drinking water from her.

Effectively, the lunatics now rule the have been warned.
25265  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, budget process on: January 08, 2011, 08:30:06 AM
I am sympathetic to this point.  The idea that someone cannot hunker down outside of the money economy is disconcerting to me.
25266  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Morris: on: January 08, 2011, 08:28:45 AM
Every Republican member of Congress should sign the following pledge, being promulgated by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform:

"I promise not to vote for any expansion of the federal debt limit unless it is preceded or accompanied by significant cuts in federal spending."

We all know that the reason the federal government debt is exploding is the reckless spending policies of the Obama administration. From the time George Washington took the oath of office to the time Barack Obama did, Washington borrowed $9 trillion. Since Obama took office, two years ago, we have borrowed almost $5 trillion more!

Domestic discretionary spending (non-defense) has risen by an astonishing 41 percent in two years!!! Welfare spending, primarily Medicaid, has gone up by 54 percent in two years!!!! We must roll back these increases. (It is not increases in Social Security -- 14 percent -- or Medicare --16 percent that are the problem).

Obama will never allow spending cuts unless they are jammed down his throat, and his need for an expansion of his borrowing authority are the key chance to do so.

House Speaker John Boehner sounded an ominous note of possible capitulation even before the first shot was fired when he said: "We're going to have to deal with it (raising the debt limit) as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations, and we have obligations on our part."

Obligations? Sure. But don't we also have the obligation to stop the crazy spending even as we allow the debt limit to rise to pay for the spending that is already underway? Is this not the perfect time to demand spending restraint?

The American people will strongly support the spending restrictions as a precondition for raising the debt limit. Most don't want the limit raised at all. But almost everyone will see the wisdom of cutting the spending as we raise the debt limit.

Obama will resist and, if he vetoes the spending cuts, he -- not the Republican House -- will bear the onus for the ensuing government default. And he will blink just like he did over extending the George W. Bush tax cuts.

What spending cuts? Nothing complicated. The most important one is to roll back domestic discretionary spending to pre-Obama levels -- 2008 levels -- and freeze it there for three years. This step would cut the deficit by over $100 billion for each of the next three years (and, if we take the step now, for this year, as well). Let the federal agencies figure out what to cut. But force them to make these cuts.

We all lived pretty well in 2008 before the 41 percent hike in domestic discretionary spending (on things like transportation, Congress, EPA, Justice, Education, Energy, etc). Let's go back to those days and erase the legacy of the Obama stimulus package.

And we should also take two other steps:

-- Transform Medicaid into a block grant to the states, giving them the flexibility to spend it as they wish. Roll Medicaid back to 2008 levels, and include a modest annual inflator for increasing costs of about 3 percent.

-- And, we should only increase the debt limit by $500 billion (about three months' worth) so as to keep Obama on a short leash and make him keep coming back for more while we add restrictions and new cuts each time.

Republicans need to be smart to leverage their one-house control into real accomplishments, and there is no better place to start than with the debt limit vote next month.
25267  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Center to periphery: Slow down! on: January 08, 2011, 12:02:22 AM
Beijing Tells the Provinces To Slow Down

Zhang Ping, director of China’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) — the leading economic planner — called on China’s provinces to slow down their economic growth targets for 2011 and take into consideration the effects of growth on “energy, environment, water and land.” Zhang said only five or six provinces have lowered their growth targets to 8 or 9 percent — 8 percent being the Communist Party’s estimated rate of growth necessary to maintain sufficient job creation. The others have targeted 10 percent growth rates or higher, and some aim to double their total output in five years.

Zhang’s comments point to the central government’s pragmatic desire for the provincial growth targets to be consistent with the national target. Beijing also does not want provinces to set themselves up for a deadline-driven rush that will increase costs or intentionally use fake numbers to please the central government. Beijing eventually wants to reduce its emphasis on using economic indicators to judge political performance, since it sets rapid growth as the sole good, which has led to a variety of economic policy abuses and social distortions. The government wants a more accurate picture, and is urging the provinces to prepare for lower and — ideally — more sustainable growth. It is also trying to alleviate the massive pressure on China’s domestic resources and ability to acquire sufficient resources from abroad.

“The provinces show no self-restraint because they are profiting from the easy credit and endless economic boom and, on a deeper level, because they fear a recession would create unemployment-charged uprisings that would see them alone in their tower under siege.”
But Zhang’s comments are also emblematic of a deep tension in China’s system. Struggles between the central political power and the provincial powers define Chinese history. The country has three core economic and population regions — the North China Plain and Yellow River Delta (Beijing), the Yangtze Delta (Shanghai), and the Pearl River Delta (Guangdong) — with mountains splitting the south from the north. In addition, there are other populous enclaves like the Northeast or Sichuan Basin, the far western deserts and wastelands, and the breakaway province of Taiwan. The country is equally disposed to division and warring kingdoms as it is to unity through rigidly centralized bureaucracy. The center demands the regions adhere to its edicts and remain unified to protect against foreign exploitation or invasion; the regions amass wealth for themselves, compete with each other, and ignore or resist the center.

The Communist Revolution marked a 30-year period of national reformation and central consolidation. But eventually, China found it needed economic growth, and the opening up of 1978 gave room for special zones and eventually entire provinces to re-engage in market activity. The result was an explosion of economic growth that continues. Within this growth, the economy has waxed and waned, primarily responding to the central government’s devolving power to the provinces to allow them to race, and then struggling to tighten the reins.

Now, China is manifestly nearing the peak of that super-cycle of economic expansion. The failure of the growth model is particularly a problem after the global crisis when exports collapsed. China poured credit into the economy to skip over the recession, but at the expense of rising costs for the natural resources necessary to maintain this growth and deepening disparities in wealth and social frustrations. Small steps to tighten growth in 2010 had limited effects, giving way to a reassertion of the desire for growth. Thus, the top technicians in control of the country’s financial system face the dilemma of making forceful demands to slow the economy at the risk of driving it into the ground — or continuing with small adjustments and thereby revealing their weak will and emboldening the provincial warlords. The provinces show no self-restraint because they are profiting from the easy credit and endless economic boom and, on a deeper level, because they fear a recession would create unemployment-charged uprisings that would see them alone in their tower under siege.

Beijing has faced the dilemma before — notably in the late 1980s and mid-1990s — but it is especially hesitant to force its way now because of a monumental political change approaching. The older generation of leaders is passing the torch in 2012-13, and power transitions cannot yet be said to be a casual or comfortable affair in the People’s Republic. So, a generational division overlays the central-provincial divisions — some of the young leaders, finding support from the central policy specialists, are more inclined to impose controls on the economy and try to engineer a smooth descent, so that they do not inherit an about-to-burst or already bursting bubble and instead have the option of reaccelerating when they take power to benefit their personal networks and consolidate power.

But some powerful voices in the older generation, aided by the provincial warlords and their patrons, seem to lack the appetite for risky policy moves. They are constrained by the niggling fear that however well planned, an attempt to moderate growth now could trigger an irreversible slowdown and the conclusion of the growth super-cycle that has held for the past 30 years. An economic disjunction of that magnitude could in turn precipitate the kind of totalizing socio-political revolution that has occurred every 30 or 40 years in China’s modern history. They are demanding a proud legacy when they retire and the regime is demanding a smooth transition for its own sake. But there is no guarantee they will get this, and, for now, the policy tug-of-war intensifies.

25268  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: January 07, 2011, 05:35:38 PM
I should also mention my days at the RAW Gym (Rico Chiapparelli, Frank Trigg, Vladimir Matyushenko, and others of note).
25269  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: May 14-15: "Dog Brothers Tribal Gathering of the Pack" on: January 07, 2011, 05:31:25 PM
Not a question of secrets Kaju; just a matter of wanting to be able to be able to discuss matters candidly or even to reject a suggestion without embarassing someone publicly. 
25270  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: January 07, 2011, 01:58:29 PM
Soros/ and connected pieces of that conspiracy have taken over much of the Democratic Party.  IMHO Pelosi needs to be seen in that context.
25271  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government programs & regulations, spending, budget process on: January 07, 2011, 01:47:13 PM
I shared the Krugman piece with Top Dog who now lives in Houston.  Here are his comments on it:


Talk about slanted! True, housing is much cheaper if you simply look at the inital purchase - as we did. Where they make up for it is in the highest property taxes in the Gulf - my taxes here are 3 times more than I paid in Long Beach! We got a boost in population due to the influx of people from Louisiana ( New Orleans/Katrina that doesn't seem to get reported enough) and to some extent the petrochemical industry but oil was ridiculously high for about 4 months before it crashed to the 70's and the jobs remained.

The economy "feels" better here compared, say , to CA but no one thinks it is a gravy train. So, is Krugman's point that neither system works or that Texas is full of it and should be villified? He always struck me as - suprize! - trying to attract attention to himself with edgy statements.

Btw it is still okay to have a gun show - and buy a gun on the spot - every weekend anywhere. The states he mentioned do not allow this. Politicians here know this and respect the fact they have an armed population and not shrill or dependant citizens. - I have 3 and lots of ammo. Ryan is a pretty good shot with his .22 that St. Nick brought him this Christmas (that's right, CHRISTMAS, not "Holidays"!). Santa preffers a W&S .357 revolver long barrel loaded with hollow points. A little old school but hey! it's very effective.
25272  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politically (In)correct on: January 07, 2011, 01:42:25 PM
A surprisingly piece sensible from Pravda on the Hudson (POTH).  I had not thought of this point on my own:

"Never mind that attaching the epithet "slave" to the character Jim — who has run away in a bid for freedom — effectively labels him as property, as the very thing he is trying to escape."

25273  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: January 07, 2011, 01:35:56 PM

Well, in addition to our being turned down in the early days of the UFC for being "just too extreme" (see the copy of the letter on this website) I was a judge at UFC 10.  Surf Dog was a judge for several years at "King of the Cage" which was something of a feeder event leading fighters to the UFC where I filled in for him when one of his students was fighting and Surf Dog is a regular judge at the UFC, TUF, and various MMA events around California-- of course only when one of his guys is not fighting.  Boo Dog is a regular sparring partner to elite UFC/MMA fighters out of Gokor Chiviikyan's gym (e.g. Manny Gamburian).

25274  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / E4 on: January 07, 2011, 06:22:35 AM
Any comments on Glenn's theme for 2011, the E4?


25275  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Our duty as Muslim-Americans on: January 07, 2011, 06:08:13 AM

When New York Rep. Peter King, the new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called for congressional hearings on radical Islam in America this fall, the reaction from the official Muslim community was swift. Ibrahim Hooper, president of the Council on American- Islamic Relations, said he feared the hearings would become an "anti-Muslim witch hunt." Abed A. Ayoub of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee asserted that Mr. King's proposal had "bigoted intentions."

While Mr. King has a reputation for adopting polarizing positions—particularly when it comes to immigration—his hearings deserve serious consideration. "There has to be an honest discussion of the role of the Muslim community—what they are doing, what they're not doing," he explained to the New York Observer in a Nov. 30 article. "I talk to law enforcement people across the country; they will tell me. . . . They don't feel any sense of cooperation."

These concerns are reasonable. Histrionic objections to them only deter Muslims from fulfilling a fundamental Islamic obligation: Meeting our duty to the society in which we live.

According to Islamic law, Muslims are obligated to three entities: the self, God and society. This last has been overlooked too often by Muslims and their adopted societies.

Similar to the Christian obligation to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," the Quran and the derived corpus of Islamic jurisprudence support Muslims' engagement with those to whom power is entrusted. Chapter 4, verse 59 of the Quran reads: "Verily, Allah commands you to give over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice."

That patriotic majority has a duty not only to follow the laws of the United States, but to make sure that their fellow Muslims do the same. Islam calls this duty "commanding the right and forbidding the wrong." It is an obligation that is sourced widely in Islamic scripture, beginning with the Quran. The scriptures even underline that this duty is shared by both men and women.

In one verse, Muslims are instructed: "Let there be one community of you, calling good and commanding right and forbidding wrong" (3:110). Another instructs: "Believers, the men and the women, are friends of one another; they command right, and forbid wrong" (9:71). Impartiality is critical to fulfilling this duty. As it is written: "And let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice" (5:Cool.

The holy texts of Islam emphasize that one's greatest allegiance should be to justice—superseding family and co-religionist ties. "Be strict in observing justice, and be witness for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against your parents or kindred," the Quran says in chapter 4, verse 36.

Justice is the cornerstone of Islamic life—despite the appalling reality of many Muslim-majority countries today. Every faithful Muslim must contribute to the preservation of justice within their society.

How we respond to possible hearings on radicalism will reveal our own commitment to Islam. Cooperation can take the form of expert testimony, informing on radical entities, and perhaps foremost, educating ourselves about our religion. Lest any doubt remain as to how Muslims must respond to Mr. King's call, an anecdote from the hadith (the Prophet's sayings) makes it explicit.

Marwan, a twice-appointed Muslim governor of Medina in the seventh century, performed two actions considered religiously unorthodox by his contemporaries: He brought out a pulpit, even though it was a feast day, and then delivered a sermon before leading prayer.

These ritual infractions precipitated an outcry, compelling one congregant to speak up: "Marwan, you've gone against sunna [a normative practice demonstrated by the Prophet]!" A companion of the Prophet, Abu Sa'id Al Khudri, observing the scene, supported this public admonition and turned to the objector: "You have done your duty." Promptly, he quoted the Prophet, "Whoever sees a wrong and is able to put it right with his hand, let him do so; if he can't, then with his tongue; if he can't, then in his heart, and that is the bare minimum of faith."

Exposing nefarious forces at play within our community is a Muslim responsibility—the "bare minimum of faith" for every Muslim man and woman.

Dr. Ahmed is author of "In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom" (Sourcebooks, 2008).
25276  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: CO approves uranium mill on: January 07, 2011, 06:00:27 AM
A Canadian energy company is scouring the globe for investors to finance the first new uranium mill slated to be built in the U.S. in more than 25 years.

Colorado regulators this week approved a crucial radioactive-materials license for the proposed mill, which would crush uranium ore and begin processing it, primarily for use in nuclear power plants.

The license was opposed by some environmental groups while some local residents embraced the proposed mill as a provider of new jobs in the Paradox Valley, a remote rural area of southwest Colorado that has struggled economically.

Energy Fuels Resources Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc., says it needs just one more permit for the Piñon Ridge Mill. But the firm also needs capital—it's looking for about $140 million—before building.

The mill would produce up to 850,000 pounds a year of yellowcake, a coarse, concentrated powder that's a first step toward enriched uranium. That is enough to fuel two 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants for a year, said Gary Steele, a vice president of Energy Fuels.

U.S. mining-industry officials say the mill could help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign fuel. At least 90% of the uranium used in American nuclear power plants is imported.

But the yellowcake produced in Colorado may well end up in China, which is in the midst of a nuclear-power boom, Mr. Steele said. "It will go wherever we have a market for it," he said.

The mill, which would take about a year to build, is expected to employ 75 people—and to spur the creation of scores of additional mining, trucking and support jobs in the Paradox Valley. That promise of jobs has many local residents cheering.

Environmental groups, however, have fought the mill bitterly and pledge to continue their protests. Uranium mining thrived in the region during the 1940s and 1950s, when it was used for nuclear bombs, and in the 1970s, when nuclear power surged in popularity. Not only did both booms go bust, but the mines left a legacy of pollution that persists to this day.

This fall, state regulators found heaps of toxic uranium ore at a shuttered mine in the area. A defunct mill in the area has been designated a federal Superfund site; cleanup of the property was launched in the 1980s but is far from complete.

Energy Fuels says the new mill would be much safer. State regulators agreed.

"Energy Fuels has demonstrated it can build and operate the mill in a manner that is protective of both human health and the environment," said Steve Tarlton, a program manager for the state's Department of Public Health and Environment.

Write to Stephanie Simon at

25277  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Christians arrested on: January 07, 2011, 05:53:42 AM
Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of Christians in the two weeks since Christmas, the latest challenge to the Mideast's small but vibrant Christian communities. The arrests around the country appear focused on individuals who have converted from Islam or sought to convert others from Islam—actions considered sins under Islamic law and punishable by death in Iran.

Tehran's governor, Morteza Tamadon, confirmed there have been detentions and said more arrests were on the way, state media reported.  Mr. Tamadon suggested the roundup hadn't targeted the mainstream Armenian Christians or Catholics, which make up most of the small Christian population in Iran. ...

25278  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Microbes eat Gulf methane from spill on: January 07, 2011, 05:50:52 AM

Bacteria made quick work of the tons of methane that billowed into the Gulf of Mexico along with oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, clearing the natural gas from the waterway within months of its release, researchers reported Friday.

The federally funded field study, published online in the journal Science, offers peer-reviewed evidence that naturally occurring microbes in the Gulf devoured significant amounts of toxic chemicals in natural gas and oil spewing from the seafloor, which researchers had thought would persist in the region's water chemistry for years.

"Within a matter of months, the bacteria completely removed that methane,"said microbiologist David Valentine at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The bacteria kicked on more effectively than we expected," he said.

Dr. Valentine was part of a research team that tested samples from more than 200 locations across 38,000 square miles of the Gulf during three research cruises between August and October, after the well was shut down last year.

The fate of the methane is only one aspect of the environmental impact on the Gulf of the massive spill. All told, scientists estimate that 200,000 tons or more of methane bubbled from the damaged BP PLC well—about 20% of the hydrocarbons released during the spill—along with about 4.4 million barrels of petroleum.

Naturally-occurring bacteria made quick work of tons of methane gas released in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, researchers reported Friday. Science columnist Robert Lee Hotz and University of California Santa Barbara microbiologist David Valentine talk with Kelsey Hubbard about the environmental implications and how it may alter our understanding of climate change.
The crude oil settled on the seafloor as sludge within a mile or so of the damaged drill head, floated to the surface, washed ashore or was diluted by chemical dispersants dissolved into the seawater.

In a report last month, federal officials managing the cleanup effort said there was no longer any significant oil from the spill left offshore and no evidence of chemical dispersants in the water that exceeded federal safety standards. Most state and federal fisheries in the Gulf have reopened.

David Rainey, a vice president of science, technology, environment and regulatory affairs for BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, which had no role in the new study, called the methane findings "very good news for the Gulf of Mexico."

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The report stirred disbelief among several microbiologists studying the aftermath of the 87-day oil and gas leak. "I think they are jumping to a conclusion," said University of Georgia microbiologist Samantha Joye, who has been analyzing methane from the damaged wellhead independently. "It would take a superhuman microbe to do what they are claiming."

But Robert Haddad, head of the damage-assessment effort at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, "the data they've collected on the methane plume is consistent with what we've seen."

Early tests conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University around the damaged wellhead showed that little of the methane gas ever reached the surface.

The scientists determined that almost all of it had been trapped in a plume of microscopic oil droplets in a layer of water between 2,600 feet and 3,900 feet deep. The measurements the scientists made in June showed that methane levels in the water were tens of thousands of times higher than normal.

Now it is nowhere to be found.

"We were shocked," said chemical oceanographer John Kessler at Texas A&M, who was the lead author of the Science study. "We thought the methane would be around for years."
By comparing the water samples from their three Gulf cruises, Dr. Kessler and his colleagues found a telltale drop in the amount of oxygen left in the water that appeared to precisely equal the amount needed for microbes to metabolize so much methane.

The bacteria appeared to draw down 100 million tons of oxygen from the water, not enough to cause an oxygen-starved dead zone that would be fatal to other marine life, the researchers said. In addition, genetic tests revealed relatively high levels of microbes known to consume methane.
"This is very compelling evidence that the methane had been consumed," said geo-microbiologist Antje Boetius at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Biology in Bremen, Germany, an expert on methane microbes who wasn't involved in the study.

The new research offered a rare glimpse into the remarkable abilities of an obscure family of microbes that dwell in the depths of the Gulf and along almost every continental margin around the world where subsurface reservoirs of methane can be found.

"They are pretty common and have the capability of responding if there is a methane release," said microbial ecologist Victoria Orphan, an expert on methane-consuming microbes at the California Institute of Technology.

If borne out by additional research, the ability of ocean microbes to absorb such large releases of methane so rapidly also has implications for the study of global warming and the potential for catastrophic climate changes, the researchers said.

Methane is a greenhouse gas 24 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Under some climate-change scenarios, scientists worry that large natural leaks of methane, which is cached in vast reservoirs beneath the seafloor, could reach the surface where the gas could affect temperatures. These microbes could block that.

"They showed that, even when there is a massive release of methane, the ocean can compensate," said federal microbiologist Terry Hazen at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who has long championed the use of methane-oxidizing microbes to biodegrade oil spills.

Write to Robert Lee Hotz at
25279  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / And the WSJ on the same cuts on: January 07, 2011, 05:45:31 AM
In an early salvo in Washington's battle over the deficit, the White House ordered the Pentagon to rein in its budget, a move that will force a sizable cut in overall troop numbers for the first time in two decades.

The surprise decision, which is designed to cut a total of $78 billion from the military budget in the next five years, shows how even the military isn't immune from the political heat brought on by worsening U.S. fiscal woes. It also represents a setback for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had fought to stave off such an outcome.

"We are having to tighten our belts," Mr. Gates said Thursday.

The projected five-year budget outlined by Mr. Gates doesn't include an actual decrease in the military budget. But it will stop growing by 2015. With salaries, health-care and fuel costs climbing every year, the Pentagon needs a 2% to 3% annual budget increase to avoid making cuts in programs.

Under Mr. Gates's proposal, the Army and Marine Corps will shrink by up to 47,000 people, a reduction that comes on top of a 22,000 decrease already planned for the Army. Currently, the two services have about 772,000 members, with the last cuts to the Army and Marines coming after the 1991 Gulf War.

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Associated Press
The Slamraam surface-to-air missile
.No new head-count cuts are planned for the Navy or Air Force, which recently underwent reductions.

By seeking long-term cuts in the Pentagon budget, the White House is taking on a Republican bastion and hoping to put the GOP on the defensive, especially tea-party-backed lawmakers who campaigned on slashing government spending.

Republicans reacted negatively to Mr. Gates's proposals. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was unhappy with the proposed $78 billion in cuts.

At the same time, the relatively modest nature of the White House proposal irked liberals, some of whom said Thursday the cuts didn't go far enough. The proposal could backfire more broadly if it feeds the notion that Democrats are weak on defense.

Pentagon officials outlined measures proposed for the next five years. The Pentagon had previously called for $100 billion in cuts over five years, hoping to fend off further trims. Instead, Mr. Gates was required to find the additional $78 billion.

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Barack Obama accepted Mr. Gates' recommendation to shut down Joint Forces Command, an organization charged with fostering closer cooperation between the various military services, based in Norfolk, Va. Mr. Gates made the recommendation last year as part of his cost-saving initiative.

Mr. Gates's proposed base defense budget for next year is $553 billion, a modest increase over the Pentagon's budget request for the current fiscal year of $549 billion. The new proposal is smaller than the Pentagon had planned for. In February, the administration projected it would be $566 billion.

Since taking office in 2006, the defense secretary has spoken many times about the problems caused by seeking a "peace dividend" after wars end. Substantial cuts during the 1990s saved money initially, but the Pentagon had to spend billions to rapidly build up the Army and Marine Corps when commanders realized they lacked enough forces to effectively fight the Iraq war.

Mr. Gates said the troop cuts proposed Thursday were modest, and that the overall size of the armed forces would still be bigger than when he had taken office. He emphasized the troop cuts wouldn't occur until 2015, when a withdrawal from Afghanistan is expected to be well under way.

Tightening the Belt
The Pentagon's five-year plan includes a new set of cuts to the Pentagon's forecasted budget totaling $78 billion, and about $100 billion in already announced 'efficiency savings,' most of which will be reinvested in the military.

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..Nevertheless, Mr. Gates's proposals are likely to be attacked by some as too timid, and by others as irresponsible, an outcome the secretary himself predicted.

"No doubt these budget forecasts and related program decisions will provoke criticism on two fronts—that we are either gutting defenses or we have not cut nearly enough," Mr. Gates said.

The GOP's Mr. McKeon said, "These cuts are being made without any commitment to restore modest future growth, which is the only way to prevent deep reductions in force structure that will leave our military less capable and less ready to fight." He added: "This is a dramatic shift for a nation at war and a dangerous signal from the commander in chief."

The openness of some GOP lawmakers to military cuts in the campaign suggested the White House might have a chance to divide the party on an issue central to its identity, defense.

Moira Bagley, a spokeswoman for Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), said he would consider Mr. Gates's proposed cuts. "As Sen. Paul has said repeatedly, everything is on the table when it comes to spending cuts—including defense," she said. "It's good to see Secretary Gates take the initiative to suggest certain defense programs don't need funding."

Critics of defense spending said Thursday that Mr. Gates's cuts were illusory and didn't go far enough. "What Secretary Gates is really saying is that to exist in peacetime, the Pentagon requires ever-growing amounts of money—forever," said Winslow Wheeler, a former congressional budget aide and defense analyst at the left-leaning Center for Defense Information.

Some of the cuts proposed by Mr. Gates will face particular scrutiny on Capitol Hill and from veterans groups. He seeks to increase health-care fees for some working-age military retirees, a potential savings of nearly $7 billion over five years. Earlier proposals to raise such fees have been rejected by Congress.

Defense contractors will likely feel the pain from the procurement cuts unveiled by Mr. Gates. The Pentagon intends to cut some troubled programs like the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Mr. Gates also said he intended to restructure the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, delaying production of one variant of the plane and saving $3.8 billion.

Nevertheless, stocks of defense companies rose in trading Thursday, after the news appeared to end uncertainty over future spending levels.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said the procurement cuts were a step toward greater fiscal responsibility, but showed a reluctance to tackle hard issues like skyrocketing military pay and health care.

"Gates is trying to get ahead of what he thinks will be cuts by saying, 'I'm cutting,' but he's not," Mr. Korb said. "He wants to take it from one area and give it to another. And I think he feels it will provide some political cover."

It is unclear how long Mr. Gates will be around to fight for his proposed budget. He has indicated he intends to leave office this year. On Thursday, he said he hadn't altered his plans.

25280  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / NYT: Vaccine-autism link study a fraud on: January 07, 2011, 05:38:41 AM
Study Linking Vaccine to Autism Was Fraud, Journal ReportsBy THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 5, 2011
Filed at 12:15 a.m. EST on January 06, 2011

LONDON (AP) — The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.

The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide and immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella have never fully recovered.

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.

The analysis, by British journalist Brian Deer, found that despite the claim in Wakefield's paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems. Deer also found that all the cases were somehow misrepresented when he compared data from medical records and the children's parents.

Wakefield could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls and requests to the publisher of his recent book, which claims there is a connection between vaccines and autism that has been ignored by the medical establishment. Wakefield now lives in the U.S. where he enjoys a vocal following including celebrity supporters like Jenny McCarthy.

Deer's article was paid for by the Sunday Times of London and Britain's Channel 4 television network. It was published online Thursday in the medical journal, BMJ.

In an accompanying editorial, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and colleagues called Wakefield's study "an elaborate fraud." They said Wakefield's work in other journals should be examined to see if it should be retracted.

Last May, Wakefield was stripped of his right to practice medicine in Britain. Many other published studies have shown no connection between the MMR vaccination and autism.

But measles has surged since Wakefield's paper was published and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the U.S. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.

25281  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 07, 2011, 05:31:43 AM
CAIRO — A deadly suicide bomb attack outside a Christian church in Alexandria on Saturday has forced the government and religious leaders here to acknowledge that Egypt is increasingly plagued by a sectarian divide that could undermine the stability that has been a hallmark of President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three decades in power.

A church in Shoubra, a Cairo neighborhood where many Christians live. Security is being tightened for celebrations of Coptic Christmas on Thursday and Friday.
As Egypt’s Christians headed to church under heavy security Thursday night to observe Coptic Christmas Eve, the nation was struggling to come to terms with a blast that killed at least 21 people, highlighted a long list of public grievances with the government and prompted concerns that national cohesion was being threatened by the spread of religious extremism among Muslims and Christians. (I've not heard of extremism amongst the Copts.  Anyone know what POTH is talking about here?)

“I have heard this a lot, that this type of incident might be the first in a series, turning Egypt into another Iraq — that is the fear now,” said Ibrahim Negm, the chief spokesman for Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, the nation’s highest religious official. “There is a paradigm shift here that says we have to do something about the sectarian issue.”

The bombing, which the authorities said bore the characteristics of an operation by Al Qaeda, has increased the likelihood that Mr. Mubarak, who is 82 years old and has had health problems, will seek a sixth six-year term this year, in order to preserve the status quo. Yet, it is precisely that stability — or, some say, stagnation — that many Egyptians now cite as perhaps the nation’s greatest underlying problem.

“The regime fooled us for many years with the illusion of ‘stability,’ ” wrote Magdy el-Gallad, in the independent daily newspaper Al Masry Al Youm. “We neither progressed nor has our situation remained stable.”

After the bombing and the ensuing riots, political experts, politicians, commentators, opposition leaders and average citizens said that the very steps taken by the president in the name of stability — including preservation of an emergency law that allows arrest without charge — had produced a state with weak institutions, weak political parties and a bureaucracy unable to resolve the social, political and economic problems that helped cultivate extremism.

“It is very clear that the government totally lost control — of everything,” said Muhammad Aboulghar, a professor at Cairo University medical school and a liberal activist. “The only control they have is on the security of the president, the group around him, and few other party figures. That’s it.”

But for all the criticism it unleashed, the blast appears to have forged a consensus that Egypt, despite its historic tradition of moderate Islamic thinking and multicultural tolerance, has in recent years become overwhelmed by fundamentalist religious identification, a position that until now the government strongly denied.

That view has reinforced the growing belief that President Mubarak was not ready to surrender the reins of power, people here said. Mr. Mubarak underwent surgery in Germany last year, and appeared frail for months afterward, leading to speculation about who might succeed him. But people who have recently met with him said that he appears to have regained his strength and seems to have no intention of giving up power.

There is also a belief among those in the political elite, the military, the business community and the governing National Democratic Party that with so much uncertainty — even before the bombing — this is not the time for the party to nominate Mr. Mubarak’s son, Gamal, to run in September’s presidential election.

“If Mubarak disappears tomorrow, you will have the Islamists as the strongest political force in the country,” said Mohammed Salmawy, head of the Arab Writers Union. “The political parties, even lumped together, do not have the power to take over, and you have the army, which will not allow the country to go into chaos. Worse yet, you might have military Islamic rule because there is no reason to suppose the army is any different than society.”

When the bomb exploded shortly after New Year’s Eve Mass, the government moved with unusual speed and certainty. Within hours, President Mubarak made a televised address urging national unity. Muslim religious leaders, like Mr. Gomaa, quickly condemned the attack and reached out to the leader of the church, Pope Shenouda III.


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Within days there were pop songs on the radio calling for unity; billboards around the nation displaying the crescent moon and the cross, symbols of both faiths; and promises that government officials would this time follow through on plans to prevent more violence and correct the underlying problem.

But the effort was widely dismissed here as window dressing by an out-of-touch elite.

“While Egyptian officials fell in love with numbers — of streets paved, of hospitals built, the number of hotels and so on — somewhere the symbolic or the ideological mission of the state withered away,” said Ali Eddin Helal, a senior official in the National Democratic Party. “No state can live just by figures or by numbers. You have to give people meaning.”

The talk of unity failed to stop Christians and their supporters from pouring into the streets by the thousands.

“The government is corrupt!” shouted Mina Magdy, 23, who joined one of the demonstrations in the Shoubra neighborhood of Cairo on Tuesday. “If there was justice, nobody would dare do this. But the people who kill are not being held accountable.”

The bombing opened the floodgates of frustration among Christians who had long chafed under what they saw as discriminatory laws.

Many complained that the government had allowed unrestricted construction of mosques while restricting even the restoration of churches. They complained that no one had yet been tried in a Christmas Eve shooting last year in Nag Hammadi, a town in Upper Egypt where a Muslim gunman fired on Christian worshipers, killing 7 people and wounding 10. And they complained about the last parliamentary elections, in which the opposition emerged with fewer than 20 seats out of a total of 518 in Parliament, fueling widespread accusations of fraud and vote rigging, which the government has denied.

“This sectarian atmosphere is driving young people to retreat and lock themselves within the framework of the church,” said Gamal Asaad, a Coptic Christian and member of Parliament. “There is no room for political participation, which makes them susceptible to the conservative religious discourse. If there were real elections, if there was real representation, if there was any real participation by the people, then the political decisions could be more appropriate and address all these problems.”

In the last few years, Egypt has struggled through a seemingly endless series of crises and setbacks. The sinking of a ferry left 1,000 mostly poor Egyptians lost at sea, an uncontrollable fire gutted the historic Parliament building, terrorists attacked Sinai resorts, labor strikes affected nearly every sector of the work force and sectarian-tinged violence erupted, including last year’s shooting in Upper Egypt.

And in nearly every case, the state addressed the issue as a security matter, deploying the police, detaining suspects, dispersing crowds. That was also true in 2010, even as evidence mounted of growing tension between Egypt’s Muslim majority and a Christian minority that includes about 10 percent of the approximately 80 million Egyptians.

“I think that 2010 was a very, very bad year in the history of Egypt,” said Mona Makram-Ebeid, a former member of Parliament from a prominent Christian family. “Will this be a national awakening? If not, it might portend very, very dangerous days to come.”
25282  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on consequences of Wikileaks on: January 07, 2011, 05:18:41 AM
Given that the source is POTH, one wonders just how many inconvenient facts are being left out from those acknowledged here.  At least it acknowledges the issue , , ,

WASHINGTON — The State Department is warning hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials and businesspeople identified in leaked diplomatic cables of potential threats to their safety and has moved a handful of them to safer locations, administration officials said Thursday.

The operation, which involves a team of 30 in Washington and embassies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, reflects the administration’s fear that the disclosure of cables obtained by the organization WikiLeaks has damaged American interests by exposing foreigners who supply valuable information to the United States.
Administration officials said they were not aware of anyone who has been attacked or imprisoned as a direct result of information in the 2,700 cables that have been made public to date by WikiLeaks, The New York Times and several other publications, many with some names removed. But they caution that many dissidents are under constant harassment from their governments, so it is difficult to be certain of the cause of actions against them.

The officials declined to discuss details about people contacted by the State Department in recent weeks, saying only that a few were relocated within their home countries and that a few others were moved abroad.

The State Department is mainly concerned about the cables that have yet to be published or posted on Web sites — nearly 99 percent of the archive of 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks. With cables continuing to trickle out, they said, protecting those identified will be a complex, delicate and long-term undertaking. The State Department said it had combed through a majority of the quarter-million cables and distributed many to embassies for review by diplomats there.

“We feel responsible for doing everything possible to protect these people,” said Michael H. Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, who is overseeing the effort. “We’re taking it extremely seriously.”

Contrary to the administration’s initial fears, the fallout from the cables on the diplomatic corps itself has been manageable. The most visible casualty so far could be Gene A. Cretz, the ambassador to Libya, who was recalled from his post last month after his name appeared on a cable describing peculiar personal habits of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. While no decision has been made on Mr. Cretz’s future, officials said he was unlikely to return to Tripoli. In addition, one midlevel diplomat has been moved from his post in an undisclosed country.

But other senior diplomats initially considered at risk — for example, the ambassador to Russia, John R. Beyrle, whose name was on cables critical of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin — appeared to have weathered the disclosures.

There is anecdotal evidence that the disclosure of the cables has chilled daily contacts between human rights activists and diplomats. An American diplomat in Central Asia said recently that one Iranian contact, who met him on periodic trips outside Iran, told him he would no longer speak to him. Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, said people in Afghanistan and Pakistan had become more reluctant to speak to human rights investigators for fear that what they said might be made public.

WikiLeaks came under fire from human rights organizations last July, after it released a large number of documents about the war in Afghanistan without removing the names of Afghan citizens who had assisted the American military. When it later released documents about the Iraq war, the group stripped names from the documents.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Chris Perrine, said Thursday that the military was not aware of any confirmed case of harm to anyone as a result of being named in the Afghan war documents. But he noted that the Taliban had said it would study the WikiLeaks documents to punish collaborators with the Americans.

State Department officials believe that a wide range of foreigners who have spoken candidly to American diplomats could be at risk if publicly identified. For example, a businessman who spoke about official corruption, a gay person in a society intolerant of homosexuality or a high-ranking government official who criticized his bosses could face severe reprisals, the officials said.

Human rights advocates share the State Department’s concern that many people could be at risk if cables become public without careful redaction. “There are definitely people named in the cables who would be very much endangered,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.

In one case, Mr. Malinowski said, the State Department asked Human Rights Watch to inform a person in a Middle Eastern country that his exchanges with American diplomats had been reported in a cable.

In addition to The Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel have had the entire cable database for several months. The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten said last month that it had obtained the entire collection, and newspapers in several other countries have obtained a selection of cables relating to their regions.

WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange, has said the group will continue to release additional cables on its own Web site as well, though to date it has moved cautiously and has reproduced the redactions made by newspapers publishing the cables.

Government officials are also worried that foreign intelligence services may be trying to acquire the cable collection, a development that would heighten concerns about the safety of those named in the documents.

For human rights activists in this country, disclosures by WikiLeaks, which was founded in 2006, have been a decidedly mixed development. Amnesty International gave WikiLeaks an award in 2009 for its role in revealing human rights violations in Kenya. Human Rights Watch wrote to President Obama last month to urge the administration not to pursue a prosecution of WikiLeaks or Mr. Assange.

But they are concerned that the cables could inflict their own kind of collateral damage, either by endangering diplomats’ sources or discouraging witnesses and victims of abuses from speaking to foreign supporters.

Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s operations in Asia, said the cables had provided valuable “empirical information” on abuses in several countries. “This is a new way to distribute information,” Mr. Zarifi said. “We just want to make sure it has the same safeguards as traditional journalism.”
25283  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on Gates's budget cuts on: January 07, 2011, 05:13:52 AM
Pentagon Seeks Biggest Military Cuts Since Before 9/11
Published: January 6, 2011
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that the nation’s “extreme fiscal duress” now required him to call for cuts in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, reversing the significant growth in military spending that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The White House has told the Pentagon to squeeze that growth over the next five years, Mr. Gates said, reducing by $78 billion the amount available for the Pentagon, not counting the costs of its combat operations.
The decision to go after the Pentagon budget, even while troops remain locked in combat overseas, is the clearest indication yet that President Obama will be cutting spending broadly across the government as he seeks to reduce the deficit — and stave off attacks from Republicans in Congress who want to shrink the government even more.

Republicans have for the most part resisted including military spending as they search for quick reductions in federal spending.

To make ends meet, Mr. Gates also announced that he would seek to recoup billions of dollars by increasing fees paid by retired veterans under 65 for Defense Department health insurance, even though Congress has rejected such proposals in the past. And he outlined extensive cuts in new weapons.

Cutting up to 47,000 troops from the Army and Marine Corps forces — roughly 6 percent — would be made easier by the withdrawal under way from Iraq, and the reductions would not begin until 2015, just as Afghan forces are to take over the security mission there. But Mr. Gates said the cuts in Pentagon spending were hardly a peace dividend, and were forced by a global economic recession and domestic pressures to find ways to throttle back federal spending.

“This department simply cannot risk continuing down the same path where our investment priorities, bureaucratic habits and lax attitudes toward costs are increasingly divorced from the real threats of today, the growing perils of tomorrow and the nation’s grim financial outlook,” Mr. Gates said at an afternoon news conference.

The president’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which is due by mid-February, would freeze discretionary spending, but that would not apply to military, veterans and Homeland Security programs. Last fall, a majority of the members of Mr. Obama’s bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, including three Republican senators, said military spending also should be reduced as part of a long-term debt-reduction plan.

The Pentagon’s proposed operating budget for 2012 is expected to be about $553 billion, which would still reflect real growth, even though it is $13 billion less than expected. The Pentagon budget will then begin a decline in its rate of growth for two years, and stay flat — growing only to match inflation — for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. (The Pentagon operating budget is separate from a fund that finances the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.)

“This plan represents, in my view, the minimum level of defense spending that is necessary, given the complex and unpredictable array of security challenges the United States faces around the globe: global terrorist networks, rising military powers, nuclear-armed rogue states and much, much more,” Mr. Gates said.

To be sure, the actual size and shape of future military budgets will continue to be reset by annual spending proposals from the president, and those in turn will be based on shifting economic factors — decline or growth — and threats around the world, as well as by Congressional action.

But for now, the Army is expected in 2015 to begin cutting its active-duty troop levels by 27,000, and the Marine Corps by up to 20,000. Together, those force reductions would save $6 billion in 2015 and 2016.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that all four service chiefs supported the proposals, and that the military would still be able to manage global risks. “We can’t hold ourselves exempt from the belt-tightening,” he said. “Neither can we allow ourselves to contribute to the very debt that puts our long-term security at risk.”

The Army’s ranks number 569,600, and the Marine Corps has just over 202,000 members; both would remain larger than when Mr. Gates became defense secretary four years ago.

Mr. Gates already had instructed the armed services and the Pentagon bureaucracy to find ways to operate more efficiently, with the savings plowed back into the budget to make up for anticipated shortfalls; otherwise the cuts in troops and weapons would have been even steeper.

The armed services have identified about $100 billion in savings over five years.

Separately, the Defense Department bureaucracy had identified about $54 billion more, from things like reducing contractor hiring, freezing personnel rolls, reducing the number of generals and admirals and closing or consolidating headquarters.

Many of those changes can be carried out unilaterally by the Pentagon or the armed services.

But some — especially increases in fees for the military’s health-care system, called Tricare — require Congressional approval, and have been rejected before.

Proposals to increase Tricare fees will pit Mr. Gates against those in Congress — and veterans’ groups — who say retired military personnel already have paid up front with service in uniform. Ten years ago, health care cost the Pentagon $19 billion; today, it tops $50 billion; five years from now it is projected to cost $65 billion.

But Tricare fees have not increased since 1995.

Mr. Gates was expected to press for increasing the cost of health insurance premiums and spot fees only for working-age retirees and their families, not for those on active duty or those 65 and older, to save $7 billion over five years.

Mr. Gates also announced cuts in several weapons systems, led by the cancellation of the Marines’ $14.4 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a combined landing craft and tank for amphibious assaults.

Mr. Gates said the Pentagon would add $4.6 billion to the cost of developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, made by Lockheed Martin, and would cover much of that expense by delaying purchases of 124 of the planes.

He said that one of the three versions of the aircraft might need to be redesigned, and that he was placing that model, made for the Marines, “on the equivalent of a two-year probation.”

Federal officials said Mr. Gates had been seeking to increase the basic Pentagon budget, excluding war costs, to $566 billion for the 2012 fiscal year, but had to push the White House to approve $553 billion.

Gordon Adams, a Clinton administration budget official who served on Mr. Obama’s transition team, said he understood that White House budget officials initially wanted to shave the Pentagon’s original, larger request by at least $20 billion for 2012.

Mr. Adams said Mr. Gates met with Mr. Obama three times before Christmas to get at least $7 billion restored. Mr. Gates was also able to persuade the White House to reduce its demands for cuts over the next five years to $78 billion from $150 billion. Even so, Mr. Adams said, “I think the floor under defense spending has now gone soft.”
25284  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Krugman takes on Texas on: January 07, 2011, 05:07:17 AM

Published: January 6, 2011
These are tough times for state governments. Huge deficits loom almost everywhere, from California to New York, from New Jersey to Texas.

Wait — Texas? Wasn’t Texas supposed to be thriving even as the rest of America suffered? Didn’t its governor declare, during his re-election campaign, that “we have billions in surplus”? Yes, it was, and yes, he did. But reality has now intruded, in the form of a deficit expected to run as high as $25 billion over the next two years.

And that reality has implications for the nation as a whole. For Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere.

How bad is the Texas deficit? Comparing budget crises among states is tricky, for technical reasons. Still, data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest that the Texas budget gap is worse than New York’s, about as bad as California’s, but not quite up to New Jersey levels.

The point, however, is that just the other day Texas was being touted as a role model (and still is by commentators who haven’t been keeping up with the news). It was the state the recession supposedly passed by, thanks to its low taxes and business-friendly policies. Its governor boasted that its budget was in good shape thanks to his “tough conservative decisions.”

Oh, and at a time when there’s a full-court press on to demonize public-sector unions as the source of all our woes, Texas is nearly demon-free: less than 20 percent of public-sector workers there are covered by union contracts, compared with almost 75 percent in New York.

So what happened to the “Texas miracle” many people were talking about even a few months ago?

Part of the answer is that reports of a recession-proof state were greatly exaggerated. It’s true that Texas job losses haven’t been as severe as those in the nation as a whole since the recession began in 2007. But Texas has a rapidly growing population — largely, suggests Harvard’s Edward Glaeser, because its liberal land-use and zoning policies have kept housing cheap. There’s nothing wrong with that; but given that rising population, Texas needs to create jobs more rapidly than the rest of the country just to keep up with a growing work force.

And when you look at unemployment, Texas doesn’t seem particularly special: its unemployment rate is below the national average, thanks in part to high oil prices, but it’s about the same as the unemployment rate in New York or Massachusetts.

What about the budget? The truth is that the Texas state government has relied for years on smoke and mirrors to create the illusion of sound finances in the face of a serious “structural” budget deficit — that is, a deficit that persists even when the economy is doing well. When the recession struck, hitting revenue in Texas just as it did everywhere else, that illusion was bound to collapse.

The only thing that let Gov. Rick Perry get away, temporarily, with claims of a surplus was the fact that Texas enacts budgets only once every two years, and the last budget was put in place before the depth of the economic downturn was clear. Now the next budget must be passed — and Texas may have a $25 billion hole to fill. Now what?

Given the complete dominance of conservative ideology in Texas politics, tax increases are out of the question. So it has to be spending cuts.

Yet Mr. Perry wasn’t lying about those “tough conservative decisions”: Texas has indeed taken a hard, you might say brutal, line toward its most vulnerable citizens. Among the states, Texas ranks near the bottom in education spending per pupil, while leading the nation in the percentage of residents without health insurance. It’s hard to imagine what will happen if the state tries to eliminate its huge deficit purely through further cuts.

I don’t know how the mess in Texas will end up being resolved. But the signs don’t look good, either for the state or for the nation.

Right now, triumphant conservatives in Washington are declaring that they can cut taxes and still balance the budget by slashing spending. Yet they haven’t been able to do that even in Texas, which is willing both to impose great pain (by its stinginess on health care) and to shortchange the future (by neglecting education). How are they supposed to pull it off nationally, especially when the incoming Republicans have declared Medicare, Social Security and defense off limits?

People used to say that the future happens first in California, but these days what happens in Texas is probably a better omen. And what we’re seeing right now is a future that doesn’t work.

25285  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH columnist David Brooks on: January 07, 2011, 05:03:50 AM
actually writes a rather coherent and honest piece shocked

Buckle Up for Round 2By DAVID BROOKS
Published: January 6, 2011
The health care reform law was signed 10 months ago, and what’s striking now is how vulnerable it looks. Several threats have emerged — some of them scarcely discussed before passage — that together or alone could seriously endanger the new system. These include:

The courts. So far, one judge has struck down the individual mandate, the plan’s centerpiece. Future decisions are likely to break down on partisan lines. Given the makeup of the Supreme Court, this should concern the law’s defenders.

False projections. The new system is based on a series of expert projections on how people will behave. In the first test case, these projections were absurdly off base. According to the Medicare actuary, 375,000 people should have already signed up for the new high-risk pools for the uninsured, but only 8,000 have.

More seriously, cost projections are way off. For example, New Hampshire’s plan has only about 80 members, but the state has already burned through nearly double the $650,000 that the federal government allotted to help run the program. If other projections are off by this much, the results will be disastrous.

Employee dumping. This is the most serious threat. Companies and unions across America are running the numbers and discovering they would be better off if, after 2014, they induced poorer and sicker employees to move to public insurance exchanges, where subsidies are much higher.

The number of people in those exchanges could thus skyrocket, especially as startup companies undermine their competitors with uninsured employees and lower costs. The Congressional Budget Office projects that 19 million people will move to the exchanges at a cost of $450 billion between 2014 and 2019. But according to the economists Douglas Holtz-Eakin and James C. Capretta, costs could soar to $1.4 trillion if those who would be better off in the exchanges actually moved to them. The price of the health care law could double. C. Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, who has been among those raising the alarms about this, calls the law’s structure “unworkable and unfair.”

Health care oligarchy. Since the law passed, there has been a frenzy of mergers and acquisitions, as hospitals, clinics and doctor groups have joined together into bigger and bigger entities. The drafters encourage this, believing large outfits would be more efficient. The downside to this economic concentration is there could be less competition and cost control. In many places, the political power of these quasi-monopolies would be huge, with unforeseeable results. The law bans doctors from starting up hospitals to increase competition.

Public hostility. Right now about 53 percent of Americans oppose the health care law and 43 percent support it, according to an average of the recent polls. Complaints are especially high among doctors. According to a survey by the Physicians Foundation, 60 percent of private practice doctors say the law will force them to close their practices or to restrict them to certain categories of patients.

Given this level of unhappiness, people will blame the Obama law for everything they hate about the health care system. Political opposition was fierce last November, and it could easily shape the 2012 election and lead to changes or repeal.

Over all, there is a strong likelihood that the current health care law will face an existential threat over the next five years. Each party should be preparing contingency plans.

When the crisis comes, Democrats will face an interesting choice — to patch the Obama system or try to replace it with something bigger. The administration may want a patch, but by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1, according to a CNN poll, Democratic voters would prefer a more ambitious law. Liberals could logically say that the mistake was trying to create a hybrid system, rather than moving straight to a single-payer one.

Republicans are going to have to move beyond their current “Repeal!” posture and cohere behind a positive alternative. One approach, which Tyler Cowen of George Mason University has written about, is to allow more state experimentation. Another approach, championed by Capretta, Yuval Levin of National Affairs and Thomas P. Miller of the American Enterprise Institute, revolves around the words “defined contribution.”

Under this approach, Republicans would say that the federal government has a role in subsidizing health insurance — a generous role, but not unlimited. The government would provide needy citizens with a predefined amount of money to spend on insurance and allow them to shop in a transparent, regulated, but not micromanaged marketplace.

After the trauma of the last two years, many people wish the issue would go away. But it’s not going away, especially since costs will continue to rise.

Some Congresses achieve health care; members of this Congress or the next one will have health care thrust upon them.

25286  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH/NYTimes: The Islam that hard-liners hate on: January 07, 2011, 04:59:17 AM

Also a good video clip at

The Islam That Hard-Liners Hate
KASUR, Pakistan — In Pakistan’s heartland, holy men with bells tied to their feet close their eyes and sway to the music. Nearby, rose petals are tossed on tombstones. Free food is distributed to devotees.

This peaceful tableau is part of Sufism, Pakistan’s most popular brand of Islam, which attracts millions of worshipers at about a dozen major festivals throughout the year. Each day, thousands visit shrines dedicated to Sufi saints.

But the rituals came under heavy attack in 2010, as minority hard-line militants took responsibility for five shrine attacks that killed 64 people — a marked increased compared with 2005 to 2009, when nine attacks killed 81 people.

Attacks in previous years occurred in the middle of the night or when worshipers were not present, apparently in an effort to avoid causalities. But in 2010, terrorists carried out suicide bombings when thousands of worshipers were present, and in the nation’s largest cities, like Karachi and Lahore.

The increase in attacks, and a direct effort to kill those who practice a more mystical brand of Islam, has torn the fabric of mainstream worship in Pakistan. But as worshipers continue to visit the Sufi shrines and many Sufi festivals continue in the face of threats, it also evidences the perseverance of Pakistan’s more moderate brand of Islam.
“It’s a very disturbing picture that militants have extended their targets to shrines, which are symbols of popular Islam in Pakistan and are widely visited,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences. “However, I don’t think the militants are succeeding – thousands of people still visit the shrines despite these attacks.”

Although there is no official data, the number of people who informally follow Sufi traditions is believed to be in the millions. They have long been condemned as un-Islamic by fundamentalist groups because they worship saints and perform music and dance.

The United States, meanwhile, sees Sufi Islam as a counter force to terrorism, and has helped promote it by giving more than $1.5 million since 2001 on the restoration and conservation of Sufi shrines in Pakistan.

Amir Rana, the director of the Pak Institute for  Peace Studies, a think tank that analyzes religious conflict, said there were  several reasons for the recent spike in attacks on Sufi shrines.

Groups within Al Qaeda, which have increased their strategic operations in Pakistan since 2007, have expanded their ideological war on the sectarian divide.

Mr. Rana also said militants suddenly changed their strategy in 2009, when they started soft targets, or popular and less secure venues, such as the Meena Bazaar in Peshawar, as a way to retain their radical sympathizers.

Other experts say that fragmented militant groups in Pakistan have fully spun out control, and the shrine attacks fit a larger pattern that finds extremist groups who in the past have focused on Kashmir and Afghanistan now turning inward to assert their power and ideology within Pakistan’s borders.

“Militancy keeps on demanding sacrifices,” Ayesha Siddiqa, a security analyst who says he is a descendant of a Sufi saint, said. “So if it’s not targeting the enemy outside, it’s targeting the enemy within.”

In the eyes of some extremists, Sufi loyalists can be viewed as cohorts of the Pakistani government. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi both carry saint-like status because they are from prominent Sufi families that have been caretakers for shrines synonymous with the ruling elite. In turn, those in power often use such devoted followings as a tool for recruiting voters.

Pir Tayyab, a hard-line Deobandi cleric who has been associated with militant organizations, including the Pakistani Taliban, said that while it was acceptable to pray for a saint’s soul at a shrine, it is forbidden to search for God’s qualities in a saint.

“The singing and dancing that takes place at shrines is disrespectful,” he said. However, he said, bombing a shrine is also unacceptable. “It is not correct to disrespect a grave or to remove someone from his grave.”

While provincial governments have scaled back some musical performances in response to threats, the large gatherings persist, drawing big and determined crowds at major shrines on a near weekly basis.

The only major cancellation over security fears was made by the Sindh provincial government, which canceled musical performances that were a permanent feature of Karachi’s festivals.

Prodded by protests that demanded more security, the government of Punjab, which oversees more than 500 shrines, is spending $400,000 on increased security at 15 of its major shrines this year, including the installation of cameras, security gates and metal detectors. At some shrines, officials said donors had paid for new security installations.

But security is rarely a deterrent to attacks. The Pakistani Taliban remains unfazed by the government’s efforts to safeguard the shrines. The government installed two security gates in 2008 at Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine, the most famous shrine in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. But in October 2010, two suicide bombers detonated explosives there, killing 9 and injuring 75. Since the blasts, and just before an annual Sufi celebration, the government installed 18 security cameras at the shrine.

Adam B. Ellick contributed reporting
25287  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Goldberg: Which way the hijack? on: January 07, 2011, 04:44:16 AM
For years we've been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists.

What if it's the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion?

That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.

Salman Taseer, a popular Pakistani governor, was assassinated this week because he was critical of Pakistan's blasphemy law.  Specifically, Taseer was supportive of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for "insulting Muhammad."

Bibi had offered some fellow farm laborers some water. They refused to drink it because Christian hands apparently make water unclean. An argument followed. She defended her faith, which they took as synonymous with attacking theirs. Later, she says, a mob of her accusers raped her. Naturally, a Pakistani judge sentenced her to hang for blasphemy.  And Governor Taseer, who bravely visited her and sympathized with her plight, had 40 bullets pumped into him by one of his own bodyguards.

"Salmaan Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer," Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri said to the television cameras even as he was being arrested.

Now, so far, it's hard to say who is the hijacker and who is the hijackee. After all, Taseer the moderate was a prominent politician, Qadri a mere bodyguard.  A reasonable person might look at this tragic situation and say it is indeed proof of extremists trying to hijack the religion and the country.

Except, it was Taseer who wanted to change the status quo and Qadri who wanted to protect it. Pakistan's blasphemy laws have been on the books for decades, and while judicial death sentences for blasphemy are rare, the police and security forces have been enforcing it unilaterally for years.

And what of the reaction to the assassination?

Many columnists and commentators denounced the murder, but the public's reaction was often celebratory. A Facebook fan page for Qadri had to be taken down even as it was drawing thousands of followers.

And what of the country's official guardians of the faith?

A group of more than 500 leading Muslim scholars, representing what the Associated Press describes a "moderate school of Islam" and the British Guardian calls the "mainstream religious organizations" in Pakistan not only celebrated the murder, but warned that no Muslim should mourn Taseer's murder or pray for him.  They even went so far as to warn government officials and journalists that the "supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy," and so therefore they should all take "a lesson from the exemplary death" of Salman Taseer.

If that's what counts for religious moderation in Pakistan, I think it's a little late to be talking about extremists hijacking the religion. The religion has long since been hijacked, and it's now moving on to even bigger things.

Pakistan is a special case, but it is hardly a unique one. In Egypt, Coptic Christians were recently slaughtered in an Islamist terrorist attack. The Egyptian government, which has a long record of brutalizing and killing its own Christian minority, was sufficiently embarrassed by the competition from non-governmental Islamists that it is now offering protection. How long that will last is anyone's guess.

But Pakistan is special because it has nuclear weapons and is inextricably bound up in the war in neighboring Afghanistan and the larger war on terror. U.S. relations with the Pakistani military remain strong, but as we've seen with Turkey, good relations with a military don't make up for losing support from an allied government as it goes Islamist. And it seems unlikely that a government can long stay secular when the people want it to become ever more Islamist.

Sadanand Dhume, a Wall Street Journal columnist (and my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute), writes that even "relatively secular-minded Pakistanis are an endangered species."

While most of the enlightened chatters remain mute or incoherent as they struggle for a way to blame Israel for all of this, the question becomes all the more pressing: How do we deal with a movement or a nation that refuses to abide by the expiring cliché "Islam means peace"?
25288  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Russia's Foreign Policy Dance on: January 07, 2011, 04:35:26 AM
Russia and its Foreign Policy Dance

The Kremlin announced Wednesday that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is going to visit the Palestinian territories in a few weeks, just as Medvedev’s trip to Israel has been canceled. Medvedev had planned to go to Israel on Jan. 17-19, but his trip was postponed due to a strike at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While this may just seem like a logistical and technical issue, there is a shifting Russian foreign policy strategy, giving Moscow freer capability to act against the Israelis and increase support for the Palestinians.

Russia and Israel have had ongoing tense and complex relations. After a post-World War II alliance in the late 1940s, Soviet-era Moscow was a patron of Israel’s enemies — Egypt and Syria. At the time, this was not really about Russia siding against Israel as much as it was about pressuring the United States’ interests in the Middle East.

After the Cold War, Israeli and Russian relations were tolerable. Moscow had to pull its support from the Middle East as its empire crumbled and it fought to keep the Russian state together. All this changed in the past decade when Russia began to consolidate, and announced that Russia was on its way back and would soon return as a major player on the international stage.

During this time, Moscow accused Israel of meddling in Russia’s interests by financially and politically backing the anti-Kremlin oligarchs, and militarily supporting Georgia and Russian Muslim republics of Dagestan and Chechnya. Since then, it has been a tit-for-tat between Russia and Israel with Moscow countering those Israeli moves by supporting Iran and Syria in recent years.

“…Russia is working with all players in the region — keeping everyone dizzy and guessing what it will do next.”
This was part of Russia’s overall foreign policy at the time to unilaterally retaliate for moves made against its interests. One of the larger examples of this was the West’s recognition of an independent Kosovo, followed by Russia’s recognition of independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia — after its war with Georgia. But Russia’s resurgence has now entered a new stage, in which Moscow feels comfortable in its sphere of influence. Naturally, Moscow is still mindful of foreign moves in its surrounding regions, but is confident such moves do not threaten its overall control in the region. Moscow is not only secure enough in its power over Georgia that the issue isn’t a red line in Russian-Israeli relations; Moscow retains options for escalation in Israel’s neighborhood that can deter Israeli actions in Georgia.

This new shift has allowed Russia to be able to play more ambiguously than unilaterally in all its foreign policy issues. With Russia in a comfortable status, it feels it can make bolder moves outside of Eurasia. Such alterations have been seen in Russia’s policies in the Middle East, where Moscow has been striking military deals with anyone it can — Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

This time, increased Russian activity around the world could go beyond theatrics and translate into further support for the Palestinians. There are rumors that Russia is considering actually recognizing an independent Palestinian state. There has already been a change in some weightier countries, like Brazil, supporting Palestine. The Russians could be the next in line. The difference is the Russians have a history of not just diplomatically supporting the Palestinians, but through military, financial and intelligence support.

Moscow’s motivations behind supporting the Palestinians at this time are not clear, since it has been making so many deals with so many countries in the region. Russia could be attempting to make a show against one of Washington’s closest allies — Israel — and the timing of the cancellation of Medvedev’s trip to Israel is suspicious. Russia could be choosing to make this move because of increased discussion of Palestinian support in the European Union — and Russia is looking for agenda issues in which to align. Russia could be in coordination with Brazil, as both countries are strangely side-by-side on myriad foreign policy issues. Additionally, it could be Russia simply wanting to make a global statement that it isn’t worried about repercussions for taking sides on such a controversial issue.

Even if Moscow’s reasoning or endgame is unknown at this time, it’s plain that Russia is working with all players in the region — keeping everyone dizzy and guessing what it will do next.

25289  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: January 06, 2011, 08:53:25 PM
Whatever happens, it will be interesting. 

The Adventure continues!
25290  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: January 06, 2011, 08:49:50 PM
And she has a 100% safe district.
25291  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China on: January 06, 2011, 08:40:38 PM
Although expressed briefly, the point about BO neutering our space advantage is pivotal and profound IMHO.
25292  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: January 06, 2011, 08:30:45 PM
Maybe judges should not be ruling that gay marriage is consitutionally compelled just like they should not have ruled that abortion is constitutionally compelled?
25293  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The story of two slave revolts on: January 06, 2011, 12:14:18 PM
Given the recent tendency to romanticize resistance, it may come as a surprise to learn that throughout history slave rebellions have been comparatively rare, especially in North America, where slaves constituted a minority of the total population. (In Central and South America they were often a majority.) One reason for such rarity was the skill with which masters controlled their workers and suppressed revolt.

Peter Charles Hoffer and Daniel Rasmussen separately tell the story of two of the largest slave revolts in North America—the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina and the Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811. Neither event plays as large a role in the popular imagination as Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, but each proved a major test for the power of slavery's supporters to enforce their regime and repel the threats to it.

In "Cry Liberty," Mr. Hoffer, a historian at the University of Georgia, offers a novel reinterpretation of the Stono Rebellion and challenges writers to rethink how they portray the resistance it displayed. The rebellion began soon after midnight on Sept. 9, 1739, when a group of some 20 slaves broke into a store along the Stono River near Charles Town (now Charleston), S.C.

Two white men were in the store. The rebels killed them and displayed their heads on the store's front steps. Then they stole some guns and, after killing three more whites, turned south along the main road, beating drums, bearing a flag and crying for liberty. Presumably their destination was Spanish Florida, which had promised freedom to Carolinian slaves. By mid-morning they had recruited another 40 to 80 slaves and killed 18 more whites. They almost captured South Carolina's lieutenant governor.

View Full Image
.Cry Liberty
By Peter Charles Hoffer
Oxford, 173 pages, $19.95
.American Uprising
By Daniel Rasmussen
Harper, 276 pages, $26.99

Then whites sounded the alarm. A large Presbyterian church interrupted its Sunday service, and the men formed a militia. They found the rebels resting in a field and attacked, killing 14. "The mortal wound had come," Mr. Hoffer writes. When order was finally restored, 23 whites and roughly 100 slaves had been killed, and some 30 slaves were "rewarded for protecting their masters."

There is no evidence that the slaves had planned to rebel before breaking into the store. Yet previous accounts have assumed that rebellion was the slaves' aim from the outset. For Mr. Hoffer this reasoning "turns causation around" and ignores the role of chance. Might the saga have begun not as rebellion but as a plan to steal food? What if the tipping point was the discovery of the two whites in the store, prompting a sudden change of plan?

Addressing such questions, Mr. Hoffer structures his book as an elegant and intricate detective story. Along the way, he neatly captures the texture of South Carolina's Low Country in 1739. It was a time when the slave population had almost doubled in a decade, owing to the influx of slaves from Angola. Blacks outnumbered whites by a 2-to-1 ratio. Masters got rich from slave-grown rice. And "death was everywhere." Slaves "reckoned that old comrades and new friends would die before they could start families." In this environment, "something had to give." It did.

Mr. Rasmussen, a recent graduate from Harvard, has turned his senior thesis into "American Uprising," a book on America's largest, and little known, slave revolt. A crisp, confident writer, he tells the story with verve, though ultimately he overreaches by trying to connect his story to 200 years of American history, as if the Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811 was somehow central to the Civil War, civil rights and national expansion.

On the night of Jan. 8, 1811, 40 miles upriver from New Orleans, some 25 slaves entered the home of Manuel Andry, the parish's largest slaveowner. After wounding Andry, who managed to escape, they killed his son. The slaves' leader, Charles Deslonde, worked as a driver on Andry's plantation and knew it well. He and some comrades donned Andry's military uniforms "to lend the revolt authority." Then they stole Andry's guns and horses and headed south. "On to New Orleans!" Deslonde yelled.

The rebel army quickly grew to between 100 and 500 slaves, according to eyewitnesses. But Gov. William Claiborne called out the militia and federal troops, and within days the rebellion was crushed. While only two whites died in the affair, some 100 slaves were killed and dismembered, their heads put on poles that dotted the roadside for 40 miles, a grim warning to other slaves.

Even had the rebels reached New Orleans, it is unclear what they would have done. No doubt they had been inspired by slaves from St. Domingue, who a few years earlier had fought off colonial armies, abolished slavery and established the black republic of Haiti. Perhaps the Louisiana rebels hoped to create an American Haiti. A few said that they wanted to "kill all the whites." But whites were not their only enemy; many slaves and free blacks aligned themselves with the planters.

In some ways the Louisiana rebels resembled those from South Carolina. A disproportionately large number were Angolan migrants, who beat drums and waved flags as they marched. To recruit adherents, both rebel groups threatened or killed slaves who refused to join them. Any chance of success hinged on the use of terror. Yet both books also dramatize why slave rebellions were almost always suicidal. The violence of the rebellion begat more violence. It is thus no wonder that so many slaves protected their masters and informed on fellow slaves; it was the easiest way to gain power and even freedom.

Mr. Stauffer teaches history and literature at Harvard and is the author of "Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln."

25294  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Impoundment/Line item veto on: January 06, 2011, 12:09:15 PM

Here's something most Republicans don't want to hear: There is no way the born-again, straight and sober Republicans of the 112th Congress are going to get spending under control unless they involve the fellow at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The spending reforms that Speaker John Boehner and his counterinsurgency lieutenants have proposed—spending reductions to offset any mandatory increases or stated budget limits for the current fiscal year—are terrific. But if you think Congress, by itself, is going to sustain this discipline over time, I have a bridge in Alaska I'd like to sell you.

Congress is a legislative body. Like legislative bodies from ancient Rome till now, its DNA is not to forgo things but to do stuff. Everyone agrees that Congress holds something called the "power of the purse." And don't they know it. Nowhere in the Constitution will you find that phrase. Nor in the Constitution that they are reading on the House floor Thursday will you hear the words "spend," "programs" or "outlays." All this, though, is what Congress has been about since anyone can remember.

The reform groups and blogosphere are threatening hellfire for any Republicans who cross them on spending, but take my word for it: Once any Congress makes it to the budgeting "out years," all that hellfire will be just a puff of smoke. James Buchanan, the father of public choice theory, won a Nobel Prize for unraveling this reality.

It is not hopeless. The locus of hope, however, lies with the Executive, a word at least nominally associated with responsibility. In an article on these pages recently ("Time for Emergency Economic Reform"), a successful political executive, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, identified the sine-qua-non reform to sustain spending discipline: presidential impoundment power.

However you define the idea—impoundment, rescission, the line-item veto—it is the power of a president or governor to zero out some of the spending pile that a legislature dumps on the front lawn. It is executive pushback against wretched legislative excess.

"Presidents once had the authority," Mr. Daniels wrote, "to spend less than Congress made available through appropriation. On reflection, nothing else makes sense."

Ask New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about the impoundment power. He has it, and he'll tell you it is indispensable to what he is trying to do in his hopelessly profligate state. Absent that impoundment power, a lot of the Christie pitch would be just rhetoric.

Before getting into why 43 governors, but not the U.S. president, have this power, a comment on those who say that impoundment is a pop-gun, that it can't control entitlements or mega-programs.

View Full Image

The Roman Senate contemplates bankrupting the empire.
.Perhaps you have heard of the "broken windows" theory of urban chaos. It says that in a neighborhood wracked with murder and mayhem, it is important to repair broken windows. The idea is that leaving small matters like broken windows unrepaired tells criminals that no one cares if they break the neighborhood further, and it tells the people there is no hope of fixing the big things. In New York City, this worked.

Earmarks, pork, corporate carve-outs and all that are Congress's broken windows.

Every knowing article written on this subject points out what a "small" percentage of spending this stuff is. But the behavioral incentives for big-time criminals in the Bronx and big-time spenders in a legislature like Congress are the same. An annual federal budget of $3.5 trillion is a towering monument of broken windows. Federal highway spending has been on automatic pilot for nearly 20 years. Sen. Tom Coburn has a long list of programs uselessly duplicated across the government; nine agencies run 69 early-education programs.

Here is a list of U.S. presidents and public figures who have used or supported the impoundment power: Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ, Bill Clinton, the Bushes, John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, Pat Buchanan, Jeb Hensarling, Russ Feingold, Joe Lieberman, Judd Gregg, and not least both Paul Ryan, the new House Budget chairman, and Barack Obama.

This crucial executive ballast does not exist mainly for two reasons.

In the early 1970s, Richard Nixon tried aggressively to impound spending, touching off a war with Congress's "prerogatives." Then Watergate broke. In a fury, one of the most liberal Congresses passed the Budget Control Act of 1974 (which should be repealed). It transferred most spending "control" to Congress, which one commentator at the time called "congressional government—and chaos."

Second, the Constitution is ambiguous on how to divide this authority, and the Supreme Court, in coin-flip decisions, has sided with Congress.

All the congressional names above, especially Rep. Ryan, have tried to thread this legal needle. But it doesn't exist because the bipartisan pig-out caucus—in hiding now—won't let it happen.

Yes, this week the GOP Congress is talking about a lollapalooza annual budget cut of $100 billion. Go for it! But let's hear Barack Obama put the impoundment power back in play in his State of the Union address—for this presidency and however many presidents are left in the future of our broken-windows capital.

25295  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rove: Rewarding friends, punishing enemies on: January 06, 2011, 12:06:09 PM
Aprimary task for the new Republican House majority is to undo as many of the pernicious effects of ObamaCare that it can. One of these effects is the spectacle of employers going hat-in-hand to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for waivers from some of the law's more onerous provisions.

In September, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius began granting waivers to companies that provided workers "mini-med" coverage—low-cost plans with low annual limits on what the insurance will pay out. This followed announcements by some employers that they would have to drop these plans because they did not meet the new health law's requirement that 85% of premium income be spent on medical expenses.

By early December, HHS had granted 222 such waivers to provide mini-med policies for companies including AMF Bowling and Universal Forest Product, as well as 43 union organizations. According to the department's website, the waivers cover 1,507,418 employees, of which more than a third (525,898) are union members. Yet unionized workers make up only 7% of the private work force. Whatever is going on here, a disproportionately high number of waivers are being granted to administration allies.

Then, on Dec. 21, Ms. Sebelius announced that insurance companies seeking rate increases of 10% or more in the individual or small group market must publicly justify the hikes under standards set by her department.

Insurance regulation has traditionally been a state responsibility, and 43 states must already approve proposed insurance-rate increases. ObamaCare does not authorize HHS to deny rate increases, but the agency said that if a state "lacks the resources or authority" to conduct the kind of review the agency wants, it will conduct its own.

This proposed regulation will erode the states' dominant role in insurance regulation, centralizing more power in Washington. The HHS announcement also mentioned that it will set different thresholds of what constitutes an "unreasonable" increase for every state by 2012.

The Obama administration's behavior to date suggests that it will not hesitate to take care of its friends. The Senate Republican Policy Committee's health policy analyst, Chris Jacobs, points out that the administration has already given an extravagant gift to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), a key player in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The AARP provided a big chunk of the $121 million spent on ads supporting the bill's passage, as well as $21 million on lobbying in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. HHS's proposed regulations on Dec. 21 exempted the AARP's lucrative "Medigap" plans from the rate review and other mandates and requirements.

The AARP and other Medigap providers can require a waiting period before seniors with pre-existing conditions have to be covered. Insurers covering those under 65 cannot.

The AARP is also exempt from the new law's $500,000 cap on executive compensation for insurance executives. (The nonprofit's last CEO received over $1.5 million in compensation in his last full year, 2009.) It won't pay any of the estimated $14 billion in new taxes on insurance companies, though according to its 2008 consolidated financial statement, it gets more money from its insurance offerings than it does from dues, grants and private contributions combined. Nor will it have to spend at least 85% of its Medigap premium dollars on medical claims, as Medicare Advantage plans must do; the AARP will be held to a far less restrictive 65%.

It's not hard to connect the dots. The Obama administration is using waivers to reward friends. On the flip side, business executives will be discouraged from contributing to the president's opponents or from taking any other steps that might upset the White House or its political appointees at HHS.

This is not what people had in mind when candidate Obama promised in his acceptance speech in August 2008 to undo "the cynicism we all have about government."

In a speech at the University of Iowa last March, the president heralded health-care reform as "a new set of rules that treats everybody honestly and treats everybody fairly." Determining whether that is true will be another task for House Republicans. They have an obligation to look into this matter, and Mr. Obama can hardly object. It was former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, whom the president frequently quotes, who wrote in 1913 that sunlight "is the best of disinfectants."

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

25296  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Honor your oath! on: January 06, 2011, 12:01:21 PM
Alexander's Essay – January 6, 2011

Mr. Boehner, et al., Honor Your Oath!
"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." --James Madison

The U.S. ConstitutionThe new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, took charge of a Republican majority (242-193) Wednesday, proclaiming, "I stand today in awe of our great nation, humbled by the opportunity to defend the Constitution and serve the American people as Speaker of the House. We must restore the House as an open institution that listens to the people and does their will. We must end D.C. rituals that have made it easy to dodge tough decisions, then make the choices necessary to return our economy to prosperity."

For the record, Mr. Boehner, the first obligation of every member of Congress is to defend the Constitution, which authorizes the House to do the will of the people only to the extent that it comports with the plain language of our Constitution. The current state of the central government, bloated to the point of implosion, is the direct result of political machinations doing the bidding of special interest groups, to the great detriment of our Constitution and the Rule of Law it enshrines.

Our Constitution specifies, "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution..."

Speaker Boehner and the other 434 Members of the House took this oath in accordance with Article VI, clause 3 of our Constitution: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

While every member of the House and Senate should be bound by their sacred honor to "support and defend" our Constitution, most returning members have dishonored their oath willfully and repeatedly.

There is good news, however. The once dwindling ranks of steadfast conservatives in Congress -- those who have honored their oaths in years prior -- have been greatly bolstered in the most recent election cycle by dozens of newly elected representatives and senators, who, I assure you, will abide by their oaths, and do so vociferously.

While it will certainly take many more election cycles to restore constitutional Rule of Law, the grassroots "Tea Party" movement has changed, and will continue to change, the political composition of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government. It will do so by encroachment, the steady replacement of those who have forsaken their oath with those who will honor their oath to support our Constitution.

Mr. Boehner's first order was to require the 112th Congress to open its proceedings with a full reading of our Constitution. While all leftists and most centrists take this as symbolic only, no member of the House of Representatives can now say that they have not, at the least, heard every word of the Constitution of the United States of America. Gloriously, it also sets a firm foundation for the upcoming session and a yardstick by which we can measure Republican leadership.

Of course, Democrats have strenuously objected to the notion that constitutional authority limits the role of the central government, and have done so with great resolve.

When asked by a reporter in 2009 about constitutional authority for the central government's takeover of the U.S. health care system, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded, "Are you serious? Are you serious?" When the reporter persisted, Pelosi moved on to another question while her press spokesman said, "You can put this on the record: That is not a serious question. That is not a serious question."

Democrat Patrick Leahy, then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (where Rule of Law should prevail), added, "We have plenty of authority. ... I mean, there's no question there's authority. Nobody questions that."

Pelosi and Leahy believe they have unbridled authority because they subscribe to the so-called "living constitution" which, as Thomas Jefferson warned, has become "a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

Some ranking Democrats were a bit more brazen. Former Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) proclaimed, "There's nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do." California Rep. Pete Stark added, "The federal government can, yes, do most anything in this country."

Well, folks, there's a new sheriff in town, and his posse is prepared to ask a lot of questions about constitutional authority for congressional legislation, and hold the line.

By opening the 112th Congress with the Constitution reading, perhaps those members who shun constitutional constraints will now pay more special attention to Article I, Section 2, which specifies, "All legislative powers herein granted [emphasis added] shall be vested in a congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."

They should then pay close attention to Article I, Section 8, which specifically enumerates those powers, and recall the words of its principal scribe, James Madison: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."
Jefferson added, "I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that 'all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.' To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition. ... [The Constitution] was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers. ... 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."

Though this has received scant attention, Mr. Boehner also pledged to pass legislation requiring the enumeration of constitutional authority for every bill considered by the House.

If the Republican House will pass an enumerated powers act requiring all legislation to stipulate its specific constitutional authority (as first and subsequently proposed by just-retired Rep. John Shadegg in every Congress since the 104th), that will elevate the national discourse about what the Constitution does and does not authorize. Enhancing that discourse, which is a primary driver of the Tea Party's momentum, will put the restoration of constitutional authority on a faster track.

Enumerating authority for legislation has been a primary Patriot Post objective since our inception. Indeed, it was the basis for our petition of the Bush administration for an Enumerated Powers Amendment. This proposed amendment is also a primary component of the Patriot Declaration, which stipulates "that all legislation explicitly cite its compliance with the Tenth Amendment to our Bill of Rights, 'The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,' thus prohibiting the central government from usurping the powers reserved to the States or the People."

If the Speaker succeeds with enumerated powers enactment, the next step should be an amendment as this would make the enumeration of constitutional authority binding on both the House and Senate, and not be subject to legislative revocation.

In 1776, a great insurrection was mounted against the throne of tyranny, and from that revolution was birthed our Constitution. We face the prospect of such tyranny again, and the solution now, as then, is government constrained by the Rule of Law as enshrined in our Constitution.

Moving forward, those politicos of any stripe who forsake their solemn oath to support and defend our Constitution, and abide by its constraints, should be subject to censure and removal from office. The momentum of the Tea Party movement will increase, despite efforts by the Leftmedia to undermine its grassroots drive, and we will further expand the ranks of constitutional conservatives in 2012. Barack Hussein Obama, the days of your regime are numbered, as are those of every elected official who fails to honor their oath.

Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!

Mark Alexander
Publisher, The Patriot Post

25297  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Some additional details on: January 06, 2011, 11:46:59 AM
Woof All:

Some additional details in response to some questions I have received. 

Yes, both days are for fighting.  Yes the fighting will be in Los Angeles.

There will be a guest fighter with an interesting three section staff game. 

I would like to encourage fighters to consider fighting Stick y Daga with the dage being a substantial aluminum blade.  The idea here is to develop skill sets that discourage bum rushes into messy grapples.

Concerning my seminar in Israel the week before.  Assuming I am not whacked by Al Quaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah, while I am in Israel, there should be no problem smiley

"Higher Consciousness through harder contact!" (c DBI)
Crafty Dog
25298  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on: January 06, 2011, 11:38:36 AM
FWIW, here's POTH take on this:

BEIJING — Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, on a mission to resuscitate moribund military relations with China, will not arrive in Beijing for talks with the nation’s top military leaders until Sunday. But at an airfield in Chengdu, a metropolis in the nation’s center, China’s military leaders have already rolled out a welcome for him.

It is the J-20, a radar-evading jet fighter that has the same two angled tailfins that are the trademark of the Pentagon’s own stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor. After years of top-secret development, the jet — China’s first stealth plane — was put through what appear to be preliminary, but also very public, tests this week on the runway of the Aviation Design Institute in Chengdu, a site so open that aircraft enthusiasts often gather there to snap photos.

Some analysts say the timing is no coincidence. “This is their new policy of deterrence,” Andrei Chang, the Hong Kong editor in chief of the Canadian journal Kanwa Defense Weekly, who reported the jet’s tests, said Wednesday. “They want to show the U. S., show Mr. Gates, their muscle.”

These days, there is more muscle to show. A decade of aggressive modernization of China’s once creaky military is beginning to bear fruit, and both the Pentagon and China’s Asian neighbors are increasingly taking notice.

By most accounts, China remains a generation or more behind the United States in military technology, and even further behind in deploying battle-tested versions of its most sophisticated naval and air capabilities. But after years of denials that it has any intention of becoming a peer military power of the United States, it is now unveiling capabilities that suggest that it intends, sooner or later, to be able to challenge American forces in the Pacific.

Besides the J-20, a midair-refuelable, missile-capable jet designed to fly far beyond Chinese borders, the Chinese are reported to be refitting a Soviet-era Ukrainian aircraft carrier — China’s first such power-projecting ship — for deployment as soon as next year.

A spate of news reports allege that construction is already under way in Shanghai on one or more carriers; the military denied a similar report in 2006, but senior military officials have been more outspoken this year about China’s desire to build the big ships. China could launch several carriers by 2020, the Pentagon stated in a 2009 report.

The military’s nuclear deterrent, estimated by experts at no more than 160 warheads, has been redeployed since 2008 onto mobile launchers and advanced submarines that no longer are sitting ducks for attackers. Multiple-warhead missiles are widely presumed to come next. China’s 60-boat submarine fleet, already Asia’s largest, is being refurbished with super-quiet nuclear-powered vessels and a second generation of ballistic-missile-equipped subs.

And a widely anticipated antiship ballistic missile, called a “carrier-killer” for its potential to strike the big carriers at the heart of the American naval presence in the Pacific, appears to be approaching deployment. The head of the United States Pacific Command, Adm. Robert F. Willard, told a Japanese newspaper in December that the weapon had reached “initial operational capability,” an important benchmark. Navy officials said later that the Chinese had a working design but that it apparently had yet to be tested over water.

On that and other weaponry, China’s clear message nevertheless is that its ability to deter others from territory it owns, or claims, is growing fast.

China, of course, has its own rationales for its military buildup. A common theme is that potentially offensive weapons like aircraft carriers, antiship missiles and stealth fighters are needed to enforce claims to Taiwan, should leaders there seek legal independence from the mainland.

Taiwan’s current status, governed separately but claimed by China as part of its sovereign territory, is maintained in part by an American commitment to defend it should Beijing carry out an attack. Some experts date elements of today’s military buildup from crises in the mid-1990s, when the United States sent aircraft carriers unmolested into waters around Taiwan to drive home Washington’s commitment to the island.


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Chinese officials also clearly worry that the United States plans to ring China with military alliances to contain Beijing’s ambitions for power and influence. In that view, the Pentagon’s long-term strategy is to cement in Central Asia the sorts of partnerships it has built on China’s eastern flank in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

“Some Chinese scholars worry that the U. S. will complete its encirclement of China this way,” said Xu Qinhua, who studies Russia and Central Asia at the Renmin University of China and advises government officials on regional issues. “We should worry about this. It’s natural.”

The Pentagon’s official view has long been that it welcomes a stronger Chinese military as a partner with the United States to maintain open sea lanes, fight piracy and perform other international duties now shouldered — and paid for — by American service members and taxpayers.

But Chinese military leaders have seldom offered more than a glimpse of their long-term military strategy, and the steady buildup of a force with offensive abilities well beyond Chinese territory clearly worries American military planners.

“When we talk about a threat, it’s a combination of capabilities and intentions,” said Abraham M. Denmark, a former China country director in Mr. Gates’s office. “The capabilities are becoming more and more clearly defined, and they’re more and more clearly targeted at limiting American abilities to project military power into the western Pacific.”

“What’s unclear to us is the intent,” he added. “China’s military modernization is certainly their right. What others question is how that military power is going to be used.”

Mr. Denmark, who now directs the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said China’s recent strong-arm reaction to territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian neighbors had given both the Pentagon and China’s neighbors cause for concern.

Still, a top Navy intelligence officer told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the United States should not overestimate Beijing’s military prowess and that China had not yet demonstrated an ability to use its different weapons systems together in proficient warfare. The officer, Vice Adm. David J. Dorsett, the deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance, said that although China had developed some weapons faster than the United States expected, he was not alarmed over all.

“Have you seen them deploy large groups of naval forces?” he said. “No. Have we seen large, joint, sophisticated exercises? No. Do they have any combat proficiency? No.”

Admiral Dorsett said that even though the Chinese were planning sea trials on a “used, very old” Russian aircraft carrier this year and were intent on building their own carriers as well, they would still have limited proficiency in landing planes on carriers and operating them as part of larger battle groups at sea.

Little about China’s military intentions is clear. The Pentagon’s 2009 assessment of China’s military strategy stated baldly that despite “persistent efforts,” its understanding of how and how much China’s government spends on defense “has not improved measurably.”

In an interview on Wednesday, a leading Chinese expert on the military, Zhu Feng, said he viewed some claims of rapid progress on advanced weapons as little more than puffery.

“What’s the real story?” he asked in a telephone interview. “I must be very skeptical. I see a lot of vast headlines with regards to weapons procurement. But behind the curtain, I see a lot of wasted money — a lot of ballooning, a lot of exaggeration.”

Mr. Zhu, who directs the international security program at Peking University, suggested that China’s military establishment — not unlike that in the United States — was inclined to inflate threats and exaggerate its progress in a continual bid to win more influence and money for its favored programs.

And that may be true. If so, however, the artifice may be lost on China’s cross-Pacific rivals.

“Ultimately, from a U. S. perspective it comes down to an issue of whether the United States will be as dominant in the western Pacific as we always have been,” Bonnie Glaser, a China scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a telephone interview. “And clearly the Chinese would like to make it far more complicated for us.”

“That’s something the Chinese would see as reasonable,” she said. “But from a U. S. perspective, that’s just unacceptable.”
25299  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH: The New Sophists on: January 06, 2011, 11:33:50 AM

In classical Athens, public life became dominated by clever and smart-sounding sophists. These mellifluous "really wise guys" made money and gained influence by their rhetorical boasts to "prove" the most amazing "thinkery" that belied common sense.

We are living in a new age of sophism -- but without a modern equivalent of Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can often sound.

Take California, which is struggling with a near-record wet and snowy winter. Flooding spreads in the lowlands; snow piles up in the Sierras.

In February 2009, Nobel Laureate and Energy Secretary Steven Chu pontificated without evidence that California farms would dry up and blow away, inasmuch as 90 percent of the annual Sierra snowpack would disappear. Yet long-term studies of the central Sierra snowpack show average snow levels unchanged over the last 90 years. Many California farms are drying up -- but from government's, not nature's, irrigation cutoffs.

England is freezing and snowy. But that's odd, since global warming experts assured that the end of English snow was on the horizon. Australia is now flooding -- despite predictions that its impending new droughts meant it could not sustain its present population. The New York Times just published an op-ed assuring the public that the current record cold and snow are proof of global warming. In theory, they could be, but one wonders: what, then, would record winter heat and drought prove?

In response to these unexpected symptoms of blizzards and deluges, climate physicians offer changing diagnoses. "Global change" has superseded "global warming." After these radically cold winters, the next replacement appears to be "climate chaos." Yet if next December is neither too hot nor too cold, expect to hear about the doldrum dangers of "climate calm."

In 2009, brilliant economists in the Obama administration -- Peter Orszag, Larry Summers and Christina Romer -- assured us that record trillion-plus budget defects were critical to prevent stalled growth and 10 percent unemployment. For nearly two years we have experienced both, but now with an addition $3 trillion in national debt. All three have quietly either returned to academia or Wall Street.

There is also a new generation of young, sophistic bloggers who offer their wisdom from the New York-Washington corridor. They are usually graduates of America's elite colleges and navigate in an upscale urban landscape. One, the Washington Post's 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed to his readers that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was "100 years old" and had "no binding power on anything."

One constant here is equating wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school. If, in the fashion of the sophist Protagoras, one writes that record cold proves record heat, or that record borrowing and printing money will create jobs and sustained economic growth, or that a 223-year-old Constitution is 100 years old and largely irrelevant, then credibility can be claimed only in the title or the credentials -- but not the logic -- of the writer.

America is huge and diverse, but the world of our credentialed experts is quite small, warped and monotonous -- circumscribed largely by the prestigious university and an office in the incestuous Washington-New York corridor. There are plenty of prizes, honors and degrees among our policy setters and experts, but very little experience in running a business in Oklahoma, raising a large family in Kansas, or working on an assembly line in Michigan, a military base in Texas, a boat in Alaska or a ranch in Idaho.

In classical sophistic fashion, rhetoric is never far from personal profit. Multimillionaire Al Gore convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he helped create.

How many climate Cassandras have well-funded research positions predicated on grants and subsidies that depend on convincing the pubic and government of impending disasters that they then can be hired to monitor and address? Are there no green antitrust laws? In contrast, how many of our climate theorists run irrigated farms and energy-intensive businesses at the mercy of new regulations that emanate from distant theorizing?

The public might have better believed the deficit nostrums of former budget director Peter Orzag had he not retired after less than two years on the job to position himself for a multimillion-dollar billet at Citigroup -- itself a recent recipient of some $25 billion in government bailout funds.

Are we to wonder why an angry, grassroots Tea Party spread -- or why it was instantly derided by our experts and technocrats as ill-informed or worse?
25300  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: January 06, 2011, 11:21:13 AM
Yes, and , , ,

IMHO most of our current situation there can be laid at the feet of Senator and presidential candidates Obama and Clinton, Senator and now VP Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Pelosi, Senator and former presidential candidate Kerry, former VP Al Gore and many, many other high ranking elected officials, speaking out destructively of our efforts there.  Opposing the war was a reasonable position, but most of the people I just mentioned went above and beyond and well into the realm of destructive, quite often for the perception of personal political gain.

How vile!

In this they were aided and abetted by Pravda on the Hudson (NYTimes), Pravda on the Beach (Left Angeles Times) Pravda on the Potomac (WaPo) and much of the MSM with dishonest, misleading and destructive reporting (e.g. reporting on our secret program tracing enemy money flows, our financial support of Iraqi reporters with the courage to write positive articles in Iraq, and much, much more).

If you are an Iraqi deciding which way the wind is going to blow, are you going to go with the country that appears likely to leave you in the lurch, or are you going to cut the best deal that you can?    When BO was running he said the surge would fail and that we should run away.  Are you going to bet your life on him?

Also, as GM points out, where would Iraq be today if we had not done as we did?
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