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25551  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: January 12, 2010, 10:11:19 AM
Summary
According to widespread rumors in the United States, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence had a hand in the Dec. 30, 2009, attack in Khost, Afghanistan, which killed several CIA agents. While luck played a definite role in the attack, the skill in preparing the double agent who detonated the suicide bomb used in the attack has lead some to see a state role. Such a role is unlikely, however, as Pakistan has little to gain by enraging the United States. Even so, the rumors alone will harm U.S.-Pakistani relations, perhaps giving the Taliban some breathing room.

Analysis
Speculation is rife in the United States about the possible role played by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, Pakistan’s foreign intelligence service, in the Dec. 30, 2009, suicide attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman in eastern Afghanistan that killed multiple CIA agents. Much of this discussion traces back to a report citing unnamed U.S. and Afghan government sources as saying a chemical analysis of explosive residue suggesting the use of military-grade equipment points to ISI involvement in the incident.

This is a faulty basis to establish an ISI link, as the Pakistani Taliban have used military-grade explosives in numerous attacks against the Pakistani security establishment since late 2006. Still, rumors alone of ISI involvement will suffice to harm U.S.-Pakistani relations, which will serve the jihadists’ ends quite nicely.

To a large extent, chance aided the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in carrying out the attack. Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi’s arrival gave the group the opportunity to carry out an attack at a heavily fortified facility belonging to the world’s most powerful intelligence organization. That said, the preparation of the double agent for the attack showed definite skill. While it has shown a great degree of skill in pulling off attacks against major army, intelligence and other security installations in Pakistan, the TTP previously has not been seen as being capable of handling a foreign double agent for a complex operation outside Pakistan.

In this incident, the TTP managed to conceal al-Balawi’s true activities while in Pakistan. Admittedly, keeping close track of al-Balawi in Pakistan would have been a challenge to the CIA due to the agency’s fairly weak humint capabilities there, and because his jihadist hosts would have been extremely cautious about using communications devices that would show up on sigint monitoring. And while remaining below the radar while in jihadist country in the Pakistani northwest is one thing, circumventing all CIA countermeasures is quite another — and is something previously thought beyond the TTP’s known capabilities. Such sophistication rises to the level of the skills held by a national-level intelligence organization with tremendous resources and experience at this kind of tradecraft.

However, even this does not mean the ISI was involved in the attack.

The ISI falls under the control of the Pakistani army and the government, and the Pakistani state has no interest in carrying out actions against the United States, as this could seriously threaten Pakistani national interests. Also, it is clear that the ISI is at war with the TTP. For its part, the main Pakistani Taliban rebel group has specifically declared war on the ISI, leveling three key ISI facilities in the last eight months. It is therefore most unlikely this could have been an officially sanctioned Pakistani operation.

The possibility that jihadist sympathizers in the lower ranks of the Pakistani intelligence complex may have offered their services to the TTP cannot be ruled out, however. Given its history of dealing with Islamist nonstate proxies, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus is penetrated by the jihadists, which partially explains the ability of the TTP to mount a ferocious insurgency against the state.

Even though there is no clear smoking gun pointing at the ISI, rumors of its involvement alone will harm the already-fragile U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Concerns similar to those in the aftermath of the November 2008 Mumbai attack — that the situation in Pakistan has reached a point where the state no longer has control over its own security apparatus and now represents an intolerable threat to U.S. national security — will emerge again.

While the situation in Islamabad might not be dire, a U.S.-Pakistani and Indian-Pakistani breakdown is exactly what that the jihadists want so they can survive the U.S. and Pakistani offensives they currently face.
25552  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Fed, Monetary Policy, & the US Dollar on: January 12, 2010, 10:09:31 AM
The HELL they are not!!!  With near zero interest rates for savers (or negative if one counts, as one should, inflation and taxes) and the destruction of the currency-- they are stealing plenty from me and from every American who looks to save.
25553  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War, WMD issues on: January 12, 2010, 10:07:44 AM
Iran: Nuclear Scientist Killed
Stratfor Today » January 12, 2010 | 1041 GMT



AFP/Getty Images
The scene of the explosion that killed Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud Ali-Mohammadi outside his home Jan. 12 in TehranAn Iranian nuclear scientist was killed Jan. 12 in an IED explosion in the Iranian capital. According to the early details, Massoud Ali-Mohammadi was killed around 7:30 a.m. local time near his home in northern Tehran’s upscale district of Qeyterieh with a bomb that some report was hidden in a trashcan and others state was part of a booby-trapped motorcycle. Authorities in Tehran identified Ali-Mohammadi as a professor of nuclear physics at Tehran University. There are reports he may have been affiliated with the country’s controversial nuclear program, but his exact importance with respect to the nuclear program remains unclear.

This is also not the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been killed in mysterious circumstances. Three years ago, a noted Iranian nuclear scientist, Ardeshir Hassanpour, was killed. At the time, STRATFOR had learned that the Israeli intelligence service Mossad was behind the assassination. Indeed, even this time around, Iranian officials have pointed fingers at the Jewish state. It is, however, too early to tell if that is the case.

Assassinations of individual scientists and even defection or kidnapping of others are not unprecedented. Furthermore, there have been bombings in recent months that have targeted senior military commanders of the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The timing of this attack (the first involving the use of an IED against a nuclear scientist), however, comes at a time of considerable domestic unrest and increasing international pressure on Iran to accept an enrichment compromise or face potential military action on the part of the United States or Israel.

Today’s attack will provide the pretext for Iranian authorities to crack down even harder on opponents at home who are already accused of collaborating with foreign enemies of the state. More importantly, it will make Tehran even more intransigent on the nuclear issue as the Islamic republic cannot be seen as caving into pressure, especially not from the West and Israel. The killing of the scientist also places considerable pressure on Iran to engage in retaliatory action.
25554  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Dog Brothers Team Kali Tudo on: January 12, 2010, 08:43:52 AM
A new variation on the Dracula which we call "Dracula prays to the cross" seems to have a lot of promise in dealing with skilled front legs (see e.g. the problems Randy Couture had with Brandon Vera's front leg)
25555  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Crimes using knives on: January 12, 2010, 08:33:59 AM
http://policelink.monster.com/news/articles/130661-slain-officers-last-words-to-emts-thank-you?utm_source=nlet&utm_content=pl_c1_20100112_lastwords

January 11, 2010

OTTAWA – As Constable Eric Czapnik lay dying from a mortal knife wound to the throat, he spoke two final and poignant words to his paramedic rescuers.

The patrolman had been writing case notes inside his cruiser, parked outside the emergency department of The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus, when a man approached and attacked him with a knife.

Four paramedics, none yet publicly identified, ran from the emergency room to help. It wasn’t until a male paramedic grabbed the attacker in a headlock from behind, that they realized the assailant had a knife.


As the attacker tried to reach around and stab the male paramedic, a petite female paramedic wrestled the weapon from his hand. A second female paramedic kicked him in the groin, and all three wrestled him to the ground. Another female paramedic attended to Const. Czapnik.
As he lay dying from the random attack, Const. Czapnik, 51, uttered his last words to the paramedics, according to police sources.

“Thank you,” he said.

That his very final act was an expression of gratitude to others is a powerful testament of a man who, as his mourners heard last week, cared deeply about others and about this community.

The first police officers to arrive on the scene found the suspect restrained with Const. Czapnik’s handcuffs, sitting in the back seat of his cruiser.

None of the paramedics were physically injured. But the incident is reviving debate whether paramedics should wear body armour and possibly even carry arms of some sort.

Kevin Gregson, 43, an RCMP officer on suspension from the force since 2006, is charged with first-degree murder. His next court appearance is on Jan. 19.
25556  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon in Afghanistan on: January 12, 2010, 07:37:00 AM


http://www.pjtv.com/v/2929
25557  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson to Eppes, 1813 on: January 12, 2010, 07:15:28 AM
"It is a wise rule and should be fundamental in a government disposed to cherish its credit, and at the same time to restrain the use of it within the limits of its faculties, never to borrow a dollar without laying a tax in the same instant for paying the interest annually, and the principal within a given term; and to consider that tax as pledged to the creditors on the public faith." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Wayles Eppes, 1813
25558  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: January 12, 2010, 07:01:07 AM
I have no idea if such is feasible or not, but I do like that we include thinking outside of the box. 

I am but a beginning student in these things, but the idea that the Durand line is but a fiction to which only we pay attention seems pretty sound to me.  The idea of abanding it and allowing the unification of Pashtunland seems pretty intriguing to me.
25559  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Dollar; Monetary Policy on: January 12, 2010, 06:55:01 AM
Federal Reserve earned $45 billion in 2009
By Neil Irwin
Wall Street firms aren't the only banks that had a banner year. The Federal Reserve made record profits in 2009, as its unconventional efforts to prop up the economy created a windfall for the government.

The Fed will return about $45 billion to the U.S. Treasury for 2009, according to calculations by The Washington Post based on public documents. That reflects the highest earnings in the 96-year history of the central bank. The Fed, unlike most government agencies, funds itself from its own operations and returns its profits to the Treasury.



The numbers are good news for the federal budget and a sign that the Fed has been successful, at least so far, in protecting taxpayers as it intervenes in the economy -- though there remains a risk of significant losses in the future if the Fed sells some of its investments or loses money on its stakes in bailed-out firms.

This turn of events comes as the banks that benefited from the Fed's actions are under the microscope. Starting at the end of the week, major banks are expected to announce significant earnings and employee bonuses. Anger in Washington is at such a high boil that the Obama administration will probably propose a fee on financial firms to recoup the cost of their bailout, officials confirmed Monday.

As it happens, the Fed's earnings for the year will dwarf those of the large banks, easily topping the expected profits of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase combined.

Much of the higher earnings came about because of the Fed's aggressive program of buying bonds, aiming to push interest rates down across the economy and thus stimulate growth. By the end of 2009, the Fed owned $1.8 trillion in U.S. government debt and mortgage-related securities, up from $497 billion a year earlier. The interest income on those investments was a major source of Fed profits -- though that income comes with risks, as the central bank could lose money if it later sells those securities to reduce the money supply.

The Fed also made money on its emergency loans to banks and other firms and on special programs to prop up lending, such as one that supports credit cards, auto loans, and other consumer and business lending. Those programs impose interest and fees on participants, with the aim of ensuring that the Fed does not lose money.

And while the central bank in its most recent financial report had recorded a $3.8 billion decline in the value of loans it made in bailing out the investment bank Bear Stearns and the insurer American International Group, the Fed also logged $4.7 billion in interest payments from those loans. Further losses -- or gains -- on the two bailouts are possible as time goes by. The Fed also charges fees for operating the plumbing of the financial system, such as clearing checks and electronic payments between banks.


From its revenue, the Fed deducts operating expenses, such as employee salaries, then returns to the Treasury almost all of the earnings that remain. The largest previous refund to the Treasury was $34.6 billion, in 2007.

"This shows that central banking is a great business to be in, especially in a crisis," said Vincent Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Fed official. "You buy assets that have a nice yield, and your cost of funds is very low. The difference is profit."

The Fed plans to release its estimate of 2009 earnings Tuesday. The Post's calculation is based on combining data through September from the Fed's monthly balance sheet report with more recent data from the Treasury's daily budget statement.

Fed officials do not make policy with an eye toward maximizing profits. They are charged by law with managing the nation's money supply to keep employment high and prices stable, and earnings fluctuate depending on a wide range of factors as they pursue that goal. In the crisis, the central bank's policy has been to create money and use it to buy a wide variety of assets, which in turn pay interest.

In effect, the unprecedented range of actions taken to address the crisis has made the Fed's balance sheet more like that of a private bank. A firm such as Bank of America takes money from depositors, whom it pays little or nothing in interest, and lends it out at significantly higher rates. The Fed, similarly, takes money that banks keep on deposit, at a rate of 0.25 percent, and lends it to the U.S. government by buying Treasury securities and, lately, to home buyers and other private borrowers though more exotic investments.

While that resulted in higher earnings in 2009, it exposes the Fed to more risks down the road. "They've moved up the risk-return curve, as they have more long-term assets and more things that involve credit risk," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.

If the price of Treasury bonds or mortgage-related securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were to fall in the years ahead, and Fed leaders decided they need to drain money from the financial system by selling off some of their portfolio, the central bank would lose money. "If they do enough asset sales and rates go high enough, that could eat into future profits pretty substantially," said Michael Feroli, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase.

Even as the Fed comes to resemble private banks in terms of its balance sheet and its earnings power, there remains one big difference. The CEO of the Federal Reserve, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, received a modest cost-of-living raise for 2010, despite the record earnings: He now makes $199,700, with no bonus at all.


25560  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: January 11, 2010, 09:22:44 PM
I don't get it.  What on earth has she done?

With regard to:

Russia?

Poland/Czech Republic?

Nuclear Policy?

Iran?

Honduras?

Pakistan?

Afpakia?

What?
25561  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: BStephens: Can Intelligence by intelligent? on: January 11, 2010, 07:07:42 PM
'Intelligence," Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, "is not to be confused with intelligence." To read two recent analyses of U.S. intelligence failures is to be reminded of the truth of that statement, albeit in very different ways.

Exhibit A is last week's unclassified White House memo on the attempted bombing of Flight 253 over the skies of Detroit. Though billed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones as a bombshell in its own right, the memo reads more like the bureaucratic equivalent of the old doctor joke about the operation succeeding and the patient dying. The counterterrorism system, it tells us, works extremely well and the people who staff it are top-notch. No doubt. It just happens that in this one case, this same terrific system failed comprehensively at the most elementary levels.

For contrast—and intellectual relief—turn to an unsparing new report on the U.S. military's intelligence operations in Afghanistan. "Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy," it begins. "U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage successful counterinsurgency."

View Full Image

Associated Press
 
Afghan security forces stand next to a vehicle destroyed in a roadside bomb on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010.
.That's not happy talk, particularly given that it comes from the man who now runs the Army's intelligence efforts in the country, Major General Michael T. Flynn. But Gen. Flynn, along with co-authors Paul Batchelor of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Marine Captain (and former Journal reporter) Matt Pottinger, are just getting warmed up. Current intel products, they write, "tell ground units little they do not already know." The intelligence community is "strangely oblivious of how little its analytical products, as they now exist, actually influence commanders." There is little by way of personal accountability: "Except in rare cases, ineffective intel officers are allowed to stick around."

All this is told in prose that is crisp, engaging and almost miraculously free of bureaucratic gobbledygook. The report illuminates the distinction between the kind of intel needed for anti-insurgency—information about the bad guys—as opposed to that needed for counterinsurgency: That is, the kind that tells you something about the people you are fighting for (and who you eventually want to get to do the fighting for you), and what they actually need and want.

OpinionJournal Related Stories:
•John Bolton: Let's Take the Bureaucracy Out of Intelligence
•Eliot Cohen: Taking the Measure of Obama's Foreign Policy
•Reuel Marc Gerecht: The Meaning of al Qaeda's Double Agent
•Michael Mukasey: What Does the Detroit Bomber Know?
.Case study in point: As recently as last June, the Nawa district in Afghanistan's embattled Helmand Province was largely under the Taliban's control. "American and British troops could not venture a kilometer from their base without confronting machine gun and rocket fire from insurgents. Local farmers, wary of reprisals by the Taliban, refused to make eye contact with foreign soldiers, much less speak with them or offer valuable battlefield and other demographic information."

But that began to change in July with the arrival of 800 Marines, who fanned out through the district with the goal of discovering its so-called anchor points: "local personalities and local grievances that, if skillfully exploited, could drive a wedge between insurgents and the greater population."

In Nawa, the anchor point turned out to be the resentment of local elders to the Taliban's usurpation of their traditional authority. As in Anbar province in Iraq, winning the trust of those elders turned out to be more important for Nawa's rapid transformation into a relatively thriving, peaceful place than simply killing Talibs.

This is the sort of story that we'd all like to see replicated throughout Afghanistan. Yet the success in Nawa was never communicated through official channels, and became known mainly through the media. When it comes to bureaucracies, including the military's, information always seeks a cubby hole. That's also where it tends to stay.

The report's solution, in part, is the creation of new information centers that can synthesize intelligence as it works its way from the bottom up. But the more important recommendation concerns the type of officer who would staff these centers: "Analysts must absorb information with the thoroughness of historians, organize it with the skill of librarians, and disseminate it with the zeal of a journalist," the authors write. "Sufficient knowledge will not come from slides with little more text than a comic strip."

Uh oh: A military analyst without his PowerPoint? Terrifying as the thought may be to many of its current practitioners, the true art of intelligence requires, well, intelligence. That is a function neither of technology nor of "systems," which begin as efforts to supplement and enhance the work of intelligence and typically wind up as substitutes for it. It is, instead, a matter of experience, intellect, initiative and judgment, nurtured within institutions that welcome gadflies in their midst.

It remains to be seen whether the report's ideas will be put fully into practice, or whether the administration will fight the war long enough for them to make a difference. But there's no doubting that the Pentagon got lucky when Gen. Flynn, Capt. Pottinger and Mr. Batchelor managed to find one another and allowed them to have their say. Judging from recent performances, you've got to wonder how often that happens at other institutions of state that too often mistake intelligence for intelligence.
25562  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed on: January 11, 2010, 12:09:00 PM
I think Glen Beck is leading the way here.

And frankly, I think WE have to see the potential here instead of staying mired in the "patricians and demogogues" feedback loop.
25563  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: January 11, 2010, 12:06:25 PM
This could just as easily be posted in the Liberal Fascism thread, the Government Programs thread, the Corruption thread, etc. cheesy
25564  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / South Bay, LA, CA Tea Party on: January 11, 2010, 07:51:43 AM
South Bay Tea Party
Freedom * Responsibility * Truth * Openness
January 2010 Newsletter
Dear Tea Party Patriots,


Happy New Year and Welcome to 2010!  This year is shaping up to be even more exciting than last and we are counting on all of you to keep up the pressure on local, state, and national politicians.  Your hard work, dedication, and effort are required if we are going to return our government to We the People and make 2010 the Year of the Citizen!  You are receiving this newsletter because you signed up with us or an affiliated Tea Party.  If you wish to be removed from this list, please click the unsubscribe button below. 

In this newsletter:

January General Meeting
An Evening with Tom Campbell
Neighborhood Tea Parties
Petition Updates
Upcoming Events
 

January General Meeting
 
What better way to start off 2010 than with a good ol’ Tea Party meeting? 
 
Guest speakers for this event is Mattie Fein.  Mattie Fein is a Republican candidate running for Congress against Jane Harman in the 36th Congressional District. 
Our Chairman Nathan Mintz will also be making a special announcement that you won't want to miss!  Make sure to “Bring a Friend” and we hope to see you there!
 

Date and Time: January 20, 2010, 7:00-9:00PM

Location: Old Albertson’s (Next to Hope Chapel)

2510 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

South East Corner of Artesia and PCH

 

 

An Evening with Tom Campbell
 
With the Primaries just around the corner, we invite you to come and meet one of the candidates up close and personal in “An Evening with Tom Campbell.”  Tom Campbell is a former Republican candidate for California Governor and one of the most respected fiscal minds in California politics today.  Tom Campbell has a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago where he was mentored by Milton Friedman.  Mr. Campbell also served as a five term United States Congressman and a California State Senator.

 

Date and Time: February 3, 2010, 7:00-9:00PM

Location: Redondo Beach Veterans Park Community Center

309 Esplanade , Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Click here for a map
 

 

Neighborhood Tea Parties
 
Want to get more involved?  Want to make a difference in your neighborhood?  Then throw a Neighborhood Tea Party! Neighborhood Tea Parties are a fun and friendly way to educate your friends and neighbors about the policies and issues going on in our country today.  Interested?  Just let us know and we’ll do the rest.  Thanks to our fabulous committee leaders Flora and Sharon all you need to do is provide the venue and the guests and we’ll provide the rest! 

 

Please send all inquiries to info@southbayteaparty.com  with ‘Neighborhood Tea Party’ in the subject line.

 

 

Petition Updates

 

Citizen Legislature Project

 

Citizens for California Reform is a non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. Its goal is to improve the quality of life in California by advancing a more limited and transparent state government.  A Citizen Legislature is composed of every-day citizens, not professional politicians, who meet on a part-time basis to pass the state budget and consider new legislation. The Citizen Legislature Act will appear on the November 2010 ballot.

 

The Citizen Legislature Project outlines a legislative session, which will convene in regular session on the first Monday in January of each year for a period not to exceed 30 calendar days. The Legislature will then reconvene in regular session on the first Monday in May for a period not to exceed 60 calendar days.

 

For more information on Citizen Legislature Project, please visit: www.reformcal.com

 

You can also download the petition to circulate yourself from their website at:  http://www.reformcal.com/petition.html Please print using 8 1/2" x 14" (legal) size paper-- the secretary of state office will not accept this petition in any other format. Follow the directions on the petition precisely, including filling yourself in as petitioner on the sheet. We are happy to collect filled out petitions from you.

 

Unplug the Political Machine

 

Unplug the Political Machine is “a gathering of rank-and-file citizens and taxpayers of California who understand the devastation which the Public Employee Unions are wreaking on California.”  The Public Employee Unions have been able to convert a big piece of their rank-and-file members' dues into an “unprecedented and oppressive political war chest” which they use to “seduce and bully the politicians” in Sacramento and putting the average citizen at a major disadvantage.


The only solution is for the citizens and taxpayers to take their power back, and so they have created The Citizen Power Campaign.  This movement plans to place an initiative on the 2010 ballot to prevent the Public Employee Unions from converting taxpayer dollars into special interest political contributions to rig elections and ultimately push California into bankruptcy.”

 

For more information on Unplug the Political Machine, please visit:
www.unplugthepoliticalmachine.org
 
You can also download the petition to circulate yourself from their website here. This petition has a different format than the other one. Please print using two sided 8 1/2" x 11" (letter) or 8.5” x 14” (legal) size paper-- the secretary of state office will not accept this petition in any other format. You can also sign the petition using your iPhone!  To learn how, click here.  Follow the directions on the petition precisely, including filling yourself in as petitioner on the sheet. We are happy to collect filled out petitions from you.

 
25565  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Meese: Prop 8 on: January 11, 2010, 07:41:10 AM
Stacking the Deck Against Proposition 8 Recommend
by EDWIN MEESE III
January 10, 2010
Washington

THE much-anticipated trial to determine the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 is scheduled to begin this morning in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger. What’s at stake in this case, filed in federal district court in San Francisco on behalf of two gay couples, is not just the right of California voters to reaffirm the definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, but also whether marriage may be otherwise defined in any state.

The entire premise of this litigation is disquieting — that traditional marriage is nothing but “the residue of centuries of figurative and literal gay bashing,” as David Boies, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has written. According to the plaintiffs, there is just no rational basis for government to privilege marriage between a man and a woman. Thus, in their minds, Proposition 8, which was supported by more than seven million California voters, could have been adopted only as a result of “animus,” as the complaint puts it, toward gays and lesbians.

It’s disquieting that the trial is taking place in San Francisco, probably the venue most likely to support gay marriage. More than 75 percent of San Francisco voters opposed Proposition 8. That’s quite a home-court advantage for same-sex marriage advocates.

But most disquieting for supporters of traditional marriage is a series of pretrial rulings issued by Judge Vaughn R. Walker that have the effect of putting the sponsors of Proposition 8, and the people who voted for it, on trial.

Judge Walker’s decisions have been surprising because they differ from those of other judges who have previously scrutinized marriage laws — in Iowa, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and elsewhere in California, for example. In those instances, the courts have decided legal challenges to state marriage laws based on legislative history, scholarly articles and testimony by social scientists and other experts. They have, in some cases, looked for evidence of legislative intent in the statements published in official voter information pamphlets.

But in this case, Judge Walker has ruled that things like TV advertisements, press releases and campaign workers’ statements are also relevant evidence of what the voters intended. The judge went so far as to order the Proposition 8 campaign to disclose private internal communications about messages that were considered for public use but never actually used. He has even ordered the campaign to turn over copies of all internal records and e-mail messages relating to campaign strategy.

Most troubling, Judge Walker has also ruled that the trial will investigate the Proposition 8 sponsors’ personal beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality. No doubt, the plaintiffs will aggressively exploit this opportunity to assert that the sponsors exhibited bigotry toward homosexuals, or that religious views motivated the adoption of Proposition 8. They’ll argue that prohibiting gay marriage is akin to racial discrimination.

To top it all off, Judge Walker has determined that this case will be the first in the Ninth Circuit to allow cameras in the courtroom, with the proceedings posted on YouTube. This will expose supporters of Proposition 8 who appear in the courtroom to the type of vandalism, harassment and bullying attacks already used by some of those who oppose the proposition.

Thankfully, some of Judge Walker’s rulings have been overturned. For example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the disclosure of internal communications among the core Proposition 8 organizers. But there is no question that virtually every ruling by Judge Walker so far has put advocates of traditional marriage at an increasing disadvantage.

Despite this, during the trial, the supporters of Proposition 8 will work hard to demonstrate that it was rational for voters to conclude that marriage is a unique institution that promotes the interests of child-rearing, and that those interests are broader than the personal special interests of the adults involved. And they’ll make the case that voters were very much within their rights, when casting their ballots, to consider their own moral and religious views about marriage — or any other subject.

It remains to be seen whether traditional marriage, and the rights of the voters who approved Proposition 8, will prevail in Judge Walker’s courtroom. Most likely, no matter how the judge rules, the Perry case is destined for appeals and a final decision in the United States Supreme Court. But it is during the present trial that the facts in the case will be determined, and it is there that the two sides should be able to present their cases on a level playing field.

Edwin Meese III, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, was attorney general of the United States during the Reagan administration.
25566  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Malaysia on: January 11, 2010, 07:29:11 AM
BANGKOK — An uproar among Muslims in Malaysia over the use of the word Allah by Christians spread over the weekend with the firebombing and vandalizing of several churches, increasing tensions at a time of political turbulence.

Arsonists struck three churches and a convent school early Sunday, and black paint was splashed on another church. This followed the firebombing of four churches on Friday and Saturday. No injuries were reported, and only one church, Metro Tabernacle in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, had extensive damage.

The attacks, unlike anything Malaysia has experienced before, have shaken the country, where many Muslims are angry over a Dec. 31 court ruling that overturned a government ban on the use of the word Allah to denote the Christian God.

Though that usage is common in many countries, where Arabic- and Malay-language Bibles describe Jesus as the “son of Allah,” many Muslims here insist that the word belongs exclusively to them and say that its use by other faiths could confuse Muslim worshipers.

That dispute, in turn, has been described by some observers as a sign of political maneuvering, as the governing party struggles to maintain its dominance after setbacks in national and state elections in March 2008.

Some political analysts and politicians accuse Prime Minister Najib Razak of raising racial and religious issues as he tries to solidify his Malay base. In a difficult balancing act, he must also woo ethnic Chinese and Indians whose opposition contributed to his party’s setback in 2008.

“The political contestation is a lot more intensified,” said Elizabeth Wong, a state official who is a member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, an opposition party. “In Malaysia the central theme will always be about the Malay identity and about Islam. The parties come up with various policies or means to attempt to appeal to the Muslim Malay voters.”

Mr. Najib condemned the violence, saying the government would “take whatever steps it can to prevent such acts.”

In an interview, the main opposition figure, Anwar Ibrahim, implied that the government was behind the current tensions. “This is the last hope — to incite racial and religious sentiments to cling to power,” he said. “Immediately since the disastrous defeat in the March 2008 election they have been fanning this.”

The government has appealed the court decision and has been granted a stay. The dispute has swelled into a nationwide confrontation, with small demonstrations at mosques and passionate outcries on the Internet.

The tensions are shaking a multiethnic, multiracial state that has tried to maintain harmony among its citizens: mostly Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population, and minority Chinese and Indians, who mostly practice Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

About 9 percent of Malaysia’s population of 28 million people are Christians, most of them Chinese or Indian. Analysts say this is the first outright confrontation between Muslims and Christians.

But race has become a staple of political discourse in recent years, and religion has been its vehicle, said Ooi Kee Beng, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“Religion has become a much more useful tool for parties who depend on playing on ethnic divisions,” Mr. Ooi said. “They find it difficult to talk about racial issues but possible to talk about religious issues. We are seeing the result of that political opportunism over the last two decades.”

The line between race and religion is blurred in a country where the Constitution equates Muslim and Malay identities, said Jacqueline Ann Surin, editor of The Nut Graph, an analytical Malaysian news site.

“Malaysia is peculiar in that we have race-based politics and over the past decade or so we have seen an escalation of this notion that Malay Malaysians are superior,” she said. “That has been most apparent from consistent attempts by the U.M.N.O. leadership to promote the notion of ‘ketuanan Melayu,’ or Malay supremacy or dominance.” The United Malays National Organization is the governing party.

“So it’s a logical progression that if the Malay is considered superior by the state to all others in Malaysia, then Islam will also be deemed superior to other religions,” she said.

In a widely quoted speech given Thursday, Razaleigh Hamzah, a former finance minister, said the governing party, founded on a formula of communal power sharing, “had ossified into what appeared to be an eternal racial contract, a model replicated at every level of national life.”

He called the 2008 election “a watershed in Malaysian politics” as the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost its dominating two-thirds majority in Parliament and lost five states to the opposition.

“The entire political landscape had changed overnight,” Mr. Hamzah said, and has left the formerly invincible Malay-based party seeking to redefine its electoral base and political rationale.

The political uncertainty comes against the backdrop of a flagging economy in a country that once had ambitions to lead the economies of Southeast Asia.

In a speech in December, the second-ranking finance official, Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah, said: “Our economy has been stagnating in the last decade. We have lost our competitive edge to remain as the leader of the pack in many sectors of the economy. Our private investment has been steadily in decline.”

He called for changes in an economic system that gives preferential treatment to Malays, saying that all Malaysians should be given “equal opportunity to participate in the economy.”

At the same time, the country has had a rise in political Islam, along with continuing ethnic and religious tensions.

Hindus have protested the destruction of some temples, and in November Muslims paraded a severed cow’s head in the streets of Shah Alam, capital of Selangor state, to protest the construction of a new one.

On New Year’s Day, the Islamic morality police arrested 52 unmarried couples in budget hotels — mainly students and young factory workers — who were expected to be charged with the offense of close proximity.

Last year, a Muslim woman was sentenced to a public caning for drinking beer in a hotel. The sentence has not yet been carried out, with the authorities saying that they have not found a woman trained to carry out a caning.

In this atmosphere, there is a danger that the furor over religious language will feed on itself, said Marina Mahathir, daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is a newspaper columnist and social activist.

“It’s only a few people who are inflamed about it, while the rest of the country is going on as if normal,” she said in an interview. “But if you keep stoking and if you keep giving these people leeway, sooner or later more and more people will think, ‘Oh, maybe we should be upset as well.’ ”
25567  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: January 11, 2010, 07:23:14 AM
Didn't say it would be easy  cheesy  Nor do I even say it is the right course of action.   Only that it should be considered.
25568  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington, 1793: discharge of the public debt. on: January 11, 2010, 07:20:00 AM
"No pecuniary consideration is more urgent, than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt: on none can delay be more injurious, or an economy of time more valuable." --George Washington, Message to the House of Representatives, 1793
25569  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Eliot Cohen on: January 10, 2010, 11:27:35 PM
By ELIOT A. COHEN
If the first year of President Barack Obama's foreign policy were a law firm in Charles Dickens's London, it would have a name like Bumble, Stumble and Skid.

It began with apologies to the Muslim world that went nowhere, a doomed attempt to beat Israel into line, utopian pleas to abolish nuclear weapons, unreciprocated concessions to Russia, and a curt note to the British to take back the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. It continued with principled offers of serious negotiation to an Iranian regime too busy torturing, raping and killing demonstrators, and building new underground nuclear facilities, to take them up. Subsequently Beijing smothered domestic coverage of a presidential visit but did give the world the spectacle of the American commander in chief getting a talking-to about fiscal responsibility from a Communist chieftain.

The lovely town of Copenhagen staged not one, but two humiliations: the first when the Olympic Committee delivered the bad news that the president's effort to play hometown booster had failed utterly, before he even landed back in the U.S.; the second when the Chinese once again poked the U.S. in the eye by sending minor officials to meet with Mr. Obama, as they, the Indians and Brazilians tried to shoulder him out of cozy meetings aimed at sabotaging his environmental policy. Even smitten foreign admirers—in the case of the Nobel Prize, some addled Norwegian notables—managed to make him look bad.

It was nonetheless a year of international displays of presidential ego, sometimes disguised as cosmic modesty ("I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war"), but mainly of one slip after another. The decision to reinforce our military in Afghanistan came after an excruciating dither that undermined the confidence of our allies. Mr. Obama's loose talk of withdrawal beginning in 18 months then undid much of the good in his decision to send troops.

Some of these follies stemmed from the inevitable glitches of a new administration settling in—the foreign-policy equivalent of the White House social secretary failing to keep party crashers out. Some of them resulted from sheer naivete, much from the puerile vendetta Mr. Obama waged against the previous administration's record, a bad rhetorical habit that fogged the brains of people who should know better. One hopes that his advisers, and the president himself, recognize the weight of the query reportedly posed last April by the most formidable contemporary leader of a free country, Nicolas Sarkozy: "Est-il faible?" (Is he weak?). If a year from now world leaders think the answer is "yes," the U.S. will be in deep trouble.

In at least one way, Mr. Obama resembles his predecessor: He has enormous self-confidence. But where George W. Bush's certainty stemmed from moral conviction, Mr. Obama's arises from a sense of intellectual superiority. Given the centrality of his intelligence to his own self-perception, how might he use it to redeem a record of, at the moment, fairly unrelieved failure?

Much of foreign policy consists of a rough and ready game of adaptation to unforeseen, occasionally awful events. Indeed, Mr. Obama has been fortunate that his first year in office did not witness a real foreign-policy crisis. We have yet to see how he will meet that test. But there are large questions that require some high intellectual effort that he might consider tackling.

The first is explaining to the American people, and indeed to the world, what kind of war we are waging against Islamist movements. Neither Mr. Obama nor the predecessor he still complains of have been able to get beyond the trope of "extremists who have perverted a great religion." J. K. Rowling has given her readers a more thorough understanding of Lord Voldemort than the West's leaders have given their populations of whom we fight, what really animates them, and what the challenges that lie ahead will be. In particular, Mr. Obama has not articulated an effective policy of dealing with enemies who are neither criminals nor soldiers. Instead, he has tried to walk down both sides of a street at once, trying some in courts and keeping others in Guantanamo (or, in the future, a Gitmo North in Illinois) for handling by military tribunals.

The second problem is Iraq, the war that the president opposed, but the success of which is a matter of cardinal importance. The U.S. must have a broad policy for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Such a policy should—must—work Iraq into a broader pattern of relationships. The emergence of a free Iraq offers great opportunities. A relatively stable, representative and secular Iraq would help counterbalance Iran, support moderate regimes such as Jordan, and fuel a world economy that, however climate conscious, will need oil. Simply to talk about "responsibly leaving Iraq to its people" is, in fact, irresponsible. Iraq will need care and attention to stay on its current fragile trajectory to success, but it is also an opportunity not to be neglected.

Part of un-Bushism as foreign policy has been a self-inflicted muteness by this most articulate of politicians on the topic of democracy, freedom and human rights. American foreign policy has always been a long and difficult dialogue between realpolitik and our values, our pursuit of our own interests, and our deliberate efforts to spread freedom abroad. Saying that the U.S. will "bear witness" to abuses and brutality around the world is, in effect, to say that we will send flowers to funerals. Mr. Obama needs to say something considerably more serious. In the case of Iran, for example, he could make it altogether unambiguous that we stand with those risking their lives to confront and, if fortune favors them, overthrow a dangerous, indeed evil regime.

Finally, all the globalist talk of this past year has obscured the importance of our alliances, which are evolving, but above all, need tending. New and rising allies—as different as the United Arab Emirates and Colombia—need to be identified and described as such. But more importantly, they, as well as old allies, need to hear from the U.S. president the importance we attribute to them and a conceptual description of how they fit into our policy.

It's a large agenda, but then, Mr. Obama likes to give speeches. And it still leaves plenty—articulating the need for and meaning of American primacy, for example—for 2011.

Mr. Cohen was counselor of the Department of State from 2007 to 2009. He teaches at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
25570  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / George Will: Golden No Longer on: January 10, 2010, 11:09:21 PM
http://townhall.com/columnists/GeorgeWill/2010/01/10/golden_no_longer
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Golden No Longer
by George Will


WASHINGTON -- Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) was a hero to the American left, partly because of his 1939 anti-war novel "Johnny Got His Gun." Trumbo's title modified the lyric "Johnny get your gun" from the World War I song "Over There." Trumbo's "Johnny" is horribly maimed in that war. Now we need a novel titled "Berkeley Got Its Liberalism." Pending that, we have Tad Friend's report, in the Jan. 4 New Yorker, on maimed Berkeley.

California, a laboratory of liberalism, is spiraling downward, driven by a huge budget deficit. So the University of California system's budget was cut 20 percent. Then the system increased in-state student fees 32 percent to ... $10,302. But that is still 70 percent below student costs at Stanford and other private institutions in California that Berkeley considers no better than it is.

Last September, Friend reports, 5,000 Berkeley employees and students rallied in Sproul Plaza, scene of protests that ignited the 1960s and helped make Ronald Reagan governor. Some protesters, says Friend, were "naked except for signs that read 'BUDGET TRANSPARENCY.'" At an indoor meeting, a "student facilitator" used a projection screen to summarize proposals, which included: "rolling strikes"; "nationalize all universities"; "socialist revolution"; "a tent city in Sacramento"; "create a shadow Board of Regents"; "occupy Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Oakland"; "worker-student control of the university"; "strike in March"; "act now, f--- March"; "capitalism is bad." Toward the end of the seven-hour meeting, participants shouted "General strike! General strike!"

In its impact on the institution, and on students trying to grip the lower rungs of the ladder of social mobility, the UC system's crisis is sad. This academic year, only one-sixth of the normal number of new faculty have been hired at Berkeley. The Cal State system -- a cut below the UC campuses -- will enroll 40,000 fewer students this year than last. But because the professoriate is overwhelmingly liberal, there is rough justice in its having to live with liberalism's consequences, which include this:

Kevin Starr, author of an eight-volume -- so far -- history of the (formerly) Golden State, says California is "on the verge" of becoming something without an American precedent -- "a failed state." William Voegeli, writing in the Claremont Review of Books, tartly says that "Rome wasn't sacked in a day, and California didn't become Argentina overnight." Indeed.

It took years for liberalism's redistributive itch to create an income tax so steeply progressive that it prompts the flight from the state of wealth-creators: "Between 1990 and 2007," Voegeli writes, "some 3.4 million more Americans moved from California to one of the other 49 states than moved to California from another state."

And the state's income tax -- liberalism codified -- intensifies the effects of business cycles on the state's revenue stream: During booms, the stream surges and stimulates government spending; during contractions, revenues dwindle but the new government spending continues. Voegeli says that if California's spending had grown no faster than population growth and inflation from 1992 to 2006, it would have been $65 billion less in 2006, and per capita government outlays then would have equaled not those of Somalia or Mississippi but of Oregon, which is hardly "a hellish paradigm of Social Darwinism."

It took years for liberalism's mania for micromanaging life with entangling regulations to make California's once creative economy resemble Gulliver immobilized by the Lilliputians' many threads. The state, which between 1990 and 2007 lost 26 percent of its factory jobs and 35 percent of its high-tech manufacturing jobs, ranks behind only New York, another of liberalism's laboratories, in the number of outward-bound moving vans.

It took years for compassionate liberalism to make California's welfare menu contribute to the state becoming an importer of Mexico's poverty. It took years for servile liberalism to turn the state into what Voegeli calls a "unionocracy," run by and for unionized public employees, such as public safety employees who can retire at 50 and receive 90 percent of the final year's pay for life.

Friend reports that when the seven-hour meeting ended, the protest moved to the UC president's house. Two buses carried "some hundred Berkeley students and members of AFSCME." Perfect.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is one reason why California's government employees -- their numbers grew 24 percent between 1997 and 2007 -- are the nation's most highly compensated. And why California's economy is being suffocated by the weight of government. And why the state's budget has little left over for Berkeley.
25571  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: earthquake 09/01/2010 on: January 10, 2010, 09:51:32 PM
Some twelve years ago Cindy and I were in a really big one (7.6?) in Huatulco Mexico at a Club Med during dinner.  The dinner hall had some 200 people in it-- who promptly stampeded under a huge plate glass window.  When the dust cleared, the only people left in the dining room were Cindy and me and three people at a nearby table.

We were all from Los Angeles. cheesy
25572  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed on: January 10, 2010, 08:00:11 PM
I think what Glenn Beck is doing communicating with black Americans is quite interesting and potentially quite powerful.

It starts in the opening seconds of the show, wherein MLK is shown as a Founding Father to be mentioned as an equal of Washington and Jefferson. (Coincidentally enough something that I have been doing for a couple of years now in the Founding Fathers thread on our SCH forum)  It continues there with the iconic civil rights era foto of a civil rights protester carrying a sign "I AM somebody."  And the point is driven home in a variety of ways during the show.  Nothing forced, nothing phony, nothing condescending.  

PS:  I think the fact that white American voted for BO had a very powerful effect on black America's perception of white America that has the potential for a deep paradigm shift.
25573  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: January 10, 2010, 07:54:38 PM
"Well worth the reading"

NOW I know you've read it  smiley
25574  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chart: More govt workers than mfg on: January 10, 2010, 07:51:08 PM


http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-goods-producing-wrokers-vs-government-payroll-2010-1
25575  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: earthquake 09/01/2010 on: January 10, 2010, 01:32:38 AM
Huh?

Not that I noticed  cheesy
25576  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China on: January 09, 2010, 09:58:48 PM


For those of you who haven't seen this yet:

http://www.zimbio.com/Barack+Obama/articles/fthL9FEqPPn/SNL+Obama+Skit+Shows+Economic+Crisis+China
25577  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela on: January 09, 2010, 09:14:10 PM
A WSJ NEWS ROUNDUP
CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez said he ordered two F-16 jets to intercept a U.S. military plane that twice violated Venezuelan airspace on Friday in what he called the latest provocation in the South American nation's skies.

Brandishing a photo of the plane, which he described as a P-3, Mr. Chávez said the overflight was the latest incursion in Venezuelan skies by the U.S. military from its bases on the Netherlands' Caribbean islands and from neighboring Colombia.

There was no immediate response from the U.S. Defense Department or the White House.

Mr. Chávez said the F-16s escorted the U.S. plane away after two incursions lasting 15 and 19 minutes each.

The perceived threat of U.S. intervention has become a central element of Mr. Chávez's political discourse and a rallying cry for his supporters.

Foes say the president is hyping the idea of a foreign threat to distract Venezuelans from domestic problems such as a recession and inadequate public services. Mr. Chávez surprised the diplomatic world in December when he accused the Netherlands of abetting potential offensive action against his government by granting U.S. troops access to its islands close to Venezuela.

The Dutch government says the U.S. presence is only for counternarcotics and surveillance operations over Caribbean smuggling routes.
25578  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: January 09, 2010, 09:13:09 PM
GM:

That Jihad Watch piece is interesting, but it would carry more a lot more weight if it were more identifiable.
25579  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: January 09, 2010, 07:03:05 PM
"Islamo-fascist is accurate, if a bit redundant."

I understand the point, but what then are we to make of the actions of the father of Crispy Weiner Christmas bomber?
25580  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Walk away from your mortgage? on: January 09, 2010, 06:53:43 PM
January 10, 2010
THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Walk Away From Your Mortgage!
By ROGER LOWENSTEIN

Source: First American CoreLogic, November 2009

John Courson, president and C.E.O. of the Mortgage Bankers Association, recently told The Wall Street Journal that homeowners who default on their mortgages should think about the “message” they will send to “their family and their kids and their friends.” Courson was implying that homeowners — record numbers of whom continue to default — have a responsibility to make good. He wasn’t referring to the people who have no choice, who can’t afford their payments. He was speaking about the rising number of folks who arevoluntarily choosing not to pay.

Such voluntary defaults are a new phenomenon. Time was, Americans would do anything to pay their mortgage — forgo a new car or a vacation, even put a younger family member to work. But the housing collapse left 10.7 million families owing more than their homes are worth. So some of them are making a calculated decision to hang onto their money and let their homes go. Is this irresponsible?

Businesses — in particular Wall Street banks — make such calculations routinely. Morgan Stanley recently decided to stop making payments on five San Francisco office buildings. A Morgan Stanley fund purchased the buildings at the height of the boom, and their value has plunged. Nobody has said Morgan Stanley is immoral — perhaps because no one assumed it was moral to begin with. But the average American, as if sprung from some Franklinesque mythology, is supposed to honor his debts, or so says the mortgage industry as well as government officials. Former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. declared that “any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator — and one who is not honoring his obligation.” (Paulson presumably was not so censorious of speculation during his 32-year career at Goldman Sachs.)

The moral suasion has continued under President Obama, who has urged that homeowners follow the “responsible” course. Indeed, HUD-approved housing counselors are supposed to counsel people against foreclosure. In many cases, this means counseling people to throw away money. Brent White, a University of Arizona law professor, notes that a family who bought a three-bedroom home in Salinas, Calif., at the market top in 2006, with no down payment (then a common-enough occurrence), could theoretically have to wait 60 years to recover their equity. On the other hand, if they walked, they could rent a similar house for a pittance of their monthly mortgage.

There are two reasons why so-called strategic defaults have been considered antisocial and perhaps amoral. One is that foreclosures depress the neighborhood and drive down prices. But in a market society, since when are people responsible for the economic effects of their actions? Every oil speculator helps to drive up gasoline prices. Every hedge fund that speculated against a bank by purchasing credit-default swaps on its bonds signaled skepticism about the bank’s creditworthiness and helped to make it more costly for the bank to borrow, and thus to issue loans. We are all economic pinballs, insensibly colliding for better or worse.

The other reason is that default (supposedly) debases the character of the borrower. Once, perhaps, when bankers held onto mortgages for 30 years, they occupied a moral high ground. These days, lenders typically unload mortgages within days (or minutes). And not just in mortgage finance, but in virtually every realm of our transaction-obsessed society, the message is that enduring relationships count for less than the value put on assets for sale.

Think of private-equity firms that close a factory — essentially deciding that the company is worth more dead than alive. Or the New York Yankees and their World Series M.V.P. Hideki Matsui, who parted company as soon as the cheering stopped. Or money-losing hedge-fund managers: rather than try to earn back their investors’ lost capital, they start new funds so they can rake in fresh incentives. Sam Zell, a billionaire, let the Tribune Company, which he had previously acquired, file for bankruptcy. Indeed, the owners of any company that defaults on bonds and chooses to let the company fail rather than invest more capital in it are practicing “strategic default.” Banks signal their complicity with this ethos when they send new credit cards to people who failed to stay current on old ones.

Mortgage holders do sign a promissory note, which is a promise to pay. But the contract explicitly details the penalty for nonpayment — surrender of the property. The borrower isn’t escaping the consequences; he is suffering them.

In some states, lenders also have recourse to the borrowers’ unmortgaged assets, like their car and savings accounts. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond found that defaults are lower in such states, apparently because lenders threaten the borrowers with judgments against their assets. But actual lawsuits are rare.

And given that nearly a quarter of mortgages are underwater, and that 10 percent of mortgages are delinquent, White, of the University of Arizona, is surprised that more people haven’t walked. He thinks the desire to avoid shame is a factor, as are overblown fears of harm to credit ratings. Probably, homeowners also labor under a delusion that their homes will quickly return to value. White has argued that the government should stop perpetuating default “scare stories” and, indeed, should encourage borrowers to default when it’s in their economic interest. This would correct a prevailing imbalance: homeowners operate under a “powerful moral constraint” while lenders are busily trying to maximize profits. More important, it might get the system unstuck. If lenders feared an avalanche of strategic defaults, they would have an incentive to renegotiate loan terms. In theory, this could produce a wave of loan modifications — the very goal the Treasury has been pursuing to end the crisis.

No one says defaulting on a contract is pretty or that, in a perfectly functioning society, defaults would be the rule. But to put the onus for restraint on ordinary homeowners seems rather strange. If the Mortgage Bankers Association is against defaults, its members, presumably the experts in such matters, might take better care not to lend people more than their homes are worth.

Roger Lowenstein, an outside director of the Sequoia Fund, is a contributing writer for the magazine. His book “The End of Wall Street” is coming out in April.

25581  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Way Forward for the American Creed on: January 09, 2010, 12:34:03 PM
The reason I posted his piece is because it addresses the Republican Party.

Do YOU think the Republican Party stands for Free Minds and Free Markets?

Do you think the Reps are going to fare well with the already built into the pipeline demographics of the American people?  And what happens if/when amnesty and immigration deform are voted in?  shocked

Do you think the Reps are going to fare well with a population educated by the DOEducation, public schools, our Universities, and People magazine?

Do you think the Reps are going to fare well when most voters don't pay taxes?
25582  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: January 09, 2010, 12:28:25 PM
I can think of much better ways, but in case the enemy lurks here I will not articulate them smiley

By the way, may I suggest that we name the enemy?  My preferred term for the enemy is "Islamo Fascists", others like "Jihadis", etc.  But what I suggest is an error is to have a war on a technique (GWOT, GWon-made-disasters, etc.) instead of naming the enemy.

This error is due to PC excrement and leads to PC errors like the responses to the Fort Hood jihadi or the Crispy Weiner Christmas bomber.
25583  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: January 09, 2010, 12:07:07 PM
Actually its a good question.

With the ending of that pre 911 Tom Clancy novel which ended with a jihadi flying an airliner into the Congress during the State of the Union speech, (thus getting the Prez, the Supremes, AND Congress) in mind, I am certainly not going to enter into specifics here, but I could come up with quite a few easier and far more effective things to do-- and I am sure that most of us here could do the same.

So why is the enemy so tunnel visioned on ineffective methodology?
25584  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: GOP Grief and Grieving on: January 09, 2010, 10:46:38 AM


G.O.P. Grief and Grieving
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: January 8, 2010

The attack on the Republican establishment by the tea party folks grabs the gaze like a really bad horror flick — some version of “Hee Haw” meets “28 Days Later.” It’s fascinating. But it also raises a serious question: Are these the desperate thrashings of a dying movement or the labor pains of a new one?

My money is on the former. Anyone who says that this is the dawn of a new age of conservatism is engaging in wishful thinking on a delusional scale.

There is no doubt that the number of people who say that they are conservative has inched up. According to a report from Gallup on Thursday, conservatives finished 2009 as the No. 1 ideological group. But ideological identification is no predictor of electoral outcomes. According to polls by The New York Times, conservative identification was slightly higher on the verge of Bill Clinton’s first-term election and Barack Obama’s election than it was on the verge of George W. Bush’s first-term election.

It is likely that Republicans will pick up Congressional seats in November partly because of the enthusiasm of this conservative fringe, democratic apathy and historical trends. But make no mistake: This is not 1994.

This is a limited, emotional reaction. It’s a response to the trauma that is the Great Recession, the uncertainty and creeping suspicion about the risks being taken in Washington, a visceral reaction to Obama and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and loss.

Simply put, it’s about fear-fueled anger. But anger is not an idea. It’s not a plan. And it’s not a vision for the future. It is, however, the second stage of grief, right after denial and before bargaining.

The right is on the wrong side of history. The demographics of the country are rapidly changing, young people are becoming increasingly liberal on social issues, and rigid, dogmatic religious stricture is loosening its grip on the throat of our culture.

The right has seen the enemy, and he is the future.

According to a Gallup report issued this week, Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats and a third more likely as independents to have a pessimistic outlook for the country over the next 20 years. That might be the fourth stage of grief: depression.

So what’s their battle plan to fight back from the precipice of irrelevance? Moderation? A stab at modernity? A slate of innovative ideas? No, their plan is to purge the party’s moderates and march farther down the road to oblivion.

Erick Erickson, the incendiary editor of the popular conservative blog RedState, appeared on “The Colbert Report” on Monday and said that “no one really knows what a Republican is anymore.”

Split hairs about labels if you must, but the Republican brand already has begun a slow slide into obscurity. And turning further right only hastens its demise. Quiet as it’s kept, many in the party know this. That, alas, is called acceptance.
25585  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Reality 1, Obama 0 on: January 09, 2010, 10:22:08 AM
By JAMES TARANTO
Two weeks from today is the deadline for emptying the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a cutoff that the newly inaugurated President Obama established as one of his first acts in office. No one anymore expects his administration to meet the deadline, and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports that there is increasing doubt as to whether it will carry out the promise at all. "I'm beginning to think that Guantánamo is not ever going to be closed," a Bush administration lawyer and Guantanamo foe, tells Isikoff: "I would bet some money that it's not going to get closed in the Obama presidency":

"To some extent, I think the administration has blown it," adds Marc Falkoff, a lawyer who represents some of the Yemeni detainees at Gitmo. "It has delayed, and they've gotten themselves into a reactive state and you can't get anything done when you're reacting to political winds. . . . It looks like Guantánamo will be around for the foreseeable future."
Obama's promise has run up against reality in several different ways. The revelation that former detainees now based in Yemen were involved in planning the Christmas attack in Detroit prompted the administration to announce a halt to repatriation of Yemenis. (In fairness, we hasten to note that the ex-detainees who rejoined the fight were released while George W. Bush was president.) It turns out there really are terrorists at Guantanamo--who knew?

Well, Democrats in Congress knew (though who knew they knew?). Isikoff reports that the administration cannot legally carry out its plan to move detainees to Illinois's Thomson Correctional Center:

The administration is already blocked from moving any Guantánamo detainees to the U.S. for purposes other than putting them on trial. That's the result of a rider to a congressional appropriations bill that passed overwhelmingly last spring and which expires Sept. 30.
In order to move the Yemenis and other Gitmo detainees to Thomson, the administration needs to persuade the Congress to lift the rider--in an election year, no less--a much more difficult task when the proposal is to move more than 100 detainees to the U.S. rather than 20 or 30.
Opposition to Obama's terrorist-importation plan is bipartisan, notes Isikoff: "If Republicans make big gains in the fall elections, as many analysts now predict, the odds of lifting the anti-Gitmo rider would become even steeper."

But here's the kicker. It turns out the detainees themselves prefer to stay put:

Many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo.
Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a "supermax" security prison under near-lockdown conditions.
To the limited extent that the Geneva Conventions have been held to protect unlawful enemy combatants, the detainees would enjoy that protection at Thomson too. They would also have additional rights under U.S. law, since they would be under the jurisdiction of the local U.S. district court rather than the special federal jurisdiction created by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. As a practical matter, though, their lives are cushier at Guantanamo than they would be at Thomson, in part because the risk of escape from a military facility in the middle of nowhere is considerably less than from a prison in the American heartland.

Podcast
James Taranto on Obama and Guantanamo.
.Is there any argument left for closing Guantanamo? Claims of detainee abuse were mostly bunk to begin with (remember when Isikoff's magazine claimed falsely that an interrogator had flushed a Koran down a toilet?), and any irregularities have long since been remedied. The president is reduced to making the frivolous claim that the existence of Guantanamo is dangerous because it is somehow useful to al Qaeda's recruiting efforts.

Ultimately, the case against Guantanamo can be reduced to an ad hominem attack. Obama and his supporters loathe it because it is a symbol of the hated George W. Bush. For the president of the United States, it is past time to move on from petty grievances and deal in a serious and forthright way with the demands of American national security.
25586  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Drone Wars on: January 09, 2010, 10:14:33 AM
The Obama Administration has with good reason taken flak for its approach to terrorism since the Christmas Day near-bombing over Detroit. So permit us to laud an antiterror success in the Commander in Chief's first year in office.

Though you won't hear him brag about it, President Obama has embraced and ramped up the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. As tactic and as a technology, drones are one of the main U.S. advantages that have emerged from this long war. (IEDs are one of the enemy's.) Yet their use isn't without controversy, and it took nerve for the White House to approve some 50 strikes last year, exceeding the total in the last three years of the Bush Administration.

From Pakistan to Yemen, Islamic terrorists now fear the Predator and its cousin, the better-armed Reaper. So do critics on the left in the academy, media and United Nations; they're calling drones an unaccountable tool of "targeted assassination" that inflames anti-American passions and kills civilians. At some point, the President may have to defend the drone campaign on military and legal grounds.

The case is easy. Not even the critics deny its success against terrorists. Able to go where American soldiers can't, the Predator and Reaper have since 9/11 killed more than half of the 20 most wanted al Qaeda suspects, the Uzbek, Yemeni and Pakistani heads of allied groups and hundreds of militants. Most of those hits were in the last four years.

"Very frankly, it's the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership," CIA Director Leon Panetta noted last May. The agency's own troubles with gathering human intelligence were exposed by last week's deadly bombing attack on the CIA station near Khost, Afghanistan.

Critics such as counterinsurgency writers David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum allege that drones have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. The U.N. Human Rights Council's investigator on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, has warned the Administration that the attacks could fall afoul of "international humanitarian law principles."

Civilian casualties are hard to verify, since independent observers often can't access the bombing sites, and estimates vary widely. But Pakistani government as well as independent studies have shown the Taliban claims are wild exaggerations. The civilian toll is relatively low, especially if compared with previous conflicts.

Never before in the history of air warfare have we been able to distinguish as well between combatants and civilians as we can with drones. Even if al Qaeda doesn't issue uniforms, the remote pilots can carefully identify targets, and then use Hellfire missiles that cause far less damage than older bombs or missiles. Smarter weapons like the Predator make for a more moral campaign.

As for Mr. Alston's concerns, the legal case for drones is instructive. President Bush approved their use under his Constitutional authority as Commander in Chief, buttressed by Congress's Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al Qaeda and its affiliates after 9/11. Gerald Ford's executive order that forbids American intelligence from assassinating anyone doesn't apply to enemies in wartime.

International law also allows states to kill their enemies in a conflict, and to operate in "neutral" countries if the hosts allow bombing on their territory. Pakistan and Yemen have both given their permission to the U.S., albeit quietly. Even if they hadn't, the U.S. would be justified in attacking enemy sanctuaries there as a matter of self-defense.

Who gets on the drone approved "kill lists" is decided by a complex interagency process involving the CIA, Pentagon and White House. We hear the U.S. could have taken out the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki after his contacts with Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hassan came to light in November, missing the chance by not authorizing the strike. Perhaps al-Awlaki's U.S. citizenship gave U.S. officials pause, but after he joined the jihad he became an enemy and his passport irrelevant.

Tellingly, after the attempted bombing over Detroit, the Administration rushed to leak that Yemenis, with unspecified American help, might have killed al-Awlaki in mid-December in a strike on al Qaeda forces. Al-Awlaki, who also was also in contact with the Nigerian bomber on Northwest Flight 253, may have survived.

While this aggressive aerial bombing is commendable against a dangerous enemy, it also reveals the paradox of President Obama's antiterror strategy. On the one hand, he's willing to kill terrorists in the field, but he's unwilling to hold these same terrorists under the rules of war at Guantanamo if we capture them in the field. We can kill them as war fighters, but if they're captured they become common criminals.

Our own view is that either "we are at war," as Mr. Obama said on Thursday, or we're not.
25587  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Treatment of Christians in Muslim lands on: January 09, 2010, 10:08:42 AM
In Egypt, seven Coptic Christians were murdered yesterday by a Muslim gunman as they filed out of a midnight mass in the southern town of Nag Hamadi. In Pakistan, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked by a Muslim mob last July in the village of Bahmaniwala. In Iraq that same month, seven Christian churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul in the space of three days.

Such atrocities—and there are scores of other examples—are grim reminders that when it comes to persecution, few groups have suffered as grievously as Christians in Muslim lands. Fewer still have suffered with such little attention paid. Now a new report from the non-profit ministry, Open Doors USA, shines a light on the scale of oppression.

In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors ranks eight Muslim countries among the 10 worst persecutors of Christians. The other two, North Korea (which tops the list) and Laos, are communist states. Of the 50 countries on the list, 35 are majority Muslim.

Take Iran, which this year ranks as the world's second-worst persecutor of Christians. Open Doors reports that in 2009 the Islamic Republic arrested 85 Christians, many of whom were also mistreated in prison. In 2008, some 50 Christians were arrested and one Christian couple was beaten to death by security officials. At least part of the reason for the mistreatment appears to be the result of Muslim conversions to Christianity: Apostasy carries a mandatory death sentence in Iran.

In Saudi Arabia (No. 3), all non-Muslim public worship is forbidden. The state forbids the building of any type of non-Muslim house of worship, and Christian expatriates in the kingdom must practice their faith in private. The same goes in the Maldives, where the report notes that all citizens must be Muslim; "the handful of indigenous Christians are forced to believe in complete secrecy." Similarly in Mauritania, conversion to Christianity or any other religions is formally punishable by death.

Little wonder, then, that once-thriving Christian communities in the Muslim world have now largely voted with their feet by fleeing to safer havens, often in Europe or the United States. That's true even in religiously important communities such as Bethlehem, where the Christian majority has largely fled since the arrival in the 1990s of Yasser Arafat's repressive government and the ascendancy of Islamist groups such as Hamas. By contrast, Christians practice their religion freely and openly in Israel, just a few miles distant.

It might seem natural that at least some attention would be paid in the West to the plight of these Christians. Instead, attention seems endlessly focused on "Islamophobia," not least at the U.N.'s misnamed Human Rights Council. In November, much of Europe went berserk over the Swiss referendum to ban the construction of minarets (though not of mosques). But the West's tolerance for its large Muslim populations stands in sharp contrast to the Muslim world's bigotry and persecution of its own religious minorities. That's a fact that ought to be borne in mind the next time Westerners berate themselves about their own supposed "intolerance."
25588  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / wsj on: January 09, 2010, 09:45:38 AM
By SUZANNE SATALINE, ALEX P. KELLOGG and CHAD BRAY
NEW YORK -- Law-enforcement officials on Friday announced the arrest of two men linked to a suspect charged in September with planning what authorities have called the most serious home-grown terror plot since Sept. 11, 2001.

That alleged plot centered on Najibullah Zazi, an airport-shuttle driver from Aurora, Colo., who was indicted for planning to make bombs from hair products and household cleaners for attacks in the U.S.

Two men who traveled to Pakistan with Najibullah Zazi were arrested early Friday morning in New York. Video courtesy of Fox News.

Separately, the alleged Christmas bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, pleaded not guilty Friday in federal court in Detroit to charges that he attempted to detonate a bomb and murder 279 passengers and 11 crew members on board a Detroit-bound Northwest flight on Christmas. Outside the courtroom, scores of Muslim Americans held up anti-terrorism posters and waved American flags, while a handful of Nigerian-born Americans carried signs with slogans such as "Nigerians Are Against Terrorism."

The two men arrested Thursday, Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin, both of New York City, had ties to Mr. Zazi, the shuttle-bus driver. One of the men hasn't been issued terrorism charges; charges on the other man haven't been released, and a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on what, if anything, he may be charged with.

Mr. Ahmedzay, a 24-year-old cab driver, was charged Friday by a federal grand jury with making false statements to federal authorities. The charging document said Mr. Ahmedzay failed to tell FBI agents every location he visited in Pakistan and Afghanistan during a trip that "occurred on or about and between August 28, 2008, and January 22, 2009."

The indictment also said he lied about his discussions with a person who had attended a military-style training camp in Pakistan during that time period.

Mr. Ahmedzay pleaded not guilty and was held without bail. As of Friday evening, Mr. Medunjanin was still in custody but had not been charged. His lawyer, Robert C. Gottlieb, said he expected his client to be arraigned today.


Mr. Medunjanin, 25 years old, is a part-time building superintendent, said Mr. Gottlieb, who also said he did not know where his client was being held, nor why. "The events are despicable...to deny him access to his lawyer,'' Mr. Gottlieb said.

"If they did question him, it would be an illegal interrogation," he said, adding that his client had been unaware he was under surveillance.

According to an FBI spokesman, the arrests are part of "an ongoing investigation" by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department.

Authorities believe Mr. Medunjanin and Mr. Ahmedzay accompanied Mr. Zazi on a 2008 trip to Pakistan, where the latter allegedly attended an al Qaeda training camp according to a law-enforcement official. FBI affidavits filed in Mr. Zazi's case said that he told FBI agents in interviews that he attended courses and received instruction on weapons and explosives at an al Qaeda training facility in Pakistan. Mr. Zazi has denied his involvement.

The two men arrested Thursday had been under surveillance since Mr. Zazi's arrest as part of the ongoing investigation.

Rick Nelson, director of the Homeland Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said homegrown terror cells are a major concern. "A U.S. resident or someone with a passport to get into the U.S. is the crown jewel for these terrorist organizations," he said. "This is a very real problem, something Europe has been dealing with a longer period of time than we have."

Initially, authorities went to Mr. Medunjanin's Queens apartment with a search warrant for his passport, the official said. Mr. Medunjanin surrendered the passport without incident.

Mr. Medunjanin left his apartment and began driving erratically on the Whitestone Expressway in Queens, N.Y., crashing into another car and fleeing the scene on foot, the official said. New York City police took him into custody for leaving the scene of an accident. He was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital. Mr. Ahmedzay was picked up Thursday by law enforcement while he was driving a cab in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan.

Mr. Medunjanin's apartment was one of several that agents had searched in September around the time of Mr. Zazi's arrest, the lawyer said. At that time, they took some computers and unspecified literature, all of which were later returned, Mr. Gottlieb said. "There was nothing involving bombs or terror plots on the computer," the lawyer said. Mr. Medunjanin agreed at that time to be interviewed by the agents for several hours over two days, the attorney said. Mr. Gottlieb would not reveal what his client was asked.

Mr. Medunjanin, whose parents are from Bosnia, is a Muslim who attends a mosque, Mr. Gottlieb said. His client knows Mr. Zazi from the neighborhood, he added. He believed that both had attended the same local high school, although Mr. Gottlieb would not comment as to whether his client knows Mr. Zazi in any other capacity. Mr. Medunjanin received a bachelor of arts in economics in 2009 from Queens College, part of The City University of New York.

—Gary Fields contributed to this article.
Write to Suzanne Sataline at suzanne.sataline@wsj.com, Alex P. Kellogg at alex.kellogg@wsj.com and Chad Bray at chad.bray@dowjones.com
25589  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: January 09, 2010, 09:20:47 AM
Did you read the article, and if so, what did you think of its analysis?
25590  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH on: January 09, 2010, 09:19:33 AM

Across Divide in Iraq, a Sunni Courts Shiites
By ANTHONY SHADID
Published: January 8, 2010
RAMADI, Iraq — In the unforgiving badlands of western Iraq’s Anbar Province, once a cradle of the insurgency and now a muddled landscape of corruption, simmering strife and spirited electoral campaigning, no one seems ready to pardon Hamid al-Hais.

“I always take the path that poses the most obstacles. I always go where no one else dares to go,” said Sheik Hamid al-Hais.
Mr. Hais is a sheik, a title that conveys his tribal pedigree. But that title is too facile in describing one of the more complicated figures in Iraq today. He is also a veteran of the American-backed war against insurgents, a Sunni Muslim politician, and now, in his most recent incarnation, an unlikely confederate of the Iraqi National Alliance, the Shiite Muslim standard-bearer in elections in March for a new Parliament.

A bid for national unity, Mr. Hais calls his foray across Iraq’s entrenched sectarian divide. Many of his neighbors do not see it that way. A traitor to his sect, a stooge of neighboring Iran’s Shiite government, and a rank opportunist, they say.

In his bid for office, Mr. Hais is a bit player in the larger drama of Iraq’s March 7 elections, which United States officials hope will help bridge divisions in the country as the military withdraws its combat troops by August. But in Mr. Hais’s quixotic trek, there is a warning that the elections may just as easily deepen the cleavages — tribal, ethnic and sectarian — that still threaten Iraq’s stability nearly seven years after the American-led invasion.

NOWHERE is that warning more stark than in Anbar, once a showcase of American success in quelling the insurgency. It is now an increasingly unsettled terrain beset by suicide attacks, bombings and assassinations that prompted a Sunni leader to declare that working as a politician here qualifies as the most dangerous job in Iraq.

“I always take the path that poses the most obstacles,” Mr. Hais said, scoffing at the risk, as he took the wheel of his white sport utility vehicle and careened through back roads of countryside he considers his. “I always go where no one else dares to go.”

He quoted a song by Um Kalthoum, the Egyptian diva. “A confident man walks like a king,” he declared.

With hands like a spatula, and girth that rivals his height, Mr. Hais struck an imposing figure as he campaigned along the irrigated farms and groves of date palms outside the provincial capital of Ramadi, populated by families that belong to his tribe of Albu Diyab. Tribal loyalties still run deep in Anbar, and Mr. Hais suggested that they would trump any misgivings his constituency might have over his alliance with Shiite parties that many Sunnis blame for some of the worst sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007.

“I can’t say all of them, but my feeling?” he asked. “They’ll follow me.”

Mr. Hais, 42, still evokes his youthful days as a ne’er-do-well.

In his car, he played loudly a frenetic strain of Arabic pop and, in jest, swerved toward a neighbor riding a bicycle. (The neighbor frowned.) On the trail, he walked with the swagger that a 9-millimeter Beretta in his leather holster brings. Most of his sentences seemed to end in an exclamation point.

“Listen to me!” the married Mr. Hais barked into the phone at his girlfriend.

He hung up, shaking his head. “She’s driving me crazy,” he said.

But beneath the bluster is a compelling argument for an Iraqi identity that transcends sect and allows a man like Mr. Hais, a sheik from Iraq’s most ardently Sunni region, to join hands with parties led by some of the most dogmatic Shiite clergy.

“We’re actually working against sectarianism on the ground, not just through the beautiful words of our speeches,” he said. “The interests of our country require it.”

So far, his words and actions have prompted more outrage than reconsideration. Many in Anbar remain angry about a weeklong trip that Mr. Hais took in June to Iran, a country many Sunnis believe dominates the current government and poses a greater threat to Iraq’s interests than the United States. Since then, some neighbors have taken to calling Mr. Hais’s villa, along the Euphrates, “the Iranian house” or “Khomeini’s house.”

“Absolutely, he’s carrying out an Iranian agenda — without a doubt,” said Dhari al-Hadi, an adviser to Anbar’s governor and deputy of Ahmed Abu Risha, a leading tribal figure in the province. “You wouldn’t find anyone in Anbar who would dare go to Iran.”

MR. HAIS’S Shiite allies at times seem baffled by him, in an Iraqi version of culture shock. They respect his credentials in leading the fight against insurgents and feel confident he can win over enough of his tribe to capture a seat or two. But they are often taken aback by his freewheeling comments in the alliance’s meetings. At various times, he has promised to open bars in Ramadi, stop veiled women from entering Anbar University, break the legs of rival candidates and pursue Baathists in nightclubs in Syria.

“Crazy,” a Shiite colleague said on condition of anonymity, fearful of provoking him. “Then again, if you call someone crazy in Anbar, they consider it a compliment.”

For his part, Mr. Hais finds his new colleagues too reticent.

“They’re always calculating before they say a single word,” he complained.

Lately, though, Mr. Hais seems just as bewildered by his fellow Sunnis.

On a crisp winter day this week, he made his way to the Nineveh Elementary School for Girls in a hardscrabble neighborhood of Ramadi. Teachers there unleashed a torrent of complaints: trash-strewn streets, a lack of money for schools, and drinking water that mixed with sewage and, at times, blood running off from butcher shops.

Mr. Hais listened, slipped the principal an envelope with $1,000, then urged the teachers to organize demonstrations. “It’s up to you to change the reality,” he insisted.

Before long, a former army officer spoke up. “I want to speak frankly,” he said. “We hoped you wouldn’t abandon your province and join the alliance.” Others nodded. “We don’t want Shiites coming into Ramadi,” a woman shouted. “We don’t want Shiite places of worship here.”

More criticism ensued. “We need someone like Saddam Hussein,” a woman cried.

“Someone who will get you into a war and make you all widows?” Mr. Hais asked, with a grimace that suggested he might want his money back.

“At least we’re fighting Iranians and defending our country,” she answered.

An hour later, the meeting ended uneasily. “They’re worn out,” Mr. Hais said, in explanation. But the anger seemed to run deeper, be more intractable.

“He’s a son of Ramadi,” one of the teachers said. “We respect him in that way.”

“But,” she added, “he’s made a mistake.”
25591  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A summer in Yemen on: January 09, 2010, 09:05:29 AM
The air is thick and hazy as I tiptoe over the leaves of euphoria-inducing qat, through hoops of golden embroidered hookas, and nestle into the divan between women in Ottoman headdresses singing as frankincense wafts around them. Abeer leans towards me with her wide green eyes and whispers: "Do you know why we burn incense? It is because whenever you sing Muhammad's name, you smell heaven."

Night falls in the Old City of Sana'a as I ride the bus for five cents from this wedding celebration toward the great wall that once protected the city's 14,000 majestic tower houses, many now crumbling. From my dorm window I spot a hoopoe bird soaring over the brown castles, looking down on this high plateau that was once the home of the Queen of Sheba.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's language school is just down the winding cobblestone alleyway from the school where I study Arabic. From my classroom I can hear the call to prayer at the Great Mosque, built during Muhammad's lifetime, where Abdulmutallab prayed day and night. What could this young Nigerian man have seen of Sana'a during his stay in Yemen, before he boarded the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit?

Perhaps he passed the boy who travels a mile to obtain a fresh bottle of water for me when his shop runs out—sprinting the whole way—and sweetly responds to my thanks: "You are welcome, my sister." Or the cook who gives me a chair hidden from the strong gaze of men chewing qat. Or the motorcyclists narrowly missing the small boys selling tiny bottles of perfume in cardboard boxes on the ground. In the poorest country in the Arab world, would Abdulmutallab have noticed the gentle smile of the cook as he hands me fresh bread at no cost?

I try to open the window of my Arabic classroom, and Arwa, my instructor, swiftly pushes it open. "I am stronger than you." We arm wrestle to prove it, laughing until neither of us can win, and then continue our reading of Arabic media: "President Bush invaded Iraq because of suspected weapons of mass destruction." Arwa quips: "There were no weapons of mass destruction." Just then, we hear a knock at the door and Arwa becomes a black curtain. Only her eyes can be seen through the narrow slat of her naqab.

"Why don't you wear the kind of balto that has the pretty designs on its sleeves?" I ask. "Because then I wouldn't be invisible," she answers. I visit her house, and in a room of dirty clay walls she teaches me to sing a traditional Sana'ani oud song: "How shall I blame my heart? For in loving, it neither thinks nor reasons . . ."

One afternoon, a group of children stop playing to ask me whether I wish to enter Islam to go to heaven. "No? Then you cannot go to heaven." Another day I wear pink instead of black. A boy spits on me.

Children here are more conservative than adults. Abeer's family tells me of Yemeni children returning from Saudi-supported Wahabi summer camps to denounce their parents as "non-Muslims." But with about a 35% unemployment rate, and 75% of Yemen's population under the age of 25, there are few other activities for young people. Extremist organizations providing resources and a sense of purpose thrive. After all, foreigners are kidnapped in this country not to inspire terror, but to bargain with their own government for services.

I spend a morning talking with Abdul Majeed al-Zindani's daughter, Asma, about women's rights. Her father, who is on the U.S. list of al Qaeda affiliates and heads al-Iman University where Abdulmutallab studied in Sana'a, recently launched the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, modeled after the Saudi Arabian organization. "Since women cannot bear the hot sun, why would they want to get a job when they can stay safely inside their homes?" Asma asks me.

One night, I meet with a young imam reputed to give violently anti-American sermons, and ask him to define "extremism." With a large knife, he cuts me a slice of Bint Asahan, a traditional Yemeni dessert drizzled in honey, and insists that I wait for his friend to arrive. A short man with piercing blue eyes and a British accent soon appears, but does not shake my hand. Without answering any of my questions, he cuts deep into my vulnerabilities: my ability to speak Arabic fluently; my right to write my doctoral dissertation on Islam; my understanding of the Yemeni people. I hold back tears. "Not a word, not a word shall you ever write about this interview," he warns. "And do not accuse me of anything."

A few days later, Abeer serves me gisher, made from the roasted shells of al-Mokha coffee beans mixed with cinnamon—a drink Abdulmutallab would have shared many times with his Yemeni counterparts. "This is a gift from me to you," she beams as she places a necklace of coral beads over my head. "I want you to consider me as your sister."

What would Abdulmutallab have thought, had he seen us, or had he been there later that day, when some European students and I play Beatles songs on a guitar in front of the president's mosque? Yemeni boys and girls surround us and cheer. For a few hours in Sana'a, we have something to do.

Ms. Davis-Packard studied in Yemen during the summer of 2008. She is a Ph.D. student in international affairs at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins.
25592  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on: January 09, 2010, 09:00:04 AM
Can we get confirmation on this?  shocked
==================================

President Obama did right by Taiwan this week, allowing the sale—over Beijing's loud protests—of sophisticated antimissile batteries to the island democracy. We'll take that as a sign that there's a limit to how far the Administration is willing to go to improve relations with China at the expense of America's democratic allies.

The Bush Administration originally proposed the sale of an advanced Patriot ballistic missile interceptor system, or PAC-3, in 2001, as part of a package that included helicopters, submarines and technology upgrades. But Taiwan was eventually only offered about half of the deal, thanks to political bickering in Washington and Taipei. The formal request to Congress for the sale was only submitted in October 2008.

Meantime, the People's Liberation Army has more than 1,000 missiles pointed at Taiwan's 23 million people, and the Pentagon says it is adding about 100 missiles every year. Then there are the over 60 submarines China has patrolling the waters, plus its development of cyberwarfare capabilities and other asymmetrical threats. Taiwan itself can't possibly win an all-out war against China, but with U.S. help it can make the costs of a Chinese attack too prohibitive to contemplate seriously.

The argument against U.S. arms sales is that it clouds prospects for better relations between Taiwan and the mainland. But as Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou—a vocal advocate for a rapprochement with Beijing—has argued, the arms sales help the Taiwan-China dialogue by allowing Taipei to negotiate from a position of strength. Washington's own relationship with Beijing has hardly suffered over the three decades in which the U.S. has been selling arms to Taipei under terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

None of this has prevented China from denouncing the deal, as it has previous sales. A Chinese government spokeswoman said Thursday the PAC-3 sale would cause "serious harm." China is also worked up about Taiwan's request to buy 66 F-16s to bolster its aging air force. The latter is still outstanding, as is about $6 billion worth of items that the Bush Administration didn't put forward for sale, such as Black Hawk helicopters, minesweepers and diesel submarines.

President Obama would be wise to approve those sales. As he has learned in recent months, his overtures to China—including his refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama—haven't been reciprocated in better cooperation on North Korea, Iran and other vital U.S. interests. The sooner Beijing learns this Administration will stand up for its friends, the friendlier it will itself become.
25593  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science on: January 09, 2010, 08:55:15 AM
Its enough to give one hope!!!  cheesy
25594  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Various on: January 09, 2010, 08:54:37 AM
"As on the one hand, the necessity for borrowing in particular emergencies cannot be doubted, so on the other, it is equally evident that to be able to borrow upon good terms, it is essential that the credit of a nation should be well established." --Alexander Hamilton, Report on Public Credit, 1790

"The whole of that Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals... t establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of." --Albert Gallatin, letter to Alexander Addison, 1789

"There is something so far-fetched and so extravagant in the idea of danger to liberty from the militia that one is at a loss whether to treat it with gravity or with raillery; whether to consider it as a mere trial of skill, like the paradoxes of rhetoricians; as a disingenuous artifice to instil prejudices at any price; or as the serious." --Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 29

"The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of the pruning knife." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Spencer Roane, 1821

"[A] rigid economy of the public contributions and absolute interdiction of all useless expenses will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Marquis de Lafayette, 1823
25595  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH: Election Law vs. First Amendment on: January 09, 2010, 08:50:48 AM
Courts Roll Back Limits on Spending in Election Law
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: January 8, 2010

WASHINGTON — Even before a landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance law expected within days, a series of other court decisions is reshaping the political battlefield by freeing corporations, unions and other interest groups from many of the restrictions on their advertising about issues and candidates.

Legal experts and political operatives say the cases roll back campaign spending rules to the years before Watergate. The end of decades-old restrictions could unleash a torrent of negative advertisements, help cash-poor Republicans in a pivotal year and push President Obama to bring in more money for his party.

If the Supreme Court, as widely expected, rules against core elements of the existing limits, Democrats say they will try to enact new laws to reinstate the restrictions in time for the midterm elections in November. And advocates of stricter campaign finance laws say they hope the developments will prod the president to fulfill a campaign promise to update the presidential campaign financing system, even though it would diminish his edge as incumbent.

Many legal experts say they expect the court to use its imminent ruling, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to eliminate the remaining restrictions on advertisements for or against candidates paid for by corporations, unions and advocacy organizations. (The case centers on whether spending restrictions apply to a conservative group’s documentary, “Hillary: The Movie.”)

Even if the court rules more narrowly, legal experts and political advocates say that the 2010 elections will bring the first large-scale application of previous court decisions that have all but stripped away those restrictions. Though the rulings have not challenged the bans on direct corporate contributions to parties and candidates, political operatives say that as a practical matter the rulings and a deadlock at the Federal Election Commission have already opened wide latitude for independent groups to advocate for and against candidates.

“It will be no holds barred when it comes to independent expenditures,” said Kenneth A. Gross, a veteran political law expert at the firm of Skadden Arps in Washington.

The United States Chamber of Commerce, the goliath of the lobbying world, is expected to outline its battle plan next week for the midterms. It spent $25 million on advertisements and get-out-the-vote efforts in the 2006 elections and $36 million in 2008, and will spend far more this year, chamber officials say. And in the last election it was already probing the limits of the court’s rulings with commercials like one in New Hampshire denouncing Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, as “a taxing machine.”

Labor unions, stalwart outside allies to the Democrats, plan to take advantage of the changing rules with their own record-setting spending, said Karen Ackerman, political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. But business, she argued, had more to gain.

“The corporate side will always have more to spend than the union side,” she said.

Even before the Supreme Court issues its Citizens United ruling, Democrats in the House and the Senate have begun lamenting its expected result. “Clearly, the Republican Party overwhelmingly would benefit,” said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland vowed a “prompt legislative response” if the Supreme Court rules broadly. In the meantime, he said, the Democratic campaign committee planned to counterattack big donors to outside groups to show “they are not just disinterested citizens.”

Conservatives accused the Democrats of using the specter of corruption as an excuse to silence their opponents. “What this is about is prohibiting information from reaching the American people if it is critical of them, those poor little dears who can’t stand criticism,” said Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Republican Senate campaign committee, said: “It is about a nonprofit group’s ability to speak about the public issue. I can’t think of a more fundamental First Amendment issue.”

Still, Mr. Cornyn acknowledged that the expected ruling could “open up resources that have not previously been available” for the Republicans.

Democratic candidates and party committees have raised a total of $396.5 million for the midterms, with $50 million on hand and $10 million debts in public filings released this week. Republicans had raised just $204.7 million, with about $30 million on hand and about $6 million in debts, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The campaign finance system imposed after the Watergate scandal began to spring leaks in the 1990s with the large-scale exploitation of unlimited “soft money” contributions to political parties from wealthy individuals, corporations, unions and others. Congress fortified those rules by eliminating soft money with the 2002 campaign finance law known as McCain-Feingold, and since then activists and operatives have played cat-and-mouse with regulators in the search for other loopholes.

The Supreme Court began to poke new holes in the system in a 2007 ruling that outside groups could pay for critical commercials attacking individual candidates on specific issues up to the day of the election, as long as the ad did not explicitly urge a “vote for” or “vote against.”

The 2010 midterms will be the first big test of the changing rules in part because in 2008 both major party candidates — Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain — explicitly discouraged independent spending by their supporters. The Federal Election Commission had also punished previous efforts to evade the McCain-Feingold rules severely enough to discourage new attempts.

No such restraints apply this year, in part because the changing composition of the Federal Election Commission has created a deadlock blocking vigorous enforcement. “The cop is gone from the beat,” said Trevor Potter, a lawyer for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center who has also worked for Mr. McCain.

Campaign finance laws block outside groups from coordinating with candidates, but it is easy enough for outside allies to read in news reports where a campaign wants to spend money and what message it wants to send. Such groups also tend to favor negative commercials because they are more potent.

So if the court strikes down the restrictions on outside spending, some legal experts say, the remaining restrictions on direct contributions to campaigns would mean much less because it would be easy to support a campaign through an outside group.

“The campaign finance system would certainly be less regulated than any time since Watergate,” said Richard L. Hasen, a campaign law expert at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
25596  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Reality hits POTH upside the head with a 2x4 on: January 09, 2010, 08:46:51 AM
U.S. Job Losses in December Dim Hopes for Quick Upswing
By PETER S. GOODMAN
Published: January 8, 2010
The nation lost 85,000 jobs from the economy in December, the Labor Department reported Friday, as hopes for a vigorous recovery ran headlong into the prospect that paychecks could remain painfully scarce into next year.

“We’re still losing jobs,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “It’s nothing like we had in the free fall of last winter, but we’re not about to turn around. We’re still looking at a really weak economy.”
The disappointing snapshot of the job market intensified pressure on the Obama administration to show results for the $787 billion spending bill it championed last year to stimulate the economy.

At a news conference, Mr. Obama acknowledged the December data as a setback, while outlining plans to deliver $2.3 billion in tax credits to spur manufacturing jobs in clean energy.

“We have to continue to explore every avenue to accelerate the return to hiring,” the president told reporters.

Most economists assume the unemployment rate — which held steady at 10 percent in December — will worsen in coming months. The nation would then confront the highest jobless rate in a generation on the eve of November elections that will determine the balance of power in Congress.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com, forecasts that the unemployment rate will reach 10.8 percent by October. The so-called underemployment rate — which counts people who have given up looking for work and those who are working part time for lack of full-time positions — now sits at 17.3 percent.

Mr. Zandi argues that the economy requires an additional $125 billion jolt of stimulus spending on construction projects and aid to state and local governments — a proposal that confronts enormous political challenges.

Republicans assert the first dose of stimulus spending has been squandered on dubious projects. The Obama administration, increasingly concerned by the size of federal deficits, is loath to spend more.

Mr. Zandi argues that a failure to spend now to spur growth could leave the United States in a bigger hole.

“If we don’t do it and we slide back into recession,” he said, “that’s going to exacerbate the deficit even more.”

The December jobs report included one encouraging milestone: Data for November was revised to show the economy gained 4,000 jobs that month, compared with initial reports showing a net loss of 11,000 jobs. That was the first monthly improvement since the recession began two years ago.

But the December data failed to repeat the trend, disappointing economists, who had generally expected a decline of 10,000 jobs. The report showed continued slowing in the pace of job losses, but it also underscored that companies were reluctant to hire.

For a fifth consecutive month, temporary help services expanded, adding 47,000 positions in December. That buttressed the notion that companies required more labor, even as they held off hiring full-time workers.

“We’re going in the right direction,” said Michael T. Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners, a research and trading firm. “If we just have a little bit of patience, we’ll start to see monthly increases of 200,000 to 300,000 jobs within six months.”

But millions of people still grappling with the bite of the worst downturn since the Great Depression have exhausted their patience — along with their savings and confidence.

In Charlotte, N.C., Kumar G. Navile, 33, says he has applied for 500 jobs in the year since he lost his position as an engineer.

“You get up every day and say today will be different, but it is mentally challenging,” Mr. Navile said. “I performed well in school. I got a job the day I graduated. It’s been a struggle.”

For those out of work, the market is bleaker than ever. The average duration of unemployment reached 29 weeks in December, the longest since the government began tracking such data in 1948.

“There is almost no hiring going on outside the temporary help sector,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project.

Despite the parsing of data and contrasting economic forecasts, no complexity cloaked the basic facts of the report: job openings remain scarce.

“Most people, they’re not looking at the data,” Mr. Baker said. “They’re just asking, ‘Can I get a job?’ And that’s not getting any easier.”

The government’s monthly jobs report, while always important, now stands as the crucial indicator of economic health.

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For years, households spent in excess of incomes by borrowing against the value of homes, leaning on credit cards and tapping stock portfolios. But home prices have plummeted, stock holdings have diminished and nervous banks have sliced credit even for healthy borrowers, leaving the paycheck as the primary source of household finance.


Economists are divided over the nation’s economic prospects. Some argue that recent expansion on the factory floor presages broader economic improvement that will soon deliver job growth.

Not yet. Manufacturing lost 27,000 jobs in December. Construction jobs declined by 53,000. Government shed 21,000 jobs. Despite a surprisingly strong holiday shopping season, retailing lost 10,000 jobs.

Health care remained a bright spot, expanding by 22,000 jobs.

Skeptics argue that the factory expansion merely reflects a rebuilding of inventories after businesses slashed stocks during the panic. Expansion has been aided by stimulus spending and tax credits for homebuyers.

Once these factors fade in coming months, skeptics argue, the economy will confront stubborn challenges — cash-tight households curtailing spending, banks reluctant to lend and businesses unwilling to hire.

Those with the gloomiest outlooks envision a “double dip” recession, in which the economy resumes contracting. Others fear years of stagnation, like Japan’s Lost Decade in the 1990s.

One point of agreement among economists is that the nation cannot recover without millions of new jobs. The economy needs about 100,000 new jobs a month just to keep pace with people entering the work force. When workers gain wages, they spend them at other businesses, creating jobs for other workers — a virtuous cycle, in the parlance of economists.

Recent months have produced tentative signs that such a cycle might be unfolding, even as economists debate its sustainability. The December jobs report added to the ambiguity.

On the one hand, job losses undermined hopes for a quick turnaround. Yet the losses were a far cry from the roughly 700,000 monthly job losses seen a year ago.

“Standing still feels good when you’ve been used to falling backwards,” said Stuart G. Hoffman, chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group. “But we want to move forward.”
25597  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: January 09, 2010, 08:36:21 AM
What do you think of my two-part entry of January 3?  I always find the Indian perspective worth considering.
25598  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Bernanke's apologia on: January 09, 2010, 08:34:39 AM


By JUDY SHELTON
This past Sunday, at the American Economic Association's annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga., Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered up a lengthy, professorial defense of U.S. monetary policy over the last decade, focusing on its role in the financial crisis that has gripped the world economy.

It doesn't quite rise to the level of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's claim after a barely foiled attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day that "the system worked really smoothly." But Mr. Bernanke's calm observation that "monetary policy from 2002 to 2006 appears to have been reasonably consistent with the Federal Reserve's mandated goals of maximum sustainable employment and price stability" is nevertheless disturbing.

If the integrity of the dollar is not the Fed's primary concern, or if its notion of "price stability" is restricted to some narrow core inflation index that does not include escalating costs for food and energy, let alone runaway prices for financial market assets and commodities, then the Fed is woefully inadequate to the task of safeguarding the value of our nation's money.

Mr. Bernanke is not oblivious to criticism of the Fed's role in the crisis. His assertion that "regulatory and supervisory policies, rather than monetary policies, would have been more effective means of addressing the run-up in house prices" hints at a possible scapegoat for the housing bubble that presaged financial calamity.

Yet nowhere in his 34-page apologia does the Fed chairman fault Congress for inflicting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the home mortgage industry; nowhere does he attempt to analyze the damaging influence of government intervention in the private sector, or its distorting impact on market assessments of risk-and-return tradeoffs.

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 .Instead of trying to shift blame away from the easy-money policies of the Fed that accommodated such ill-considered government intrusion into the mortgage-lending business—spawning a treacherous boom in exotic derivative instruments structured against seemingly endless supplies of securitized U.S. debt—Mr. Bernanke should strive to better explain why the Fed ignored troubling indications of a growing bubble.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the average sales price of a new home in 2000 was $207,000; the average price in 2007 was $313,600, more than 50% higher in just seven years. During the same period, based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers for the interim years provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average sales price of a new home should have been $250,625 in 2007—that is, if the CPI fully captured the impact of excessive monetary issuance.

In other words, if you assume stable demand and supply, the government's official CPI calculation only accounts for a 21% gain in the average sales price of a new home from the beginning of the decade to the start of the subprime collapse.

Mr. Bernanke glosses over this significant anomaly. He notes breezily in last Sunday's speech that the most rapid price gains in housing occurred in 2004 and 2005. But it's worth reminding the chairman that the Fed kept the federal-funds rate at a then-record low of 1% from June 2003 to June 2004. The most Mr. Bernanke concedes is a begrudging admission that "the timing of the housing bubble does not rule out some contribution from monetary policy."

OpinionJournal Related Stories:
Review & Outlook: The Bernanke Record
Review & Outlook: Dear Chairman Bernanke
Review & Outlook: Bernanke's Second Chance
.When it comes to evaluating Fed performance, the Fed itself always seems to get back to using core inflation measures. What about changes in the value of the dollar against other major currencies during the last decade? Shouldn't a decline in global purchasing power for all Americans qualify for consideration in Fed deliberations over appropriate monetary policy?

If price stability constitutes one of the Fed's key objectives, the fact that the dollar went from being worth 1.17 euros in October 2000 to a mere .63 euros in April 2008—roughly half as much—would seem to matter. Should the value of U.S. money really be subject to swings of such magnitude? The dollar's current exchange rate of .69 euros no doubt reflects the "safe haven" status of U.S. investment at times of shaky global finances; it's a residual privilege we seem poised to lose as fiscal imbalances mount.

And what about gold? The price of gold has soared to $1,128 today from $282 at the beginning of the decade, a fourfold increase. During the critical 2002-2006 period—when Mr. Bernanke insists monetary policy was consistent with the Fed's price-stability goals—the dollar price of gold climbed steadily to $700 from below $300. Did the governors of our nation's central bank not notice? Given that the U.S. government holds the largest amount of official gold reserves in the world, it would seem pertinent.

Indeed, gold is viewed by central banks the world over as a unique reserve asset. Contrary to monetary assets denominated in national currencies, its status cannot be undermined by inflation in the issuing country, nor is it subject to repudiation or default.

Which suggests that perhaps it is time to make available to the American public the sort of insurance against dollar depreciation that monetary authorities have long sought for their own portfolios. For those citizens who've become skeptical of the Fed's ability to guarantee price stability in terms more meaningful than elementary CPI statistics—or who believe the bigger threat to their personal financial security lies in a potential repeat of the last debacle—why not provide a new class of Treasury obligations that would guarantee the purchasing power of the dollar in terms of gold?

It would not necessarily be a difficult task. Congress could pass legislation authorizing a limited issuance of gold-backed Treasury notes in compliance with existing legal restrictions pertaining to U.S. savings bonds (to own U.S. savings bonds you must be a U.S. resident and have been issued a Social Security number). The five-year Treasury notes would pay no interest, but they would provide for payment of principal at maturity in either ounces of gold or the face value of the security, at the option of the holder.

In the same way that inflation-indexed Treasury obligations provide an indication to the Fed of aggregate expectations on consumer prices, gold-backed Treasury notes would offer an additional useful tool for conducting monetary policy—one more broadly reflective of potential bubbles in both financial markets and commodities.

Don't be surprised, though, if the Fed balks at the proposal. When it comes to the golden canary, it has already proven itself tone deaf.

Ms. Shelton, an economist, is author of "Money Meltdown: Restoring Order to the Global Currency System" (Free Press, 1994).
25599  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The United Nations/ US Sovereignty on: January 09, 2010, 08:26:28 AM
That sounds well reasoned and sound to me-- and all the more persuasive because it is so contrary to perceived type!  cheesy

Let me go to my retired US Marshal friend and see what he has to say.
25600  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm) Training Camp Feb 6-7 on: January 09, 2010, 08:23:40 AM
Wish you could be with us  cry

Anyway, concerning the large discounts for US military, the issue of satisfactory proof has arisen.   Apparently the paperwork which would contain proof of combat (a 100% discount) also contains info which is not for general dissemination.  Therefore our point man on this is Kaju Dog, a veteran of much action in OIF himself.  Just get in touch with us and we will put you in touch with him.
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