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25351  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues on: November 18, 2009, 07:48:25 AM
Hat tip for this to Rachel:

« Reply #72 on: Today at 07:36:59 AM »     


Your Morning Commute is Unique: On the Anonymity of Home/Work Location Pairs

Philippe Golle and Kurt Partridge of PARC have a cute paper (pdf) on the anonymity of geo-location data. They analyze data from the U.S. Census and show that for the average person, knowing their approximate home and work locations — to a block level — identifies them uniquely.

Even if we look at the much coarser granularity of a census tract — tracts correspond roughly to ZIP codes; there are on average 1,500 people per census tract — for the average person, there are only around 20 other people who share the same home and work location. There’s more: 5% of people are uniquely identified by their home and work locations even if it is known only at the census tract level. One reason for this is that people who live and work in very different areas (say, different counties) are much more easily identifiable, as one might expect.

The paper is timely, because Location Based Services  are proliferating rapidly. To understand the privacy threats, we need to ask the two usual questions:

   1. who has access to anonymized location data?
   2. how can they get access to auxiliary data linking people to location pairs, which they can then use to carry out re-identification?

The authors don’t say much about these questions, but that’s probably because there are too many possibilities to list! In this post I will examine a few.

GPS navigation. This is the most obvious application that comes to mind, and probably the most privacy-sensitive: there have been many controversies around tracking of vehicle movements, such as NYC cab drivers threatening to strike. The privacy goal is to keep the location trail of the user/vehicle unknown even to the service provider — unlike in the context of social networks, people often don’t even trust the service provider. There are several papers on anonymizing GPS-related queries, but there doesn’t seem to be much you can do to hide the origin and destination except via charmingly unrealistic cryptographic protocols.

The accuracy of GPS is a few tens or few hundreds of feet, which is the same order of magnitude as a city block. So your daily commute is pretty much unique. If you took a (GPS-enabled) cab home from work at a certain time, there’s a good chance the trip can be tied to you. If you made a detour to stop somewhere, the location of your stop can probably be determined. This is true even if there is no record tying you to a specific vehicle.

ScreenshotLocation based social networking. Pretty soon, every smartphone will be capable of running applications that transmit location data to web services. Google Latitude and Loopt are two of the major players in this space, providing some very nifty social networking functionality on top of location awareness. It is quite tempting for service providers to outsource research/data-mining by sharing de-identified data. I don’t know if anything of the sort is being done yet, but I think it is clear that de-identification would offer very little privacy protection in this context. If a pair of locations is uniquely identifying, a trail is emphatically so.

The same threat also applies to data being subpoena’d, so data retention policies need to take into consideration the uselessness of anonymizing location data.

I don’t know if cellular carriers themselves collect a location trail from phones as a matter of course. Any idea?

Plain old web browsing. Every website worth the name identifies you with a cookie, whether you log in or not. So if you browse the web from a laptop or mobile phone from both home and work, your home and work IP addresses can be tied together based on the cookie. There are a number of free or paid databases for turning IP addresses into geographical locations. These are generally accurate up to the city level, but beyond that the accuracy is shaky.

A more accurate location fix can be obtained by IDing WiFi access points. This is a curious technological marvel that is not widely known. Skyhook, Inc. has spent years wardriving the country (and abroad) to map out the MAC addresses of wireless routers. Given the MAC address of an access point, their database can tell you where it is located. There are browser add-ons that query Skyhook’s database and determine the user’s current location. Note that you don’t have to be browsing wirelessly — all you need is at least one WiFi access point within range. This information can then be transmitted to websites which can provide location-based functionality; Opera, in particular, has teamed up with Skyhook and is “looking forward to a future where geolocation data is as assumed part of the browsing experience.” The protocol by which the browser communicates geolocation to the website is being standardized by the W3C.

The good news from the privacy standpoint is that the accurate geolocation technologies like the Skyhook plug-in (and a competing offering that is part of Google Gears) require user consent. However, I anticipate that once the plug-ins become common, websites will entice users to enable access by (correctly) pointing out that their location can only be determined to within a few hundred meters, and users will leave themselves vulnerable to inference attacks that make use of location pairs rather than individual locations.

Image metadata. An increasing number of cameras these days have (GPS-based) geotagging built-in and enabled by default. Even more awesome is the Eye-Fi card, which automatically uploads pictures you snap to Flickr (or any of dozens of other image sharing websites you can pick from) by connecting to available WiFi access points nearby. Some versions of the card do automatic geotagging in addition.

If you regularly post pseudonymously to (say) Flickr, then the geolocations of your pictures will probably reveal prominent clusters around the places you frequent, including your home and work. This can be combined with auxiliary data to tie the pictures to your identity.

Now let us turn to the other major question: what are the sources of auxiliary data that might link location pairs to identities? The easiest approach is probably to buy data from Acxiom, or another provider of direct-marketing address lists. Knowing approximate home and work locations, all that the attacker needs to do is to obtain data corresponding to both neighborhoods and do a “join,” i.e, find the (hopefully) unique common individual. This should be easy with Axciom, which lets you filter the list by  “DMA code, census tract, state, MSA code, congressional district, census block group, county, ZIP code, ZIP range, radius, multi-location radius, carrier route, CBSA (whatever that is), area code, and phone prefix.”

Google and Facebook also know my home and work addresses, because I gave them that information. I expect that other major social networking sites also have such information on tens of millions of users. When one of these sites is the adversary — such as when you’re trying to browse anonymously — the adversary already has access to the auxiliary data. Google’s power in this context is amplified by the fact that they own DoubleClick, which lets them tie together your browsing activity on any number of different websites that are tracked by DoubleClick cookies.

Finally, while I’ve talked about image data being the target of de-anonymization, it may equally well be used as the auxiliary information that links a location pair to an identity — a non-anonymous Flickr account with sufficiently many geotagged photos probably reveals an identifiable user’s home and work locations. (Some attack techniques that I describe on this blog, such as crawling image metadata from Flickr to reveal people’s home and work locations, are computationally expensive to carry out on a large scale but not algorithmically hard; such attacks, as can be expected, will rapidly become more feasible with time.)

devicesSummary. A number of devices in our daily lives transmit our physical location to service providers whom we don’t necessarily trust, and who keep might keep this data around or transmit it to third parties we don’t know about. The average user simply doesn’t have the patience to analyze and understand the privacy implications, making anonymity a misleadingly simple way to assuage their concerns. Unfortunately, anonymity breaks down very quickly when more than one location is associated with a person, as is usually the case.
25352  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson on: November 18, 2009, 07:44:23 AM
"Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, 1825
25353  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA DVD: "The Bolo Game" on: November 18, 2009, 07:37:34 AM
Night Owl is finalizing the edit and working on the promo clip!
25354  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Vid-clip of 9/20/09 DB Open Gathering on: November 18, 2009, 07:36:21 AM
Dog Dan:  I'll tell you about Tennessee and Boo Dogs when you come down next week , , , and yes that is a very nice Brondo Buzzsaw in there (folks, Dog Dan was the first to uncork the BB in action-- as can be seen in the Nat Geo documentary).  Does anyone know who that is doing it?

As always, primo work from Night Owl.

I love the knifework by Linda "Bitch" Matsumi.

Also, I have a sense of deep satisfaction that my years of pushing for IFWA (in fight weapon access) have finally taken root. 
25355  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Vid-clip of 9/20/09 DB Open Gathering on: November 17, 2009, 04:17:17 PM

Vid-clip of 9/20/09 DB Open Gathering
25356  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Vid-clip!!! on: November 17, 2009, 04:16:45 PM
25357  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / McDonald vs. Chicago-2 on: November 17, 2009, 03:42:30 PM

This is quite remarkable.  I hope you will continue to monitor this case and its issues and share here.

Thank you.
25358  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Shocking! Inspectors fear Iran is hiding plants on: November 17, 2009, 11:45:25 AM
second post

Inspectors Fear Iran Is Hiding Nuclear Plants
Published: November 16, 2009
WASHINGTON — International inspectors who gained access to Iran’s newly revealed underground nuclear enrichment plant voiced strong suspicions in a report on Monday that the country was concealing other atomic facilities.

In a September 2007 photo, antiaircraft guns are seen, left center, at Iran's main plant for nuclear enrichment in Natanz.

The report was the first independent account of what was contained in the once secret plant, tunneled into the side of a mountain, and came as the Obama administration was expressing growing impatience with Iran’s slow response in nuclear negotiations.

In unusually tough language, the International Atomic Energy Agency appeared highly skeptical that Iran would have built the enrichment plant without also constructing a variety of other facilities that would give it an alternative way to produce nuclear fuel if its main centers were bombed. So far, Iran has denied that it built other hidden sites in addition to the one deep underground on a military base about 12 miles north of the holy city of Qum. The inspectors were given access to the plant late last month and reported that they had found it in “an advanced state” of construction, but that no centrifuges — the fast-spinning machines needed to make nuclear fuel — had yet been installed.

The inspectors said Iran had “provided access to all areas of the facility” and planned to complete it by 2011. They also said they had been unable to interview its director and designers.

The inspectors confirmed American and European intelligence reports that the site had been built to house about 3,000 centrifuges, enough to produce enough material for one or two nuclear weapons a year. But that is too small to be useful in the production of fuel for civilian nuclear power, which is what Iran insists is the intended purpose of the site.

The plant’s existence was revealed in September, as many as seven years after construction had begun.

The report comes just two days after President Obama, on a trip to Asia, said “we are running out of time” for Iran to sign on to a deal to ship part of its nuclear fuel out of the country. He said he would begin to plan for far more stringent economic sanctions against Tehran.

He was joined during that announcement by President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, but Mr. Medvedev was vague about whether Russia was prepared to join in those sanctions. Mr. Obama was expected to take up the issue on Tuesday with President Hu Jintao of China, where Mr. Obama is on a state visit. China, like Russia, has historically resisted sanctions on Iran.

In its report, the agency said that Iran’s belated “declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction, and gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities in Iran which had not been declared to the agency.”

Ian C. Kelly, a spokesman for the State Department, said the report “underscores that Iran still refuses to comply fully with its international nuclear obligations.”

Both International Atomic Energy Agency officials and American and European diplomats and nuclear experts have argued that the existence of the hidden facility at Qum would make little sense unless there was a network of related covert facilities to feed it with raw nuclear fuel.

Iran denied that it had any other facilities it had failed to report to the agency. But in a letter to the nuclear inspectors, parts of which the report quoted, Iranian officials said they had been motivated to build the underground plant by “the threats of military attacks against Iran,” a reference to the belief that Israel, the United States or other Western powers might take military action against its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.

“The Natanz enrichment plant was among the targets threatened with military attacks,” the Iranian letter, dated Oct. 28, argued. It said that, as a result, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization went to a little-known military authority identified as the “Passive Defense Organization” and asked for a “contingency enrichment plant.”

The mountainous site was turned over to the nuclear authorities, they said, “in the second half of 2007,” or roughly two years before Iran made its existence known. The Obama administration has said that Iran made the news public only after it had determined that the secrecy around the facility was pierced.

The date of late 2007 is significant because earlier that year Iran had unilaterally renounced an agreement it had signed with the agency to report on any planned nuclear facilities. The agency says that, in the case of Qum, Iran has violated that agreement, which the agency contends is still in force.

In fact, it appears that the construction of the underground plant began years earlier, and the inspectors’ report noted that satellite imagery shows that tunneling work began “between 2002 and 2004,” or shortly after the revelations about the existence of Natanz, which was also built underground. That construction paused in 2004, after the Iraq war began, the report indicated, but was “resumed in 2006.”

Why Iran then resumed the construction work is unclear. But in 2006, the Bush administration indicated a greater willingness to negotiate with Iran if it first complied with three United Nations Security Council resolutions to halt enrichment activity at Natanz. Iran refused, and Monday’s report indicated it now produced about 3,900 pounds of low-enriched uranium, enough for one to two weapons if it was further enriched.

Iran does not appear to be producing fuel as quickly as it could, and there are reports that it has run into technical difficulties.

But the fact that it is continuing to add to its stockpile has, in the words of one Obama administration official, “made us increasingly less interested” in the deal to ship part of Iran’s fuel out of the country temporarily, for processing into a form that could be used in a medical reactor in Tehran. The more uranium Iran produces, the official said, the less time it would take the country to replenish enough of its supplies to build a weapon, if it decided to take that step.

Because Iran continued to produce fuel despite the United Nations resolutions, President George W. Bush also authorized a covert program, focused on the Natanz site, that was intended to disrupt its enrichment activity, by attacking both the computer and electrical infrastructure around the plant.

It is not clear that any of those actions have proven successful. But the construction of an alternative plant, protected by the adjacent Iranian Revolutionary Guards base, appeared to some Western nuclear experts to constitute an Iranian effort to have a backup plan in case it lost use of the Natanz facility.

David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and William J. Broad from New York.
25359  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Montgomery Estate on: November 17, 2009, 11:40:46 AM
A Revolutionary War Widow's Estate Becomes a Preservation Battleground

Robert Stolarik for The New York Times
Montgomery Place, a house and a 434-acre estate held by one family for
generations, is now owned by Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit group.


Published: November 16, 2009
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - In the mid-1980s J. Dennis Delafield and his
cousins faced a hard fact: They could no longer afford to maintain the
estate established in 1802 by their distant ancestor, Janet Livingston
Montgomery, widow of Gen. Richard Montgomery, a hero of the Revolutionary

A view of the Hudson and the Catskills from Montgomery Place, an estate
established by Janet Livingston Montgomery in 1802.

"It was eating us up alive," Mr. Delafield said of Montgomery Place, a
majestic house overlooking the Hudson River that is but one small part of
the 434-acre property here. "We had to let it go, though it broke our

They decided to turn the house and its grounds, with working orchards and
more than a dozen outbuildings, into a museum. So they sold it to what is
now Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit group founded by John D. Rockefeller
Jr. that owns Washington Irving's house, Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, N.Y., and
several other properties.

"We made a bargain sale in the belief that that way the house would be
protected," Mr. Delafield said.

Now, though, Mr. Delafield and others are worried about the fate of
Montgomery Place. The house was closed to the public in 2006 - though the
grounds were available for weddings, photo shoots and other events - until
August, when it was hastily reopened for four hours on Fridays after a state
official began inquiring about its status. Under the terms of a state
financing package, the house must be open at least 12 days a year.

Rumors have run rampant this fall that Historic Hudson Valley plans to sell
the house, vexing public officials who have sought definitive information
from the group's leader, Waddell W. Stillman. "I've dealt with him on a
number of occasions, and I've never felt we always got the full story," said
Marcus J. Molinaro, the New York state assemblyman who represents the area.

In a recent interview at Montgomery Place, Mr. Stillman denied that the
organization's board planned to sell all or any part of the property. "We
have not discussed a sale," he said.

However, minutes of board meetings obtained by The New York Times make it
clear that the board discussed just that on several occasions. "Mr. Herbert
E. Nass asked whether we could sell Montgomery Place in parts, and whether
doing so could yield a better price over time," the minutes of a March 10
meeting state.

At the same meeting the board chairman, Michael Hegarty, raised concerns
about rebuilding the organization's endowment, which like many others was
hard hit by the economic downturn. "To do this, Mr. Hegarty believes we must
consider the sale of assets, such as the president's house adjacent to the
Philipsburg Manor" - another of the organization's historic houses - "and
some or perhaps all of the property at Montgomery Place," the minutes say.

The board even formed a committee to explore "existing conditions and
constraints" at Montgomery Place; at a June meeting its members described
several potential buyers, according to notes by board members.

Asked about the discrepancy, Mr. Stillman said the minutes represented "old
news." "The board's March meeting coincided exactly with the nadir in the
financial markets," he wrote in an e-mail message. "Everyone was distressed
about the decline in our endowment, and economic prospects were grim. A
wide-ranging discussion ensued about the sale of assets, including
Montgomery Place, and nothing was decided or acted upon, then or since."

"The topic is no longer on the board's agenda," he wrote.

A draft resolution to offer to sell some of the land to a state agency that
holds an easement on part of the estate had been floated for consideration
at a meeting on Wednesday.

Mr. Stillman said the resolution had not been considered by or proposed to
the board and would not be taken up on Wednesday. He also said the reopening
of the house on Fridays was unrelated to the state official's inquiries.

Mr. Stillman, who joined Historic Hudson Valley in 1992, said his group
could not afford the $500,000 in annual operating costs for Montgomery
Place, let alone pay for necessary renovations. Nor would it be possible to
reopen the house next year, as originally planned, he said. Indeed, he said,
the decision to buy the house in the first place had been a bad one. "We
broke some of the textbook rules for not getting ahead of yourself," he
said. "We didn't have the money to buy it, we didn't have the money to
maintain it, and we way underestimated how much it would take to restore


Page 2 of 2)

But several former board members, led by the Wall Street financier Richard
Jenrette, said they had proposed ways to support Montgomery Place, including
offers to help Historic Hudson Valley cover some costs.

Because of its continuous ownership by descendants of Mrs. Montgomery,
Montgomery Place is a rare example of an intact Hudson Valley estate.
Alexander Jackson Davis, the influential 19th-century architect who designed
many of the area's prominent houses, redesigned Montgomery and designed
several other structures on the property. The landscape architect Andrew
Jackson Downing provided advice on the design of the grounds and designed
one garden himself.

The house plays an important role in the community, too, Mr. Molinaro said,
attracting tourists and helping to educate students in the area's history.

Mr. Jenrette has proposed that Historic Hudson Valley donate the property to
the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, a foundation to which he
has donated six historic houses. He and others have offered to create a
friends group to raise money to support Montgomery Place. Most recently, he
and John S. Dyson, another former board member and a venture capitalist,
offered to put up $100,000 a year for five years to keep it open. "We think
we can get at least another $100,000 to match that, and if we could create a
friends group, we could raise a lot more money," Mr. Jenrette said.

In a meeting earlier this month, however, Mr. Stillman and Mr. Hegarty
rejected that offer. Mr. Stillman said in the interview that he did not want
to create another nonprofit group that would do the same thing as Historic
Hudson Valley.

In addition to owning three other historic houses and a church in the
region, Historic Hudson Valley recently broke ground on a regional history
center in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., on nine acres donated by Laurance

The center will provide offices for the organization, as well as space for
scholars and researchers seeking access to its extensive archives and

Mr. Stillman envisions creating a digital archive of the contents of
Historic Hudson Valley's houses to provide virtual tours and other
activities to attract a new breed of tourists.

Although the group does not yet have the $15 million it needs to build the
center, it began construction last month because it would otherwise lose a
$6 million grant from a state financing agency.

In their meetings, according to the minutes obtained by The Times, Historic
Hudson Valley board members discussed their concerns that public officials
and others would assume they were using proceeds from the sale of Montgomery
Place to finance the construction of the center.

"They will deny that, but money is fungible," said John H. Dobkin, a
preservation expert who was the organization's executive director from 1984
to 2000. "They'll say it's to replenish the endowment, but you don't sell a
unique asset like Montgomery Place to do that."

As chairman of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Mr.
Stillman put through a plan ending that organization's membership structure,
selling its historic home and handing over its archives to the New York
Public Library, keeping only a digitized version of them. "Historic house
museums are in the same place as classical music orchestras," he said.

Historic Hudson Valley's endowment fell to $45 million last spring from
about $70 million and now stands at roughly $49 million, according to Rob
Schweitzer, spokesman for the organization.

By the standards of organizations supporting historic homes, that is a
handsome sum even at its depleted level. The Classical American Homes trust,
for example, operates six houses with $9 million in liquid assets.

"There's a pact between nonprofits and the people because we extend to them
certain tax benefits and, in the case of Historic Hudson Valley, millions of
dollars in public grants," Mr. Molinaro, the assemblyman, said.

"If they have a desire to divest of this asset, they certainly shouldn't
benefit financially from all that public investment."
25360  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: November 17, 2009, 10:14:25 AM
"This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest of ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties." --John Jay, Federalist No. 2
25361  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Malkin: Shamnesty on: November 17, 2009, 09:10:46 AM
Obama’s shamnesty distraction
By Michelle Malkin  •  April 9, 2009 12:13 AM I’m not sure why Drudge is hyping the New York Times’ stenography piece on Obama’s plans to carry through on his promise to pitch a shamnesty bill. It’s not news. It’s a White House-planted distraction sourced mainly to La Raza/The Race lobbyist-turned-White House open borders czar Cecilia Munoz.

I pointed a few weeks ago to Obama’s meeting with Latino groups pushing for faster action on paving the pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal aliens. You know that the DREAM Act has been reintroduced in Congress. You know about the Obama Census plan to Leave No Illegal Alien Behind. And you know that Nancy Pelosi has been banging the “stop the unpatriotic raids” drum.

You also know that there is already a de facto shamnesty plan already in place — overseen by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is eroding interior immigration enforcement. A West Coast source tells me that customs and border patrol agents have been ordered not to confiscate Washington state IDs from illegal aliens. ICE agents are feeling pressure to curtail workplace investigations. And illegal alien deportation fugitive Zeituni Onyango, aunt of the president, is going nowhere.

What is more newsworthy is the rising tide of voices standing up against lax immigration enforcement and its costs.

It’s not just conservative immigration enforcement activists.

It’s politicians who have to answer to their law-abiding constituents demanding to know why scarce resources should be allocated to illegal aliens over citizens. Like the five Democrats in Colorado who helped kill the state version of the DREAM Act. And the local health officials in northern California who are finally ending taxpayer subsidies for non-emergency illegal alien care.

It’s citizens who have suffered the loss of loved ones as a result of bloody sanctuary policies. Like Ray Tranchant, who testified on Capitol Hill last week on how failure of local and federal immigration officials to cooperate contributed to the death of his daughter and her best friend at the hands of a revolving door illegal alien drunk driver. Or like Daniella Bologna, who filed suit against the open-borders government of San Francisco on Tuesday:

The family of a father and his two sons who were gunned down last year have filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco, claiming its sanctuary policy contributed to their deaths.
Anthony Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, were gunned down in the Excelsior District on June 16 after possibly being mistaken for rival gang members, according to police.

Edwin Ramos, 22, a suspected member of the MS-13 gang, has been charged with their murders.

The Bologna family lawsuit alleges that the city’s sanctuary policy shielding illegal immigrants – even those charged with a crime – allowed Ramos to stay in this country illegally. Ramos had a history of violence and several prior contacts with San Francisco police as a minor. But city policy prevented officers from turning him over to federal immigration authorities for deportation.

“What we’re saying is that the city adopted and enforced a policy that was actually inconsistent with and prohibited by federal law,” Michael Kelly, an attorney for the Bologna family, said Tuesday.
Since the last immigration battle, more and more citizens and local and state officials have begun to recognize the ravages of lax enforcement. When Obama moves forward with his official shamnesty legislation, he better be prepared. We’ve been there. Done that. And the White House should know that we are ready to stop the Open-Borders Express again.

Stick that on your front page, Fishwrap of Record.
25362  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia's pivot? on: November 17, 2009, 12:07:39 AM
The Russian Pivot in the Iranian Nuclear Issue
FROM A CRITICAL MEETING between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, to an escalating proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the Saudi-Yemeni border, this was a loaded weekend by STRATFOR’s geopolitical standards.

We’ll begin with the pivot of this story: U.S.-Russian relations. Obama and Medvedev sat down in Singapore for their fourth one-on-one meeting, seeking an understanding on issues deemed vital to their national security interests. The Russians, in a nutshell, want the Americans to keep out of the former Soviet periphery, which Moscow sees as its proper sphere of influence. But Moscow now has an additional favor to ask of the West.

Fundamental shifts are taking place in the Kremlin that have revealed Russia’s desire for Western investment in strategic economic sectors. A number of European and U.S. investors eagerly await Washington’s cue to re-enter the Russian market, but Washington first has to determine the geopolitical price Russia is willing to pay for this investment.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this conflict, but all appear to pivot on what actually transpires between the United States and Russia.”
A big portion of the cost will be tied to Iran. If the United States can coax Russia into abandoning support for Tehran, the Obama administration will gain valuable room to maneuver with the Israelis, and the door will open for a wider understanding between Moscow and Washington. Of course, any potential U.S.-Russia understanding will be loaded with sticking points. Medvedev has hinted at possible cooperation against Iran — saying Russia was open to exploring stronger options in dealing with Tehran, including further sanctions. But there is still much more to be discussed, and we see no clear sign that Russia is willing to fundamentally shift its position on Iran just yet.

Still, Iran has plenty to be worried about. Tehran and Moscow are perfectly capable of having a constructive relationship so long as they both face a greater threat (in this case, the United States). Should Russia and the United States come to terms, however, the strategic underpinnings of the Russian-Iranian alliance would collapse and Iran’s vulnerability would soar. With Iran’s anxiety over a Russian betrayal rising, high-level officials in Tehran are adopting a more aggressive tone against Russia.

For instance, the Joint Armed Forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and the head of the parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, have lambasted Russia in the past week for failing to supply Iran with the promised S-300 strategic air defense system. Boroujerdi even issued a veiled threat against Russia when he said, “Iran is not a country which would stop short of action in dealing with countries who fail to deliver on their promises.” It remains unclear to us what Iran actually could do to legitimately threaten Russian security and to sabotage a potential U.S.-Russian understanding, but the shift in tone is unmistakable.

Meanwhile, the Iranians hope to distract U.S. attention from Russia with a proxy war in the border region between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is exploiting an internal Yemeni conflict by supporting Shiite al-Houthi rebels, seeking to undermine neighboring Saudi Arabia’s security. In a sign that Iran is attempting to escalate tensions with the United States, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani on Sunday accused Washington of supporting Saudi air strikes targeting the al-Houthi rebels. But Washington is taking great care to avoid acknowledging its role in this proxy battle (a role that so far involves advising the Saudi and Yemeni militaries and supplying satellite imagery of al-Houthi targets for air strikes). The Obama administration would prefer to avoid getting drawn into a crisis with Iran and would rather give the impression that the nuclear negotiations with Tehran are continuing, while it tries to reach a compromise with Russia.

The Israelis don’t appear to be completely on board with this U.S. plan. On the one hand, Israel has a common strategic interest with the United States in keeping as much distance as possible between Russia and Iran. On the other hand, Israel doesn’t want a U.S.-Russian understanding on Iran to defuse the nuclear crisis so long as Israel’s national security is not genuinely preserved. If Washington manages to secure Russian cooperation against Iran, the Obama administration would gain time and space to talk Israel down from taking more aggressive action against Iran. Israel is operating on a different timeline: It wants to lock Washington into a situation that requires more decisive U.S. action against Iran, whether that means stringent sanctions or potential military strikes.

A report by Israel Radio this weekend appears to support this hypothesis. The report quoted an unnamed Western official as saying that Iran has completely rejected a U.N.-brokered nuclear proposal, but that Obama has postponed an official announcement on the failure of the talks for internal political reasons. To the contrary, Iran has been playing a careful game with the nuclear proposal — protesting the offer publicly but also hinting at the regime’s acceptance of the deal — in order to add confusion to the negotiations and drag out the talks. Neither the United States nor Iran has confirmed or denied the Israel Radio report, which leads us to believe this is Israel’s way of trying to wrap up (what the Israelis view as) the aimless diplomatic phase of the negotiations and push the United States into more aggressive action against Iran.

There are a lot of moving parts to this conflict, but all appear to pivot on what actually transpires between the United States and Russia. The Obama-Medvedev meeting revealed a change in atmospherics toward Iran, but we — like the Iranians — are watching for signs of a real shift in Russian policy.
25363  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Fascism, liberal fascism, progressivism: on: November 16, 2009, 10:20:20 PM

25364  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Economics on: November 16, 2009, 09:46:00 PM
Actually Volcker has said that he was used for his credibility and that none of the BO people listen to him.  Complete agreement on the risk and severity of a dollar crisis.
25365  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues on: November 16, 2009, 06:00:35 PM
"Sorry G. Crafty, but lawyers and lobbyists "

25366  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: November 16, 2009, 05:33:46 PM
As far as cost benefit analysis goes GM how does one value the cost to freedom of continuously being under scrutiny?  Or is the cost of which you speak merely that of the technology itself-- which in that the cost of a given level of technology tends to decline rapidly over time, tends to mean no protection at all.

You're a bright guy and you do a good job of building seamless webs of logic, but on this one there is something here that cannot be evaded or avoided.
25367  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: November 16, 2009, 05:26:14 PM
second post:

Am I the only one repulsed by the "you pussy" pressures being brought to bear on the fighter concerned about having taken some brain damage?

Also, pretty excremental level of conditioning-- particularly this far into the seaon.

Go Big Baby!

Go Kimbo!
25368  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Lesnar ill on: November 16, 2009, 05:24:19 PM
UFC Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar Facing Serious Health Crisis

Posted Nov 14, 2009 8:35PM By Michael David Smith (RSS feed)

Shortly after Saturday's UFC 105 card in Manchester, England, concluded, UFC
President Dana White revealed that his promotion's heavyweight champion, Brock
Lesnar, is suffering from serious health problems and will not be able to
fight any time soon.

 tweetmeme_source = 'FanHouse';

"He's in rough shape, he's in really bad shape," White said, according to the
Canadian Press. "He is not well and he is not getting any better. ... He's
very, very sick and he's going to be out for a while. He's got a lot of
problems. ... He's got mono and he's got something else wrong with him.
I know what's wrong with him, he just doesn't want me talking about it."

White didn't say exactly what is wrong with Lesnar, although he did specify
that it is not cancer or AIDS. The UFC had previously said Lesnar was
suffering from mononucleosis, but his illness is apparently more serious than

Lesnar had been scheduled to defend his title against Shane Carwin on Nov. 21.
When he first started to feel sick, the UFC tentatively re-scheduled the
Carwin bout for Jan. 2. But it will likely be long after Jan. 2 before Lesnar,
who won the undisputed heavyweight title by defeating Frank Mir at UFC 100, is
ready to fight again.

White made room for the possibility of putting together a fight for an interim
heavyweight title while Lesnar is sidelined, although it's not clear who would
participate in that fight. Carwin is reportedly sidelined with a knee injury,
while another top UFC heavyweight, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, is reportedly
battling a staph infection.

The Lesnar illness is the worst piece of news yet in an autumn that has been
full of bad news for the UFC. Champions Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva and
Georges St. Pierre have all battled injuries, and one of the promotion's most
marketable stars, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, says he is quitting the UFC to
pursue an acting career. Even on a day when it had a successful show in
England, the UFC is going through a rough patch.
25369  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: November 16, 2009, 12:06:16 PM
Is there or is there not a slippery slope that ends with us like the UK, being surveilled by the state wherever we go?
25370  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bushehr on: November 16, 2009, 10:49:38 AM
Russia has always followed its interests in the building of the Iranian Bushehr power plant and it will never complete the project, said a parliamentary spokesman, DPA reported Nov. 16. Moscow has used the project as a tool in its dealings with the West, and Tehran will have to complete the plant itself, he said.
25371  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Taliban targetting ISI on: November 16, 2009, 10:48:29 AM
Pakistan: The Taliban Strategy Behind Targeting the ISI
Stratfor Today » November 13, 2009 | 2252 GMT

An injured Pakistani man after the Nov. 13 Inter-Services Intelligence building bombing in PeshawarSummary
The Taliban’s suicide-bombing attack on the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate’s headquarters in Peshawar Nov. 13 was intended to send a clear message: that a government offensive against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in South Waziristan is having little effect on the TTP’s ability to wage war. For now, even if the TTP is limited to operating only within the North-West Frontier Province, the group continues to have the upper hand in the insurgency.


The vehicle-borne suicide bombing of the headquarters of Pakistan’s premier spy service in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Nov. 13 killed relatively few people (16 at last count). However, the blast was so powerful that a significant portion of the provincial headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate in Peshawar was demolished. This is the second time an ISI provincial headquarters has been targeted by Taliban rebels since the much larger May 27 attack on the intelligence agency’s Punjab headquarters in Lahore.

The Nov. 13 attack was against a major ISI facility focused on fighting the jihadist insurgency in the region at a time when Pakistani troops are trying to dismantle the headquarters of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in South Waziristan. The attack is intended to send a clear message: that the government offensive is not having much of an effect on the TTP’s ability to operate. There is also much PR mileage to be gained from striking a facility of the country’s most powerful security organization. Yet another message the jihadists are trying to send — this time to an already rattled Pakistani public — is that the state is unable to protect itself, let alone its citizens.

But a careful examination of the series of Taliban attacks since the beginning of the ground offensive in South Waziristan on Oct. 17 shows that the TTP has not been able to pull off any major attacks beyond the NWFP. The last major attack was on Oct. 10, when militants were able to penetrate the main headquarters of the military in Rawalpindi (the twin city of the capital, Islamabad) and take control of the Military Intelligence directorate building along with 30 hostages. Since then, however, the attacks that have taken place in Lahore and Islamabad have proved to be relatively small-scale strikes.

For the time being, law enforcement and intelligence operations in Punjab and Karachi, coupled with the offensive in South Waziristan and operations elsewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, appear to have limited the effective radius of TTP attacks to the NWFP. And there has been a sustained focus on Peshawar, with several large-scale bombings in the NWFP provincial capital. There have also been attacks that have targeted civilians, for which TTP and al Qaeda leaders have denied responsibility. One of these attacks, on Oct. 28, killed more than150 people — mostly women and children.

In fact, TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud and al Qaeda prime leader for Afghanistan/Pakistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, have said the bombings targeting civilians were the work of the U.S. private security contractor Blackwater (which has been renamed Xe). By accusing the security firm, the jihadists are trying to exploit perceptions in Pakistan that the firm is engaged in suspicious activity in the country and may be trying to destabilize it or even remove or dismantle its nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, attacking the ISI headquarters in Peshawar is a way for the TTP to conduct damage control in the wake of the civilian bombings. Even if the TTP is limited, at least for now, to a meaningful striking capability only within NWFP, the group continues to have the upper hand in the insurgency. The question is whether the government’s Waziristan offensive can put a significant dent in its overall war-making capability.
25372  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: November 16, 2009, 10:44:59 AM
Do you think the court decided correctly in Kyllo?

As for your mockery of "Oh my god, the police have a camera!"-- yes you bring lucid rejoinders, but IMHO we also need to address the profound implications of CAMERAS EVERYWHERE, RECORDING MOST EVERYTHING.
25373  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Michael Yon on: November 16, 2009, 10:16:14 AM
  Next Article > 

Michael Yon
16 November 2009

When New York Times journalist David Rohde was kidnapped last year in Afghanistan, the company engaged in a painstaking effort to squash the story. They succeeded in persuading major media who learned of the kidnapping to keep quiet. The cover-up was so good that a New York Times reporter I spoke with in December 2008, while she and I joined Secretary Gates on a trip through Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq and back to the United States, had not heard about the David Rohde kidnapping.

The New York Times openly agrees that publishing such articles increases the peril to the lives of hostages, yet it published details about a British couple being held hostage in Somalia, and thus increased the value of the hostages to the kidnappers.

Some months after Mr. Rohde’s kidnapping started leaking, I published a generic blurb about the case, but made sure none of the information was new.

I knew more than was included in the vignette, but chose not to release it. I did not share what sources had told me: that Taliban members were being paid large sums of money (and that money was being wasted) and that some of the efforts flowed through Dubai. I have not published any other additional information from sources. Shortly after publication, March 13, 2009, I received an e-mail that included this request from a person close to Rohde:

“The NYT has asked for a news blackout while they do what they can for David Rohde's release. All the wires and the big papers are following it. Therefore, while I'm sure you don't mean any harm, I'm not sure your post about him is helpful.”

The person who e-mailed was not from the New York Times.  I removed the blub I had posted to my site. Though no new information was released, I had offered the kidnappers more coverage.

Sources continued sending reports about attempts to repatriate Rohde. I had not sought out this information. It had fallen as it usually does, like rain.

After Rohde returned to the United States and details became public, the Washington Post and others contacted me about my decisions to publish and then remove the vignette. My thoughts were that if the words risked the life of Mr. Rohde, they should not be publicized.

While reading the New York Times’ article about the British couple, I became upset, and wondered why they would implement a black-out for one hostage, but not another.

I shifted my Blackberry over to Twitter and punched out some blurbs, one of which said the following:

“Numerous very well placed sources have told me New York Times/associates paid millions to get Rohde release.”


“NYT is endangering the hostages in Somalia.”

It is important to know that while tweeting those words, I was sitting on an airplane, on a research trip, for an article for the New York Times. An editor had asked for something about Afghanistan, and I chose the topic of biogas, which included trips to Cambodia, Laos, Nepal (twice), Vietnam (this week), and Afghanistan.

The New York Times is one of the best sources on Iraq and Afghanistan. Their war correspondents are the “A-Team” and that included David Rohde. I was happy to write a piece for the New York Times.

The flurry of follow-on stories that picked up on my tweets, such as those by the Huffington Post, focused on ransom for Mr. Rohde, rather than the point about the harm the New York Times’ detailed coverage could cause the hostages.

On November 2, the New York Times posted a public response:

“Several Web sites repeated Monday erroneous allegations that The New York Times had paid a ransom in the case of its reporter David Rohde, held by the Taliban for seven months.”

The New York Times didn’t mention me by name, but the story continued spreading, with people reporting that I accused the New York Times of lying. Nowhere in the “tweets” was ransom mentioned, or anything about lying. I have no evidence that the New York Times misled the public, nor did I say or imply such. The tweet about money was based on what I had been told by reliable sources. Again, this is the tweet:

“Numerous very well placed sources have told me New York Times/associates paid millions to get Rohde release.”

The New York Times rebuttal statement goes on to quote David Rohde:

“American government officials worked to free us, but they maintained their longstanding policy of not negotiating with kidnappers. They paid no ransom and exchanged no prisoners. Pakistani and Afghan officials said they also freed no prisoners and provided no money.

“Security consultants who worked on our case said cash was paid to Taliban members who said they knew our whereabouts. But the consultants said they were never able to identify or establish contact with the guards who were living with us.”

Though it didn’t address the exact amount of money, the New York Times confirmed my tweet about money by acknowledging that “cash was paid to Taliban members.” My sources have said that large sums of money went through Dubai to Pakistan, not to mention the costs paid to consultants and other expenses.

Though my statements were in line with the New York Times’ statements, other outlets continued to state that I was accusing the New York Times of “lying.”  Not the case.

Chris Rovzar, who blogs at New York Magazine, was off mark when he ran this headline: Freelance War Reporter Accuses Times of Lying about Taliban Bribes.

My words said nothing about lying or bribes, and I am not a “freelance” or a “reporter,” though some of the work involves reporting. I contacted Mr. Rovzar and was pleasantly rewarded by his goodwill, candor and willingness to reexamine the words.

Moving on, the New York Times picked up on points about its coverage of the Somalia story when it published:

“Bloggers also accused The Times of hypocrisy in reporting on a British couple kidnapped by Somali pirates while keeping quiet Mr. Rohde’s kidnapping. . .

“The New York Times did not break the story of the kidnapping of Paul and Rachel Chandler, and during our reporting of it The Times consulted Christine Collett, Ms. Chandler’s sister-in-law, to ask her if the family objected to the publication of any information regarding the case. Ms. Collett, who was quoted in the story, said the family had no objection to The Times reporting on the case.”

Reporting with permission from a sister-in-law hardly makes it right. How many everyday people have experiences dealing with kidnappers? In fact, the Rohde case was the first time I realized how sensitive negotiators are to even passing acknowledgment.  How many of us know that even acknowledgment of the kidnapping can lead to harm?  Most people are unaware, but the New York Times knows. Did the New York Times share advice on its recent experiences when it asked Ms. Collett’s permission?

This incident aside, my respect for the New York Times’ reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan is undiminished. It offers world-class coverage, and continues to be on the reading list.

The New York Times and I simply have a difference of opinion on the hostage topic.

I believe that they have been truthful, while understandably guarded on the abduction of David Rohde. It would be wrong to bash a paper that has fielded such an outstanding team in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hostage issue is just one important issue, and all points by all parties seem to have been made and noted.

Finally, it’s time to move on from this distraction to a much larger topic: Afghanistan. Bad signals are coming from the White House.
25374  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: November 16, 2009, 09:00:52 AM
No , , , because it is not a law enforcement practice  grin
25375  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wilson, 1791 on: November 16, 2009, 08:59:16 AM
"In planning, forming, and arranging laws, deliberation is always becoming, and always useful." --James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1791
25376  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed on: November 16, 2009, 08:56:02 AM
Why on earth would we be discussing that pussified weenie in the context of The Way Forward for the American Creed?!?
The Foundation
"They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare.... [G]iving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please." --Thomas Jefferson

PelosiCare is not about compassion -- it's about controlFor the Record
"Last Saturday [Nov. 7], at 11 o'clock in the evening, the House of Representatives voted by a five vote margin to have the federal government manage the health care of every American at a cost of $1 trillion dollars over the next ten years. For the first time in American history, if this bill becomes law, the Feds will force you to buy insurance you might not want, or may not need, or cannot afford. If you don't purchase what the government tells you to buy, if you don't do so when they tell you to do it, and if you don't buy just what they say is right for you, the government may fine you, prosecute you, and even put you in jail. Freedom of choice and control over your own body will be lost. The privacy of your communications and medical decision making with your physician will be gone. More of your hard earned dollars will be at the disposal of federal bureaucrats. It was not supposed to be this way. We elect the government. It works for us. How did it get so removed, so unbridled, so arrogant that it can tell us how to live our personal lives? Evil rarely comes upon us all at once, and liberty is rarely lost in one stroke. It happens gradually, over the years and decades and even centuries. A little stretch here, a cave in there, powers are slowly taken from the states and the people and before you know it, we have one big monster government that recognizes no restraint on its ability to tell us how to live." --Judge Andrew Napolitano

"Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi's constitutional contempt, perhaps ignorance, is representative of the majority of members of both the House and the Senate. Their comfort in that ignorance and constitutional contempt, and how readily they articulate it, should be worrisome for every single American. It's not a matter of whether you are for or against Congress' health care proposals. It's not a matter of whether you're liberal or conservative, black or white, male or female, Democrat or Republican or member of any other group. It's a matter of whether we are going to remain a relatively free people or permit the insidious encroachment on our liberties to continue. ... In each new session of Congress since 1995, John Shadegg, R-Ariz.,) has introduced the Enumerated Powers Act, a measure 'To require Congress to specify the source of authority under the United States Constitution for the enactment of laws, and for other purposes.' The highest number of co-sponsors it has ever had in the House of Representatives is 54 and it has never had co-sponsors in the Senate until this year, when 22 senators signed up. The fact that less than 15 percent of the Congress supports such a measure demonstrates the kind of contempt our elected representatives have for the rules of the game -- our Constitution. If you asked the questions: Which way is our nation heading, tiny steps at a time? Are we headed toward more liberty, or are we headed toward greater government control over our lives? I think the answer is unambiguously the latter -- more government control over our lives." --economist Walter E. Williams

The Gipper
"The difference between the path toward greater freedom or bigger government is the difference between success and failure; between opportunity and coercion; between faith in a glorious future and fear of mediocrity and despair; between respecting people as adults, each with a spark of greatness, and treating them as helpless children to be forever dependent; between a drab, materialistic world where Big Brother rules by promises to special interest groups, and a world of adventure where everyday people set their sights on impossible dreams, distant stars, and the Kingdom of God. We have the true message of hope for America." --Ronald Reagan

Political Futures
"Barack Obama told the House Democratic Caucus before the roll call vote on health care on Nov. 7 that they would be better off politically if they passed the bill than if they let it fail. Bill Clinton speaking to the Senate Democrats' lunch on Nov. 10 cited his party's big losses in 1994 after Congress failed to pass his health care legislation as evidence that Democrats would suffer more from failure to pass a bill than from disaffection with a bill that was signed into law. These were closed meetings, but we can safely assume that the two Democratic presidents also assured their fellow partisans that health care legislation would do all sorts of good things for the American people. We know Obama did say that Democrats should 'answer the call of history,' even though America has gotten along pretty well without government-run health insurance for some 220 years. But political calculations are always on politicians' minds. The two presidents were urging passage of legislation that has become increasingly unpopular as its provisions become more widely known. They were speaking at a time when Gallup tells us that only 47 percent of Americans think providing health insurance is a government responsibility, down from 69 percent just two years ago. So despite their assurances, it's unclear whether Democrats will be better off passing a bill or seeing one fail. In political discourse, it's often assumed that there is some clear path to a favorable outcome. But sometimes both paths lead down." --political analyst Michael Barone

"As an American, I am embarrassed that the U.S. House of Representatives has 220 members who actually believe the government can successfully centrally plan the medical and insurance industries. I'm embarrassed that my representatives think that government can subsidize the consumption of medical care without increasing the budget deficit or interfering with free choice. It's a triumph of mindless wishful thinking over logic and experience. The 1,990-page bill is breathtaking in its bone-headed audacity. The notion that a small group of politicians can know enough to design something so complex and so personal is astounding. That they were advised by 'experts' means nothing since no one is expert enough to do that. There are too many tradeoffs faced by unique individuals with infinitely varying needs. Government cannot do simple things efficiently. The bureaucrats struggle to count votes correctly. They give subsidized loans to 'homeowners' who turn out to be 4-year-olds. Yet congressmen want government to manage our medicine and insurance." --columnist John Stossel


Re: The Left
"In the late 1930s, the noted economist Friedrich Von Hayek wrote his landmark pamphlet 'Road to Serfdom,' laying bare the diseased skeleton of socialist/utopian thought that had permeated academia and the salons of his day. With an economy of words that showcased the significance of his conclusion, he pointed out the Achilles heel of collectivist dogma: for a planned economy to succeed, there must be central planners, who by necessity will insist on universal commitment to their plan. How do you attain total commitment to a goal from a free people? Well, you don't. Some percentage will always disagree, even if only for the sake of being contrary or out of a desire to be left alone. When considering a program as comprehensive as a government-planned economy, there are undoubtedly countless points of contention, such as how we will choose the planners, how we will order our priorities when assigning them importance within the plan, how we will allocate resources when competing interests have legitimate claims, who will make these decisions, and perhaps more pertinent to our discussion, how those decisions will be enforced. A rift forming on even one of these issues is enough to bring the gears of this progressive endeavor grinding to a halt. This fatal flaw in the collectivist design cannot be reengineered. It is an error so critical that the entire ideology must be scrapped." --columnist Joe Herring

We Depend on You
25377  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: November 16, 2009, 08:52:04 AM

Fascinatin post on the rapidity with which an ice age can hit!

Your post this morning raises good and difficult questions about the idea I propose.  As I reread it I see that I failed to mention that all revenues raised thereunder need to be offset by tax reductions elsewhere (income, cap gains, death, etc)--otherwise it becomes , , , drum roll , , , cap and trade  angry cry
25378  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: November 16, 2009, 08:44:03 AM
I think we have a first!  GM siding against a law enforcement practice! cheesy

Anyway, I am in complete agreement.  Our forfeiture laws, and the SCOTUS's affirmation of them, are an outrage.
25379  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues on: November 16, 2009, 08:40:32 AM

More than once I have had GM present lucid questions/counter-arguments to my libertarian instincts that I have not been able to answer.  It can be quite infuriating.  Intuitively the point you make here makes complete sense to me, but OTOH I haven't a clue as to how to answer the specific counterpoint that GM makes.  Do you?

No doubt his communication technique could benefit on occasion from a tad more sugar-coating   cheesy but if you put that aside and simply stay with the merits, I suspect you will find it worth your time.

25380  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / John Yoo on: November 15, 2009, 08:02:25 PM
The author of this piece was an attorney for Bush and is held many to have written some really shoddy briefs in favor of harsh interrogation.

That said, this piece seems to make a lot of sense to me.
'This is a prosecutorial decision as well as a national security decision," President Barack Obama said last week about the attorney general's announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda operatives will be put on trial in New York City federal court.

No, it is not. It is a presidential decision—one about the hard, ever-present trade-off between civil liberties and national security.

Trying KSM in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda and the hostile nations that will view the U.S. intelligence methods and sources that such a trial will reveal. The proceedings will tie up judges for years on issues best left to the president and Congress.

Whether a jury ultimately convicts KSM and his fellows, or sentences them to death, is beside the point. The treatment of the 9/11 attacks as a criminal matter rather than as an act of war will cripple American efforts to fight terrorism. It is in effect a declaration that this nation is no longer at war.

KSM is the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—and a "terrorist entrepreneur," according to the 9/11 Commission report. He was the brains behind a succession of operations against the U.S., including the 1996 "Bojinka plot" to crash jetliners into American cities. Together with Osama bin Laden, he selected the 9/11 terrorists, arranged their financing and training, and ran the whole operation from abroad.

After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan KSM eventually became bin Laden's operations chief. American and Pakistani intelligence forces captured him on March 1, 2003, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Now, however, KSM and his co-defendants will enjoy the benefits and rights that the Constitution accords to citizens and resident aliens—including the right to demand that the government produce in open court all of the information that it has on them, and how it got it.

Prosecutors will be forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives. The information will enable al Qaeda to drop plans and personnel whose cover is blown. It will enable it to detect our means of intelligence-gathering, and to push forward into areas we know nothing about.

This is not hypothetical, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has explained. During the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the "blind Sheikh"), standard criminal trial rules required the government to turn over to the defendants a list of 200 possible co-conspirators.

In essence, this list was a sketch of American intelligence on al Qaeda. According to Mr. McCarthy, who tried the case, it was delivered to bin Laden in Sudan on a silver platter within days of its production as a court exhibit.

Bin Laden, who was on the list, could immediately see who was compromised. He also could start figuring out how American intelligence had learned its information and anticipate what our future moves were likely to be.

Even more harmful to our national security will be the effect a civilian trial of KSM will have on the future conduct of intelligence officers and military personnel. Will they have to read al Qaeda terrorists their Miranda rights? Will they have to secure the "crime scene" under battlefield conditions? Will they have to take statements from nearby "witnesses"? Will they have to gather evidence and secure its chain of custody for transport all the way back to New York? All of this while intelligence officers and soldiers operate in a war zone, trying to stay alive, and working to complete their mission and get out without casualties.

The Obama administration has rejected the tool designed to solve this tension between civilian trials and the demands of intelligence and military operations. In 2001, President George W. Bush established military commissions, which have a long history that includes World War II, the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. The lawyers in the Bush administration—I was one—understood that military commissions could guarantee a fair trial while protecting national security secrets from excessive exposure.

The Supreme Court has upheld the use of commissions for war crimes. The procedures for these commissions received the approval of Congress in 2006 and 2009.

Stranger yet, the Obama administration declared last week that it would use these military commissions to try five other al Qaeda operatives held at Guantanamo Bay, including Abu Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. It should make no difference that this second group attacked a military target overseas. If anything, the deliberate attack on purely civilian targets in New York City represents the greater war crime.

For a preview of the KSM trial, look at what happened in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker who was arrested in the U.S. just before 9/11. His trial never made it to a jury. Moussaoui's lawyers tied the court up in knots.

All they had to do was demand that the government hand over all its intelligence on him. The case became a four-year circus, giving Moussaoui a platform to air his anti-American tirades. The only reason the trial ended was because, at the last minute, Moussaoui decided to plead guilty. That plea relieved the government of the choice between allowing a fishing expedition into its intelligence files or dismissing the charges.

KSM's lawyers will not save the government from itself. Instead they will press hard to reveal intelligence secrets in open court. Our intelligence agents and soldiers will be the ones to suffer.

Mr. Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was an official in the Justice Department from 2001-03 and is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
25381  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: November 15, 2009, 06:36:14 AM
Coming soon to a civilian courtroom blocks from Ground Zero: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other al Qaeda planners of 9/11. Be sure to get your tickets early, and don't forget to watch out for the truck-bomb barricades and rooftop snipers.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who dropped this legal bomb on New York yesterday, called his decision to move their trial on war crimes from a military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay to American soil "the toughest" he has had to make. Other words come to mind. For starters, intellectually and morally confused, dangerous and political to a fault.

This decision befits President Obama's rushed and misguided announcement on his second day in office that he would close Gitmo within a year. This was before the Administration had thought through what to do with the 215 prisoners there, though it did win him applause in Europe and on the American left. Yesterday's decision rids Gitmo of these meddlesome detainee cases in order to speed up this entirely political shutdown.

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Associated Press
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
.Please spare us talk of the "rule of law." If that was the primary consideration, the U.S. already has a judicial process in place. The current special military tribunals were created by the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which was adopted with bipartisan Congressional support after the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision obliged the executive and legislative branches to approve a detailed plan to prosecute the illegal "enemy combatants" captured since 9/11.

Contrary to liberal myth, military tribunals aren't a break with 200-plus years of American jurisprudence. Eight Nazis who snuck into the U.S. in June 1942 were tried by a similar court and most were hanged within two months. Before the Obama Administration stopped all proceedings earlier this year pending yesterday's decision, the tribunals at Gitmo had earned a reputation for fairness and independence.

As it happens, Mr. Holder acknowledged their worth himself by announcing that the Guantanamo detainee who allegedly planned the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole off Yemen and four others would face military commission trials. (The Pentagon must now find a locale other than the multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art facility at Gitmo for its tribunal.)

Why the difference? Mr. Holder seemed to suggest that the Cole bombers struck a military target overseas and thus are a good fit for a military trial, while KSM and comrades hit the U.S. and murdered civilians and thus deserve a U.S. civilian trial. But this entirely misunderstands that both groups are unlawful enemy combatants who are accused of war crimes, whatever their targets. Mr. Holder's justification betrays not a legal consistency but a fundamentally political judgment that he can make as he sees fit.

The Military Commissions Act, by contrast, devised a careful, consistent legal process for every detainee. Remember when critics blamed President Bush for exercising too much executive discretion?

Mr. Holder expressed confidence that KSM and the rest will be convicted, but it is telling that he also delayed filing formal charges. Will KSM be formally charged with the 9/11 murders, or merely with "material support" for terrorism or some lesser offense? The specific charges may depend on how much evidence is admissable in a civilian courtroom. The MCA allowed for the reality that much of the evidence against enemy combatants may be classified, and it allowed for some hearsay evidence on grounds that they have been picked up on a battlefield, not in Brooklyn. There is no CSI: Kandahar. A civilian court has far tighter rules of evidence.

KSM and his co-conspirators so far have refused legal counsel and at one point tried to plead guilty. They may again. But an army of self-declared defenders of human rights from Yale Law and Shearman & Sterling will clamor to represent them. Those lawyers are certain to challenge all evidence obtained after KSM's March 2003 capture on grounds that it was produced by "torture," if you call waterboarding torture.

As he said at a hearing in 2007, "I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z." But even that admission will probably be challenged on grounds that the trauma of his "torture" means he wasn't capable of "informed consent." Oh, and once he got to Gitmo in 2006, he may not have been read his Miranda rights in full. The possibility exists that one or more of these detainees could be acquitted on procedural grounds, which would be a travesty of justice.

One certain outcome is that an open civilian trial will provide valuable information to terrorists across the world about American methods and intelligence. Precisely because so much other evidence may not be admissable, prosecutors may have to reveal genuine secrets to get a conviction. Osama bin Laden learned a lot from the 1995 prosecution in New York of the "blind cleric" Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman for the first World Trade Center attack. His main tip was that the U.S. considered bin Laden a terrorist co-conspirator, leading him to abandon his hideout in Sudan for Afghanistan.

Terrorists also love a big stage, and none come bigger than New York. Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, made his civilian trial a spectacle. Not even the best judge can entirely stop KSM and others from doing the same. And Mr. Holder has invited grave and needless security risks by tempting jihadists the world over to strike Manhattan while the trial is in session.

Most Americans, we suspect, can overlook the legal niceties and see this episode through the lens of common sense. Foreign terrorists who wage war on America and everything it stands for have no place sitting in a court of law born of the values they so detest. Mr. Holder has honored mass murder by treating it like any other crime.

25382  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: The Missing Link on: November 15, 2009, 06:31:46 AM
Anyone want to take a stab at assessing the hypothesis here?

The Missing Link From Killeen to Kabul
Published: November 14, 2009
THE dead at Fort Hood had not even been laid to rest when their massacre became yet another political battle cry for the self-proclaimed patriots of the American right.

Their verdict was unambiguous: Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born psychiatrist of Palestinian parentage who sent e-mail to a radical imam, was a terrorist. And he did not act alone. His co-conspirators included our military brass, the Defense Department, the F.B.I., the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and, of course, the liberal media and the Obama administration. All these institutions had failed to heed the warning signs raised by Hasan’s behavior and activities because they are blinded by political correctness toward Muslims, too eager to portray criminals as sympathetic victims of social injustice, and too cowardly to call out evil when it strikes 42 innocents in cold blood.
The invective aimed at these heinous P.C. pantywaists nearly matched that aimed at Hasan. Joe Lieberman announced hearings to investigate the Army for its dereliction of duty on homeland security. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, vowed to unmask cover-ups in the White House and at the C.I.A. The Weekly Standard blog published a broadside damning the F.B.I. for neglecting the “broader terrorist plot” of which Hasan was only one of the connected dots. Jerome Corsi, the major-domo of the successful Swift-boating of John Kerry, unearthed what he said was proof that Hasan had advised President Obama during the transition.

William Bennett excoriated soft military leaders like Gen. George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who had stood up for diversity and fretted openly about a backlash against Muslim soldiers in his ranks. “Blind diversity” that embraces Islam “equals death,” wrote Michelle Malkin. “There is a powerful case to be made that Islamic extremism is not some fringe phenomenon but part of the mainstream of Islamic life around the world,” wrote the columnist Jonah Goldberg. Islam is “not a religion,” declared the irrepressible Pat Robertson, but “a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world.”

As a snapshot of where a chunk of the country stands right now, these reactions to the Fort Hood bloodbath could not be more definitive. And it’s quite possible that some of what this crowd says is right — not about Islam in general, but about the systemic failure to stop a homicidal maniac like Hasan in particular. Whether he was an actual terrorist or an unfathomable mass murderer merely dabbling in jihadist ideas, the repeated red flags during his Army career illuminate a pattern of lapses in America’s national security. Whether those indicators were ignored because of political correctness, bureaucratic dysfunction, sheer incompetence or some hybrid thereof is still unclear, but, whichever, the system failed.

Yet the mass murder at Fort Hood didn’t happen in isolation. It unfolded against the backdrop of Obama’s final lap of decision-making about Afghanistan. For all the right’s jeremiads, its own brand of political correctness kept it from connecting two crucial dots: how our failing war against terrorists in Afghanistan might relate to our failure to stop a supposed terrorist attack at home. Most of those who decried the Army’s blindness to Hasan’s threat are strong proponents of sending more troops into our longest war. That they didn’t mention Afghanistan while attacking the entire American intelligence and defense apparatus in charge of that war may be the most telling revelation of this whole debate.

The reason they didn’t is obvious enough. Their screeds about the Hasan case are completely at odds with both the Afghanistan policy they endorse and the leadership that must execute that policy, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal. These hawks, all demanding that Obama act on McChrystal’s proposals immediately, do not seem to have read his strategy assessment for Afghanistan or the many press interviews he gave as it leaked out. If they had, they’d discover that the whole thrust of his counterinsurgency pitch is to befriend and win the support of the Afghan population — i.e., Muslims. The “key to success,” the general wrote in his brief to the president, will be “strong personal relationships forged between security forces and local populations.”

McChrystal thinks we might even jolly up those Muslims who historically and openly hate America. “I don’t think much of the Taliban are ideologically driven,” he told Dexter Filkins of The Times. “In my view their past is not important. Some people say, ‘Well, they have blood on their hands.’ I’d say, ‘So do a lot of people.’ I think we focus on future behavior.”

Whether we could win those hearts and minds is, arguably, an open question — though it’s an objective that would require a partner other than Hamid Karzai and many more troops than even McChrystal is asking for (or America presently has). But to say that McChrystal’s optimistic — dare one say politically correct? — view of Muslim pliability doesn’t square with that of America’s hawks is the understatement of the decade.

As their Fort Hood rhetoric made clear, McChrystal’s most vehement partisans don’t trust American Muslims, let alone those of the Taliban, no matter how earnestly the general may argue that they can be won over by our troops’ friendliness (or bribes). If, as the right has it, our Army cannot be trusted to recognize a Hasan in its own ranks, then how will it figure out who the “good” Muslims will be as we try to build a “stable” state (whatever “stable” means) in a country that has never had a functioning central government? If our troops can’t be protected from seemingly friendly Muslim American brethren in Killeen, Tex., what are the odds of survival for the 40,000 more troops the hawks want to deploy to Kabul and sinkholes beyond?

About the only prominent voice among the liberal-bashing, Obama-loathing right who has noted this gaping contradiction is Mark Steyn of National Review. “Members of the best trained, best equipped fighting force on the planet” were “gunned down by a guy who said a few goofy things no one took seriously,” he wrote. “And that’s the problem: America has the best troops and fiercest firepower, but no strategy for throttling the ideology that drives the enemy — in Afghanistan and in Texas.” You have to applaud Steyn’s rare intellectual consistency within his camp. One imagines that he does not buy the notion that our Army, however brilliant, has a shot at building “strong personal relationships” with a population that often regards us as occupiers and infidels.

In a week of horrific news, it was good to hear at the end of it that Obama is dissatisfied with the four Afghanistan options he has been weighing so far. The more time he deliberates, the more he is learning that he’s on a fool’s errand with no exit. After Karzai was spared a runoff last month and declared the winner of the fraud-infested August “election,” Obama demanded that he address his government’s corruption as a price for American support. Only days later the Afghan president mocked the American president by parading his most tainted cronies on camera and granting an interview to PBS’s “NewsHour” devoted to spewing his contempt for his American benefactors.

Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and, until recently, a State Department official in Afghanistan, could be found on MSNBC on Thursday once again asking the question no war advocate can answer, “Do you want Americans fighting and dying for the Karzai regime?” Hoh quit his post on principle in September despite the urging of colleagues, including our ambassador there, Karl W. Eikenberry, that he stay and fight over war policy from the inside. But Hoh had lost confidence in our strategy and would not retract his resignation. Now he has been implicitly seconded by Eikenberry himself. Last week we learned that the ambassador, a retired general who had been the top American military commander in Afghanistan as recently as 2007, had sent two cables to Obama urging caution about sending more troops.

We don’t know everything in those cables. What we do know is that American intelligence continues to say that fewer than 100 Qaeda operatives can still be found in Afghanistan. We also know that the Taliban, which are currently estimated to number in the tens of thousands, can’t be eliminated. As McChrystal put it to Filkins, there is no “finite number” of Taliban, so there’s no way to vanquish them. Hence his counterinsurgency alternative, which could take decades, costing untold billions and countless lives.

Perhaps those on the right are correct about Hasan, and he is just one cog in an apocalyptic jihadist plot that has infiltrated our armed forces. If so, then they have an obligation to explain how pouring more troops into Afghanistan would have stopped Hasan from plotting in Killeen. Don’t hold your breath. If we have learned anything concrete so far from the massacre at Fort Hood, it’s that our hawks, for all their certitude, are as utterly confused as the rest of us about who it is we’re fighting in Afghanistan and to what end.
25383  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on her book on: November 15, 2009, 06:20:57 AM
Memoir Is Palin’s Payback to McCain Campaign Recommend
Published: November 14, 2009

“Going Rogue,” the title of Sarah Palin’s erratic new memoir, comes from a phrase used by a disgruntled McCain aide to describe her going off-message during the campaign: among other things, for breaking with the campaign over its media strategy and its decision to pull out of Michigan, and for speaking out about reports that the Republican Party had spent more than $150,000 on fancy designer duds for her and her family. In fact, the most sustained and vehement barbs in this book are directed not at Democrats or liberals or the press, but at the McCain campaign. The very campaign that plucked her out of Alaska, anointed her the Republican vice-presidential nominee and made her one of the most talked about women on the planet — someone who could command a reported $5 million for writing this book.

In what reads like payback for McCain aides’ disparaging comments about her in the wake of the ticket’s loss to Barack Obama, Ms. Palin depicts the McCain campaign as overscripted, defeatist, disorganized and dunder-headed — slow to shift focus from the Iraq war to the cratering economy, insufficiently tough on Mr. Obama and contradictory in its media strategy. She also claims that the campaign billed her nearly $50,000 for “having been vetted.” The vetting, which was widely criticized in the press as being cursory and rushed, was, she insists, “thorough”: they knew “exactly what they’re getting.”

Some of Ms. Palin’s loudest complaints in this volume are directed at the McCain campaign’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt, ironically enough, was one of the aides to most forcefully make the case for putting her on the ticket in the first place, arguing to his boss, as Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson reported in their recent book “The Battle for America,” that she would shake up the race and help him get his “reform mojo back.” Robert Draper reported in The New York Times Magazine that neither Mr. Schmidt nor Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, apparently saw Ms. Palin’s “lack of familiarity with major national or international issues as a serious liability,” and that Mr. McCain, a former Navy pilot, saw the idea of upending the chessboard as a maverick kind of move.

All in all, Ms. Palin emerges from “Going Rogue” as an eager player in the blame game, thoroughly ungrateful toward the McCain campaign for putting her on the national stage. As for the McCain campaign, it often feels like a desperate and cynical operation, willing to make a risky Hail Mary pass in order to try to score a tactical win, instead of making a considered judgment as to who might be genuinely qualified to sit a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

In “Going Rogue,” Ms. Palin talks perfunctorily about fiscal responsibility and a muscular foreign policy, and more passionately about the importance of energy independence, but she is quite up front about the fact that much of her appeal lies in her just-folks, “hockey Mom” ordinariness. She pretends no particular familiarity with the Middle East, the Iraq war or Islamic politics — “I knew the history of the conflict,” she writes, “to the extent that most Americans did.” And she argues that “there’s no better training ground for politics than motherhood.”

A CNN poll taken last month indicates that 7 out of 10 Americans now think Ms. Palin is not qualified to be president, and even as ardent a conservative as Charles Krauthammer lamented in September 2008 “the paucity of any Palin record or expressed conviction on the major issues of our time.”

Yet, Mr. McCain’s astonishing decision to pick someone with so little experience (less than two years as the governor of Alaska, and before that, two terms as mayor of Wasilla, a town with fewer than 7,000 residents) as his running mate and Ms. Palin’s own surprisingly nonchalant reaction to Mr. McCain’s initial phone call about the vice president’s slot (she writes that it felt “like a natural progression”) underscore just how alarmingly expertise is discounted — or equated with elitism — in our increasingly democratized era, and just how thoroughly colorful personal narratives overshadow policy arguments and actual knowledge.

Indeed Ms. Palin suggests that she and her husband, Todd, are ideally qualified to represent the Joe Six Packs of the world because they are Joe Six Packs themselves. “We know what it’s like to be on a tight budget and wonder how we’re going to pay for our own health care, let alone college tuition,” she writes in “Going Rogue.” “We know what it’s like to work union jobs, to be blue-collar, white-collar, to have our kids in public schools. We felt our very normalcy, our status as ordinary Americans, could be a much-needed fresh breeze blowing into Washington, D.C.”

“Going Rogue” (written with an assist from Lynn Vincent, the editor of World, an evangelical magazine) is part cagey spin job, part earnest autobiography, part payback hit job. And its most compelling sections deal not with politics, but with Ms. Palin’s life in Alaska and her family. Despite an annoying tendency to gratuitously drop the names of lots of writers and philosophers — in the course of this book, she quotes or alludes to Pascal, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Paine, Pearl S. Buck, Mark Twain and Melville — she does a lively job of conveying the frontier feel of the 49th state, where television broadcasts were tape-delayed in her youth and they shopped for clothes “via mail order through the Sears catalog,” where “we don’t have big league professional sports teams or many celebrities (except famous dog mushers),” and so regard politics as a local sport.

Page 2 of 2)

The self-portrait created in these pages recalls the early profiles of Ms. Palin that appeared in the wake of her debut on the national stage: a frontierswoman who knows how to field dress a moose; a feisty gal with lots of moxie and pep; a former beauty queen with a George W. Bush-like aptitude for mangling the English language (the first paragraph of the book contains the phrase “I breathed in an autumn bouquet that combined everything small-town America with rugged splashes of the Last Frontier”). She talks about juggling motherhood with politics, and gives a moving account of learning that her son Trig would be born with Down syndrome.

She recalls her initial feeling — “I don’t think I could handle that” — and her “sudden understanding of why people would grasp at a quick ‘solution,’ a way to make the ‘problem’ just go away,” though her own pro-life stance would deny women the choice of having an abortion.
Elsewhere in this volume, she talks about creationism, saying she “didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea” or from “monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.” In everything that happens to her, from meeting Todd to her selection by Mr. McCain for the Republican ticket, she sees the hand of God: “My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over.”

Just as Ms. Palin’s planned book tour resembles a campaign rollout — complete with a bus tour and pit stops in battleground states — so the second half of this book often reads like a calculated attempt to position the author for 2012. She tries to compare herself to Ronald Reagan, by repeatedly invoking his name and record. She talks about being “a Commonsense Conservative” and worrying about the national deficit. And she attempts to explain, rationalize or refute controversial incidents and allegations that emerged during the 2008 race.

She says she “never sought to ban any books” as mayor of Wasilla, and in fact has always had a “special passion for reading.” She suggests that the $150,000-plus designer clothes were the campaign’s idea, that she and her family are actually frugal coupon clippers who shop at Costco. And she says she was manipulated into doing that famous series of Katie Couric interviews (which would do much to cement an image of her as an easily caricatured ignoramus) by Nicolle Wallace, a communications aide for the campaign, and that Ms. Couric just seemed to want “to frame a ‘gotcha’ moment.”

Along the way, Ms. Palin acknowledges that she is a busy, “got to go-go-go” sort of person — and for an average hockey mom, pretty ambitious. “As every Iditarod musher knows,” she writes of the famous Alaska dog-sled race, “if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.”
25384  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST on: November 15, 2009, 06:11:49 AM
Nice finds Maija  cool
25385  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues on: November 14, 2009, 01:45:33 PM

You have raised a matter that I confess gets me quite hot.  I find this whole area of the law to be quite outrageous.
25386  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Who will default first? on: November 14, 2009, 12:27:04 PM

Nov 11, 2009

Which big country will default first?
By Martin Hutchinson

Of the world's six largest economies, three have budget and public debt positions that if allowed to fester will push those nations into bankruptcy (the seventh largest, Italy, also has a budget and debt position that is highly vulnerable, but its problems appear chronic rather than acute).

Given the proclivities of modern politicians for delaying pain and avoiding problems, it is likely that festering is just what those positions will do. So which major country, the United States, Japan or Britain, will default first on its foreign debt?

The other three of the six top economies, Germany, China and France, appear to have fewer problems but are not out of the woods entirely. Germany has substantial public debt because of the costs involved in integrating the former East Germany, but those costs are now mostly past and the current government is highly disciplined - thus Germany is now the most stable major economy. France is less disciplined; its debt level is similar to that of Germany but its budget deficit is much higher, at around 8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009, according to The Economist forecasting panel. However, its problems pale in comparison to those of the deficit-ridden trio. China has huge amounts of hidden debt in its banking system, which could well collapse, but its direct public debt is small, as is its budget deficit, so it is unlikely to enter formal default.

The worst budget balance of the three deficit countries is in Britain, where the forecast budget deficit for calendar 2009 is a staggering 14.5% of GDP. Furthermore, the Bank of England has been slightly more irresponsible in its financing mechanisms than even the Federal Reserve, leaving interest rates above zero but funding fully one third of public spending through direct money creation. Governor Mervyn King has a reputation in the world's chancelleries as a conservative man of economic understanding. He doesn't really deserve it, having been one of the 364 lunatic economists who signed a round-robin to Margaret Thatcher in 1981 denouncing her economic policies just as they were on the point of magnificently working, pulling Britain back from what seemed inevitable catastrophic decline.

King's quiet manner may be more reassuring to skeptics than the arrogance of "Helicopter Ben" Bernanke, the US Federal Reservechairman, but the reality of his policies is little sounder and the economic situation facing him is distinctly worse.

Britain has two additional problems not shared by the United States and Japan. First, its economy is in distinctly worse shape. Growth was negative in the third quarter of 2009, unlike the modest positive growth in the US and the sharp uptick in Japan. Moreover, whereas US house prices are now at a reasonable level, in terms of incomes (albeit still perhaps 10% above their eventual bottom), Britain's house prices are still grossly inflated, possibly in London even double their appropriate level in terms of income.

The financial services business in Britain is a larger part of the overall economy than in the US and the absurd exemption from tax for foreigners has brought a huge disparity between the few foreigners at the top of the City of London and the unfortunate locals toiling for mere mortal rewards. A recent story that the housing market for London homes priced above 5 million British pounds (US$8.3 million) was being reflated by Goldman Sachs bonuses indicates the problem, and suggests that the further deflation needed in UK housing will have a major and unpleasant economic effect.

A second British problem not shared by the US is its excessive reliance on financial services. As detailed in previous columns, this sector has roughly doubled in the last 30 years as a share of both British and US GDP. In addition, the sector's vulnerability to a restoration of a properly tight monetary policy has been enormously increased through its addiction to trading revenue. The US has many other ways of making a living if its financial services sector shrinks, and New York is only a modest part of the overall economy. Britain is horribly over-dependent on financial services, and the painful if salutary effects of London costs being pushed down to national levels by a lengthy recession are less likely to be counterbalanced by exuberant growth elsewhere.

The other question to be answered for all three countries is that of political will. If, as is certainly the case in Britain, deficits at the current levels will lead to default (albeit not for some years since the country's public debt is still quite low), then to avoid default tough decisions must be taken. Britain is in poor shape in this respect. Its prime minister, Gordon Brown, is largely responsible for the underlying budget problem, having overspent when Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, during the boom years, largely on added bureaucracy rather than on anything productive or value-creating. However, the opposition Conservatives, likely to take power next spring, are led by a center-leftist with a background in public relations and no discernable backbone or principles.

Britain has a history of such leaders, which it has managed to survive - the ineffable Harold Macmillan, in particular, who wanted to abolish the stock exchange and contemplated nationalizing the banks when they raised interest rates, was a man of outlook and temperament very similar to David Cameron's. Macmillan was notoriously prone to soft options that postponed economic problems, firing his entire Treasury team in pursuit of soft options in 1958 and leaving behind an appalling legacy of inflationary bubble on his retirement in 1963. If Cameron is truly like Macmillan, his government's response to economic and financial disaster will be one of wriggle rather than confrontation.

With neither party providing solutions to an economic crisis, the British public is likely to discover that, unlike in the crisis of 1976, no solutions will be found. Default (doubtless disguised as with Argentina as "renegotiation") would in that case inevitably follow.

The United States is in somewhat better shape than Britain. Its deficit is somewhat lower, at 11.9% of GDP in calendar 2009, although its debt level is higher if you include the direct debt of mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as you should. It also has lower overall levels of public spending, although spending is rising rapidly. Furthermore, it has a much more diverse economy and a healthier real estate market, so that further likely downturns in California and Manhattan real estateand the financial services sector can be easily overcome.

US pundits like to whine about the impending deficits in social security and healthcare, but the former is easily overcome by adjusting the retirement age while the latter could be greatly mitigated by simple cost-containment measures, such as limiting trial lawyer depredations, making the state pay for the "emergency room" mandate to treat the indigent and allowing interstate competition for health insurance. All those changes would be politically difficult, but they are clearly visible and involve no damaging cuts in vital services, unlike the changes that would probably be necessary in Britain.

The other US advantage is political: it has an alternative to overspending. Last Tuesday's election results were a useful shot across the bows of the overspending consensus that had developed in both the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations (as well as among the barons of Congress) since 2007. Whereas voter concern about spiraling deficits and public spending has no satisfactory outlet in Britain, it can now express itself clearly in the US, producing either a sharp change of policy by the current administration and Congress or a change of administration in 2012. Since the likelihood of a reversal of policy towards sound budgetary management is greater in the US than in Britain, the probability of eventual default is less.

Japan has already had its change of government, throwing out the faction of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) that regarded politics as the art of creating pointless infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Japanese electorate, faced in August with a no-good-choices problem similar to that of US voters last year and British voters next spring, replaced a long-serving overspending government with another committed to a different set of spending priorities rather than to ending the spending itself. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has cut back sharply on the infrastructure "stimulus" but is showing signs of replacing it with social spending. It is also committed to economically dozy policies such as reversing postal privatization, organized with such great political effort by prime minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2005.

Japan does however have a couple of advantages that may enable it to avoid default. First, its public debt carries very low interest rates, mostly below 2% per annum, and is owned almost entirely by its own citizens. What's more, state-owned entities such as the now un-privatized Postal Bank lend vast amounts of money to the government, acting as conduits to the less efficient bits of the public sector in the same way as do China's state-owned banks. This is appallingly bad for the efficiency of the economy and for living standards, but it postpones default and makes it less likely.

Second, it's not inevitable that the LDP's wasteful infrastructure spending will simply be replaced by wasteful social spending. Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii is reputed to be a budgetary hard-liner. Further, at least part of the DPJ's spending will take the form of handouts to families with children. That may increase domestic consumption compared with exports and thereby better balance the Japanese economy, increasing its growth potential marginally. Nevertheless, since Japan's public debt is currently around 200% of GDP, Japan is much closer to the default precipice than either the US or Britain. Thus, while the better structure of Japan's economy and its debt make Japan's probability of default lower than Britain's, it's likely that if both countries defaulted, Japan would do so first.

We have not experienced a debt default by a major economy since the 1930s. That three such defaults are currently conceivable indicates both the severity of the current downturn and the wrong-headedness of the policies taken to address it. If it happens, a major sovereign debt default of this kind will cause the seizure of global capital markets, prolonging downturn for a decade or more.

We'd all better hope the urge for fiscal responsibility hits London, Washington and Tokyo pretty damn soon.

Martin Hutchinson is the author of Great Conservatives (Academica Press, 2005).
25387  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: A teachable moment on: November 14, 2009, 07:12:39 AM
New York

Seth Lipsky has a knack for seeing the bright side of things. A nearly 20-year veteran of this newspaper, including its editorial page, he cheerfully acknowledges the obvious: This is far from a golden age of free-market conservatism. Of President Obama, he tells me over lunch, "I sense that he has a very leftist, socialist-oriented worldview."

Yet this makes Mr. Lipsky anything but grim: "I for one find this very exciting. . . . We're just at a great moment."

Why? Because, he says, "America is in what I call a constitutional moment." Mr. Obama's efforts to expand government power raise basic questions about the constitutional limits of that power. "The enumerated-powers argument is enormous," Mr. Lipsky says. "It's just enormous, the ground that is open for contest here. . . . Right now, we're at a moment where we're not going to be able to turn to either the Congress or the executive branch for help on this." He believes "the only defense now, the only tool we have now, is the Constitution. That's why I call it a constitutional moment, as opposed to a political moment."

That makes it an auspicious moment for Mr. Lipsky's new book, "The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide." The U.S. Constitution is a brief document, taking up just 42 pages in a popular pocket-size edition from the Cato Institute. Mr. Lipsky expands it to 287 pages of 5 by 8 inches, by way of 327 lengthy footnotes in which he discusses each and every constitutional clause in the context of history, case law and current events. There are an additional 36 pages of bibliographic references, making it the only book I've seen in which the footnotes have endnotes.

Mr. Lipsky doesn't remember exactly when he thought of the idea, but he believes it was in the late 1980s. "I got into an argument over abortion and was talking to someone about the right to privacy," he recalls. "I looked at a pamphlet the government had issued with a text-only edition of the Constitution, and I realized I couldn't find the word 'privacy' in the Constitution. I began to think about a better edition." Mr. Lipsky's edition has an index, where the listing for "privacy, right to" directs the reader to the chapters on the Third, Ninth and 14th amendments.

As a newspaperman for 40-plus years—in addition to working for the Journal, he founded two papers of his own—Mr. Lipsky has built a career on the First Amendment. But his enthusiasm extends as well to the preamble, the original seven articles and the 26 other amendments.

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Zina Saunders
 ."For years I've been sending memos to people who worked for me—desk editors, reporters, editorial writers—constantly trying to raise their consciousness about the usefulness of the Constitution in editorial work," he says. "Usually these memos that I would send would be simple memos, like, 'Where the hell does the Congress get the power to do that?' or, 'The New York Sun will not carry a dispatch about the Second Amendment which does not quote Justice Story as saying the Second Amendment is the palladium of our liberties.'"

In 1968, after graduating from Harvard, Mr. Lipsky took a reporting job at the Anniston Star in Alabama. He was there just seven months before he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, but it was long enough to provide a formative experience. He visited Frank Johnson, then a federal district judge, who had been a member of the three-judge panel that ordered the desegregation of Montgomery buses after Rosa Parks's arrest. Johnson also presided over Lee v. Macon County, a school-desegregation case that began in 1963.

He told Mr. Lipsky about the trial: "The school board was ready to accede when Gov. [George] Wallace heard about it and ordered them not to. So Johnson gets [Wallace] into court, and he says, 'On what basis are you objecting to this order?' [The governor] says, 'Well, I'm the ex officio chairman of the state board of education, and under that authority, I'm telling them not to integrate the schools.'

"Johnson says, 'As ex officio chairman of the state board of education, you have the power to tell the school board of Macon County, Alabama, that they can't integrate the school?' And the governor says, 'Yes, your honor, I do.' The judge says, 'Well, then, I'm ordering you to integrate all 67 counties in Alabama.'"

In Vietnam, Mr. Lipsky worked as a combat reporter for Pacific Stars and Stripes. Returning to civilian life, he joined the Journal in Detroit, with later postings in Hong Kong, New York and Brussels. He left in 1990 to start an English-language weekly edition of the Forward, a venerable Yiddish newspaper. In 2002, he founded the daily New York Sun—or rather he revived it, the original Sun having folded in 1950. The new Sun attracted a small but influential readership and gave many aspiring writers their start. It ceased publication last year, although Mr. Lipsky and a small stable of writers still publish occasional stories at

The optimism that drove Mr. Lipsky to start a daily newspaper in the Internet age also informs his view of the prospects for American governance. "One of the wonderful things about the Constitution is that anybody can play," he says. "Ordinary people asking simple questions have affected the country in enormous ways using this document. . . . It's just astounding the way individual predicaments and problems are used by the [Supreme] Court to lay down broad principles in the country."

To prove his point, he cites examples from the 1930s, the 1960s and the current decade.

The 1935 case of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. U.S. was decided at a time when the liberal political juggernaut looked even more unstoppable than today. Mr. Lipsky describes the facts: Enforcing the National Industrial Recovery Act, which gave the president vast powers to regulate business, "government thugs went into the kosher butcher shop of the Schechter family in Brooklyn, and they arrested its proprietor on criminal charges."

Among the charges: permitting a housewife "to pick which chicken she wanted." This measure provoked some levity during oral arguments at the Supreme Court: "The judges are asking a question about, 'How is the housewife supposed to pick out her chicken when she can't look at it?' Schechter's lawyer reaches over his shoulder into an imaginary cage and starts pitching around for a chicken, and the Supreme Court started laughing."

The justices ruled unanimously in Schechter's favor and declared the act unconstitutional. "They ended the New Deal," Mr. Lipsky says. Then, with more feeling: "They ended the New Deal!" (This overstates the case somewhat. The court later upheld the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act.)

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) "involved this guy who was arrested in Florida for robbing a poolroom. He goes into the court and says, 'The Supreme Court says I have a right to a lawyer.' The judge says . . . something to the effect of, 'Not in the state of Florida, you don't.' He gets convicted; he gets sent to prison. While he's in prison, he goes to the prison library. This derelict basically writes an appeal to the Supreme Court . . . in pencil and paper—a pauper's petition that says, 'I have a right to a lawyer.' The Supreme Court notices it, assigns Abe Fortas"—who himself joined the court in 1965—"to defend him. He wins the right to a lawyer for everyone accused of a crime in America. The name of Clarence Earl Gideon will be remembered as long as there is a law."

Last year's District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms, exemplifies Mr. Lipsky's point that the language of the Constitution retains its power even when long ignored. "We've had 200 years, and nothing's ever been done about this," he says. "For 50 of the 200 years, the New York Times has been sneering at the idea of an individual right, and everybody's been talking about how this right belongs to the 'militia.'"

Yet by carefully analyzing the language of the Second Amendment, the court cast aside that musty conventional wisdom. Mr. Lipsky, who describes himself as "a partisan of the plain-language school of the law," applauds not just the result but the method the justices, in an opinion by Antonin Scalia, employed to reach it: "They really get into the language. I mean, the actual grammar, the sentence structure, the subordinate and not-subordinate clauses, which—forgive me, but I've been arguing for a generation and a half as an editorial writer, the plain language of this thing is plain."

Although anybody can play, not everybody can win. In 2003, the high court ruled against Susette Kelo and allowed the city of New London, Conn., to seize her house under eminent domain and turn the land over to private developers.

It's just unbelievable, that case," Mr. Lipsky says—and all the more so in light of the latest development, or rather the lack of development. On Monday, Pfizer Inc., which was to have built offices on the now-barren site, announced that it was leaving New London altogether as part of a consolidation move.

Such disappointments notwithstanding, Mr. Lipsky's passion for the Constitution is a tonic for political depression. If ObamaCare does become law, to take an especially worrying example, it isn't hard to imagine a lot of Americans facing "individual predicaments," including threats to their lives from government rationing. It's some comfort to think they'll be able to petition for a stay—and to demand an answer to the question in that old Lipsky memo: "Where the hell does the Congress get the power to do that?"

Mr. Taranto, a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, writes the Best of the Web Today column for
25388  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Green Energy on: November 13, 2009, 04:39:06 PM
That is the thread I had in mind.  Thank you.  This thread is now locked.
25389  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War, WMD issues on: November 13, 2009, 03:40:31 PM
Relevant stuff, but lets continue it in the Iran thread please.
25390  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing/Mortgage/Real Estate on: November 13, 2009, 03:38:08 PM
Near zero interest rates (in relation to inflation and taxes), the FMs taking the risk and the CRA requiring the banks to make bad loans.  What could go wrong?
25391  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Green Energy on: November 13, 2009, 03:35:42 PM
Good post, but I think we already have a suitable thread of some sort.  Please search under "Energy" and see what comes up.
25392  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Many entries on: November 13, 2009, 11:33:31 AM

"Human Felicity is produced not so much by great Pieces of good Fortune that seldom happen, as by little Advantages that occur every Day." --Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1771

"Strive to be the greatest man in your country, and you may be disappointed. Strive to be the best and you may succeed: he may well win the race that runs by himself." --Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1747
"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country." --George Washington, upon fumbling for his glasses before delivering the Newburgh Address, 1783

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it." --Thomas Paine, The Crisis, No. 4, 1777

"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing. And that you may be always doing good, my dear, is the ardent prayer of yours affectionately." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Martha Jefferson, 1787

"And as to the Cares, they are chiefly what attend the bringing up of Children; and I would ask any Man who has experienced it, if they are not the most delightful Cares in the World; and if from that Particular alone, he does not find the Bliss of a double State much greater, instead of being less than he expected." --Benjamin Franklin, Reply to a Piece of Advice

"[T]he importance of piety and religion; of industry and frugality; of prudence, economy, regularity and an even government; all ... are essential to the well-being of a family." --Samuel Adams, letter to Thomas Wells, 1780

"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." --George Washington, The Rules of Civility, 1748

"It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, 1785

25393  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ant--federalist papers on: November 13, 2009, 10:47:01 AM

A friend likes this one in particular
25394  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Acorn's role in housing bubble on: November 13, 2009, 05:19:25 AM
second post

All agree that the bursting of the housing bubble caused the financial collapse of 2008. Most agree that the housing bubble started in 1997. Less well understood is that this bubble was the result of government policies that lowered mortgage-lending standards to increase home ownership. One of the key players was the controversial liberal advocacy group, Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).

The watershed moment was the 1992 Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act, also known as the GSE Act. To comply with that law's "affordable housing" requirements, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would acquire more than $6 trillion of single-family loans over the next 16 years.

Congress's goal was to force these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to purchase loans that had been originated by banks—loans that were made under the pressure of another federal law, the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), to increase lending in low- and moderate-income communities.

From 1977 to 1991, $9 billion in local CRA lending commitments had been announced. CRA lending by large banks increased dramatically after the affordable housing mandate was in place in 1993, growing to $6 trillion today. As Ellen Seidman, director of the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, said in a speech before the Greenlining Institute on Oct. 2, 2001, "Our record home ownership rate [increasing from 64.2% in 1994 to 68% in 2001], I'm convinced, would not have been reached without CRA and its close relative, the Fannie/Freddie requirements."

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Associated Press
 .The 1992 GSE Act was the fuse, and the trillions of dollars in subsequent CRA and GSE affordable-housing loans would fuel the greatest housing bubble our nation has ever seen. But who lit the fuse?

The previous year, as Allen Fishbein, currently an adviser for consumer policy at the Federal Reserve, has noted, Acorn and other community groups were informally deputized by then House Banking Chairman Henry Gonzalez to draft statutory language setting the law's affordable-housing mandates. Interim goals were set at 30% of the single-family mortgages purchased by Fannie and Freddie, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development has increased that percentage over time. The goal of the community groups was to force Fannie and Freddie to loosen their underwriting standards, in order to facilitate the purchase of loans made under the CRA.

Thus a provision was inserted into the law whereby Congress signaled to the GSEs that they should accept down payments of 5% or less, ignore impaired credit if the blot was over one year old, and otherwise loosen their lending guidelines.

The proposals of Acorn and other affordable-housing advocacy groups were acceptable to Fannie. Fannie had been planning to use the carrot of affordable-housing lending to maintain its hold over Congress and stave off its efforts to impose a strong safety and soundness regulator to oversee the company. (It was not until 2008 that a strong regulator was created for Fannie and Freddie. A little over a month later both GSEs were placed into conservatorship; they have requested a combined $112 billion in assistance from the federal government, and much more will be needed over the next few years.)

The result of loosened credit standards and a mandate to facilitate affordable-housing loans was a tsunami of high risk lending that sank the GSEs, overwhelmed the housing finance system, and caused an expected $1 trillion in mortgage loan losses by the GSEs, banks, and other investors and guarantors, and most tragically an expected 10 million or more home foreclosures.

As a result of congressional and regulatory actions, the percentage of conventional first mortgages (not guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration or the Veteran's Administration) used to purchase a home with the borrower putting 5% or less down tripled from 9% in 1991 to 27% in 1995, eventually reaching 29% in 2007.

Fannie and Freddie acquired $1.2 trillion of loans from banks and other lenders from 1993 to 2007. This amounted to 62% of all such conventional home purchase loans with a down payment of 5% or less that were originated nationwide over the same period.

Fannie and Freddie also acquired $2.2 trillion in subprime loans and private securities backed by subprime loans from 1997 to 2007. Acorn and the other advocacy groups succeeded at getting Congress to mandate "innovative and flexible" lending practices such as higher debt ratios and creative definitions of income. And the serious delinquency rate on Fannie and Freddie's $1.5 trillion in high-risk loans was 10.3% as of Sept. 30, 2009.

This is about seven times the delinquency rate on the GSEs' traditional loans. Fifty percent of the high-risk loans are estimated to be CRA loans, with much of the remainder useful to the GSEs in meeting their affordable-housing goals.

The flood of CRA and affordable-housing loans with loosened underwriting standards, combined with declining mortgage interest rates—to 5% in 2003 from 10% in early 1991—resulted in a massive increase in borrowing capacity and fueled a house price bubble of unprecedented magnitude over the period 1997-2006.

Now this history may repeat itself as many of the same community groups are pushing Congress to expand CRA to cover all mortgage lenders, credit unions, insurance companies and others financial industry segments. Are we about to set the stage for another catastrophe?

Mr. Pinto was the chief credit officer at Fannie Mae from 1987 to 1989. He is currently a consultant to the mortgage-finance industry.
25395  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Bone Density on: November 13, 2009, 04:58:25 AM
Phys Ed: The Best Exercises for Healthy Bones

Digital Images/Getty Images
 Several weeks ago, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that should give pause to anyone who plans to live a long and independent life. The study looked at the incidence of hip fractures among older Americans and the mortality rates associated with them. Although the number of hip fractures has declined in recent decades, the study found that the 12-month mortality rate associated with the injury still hovers at more than 20 percent, meaning that, in the year after fracturing a hip, about one in five people over age 65 will die.

Meanwhile, another group of articles, published this month as a special section of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, underscore why that statistic should be relevant even to active people who are years, or decades, away from eligibility for Medicare. The articles detailed a continuing controversy within the field of sports science about exactly how exercise works on bone and why sometimes, apparently, it doesn’t.

“There was a time, not so long ago,” when most researchers assumed “that any and all activity would be beneficial for bone health,” says Dr. Daniel W. Barry, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, at Denver, and a researcher who has studied the bones of the elderly and of athletes. Then came a raft of unexpected findings, some showing that competitive swimmers had lower-than-anticipated bone density, others that, as an earlier Phys Ed column pointed out, competitive cyclists sometimes had fragile bones and, finally, some studies suggesting, to the surprise of many researchers, that weight lifting did not necessarily strengthen bones much. In one representative study from a few years ago, researchers found no significant differences in the spine or neck-bone densities of young women who did resistance-style exercise training (not heavy weight lifting) and a similar group who did not.

Researchers readily admit that they don’t fully understand why some exercise is good for bones and some just isn’t. As the articles in this month’s Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise make clear, scientists actually seem to be becoming less certain about how exercise affects bone. Until fairly recently, many thought that the pounding or impact that you get from running, for instance, deformed the bone slightly. It bowed in response to the forces moving up the leg from the ground, stretching the various bone cells and forcing them to adapt, usually by adding cells, which made the bone denser. This, by the way, is how muscle adapts to exercise. But many scientists now think that that process doesn’t apply to bones. “If you stretch bone cells” in a Petri dish, says Alexander G. Robling, an assistant professor in the department of anatomy and cell biology at Indiana University School of Medicine and the author of an article in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, “you have to stretch them so far to get a response that the bone would break.”

So he and many other researchers now maintain that bone receives the message to strengthen itself in response to exercise by a different means. He says that during certain types of exercise, the bone bends, but this doesn’t stretch cells; it squeezes fluids from one part of the bone matrix to another. The extra fluid inspires the cells bathed with it to respond by adding denser bone.

More Phys Ed columns
Faster, Higher, Stronger
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Why should it matter what kind of message bones are receiving? Because, Professor Robling and others say, only certain types of exercise adequately bend bones and move the fluid to the necessary bone cells. An emerging scientific consensus seems to be, he says, that “large forces released in a relatively big burst” are probably crucial. The bone, he says, “needs a loud signal, coming fast.” For most of us, weight lifting isn’t explosive enough to stimulate such bone bending. Neither is swimming. Running can be, although for unknown reasons, it doesn’t seem to stimulate bone building in some people. Surprisingly, brisk walking has been found to be effective at increasing bone density in older women, Dr. Barry says. But it must be truly brisk. “The faster the pace,” he says — and presumably the greater the bending within the bones — the lower the risk that a person will fracture a bone.

There seems to be a plateau, however, that has also surprised and confounded some researchers. Too much endurance exercise, it appears, may reduce bone density. In one small study completed by Dr. Barry and his colleagues, competitive cyclists lost bone density over the course of a long training season. Dr. Barry says that it’s possible, but not yet proved, that exercise that is too prolonged or intense may lead to excessive calcium loss through sweat. The body’s endocrine system may interpret this loss of calcium as serious enough to warrant leaching the mineral from bone. Dr. Barry is in the middle of a long-term study to determine whether supplementing with calcium-fortified chews before and after exercise reduces the bone-thinning response in competitive cyclists. He expects results in a year or so.

In the meantime, the current state-of-the-science message about exercise and bone building may be that, silly as it sounds, the best exercise is to simply jump up and down, for as long as the downstairs neighbor will tolerate. “Jumping is great, if your bones are strong enough to begin with,” Dr. Barry says. “You probably don’t need to do a lot either.” (If you have any history of fractures or a family history of osteoporosis, check with a physician before jumping.) In studies in Japan, having mice jump up and land 40 times during a week increased their bone density significantly after 24 weeks, a gain they maintained by hopping up and down only about 20 or 30 times each week after that.

If hopping seems an undignified exercise regimen, bear in mind that it has one additional benefit: It tends to aid in balance, which may be as important as bone strength in keeping fractures at bay. Most of the time, Dr. Barry says, “fragile bones don’t matter, from a clinical standpoint, if you don’t fall down.”
25396  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues on: November 13, 2009, 04:44:03 AM
KILLEEN, Tex. — Sgt. Kimberly D. Munley has been applauded as a hero across the nation for shooting down Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan during the bloody rampage at Fort Hood last week. The account of heroism, given by the authorities, attracted the attention of newspapers, the networks and television talk shows.

But the initial story of how she and the accused gunman went down in an exchange of gunfire now appears to be inaccurate.

Another officer, Senior Sgt. Mark Todd, 42, said in an interview Thursday that he fired the shots that brought down the gunman after Sergeant Munley was seriously wounded. A witness confirmed Sergeant Todd’s account.

In the interview, Sergeant Todd said he and Sergeant Munley had pulled up to the scene in separate cars at the same time. He said they began running up a small hill toward the building that held the processing center where unarmed soldiers reported for check-ups and vaccinations before deployment. The gunman was already outside, Sergeant Todd recalled.

“That’s when the bystanders were pointing in his direction,” he said. “And when we popped up, he was standing there, and we shouted our commands — ‘Police, drop your weapons!’ — and he just opened fire on us.”

Sergeant Todd said he was slightly in front of Sergeant Munley on the hill. “Once we took fire, she broke right and I broke left,” he said.

Sergeant Todd said he did not see Sergeant Munley get shot. He said he started to circle around the building, but then backtracked as panicked bystanders told him of the gunman’s movements.

“As it unfolded, I went a different direction and he went a different direction, and we met up in the front of the building,” he said.

Sergeant Todd said he then saw Sergeant Munley on the ground, wounded. He shouted again at the gunman to drop his weapon.

“Once I came around the front of the building, I caught his attention again, started shouting commands, and then he opened up a second time,” Sergeant Todd said. “And that’s when I returned fire, neutralized him and secured him.”

Citing the ongoing investigation, Sergeant Todd declined to give more details about the precise positions of Major Hasan, Sergeant Munley and himself during the gunfight. He also would not say how many times he shot Major Hasan with his 9 mm pistol, or what Major Hasan was doing. The whole encounter lasted only 45 seconds, he said.

Sergeant Todd’s account agrees with that of a witness who was at the processing center when the shooting occurred.

The witness, who asked not to be identified, said Major Hasan wheeled on Sergeant Munley as she rounded the corner of a building and shot her. Then Major Hasan turned his back and started putting another magazine into his semiautomatic pistol.

Sergeant Todd then rounded another corner of the building, found Major Hasan fumbling with his weapon and shot him, the witness said.

How the authorities came to issue the original version of the story, which made Sergeant Munley a national hero for several days and obscured Sergeant Todd’s role, remains unclear. (Military officials also said for several hours after the shooting that Major Hasan had been killed; he survived.)

Six days after the shooting, the military has yet to put out a full account of what happened.

On Thursday, Christopher Grey, a spokesman for Army Criminal Investigation Command, told reporters that Sergeants Todd and Munley both “engaged the armed suspect.”

“I would caution you from drawing final conclusions until all the evidence is analyzed,” Mr. Grey said at a news conference at Fort Hood, where he announced that Major Hasan had been charged in a military court with 13 counts of premeditated murder.

On Wednesday, Lt. Col. John Rossi, the fort’s deputy commander, refused to take questions about who shot Major Hasan or why the initial reports said it had been Sergeant Munley rather than Sergeant Todd.

“These questions are specific to the investigation, and I am not going to address that,” Colonel Rossi said.

Public affairs officials also declined to make Chuck Medley, the director of emergency services at the post, available. It was Mr. Medley, who oversees the post’s civilian police and fire departments, who gave the first account of how Sergeant Munley stopped the gunman.


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On Tuesday night, Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, declined to say whether it was Sergeant Todd who had shot Major Hasan. “It could have been, but the final outcome will be determined by the results of the ballistics tests.” Colonel Lee said.

On Wednesday, Sergeant Todd’s wife, Lisa, said her husband had asked the Army to protect his identity immediately after the shootings.
Asked in the interview whether he had asked to be kept out of the limelight, Sergeant Todd said: “Initially I wanted to stay pretty low key. This is a tragic event. I don’t think the attention should be on me. The medics are the ones who saved everybody’s life.”

Sergeant Todd and Sergeant Munley offered their first public comments on the shooting Wednesday on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” They did not give a detailed chronology of what happened, nor did they say who had fired and hit the suspect.

Both are members of the civilian police force at Fort Hood.

Sergeant Todd said on the talk show that after he had fired at the suspect, he kicked his weapon away and placed him in handcuffs. He said it was the first time in his 25 years in law enforcement and the military that he had used his weapon.

“I just relied back on my training,” Sergeant Todd said. “We’re trained to shoot until there is no longer a threat. And once he was laying down on his back, his weapon just fell into his hand and I’m, like, ‘O.K., now’s the time to rush him and secure him.’ “

The confusion over what happened and the quickness of the military to label someone a hero seemed reminiscent of the case of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in 2003, when the Army initially reported that Private Lynch had been captured in Iraq after a Rambo-like performance in which she emptied her weapon and was wounded in battle. It was later learned she had been badly hurt in a vehicle accident during an ambush and was being well cared for by the Iraqis.

On Friday, the day after the Fort Hood shooting, Mr. Medley said Sergeant Munley had encountered Major Hasan, pistol in hand, chasing down a bleeding soldier. She fired at him, he turned, they rushed at each other firing and both fell, Mr. Medley said.

“He turned and charged her rapidly firing, and she did what she was trained to do,” Mr. Medley said that day. He added, “She is absolutely a hero.”

Several hours later, Colonel Rossi expanded upon the story slightly in speaking to reporters. He said Sergeant Todd had arrived at the scene in the middle of the gunfight and had also fired his weapon.

The witness, however, offered a detailed account. He said he was walking in a roadway between the main building, known as the Sportsdome, and five smaller buildings. Major Hasan was headed toward the main building, the witness said, when Sergeant Munley came around the corner of a smaller building. Major Hasan wheeled on her and shot her several times, the witness said. It was unclear whether she squeezed off a shot or not, but she fell over backward, with wounds in her legs and her wrist, the witness said.

Major Hasan then turned his back and began to shove another magazine into his pistol. He did not appear wounded, the witness said. A few seconds later, Sergeant Todd came around another corner of the same building, raised his weapon and fired several times at Major Hasan, who pitched over backward and stopped moving.

“He shot her, turned away from her and was reloading when he was shot,” said the witness, who was nearby.

On the Winfrey show, Sergeant Munley, 35, said the incident was confusing and chaotic. “There were many people outside pointing to where this individual was apparently located,” she said. “When I got out of my vehicle and ran up the hill, that’s when it started getting bad and we started encountering fire.”

Sergeant Todd, a native of San Diego, has spent most of his adult life as a military police officer in the Army. A specialist in training police dogs, he left the military police in 2007, after 25 years, to join the civilian force at Fort Hood. He has served at four bases in the United States and two in Germany. Joining the civilian force at Fort Hood was supposed to be a second, quieter career for him, he said in the interview.

He said he was not troubled about having shot Major Hasan, whose pistol, he said, ”looked like a howitzer” in his hand.

“There is a certain amount of fear, but you have to control it,” Sergeant Todd said. “You rely on your training, and your training takes over.”
25397  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Some success in Afg on: November 13, 2009, 04:37:53 AM
Published: November 12, 2009
JURM, Afghanistan — Small grants given directly to villagers have brought about modest but important changes in this corner of Afghanistan, offering a model in a country where official corruption and a Taliban insurgency have frustrated many large-scale development efforts.

Since arriving in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States and its Western allies have spent billions of dollars on development projects, but to less effect and popular support than many had hoped for.
Much of that money was funneled through the central government, which has been increasingly criticized as incompetent and corrupt. Even more has gone to private contractors hired by the United States who siphon off almost half of every dollar to pay the salaries of expatriate workers and other overhead costs.

Not so here in Jurm, a valley in the windswept mountainous province of Badakhshan, in the northeast. People here have taken charge for themselves — using village councils and direct grants as part of an initiative called the National Solidarity Program, introduced by an Afghan ministry in 2003.

Before then, this valley had no electricity or clean water, its main crop was poppy and nearly one in 10 women died in childbirth, one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.  Today, many people have water taps, fields grow wheat and it is no longer considered shameful for a woman to go to a doctor.  If there are lessons to be drawn from the still tentative successes here, they are that small projects often work best, that the consent and participation of local people are essential and that even baby steps take years.

The issues are not academic. Bringing development to Afghans is an important part of a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at drawing people away from the Taliban and building popular support for the Western-backed government by showing that it can make a difference in people’s lives.

“We ignored the people in districts and villages,” said Jelani Popal, who runs a state agency that appoints governors. “This caused a lot of indifference. ‘Why should I side with the government if it doesn’t even exist in my life?’ ”

Jurm was tormented by warlords in the 1990s, and though it never fell to the Taliban, the presence of the central government, even today, is barely felt. The idea to change that was simple: people elected the most trusted villagers, and the government in Kabul, helped by foreign donors, gave them direct grants — money to build things like water systems and girls’ schools for themselves.

Local residents contend that the councils work because they take development down to its most basic level, with villagers directing the spending to improve their own lives, cutting out middle men, local and foreign, as well as much of the overhead costs and corruption.

“You don’t steal from yourself,” was how Ataullah, a farmer in Jurm who uses one name, described it.

The grants were small, often less than $100,000. The plan’s overall effectiveness is still being assessed by academics and American and Afghan officials, but the idea has already been replicated in thousands of villages across the country.  Anecdotal accounts point to some success. There have even been savings. When villages in the Jurm Valley wanted running water, for instance, they did much of the work themselves, with help from an engineer. A private contractor with links to a local politician had asked triple the price. (The villagers declined.)   

Even such modest steps have not come easily. Jurm presented many obstacles, and it took a development group with determined local employees to jump-start the work here. One basic problem was literacy, said Ghulam Dekan, a local worker with the Aga Khan Development Network, the nonprofit group that supports the councils here.  Unlike the situation in Iraq, which has a literacy rate of more than 70 percent, fewer than a third of Afghans can read, making the work of the councils painfully slow. Villagers were suspicious of projects, believing that the people in the groups that introduced them were Christian missionaries.

“They didn’t understand the importance of a road,” Mr. Dekan said.

Most projects, no matter how simple, took five years. Years of war had smashed Afghan society into rancorous bits, making it difficult to resist efforts by warlords to muscle in on projects.

“They said, ‘For God’s sake, we can’t do this, we don’t have the capability,’ ” Mr. Dekan said. “We taught them to have confidence.”


(Page 2 of 2)

Muhamed Azghari, an Aga Khan employee, spent more than a year trying to persuade a mullah to allow a girls’ school. His tactic: sitting lower than the man, a sign of deference, and praising his leadership. He paid for the man to visit other villages to see what other councils had accomplished.

“Ten times we fought, two times we laughed,” Mr. Dekan said, using the Afghan equivalent of “two steps forward, one step back.”

When it came to women, villagers were adamant.

But forcing conditions would have violated a basic principle of the approach: never start a project that is not backed by all members of the community, or it will fail.

“People have to be mentally ready,” said Akhtar Iqbal, Aga Khan’s director in Badakhshan. If they are not, the school or clinic will languish unused, a frequent problem with large-scale development efforts.

Five years later, the village of Fargamanch has women’s literacy classes and a girls’ high school. Over all, girls’ enrollment in Badakhshan is up by 65 percent since 2004, according to the Ministry of Education. The number of trained midwives has quadrupled.  Health has also improved. Now, 3,270 families have taps for clean drinking water near their homes, reducing waterborne diseases. The councils are also a check on corruption. When 200 bags of wheat mysteriously disappeared from the local government this year, council members demanded they be returned. (They were.) When a minister’s aide cashed a check meant for a transformer, Mr. Ataullah spent a week tracking down a copy. (The aide was fired.)

“The government doesn’t like us anymore,” Mr. Azghari said, laughing. “They want the old system back.”

While Badakhshan’s changes are fragile, the forces of modernization are growing. Televisions have begun to broadcast the outside world into villages. Phone networks cover more than 80 percent of the province, triple what the figure was in 2001.  Perhaps most important, Afghans are tired of war, and seeing the benefits of a decade of peace might be enough to encourage new kinds of decisions. Ghulam Mohaiuddin, a farmer, seethes when he remembers the past.

“The jihad was useless,” he said, sitting cross-legged in his mud-walled house.

Suddenly, a loud blast went off, startling his guests. He laughed. It was the sound of canal construction, not a bomb.

“Now we’ve put down our weapons and started building,” he said, smiling.
25398  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Hudson: FHA Going broke? on: November 13, 2009, 04:32:53 AM
Until we have comments from an economically literate and honest source, here's this from POTH.

Housing Agency’s Cash Reserves Down Sharply 
Brendan Smialowski for The New York TimesDavid H. Stevens, the Federal Housing Administration commissioner, during a Congressional hearing in October.

Published: November 12, 2009
The Federal Housing Administration, the government agency whose loan-insurance programs have become a crucial source of support for the housing market, said on Thursday that its cash reserves had dwindled significantly in the last year as more borrowers defaulted on their mortgages.

“There is a real risk. Nobody has a crystal ball,” said Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
The agency released an audit that spelled out the rapid deterioration of its finances. It is tightening loan standards in hopes it will not become another drain on the United States Treasury, but is reluctant to clamp down so much that it snuffs out the tentative recovery in housing.

How successfully the agency walks this tightrope could well determine whether the recovery gathers force, or whether home prices slide again — perhaps creating a fresh economic downturn.

As recently as a few weeks ago, the F.H.A. had said that even under the bleakest economic forecast, its cash cushion would quickly recover. On Thursday, it abandoned that position.

“There is a real risk. Nobody has a crystal ball,” Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development, said in an interview. “We recognize there is a possibility that the reserves go below zero and stay there.”

Still, Mr. Donovan stressed that the agency, which had a role in one out of five home purchases in the last year, would not need a direct taxpayer bailout.

“There is no extraordinary action that Congress or anyone else needs to take,” he said during a news conference in Washington.

Instead, the agency would borrow from the Treasury, under authority previously granted by Congress. In the worst case, involving a protracted recession, the audit said the F.H.A. would run out of capital in 2011 and have to borrow $1.6 billion from the Treasury to pay insurance claims, a relatively small sum.

That is not a situation the agency considers likely. In line with many analysts, the agency expects the housing market to turn down again over the next nine months and then to recover. Under this projection, foreclosures would be manageable and the reserves would quickly grow.

The F.H.A.’s annual audit was scheduled for release last week, but was mysteriously delayed at the last minute. On Thursday, as it released the document, the agency explained that it wanted its auditors to include more negative forecasts as a way of understanding the worst-case risk.

The audit showed reserves to be 0.53 percent of the total portfolio, far below the 2 percent minimum mandated by Congress and far less than the audit last year had forecast. In 2007, just before housing prices began their worst slump in decades, the reserves were above 6 percent.

Ann Schnare, a consultant who has analyzed the F.H.A. balance sheet, put the situation this way: “They’re running on empty.”

As the fortunes of the F.H.A. have deteriorated over the last few months, the agency has become a focal point for dissatisfaction over federal efforts to prop up the housing market.

It is drawing comparisons to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant agencies created by Congress to keep the mortgage market supplied with cash by buying up pools of home loans. With borrowers defaulting in the downturn, Fannie and Freddie have required enormous bailouts.

The F.H.A.’s role differs from that of Fannie and Freddie. Through its insurance, it helps marginal buyers get loans if they do not have the 20 percent down payment a traditional bank loan requires. The agency requires a 3.5 percent down payment. Critics say it went overboard and insured too many loans to unqualified borrowers in 2007 and 2008, a position with which the agency itself now agrees.

Nearly one in five loans it insured in 2007 falls into the category of “seriously delinquent,” it said Thursday. These loanholders are at least three months behind in their payments. For 2008 loans, 12 percent of them were seriously delinquent.

The F.H.A. says it is insuring loans to more financially secure buyers with higher credit scores. The average credit score of new borrowers, it said, is 693, compared with 633 two years ago.

In a sense, the agency is bulking up and giving as many loans as it can to qualified buyers as a way to diminish the relative size of the pool of problem loans. It guaranteed more than $360 billion in mortgages in the last year, four times the amount of 2007.

Critics say this is only increasing the size of the ultimate peril.

“They keep saying they’re going to outrun their problems, but some way, somehow, the taxpayer is going to end up on the hook,” said Edward Pinto, a former executive with Fannie Mae.

During the news conference, Secretary Donovan and the agency’s commissioner, David H. Stevens, said that the cash reserve, the figure that has fallen to 0.53 percent of loans outstanding, was merely a supplement to a much larger fund that the F.H.A. was holding against expected losses. Between the two accounts, the agency has $31 billion to cover losses over the next 30 years.

The F.H.A.’s problems stem from its rapid transition from a wallflower to the most popular student in class.

During the housing boom, buyers flocked to private subprime lenders, who offered deals that required no money down and no documentation. The F.H.A., which required its token down payment and documentation of the borrower’s earning power, lost ground.

But as the market tumbled and the subprime outfits failed, F.H.A. loans became the next best thing. Brian Montgomery, who ran the F.H.A. for the Bush administration, said in a recent interview that the agency felt it had no choice but to open the doors to a broader group of applicants.

Citing pressure from Congress and the White House, Mr. Montgomery said: “We had to let these loans through.”

Mr. Montgomery, now a consultant, says that anyone dismayed by the possibility of yet another bailout should feel a different emotion toward the Department of Housing and Urban Development and, for that matter, himself: gratitude.

“They should be going over to the H.U.D. building and frankly thanking the career staff for saving them from a depression,” Mr. Montgomery said.

Louise Story contributed reporting.
25399  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A big deal in the works? on: November 13, 2009, 04:29:10 AM
A Speech, the Russian Economy and U.S. Relations
AS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DMITRI MEDVEDEV was preparing to make his second State of the State address on Thursday, some major shifts in Russian domestic and foreign policy appeared to be taking place. Those shifts seemed destined to affect not only the speech, but Russia as a whole.

The address was postponed for a month. The annual State of the State address can be delivered anytime in October or November, but STRATFOR sources in the Kremlin have said that the speech was put on hold while Medvedev awaited permission from Russia’s decision-maker-in-chief, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on launching massive economic reforms.

“The speech will be a test for U.S.-Russian relations.”
These reforms reportedly will be the heart of Medvedev’s speech. The global financial crisis hit Russia pretty hard, but it also has revealed some deep and dangerous inefficiencies in the Russian economy that could seriously damage the country in the future. As previously discussed, in order to combat these inefficiencies, Medvedev – along with his mentor, Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin — have come up with a plan to invite Western investment and technology back into the country, taking many key companies private and quashing mismanagement — mostly by the security services — in some critical Russian corporations.

These reforms have been highly controversial: They not only would reverse the centralization of the Russian economy – a trend that has been under way for the past four years – but would deprive many within the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) of their economic power.

On Wednesday, the day before Medvedev’s speech, we learned that criminal investigations have been launched into 22 state companies — all of which are tied to the FSB. Also, late Tuesday night, Medvedev signed a document calling for a major overhaul of state firms.

These are signs that Putin has signed off on the plan by Medvedev’s clan to reform the Russian economy. The president’s speech was expected to make those changes public.

But the speech also was to be a test for U.S.-Russian relations. The Russian presidents — first Putin, then Medvedev — have used the State of the State address as a vehicle for criticizing the West. Last year, Medvedev used Soviet-era rhetoric and declared Russia’s return to the ranks of the world’s great powers.

Relations between the United States and Russia seem to have taken a sharp downturn since that speech, with Washington continuing its support for former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states like Georgia and Poland, and with Russia continuing its support for Iran.

But Russia’s stance may be shifting. In the past week, Medvedev has said that he might be open to shifting Moscow’s position on Iran to support Western-organized sanctions. There also have been a string of statements out of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, pushing for Iran to agree to a nuclear deal with the West.

The question is whether Russia means it or not. Medvedev may be opening a window of opportunity for the United States on the Iran issue. The Russians know they need Western investment and technology in order to strengthen and stabilize their economy. But the West has not wanted to deal with Russia while there were no guaranteed protections for investors and Russia was supporting anti-Western regimes like Tehran.

Moscow could be stringing all these issues together — conceding on Iran, while giving the West an opportunity to forge a new economic relationship with Russia.

The tone of Medvedev’s speech therefore was expected to signal whether Russia is really going to extend an olive branch to the West or continue with the current standoff.

All of these gestures — the speech, economic reforms and shifts on Iran — come just ahead of a meeting between Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama, who will talk in Singapore on Sunday. And that could be the true litmus test of how serious both sides are about a change in relations.

25400  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Our man in Iraq on: November 12, 2009, 07:46:16 PM
Our man in Iraq is no longer there, but here are some letters from some of the Iraqi men from whom he worked.  For reasons of OPSEC, no fotos:

Some goodbye correspondence I felt like sharing.  I think it's important for you folks to see Iraqis as I have found many of them to be.  Many, if not most, have a great goodness in their hearts.  That is how I will remember them when I leave.  They can do some stupid, dumb mierda but I have met many who have good hearts.  I had to talk Headar out of giving me his Iraq national soccer team jersey yesterday.  Can you imagine how precious a memory that is to him?  Yet he wanted to give it to me.
I am at a loss of words as am writing this mail with sadness for your leaving the JALEA. I was fortunate to work with a great advisor like you and you added a huge experience to my career, I admired your knowledge and courage from the first moment I worked with you. And I would like to thank you so much for supporting me in many occasions.


You will be impossible to replace.


I hope all the best to you in your future endeavors.


I would be glad if you contact me at me personal e mail: xxxxxx


My best wishes to you and to your family.







---------     ----------     --------



Actually, I don't know how to start to express my gratefulness and appreciation for helping my country and people to rise them up especially in the Judicial Security Sector, which is the most significant element of the Power. In addition, the great efforts and time had been assigned for behalf of our country, by putting your life under risk and terrible circumstances, and leaving your family. So I would like to convey my thanks instead of the Iraqi people and wishing you all the goodness and luck in your life.


And I want to thank your family, and friends for their sustaining and encouraging for being away for a year


Greatly appreciation to stand beside Iraqi employees and try to get the best for them


I hope we can keep in contact: xxxx



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