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26001  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Patriot Post Brief on: December 14, 2009, 10:38:54 AM
Brief · Monday, December 14, 2009

The Foundation
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson

"I reread ['Atlas Shrugged'] recently and was stunned. It was as if [Ayn] Rand had seen the future. Writing half a century ago, she predicted today's explosion of big government in shockingly accurate detail. The 'Preservation of Livelihood Law.' The 'Equalization of Opportunity Law.' The 'Steel Unification Plan.' Don't these sound like laws passed by the current Congress? All were creations of Rand's villain, Wesley Mouch, the evil bureaucrat who regulates business and eventually drives the productive people out of business. Who is today's Wesley Mouch? Barney Frank? Chris Dodd. Tim Geithner? ... 'Atlas' is still a big bestseller today. This year, it reached as high as NO. 15 on Amazon's bestseller list. Pretty amazing. Clearly there's some magic in 'Atlas Shrugged.' The Library of Congress once asked readers which books made the biggest difference in their lives. 'Atlas' came in second, after the Bible. ... The embrace of freer markets has lifted more people out of the misery of poverty than any other system -- ever. The World Bank says that in just the last 30 years, half a billion people who once lived on less than $1.25 a day have moved out of poverty. But now, Wesley Mouch -- I mean, Congress and the bureaucrats -- tell us they are going to 'fix' capitalism, as if their previous 'fixes' didn't hamstring the free market and create the problems they propose to solve. Who are they kidding? Rand had it right. She learned it the hard way in Soviet Russia. What makes a country work is leaving people free -- free to take risks, to invent things -- and to keep the rewards of their work. Critics say Ayn Rand promotes selfishness. I call it 'enlightened self interest.' When free people act in their own self-interest, society prospers." --columnist John Stossel

"The [U.S.] Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals ... it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government ... it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizen's protection against the government." --author and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

Bill of Rights Anniversary
Tomorrow, Dec. 15, is the 218th anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to our Constitution, as ratified in 1791.

The Bill of Rights was inspired by three remarkable documents: John Locke's 1689 thesis, Two Treatises of Government, regarding the protection of "property" (in the Latin context, proprius, or one's own "life, liberty and estate"); in part from the Virginia Declaration of Rights authored by George Mason in 1776 as part of that state's Constitution; and, of course, in part from our Declaration of Independence authored by Thomas Jefferson.

Read in context, the Bill of Rights is both an affirmation of innate individual rights and a clear delineation on constraints upon the central government. As oft trampled and abused as the Bill of Rights is, Patriots should remain vigilant in the fight for our rights.
26002  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH editorial on: December 14, 2009, 09:19:15 AM
An exhibit in the legal reasoning of liberal fascism from todays Pravda on the Hudson-- the New York Times:

Eminent Domain in New York Sign in to Recommend
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A New York State appellate court has misguidedly put a roadblock in the way of Columbia University’s expansion plans, ruling that the state misused eminent domain to help Columbia assemble the land it needs. This decision conflicts with the relevant law and will make it much harder for the university to move ahead with a project that would benefit the surrounding neighborhood and the entire city.

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Times Topics: Columbia University | Eminent DomainColumbia is outgrowing its Morningside Heights campus and is planning a major expansion north into West Harlem that would include school buildings, laboratories and publicly accessible open space. It would allow the school to better pursue its important missions of education and research. It would also provide the community with jobs and amenities, including widened, pedestrian-friendly streets and space for local artists.

To secure enough land, the university is relying in part on the Empire State Development Corporation’s eminent domain power, compelling holdout commercial property owners to sell. Several of the holdouts sued, arguing that the use of eminent domain was illegal.

In a weakly reasoned decision, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court agreed, by a 3-to-2 vote. The majority took the peculiar position that there is no civic purpose behind Columbia’s decision to expand.

The decision is completely out of step with eminent domain law, including a recent 6-to-1 decision from the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. That court ruled that Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards, a commercial development, can use eminent domain to secure land to build new housing and a basketball arena for the Nets. That was the right decision, and the case for Columbia is even stronger.

The civic purpose in the Columbia expansion is clear, given the contributions it would make to education, the job market and community life. The Empire State Development Corporation also made a thoroughly defensible decision that eminent domain was appropriate given the blighted condition of the land at issue, between 125th and 133rd Streets near the Hudson River.

The university says it intends to move forward on a center for interdisciplinary neuroscience, which would be built on land it already owns. But it is regrettable that much of the project is now stalled. The Court of Appeals should hear the case on an expedited schedule and reverse the Appellate Division’s ruling.
26003  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science on: December 14, 2009, 08:57:42 AM
BBG et al:

Please break down for me in SUPER simplistic terms the case for and against the meliting glaciers line of thought:

Thank you,
26004  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Noah Webster, 1787 on: December 14, 2009, 08:37:58 AM
"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States." --Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787
26005  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: December 13, 2009, 05:23:28 PM
Oil drilling equipment. From North Korea? Pull the other one, Sergei.
December 14, 2009

Crew of Detained Plane Denies Knowledge of Arms


BANGKOK — In their first interview since being detained by Thai authorities, the crew of a cargo aircraft traveling from North Korea said Sunday that they did not know they had been transporting an arsenal of rockets, grenade launchers and other unidentified weapons weighing at least 30 tons.

“They said it was oil drilling equipment,” said Viktor Abdullayev, the plane’s co-pilot. “That’s what the manager told us,” he said referring to his employer, a civilian cargo company from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Officials in Thailand did little over the weekend to shed light on the perplexing seizure of the aircraft, offering only rudimentary details about the plane, its crew and its cargo.

The five-man crew is to be charged in court Monday with possession of weapons of war, in a case that may shed light on the shadowy business of global arms trafficking — and in North Korea’s role, in particular.

Thai authorities said the weapons were seized after a tip from American officials, and said the shipment appeared to violate a United Nations arms embargo but did not provide a detailed accounting of the armaments, which will undergo a more thorough inspection Tuesday.

Thailand was acting, it said, under United Nations Resolution 1874, which was passed in June in response to nuclear tests in North Korea. The resolution is effectively an arms embargo covering the transport of heavy weaponry to and from North Korea. Such weapons sales are one of the few ways the country has been able to earn foreign currency.

The resolution, which builds on a previous resolution from 2006, calls on countries to “inspect and destroy” certain categories of weapons bound to or from North Korea, including large-caliber artillery, missiles and missile spare parts.

No major seizures of weapons have been made public since the passage of the resolution. This summer, the United States Navy tracked a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying banned cargo for about three weeks, and the ship eventually turned back to its home port without incident.

Speaking in rudimentary English, Mr. Abdullayev and his colleagues said they started their current mission in Ukraine, picked up cargo in North Korea and were traveling back to Ukraine via Thailand, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. They declined to say in which of those locations the cargo was meant to be delivered.

Mr. Abdullayev, who said he was from Kazakhstan, said it never occurred to him to inquire about the cargo. “I have no interest in what I carry,” he said. “Like a truck driver: just keep driving.”

Panitan Wattanayagorn, the Thai government spokesman, said in an interview that the aircraft, a Russian-made Ilyushin 76, which is registered in Georgia, had come through Bangkok twice — both on the way and during the return trip from North Korea. The aircraft was searched on the return journey after Thai authorities were tipped off by American officials that the aircraft might be carrying weapons. The crew was detained and the cargo confiscated but not immediately. The crew had enough time to buy six large bottles of beer at a duty-free shop, which were confiscated from them in the detention center where they are now being kept.

Mr. Panitan denied reports that the Friday stopover in Bangkok was an emergency landing.

“It was a scheduled landing to refuel the plane,” Mr. Panitan said.

Analysts have questioned why an aircraft carrying an illicit payload would land and refuel at an airfield in Bangkok — Don Muang airport — that is also used by the Thai military. The choice of Thailand as a refueling station is also peculiar considering the country’s close military ties with the United States.

“There’s much more to this story than what has been made public so far,” said Bertil Lintner, an author who has written extensively on North Korea. “Why would you refuel in Thailand?” If the aircraft had landed in neighboring Myanmar, which is ruled by generals friendly to the North Korean regime, “there would have been no problem,” Mr. Lintner said.

Among the many theories discussed on Thai Web sites and in the media here is that the Ilyushin was forced to land by the Thai air force as it crossed Thai airspace. In the interview the crew said they had landed in Bangkok to refuel.

Further details may emerge in the coming days as the cargo is examined and the crew members appear in court. The weapons have been transported to an air force base in central Thailand and will be more closely analyzed by experts on Tuesday, Mr. Panitan said.

Four of the crew members were from Kazakhstan, including the captain, Ilyas Issakov, Mr. Abdullayev, Alexandr Zrybney and Vtaliy Shurmnov, all co-pilots. Mikhail Prtkhou, a fourth co-pilot is from Belarus.

Mr. Issakov, the captain, said he had traveled to Thailand before for both business and pleasure.

All five men have been barred from making phone calls or reading newspapers. During the interview in a detention center late Sunday, Mr. Abdullayev requested help from a reporter to obtain a clothes iron because he said he wanted to appear presentable in court.
26006  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Learning from the Soviets on: December 13, 2009, 05:20:42 PM
I rarely read, still less often quote from Pravda Newspeak, yet this article seems thoughtful.
Learning From the Soviets
By Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova | NEWSWEEK
Published Dec 11, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Dec 21, 2009
Talk to Russian veterans of Afghanistan and it's hard not to think that they're rooting for the U.S. to lose. For these proud men, seeing NATO succeed at a job they botched would deepen the humiliation of defeat. Easier to affirm that if the Soviets couldn't win there, no one can. "We did not succeed and you will not either," says Gen. Victor Yermakov, who commanded Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1983. "They didn't trust us. They won't trust you." Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, who served in Afghanistan under the occupation and has just completed a four-year term as Russia's envoy in the country, is no more optimistic. "We tried to impose communism. You are trying to impose democracy," he says. "There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that the international community has not repeated."

Such unrelenting bearishness is hardly encouraging, and there are undeniably echoes of the Soviet experience in President Barack Obama's new Afghan surge. Obama is doubling down on his attempt to do what no foreign power ever has: defeat an Afghan insurgency and leave behind a stable and legitimate local regime. The Soviets' misadventures in Afghanistan—begun 30 years ago this Christmas Eve—faced many similar challenges: managing tribal politics, stemming support for insurgents from over the border in Pakistan, creating a credible government in Kabul and viable local security forces, and containing civilian casualties. Yet the differences are equally profound, and they suggest that America may just manage to succeed where Russia failed—in part by learning from its own and the Soviets' mistakes.

Moscow's troubles in Afghanistan started nearly the moment the war began, with a deluge of international condemnation far stronger than the Soviet leaders ever expected. The U.S. imposed trade sanctions and boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Obama today finds himself in a very different position. The NATO campaign enjoys wide international support—including from Russia, in spirit at least.
But the most important difference between then and now is that the Taliban isn't backed by a superpower supplying it with money and deadly weapons. That makes it a far less formidable enemy than the mujahedin of the 1980s, who were enthusiastically supported and armed by the U.S. and Pakistan. Washington suspects, with reason, that many of the old insurgents still fighting today—notably Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani—are getting covert support from elements in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. But even if that's true, the ISI's current involvement is nothing like that of the old days, not least because Pakistan's civilian government officially opposes the Taliban and had even made sporadic attempts to fight it. A generation ago, Stinger missiles, supplied to the rebels in large numbers after 1986 thanks to a campaign by U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson, effectively robbed the Soviets of their air superiority. Today's Taliban has no such technological advantage, and few friends. As a result, "the Americans are in a much better position than we ever were," says Yuri Krupnov, director of Russia's Institute of Regional Development, which promotes Russian-Afghan ties. "This will not be a second Vietnam."
Another reason he's probably right is that NATO is proving better at learning from Moscow's mistakes than the Soviets were. Take civilian casualties. Initial military victory came almost effortlessly for both the Soviets and NATO. But both powers soon stepped on the same rake: losing hearts and minds by accidentally hitting civilian targets. Yermakov recalls ordering his troops to mine the irrigation channels around the town of Gardez in 1983. Many dushmany (a pejorative local term for the mujahedin) were blown up, but so were channels essential for local farmers. "At one point our aviation destroyed half of Kandahar because somebody did not get the right instructions," says Alexander Shkirando, a fluent Pashto and Farsi speaker who spent 10 years in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a political and military adviser. NATO has made similar blunders—notably two bombings of wedding parties in Kunduz and Uruzgan—but on nothing like the same scale. The exact number of Afghan civilian casualties during the Soviet campaign is hard to come by, but estimates range from 700,000 to more than a million. According to the United Nations, combined civilian deaths directly and indirectly caused by the latest war range from 12,000 to 30,000.
The Americans have been careful to avoid the wanton brutality of the Soviets not only on the battlefield but in their treatment of prisoners too. Even before U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal commissioned a review earlier this year, the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004 led to an improvement in the treatment of detainees at the U.S. interrogation camp at Bagram. And as dire as conditions at Bagram may have been, they were nothing compared with the abuse committed by the Soviets' proxy force of Afghan secret police, who murdered at least 27,000 political prisoners at their notorious detention center at Pul-e-Charkhi. Russians like to compare the Soviet and U.S. occupations: Krupnov asks, "Who is more imperialist, the Soviets or the Americans?" In reality, however, there's a world of difference in the two armies' behavior.
The Soviets tried a surge of their own in 1984–85, boosting troop levels to 118,000 to clear rebel areas like the lower Panjshir Valley and the strategic road to Khost. But it didn't work. The mujahedin would "melt away like mist," recalls Paulius Purickis, an ethnic Lithuanian draftee who served as a sergeant. "We were never able to engage them in a head-on battle," he says. General McChrystal hopes to avoid that problem with the extra troops being made available to him, which will allow him to "clear and hold" whole provinces, with small forward posts used to befriend and gather intelligence from locals.
The Soviets also tried to win hearts and minds, of course. But they left that job to the KGB, with dismal results. Today, rather than run a network of secret torture centers as the Soviets' proxy Mohammad Najibullah did, President Hamid Karzai has set himself up as a defender of the rights of Afghans detained in U.S.-run prisons, something that plays well with the population.
The Soviets also bungled the process of building relations with tribal leaders. Vasily Kravtsov spent 12 years in Afghanistan, rising to become the ranking KGB officer in Kandahar responsible for establishing an Afghan security and intelligence service in the area. Pashtun tribal politics were Kravtsov's specialty, and the bane of his life. The problem was, in part, a communist agenda to enlighten the Afghans by replacing religious schools with secular ones and to undermine the authority of local mullahs. "We made stupid ideological mistakes," says Gen. Ruslan Aushev, one of the most decorated Russian commanders of the Afghan war. "We told the Muslim people that religion was the opium of the masses!" U.S. officials have tried to be more culturally sensitive: as McChrystal put it in a recently leaked report, the American military is shifting away from "an excessively defensive posture to enable the troops to engage with the Afghan people."
Perhaps the closest parallel—and the area with the most lessons for Washington today—is in how to shore up the local government. And here again there is reason for optimism. Moscow's puppet Najibullah was weak and unpopular and ended up hanging from a lamppost soon after his patrons went home. Karzai is also little loved. But for all his troubles, he's in a far better position than his predecessor, for despite electoral gerrymandering and allegations of corruption, Karzai is still more popular than any other politician in the country.
That's a huge asset, for getting local government right is probably the ultimate key to success or failure. To do that, Washington should probably make a point of ignoring the Russians' advice. Today Russian veterans insist that the main reason for their failure was their attempt to impose a foreign mindset on an age-old system of tribal alliances: "Forget your ideas of bringing democracy there," says Yermakov. But communism wasn't the real problem, and neither is democracy. Indeed, democracy may be the solution. Najibullah's government fell not because it was secular and socialist but because it disintegrated under the twin evils of tribalism and corruption. Moscow grafted a veneer of communism onto a narrow, repressive, and widely hated Pashtun tribal clique that was no match for the mujahedin. This suggests that the key today is to support a government that's as inclusive, democratic, and accountable as possible. That means doing everything in Washington's power to get Karzai to clean up his act. The United States, with its rapid adaptation, has already shown it is in better shape than any previous invader to win the Afghan war on the ground. The challenge now is to also avoid repeating Russia's mistakes on the way out—and to become the first foreign force to leave Afghanistan in better shape than it found it.
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© 2009
26007  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Sudan on: December 13, 2009, 02:38:23 PM
In his Oslo address Thursday, President Obama mulled the trade-offs in dealing with repressive regimes. "There's no simple formula here," he said. "But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time."

From Nobel theory, we move to practice in Sudan. As a candidate, Mr. Obama stood with the human rights champions of Darfur and pledged tougher sanctions and a possible no-fly zone if a Sudanese regime infamous for genocide didn't shape up. His tone has changed in office.

Unveiled in October, the Administration's Sudan policy emphasized carrots for the regime to ease up in Darfur and implement a peace deal in southern Sudan; any sticks were relegated to a secret annex. The President's special envoy to Sudan, retired Major General Scott Gration, was reluctant even to allude to tougher sanctions. He said that "cookies" and "gold stars" are preferable to threats and that Darfur was experiencing only "remnants of genocide."

President Omar al-Bashir, whose Islamist National Congress Party took power in a 1989 coup, got the message and decided to test the limits of this new indulgence. Almost immediately the regime hardened its stance on implementing the peace accord. Brokered by the Bush Administration in 2005, the deal calls for political reforms, including free parliamentary elections now scheduled for April, and a referendum on independence for the south in two years. Long before the ethnic cleansing in Darfur turned into a Hollywood cause célèbre, a two-decade war between the Muslim north and the Christian and oil-rich south took two million lives.

On Monday, police in the capital Khartoum beat and arrested opposition leaders who were pressing parliament to adopt the necessary laws to hold the April elections. Time is running out to pass them. The Bashir regime now refuses to overhaul the national security and criminal laws as also stipulated in the 2005 deal. Its recalcitrance means the election and referendum, assuming both come off, would be tainted. This could in turn end up restarting the civil war.

At the same time, the preference for diplomacy over pressure has encouraged the hard men in Khartoum to stoke the flames in Darfur, ignoring an arms embargo and challenging the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force there.

In the man-bites-dog story of the year, the U.N. last week took the Obama Administration to task over its lax efforts to enforce the arms embargo, while praising the Bush Administration. "In contrast to that leadership of 2004 and 2005, the United States appears to have now joined the group of influential states who sit by quietly and do nothing to ensure that sanctions protect Darfurians," Enrico Carisch, who was the top U.N. investigator of violations of the arms embargo until October, said in written testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa.

The Sudanese aren't even the hardest of cases. Concerted American pressure forced this regime to cut ties with al Qaeda in the 1990s, end aerial bombing and support for slave-hunting militias in the south and accept the 2005 peace deal.

Mr. Obama can summon up tough rhetoric. "Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy—but there must be consequences when those things fail," he said in Oslo. But the world's rogues might be forgiven for missing the nuances. So far, they've seen only the engaging side of this American President.
26008  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Meir Dagan on: December 13, 2009, 02:28:52 PM
Newspeak is often quite a Pravda, even in this article there are whiffs of it, but the article seems interesting to me nonetheless.


Iran’s Worst Enemy
Israel's top spymaster will stop at nothing to prevent a nuclear Iran. Even at the expense of other threats.
By Ronen Bergman | NEWSWEEK 

Published Dec 12, 2009

From the magazine issue dated Dec 21, 2009

Even among Israel's tough security chiefs, Meir Dagan has always been known for his raw nerve. As a military trainee he would wander around the base during his off hours flinging a knife at trees and telephone poles like a circus entertainer, one fellow soldier recalls. He earned one of his first decorations as a young commando in Gaza, for snatching a live grenade from the hands of an enemy fighter. Long-haired and confident, Dagan would sometimes bring his pet Doberman, Paco, along on raids. His propensity for solving problems by force continued even after he retired from the military. He was leading a task force on terrorist financing in 2001 when his men told him they had discovered a European bank being used to channel money from Iran to Hamas. "We have the address, no?" Dagan asked his intel officers, according to a participant in the meeting, who asked not to be named for fear of angering Dagan. "Burn it down!" The horrified intelligence officers stalked out of the room in protest. (Dagan declined any comment for this story.)

Soon afterward Dagan was brought in to rejuvenate the Mossad, Israel's storied foreign intelligence serv-ice. Eight years later, after a string of covert successes attributed to the agency, he has become the country's longest-serving and most influential spy chief. His men revere him (an affection that does not extend to all their bosses, according to a recent internal survey cited by Mossad sources); even Israel's civilian leaders heed his strategic advice. But critics say his influence has been achieved at a cost: Dagan, 64, has systematically reoriented the Mossad to focus almost exclusively on what he (and most Israelis) see as the dominant threat to the country—Iran. He views almost all of Israel's national-security challenges through that prism.

The Israeli government's single-minded focus on Tehran has caused friction with the Obama administration, which is seeking to engage Iran and to promote a deal with the Palestinians. Publicly there is no rift: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program diplomatically, as long as harsh sanctions are imposed if no progress is shown. But the threat of a unilateral Israeli attack remains on the table—and while that threat may give the Americans leverage in talks with Tehran, an actual attack might well invite Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia.

Dagan is not arguing for a quick strike. In fact, he recently pushed back to 2014 his estimate of the date when the Islamic Republic might have the means to build and launch nuclear weapons. But his uncompromising focus on Iran at the least reinforces Netanyahu's hawkish bent. One French intelligence officer, who didn't want to be identified discussing internal Israeli politics, describes Dagan as a "tailwind" carrying Netanyahu toward military action.

As the Iranian threat has grown and Israel's political leaders have been damaged by scandal and the 2006 war with Hizbullah in Lebanon, Dagan has become one of the most powerful figures in the country. He was appointed by then–prime minister Ariel Sharon after a period of retrenchment for the Mossad, and has done much to restore the agency's reputation for ruthless efficiency. His men are considered responsible for two of the Jewish state's highest-profile recent successes: the assassination of the notorious Hizbullah mastermind Imad Mugniyah in Damascus last year, and the discovery of a key piece of intelligence that led to the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor that fall. When news leaked out this September that intel agencies had discovered a previously unknown uranium--enrichment facility in the Iranian city of Qum, Dagan's men quietly got the credit, although it was the Americans who made the announcement. Netanyahu occasionally travels to Dagan's office for briefings, rather than the other way around. (A Netanyahu spokesman also declined to comment.)

That kind of favoritism has irked rivals in Israel's intel establishment. They argue that his focus on Iran has led to a diversion of resources from more immediate threats. "Why is Iran more dangerous than Syria?" asks one Military Intelligence officer, who did not want to be identified criticizing Dagan. "[Syria] has an enormous army on Israel's border, and chemical weapons that could destroy this country." Some Israeli strategists argue that Damascus should be more aggressively courted, in an effort to encourage President Bashar al-Assad to sever his ties to Tehran. Dagan, on the other hand, holds that peace talks with Assad's regime are a waste of time as long as Iran remains Syria's dominant partner.

Dagan's powerful persona may be overcompensation for an early life marked by danger and deprivation. He was born in 1945 on the floor of a freezing freight car making its way from Siberia to Poland. His family, whose name was originally Huberman, fled to Israel when he was 5, on a ship that nearly sank in a storm. Meir stood on the deck wearing a life vest and gripping an orange, convinced that he was not long for this world.

Dagan dropped out of high school to try out for the Israeli military's prestigious commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, but didn't make the cut. (At Military Intelligence headquarters they complain that Dagan still nurses resentment over the slight.) Dagan eventually enlisted in an armor unit, where his sense of the existential dangers to his country only grew. "We suddenly found ourselves in a constant series of wars," he recalled to a journalist in 1999.

In 1970 Sharon, then head of the Israeli military's Southern Command, tapped the 25-year-old Dagan to command a unit of elite special-forces troops operating in the Gaza Strip. On one occasion, according to Israeli press accounts, Dagan and some of his men dressed as Palestinians, entered Gaza on a fishing boat, met with a group of PLO fighters, and killed them all. The unorthodox commando methods of the unit, called Sayeret Rimon, helped reduce terrorist attacks inside Israel significantly, but some of Dagan's men later recounted tales of atrocities: shooting Palestinians in the back and then claiming that they had tried to escape, according to one allegation. Dagan was never charged, however, and he defended himself to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in 1999, insisting that the Rimon years were not a "Wild West period … We never believed that killing women and children was permissible." Still, he added, "orders to open fire were different then. There were fewer restrictions."

At the time, the Mossad was entering its heyday. American spies found the agency's help indispensable during the Cold War. (CIA operatives were astounded when the Israelis managed to procure a Soviet MiG-21 for inspection in the mid-1960s.) By the early 1970s, when Palestinian terrorist organizations became the Mossad's biggest challenge, the agency had acquired a reputation for deadly proficiency; its operatives eliminated PLO fighters around the world, including several of those responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

But the agency's influence declined in the 1980s and 1990s as violence flared inside the occupied territories (which are the responsibility of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic-security service, and the military). When then–Mossad chief Danny Yatom ordered an assassination attempt in 1997—sending operatives to Amman to inject a lethal poison into the ear of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal—the plot went badly awry and the director was forced to resign. Yatom's successor, Efraim Halevy, tolerated few risks. European and American spies began complaining that the Israelis no longer had much to offer on the international intel exchange. Although the agency's budget is a state secret, a source in the Finance Ministry says funding in the Halevy years fell by about 25 percent.

Dagan brought his flamethrower approach to the Mossad in 2001, shortly after the second intifada erupted. Dagan had worked on Sharon's campaign the previous year, but the prime minister wasn't just showing gratitude: he wanted an antidote to the timid directors of the 1990s. Dagan had plenty of military experience but had never served in the Mossad, making it easier to shake the place up. He quickly upended the organization internally and began tangling with Israel's other intelligence agencies.

His approach earned him enemies. In the intelligence world the first and toughest fight is always the battle over budgets. Dagan competes for scarce resources and influence with Israel's Military Intelligence and Shin Bet, among others. In a brazen power grab, the Mossad director began ordering his subordinates to stonewall the other agencies. Dagan appointed an enforcer code-named "Mr. A," whose job was to frustrate rivals in MI. According to Mossad and MI sources who did not want to be identified discussing interagency frictions, the tension grew so unbearable that MI officers began avoiding Mossad headquarters. They taunted Mr. A by calling him by his real name.

Dagan was also making enemies inside the Mossad. He became known for inspecting field stations without notice and shouting at the agents, "What have you done for me lately?" His tantrums sparked waves of resignations. "Let them go," the director once scoffed, according to a source who spoke to him. "We can start from the beginning." Dagan slashed the Mossad's list of targets, announcing that the agency would dedicate most of its resources to only two threats: Iran and terrorism from abroad—meaning primarily the Iranian-backed groups Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. "The list must be short," he said. "If we continue pretending we can do everything, in the end we won't do anything."

Dagan's single-minded focus quickly began to show results. American and Israeli agents discovered in late 2002 that Iran had been working with Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan to build an enrichment facility in Natanz. The information was leaked to an Iranian opposition group called the National Council of Resistance, which released it in 2003, causing an international furor. Later, unexplained accidents began plaguing the Iranian nuclear project, delaying the enrichment process. Scientists started disappearing, labs caught on fire, and aircraft connected to the effort mysteriously fell from the sky. Intelligence sources, who declined to be identified discussing covert operations, say Mossad had a hand in several of these incidents. As Dagan's successes multiplied, so did his budget. Now, "whatever we want, we get," says one senior Mossad officer who recently retired but prefers not to speak publicly about the agency.

Yet as Dagan's power base has expanded, some Israelis have begun to worry that the Mossad director has acquired too much political influence. Dagan developed close ties to neoconservative policymakers in the United States during the Bush-Cheney years, and Dagan's critics charge that the Mossad's intelligence estimates are being tailored to fit the director's personal views, just as Bush advisers were accused of "stovepiping" evidence to suit their agenda. In particular, Dagan's hardline position on Syria echoes the warnings of Bush-era neocons that Assad's regime is hopelessly devoted to Tehran. A European intelligence officer who was stationed in Israel several years ago recalls the Mossad boss trashing colleagues who argued for engaging Damascus. "I was under the impression that he felt like he reflected White House policy," the intelligence officer says.

That said, Dagan's dark view of the Iran threat is widely shared. German, French, and British intelligence agencies all sided with him when he disputed the CIA's 2007 National Intelligence Estimate downplaying Tehran's nuclear program. And in Israel, where political influence has always been tied up with military valor, it's not surprising that his voice would be heeded in the circles of power. He was appointed to make the Mossad more aggressive, and has succeeded. What remains to be seen is whether in the long run his aggression will be more dangerous to Israel or to its enemies.

Bergman, senior political and military analyst for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, is the author ofThe Secret War With Iran.
26009  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dry Run? De-sensitization? on: December 13, 2009, 01:27:48 PM
 Another Dry Run? United Flight 227 - Dec 10, 2009


It happened again on Wednesday, December 9, 2009, less than a month after the incident aboard AirTran Flight 297.
United Airlines Flight 227, scheduled to depart Denver International Airport at 1:50 pm Wednesday for Los Angeles was disrupted when several passengers who were described as Middle Eastern in appearance, confirmed by this investigator to be a group of Muslims traveling together, were removed from that aircraft due to suspicious behavior that originated in the terminal and continued to the airplane. Their behavior was consistent in some respects to the behavior of the Muslim passengers aboard AirTran Flight 297 on November 17, 2009 that caused a flurry of controversy over its legitimacy, and the now infamous case of the “Flying Imams” of 2006.

According to information obtained by this investigator, seven men of Middle Eastern appearance, boarded flight 227. Two took their seats in coach, while five took their seats in the first class section of the plane. At a critical pre-flight point, the individuals appeared to act in concert with one another, changing seats and moving stowed luggage to very specific areas of the aircraft, often having to move the stowed bags of other passengers to do so. They disobeyed or otherwise ignored the admonitions of the flight attendants to remain seated.

Their behavior was so overt and so apparently choreographed, according to our sources, that the flight crew demanded the passengers be removed from the aircraft. One report found on 9News in Denver quoted John Sloan, a passenger aboard that flight:

“I have never seen flight attendants so scared in my life. Everything turned out OK, but it was not a very good feeling..”

Following the removal of the passengers, officials brought a bomb-sniffing dogs aboard the aircraft, focusing of the first class section of the plane. Subsequent to the search that found nothing, the offending passengers were removed from the flight and rebooked on another aircraft to their destination. According to federal officials, no criminal investigation is being launched into this incident, which was described as a “customer service” matter.

Early this morning, this investigator spoke to a law enforcement source in Denver who is intimately familiar with the incident. Many details have not been publicly reported about this incident, although it is clear that there is an agenda at play. Based on information obtained from this source and others relating to the previous flights disrupted by the deliberate behavior of Muslim passengers, it is clear that the airline industry, as well as the sensibilities of normal Americans, is under attack through Islamic ideological jihad. Additional information will be provided once our investigation is complete.

Correlation from a Denver-based news outlet:

DENVER - It's not entirely clear why some passengers were removed from a plane at Denver International Airport on Wednesday. United Airlines issued a statement suggesting that the passengers were "re-accommodated" onto another flight.

A spokesperson for the Denver Police Department confirms to 9NEWS that Denver Police officers were called to DIA on Wednesday, but declined to elaborate any further.

Flight 227 left DIA bound for Los Angeles nearly three hours late. It was scheduled to depart at 1:50 p.m., but ended up leaving at 4:32 p.m.
"Our crew followed recognized, industry standard procedures and re-accommodated some passengers on another flight. We are investigating this matter," read a Thursday morning statement from United. A United spokesperson declined to elaborate any further as well.

The United crew apparently noticed certain patterns they are trained to spot. Sources tell NBC News airline employees are trained to look for certain behaviors such as how a ticket is paid for, how often passengers get up to use the restroom, and even who their traveling companions are.

A spokesperson for the FBI, Kathy Wright, confirmed to 9NEWS that federal investigators were originally called to the scene after receiving a call on a "possible suspicious incident." Wright said eventually "we determined that it was not an FBI matter."

Passengers say a bomb-sniffing dog was brought onto the plane and passengers in the first-class cabin we're asked to go back to coach for a brief amount of time according to passengers on the plane.

John Sloan of Oxnard, California, was on board the flight on Wednesday.
"I have never seen flight attendants so scared in my life. Everything turned out OK, but it was not a very good feeling. It would have been nice to have been updated though this process," he told 9NEWS by phone.

Sloan says seven men were escorted off of the plane. Two of them were sitting in coach. The other five were sitting in first-class, he says. All were re-booked onto another flight according to United.

Sloan says the men were attempting to change seats with other passengers. Another passenger, who doesn't want his name used, says the men were also trying to move luggage while the plane was getting ready to push back.

Passengers tell 9NEWS all of the men looked to be "Middle Eastern," but United will not confirm the identity of the seven men.

Nothing criminal was found, and the flight was allowed to continue on to California.

Passengers also tell 9NEWS that former head coach of the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan, was seated in first class while this was all going on. Shanahan could not be reached for comment, and a spokesperson for the former coach simply told 9NEWS that he was "out of town."

There have been no arrests and investigators say there is no criminal investigation in connection to the incident.

If you have any information about what happened on Flight 227 on Thursday, please e-mail us at

(Copyright KUSA*TV, All Rights Reserved)

" A similar thing happened recently at the Pershing Square station in downtown LA. I was with one of my best friends waiting for the subway back to Union Station when a group of about 10 Middle Eastern men came onto the platform. I just thought they were going to a Mosque somewhere or another religious event. They all had backpacks and my friend thought they may be tourists. Well anyway, the subway came and the police did a routine sweep of the cars and we were waiting to board. I kept looking at the men and they were all splitting up from each other and going into different subway cars. I suddenly got very nervous and pulled my friend back out of the subway car. I didn’t explain but said we had to get out of there. I took a picture of the men as we rushed out of area. Nothing happened of course but I was very nervous thinking it could be a dry run or something. I contacted the LAPD and emailed them the picture I took of the men, I never heard anything back. I just found it funny that these men all walked down to the subway together, stood and talked to one another, and then split up into all different cars when it came time to board the subway."
26010  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Pre-order form on: December 13, 2009, 11:21:15 AM
Pre-order form!
26011  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An opinion piece on: December 13, 2009, 10:14:59 AM
Any comments?
To Beat Al Qaeda, Look to the East

Published: December 12, 2009

IN testimony last week before Congress, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, insisted that President Obama’s revised war strategy will “build support for the Afghan government,” while Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, vowed that it will “absolutely” succeed in disrupting and degrading the Taliban.

Confidence is important, but we also have to recognize that the decision to commit 30,000 more troops to a counterinsurgency effort against a good segment of the Afghan population, with the focus on converting a deeply unpopular and corrupt regime into a unified, centralized state for the first time in that country’s history, is far from a slam dunk. In the worst case, the surge may push General McChrystal’s “core goal of defeating Al Qaeda” further away.

Al Qaeda is already on the ropes globally, with ever-dwindling financial and popular support, and a drastically diminished ability to work with other extremists worldwide, much less command them in major operations. Its lethal agents are being systematically hunted down, while those Muslims whose souls it seeks to save are increasingly revolted by its methods.

Unfortunately, this weakening viral movement may have a new lease on life in Afghanistan and Pakistan because we are pushing the Taliban into its arms. By overestimating the threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we are making it a greater threat to Pakistan and the world. Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan are unlike Iraq, the ancient birthplace of central government, or 1960s Vietnam, where a strong state was backing the Communist insurgents. Afghanistan and Pakistan must be dealt with on their own terms.

We’re winning against Al Qaeda and its kin in places where antiterrorism efforts are local and built on an understanding that the ties binding terrorist networks today are more cultural and familial than political. Consider recent events in Southeast Asia.

In September, Indonesian security forces killed Noordin Muhammad Top, then on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted terrorist list. Implicated in the region’s worst suicide bombings — including the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in Jakarta last July 17 — Noordin Top headed a splinter group of the extremist religious organization Jemaah Islamiyah (he called it Al Qaeda for the Malaysian Archipelago). Research by my colleagues and me, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department, reveals three critical factors in such groups inspired by Al Qaeda, all of which local security forces implicitly grasp but American counterintelligence workers seem to underestimate.

What binds these groups together? First is friendship forged through fighting: the Indonesian volunteers who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan styled themselves the Afghan Alumni, and many kept in contact when they returned home after the war. The second is school ties and discipleship: many leading operatives in Southeast Asia come from a handful of religious schools affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah. Out of some 30,000 religious schools in Indonesia, only about 50 have a deadly legacy of producing violent extremists. Third is family ties; as anyone who has watched the opening scene from “The Godfather” knows, weddings can be terrific opportunities for networking and plotting.

Understanding these three aspects of terrorist networking has given law enforcement a leg up on the jihadists. Gen. Tito Karnavian, the leader of the strike team that tracked down Noordin Top, told me that “knowledge of the interconnected networks of Afghan Alumni, kinship and marriage groups was very crucial to uncovering the inner circle of Noordin.”

Consider Noordin Top’s third marriage, which cemented ties to key suspects in the lead-up to the recent hotel bombings. His father-in-law, who founded a Jemaah Islamiyah-related boarding school, stashed explosives in his garden with the aid of another teacher at the school. Using electronic intercepts and tracing family, school and alumni ties, police officers found the cache in late June 2009. That discovery may have prompted Noordin Top to initiate the hotel attacks ahead of a planned simultaneous attack on the residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.


Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, John Jay College and the University of Michigan, is the author of the forthcoming “Listen to the Devil"


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In addition, an Afghan Alumnus and nephew of Noordin Top’s father-in-law was being pursued by the police for his role in a failed plot to blow up a tourist cafe on Sumatra. Unfortunately, Noordin Top struck the hotels before the Indonesian police could penetrate the entire network, in part because another family group was still operating under the police radar. This group included a florist who smuggled the bombs into the hotels and a man whose eventual arrest led to discovery of the plot against the president. Both terrorists were married to sisters of a Yemeni-trained imam who recruited the hotel suicide bombers, and of another brother who had infiltrated Indonesia’s national airline.

Had the police pulled harder on the pieces of social yarn they had in hand, they might have unraveled the hotel plot earlier. Still, their work thwarted attacks planned for the future, including that on the president.
Similarly, security officials in the Philippines have combined intelligence from American and Australian sources with similar tracking efforts to crack down on their terrorist networks, and as a result most extremist groups are either seeking reconciliation with the government — including the deadly Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the island of Mindanao — or have devolved into kidnapping-and-extortion gangs with no ideological focus. The separatist Abu Sayyaf Group, once the most feared force in the region, now has no overall spiritual or military leaders, few weapons and only a hundred or so fighters.

So, how does this relate to a strategy against Al Qaeda in the West and in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Al Qaeda’s main focus is harming the United States and Europe, but there hasn’t been a successful attack in these places directly commanded by Osama bin Laden and company since 9/11. The American invasion of Afghanistan devastated Al Qaeda’s core of top personnel and its training camps. In a recent briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. case officer, said that recent history “refutes claims by some heads of the intelligence community that all Islamist plots in the West can be traced back to the Afghan-Pakistani border.” The real threat is homegrown youths who gain inspiration from Osama bin Laden but little else beyond an occasional self-financed spell at a degraded Qaeda-linked training facility.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq encouraged many of these local plots, including the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In their aftermaths, European law and security forces stopped plots from coming to fruition by stepping up coordination and tracking links among local extremists, their friends and friends of friends, while also improving relations with young Muslim immigrants through community outreach. Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have taken similar steps.

Now we need to bring this perspective to Afghanistan and Pakistan — one that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with Western-style aid programs, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure. Reading a thousand years of Arab and Muslim history would show little in the way of patterns that would have helped to predict 9/11, but our predicament in Afghanistan rhymes with the past like a limerick.

A key factor helping the Taliban is the moral outrage of the Pashtun tribes against those who deny them autonomy, including a right to bear arms to defend their tribal code, known as Pashtunwali. Its sacred tenets include protecting women’s purity (namus), the right to personal revenge (badal), the sanctity of the guest (melmastia) and sanctuary (nanawateh). Among all Pashtun tribes, inheritance, wealth, social prestige and political status accrue through the father’s line.

This social structure means that there can be no suspicion that the male pedigree (often traceable in lineages spanning centuries) is “corrupted” by doubtful paternity. Thus, revenge for sexual misbehavior (rape, adultery, abduction) warrants killing seven members of the offending group and often the “offending” woman. Yet hospitality trumps vengeance: if a group accepts a guest, all must honor him, even if prior grounds justify revenge. That’s one reason American offers of millions for betraying Osama bin Laden fail.

Afghan hill societies have withstood centuries of would-be conquests by keeping order with Pashtunwali in the absence of central authority. When seemingly intractable conflicts arise, rival parties convene councils, or jirgas, of elders and third parties to seek solutions through consensus.


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After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

American-sponsored “reconciliation” efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban may be fatally flawed if they include demands that Pashtun hill tribes give up their arms and support a Constitution that values Western-inspired rights and judicial institutions over traditions that have sustained the tribes against all enemies.

THE secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, suggest that victory in Afghanistan is possible if the Taliban who pursue self-interest rather than ideology can be co-opted with material incentives. But as the veteran war reporter Jason Burke of The Observer of London told me: “Today, the logical thing for the Pashtun conservatives is to stop fighting and get rich through narcotics or Western aid, the latter being much lower risk. But many won’t sell out.”

Why? In part because outsiders who ignore local group dynamics tend to ride roughshod over values they don’t grasp. My research with colleagues on group conflict in India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories found that helping to improve lives materially does little to reduce support for violence, and can even increase it if people feel such help compromises their most cherished values.

The original alliance between the Taliban and Al Qaeda was largely one of convenience between a poverty-stricken national movement and a transnational cause that brought it material help. American pressure on Pakistan to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their sanctuary gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban, who forged their own ties to Al Qaeda to fight the Pakistani state.

While some Taliban groups use the rhetoric of global jihad to inspire ranks or enlist foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban show no inclination to go after Western interests abroad. Their attacks, which have included at least three assaults near nuclear facilities, warrant concerted action — but in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan. As Mr. Sageman, the former C.I.A. officer, puts it: “There’s no Qaeda in Afghanistan and no Afghans in Qaeda.”

Pakistan has long preferred a policy of “respect for the independence and sentiment of the tribes” that was advised in 1908 by Lord Curzon, the British viceroy of India who established the North-West Frontier Province as a buffer zone to “conciliate and contain” the Pashtun hill tribes. In 1948, Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, removed all troops from brigade level up in Waziristan and other tribal areas in a plan aptly called Operation Curzon.

The problem today is that Al Qaeda is prodding the Pakistani Taliban to hit state institutions in the hopes of provoking a full-scale invasion of the tribal areas by the Pakistani Army; the idea is that such an assault would rally the tribes to Al Qaeda’s cause and threaten the state. The United States has been pushing for exactly that sort of potentially disastrous action by Islamabad. But holding to Curzon’s line may still be Pakistan’s best bet. The key in the Afghan-Pakistani area, as in Southeast Asia, is to use local customs and networks to our advantage. Of course, counterterrorism measures are only as effective as local governments that execute them. Afghanistan’s government is corrupt, unpopular and inept.

Besides, there’s really no Taliban central authority to talk to. To be Taliban today means little more than to be a Pashtun tribesman who believes that his fundamental beliefs and customary way of life are threatened. Although most Taliban claim loyalty to Afghanistan’s Mullah Omar, this allegiance varies greatly. Many Pakistani Taliban leaders — including Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by an American drone in August, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud — rejected Mullah Omar’s call to forgo suicide bombings against Pakistani civilians.

In fact, it is the United States that holds today’s Taliban together. Without us, their deeply divided coalition could well fragment. Taliban resurgence depends on support from those notoriously unruly hill tribes in Pakistan’s border regions, who are unsympathetic to the original Taliban program of homogenizing tribal custom and politics under one rule.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Taliban were to sever ties to Mr. bin Laden if he became a bigger headache to them than America. Al Qaeda may have close relations to the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban leader living in Pakistan, and the Shabi Khel branch of the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan, but it isn’t wildly popular with many other Taliban factions and forces.

Unlike Al Qaeda, the Taliban are interested in their homeland, not ours. Things are different now than before 9/11. The Taliban know how costly Osama bin Laden’s friendship can be. There’s a good chance that enough factions in the loose Taliban coalition would opt to disinvite their troublesome guest if we forget about trying to subdue them or hold their territory. This would unwind the Taliban coalition into a lot of straggling, loosely networked groups that could be eliminated or contained using the lessons learned in Indonesia and elsewhere. This means tracking down family and tribal networks, gaining a better understanding of family ties and intervening only when we see actions by Taliban and other groups to aid Al Qaeda or act outside their region.

To defeat violent extremism in Afghanistan, less may be more — just as it has been elsewhere in Asia.
26012  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / POTH on: December 13, 2009, 10:06:41 AM
EditorialTwitter Tapping Sign in to Recommend
Published: December 12, 2009
The government is increasingly monitoring Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for tax delinquents, copyright infringers and political protesters. A public interest group has filed a lawsuit to learn more about this monitoring, in the hope of starting a national discussion and modifying privacy laws as necessary for the online era.

Law enforcement is not saying a lot about its social surveillance, but examples keep coming to light. The Wall Street Journal reported this summer that state revenue agents have been searching for tax scofflaws by mining information on MySpace and Facebook. In October, the F.B.I. searched the New York home of a man suspected of helping coordinate protests at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh by sending out messages over Twitter.

In some cases, the government appears to be engaged in deception. The Boston Globe recently quoted a Massachusetts district attorney as saying that some police officers were going undercover on Facebook as part of their investigations.

Wired magazine reported last month that In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, has put money into Visible Technologies, a software company that crawls across blogs, online forums, and open networks like Twitter and YouTube to monitor what is being said.

This month the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law sued the Department of Defense, the C.I.A. and other federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act to learn more about their use of social networking sites.

The suit seeks to uncover what guidelines these agencies have about this activity, including information about whether agents are permitted to use fake identities or to engage in subterfuge, such as tricking people into accepting Facebook friend requests.

Privacy law was largely created in the pre-Internet age, and new rules are needed to keep up with the ways people communicate today. Much of what occurs online, like blog posting, is intended to be an open declaration to the world, and law enforcement is within its rights to read and act on what is written. Other kinds of communication, particularly in a closed network, may come with an expectation of privacy. If government agents are joining social networks under false pretenses to spy without a court order, for example, that might be crossing a line.

A national conversation about social networking and other forms of online privacy is long overdue. The first step toward having it is for the public to know more about what is currently being done. Making the federal government answer these reasonable Freedom of Information Act requests would be a good start.
26013  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Lets make a deal on: December 13, 2009, 09:58:02 AM
Its POTH, so caveat lector:

Church Works With U.S. to Spare Detention
Published: December 12, 2009
HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. — When the young pastor started his ministry here at the century-old Reformed Church in 2001, he gave little thought to the separate congregation of Indonesian Christians who shared the sanctuary. They worshiped quietly in their own language on Sunday afternoons, at the end of a hard week’s work in the factories and warehouses of central New Jersey.

But by May 2006, when they began pleading to sleep at the church, the pastor, the Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, had to pay attention. At the apartment complex where many Indonesians lived, armed federal immigration agents in a single night had rounded up 35 men with expired visas and outstanding deportation orders, as their wives and children cried and other families hid.
Suddenly a prosperous suburban congregation was confronted with the labyrinthine world of immigration law and detention. This year, when one of its own leaders, an Indonesian, was detained for months, only the pastor’s passionate, last-ditch efforts saved him from deportation. And the church reached a new level of activism — with extraordinary results.

Under an unusual compact between the pastor and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark, four Indonesians have been released from detention in recent weeks, and 41 others living as fugitives from deportation have turned themselves in under church auspices. Instead of being jailed — as hundreds of thousands of immigrants without criminal records have been in recent years — they have been released on orders of supervision, eligible for work permits while their lawyers consider how their cases might be reopened.

Though agency officials say the arrangement is simply an example of the case-by-case discretion they often use, the outcome has astonished advocates and experts in immigration enforcement, and raised hopes that it signals some broader use of humanitarian release as the Obama administration vows to overhaul the immigration system.

Still, for those who turn themselves in, the leap of faith carries big risks. For now, they can check in at a federal office every three months and, if granted a work permit, can secure a driver’s license. But they are also vulnerable to immediate deportation. Just this fall, nine Indonesian Christians in Seattle who had been on supervised release for years were abruptly detained, and some were deported.

The immigration agency issues about 10,000 orders of supervision annually, but they typically involve people who cannot be deported for practical reasons, like a homeland that will not take them back. The agency detains roughly 380,000 people a year.

“I’m totally on uncharted waters,” Mr. Kaper-Dale, 34, a Vermont native who shares the pulpit with his wife, Stephanie, said in October as he began seeking volunteers willing to place themselves in the government’s hands, from about 200 candidates not only at his church, but at several other New Jersey congregations.

The first ones to step up had to overcome fear born of experience.

“Very, very scary,” said Augus Alex Assa, 46, who fought tears as his 5-year-old daughter, Christia Celine, clung to him in the van from the church, in Middlesex County, to an immigration enforcement unit in Newark. “In my heart, I hope I will stay in the United States.”

Like most of the Indonesians, Mr. Assa and his wife, Grace, came on tourist visas that were suddenly easy for poor people to get in the 1990s, when a booming economy welcomed foreign labor with a wink and a nod. Everything changed after 9/11, when a government directive required the “special registration” of men ages 16 to 65 who had entered the country on temporary visas from a list of predominantly Muslim countries, including Indonesia. If they did not register, it was understood, they would be considered terrorist fugitives.

Most of the Indonesian Christians complied, on the advice of pastors. They hoped that honesty would open a path to legal status rather than deportation to their homeland, where many had faced discrimination and sectarian violence.

Instead, their appeals for asylum were denied in most cases, some through inattention by inept or overburdened lawyers. And those who registered became easy targets when national immigration politics demanded a crackdown.

During the 2006 raid, Mr. Assa hid in a closet when immigration agents came to the door, as his wife covered their daughter’s mouth. For two weeks afterward, they and others slept at the church.

About 50 men were eventually deported, typically after lengthy stays in immigration jails, leaving wives struggling to support American-born children. “We were shocked, but we were kind of paralyzed,” the pastor said.

On Jan. 12, the detention of one of their own spurred the congregation to action. Harry Pangemanan, a popular Bible study leader, was picked up by immigration agents as he left for work as a warehouse supervisor. He and his wife, Mariyana, parents of two American-born daughters, were the only Indonesians among the 300 people in the main congregation.

Church members organized daily visits to the detention center, a 40-minute drive away in Elizabeth, N.J., while the pastor appealed to Congressional and immigration offices. When Mr. Pangemanan reached out with his Bible to fellow detainees, the congregation visited them, too. Appalled to find asylum-seekers behind barbed wire and plexiglass, they began holding vigils outside the center, run for profit by the Corrections Corporation of America.


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Some church members resisted. “As a construction worker who is directly affected by immigration, it’s very hard,” said Rich Lord, 39. “I felt like, they’re taking my jobs away.”

But his union and his faith changed his mind, he said: “There’s pregnant women so desperate in Mexico that they’re willing to cross the desert so their child will be born in the United States. And as a Christian, I have to remember that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to flee their homeland.”
Then, at 5 a.m. on March 31, came bad news: Mr. Pangemanan was being put on a plane to Indonesia. The pastor threw on his clerical collar and ran through Newark Liberty International Airport in a frantic search for the right gate, determined to pray with his friend before he was sent away.

By the time the pastor found the flight, the passengers had already boarded. As he tells the story, he prayed at the gate, so visibly upset that an airline worker let him on the plane.

Mr. Pangemanan was in the last row between two immigration agents — bound not for Jakarta but for a detention center in Tacoma, Wash. — when he saw his pastor coming down the aisle. An astonished agent asked, “How did this guy get in here?”

“And I just put my finger up,” Mr. Pangemanan recalled, pointing heavenward.

The agents let them pray briefly; the pastor said goodbye but vowed to keep trying. Back at the church, he phoned every number on the immigration agency’s Web site.

He still cherishes the recording of the only message that came back, from Dora B. Schriro, who has since left the agency but was then special detention adviser to Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security. Within a week of their conversation, Mr. Pangemanan was back in New Jersey with his family, his case under reconsideration by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

When immigration agents arrested several more Indonesian men in late September, church leaders took their effort to a new level, meeting with Scott Weber, director of the detention and removal field office in New Jersey, and agency envoys from Washington.

David J. Venturella, acting director of the agency’s national detention and removal operations, said he approved the discussions. “We encourage all of our field office directors to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “This is a perfect example.”

Mr. Weber rejected the ministers’ proposal for a church-run alternative to detention, but offered his own: In groups of 5 or 10, twice a week, the church could bring in the Indonesians they vouched for, and lawyers committed to the lengthy process of seeking their full case files.

Unless something was amiss — a hidden criminal conviction, a false address — the former fugitives could walk out the same day. Even before the details were arranged, Mr. Weber released four recent Indonesian detainees, one a Muslim.

Amy Gottlieb, immigrant rights director for the American Friends Service Committee in New Jersey, who has been dealing with the field office since 1996, called it “an amazing moment.”

“One, you just never believe that ICE is going to work with you on anything, given the history,” she said. “And given the intensive arrest efforts for the last two or three years, it’s hard to believe that people are ready to recognize that every single case has a human angle.”

Rex Chen, the supervising lawyer at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, remains more pessimistic, likening himself to a financial adviser who warns, “This mutual fund could collapse.”

While the arrangement may buy the Indonesians a year or two, he said, unless grounds are found to reopen their cases, or Congress changes immigration law, they could find “they just moved up from not known, to on the list, to you’re taking the steps up to the airplane.”
26014  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Retrofitted vehicles on: December 13, 2009, 09:49:16 AM
Retrofitted Vehicles Offer Window Into Mexico’s Cartels
Published: December 12, 2009
CULIACÁN, Mexico — Federico Solórzano is no used car salesman, but he seemed to be getting into the part as he made the rounds of a well-stocked car lot the other day.

The Mexican Army has confiscated more than 700 vehicles in Sinaloa, including custom-made choppers and a classic Chevy painted like a Chicago police car.
“This is a 2009 Lincoln S.U.V.,” he said, gesturing toward a decked-out vehicle to his right. “Over there, we have two Corvettes. Here’s a Smart car.”
He was dressed in camouflage, and affixed to his shoulder were a golden eagle and single star, which gave away his real job as a Mexican Army general. But besides commanding the counternarcotics troops here in Sinaloa, the northwestern state that is the cradle of Mexican drug trafficking, General Solórzano also manages a huge used-car lot made up of vehicles the army has seized in Sinaloa over the past three years.

It turns out that much can be learned about the drug traffickers that the Mexican Army is combating by examining the 765 vehicles crowding the military base here awaiting disposition from the courts. If you are what you drive, drug dealers are devious, malicious, extravagant and quite conscious about security.

In some of the impounded vehicles, traffickers have installed hidden compartments, trap doors and fake sidewalls to hide drugs, drug profits and the arms they use to protect them.

“We noticed the screws here weren’t right,” said General Solórzano, pulling off a fake rear bumper from what appeared a garden-variety pickup truck. Hidden inside, he said, were cocaine and guns.

“And look at this,” he said, walking on to a Ford pickup, where he said $3 million in cash was recovered in November 2008.

Many of the vehicles that are seized during drug busts or traffic stops turn out to be armored. While bulletproofing is not illegal, General Solórzano said vehicles that had been sealed with metal and inch-thick glass raised the suspicion of soldiers and prompted them to search more vigorously for contraband.

The fact that some cars have been on the lot for as long as three years is a sign of the plodding nature of judicial proceedings in Mexico, where critics say guilt and innocence do not necessarily correlate to convictions and acquittals. Eventually, cars that are linked to criminal activity will be sold or given to government agencies for their use.

In the meantime, though, they fill General Solórzano’s lot, where oversize Hummer-like vehicles able to navigate rugged country roads are clearly a favorite. Luxury brands predominate, but they are mixed with rusted-out Buicks and vanilla Volkswagens.

“I have Jaguars; I have a Rolls Royce,” said the general, a 34-year military veteran, rattling off his top-end models. “This is a Mercedes. That, over there, is a classic Cadillac.”

Drug dealers are not all work and no play, which is clear from the motorcycle section of the lot. There are custom-made choppers with impossibly long front ends, a handmade bike retrofitted with an engine pulled from a pickup and a ghastly black machine in which the handlebars are made to resemble bones.

Classic cars are popular, including a refurbished Chevy painted like a Chicago police car from the Al Capone days.

The devious nature of the traffickers can be seen in some of the weaponry they install, which General Solórzano suspects is done in their own chop shops. Traffickers put a turret in one truck, allowing them to raise a machine gun through the roof while remaining safely inside a bulletproof chamber below.

Traffickers have also added fog machines to the back of their vehicles, allowing them to lose the authorities in a cloud of smoke. Another way they stymie the pursuing federal police is by pulling a lever on the dash and unleashing a cascade of twisted and sharpened nails.

As of January 2009, the Mexican government reported that it had seized 14,441 vehicles nationwide, on top of huge quantities of drugs, money and guns. The fact that the army keeps these vehicles on its bases instead of in an impound lot is telling, too. Drug gangs have sometimes carried out armed assaults to try to get the vehicles back, perhaps because so much money has been spent retrofitting them.

In a twist on that, men suspected of being traffickers attacked a car lot in Tijuana recently in what the authorities described as an effort to intimidate the police. The assailants used gasoline to burn 28 trucks at a Mazda dealership that were in the process of being purchased for use as police transport vehicles. Six of them were destroyed.

And cars are not the only form of transportation that the cartels will bend over backward to recover. Last year, a group of about 20 men stormed a small air field in Sinaloa and made off with five small planes that had been seized by the army months before. The army now keeps such planes under armed guard, with nearly 100 of them tethered to the runway at the airport here in Culiacán.

What can make the seizures depressing for the military is the fact that many of vehicles taken from criminals are newer, faster and better equipped than the troop carriers the army uses.

“They have money,” the general said, rubbing his fingers together.

Meanwhile, a tow truck rolled through the base pulling a sports utility vehicle, increasing General Solórzano’s inventory to 766.
26015  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison; Federalist 14 on: December 13, 2009, 09:34:50 AM
"Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness." --James Madison, Federalist No. 14
26016  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US shifts position on: December 13, 2009, 09:11:26 AM
This is Pravda on the Hudson writing here about exactly the sort of subject where it can be and often is at its most deceptive, so caveat lector.  That said, I have no knowledge of these issues and cannot tell if this is simply the Obama people desperately giving up things they shouldn't be giving up (e.g. as they are currently doing in nuke negotiations with Russia) or whether there is something actually of merit going on here.  I also note that the article does not mention China, which I understand to see our dependence on things cyper as a weak link in our military capabilities; and that they therefore are sedulously at work on their capabilities to seriously fcuk up our military comm capabilities.  If we are busy keeping an agreement with the Russians, does that leave us more vulnerable to the Chinese?

In Shift, U.S. Talks to Russia on Internet Security Recommend
Published: December 12, 2009
The United States has begun talks with Russia and a United Nations arms control committee about strengthening Internet security and limiting military use of cyberspace.

American and Russian officials have different interpretations of the talks so far, but the mere fact that the United States is participating represents a significant policy shift after years of rejecting Russia’s overtures. Officials familiar with the talks said the Obama administration realized that more nations were developing cyberweapons and that a new approach was needed to blunt an international arms race.

In the last two years, Internet-based attacks on government and corporate computer systems have multiplied to thousands a day. Hackers, usually never identified, have compromised Pentagon computers, stolen industrial secrets and temporarily jammed government and corporate Web sites. President Obama ordered a review of the nation’s Internet security in February and is preparing to name an official to coordinate national policy.

Last month, a delegation led by Gen. Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, a deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council and the former leader of the Russian equivalent of the National Security Agency, met in Washington with representatives from the National Security Council and the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security. Officials familiar with these talks said the two sides made progress in bridging divisions that had long separated the countries.

Indeed, two weeks later in Geneva, the United States agreed to discuss cyberwarfare and cybersecurity with representatives of the United Nations committee on disarmament and international security. The United States had previously insisted on addressing those matters in the committee on economic issues.

The Russians have held that the increasing challenges posed by military activities to civilian computer networks can be best dealt with by an international treaty, similar to treaties that have limited the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The United States had resisted, arguing that it was impossible to draw a line between the commercial and military uses of software and hardware.

Now there is a thaw, said people familiar with the discussions.

“In the last months there are more signs of building better cooperation between the U.S. and Russia,” said Veni Markovski, a Washington-based adviser to Bulgaria’s Internet security chief and representative to Russia for the organization that assigns Internet domain names. “These are signs that show the dangers of cybercrime are too big to be neglected.”

Viktor V. Sokolov, deputy director of the Institute of Information Security in Moscow, a policy research group run by General Sherstyuk, said the Russian view was that the American position on Internet security had shifted perceptibly in recent months.

“There is movement,” he said. Before, bilateral negotiations were limited to the relevant Russian police agency, the Bureau of Special Technical Operations, the Internet division of the Ministry of Interior, and the F.B.I.

Mr. Sokolov characterized this new round of discussions as the opening of negotiations between Russia and the United States on a possible disarmament treaty for cyberspace, something Russia has long sought but the United States has resisted.

“The talks took place in a good atmosphere,” he said. “And they agreed to continue this process. There are positive movements.”

A State Department official, who was not authorized to speak about the talks and requested anonymity, disputed the Russian characterization of the American position. While the Russians have continued to focus on treaties that may restrict weapons development, the United States is hoping to use the talks to increase international cooperation in opposing Internet crime. Strengthening defenses against Internet criminals would also strengthen defenses against any military-directed cyberattacks, the United States maintains. An administration official said the United States was seeking common ground with the Russians.

The United Nations discussions are scheduled to resume in New York in January, and the two countries also plan to talk at an annual Russia-sponsored Internet security conference in Garmisch, Germany.

The American interest in reopening discussions shows that the Obama administration, even in absence of a designated Internet security chief, is breaking with the Bush administration, which declined to talk with Russia about issues related to military attacks using the Internet.

Many countries, including the United States, are developing weapons for use on computer networks that are ever more integral to the operations of everything from banks to electrical power systems to government offices. They include “logic bombs” that can be hidden in computers to halt them at crucial times or damage circuitry; “botnets” that can disable or spy on Web sites and networks; or microwave radiation devices that can burn out computer circuits miles away.

The Russians have focused on three related issues, according to American officials involved in the talks that are part of a broader thaw in American-Russian relations known as the "reset" that also include negotiations on a new nuclear disarmament treaty. In addition to continuing efforts to ban offensive cyberweapons, they have insisted on what they describe as an issue of sovereignty calling for a ban on “cyberterrorism.” American officials view the issue differently and describe this as a Russian effort to restrict “politically destabilizing speech.” The Russians have also rejected a portion of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime that they assert violates their Constitution by permitting foreign law enforcement agencies to conduct Internet searches inside Russian borders.

In late October at a luncheon during a meeting on Security and Counter Terrorism at Moscow State University, General Sherstyuk told a group of American executives that the Russians would never sign the European Cybercrime Treaty as long as it contained the language permitting cross-border searches.
26017  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Palin surprises Shatner on: December 12, 2009, 10:15:46 AM
26018  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB on: December 12, 2009, 09:45:49 AM
 NEW YORK Judge: Keep funding ACORN A federal judge has ruled the U.S. government's move to cut off funding to ACORN is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon issued the preliminary...
26019  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Health Care Market -- Jonathan Bush on: December 12, 2009, 08:42:00 AM
Watertown, Mass.

'It's a little bit like talking to a young prince," says Jonathan Bush, chairman and CEO of Athenahealth, a major player in information technology services for physicians, of his recent visits to Capitol Hill. "'So—tell me about this market thing that your people use,'" he says, mimicking the political royalty with a grin and extending his forearm. "'Wait: I must catch my falcon!'"

Athenahealth's headquarters, on the banks of the Charles River outside Boston, is a world away from D.C., and it's clear, as he continues his metaphor, that Mr. Bush enjoys the distance: "And these princes, they mean well and they're lovely," he says, "but they're living in this alternate universe where there's no such thing as a market in health care and they don't understand why one might be remotely useful."

He pauses. "That's weird to me."

Mr. Bush is an outlier in the generally buttoned-down world of the health industry. He's exuberant, hyperactive, speaking in frenetic running monologues; it's not hard to see why the political class might be taken aback: "I still have to keep going to Washington and sucking up," he says, switching metaphors. "Because the problem is when you have a baby with an Uzi, right, they might accidentally mow you down. But here's the thing . . . they're brilliant people. It's just that the idea of a market in health care never occurred to them."

As Mr. Bush sees it, the profound problem with U.S. health care is that there's "no landscape of choices, or choosers." Due to the complexity of America's third-party laundromat for health dollars—your doctor's clerical staff bills your treatment to an insurance company picked by your employer, and it pays him with your money via premiums or foregone wages—"few doctors in America know the actual value of the services they render."

Athena's core business helps them manage their practices and get paid, but the larger purpose of the company, which he and board member Todd Park co-founded in 1997, is to try to shore up health care's resemblance to a normal market. It has grown into one of the country's most innovative health IT firms.

Athena began as a San Diego birthing clinic and floundered because it couldn't cope with back-office volatility. All transactions were conducted on paper. No one understood how to navigate the dense and bewildering coding rules for dozens of different insurers or the fee schedules for government payers like Medicaid. Claims were denied with no explanation or vaporized in purgatory. The clinic went bankrupt in 18 months.

With Mr. Park (who has joined the Obama administration), Athena designed a program to digitize records and automate billing. It now colonizes the wilderness of paperwork and habitual financial chaos that defines running a doctors office, and it is also moving into clinical record-keeping for individual patients. Some 15,000 physicians in 43 states use Athena as a virtual office, a number that is growing at an annual 30% clip.

It is a massive logistical undertaking. Athena's main facility is housed in a decommissioned World War II arsenal on the Charles, where 30,000 pounds of paper is processed every month, most of the tonnage being paper checks. Incredibly, doctors also receive on average 1,185 faxes each month—mostly lab results—and those are handled too.

State Medicaid programs, by the way, are easily the worst payers, according to Athena's annual ranking. In New York, for instance, claims must be tendered on a dead-tree form instead of electronically and in blue ink—black is grounds for rejection—and then go on to spend a full 161 days, or almost a half year, in accounts receivable.

View Full Image

Zina Saunders
 .While streamlining this disorder frees up time for the company's clients to treat patients, it also throws off vast data, which are fed in central servers, aggregated and analyzed. This "athenanet" system is among the few health-tech offerings based on "cloud computing"—in the sense that the applications are accessed on the Web, instead of a computer's hard drive, allowing constant updates and refinements. If a regulation changes or an insurer adjusts a payment policy, it is reflected on athenanet almost in real time; on the clinical side, the program can adapt at the same rapid pace as medicine itself.

Mr. Bush thinks the main benefit is the "collective intelligence" that he is starting to weave together from the 87% of American physicians who practice solo or in groups of five doctors or fewer. "We found one of the last few remaining crowds in health care, which are these independent practices. Now you can argue that this decentralization is not the best thing in the world," but what's most important, he argues, is that "they're still allowed to go and make their own decisions."

In effect, as the network gets bigger, it gets smarter, while opening the space for innovations to feed off one another and spread. There really can be "radical improvement" in health care, Mr. Bush says, but only if there are "radical improvers" able to set themselves apart and lead the forward advance. "No one ever says, 'Here's to the average,'" he declares pointedly.

The Athena model is superior to most electronic medical record systems, or EMRs, which are generally based on static software that are inflexible, can't link to other systems, and are sold by large corporate vendors like General Electric. One reason the digital revolution has so far passed over the health sector is sheer bad product. The adoption of EMR in health systems across the country has been dogged by cumbersome interfaces, error propagation and other drawbacks. In 2003, for instance, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles dumped a $34 million proprietary system after doctors staged a revolt.

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.Athena also stands in marked contrast to most of the wider health-care market, which Mr. Bush argues is homogenized and rigid, and getting more so. The problem is "easily fixed by releasing some power into the arms of consumers and cutting employers and certainly the government out of it," he says, turning to ObamaCare. "Certainly I'm not commenting on the amount of wealth redistribution that we should do as a society. Fundamentally I believe we need some, and whether the amount we're doing today is enough or too much or not enough, that's not my thing. If we feel like rich people should pay more for not-rich people's health insurance, that's fine.

"But just give them the money," he cries. "It's totally inefficient wealth redistribution because they can't get creative with it. They're not allowed by law to get creative with it."

What Mr. Bush means is that the government imposes standardized rules and mandates with no concern for how much they will cost or who will bear the burden. Given the choice, consumers might decide on cheaper policies that cover some services but not others, or decide to run more risk.

Yet for all the talk about expanding coverage, Mr. Bush says the real problem is that "You can't buy what you want." Another way of putting it is that "America will have one car. Everyone will have access to transportation, which means that everyone will have a black Escalade, with spinners. That's it. There's no Hyundais, no bicycles, no nothing."

And it's scandalously unfair. "These poor people who clip the things off the backs of cans to make the tomatoes cheaper are subsidizing the hypochondriac who gets his shoulder done with an arthroscope because it clicks when he serves at tennis."

Under ObamaCare, Mr. Bush says, "everyone is going to get health care according to the wise-men benefit panel, who will tell you exactly what it is, and then they'll run out of money, so every year the wise panel will just squish the benefit a little. People will start to say, well, that's not going to work for me." For this reason he doesn't think central health planning will have any longevity, and eventually people "will start leaking out into the [private] market once we run out of Obama energy."

His company, he thinks, will play an important role in such a world, where individuals would have more responsibility for weighing trade-offs—which, he believes, is the only lasting way to enforce discipline in health spending: "Today it's so complicated that the average consumer—and this is what the academics say—you can't put the average consumer in charge, it's too complicated. Yeah it's too complicated! So let's make it not complicated," he says. Athenanet generates "clean information," the basic price signals about health care that "a regular old consumer could look at and say, 'That's worth it' or 'I'd rather do this one on the other side of Route 128 that does it cheaper.'"

Mr. Bush is less sanguine about the White House cost-control approach of better living through technocracy and "Benthemite micromanagement." As an illustration he singles out the idea of dispensing bonus payments to hospitals that find ways to reduce Medicare spending. If the bonus is higher than what the hospital would have been paid under the status quo, then Medicare is worse off—but if the bonus is less than what the hospital would have earned otherwise, in what sense is it an incentive to change? In other words, "I'm going to give you a dollar bill for every 10-dollar bill you give me?" Mr. Bush asks incredulously.

The irony is that Athena will likely benefit from the Project Mayhem that is about to begin. "It's probably terrible that all this new bureaucracy is being created," Mr. Bush says. "But there's going to be 50 new Medicaid-type plans in these insurance exchanges, run by the same insurance commissioners, these same sort of glazed-over-looking state secretaries of health. You know, just not really the brightest bulbs in the chandeliers of the world. Medicaid, the worst payer in the country by a factor of four! Mother of pearl! So I feel a little bit like a robber baron. I am going to make oil money dealing with them."

The double irony is that Athena—while Mr. Bush might not put it in such an impolitic way, but then again, maybe he would—is also showing that the status quo for all its flaws is capable of organic change and real progress without the blunt-force trauma Congress is likely to inflict. Or in spite of it.

Take the nearly $47 billion in stimulus cash the White House has budgeted to prime the pump for health IT adoption. Mr. Bush says he's glad his industry is getting more attention from the bully pulpit, but that "It is kind of too bad that all these software companies that we're really close to putting out of business, these terrible legacy companies, with code that was written in the '70s, are going to get life support. That's why I call it the Sunny von Bülow bill. What it is, basically, is a federally sponsored sale on old-fashioned software."

"It's designed like a box-buying campaign," he continues. "You get this fixed chunk of money for a few years, you get to pay off your EMR, like its a thing. People in Washington think in terms of things that we'll buy and then they'll be there. Buildings. Roads. Tanks. What Lockheed Martin makes. Things.

"And this isn't that. This is a market: its a set of agreements, it's a language. What's needed is a way of exchanging value and making choices, that's ethical—and, you know, nobody, nobody, not nobody, has said a word about that.

Mr. Rago is a senior editorial page writer at the Journal.
26020  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 300 arrested on: December 12, 2009, 08:30:04 AM

POTH acts as an advocate for BO's illegal immigration policies:

Immigration Officials Arrest 300 in California
Published: December 11, 2009
LOS ANGELES — Nearly 300 illegal immigrants who had committed serious crimes were deported or detained this week by federal agents in a demonstration of what immigration officials pledged was a new resolve to zero in on the most egregious lawbreakers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials called the three-day sweep in California their largest operation ever aimed at illegal immigrants with criminal records.

More than 80 percent had convictions for serious or violent crimes and at least 100 have been removed from the country, with the others awaiting deportation proceedings.

John Morton, an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security who is in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Friday that focusing on serious criminals helped improve public safety.

“These are not people who we want walking our streets,” Mr. Morton said at a news conference here, a day after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made much the same point at a Congressional hearing.

The Department of Homeland Security has been criticized by immigrant advocates and civil libertarians in recent years for rounding up hundreds of people whose only offense was being in the country without proper documents, sometimes at the cost of breaking up families.

President Obama had campaigned on a promise of a more compassionate approach to immigration enforcement that would focus on ridding the country of felons and cracking down on employers who deliberately hire illegal workers.

Mr. Morton, citing limited resources, said, “We are going to focus on those people who choose to pursue a life of crime in the United States rather than pursue the American dream of education, hard work and success.”

Last year, 136,126 illegal immigrants with criminal records were deported, a record number, officials said. While department officials trumpeted the mass arrests this week, they could not say how many serious criminal offenders who are in the country illegally remain on the streets.

The Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union reacted skeptically to the announcement, noting that despite assurances that serious criminals were the target, previous sweeps have turned out to capture large numbers of people with no such records.

“We would welcome more effective targeting than in the past but it is not yet clear that is the case here,” said Caroline Cincotta, a fellow at the project, who also questioned whether the swift deportations had allowed people to have full due process.

ICE officials said just six of those arrested had no record at all, and they sought to play up the serious nature of the offenses of those who were apprehended.

Those arrested included a Guatemalan man with ties to a Los Angeles gang who had committed first-degree robbery, a Mexican man convicted of lewd acts with a child and a Mexican man with a rape conviction.

Of the 286 people arrested, 63 had previously been deported. At least 17 face prosecution for re-entering the country without proper documents.

The agents and officers tracked down most of those arrested through tips and a review of immigration files, court and public records. Many people arrested this week were never deported after serving prison time for their offenses because they fell through the cracks.

Mr. Morton said the immigration agency was improving cooperation with local and state jailers, and is rolling out a “Secure Communities” program that by 2012 is expected to permit all local jails nationwide to check the immigration status of inmates.

The deportees represented 31 countries, though the majority, 207, were from Mexico.
26021  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Government Programs, spending, budget process on: December 12, 2009, 08:22:24 AM
Geothermal Project in California Is Shut Down

Published: December 11, 2009
The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.

AltaRock Energy has told the Department of Energy it has removed its drill rig, shown above in May, from a Northern California site and abandoned the project. The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers.  But on Friday, the Energy Department said that AltaRock had given notice this week that “it will not be continuing work at the Geysers” as part of the agency’s geothermal development program.

The project’s apparent collapse comes a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, the two setbacks could change the direction of the Obama administration’s geothermal program, which had raised hopes that the earth’s bedrock could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source.

The Energy Department referred other questions about the project’s shutdown to AltaRock, a startup company based in Seattle. Reached by telephone, the company’s chief operations officer, James T. Turner, confirmed that the rig had been removed but said he had not been informed of the notice that the company had given the government. Two other senior company officials did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear whether AltaRock might try to restart the project with private money.

In addition to a $6 million grant from the Energy Department, AltaRock had attracted some $30 million in venture capital from high-profile investors like Google, Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

“Some of these startup companies got out in front and convinced some venture capitalists that they were very close to commercial deployment,” said Daniel P. Schrag, a professor of geology and director of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University.

Geothermal enthusiasts asserted that drilling miles into hard rock, as required by the technique, could be done quickly and economically with small improvements in existing methods, Professor Schrag said. “What we’ve discovered is that it’s harder to make those improvements than some people believed,” he added.

In fact, AltaRock immediately ran into snags with its drilling, repeatedly snapping off bits in shallow formations called caprock. The project’s safety was also under review at the Energy Department after federal officials said the company had not been entirely forthcoming about the earthquakes produced in Basel in making the case for the Geysers project.

The results of that review have not yet been announced, but the type of geothermal energy explored in Basel and at the Geysers requires fracturing the bedrock then circulating water through the cracks to produce steam. By its nature, fracturing creates earthquakes, though most of them are small.

On Friday, the Energy Department, which has put some $440 million into its geothermal program this year alone, said that despite the latest developments, it remained confident of the technology’s long-term prospects. Many geothermal methods do not require drilling so deep or fracturing bedrock.

“The Department of Energy believes that geothermal energy holds enormous potential to heat our homes and power our economy while decreasing our carbon pollution,” said Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman.

AltaRock has also received some $25 million in federal money for a project in Oregon, and some scientists speculated on Friday that after the spate of problems at the Geysers, the company wanted to focus on a new site.

But the company, whose project at the Geysers was located on land leased from the federal government by the Northern California Power Agency, has held information about its project tightly. Not even the power agency has been informed of AltaRock’s ultimate intentions at the site, said Murray Grande, who is in charge of geothermal facilities for the agency.

“They just probably gave up, but we don’t know,” Mr. Grande said. “We have nothing official from them at all.”

But a resident of the nearby town of Anderson Springs, which is already shaken by quakes generated by less ambitious geothermal projects, reacted with jubilation when told it appeared the new project was ending.

“How I feel is beyond anything that words can express,” said the resident, Jacque Felber, who added that an unnerving quake had rattled her property the night before. “I’m just so relieved, because with this going on, I’m afraid one of these days it’s going to knock my house off the hill.”
26022  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ed Rothstein on: December 12, 2009, 08:19:04 AM
Exhibition Review | 'The Red Book of C. G. Jung: Creation of a New
Jung's Inner Universe, Writ Large
Published: December 11, 2009

We know the archetype; we cherish the myth. The hero, like the world around
him, is in a state of crisis. And in seeking to restore himself and the
shattered cosmos, he valiantly passes through a vale of despair, descending
into darkness. He risks his life and psyche in perilous encounters with
dreams or dragons and finally emerges into the light, spiritually
transformed, ushering in a new age.

From "The Red Book" by C. G. Jung (W. W. Norton & Company), via Rubin Museum
of Art
An image on display in a new exhibition of work by Carl G. Jung at the Rubin
Museum of Art. More Photos »

That restoration may be like Odysseus' epic journey home or like the return
of the Israelites to Canaan. It may be like Siegfried braving his way to the
side of the sleeping Brünnhilde or like ... well, perhaps like the journey
that Carl G. Jung tried to outline in a private chronicle he kept for 16
years that until recently had scarcely been seen by anyone outside the
extended family of his descendants. It's an elaborately designed scripture,
filled with his fantasies and surreal imaginings, known as "The Red Book."
The title is not a metaphorical allusion to blood's primal coloration nor
does it require elaborate symbolic explication. The book really is red, and
you can see it until mid-February, lying open in a glass case in an
exhibition mounted in its honor at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea: "The
Red Book of C. G. Jung: Creation of a New Cosmology."

Jung, who by the time he began work on this tome had already broken with
Freud and was developing his mythically suffused conception of the human
psyche, made certain that the book's significance would not be overlooked by
future acolytes. Bound in crimson leather, it is an enormous folio, more
than 600 pages, bearing the formal title "Liber Novus" ("New Book"). Jung
gave it all the trappings of antique authority and stentorian consequence,
presenting it as a Newer New Testament.

He wrote it out himself, using a runic Latin and German calligraphy. Its
opening portion, which begins with quotations from Isaiah and the Gospel
according to John, is inked onto parchment, each section beginning with an
initial illuminated as if by a medieval scribe with a taste for eyes,
castles and scarabs.

The book's accounts of Jung's visions, fantasies and dreams are also
punctuated with his paintings (some of which are on display in the
exhibition), images executed during the years of World War I and the decade
after that now appear as uncanny anticipations of New Age folk art of the
late 20th century. They display abstract, symmetrical floral designs Jung
came to identify as mandalas, along with almost childlike renderings of
flames, trees, dragons and snakes, all in striking, bold colors.

But what is particularly strange about this book is not its pretense or
pomposity but its talismanic power. It was stashed away in a cabinet for
decades by the family, then jealously withheld from scholarly view because
of its supposedly revealing nature. Since being brought into the open,
partly through the efforts of the historian and Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani
(who is also curator of this exhibition), it has become a sensation.

A meticulously reproduced facsimile, published in October by W. W. Norton &
Company, with detailed footnotes and commentary by Mr. Shamdasani (who also
contributed to the volume's accompanying translation), "The Red Book,"
costing $195, is in its fifth printing.

This modest show, in which the book is supplemented by displays of the
author's notes, sketches and paintings, is now scheduled to travel to the
Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from April to June, and then to the Library of
Congress in Washington.

The book really is a remarkable object, and not just because it so
eccentrically insists on its own significance. It represents Jung's thinking
during a period when he was developing his notion of "archetype" and a
"collective unconscious," positing a substratum of the human mind that
shapes language, image and myth across all cultures. And as he was
developing his ideas about psychological therapy as a form of
self-knowledge, he seemed to have been engaging in just such a
self-analysis: the book provides a bewildering, seemingly uncensored path
into Jung's inner life. Mr. Shamdasani writes, "It is nothing less than the
central book in his oeuvre."

That is something students of Jung's life and work can ponder as they try to
put these gnomic tales into intellectual and biographical context. As Jung
himself warned in an unfinished 1959 epilogue to this unfinished book, "To
the superficial observer, it will appear like madness." Perhaps even to the
nonsuperficial observer.


Page 2 of 2)

The narrator is a stand-in for Jung; he splits into multiple parts, engaging
in cryptic dialogue with alternative souls. He is often in the company of a
being named Philemon, an old man with the horns of a bull, a creature, Jung
said, who evolved out of the biblical character Elijah. Philemon is a
 "pagan" who carries with him "an Egypto-Hellenic atmosphere with a Gnostic

Nearly every visitation has some such mix of exotico-mythico-primitivo
coloration. One painting on display here shows a centipedesque dragon, its
jaws opened to swallow a yellow ball.
Jung's explanation: "The dragon wants to eat the sun, and the youth
beseeches him not to. But he eats it nevertheless." An inscription goes into
more detail, naming figures in the story without explaining them:
"Atmavictu," "a youthful supporter," "Telesphorus," "evil spirit in some

Confusion about the meaning of it all was apparently shared by Jung, who
transcribed these visions and then reflected on them in streams of
semiconsciousness, invoking death, sacrifice, love and acceptance, sounding
at times like a Greek priestess moaning from the bowels of the earth. He
wanders in the desert, he cries aloud, he eats the liver of a sacrificed
girl, her head "a mash of blood with hair and whitish pieces of bone."

The temptation, after numbingly turning these pages, is to react finally
like the psychiatrist Spielvogel at the end of Philip Roth's "Portnoy's
Complaint," and say: "So. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?" Maybe that was
Jung's reaction too, which is why he abandoned the project in 1930. He
couldn't even complete the epilogue, some 30 years later, breaking off in

Now it may be, of course, that Jung was speaking profoundly in tongues, and
that more devoted souls may stumble on the key to all these mythologies.
Perhaps. Jung himself, after all, was engaged in more compelling systematic
work about the primal forces of the psyche during this period (ideas that
may have also influenced the late speculations of Freud). Yet right now the
lure of the book comes not from within, but from without, not from what it
deciphers, but from what it signals about our own mythological

Mr. Shamdasani argues that "the overall theme of the book is how Jung
regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual
alienation." And as he points out, Jung undertook his strange project after
a series of apocalyptic visions in 1913 and 1914 that he later believed were
prophesies of an imminent world war. He looked out a window, he said, and
"saw blood, rivers of blood." Jung felt it within himself as well, the
"menace of psychosis."

And so he began this enterprise of self-examination, a ruthless overturning
of the rational Western mind, submerging himself in a pilgrimage through the
pagan land of his own psyche. This project was his belated answer to Freud's
"Interpretation of Dreams," which had also presented itself as the account
of a heroic self-analytical descent into the maelstrom of the unconscious.

We are lured by that archetype still, even if it does not seem to shed the
illumination Jung claimed. Go see this book and the exhibition, though, to
glimpse an extraordinary relic of a particular way of thinking about the
mind and its history. Then, cued by a 13th-century Tibetan mandala here that
Jung owned, go upstairs and see the Rubin's astonishing show of these
ancient Tibetan designs, each enclosing an encyclopedic universe,
encompassing desire, venality, wisdom, ecstasy and passion. Maybe "The Red
Book" deserves a diagnosis: Jung had mandala envy.
26023  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / If POTH is worried , , , on: December 12, 2009, 08:05:28 AM
New Cases Test Optimism on Extremism by U.S. Muslims
Sargodha Police Department, via Associated Press
The Americans arrested Wednesday in Pakistan were, from left, Waqar Khan, Ramy Zamzam, Umer Farooq, Ahmed Abdullah Minni, and Aman Hassan Yemer.

Published: December 11, 2009

WASHINGTON — As the years passed after Sept. 11, 2001, without another major attack on American soil and with no sign of hidden terrorist cells, many counterterrorism specialists reached a comforting conclusion: Muslims in the United States were not very vulnerable to radicalization.

American Muslims, the reasoning went, were well assimilated in diverse communities with room for advancement. They showed little of the alienation often on display among their European counterparts, let alone attraction to extremist violence.

But with a rash of recent cases in which Americans have been accused of being drawn into terrorist scheming, the rampage at Fort Hood, Tex., last month and now the alarming account of five young Virginia men who went to Pakistan and are suspected of seeking jihad, the notion that the United States has some immunity against homegrown terrorists is coming under new scrutiny.

It is a concern that President Obama noted in passing in his address on the decision to send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, and one that has grown as the Afghan war and the hunt for Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan intensifies.

“These events certainly call the consensus into question,” said Robert S. Leiken, who studies terrorism at the Nixon Center, a Washington policy institute, and wrote the forthcoming book “Europe’s Angry Muslims.”

“The notion of a difference between Europe and United States remains relevant,” Mr. Leiken said. But the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the American operations like drone strikes in Pakistan, are fueling radicalization at home, he said.

“Just the length of U.S. involvement in these countries is provoking more Muslim Americans to react,” Mr. Leiken said.

Concern over the recent cases has profoundly affected Muslim organizations in the United States, which have renewed pledges to campaign against extremist thinking.

“Among leaders, there’s a recognition that there’s a challenge within our community that needs to be addressed,” said Alejandro J. Beutel, government liaison at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, and main author of a report by the council on radicalization and how to combat it.

Mr. Beutel, a Muslim convert from New Jersey, said the council started a grass-roots counterradicalization effort in 2005, but acknowledged that “for a while it was on the back burner.” He said, “Now we’re going to revive it.”

F.B.I. investigators were in Pakistan on Friday questioning the five Virginia men. But it remained unclear whether the men would be deported to the United States, and whether they had broken any laws in either Pakistan or the United States.

At a news conference Friday at the small Virginia mosque where the men had been youth group regulars, mosque officials expressed bewilderment at claims that the men wanted to join the jihad against American troops in Afghanistan.

“I never observed any extreme behavior from them,” said Mustafa Maryam, who runs the youth group and said he had known the young men since 2006. “They were fun-loving, career-focused children. They had a bright future before them.”

Also at the press briefing, asked about reports that the five men had contacted a Pakistani militant via the Web, Mahdi Bray, the head of the Freedom Foundation of the Muslim American Society, told reporters that YouTube and social networking sites had become a dangerous recruiting tool for militants.

“We are determined not to let religious extremists exploit the vulnerability of our children through this slick, seductive propaganda on the Internet,” said Mr. Bray, who is organizing a youth meeting later this month in Chicago to address the issue.

“Silence in cyberspace is not an option for us,” he said.

The detention of the Virginia men — ranging in age from late teens to mid-20s — would have prompted soul-searching no matter when it occurred. But it comes after a series of disturbing cases that already had terror experts speculating about a trend.

There were the November shootings that took 13 lives at Fort Hood, with murder charges pending against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born Muslim and an Army psychiatrist.

There was the arrest of Najibullah Zazi, born in Afghanistan but the seeming model of the striving immigrant as a popular coffee vendor in Manhattan, accused of going to Pakistan for explosives training with the intention of attacking in the United States.

There was David Coleman Headley, (why does no one mention his name change from a Muslim name ?) a Pakistani-American living in Chicago, accused of helping plan the killings in Mumbai, India, last year and of plotting attacks in Denmark.


Page 2 of 2)

There was Bryant Neal Vinas, a Muslim convert from Long Island who participated in a rocket attack on American troops in Afghanistan and used his knowledge of commuter trains in New York to advise Al Qaeda about potential targets.

There were the Somali-Americans from Minnesota who had traveled to Somalia to join a violent Islamist movement.

And there were cases of would-be terrorists who plotted attacks in Texas, Illinois and North Carolina with conspirators who turned out to be F.B.I. informants.

Bruce Hoffman, who studies terrorism at Georgetown University, said the recent cases only confirmed that it was “myopic” to believe “we could insulate ourselves from the currents affecting young Muslims everywhere else.”

Like many other specialists, Mr. Hoffman pointed to the United States’ combat in Muslim lands as the only obvious spur to many of the recent cases, especially those with a Pakistani connection.

“The longer we’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, “the more some susceptible young men are coming to believe that it’s their duty to take up arms to defend their fellow Muslims.”

A few analysts, in fact, argue that Mr. Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan — intended to prevent a terrorist haven there — could backfire.

Robert A. Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist, contends that suicide attacks are almost always prompted by resentment of foreign troops, and that escalation in Afghanistan will fuel more plots.

“This new deployment increases the risk of the next 9/11,” he said. “It will not make this country safer.”

Yet amid the concern about the five Virginia men and the impact of the wars on Muslim opinion, Audrey Kurth Cronin of the National War College in Washington said she found something to take comfort in.

“To me, the most interesting thing about the five guys is that it was their parents that went immediately to the F.B.I.,” she said. “It was members of the American Muslim community that put a stop to whatever those men may have been planning.”
26024  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Default, then rent on: December 11, 2009, 08:01:31 PM
Second post of the day

American Dream 2: Default, Then Rent
Interactive graphics:



PALMDALE, Calif. -- Schoolteacher Shana Richey misses the playroom she decorated with Glamour Girl decals for her daughters. Fireman Jay Fernandez misses the custom putting green he installed in his backyard.

But ever since they quit paying their mortgages and walked away from their homes, they've discovered that giving up on the American dream has its benefits.

Both now live on the 3100 block of Club Rancho Drive in Palmdale, where a terrible housing market lets them rent luxurious homes -- one with a pool for the kids, the other with a golf-course view -- for a fraction of their former monthly payments.

"It's just a better life. It really is," says Ms. Richey. Before defaulting on her mortgage, she owed about $230,000 more than the home was worth.

People's increasing willingness to abandon their own piece of America illustrates a paradoxical change wrought by the housing bust: Even as it tarnishes the near-sacred image of home ownership, it might be clearing the way for an economic recovery.

Thanks to a rare confluence of factors -- mortgages that far exceed home values and bargain-basement rents -- a growing number of families are concluding that the new American dream home is a rental.

Some are leaving behind their homes and mortgages right away, while others are simply halting payments until the bank kicks them out. That's freeing up cash to use in other ways.

Ms. Richey's family of five used some of the money to buy season tickets to Disneyland, and plans to take a Carnival cruise to Mexico in March. Mr. Fernandez takes his girlfriend out to dinner more frequently. "We're saving lots of money," Ms. Richey says.

The U.S home-ownership rate has charted its biggest decline in more than two decades, falling to 67.6% as of September from a peak of 69.2% in 2004. And more renters are on the way: Credit firm Experian and consulting firm Oliver Wyman forecast that "strategic defaults" by homeowners who can afford to pay are likely to exceed one million in 2009, more than four times 2007's level.

Stiffing the bank is bad for peoples' credit, and bad for banks. Swelling defaults could also mean more losses for taxpayers through bank bailouts.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank Securities expect 21 million U.S. households to end up owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth by the end of 2010. If one in five of those households defaults, the losses to banks and investors could exceed $400 billion. As a proportion of the economy, that's roughly equivalent to the losses suffered in the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The flip side of those losses, though, is massive debt relief that can help offset the pain of rising unemployment and put cash in consumers' pockets.

For the 4.8 million U.S. households that data provider LPS Applied Analytics estimates haven't paid their mortgages in at least three months, the added cash flow could amount to about $5 billion a month -- an injection that in the long term could be worth more than the tax breaks in the Obama administration's economic-stimulus package.

"It's a stealth stimulus," says Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics, a consulting firm specializing in real estate and the California economy. "The quicker these people shed their debts, the faster the economy is going to heal and move forward again."

As the stigma of abandoning a mortgage wanes, the Obama administration could face an uphill battle in its effort to keep people in their homes by pressuring banks to cut their mortgage payments. Some analysts argue that's not always the right approach, particularly if it prevents people from shedding onerous debts and starting afresh.

"The effect of these programs is often to lead homeowners to make decisions that are not in their economic best interests," says Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has studied mortgage defaults.

Few places in the U.S. were better suited to attract true believers in home ownership than Palmdale. A farming community that expanded in the 1950s to accommodate the aerospace industry around nearby Edwards Air Force Base, the city more than doubled its population from 1990 to the present as it became the final frontier for Los Angeles-area workers looking to buy.

About half of Palmdale's 147,000 residents endure a daily commute that can extend to two hours or more one way. In return, they get a homestead in a high-desert locale of haunting beauty, with Joshua trees dotting the landscape, and real-estate developments locked into a master grid of streets with anonymous names such as Avenue O-8 or Avenue M-4.

The 3100 block of Club Rancho Drive, built by Beazer Homes mostly in 2002, captures the essence of Palmdale's appeal. Winding along the southern edge of the Rancho Vista golf course just south of Avenue N-8, its spacious homes, verdant lawns and imported birch and sycamore trees exude a sense of middle-class tranquility.

Club Rancho became a solid community of owner-occupiers, many of whom stretched their finances to the limit. As of the end of 2007, total mortgage debt attached to the 13 houses on the block for which records are available had reached $4.5 million.

Fast-forward to the end of 2009, and the picture changes radically. Thanks to a 50% drop in home prices, at least two owners on the block now owe between $60,000 and $160,000 more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. Four more homes have already passed through foreclosure into the hands of new owners.

In the process, the block's total mortgage debt has fallen 37%, to $2.7 million.

Much of Club Rancho also has converted to rentals, a shift mirrored across Palmdale. Five homes on the 3100 block are now occupied by renters, up from only two in 2007. In the past six months, at least three families have moved into those rentals after walking away from other homes.

Ms. Richey, the teacher, arrived in Palmdale in 1999. In 2004, she and her husband, Timothy, bought a two-story home on Caspian Drive, near Avenue O-8, with a no-down-payment loan. They took pride in the amenities they installed: a powder room with granite countertops, a backyard pool and play area, and the purple-and-turquoise fantasy playroom upstairs for their three daughters.

But the value of the house plunged to less than $200,000 in 2009. Their $430,000 mortgage, with its $3,700 monthly payment, began to look more like an unwanted burden. By May, amid troubles getting tenants for two rental properties she also owned, Ms. Richey decided the time had come to cut a deal with America's Servicing Co., a unit of Wells Fargo & Co. servicing the mortgage on the house.

After three months of wrangling, she says she finally received a modification approval. The new monthly payment: about $3,300, far more than she had hoped. A Wells Fargo spokesman confirmed the bank offered Ms. Richey a modification under the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable program, and said, "The Richeys turned down the lowest payment we could offer."

Ms. Richey and her husband had already been working on Plan B -- exploring the neighborhood's "For Rent" signs.

On one trip, they drove by the house at 3152 Club Rancho Drive. It was bigger than their house on Caspian, had a pool with three waterfalls, and boasted a cascading staircase that Ms. Richey says she could picture her daughters descending on prom night. The rent was $2,195 a month.

The situation presented Ms. Richey with a quandary now facing more than 10 million U.S. homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

On one hand, walking away from her home would be easy. California is one of 10 states that largely prevent mortgage lenders from going after the other assets of borrowers who default. But she also had to consider the negatives. Her credit could be tarnished for years and, perhaps most importantly, she feared her friends and neighbors might ostracize her.

"It was scary," she says, noting that people tended to keep such decisions to themselves for fear of being stigmatized. "It's still very hush-hush."

Tom Sobelman, whose family of four lives across the street from Ms. Richey, at 3127 Club Rancho Drive, sees mortgages as a moral as well as financial obligation. He's still paying the mortgage on an investment property he owns nearby, despite the fact that the rent is about $1,000 a month short of covering his costs.

Mr. Sobelman, 37, argues that people who choose to default are unfairly benefiting at the expense of taxpayers, who have put trillions of dollars at risk to bail out struggling banks. "All these people are gaming the system, and I'm paying for it," he says. "My kids are going to be paying it off."

Mr. Sobelman has plenty of company. In a recent study of people who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth, economists Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales found that about four out of five believe defaulting on a mortgage is morally wrong if one can afford to pay it. But they also found that the people become 82% more likely to say they'll default if they know someone else who defaulted.

Moral or not, the individuals who want to shed their mortgage debts are quickly transforming the Palmdale real-estate market.

Adam Robbins, who runs the local Realty World franchise and manages about 80 properties, says about 90% of his prospective tenants are people in Ms. Richey's situation. So he and other rental managers are loosening rules to accept people who have been through foreclosures.

"Those are all good people," he says. "They just got bad loans or bought at the wrong time."

Ms. Richey and her family made the move to Club Rancho Drive in August, when she was already several months behind on the mortgage. With Mr. Robbins's help, she recently sold the house on Caspian Drive for $195,000, money that the bank will accept to settle the $430,000 mortgage debt. She's also considering walking away from the mortgages on her two rental properties.

Showing a visitor the personal touches in her new home, including a $1,800 dining set she bought with some of her newly available income, she notes the advantages of being a renter rather than an owner.

"You take a risk for the American dream," she says. "I don't have to worry about paying property tax, homeowners' insurance, the landscaping, cleaning the pool or any repairs."

Others on Ms. Richey's block have made similar moves. Mr. Fernandez, the firefighter, moved into 3139 in July, after stopping the $4,800 monthly payments on the home he owned around the corner on Champion Way.

Mr. Fernandez says he made four attempts to modify the larger of the two mortgages on his home, which add up to $423,000. Ultimately, he was offered a monthly payment that, together with back taxes, was higher than what he had been paying. Today he's working to partially reimburse his lenders, IndyMac Bank (now OneWest Bank) and American First Credit Union, by selling the home, which he expects to fetch about $300,000.

A spokeswoman for OneWest Bank said the bank "offered Mr. Fernandez the lowest payment possible under the [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.] loan modification guidelines." A spokesman for American First said the company always seeks to help clients stay in their homes.

With an income of about $8,300 a month and a rent of $2,200, Mr. Fernandez says he now has the wherewithal to do things he couldn't when he was stretching to pay the mortgage. He recently went to concerts by Rob Thomas and Mat Kearney. He also kept his black BMW 6 Series coupe, which has payments of about $700 a month.

"I don't know if I'll buy another house again, because it's such a huge headache," he says.
26025  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hanukah on: December 11, 2009, 03:33:16 PM

Much is known about the miracle of Chanukah and its subsequent impact on Jewish life. However, little is known about the battles that were fought by Judah the Maccabee and his sons. The Maccabean revolt began in 167 BCE and were at a time that there was no organized Jewish force that had engaged in any warfare. Judah the Maccabee used his genius in a manner radically different from his predecessors.

In order to fully understand the genius of Judah the Maccabee, we must understand the state of warfare which was used in those times. Greek and Roman armies were powerful, well trained, well financed, and disciplined. The Jews in that time period were basically farmers, they had lived in relative peace and had not resorted to any form of an army. Yet, after a decree was made that pigs be slaughter, offered to the Greek gods, and eaten, the revolt ensued. Mattisyahu, the Jewish priest was ordered to perform this sacrifice and to eat from the pig. Instead, with fury, he and his sons slew the Jewish traitors (who supported the Greeks) and Greek unit that had come to enforce the decree against the Jews. The Jews took refuge in the hills and mountain sides of the Modiin region, some 25 miles distant from Jerusalem. There a small group, estimated at 200 organized as a guerrilla group.

This small group reaffirmed the principles of Judaism with willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their G-d. In what they lacked in supplies and training, they made up with there devotion. They worked on strengthening their contacts among the Jewish settlements, maintaining supplies and intelligence gathering. Soon, Judah, the son of Mattisyahu, was designated as the leader.

The Greek army was well trained, well organized and tried in battle. Their ranks were composed of heavy and light infantry, heavy and light cavalry, chariots, elephant units and engines for hurling huge stones. Their weapons included swords, javelins, spears bows, slings and battering rams. The Jews small group had such home made primitive weapons such as the sling and the mace. Here is where Judah’s genius came to even the sides.

The Greeks enjoyed the overwhelming superiority in manpower and arms. However they were trained for battle in a conventional fighting form. The core of the Greek army was the tactical infantry formation, a group of soldiers drawn up in close order. The troops advanced towards the enemy in a tight mass. The men in each rank shoulder to shoulder and close on the heels of the rank in front. This company comprised of some 250 men. They would march toward the enemy in close quarter with 16 men is each row and sixteen rows. Four such units comprised some one thousand men. This was the smallest fighting group that the Greeks employed.

As the unit approached the enemy force, the first five rows held their spears horizontally towards the enemy. The remaining rows held them vertically. Their large shields protected them from all sides and overhead. All men of that unit were ready to engage the enemy not as independent warriors, but as a tightly knit war machine. The entire unit would press against the enemy once battle was joined. The thundering forward crush, demolished every thing in its path. This infantry unit was protected on the flanks by cavalry and light forces which skirmished before the main forces. Judah saw that to engage the Greeks head on was insane. He realized that that the weakness in this method of warfare was in the cumbersome conventional movement of the organized units. Due to their rigid discipline and the tight internal organization of the warring units, they could not employ the element of surprise. The progress of a marching unit was powerful, yet slow and tedious. When two forces met in battle, both sides were in full view of the other. When battle was enjoined, it was in accordance to certain fixed tactical principles. The concept of using original tactics did not exist.

Judah saw the advantages to be gained from refusing to allow the enemy to dictate the field and style of battle. The Greeks were no match if challenged on flat land in a direct battle during the daylight hours. Yehuda’s strength was in the agility of his men to move quickly, quietly and independently and their desire to prevail. They possessed intimate knowledge of the local terrain therefore attacks could be carried out at night. He therefore chose to utilize the rocky and hilly slopes of the Modiin region, together with the element of surprise.

Judah decided to attack the Greeks as they were marching thought a narrow pass that winds uphill for several miles. With one group who would meet the Greeks head on, Judah split his men into other groups. One group was assigned the task of sealing off the narrow pass to prevent retreat. Two other groups hid on the hill side and waited for the first group to engage in battle. As the Greeks met the surprise attack from the front and directed their attention to the certain slaughter of these renegades, the second group attacked from one side. Turning to ward off this surprise, and as their attention was caught between two sides, they were attacked from the third side. Untrained for battle in a non-orthodox form, they were unaware of the trick that was being unfolded upon them. The Jewish warriors swept down from the sides and decimated the Greek troops. The entire Greek force was totally destroyed. The Jews wasted no time in collecting the enemy’s weapons and equipment.

This surprise victory had electrifying effects on the whole of Israel. The popular support that the Maccabean warriors had enjoyed was increased dramatically. The disgraced Greek army was forced to withdraw. Yet although the Greek army tried several times again to battle the small Jewish army, each time increasing the Greek army, they lost in a most profound manner. Judah’s genius manifest itself in utilizing the natural elements that were given to his side, and by utilizing his natural G-d given talents. He refusing to accept the enemy’s dictation of battle in any mode of conflict. We too, can learn from this, as we must deal with our enemies. We do not have to accept other modes of thought as the given, nor do we have to fight with them in their chosen conventional form (which they choose to use). Rather, we must utilize that natural and native Jewish intelligence which G-d has given us. That, together with our devotion, will help us succeed in all of our battles.
26026  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pat Pulatie article on: December 11, 2009, 03:13:06 PM

Interesting article by a friend of mine.

The latest insight on the foreclosure crisis — and help for those in need.
Today is Friday, December 11th, 2009
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Patrick Pulatie is the CEO for Loan Fraud Investigations (LFI). LFI is a Forensic/Predatory Lending Audit company in Antioch CA, and has been doing homeowner audits since Nov 07. LFI works daily with Attorneys throughout California, assisting homeowners in the fight to save their homes. He and Attorneys are constantly developing new strategies to counter foreclosure efforts by lenders.

See All Posts by This Author

Anatomy of a Government-Abetted Fraud: Why Indymac/OneWest Always Forecloses
December 1st, 2009 • Related • Filed Under
Filed Under: Avoid Foreclosure • FDIC • HAMP • IndyMac/OneWest • facing foreclosure • featured • government-abetted fraud
Several times per week, I get phone calls from attorneys. These calls all start out the same. “I am unable to get loan modifications done through a lender. What can I do?” The first question I ask is if the lender is Indymac/One West. Invariably, it is.

I also field the same type of calls from homeowners and from loan modification companies. Everyone is having the problem of Indymac not cooperating with regard to doing loan modifications. Furthermore, if I google the issue or check out loan modification forums, the same is true on the internet.

What is going on with Indymac/One West? Why aren’t they doing loan modifications? This article will try and bring together the known facts for a better understanding of the situation, and discuss what the Indymac situation means for foreclosures in general — and the government’s response to the crisis. First, to understand the situation today, one must have an understanding of the recent history of Indymac.

Indymac was a national bank in the U.S. It was insured by the FDIC. On July 11, 2008, Indymac failed and was taken over by the FDIC.

Indymac offered mortgage loans to homeowners. A large number of these loans were Option ARM mortgages using stated income programs. The loans were offered by Indymac retail, and also through Mortgage Bankers would fund the loans and then Indymac would buy them and reimburse the Mortgage Banker. Mortgage Brokers were also invited to the party to sell these loans.

During the height of the Housing Boom, Indymac gave these loans out like a homeowner gives out candy at Halloween. The loans were sold to homeowners by brokers who desired the large rebates that Indymac offered for the loans. The rebates were usually about three points. What is not commonly known is that when the Option ARM was sold to Wall Street, the lender would realize from four to six points, and the three point rebate to the broker was paid from these proceeds. So the lender “pocketed” three points themselves for each loan.

When the loans were sold to Wall Street, they were securitized through a Pooling and Servicing Agreement. This Agreement covered what could happen with the loans, and detailed how all parts of the loan process occurred.

Even though Indymac sold off most loans, they still held a large number of Option ARMs and other loans in their portfolio. As the Housing Crisis developed and deepened, the number of these loans going into default or being foreclosed upon increased dramatically. This reduced cash and reserves available to Indymac for operations.

In July, 2008, the FDIC came in and took over Indymac. The FDIC looked for someone to buy Indymac and after negotiations, sold Indymac to One West Bank.

OneWest Bank and its Sweetheart Deal
OneWest Bank was created on Mar 19, 2009 from the assets of Indymac Bank. It was created solely for the purpose of absorbing Indymac Bank. The principle owners of OneWest Bank include Michael Dell and George Soros. (George was a major supporter of Barack Obama and is also notorious for knocking the UK out of the Euro Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 by shorting the Pound).

When OneWest took over Indymac, the FDIC and OneWest executed a “Shared-Loss Agreement” covering the sale. This Agreement covered the terms of what the FDIC would reimburse OneWest for any losses from foreclosure on a property. It is at this point that the details get very confusing, so I shall try to  simplify the terms. Some of the major details are:

OneWest would purchase all first mortgages at 70% of the current balance
OneWest would purchase Line of Equity Loans at 58% of the current balance.
In the event of foreclosure, the FDIC would cover from 80%-95% of losses, using the original loan amount, and not the current balance.
How does this translate to the “Real World”? Let us take a hypothetical situation. A homeowner has just lost his home in default. OneWest sells the property. Here are the details of the transaction:

The original loan amount was $500,000. Missed payments and other foreclosure costs bring the amount up to $550,000. At 70%, OneWest bought the loan for $385,000
The home is located in Stockton, CA, so its current value is likely about $185,000 and OneWest sells the home for that amount. Total loss for OneWest is $200,000. But this is not how FDIC determines the loss.
‘FDIC takes the $500,000 and subtracts the $185,000 Purchase Price. Total loss according to the FDIC is $315,000. If the FDIC is covering “ONLY” 80% of the loss, then the FDIC would reimburse OneWest to the tune of $252,000.
Add the $252,000 to the Purchase Price of $185,000, and you have One West recovering $437,000 for an “investment” of $385,000. Therefore, OneWest makes $52,000 in additional income above the actual Purchase Price loan amount after the FDIC reimbursement.
At this point, it becomes readily apparent why OneWest Bank has no intention of conducting loan modifications. Any modification means that OneWest would lose out on all this additional profit.

Note: It is not readily apparent as to whether this agreement applies to loans that IndyMac made and Securitized but still Services today. However, I believe that the Agreement does apply to Securitized loans. In that event, OneWest would make even more money through foreclosure because OneWest would keep the “excess” and not pay it to the investor!

Pooling And Servicing Agreement
When OneWest has been asked about why loan modifications are not being done, they are responding that their Pooling and Servicing Agreements do not allow for loan modifications. Sheila Bair, head of the FDIC has also stated the same. This sounds like a plausible explanation, since few people understand the Pooling and Servicing Agreement.  But…

Parties Involved
Here is the”dirty little secret” regarding Indymac and the Pooling and Servicing Agreement. The parties involved in the Agreement are:

The Sponsor for the Trust was…………Indymac
The Seller for the Trust was……………Indymac
The Depositor for the Trust was……… guessed it………….Indymac
The Issuing Entity for the Trust was……………….(drumroll)……………….Indymac
The Master Servicer for the Trust was……..once again………Indymac
In other words, Indymac was the only party involved in the Pooling and Servicing Agreement other than the Ratings Agency who rated these loans as `AAA’ products.

To make matters worse, Indymac wrote the Agreement in order to protect itself from liability for these garbage loans. By creating  separate Indymac Corporations — which the Depositor, Sponsor, and other entities were — Indymac created a bankruptcy-remote vehicle that could not come back to them in terms of liability. However, they did not count on certain MBS securities and portfolio loans coming back to bite them and force them under.

Now, the questions become:

If Indymac was responsible for Securitization at every step in the Process, and was responsible for writing the Pooling and Servicing Agreement, can they be held accountable for the loans that they are foreclosing on?
Since Indymac was the Issuing Entity, can they actually modify loans, but refuse to do so because they can make money for OneWest Bank by refusing to do so?
Does Indymac have to “buy back” the loan from the Indymac Trust in order to do a loan modification?
These are questions that I have no answer for. All I know is that at every step of the way, Indymac was involved in the process, and have taken steps to protect themselves from liability for loans that should never have been made.

Loan Modifications
As referred to earlier, the Agreement covers all aspects of the Securitization Process. With respect to Loan Modifications, the Agreement for Indymac INDA Mortgage Loan Trust 2007 – AR5, states on Page S-67:

Certain Modifications and Refinancings

The Servicer may modify any Mortgage Loan at the request of the related mortgagor, provided that the Servicer purchases the Mortgage Loan from the issuing entity immediately preceding the modification.

Page S-12 states the same “policy”:

The servicer is permitted to modify any mortgage loan in lieu of refinancing at the request of the related mortgagor, provided that the servicer purchases the mortgage loan from the issuing entity immediately preceding the modification. In addition, under limited circumstances, the servicer will repurchase certain mortgage loans that experience an early payment default (default in the first three months following origination). See “Servicing of the Mortgage Loans—Certain Modifications and Refinancings” and “Risk Factors—Risks Related To Newly Originated Mortgage Loans and Servicer’s Repurchase Obligation Related to Early Payment Default” in this prospectus supplement.

These sections would appear to suggest that the only way that OneWest could modify the loan would be as a result of buying the loan back from the Issuing Trust. However, there may be an out. Page S-12 also states:

Required Repurchases, Substitutions or Purchases of Mortgage Loans

The seller will make certain representations and warranties relating to the mortgage loans pursuant to the pooling and servicing agreement. If with respect to any mortgage loan any of the representations and warranties are breached in any material respect as of the date made, or an uncured material document defect exists, the seller will be obligated to repurchase or substitute for the mortgage loan as further described in this prospectus supplement under “Description of the Certificates—Representations and Warranties Relating to Mortgage Loans” and “—Delivery of Mortgage Loan Documents .”

The above section may be the key for litigating attorneys to fight Indymac. If fraud or other issues can be raised that will show a violation of the Representations and Warranties, then this could potentially force Indymac to modify the loan.

At this point, it becomes important to note that Indymac/OneWest signed aboard with the HAMP program in August 2009. Even though they became a part of the program, they are still refusing to do most loan modifications. Instead, they persist in foreclosing on almost all properties. And even when they say that they are attempting to do loan modifications, they are fulfilling all necessary requirements so that they can foreclose the second that they “decide” the homeowner does not meet HAMP requirements, — which, since they can make more money by foreclosing on the property, meets the HAMP requirements for doing what is in the best interests of the “investor”.

Why did Indymac even sign up for HAMP, if they have no intention of executing loan modifications?  Clearly, just for appearances.

One Final Question
It now becomes incumbent upon me to ask one final question. The Shared-Loss Agreement states the following:

2.1 Shared-Loss Arrangement.

(a) Loss Mitigation and Consideration of Alternatives. For each Shared-Loss Loan in default or for which a default is reasonably foreseeable, the Purchaser shall undertake, or shall use reasonable best efforts to cause third-party servicers to undertake, reasonable and customary loss mitigation efforts in compliance with the Guidelines and Customary Servicing Procedures. The Purchaser shall document its consideration of foreclosure, loan restructuring (if available), charge-off and short-sale (if a short-sale is a viable option and is proposed to the Purchaser) alternatives and shall select the alternative that is reasonably estimated by the Purchaser to result in the least Loss. The Purchaser shall retain all analyses of the considered alternatives and servicing records and allow the Receiver to inspect them upon reasonable notice.

Such agreements are usually considered to be interpreted to the benefit of the homeowner, as with HAMP and other programs. In legalese, it is called “Intent”.

What was the “Intent” of the Shared-Loss Agreement? Was the intent to provide OneWest Bank solely with a profitable incentive to take over Indymac Bank? If so, then OneWest has been truly successful in every manner.

Or was the intent to offer to OneWest Bank a way to be compensated for losses for foreclosures, but with the primary goal to assist homeowners in trouble? If this was the intent, then OneWest has failed miserably in its actions. And if so, could OneWest be actionable by the Federal Government for fraud?

In fact the true “Intent” was to limit losses to the Treasury Department. Each and every loan modification done would save the Treasury, and the tax payer, from 80-95 cents on every dollar.

Since, technically, One West would get 5-20 cents of any savings, it should have been an incentive to use foreclosure alternatives. But the reality is  that the quick turnaround on foreclosure seems to give OneWest a better return. As a result, OneWest appears to simply ignore the intent and just foreclose (as far as I can tell).

So, OneWest’s failure to modify loans may actually amount to fraud on the Treasury and US taxpayers.

I have presented the story of Indymac/OneWest and what is happening today. But the story does not end with OneWest. There are over 50 different lenders and servicers who have Shared-Loss Agreements executed with the FDIC. Each Agreement offers essentially the same terms. Though other Lenders do not appear to be acting as flagrantly as OneWest, they are all still engaging in the same actions.

What is the solution for this problem?

For homeowners individually, the most successes are being achieved by borrowers who are getting knowledgeable attorneys who will not just threaten litigation, but are also willing to act and file the necessary lawsuits. That tends to bring OneWest Bank to the table.
For the country as a whole, and homeowners in mass, the problem must be brought to the attention of your local Congress Critters. You must hold their feet to the fire. They must know that if they do not respond to what OneWest and other lenders are doing, then they are subject to being voted out of their nice and cushy Congressional Offices.
Will this be easy? No way. After all, the lenders have the money and the ears of Congress. But if we do not draw the line here, then
26027  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Shovel ready excrement on: December 11, 2009, 12:10:44 PM
26028  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson 1801 on: December 11, 2009, 11:14:11 AM
"The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor; and notwithstanding the efforts of the papers to disseminate early discontents, I expect that a just, dispassionate and steady conduct, will at length rally to a proper system the great body of our country. Unequivocal in principle, reasonable in manner, we shall be able I hope to do a great deal of good to the cause of freedom & harmony." --Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1801
26029  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / End TARP vote-- call now! on: December 11, 2009, 10:53:57 AM
We just learned that the House Republicans are going to force a vote on Friday to end the TARP program, and use all the unspent TARP funds to reduce our national debt.

Please pick up the phone, and urge your representative to support this measure.

To be exact, tell your representative to vote for the motion to recommit on H.R. 4173.

Here's the number for the main switchboard: 202-224-3121.

Or, you can go here to track down your individual representative.

Thanks for all you do.


Dan Varroney
Chief Operating Officer
American Solutions
26030  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: December 11, 2009, 10:49:53 AM
 cool cool cool
26031  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: December 11, 2009, 10:28:39 AM
Fascinating article.  It is from Pravda on the Beach (LA Times) so caveat lector.

Note the timidity of US officials, and the appearance of CAIR and Ibrahim Cooper-- in a good light according to POTB.  Also, note that the families appear to have done the right thing.

Reporting from Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan - A close-knit group of five American Muslims from suburban Virginia had been trying to join a militant group in the Al Qaeda stronghold of northwestern Pakistan when they were arrested this week, Pakistani authorities said Thursday.

Laptop computers, maps and extremist literature recovered in a raid on a house owned by the family of one of the five in Sargodha, in eastern Pakistan, suggest that the Americans wanted to train for jihad, or holy war, authorities said.

The young men had communicated with a militant group and may have intended to travel to Miran Shah, in the North Waziristan region dominated by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, authorities said.

"They were definitely planning jihad activity," said Usman Anwar, the top police official in Sargodha. "The planning was almost complete, but we arrested them and their plot has failed."

U.S. authorities were cautious about characterizing the latest in a series of cases in which American Muslims are suspected of seeking to join militant networks.

A U.S. anti-terrorism official said it did not appear that the men had been on the verge of violence.

The men, whose arrests were confirmed by authorities Wednesday, have not been charged with a crime, officials pointed out.

FBI agents based in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have talked to the men, who were in Pakistani custody, a U.S. official said Thursday.

"I would describe it right now as a fact-finding mission because American citizens have been arrested in a foreign country," said the U.S. official, who requested anonymity because of the continuing investigation. "They are still trying to determine exactly what happened."

Conversations were underway about having the men turned over to the FBI, officials said.

A Pakistani Embassy spokesman in Washington said that on their visa applications, the Americans cited the wedding of a friend and sightseeing as their reasons for visiting Pakistan.

"One cannot say who their connections were, what was their purpose, what they were intending to do," spokesman Nadeem Kiani said.

The men flew into the southern port city of Karachi on Nov. 30, traveled to Lahore on Saturday and then to Sargodha before they were arrested after raising suspicions, Kiani said earlier.

Three of the men seemed emotionally overwhelmed by their arrest, said the anti-terrorism official, citing communications from investigators in Pakistan.

"I think they realized they were in deeper than they thought. They really want to get out of there and come home," said the official, who requested anonymity because the case remains open.

The five men are U.S. citizens of Pakistani, African and Egyptian descent and range in age from 18 to 24.

They worshiped together and lived in a working-class, ethnically mixed area of suburban Alexandria near a retail strip where a Mexican restaurant abuts a Chinese restaurant and an African American hair salon.

Their families became alarmed when the five left Washington for Karachi via London on Nov. 28, officials said.

Relatives found a videotape that depicted scenes of American casualties and a speech by one of the men talking about the need to defend Muslims, officials said.

The worried family members then contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim group, which set up a meeting with the FBI on Dec. 1, according to Ibrahim Hooper, the group's national communications director.

The U.S. is more cautious, with an official saying the five Muslims from suburban Virginia apparently weren't on the verge of violence. They may be handed over to the FBI.
"To varying degrees [the parents] were upset, devastated and frightened about what they were imagining might be happening," Hooper said. "At that point we had no idea what was going on. We had warning flags that they had possibly gone overseas without their parents."

A U.S. law enforcement official described the families as models of cooperation. In addition to sounding the alarm, they shared their sons' computers and other electronic devices with FBI agents from the Washington field office, the official said.

One urgent avenue of inquiry for U.S. investigators is how the men might have been radicalized and encouraged to go to Pakistan. A U.S. intelligence official said there was no immediate evidence of any U.S.-based accomplices or recruiters.

CAIR leaders said they hoped this case could be a turning point in a sometimes "strained" relationship between American Muslims and the FBI.

"The FBI was unaware of this case and unsure this had taken place," said Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director. "It shows the importance of partnerships between parents and organizations like CAIR and law enforcement authorities. . . . We see it as a success story."

U.S. anti-terrorism officials said they believe the leader of the detainees is Ramy Zamzam, 22, an Egyptian-born dental student at Howard University. He is a former president of the Muslim Student Assn. in the Washington, D.C., area. Zamzam arrived in the United States at an early age and became a citizen in 1999, officials said.

Another member of the group, Umar Farooq Chaudhry, 24, born in Pakistan and naturalized three years ago, apparently provided a place for them to stay.

Pakistani police said the house where the group was captured in Sargodha belongs to Fahim Farooq, who is Farooq Chaudhry's uncle. But U.S. officials said they believe the house belongs to Farooq Chaudhry's father. The father is in Pakistan and has been trying to help the jailed men, the U.S. anti-terrorism official said.

The other men were all born in the United States, U.S. officials said. Pakistani American Waqar Khan, 22, is the only one with a criminal record, the anti-terrorism official said. In 2006, he was convicted of misdemeanor embezzlement and received a 12-month suspended sentence, the official said.

Amin Yemer, 18, is of Ethiopian descent and lived for a time in Seattle, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. Ahmad Minni, 20, is apparently the son of Ethiopian immigrants, a Pakistani official said.

The group lived in modest houses, townhomes and apartments within a few blocks of one another. They were apparently roommates at different points, officials said.

Hooper, of CAIR, said the council was exploring the Internet as a prime source of extremist viewpoints that may have helped radicalize the men.

"That's why," he said, "we're putting together, over the next few weeks, a nationwide campaign challenging religious extremism and offering a mainstream viewpoint."
26032  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: December 11, 2009, 10:14:21 AM
I was surprised at how little answer he had to kicks on his front leg.   

Also, my eyesight is not what it used to be, but does the man have completely fallen arches?
26033  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Pre-order form! on: December 10, 2009, 05:34:12 PM
26034  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: DBMA para Policia on: December 10, 2009, 12:10:50 PM

"Die Less Often 3"
featuring Guro Crafty Dog
assisted by Poi Dog

In the triple disc "Die Less Often"
we began sharing our take on "the Interface of Gun, Knife, and Empty Hand".    We introduced threat management, "the Kali Fence", weapon access issues, pre-emption/interception tactics and techniques, reactive techniques ("the Dog Catcher"),  and tested them all full force in Force-on-Force drills using people who had trained in the material for only a day and a half in order to show that the material had a practical primal state foundation that could be installed to good effect in remarkably short order.

In DLO 2,
the focus shifted to accessing a gun during a knife attack.  Here the focus discerning whether one needed to deal with the knife attack before accessing the gun, or whether to use range control, angle, and certain footwork to go for the gun before the knife attack arrived.  Again, this was tested in Force-on-Force drills.

Having shown dynamic testing of the fundamentals structures, in DLO 3 we turn to a deeper study of the particulars of managing unknown contacts/threat management, the Kali Fence, the angular brachial stun, how to start the fight by getting to your intended attacker's back while denying/controlling his potential for weapon access, weapon neutralization, (capture, disarm, and/or receiver grip) and much more.

DLO 1 showed the big picture of some material we think to be pretty sharp and really practical -- now DLO 3 gives the little details and fill in your matrix of options that deepen your understanding and raise your ability to apply the material in ever more challenging situations. 

If you are in the military and dealing with potential hostiles up close, in law enforcement, corrections work, security work, door work, or if you simply want to have these understanding for yourself as you "walk as a warrior for all your days".

26035  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Description on: December 10, 2009, 11:48:33 AM
Well , , , maybe later today embarassed cheesy

Anyway, here's this:

"Die Less Often 3"
featuring Guro Crafty Dog
assisted by Poi Dog

In the triple disc "Die Less Often" we began sharing our take on "the Interface of Gun, Knife, and Empty Hand".    We introduced threat management, "the Kali Fence", weapon access issues, pre-emption/interception tactics and techniques, reactive techniques ("the Dog Catcher"),  and tested them all full force in Force-on-Force drills using people who had trained in the material for only a day and a half in order to show that the material had a practical primal state foundation that could be installed to good effect in remarkably short order.

In DLO 2, the focus shifted to accessing a gun during a knife attack.  Here the focus discerning whether one needed to deal with the knife attack before accessing the gun, or whether to use range control, angle, and certain footwork to go for the gun before the knife attack arrived.  Again, this was tested in Force-on-Force drills.

Having shown dynamic testing of the fundamentals structures, in DLO 3 we turn to a deeper study of the particulars of managing unknown contacts/threat management, the Kali Fence, the angular brachial stun, how to start the fight by getting to your intended attacker's back while denying/controlling his potential for weapon access, weapon neutralization, (capture, disarm, and/or receiver grip) and much more.

DLO 1 showed the big picture of some material we think to be pretty sharp and really practical -- now DLO 3 gives the little details and fill in your matrix of options that deepen your understanding and raise your ability to apply the material in ever more challenging situations. 

If you are in the military and dealing with potential hostiles up close, in law enforcement, corrections work, security work, door work, or if you simply want to have these understanding for yourself as you "walk as a warrior for all your days".
26036  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Iran's Democratic Moment on: December 10, 2009, 11:12:02 AM

A month ago, Gen. Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, vowed to stop further antiregime demonstrations in Iran and break what he termed "this chain of conspiracies." But this week the "chain" appeared to be as strong as ever: Students across the nation defied the general and his political masters by organizing numerous demonstrations on and off campus.

The various opposition groups that constitute the pro-democracy movement have already called for another series of demonstrations on Dec. 27, a holy day on the Muslim Shiite calendar. Meanwhile, the official calendar of the Islamic Republic includes 22 days during which the regime organizes massive public demonstrations to flex its muscles. Since the controversial presidential election last June, the pro-democracy movement, in a jujitsu-style move, has used the official days to undermine the regime.

View Full Image

Getty Images
Antigovernment demonstrators at Tehran University, Dec. 7.
.On Jerusalem Day, Sept. 18, officially intended to express anti-Semitism, the opposition showed that Iranians have no hostility toward Jews or Israel. One popular slogan was "Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah! I give my life for Iran!" Another was "Forget about Palestine! Think about our Iran!"

On Nov. 4, the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, the opposition distanced itself from the regime's anti-American rhetoric. The democrats instead expressed anger against Russia and China, which are perceived as allies of the Islamic Republic. One slogan was "The Russian Embassy is a nest of spies!"

Most significantly, the movement that started as a protest against the alleged rigging of the election that gave a second term to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been evolving. The crowds' initial slogan was "Where Is My Vote?" and the movement's accidental leaders, including former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, tried hard to keep the protest confined to demands such as a recount of the votes and, ultimately, a runoff in accordance with the law.

The slogans of the protestors are no longer about election fraud. Today they include "Death to the Dictator," "Freedom Now," and "Iranian Republic, Not Islamic Republic!" One slogan is a direct message to President Barack Obama: "Obama, Are You With Us or With Them?"

OpinionJournal Related Stories:
Mark Bowden: How Iran's Revolution Was Hijacked
Akbar Atri and Mariam Memarsadeghi: The President Snubs Iran's Democrats
James Shinn: 'NATO Has the Watches, We Have the Time'
.In short, the protestors no longer regard the present regime as the legitimate government of the country.

Both Mr. Mousavi and Ayatollah Mahdi Karroubi, another defeated presidential candidate, tried to prevent attacks on the "Supreme Guide" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the hope of eventually making a deal with him. As part of such a deal, they promised to defend the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, according to sources close to the opposition. The crowds have rejected that by shouting: "Abandon uranium enrichment! Do something about the poor!"

It is clear the democracy movement is in no mood for deals with Mr. Khamenei, who they castigate for having betrayed his constitutional role of arbiter by siding with Mr. Ahmadinejad even before the official results of the election were declared. The demonstrators now burn his effigies, tear up posters showing his image, and chant violent slogans against him. One popular slogan goes: "Khamenei is a murderer! His guardianship is invalid!"

By cracking down ruthlessly on the protestors, the regime has only radicalized the movement. Even such notorious dealmakers as Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president now opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad, have made it clear they would not accept any formula that would leave the "landslide winner" in place.

Last week, Mr. Rafsanjani refused to attend a much-publicized "reconciliation event" concocted by Ali Ardeshir Larijani, the speaker of Iran's ersatz parliament. The reason? Mr. Rafsanjani did not wish to be seen under the same roof as Mr. Ahmadinejad. Later, in a speech in Mash'had, Mr. Rafsanjani spoke of the regime's "long, deep and, potentially lethal crisis."

To judge by their most popular slogans, demonstrators across Iran are bent on regime change. Even rumors that the regime is working on scenarios for ditching Mr. Ahmadinejad—ostensibly on "health grounds"—after the Iranian New Year in March, have failed to halt the spread of regime-change sentiments.

Given the nation's mood, Messrs. Mousavi and Karroubi have abandoned their earlier talk of "realizing the full potentials of the existing constitution." An adviser to Mr. Mousavi tells me that "They wanted to make an omelet without breaking eggs. They now realize that [the people] have moved faster than imagined." More significantly, perhaps, Mr. Mousavi appears to have put his plans for an ill-defined "green organization" on the backburner. He is beginning to understand that the antiregime movement is too wide to fit into a centrally controlled framework.

Over the past six months, thousands of people have been arrested and hundreds killed in the streets. And yet, despite promises to squash the movement by Gen. Jaafari, it persists. To make matters worse for the regime, the Shiite clergy, often regarded as the backbone of the Islamic Republic, is beginning to distance itself from the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad tandem. Some ayatollahs, such as Messrs. Montazeri, Bayat, San'ei, Borujerdi and Zanjani, are especially annoyed at Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim of being in contact with the "Hidden Imam"—a messiah-like figure of Shiism whose second coming is supposed to occur at the end of times.

Mr. Ahmadinejad claims that the "return" is imminent and that he, as one of the "pegs" designated by the Hidden Imam to prepare the ground for the advent, has a mission of chasing the "Infidel" out of Muslim lands and liberating Palestine from "Zionist occupiers." In a speech in Isfahan last week, Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed that the pro-democracy movement was created by the Americans to sabotage his mission and thus prevent the return of the "Hidden Imam."

In response, a mid-ranking cleric in Qom tells me: "The way Ahmadinejad talks, he must be a sick man . . . by backing such a man, Khamenei has doomed the regime."

The Ahmadinejad-Khamenei tandem is also coming under attack for its alleged incompetence. The regime is now plagued by double-digit inflation, a massive flight of capital, and unprecedented levels of unemployment. Divisions within the ruling clique mean that the president has been unable to fill scores of key posts at middle levels of government. Rapidly losing its popular base, the regime is becoming increasingly dependent on its coercive forces, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Revolutionary Guard commanders appear on TV almost every night, presenting themselves as "guardians of the system." Gen. Jaafari himself says he is attracted by the "Turkish model" in which the army acts as a bulwark of the republic.

However, the general may not have all the time in the world to ponder his next move. The pro-democracy movement is deepening and growing. Much work is under way to connect it to independent trade unions and hundreds of formal and informal associations that lead the civil society's fight against the evil of the Islamic Republic.

Iran has entered one of those hinge moments in history. What is certain is that the status quo has become untenable.

Mr. Taheri's new book, "The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution," is published by Encounter Books.
26037  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Recruit levels responsive to pay raise on: December 10, 2009, 10:50:40 AM
December 10, 2009

Recruits Pour In After Afghan Army Offers a Raise

KABUL, Afghanistan

The American commander in charge of training the Afghan security forces said Wednesday that there had been a recent wave of recruits for the Afghan Army, most likely because of a pay increase that he said put salaries close to those of Taliban fighters.

The commander, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said that an Afghan soldier in a high-combat area like Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan would now make a starting salary of $240 a month, up from $180. General Caldwell said that the Taliban often paid insurgents $250 to $300 a month.

The Afghan Army pay increase was announced 10 days ago, General Caldwell said. In the first seven days of December, more than 2,600 Afghans signed up — a striking change, he said, from September, when there were 831 Afghans recruits for the entire month, or November, when there were 4,303 recruits.

General Caldwell was at Camp Eggers in Kabul, the headquarters of the American effort to train the Afghans. He was speaking to reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was on his second day of a trip to Afghanistan focusing in part on Afghan training.

General Caldwell acknowledged the serious difficulties ahead in training the Afghan security forces, which the United States hopes to increase in size — from nearly 192,000 to as high as 282,000 — as well as in efficiency before President Obama’s goal of beginning to withdraw American troops in July 2011. The obstacles were outlined in a recent series of internal administration reviews that describe the Afghan Army and police as largely illiterate, often corrupt and poorly led.

However, other responsibilities will linger: on Tuesday, President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024.

General Caldwell expressed cautious optimism over the new recruiting.

“Seven days doesn’t prove anything yet, but it’s a positive step,” he said, adding, “I would never make the leap to say, ‘Therefore we’re going to fix this.’ ” Later, he said that success in Afghanistan would require far more than military might, and that “we’ll never kill our way to victory.” ....... "

The article continues with current rehash etc

26038  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Unified Kurdish Army? on: December 10, 2009, 10:26:44 AM
Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani has announced his intention to establish a unified Kurdish army in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Combining Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan forces will not be an easy task, but Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have a strategic imperative to band together in dealing with their Arab rivals in the Iraqi central government. The Kurdish proposal signals a potential revival of militia building in Iraq, which carries significant implications for the U.S. exit strategy.

As sectarian tensions flare ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections in early 2010, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the north has announced plans to build its own army. KRG President Massoud Barzani said Nov. 22 that he intends to establish a unified Kurdish army in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region by outlawing the areas’ private militias (peshmerga) and bringing them under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Peshmerga. The KRG leaders hope this initiative will mend a political rift within Iraqi Kurdistan and give the KRG more strength in battling its Arab rivals in Iraq’s central government.

(Click here to read a STRATFOR translation of the proposed law taken from the Kurdistan National Assembly’s Web site)
Iraq’s Kurds inhabit a mountainous region in the country’s north. While this terrain has protected them from foreign invasion, it has also nurtured deep-seated tribal rivalries. These rivalries are so strong that Kurds have often sided with a common enemy (like Iran, Turkey or Baathist Iraq) to undermine each other. However, in 2003, rivals Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) put aside their differences and formed a unified regional government to represent Kurdish interests in Iraq’s post-Saddam Hussein government. The alliance has remained intact through a series of formal agreements that have roughly divided power between the parties.

Barzani is hoping the creation of a unified army will consolidate the KDP and PUK and insure the integrity of their alliance. Barzani saw the alliance threatened most recently in July, in the Kurdish provincial election, with the rise of the Goran (“Change”) party. Goran — which campaigned on an anti-corruption, reformist platform — did particularly well in the PUK’s stronghold in Iraqi Kurdistan’s east, claiming 25 parliamentary seats and winning nearly a quarter of the popular vote.

The erosion of PUK’s power has become obvious. Already Jalal Talabani, head of the PUK, has acquiesced to several KDP demands. For example, the KDP has held the KRG’s premiership since 2005 when, according to the KDP-PUK agreement, it should have relinquished control of the post in 2007. However, the KDP does not want to see the PUK deteriorate any further. The KDP is aware of the PUK’s fragile unity, especially following the political turmoil the PUK experienced in the past year, and is concerned that any further weakening will exacerbate existing fissures and splinter the group. Barzani is loath to see a political vacuum develop in the north — especially one that might be filled by Goran, whose demands for a more transparent government and the establishment of the rule of law directly challenge the delicate power balance between the KDP and PUK.

Barzani’s bid to consolidate peshmerga forces is also a direct response to the Kurds’ uncertain relationship with its neighbors. The KRG’s relationship with Baghdad has deteriorated significantly in recent months. As the presence of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq diminishes, and as the country readies itself for its second post-Hussein parliamentary elections early next year, the nation’s ethno-sectarian tensions have started bubbling to the surface again. In November, Barzani announced that the Kurds will boycott the upcoming election unless the election laws are amended to increase Kurdish representation in the national parliament. Furthermore, Iraq’s upcoming round of oil auctions has reignited the debate over the distribution of oil revenues from Iraq’s northern fields (the Iraqi central government’s November statement that it would not honor oil contracts signed by the KRG is an example of the strife over oil revenues).

Not only is Baghdad working to contain Iraqi Kurdistan’s economic gains, it also does not want to see the region gain influence in security issues. Starting in 2005, Iraq’s central government, with a strong push from the United States, half-heartedly announced several steps to heal the country’s ethno-sectarian wounds by integrating Kurdish and Sunni militias into the Shiite-dominated army and police force. The plan, however, has not been fully realized. Kurds currently compose 7.2 percent of the Iraqi army, well below the 18-20 percent mandated by the country’s constitution. Nearly 200,000 peshmerga have yet to be integrated into the Iraqi army. Furthermore, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s announcement in November that he would prioritize reconstruction over security could provide him the cover to impede the integration of Kurdish and Sunni forces into the country’s military and maintain the Shiite’s dominance of the army. Baghdad has also dragged its feet on its promise to create two Kurdish brigades in the KRG and recently shut down two military colleges located in the Zakho and Qalachwalan districts in the Kurdistan region.

The slow progress is in no small part due to the Shiite-dominated government’s reluctance to share its security responsibilities with its ethno-sectarian rivals, but the Kurdish leadership is just as wary of relinquishing control of its entire security apparatus to the central government. The KDP and PUK each control about 100,000 peshmerga. Iraq’s army currently numbers just under 260,000 soldiers. If the PUK and KDP can work out their internal differences to create an umbrella group, the Kurds will be able to better resist their Arab rivals in Baghdad, not to mention the Kurds’ array of external rivals in Turkey, Iran and Syria.

While the idea for a unified Kurdish army came from the KDP, the PUK will control the Ministry of Peshmerga — an indication that the plan enjoys at least some high-level support from both parties. However, implementing the plan will be difficult. The KDP and the PUK each control their own police, security and intelligence peshmerga, and it is uncertain how effectively the Ministry of Peshmerga can streamline its operations and overcome substantial issues of distrust. Also, the KRG, which is running a budget deficit of more than $500,000,000 according to some reports, will be hard-pressed to find funding for this plan: The estimated cost of funding a Kurdish army is more than $100 million a month. The KRG’s prime minister and Iraq’s finance minister met Dec. 8 to discuss a host of financial issues, but given the tensions between the KRG and the Iraqi central government, Baghdad is not likely to be willing to bail out the KRG.

The KRG’s proposal that would legalize the plan for a unified army notably specifies that this force will “defend Kurdistan and protect the security of Kurdistan-Iraq, its soil, and the Kurdish people and law.” In previous bills, the KRG has referred to its jurisdiction as “Iraqi Kurdistan.” The shift to “Kurdistan-Iraq” signifies that the Kurds’ ambitions have become more nationalistic. This type of rhetoric is bound to worry Baghdad as well as Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of whom have significant Kurdish populations.

With ethno-sectarian tensions reaching a fever pitch, Iraq’s rival factions can be expected to rely more heavily on their traditional insurance policy: private militias. As the Shiite-dominated government continues to block the integration of its rivals into the security apparatus, the Kurds are unifying their peshmerga while many of Iraq’s Sunnis continue to use the threat of an insurgency as leverage in getting their demands met. Should Iraq witness a resurgence of private militias amidst rising ethno-sectarian tensions, the U.S. exit strategy for Iraq could face serious complications.
26039  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread on: December 10, 2009, 10:22:37 AM
Any comments on Kimbo in TUF this past season?
26040  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Daily Expression of Gratitude on: December 10, 2009, 10:00:18 AM
Grateful to have seen yesterday a very good friend for the first time in a long time.
26041  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA DVD: "The Bolo Game" on: December 10, 2009, 09:59:15 AM
Looking forward to my next trip there Pau. smiley
26042  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Other solutions , , , on: December 10, 2009, 09:57:42 AM
Some correspondence amongst friends:

One very easy solution to this type of problem is to change the tax laws. Take away the huge incentive for everyone to get their insurance from their employer, and people would end up getting their own policies from day one. They could keep these policies forever, as long as they paid for them. Nobody would lose his coverage because he or she lost his job. You could even buy insurance against losing your job, so that your insurance premium would still be paid. There is absolutely no reason I can see for the US government to reorganize the entire healthcare system in order to address the problems that a relatively small number of people like this have.


Yes, yes, yes.

And given this kind of freedom, people would tend to actually buy "insurance" -- protection against catastrophic medical bills -- instead of prepaid medical plans. With people actually paying for their own routine health care, they would take an interest in the cost of diagnostic medicine and many of today's abuses would disappear.

Your similar suggestions -- to focus on the insurance portion of an extended equation -- is a good first step... but only that, a first step.

Look there is so much (what's the word I want here: collusion? No, too emotional. Games-playing? How about...) linkage between vendors: insurance companies, doctors, government, and employers. Whether the issue is capitation counts (gee, tell me again why the doctor fails to respect MY time), balance billing, negotiated prices, the bottom line (pun intended) falls to that constituency left out of the loop: patients (consumers).

Some additional steps to your first step:
1) Abolish the AMA. Its primary purpose (though it will claim otherwise) is to limit the number of doctors and thus drive up, or provide a floor, on doctors' pricing. Let the winds of competition flow through that guild.
2) Reform the tort laws. However, make transparent (public) claims against the doctor for malpractice, whether arbitrated, mediated, or heard in a court.
3) Doctors MUST provide transparent pricing. Place prominently a placard that betrays prices for many common procedures. (No different from pricing at auto repair shops -- even though that is a sham.)
4) End the cozy relationship between the ethical and proprietary drug manufacturers and doctors. Really, how many scandals can one profession endure before consumers cry, "Enough!" (Well, apart from the Catholic church. smiley

Some flesh on my bullet points:
Patient A requires a procedure. Dr charges $1,000. Patient A has insurance so he or she pays a co-pay, insurance company pays its portion of a negotiated amount between, simplistically, Dr A and the insurance company. Balance is either billed to patient or 'eaten' by Dr A.  We all are savvy to the fact that in any 'negotiation' you inflate your price to settle on a lower, perhaps more realistic charge, and everyone leaves the table happy: doctor, insurance company, and consumer... Right? Now consider Patient B, who requires the same procedure, but because he lacks insurance he must pay 100% of the Dr's inflated $1,000 fee. Hmmm. I understand that volume offers discounted pricing, but the assessed cost is not a true cost; instead it is a sham between doctor and insurance company as opening offer in a negotiation. Even so, this result on its face sure argues for single payer as one option among many.

A patient requires a procedure. His Dr says the cost will be $1,800, but his insurance company will cover only 100% of the first $1,000. Patient is thus on the hook for a balance of $800. With competition comes greater transparency; in such a universe, patients could open his procedure to bids, best price wins. Of course, the doctors (AMA) will warn that quality trumps price... but those same doctors will not, and do not, provide quality ratings in their performance. Why not? Patients (consumers) should trust doctors are well-trained and professional. But, then, why so many malpractice claims...?

I am no fan of the medical-industrial complex (to paraphrase Eisenhower); I make no secret of my feelings in this regard. Whether the issue be the drug manufacturers that hide study results (Vytorin or Zetia, anyone?), doctors who offer zero transparency re their practice and pricing, employers who tweak their company plan to make it affordable (seemingly affordable; most employees -- consumers! -- look only at price and not the lessened coverages, etc, that result from the tweaks and/or the or insurance companies that deny coverage for this or that reason (examples on request), seemingly arbitrarily that smacks of capriciousness.

The oddity for me is that I invest heavily in this sector, especially medical technology, despite my disgust. One of my most profitable positions was/is Intuitive Surgical/ISRG. I ask myself, though, whether in the world I hope for -- complete transparency for and by all constituencies-- such a company would even exist. Oh well, that is not a problem I will ever have to worry about.

26043  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hockey sticks everywhere on: December 10, 2009, 09:51:36 AM
Hockey stick?  No, hockey sticks!
26044  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science on: December 10, 2009, 09:10:40 AM
"Finding Out The Hard Way (tm) is usually too expensive."

What's up with the (tm) on a common phrase?
26045  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison; Federalist 14 on: December 10, 2009, 09:09:10 AM
"Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness." --James Madison, Federalist No. 14
26046  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA DVD: "The Bolo Game" on: December 09, 2009, 10:39:12 PM
Hat tip to Night Owl for his astute good eye with the boxing footage.

"Roger Tinkoff suggests "Female-American Slap" as the modern American euphemism."

Please tell him that is the most wickedly funny thing I have heard in a long, long time. cheesy cool
26047  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DBMA Kali Tudo (tm) Training Camp Feb 6-7 on: December 09, 2009, 02:39:34 PM
"Hi Marc. I was curious as to what demographic you are looking for to attend this camp. Will this be a more beginner-intermediate class for those with some to moderate martial arts experience or is it geared more for those with substantial experience? Thanks for any information."

"If past experience is any guide, we will be a varied group.  There will be some young studs, there will be some middle-aged farts looking for some crafty outside of the box stuff to use on the young studs back at home, and there will be some martial arts types looking for "portals into the magical dimension where martial arts and crafts actually work" (c DBI)"
26048  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: DB in the media on: December 09, 2009, 11:30:15 AM
I am told this is an article of us in a Japanese magazine, but I can't see diddly:

26049  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / More Taliban attacks on ISI on: December 09, 2009, 10:31:57 AM


Pakistan’s premier intelligence service was once again a Taliban target, this time in an attack Dec. 8 in the city of Multan in southern Punjab province. This latest attack comes on the heels of several others in Pakistan’s heartland, highlighting an intensification of the jihadist insurgency in the Punjab core. Unless the state is able to achieve a major breakthrough in its counterinsurgency, such attacks could spread even further south to the urban areas of Sindh province.

Yet another multi-man assault team of the Taliban rebel group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) struck a facility of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate Dec. 8, killing 12 people and wounding 47 others in the city of Multan, in the southern part of Punjab province. In keeping with TTP’s hybrid tactic of combining suicide bombings with small arms fire, as many as four militants reached a security post and fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at the ISI facility, then got close enough to detonate a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, which badly damaged the building.

This is the third attack against an ISI facility in the last six months — all intended to show the vulnerability of the country’s most powerful security agency, which is expected to be the front line of defense against internal and external enemies of the state. On Nov. 12, a suicide bomber in a vehicle blew himself up near ISI’s provincial headquarters in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Peshawar, destroying a large part of the building. The most brazen attack against the ISI occurred on May 27, when the Taliban struck the directorate’s much larger Punjab provincial headquarters in Lahore, killing a number of ISI officials.

The Dec. 8 attack is the first Taliban assault in Multan, which is the farthest south that the insurgents have been able to strike to date. Thus far, Taliban attacks have been limited to the northern half of Punjab. By attacking Multan, the Taliban are demonstrating their expanding geographical reach and their ability to intensify their strikes in Punjab — the core of Pakistan. The Multan attack also follows several attacks in the last week in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore — the three most strategic cities in Punjab province — and in the NWFP capital of Peshawar. On Oct. 17, when the army launched its ground offensive in the TTP heartland and Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the expectation was that the ability of the TTP to strike in urban areas in Punjab would be reduced. This has not been the case.

Instead the number of attacks has actually increased. Since the beginning of the ground offensive, which has allowed Pakistani troops to take control of significant chunks of TTP territory and cut off remaining militant areas from the outside world, there have been two waves of Taliban attacks separated by a lull in early November.
A key reason for the TTP’s ability to continue to project power into Punjab and increase the number of attacks is the group’s command and control structure, which relocated northward in the tribal belt long before the army began its offensive. While the Mehsud tribal area in South Waziristan was the group’s home base, the TTP and its Pakistani and transnational allies maintain infrastructure throughout FATA and the Pashtun areas of NWFP (and to a lesser degree in Punjab). Being able to push southward has been facilitated by a pre-existing social support network in southern Punjab that until now had remained dormant. The FATA-based TTP’s Punjabi allies had been facilitating the reach of the Pashtun jihadists into the northern part of the province.

Hitting Multan also has symbolic value. Both the country’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, and its foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, are from the area. Multan is also the headquarters of the army’s II Corps, one of six in the province, and the southern-most major town before the province of Sindh, which thus far has not seen attacks by Taliban rebels, though there is ample evidence of their presence there.

By being able to hit a sensitive facility in Multan, the Taliban want to not only show that all of Punjab is within their reach but that they could expand into Sindh as well. A key concern has been the threat of attacks in Karachi, which is Pakistan’s largest urban center and hub of economic and financial activity, its major port city, and the country’s primary access point for the outside world. An attack there could have huge repercussions for the country’s economy.

Further complicating this scenario are ethnic tensions between the city’s Muhajir and Pashtun communities that the jihadists would like to exploit in their efforts to expand unrest to Karachi, which could facilitate their efforts to overwhelm an already weak state. The city’s ruling Mutahiddah Qaumi Movement is already extremely nervous about Taliban accessibility to the city via the several million Pashtuns that reside in Karachi. At a time when the state is dealing with a growing list of security, economic and political problems, violence in Karachi — whether jihadist or ethnic — is the last thing the state wants to see.

Still, the war maintains a kind of painful balance. While the jihadists are indeed trying to overwhelm the state, they know they are nowhere close to being in a position to overthrow the government. And it is also true that the state has not been able to make a decisive dent in jihadists’ war-making capabilities. The bar is much higher for the state, which has to impose its writ all across the country, thereby denying the militants space to operate. In sharp contrast, all the jihadists have to do is pull off attacks periodically in a variety of areas to show that the state’s writ is weakening. By widening the scope of their operations, the Taliban are trying to get the state to expand its counter-insurgency so as to stretch its resources and widen the battlefield. But by expanding its target set, the TTP has increased its attacks on soft targets, which will alienate the population.

The TTP and its allies are thus in a race against time. They want to be able to exploit political and ethnic differences, an incoherent counterinsurgency strategy and deep financial problems to create sufficient anarchy before the state can gain an advantage in the war against jihadism. Meanwhile, as they strategically allocate their limited resources, the jihadists will continue their periodic attacks across the country, hitting targets hard and soft.
26050  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Partners on: December 09, 2009, 09:06:19 AM
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