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26101  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / No-fly zone for Libya? on: March 08, 2011, 01:23:22 PM
How a Libyan No-fly Zone Could Backfire
March 8, 2011 | 1550 GMT

JOHN MOORE/Getty Images
Libyan rebels on March 7 load an anti-aircraft gun near oil facilities in Ras LanufBy George Friedman

Calls are growing for a no-fly zone over Libya, but a power or coalition of powers willing to enforce one remains elusive.

In evaluating such calls, it is useful to remember that in war, Murphy’s Law always lurks. What can go wrong will go wrong, in Libya as in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Complications to Airstrikes

It has been pointed out that a no-fly zone is not an antiseptic act. In order to protect the aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone, one must begin by suppressing enemy air defenses. This in turn poses an intelligence problem. Precisely what are Libyan air defenses and where are they located? It is possible to assert that Libya has no effective air defenses and that an SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) attack is therefore unnecessary. But that makes assumptions that cannot be demonstrated without testing, and the test is dangerous. At the same time, collecting definitive intelligence on air defenses is not as easy as it might appear — particularly as the opposition and thieves alike have managed to capture heavy weapons and armored vehicles, meaning that air defense assets are on the move and under uncertain control.

Therefore, a no-fly zone would begin with airstrikes on known air defense sites. But it would likely continue with sustained patrols by SEAD aircraft armed with anti-radiation missiles poised to rapidly confront any subsequent threat that pops up. Keeping those aircraft on station for an extended period of time would be necessary, along with an unknown number of strikes. It is uncertain where the radars and missiles are located, and those airstrikes would not be without error. When search radars and especially targeting radars are turned on, the response must be instantaneous, while the radar is radiating (and therefore vulnerable) and before it can engage. That means there will be no opportunity to determine whether the sites are located in residential areas or close to public facilities such as schools or hospitals.

Previous regimes, hoping to garner international support, have deliberately placed their systems near such facilities to force what the international media would consider an atrocity. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi does not seem like someone who would hesitate to cause civilian casualties for political advantage. Thus, the imposition of a no-fly zone could rapidly deteriorate into condemnations for killing civilians of those enforcing the zone ostensibly for humanitarian purposes. Indeed, attacks on air defenses could cause substantial casualties, turning a humanitarian action into one of considerable consequence in both humanitarian and political terms.

Airstrikes vs. Ground Operations

The more important question is what exactly a no-fly zone would achieve. Certainly, it would ground Gadhafi’s air force, but it would not come close to ending the fighting nor erode Gadhafi’s other substantial advantages. His forces appear to be better organized and trained than his opponents, who are politically divided and far less organized. Not long ago, Gadhafi largely was written off, but he has more than held his own — and he has held his own through the employment of ground combat forces. What remains of his air force has been used for limited harassment, so the imposition of a no-fly zone would not change the military situation on the ground. Even with a no-fly zone, Gadhafi would still be difficult for the rebels to defeat, and Gadhafi might still defeat the rebels.

The attractiveness of the no-fly zone in Iraq was that it provided the political illusion that steps were being taken, without creating substantial risks, or for that matter, actually doing substantial damage to Saddam Hussein’s control over Iraq. The no-fly zone remained in place for about 12 years without forcing change in Saddam’s policies, let alone regime change. The same is likely to be true in Libya. The no-fly zone is a low-risk action with little ability to change the military reality that creates an impression of decisive action. It does, as we argue, have a substantial downside, in that it entails costs and risks — including a high likelihood of at least some civilian casualties — without clear benefit or meaningful impact. The magnitude of the potential civilian toll is unknown, but its likelihood, oddly, is not in the hands of those imposing the no-fly zone, but in the hands of Gadhafi. Add to this human error and other failures inherent in war, and the outcome becomes unclear.

A more significant action would be intervention on the ground, an invasion of Libya designed to destroy Gadhafi’s military and force regime change. This would require a substantial force — and it should be remembered from Iraq that it would require a substantial occupation force to stabilize and build a new regime to govern Libya. Unlike in Egypt, Gadhafi is the regime, and sectarian elements that have been kept in check under his regime already are coming to the fore. The ability of the country to provide and administer basic government functions is also unknown. And it must also be borne in mind that Gadhafi clearly has substantial support as well as opposition. His supporters will not go without a fight and could choose to wage some form of post-invasion resistance, as in Iraq. Thus, while the initial costs in terms of casualties might be low, the long-term costs might be much higher.

It should also be remembered that the same international community that condemned Saddam Hussein as a brutal dictator quite easily turned to condemn the United States both for deposing him and for the steps its military took in trying to deal with the subsequent insurgency. It is not difficult to imagine a situation where there is extended Libyan resistance to the occupying force followed by international condemnation of the counterinsurgency effort.

Having toppled a regime, it is difficult to simply leave. The idea that this would be a quick, surgical and short-term invasion is certainly one scenario, but it is neither certain nor even the most likely scenario. In the same sense, the casualties caused by the no-fly zone would be unknown. The difference is that while a no-fly zone could be terminated easily, it is unlikely that it would have any impact on ground operations. An invasion would certainly have a substantial impact but would not be terminable.

Stopping a civil war is viable if it can be done without increasing casualties beyond what they might be if the war ran its course. The no-fly zone likely does that, without ending the civil war. If properly resourced, the invasion option could end the civil war, but it opens the door to extended low-intensity conflict.

The National Interest

It is difficult to perceive the U.S. national interest in Libya. The interests of some European countries, like Italy, are more substantial, but it is not clear that they are prepared to undertake the burden without the United States.

We would argue that war as a humanitarian action should be undertaken only with the clear understanding that in the end it might cause more suffering than the civil war. It should also be undertaken with the clear understanding that the inhabitants might prove less than grateful, and the rest of the world would not applaud nearly as much as might be liked — and would be faster to condemn the occupier when things went wrong. Indeed, the recently formed opposition council based out of Benghazi — the same group that is leading the calls from eastern Libya for foreign airstrikes against Gadhafi’s air force — has explicitly warned against any military intervention involving troops on the ground.

In the end, the use of force must have the national interest in mind. And the historical record of armed humanitarian interventions is mixed at best.

26102  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Well, that's embarrassing on: March 08, 2011, 01:09:23 PM
26103  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing Crisis Explained and Questions Answered on: March 08, 2011, 12:54:33 PM
So, in those case, the foreclosed owner would be considered by the IRS as having a gain in the amount of the vaporized loan/mortgage?

26104  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: March 08, 2011, 12:52:44 PM

I think there are some posts about him earlier in this thread.  Apparently he has extensive successful big corporation executive experience.  In response to the argument of the article you posted, I would point out that this is QUITE a bit more experience than Obama had -- though allow me to make clear that I am not suggesting that it is enough.
26105  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: March 08, 2011, 12:47:19 PM
Bachmann Calls on Congress to Block $105B in Health Law Money
Published March 08, 2011

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann at the 38th annual CPAC meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, Feb. 10, 2011.

Rep. Michele Bachmann is threatening to leverage a must-pass budget bill to ensure Congress strips billions of dollars from the federal health care overhaul -- money she says was unfairly baked into the law.

Though Democrats dispute her charges and it's unclear whether she could rally enough support in her party to force the rescission, Bachmann, R-Minn., told Fox News she wants to use the fiscal 2011 budget process to eliminate $105 billion in "buried" health law funding. That money was included as mandatory spending over the next eight years, meaning it's automatic and not subject to annual spending votes by Congress.

"This is a crime against democracy," Bachmann told Fox News on Tuesday. "No one knew that Harry Reid, Pelosi and Obama put $105 billion in spending in the bill. ... This is a bombshell."

The hefty down payment for the health law makes it more difficult for Republicans who want to de-fund the policy through the annual appropriations process. To remedy this, Bachmann said she wants to include language demanding the money back in the next short-term budget bill, which will probably be required to fund the government when the latest short-term bill expires March 18.

"You didn't tell the American people, you didn't tell the Senate, you didn't tell the House. Give the money back. And then we'll start talking about the budget. This is the first thing," Bachmann told Fox News Monday night.

But Democrats pushed back on Bachmann's claim, particularly an earlier remark she made about the funding being a "deceitful" trick hidden from public view. One Democratic aide said the $105 billion was calculated as part of the original "score" for the bill presented to Congress.

"The Congressional Budget Office had this included in their score. They scored the bill and found it (saved) $1.2 trillion over 20 years," the aide said. "What is deceitful is Bachmann voting to end patients' rights while keeping her taxpayer-funded health care."

Though Bachmann claims the authors of the health care law "buried" the money, the House had three months to find it before approving the final version last March.  Bachmann's also not the first person to point this out. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, tried earlier this year, without success, to block the $105 billion. The mandatory money was the subject of a study by Heritage Foundation fellow and former congressman Ernest Istook in late January.

Istook got his figures in large part from a Congressional Research Service report dated Oct. 14 of last year.

Though the information has been floating around in various Washington studies, Istook wrote in January that the inclusion of the money was a major foul on Democrats' part. He accused the bill's authors of bypassing the normal appropriations process to block any future Congress from meddling with the money.

"Making years' worth of spending decisions in advance is an attempt to handcuff the current Congress and prevent it from determining current levels of spending," he wrote.

Among other provisions, about $40 billion would go to the Children's Health Insurance Program, $15 billion would go to a prevention and public health fund, $10 billion would go to Medicare and Medicaid innovation programs, and $9.5 billion would go to the Community Health Centers Fund.

Bachmann claims part of that spending would essentially give Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius a $16-billion "slush fund" that would allow her to do "whatever she wants with this money."

Bachmann called on the bill's supporters to give the money back, though Democrats who backed the health law, most notably President Obama, have argued that the law goes a long way toward insuring the uninsured and protecting health care consumers.

Read more:
26106  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing Crisis Explained and Questions Answered on: March 08, 2011, 11:52:42 AM
Just a quick questions that should leave Doug's observations front and center:

In the effect of a foreclosure-- is the termination of the loan obligation by the former homeowner a taxable gain in the eyes of the IRS?
26107  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: March 08, 2011, 11:49:08 AM
I didn't watch yesterday's show when I saw the host was Judge Napolitano (for the rest of the week too? GB being on a well deserved vacation?)  I like Napolitano just fine, indeed I like him a lot sometimes, but there are times I find him a little formulaic. 

Anyway, concerning oil futures:  I fully get the logic of market efficiency and futures trading.  I also remember wondering WTF was up 2-3 years ago when oil shot to $150 a barrel for reasons that eluded me.  As a read around, I ran across a couple of pieces noting that oil futures required only a 5% margin shocked-- which was far less than for stocks (Anyone know what the margin requirement for stocks is?)  As such, these articles argued, oil futures were by far the most highly leveraged hot money/gambling play left.

It is not clear to me that such highly leveraged speculation truly serves market efficiency.
26108  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude on: March 08, 2011, 11:36:32 AM
Grateful for the centering words of a friend.
26109  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Damage Potential of Stick -vs- Light Protection on: March 07, 2011, 11:14:25 PM
I want to lay back for a while on this thread so as to encourage comments by others, but for the moment I remember the number of concussions in that Gathering being 6 by GM Gyi's estimation, not 8.  Also, I would draw attention to the thread on head injuries, concussions, etc.  I started it precisely for the reason of raising consciousness and keeping us aware of continuing growth of understanding with regard to head injuries.  Also, please note our "Attacking Blocks" DVD focuses rather intently on head protection skills, as does the "Snaggletooth Variations".
26110  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing Crisis Explained and Questions Answered on: March 07, 2011, 12:25:36 PM
A hearty welcome and a hearty thank you to Pat for this thread afro
26111  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Saudi Arabia on: March 07, 2011, 12:21:15 PM
Are the Shia dispersed, or are they concentrated in certain regions of the country?  My understanding is the latter.

Also, in Bahrain they are 70% and protesting for "freedom and democracy"? We may be concerned about the US 5th Fleet's base there, but how can we oppose this without losing credibility?
26112  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Economic Warfare on: March 07, 2011, 08:32:17 AM
Not really sure where to put this one 
26113  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / "Oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms need to be taught? on: March 07, 2011, 08:01:45 AM

This source is unknown to me.“oral-sex-masturbation-and-orgasms-need-to-be-taught-in-education”/

 NEA To UN: “Oral Sex, Masturbation, And Orgasms Need To Be Taught In Education”
  (Read WP posts from Duane Lester) | (Read MT posts from Duane Lester) | rss
The United Nations was busy recently, deciding what every country in the world needs to be teaching their wards.  Not wanting to be left out of any meeting that involves the programming of children's minds, the National Education Association had a seat at the table.

The brought their sexualization of children packet and made the case for teaching, well, middle school kids:

“Oral sex, masturbation, and orgasms need to be taught in education,” Diane Schneider told the audience at a panel on combating homophobia and transphobia.  Schneider, representing the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers union in the US, advocated for more “inclusive” sex education in US schools, with curricula based on liberal hetero and homosexual expression.  She claimed that the idea of sex education remains an oxymoron if it is abstinence-based, or if students are still able to opt-out.

Two things to note here.  One, the NEA thinks sex education in America needs to be "more 'inclusive,'" because kids just aren't being indoctrinated enough, and two, choice is for abortion.  These kids need to be forced to sit in this class.

Now, maybe I have always been more of a self starter than others, but I don't remember needing a class on masturbation.  I think this is one lesson that makes everyone a bit autodidactic.

Seriously though, this is stuff the NEA thinks students in grades 6-9 need to be forced to attend.  Apparently, learning about oral sex will help them be less homophobic, or something:

“Gender identity expression and sexual orientation are a spectrum,” she explained, and said that those opposed to homosexuality “are stuck in a binary box that religion and family create.”

Read it again.

Yeah, you are reading that right.  The NEA went to the UN and said this curriculum was needed, and every student needed to be forced to attend, in order to reprogram them out of the teachings they had learned from their religion and their family.

The parents of the child are of no consequence.  The collective is supreme.

And you might not believe this, but the UN agreed:

A Belgian panelist at the same event explained how necessary it was to have government support when educating about anti-discrimination issues.  He claimed that the “positive, pro-LGBT policies in Belgian schools are a direct consequence of liberal and open-minded legislation in Belgium,” and went on to stress the importance of states in providing relevant materials for students and schoolteachers. He also held up Belgium’s “gender in the blender” programs, which are discussion-based programs for Belgian teachers who want to discuss gender and transgender issues in their courses, as a model for other nations who wished to encourage their teachers to address these topics.

You know what this reminds me of?  "Brave New World," by Aldus Huxley.

Here's what I am talking about:

One of the things that makes the society in Brave New World so different from ours is the lack of spirituality. The pleasure-seeking society pursues no spiritual experiences or joys, preferring carnal ones. The lack of a religion that seeks a true transcendental understanding helps ensure that the masses of people, upper and lower classes, have no reason to rebel. What religious ritual they have begins as an attempt to reach a higher level of understanding as a community but quickly turns into a chance to please the carnal nature of man through orgiastic ritual. This denies the human soul, which is usually searching for a pleasure not experienced in the flesh but in the mind, and preserves the society based on happiness which they have established.

The novel addresses the importance of family values and the family structure as an integral part of our society. A new way to be born and raised has done away with the family and brought in a dehumanizing strict class structure and psychological messages to replace it. There are five rigid classes in this world, each with its own characteristics ranging from jobs to clothing to intelligence level. These classes are enforced from birth through experience and suggestion. A dislike of roses and books, for example, is enforced through electric shock while the children are still babies. The knowledge of the different classes in the world and why it is best to be in the class you are in is implanted in the child's mind through hypnopaedia, a series of hypnotic suggestions played while the child is asleep. Through the suggestions that make up the childhood of the adults in this society, the adults are "raised" by the leaders of the State to think and act as they are told. Rather than individual parents instilling their own values into their children, the State chooses how and what each child will learn. The parental relationship of a father and mother to a child has become a dirty and improper idea. Feelings have become obsolete. It is this lack of family that helps keep the different classes in their place. They are conditioned to think and act only as a member of their class, rather than as an individual. Things that create problems in society's class structure, such as the desire of parents to want something better for their children, or people striving for something better for themselves, have been eliminated with the family.

So, in the Brave New World, religion and family were destroyed.  Sound familiar?

One of the more bizarre things in Brave New World is the child sex.  Oh, you may find it abhorrent, but in the book, it's promoted.  Here's an excerpt from Chapter Three:

OUTSIDE, in the garden, it was playtime. Naked in the warm June sunshine, six or seven hundred little boys and girls were running with shrill yells over the lawns, or playing ball games, or squatting silently in twos and threes among the flowering shrubs. The roses were in bloom, two nightingales soliloquized in the boskage, a cuckoo was just going out of tune among the lime trees. The air was drowsy with the murmur of bees and helicopters.

..."That's a charming little group," he said, pointing.

In a little grassy bay between tall clumps of Mediterranean heather, two children, a little boy of about seven and a little girl who might have been a year older, were playing, very gravely and with all the focussed attention of scientists intent on a labour of discovery, a rudimentary sexual game.

"Charming, charming!" the D.H.C. repeated sentimentally.

"Charming," the boys politely agreed. But their smile was rather patronizing. They had put aside similar childish amusements too recently to be able to watch them now without a touch of contempt. Charming? but it was just a pair of kids fooling about; that was all. Just kids.

"I always think," the Director was continuing in the same rather maudlin tone, when he was interrupted by a loud boo-hooing.

From a neighbouring shrubbery emerged a nurse, leading by the hand a small boy, who howled as he went. An anxious-looking little girl trotted at her heels.

"What's the matter?" asked the Director.

The nurse shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing much," she answered. "It's just that this little boy seems rather reluctant to join in the ordinary erotic play. I'd noticed it once or twice before. And now again to-day. He started yelling just now …"

"Honestly," put in the anxious-looking little girl, "I didn't mean to hurt him or anything. Honestly."

"Of course you didn't, dear," said the nurse reassuringly. "And so," she went on, turning back to the Director, "I'm taking him in to see the Assistant Superintendent of Psychology. Just to see if anything's at all abnormal."

"Quite right," said the Director. "Take him in. You stay here, little girl," he added, as the nurse moved away with her still howling charge. "What's your name?"

"Polly Trotsky."

"And a very good name too," said the Director. "Run away now and see if you can find some other little boy to play with."

The child scampered off into the bushes and was lost to sight.

"Exquisite little creature!" said the Director, looking after her. Then, turning to his students, "What I'm going to tell you now," he said, "may sound incredible. But then, when you're not accustomed to history, most facts about the past do sound incredible."

He let out the amazing truth. For a very long period before the time of Our Ford, and even for some generations afterwards, erotic play between children had been regarded as abnormal (there was a roar of laughter); and not only abnormal, actually immoral (no!): and had therefore been rigorously suppressed.

A look of astonished incredulity appeared on the faces of his listeners. Poor little kids not allowed to amuse themselves? They could not believe it.

"Even adolescents," the D.H.C. was saying, "even adolescents like yourselves …"

"Not possible!"

"Barring a little surreptitious auto-erotism and homosexuality - absolutely nothing."


"In most cases, till they were over twenty years old."

"Twenty years old?" echoed the students in a chorus of loud disbelief.

"Twenty," the Director repeated. "I told you that you'd find it incredible."

"But what happened?" they asked. "What were the results?"

"The results were terrible." A deep resonant voice broke startlingly into the dialogue.

Yes, I imagine to the Director, and the hierarchy of the NEA and UN, they were terrible. Good thing actions were taken so that children could be removed from the "binary box that religion and family create.”

Cross posted at All American Blogger.
26114  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Lincoln assumes office on: March 07, 2011, 07:41:15 AM
The First Trick
March 2–9, 1861

The Old Public Functionary attended his last public function this week.

Delayed a bit by a rash of last-minute bills that needed his signature, President Buchanan arrived at Willard’s Hotel a little past noon on Monday in order to escort his successor, as tradition demanded, to his inauguration. Together they were an incongruous pair: the outgoing president, short and round, wore a swallow-tailed coat and broad-brimmed silk hat, while the new president, long and lean, wore a black cashmere suit and his trademark black stovepipe. Mrs. Lincoln and her children had been escorted on ahead.

Traveling in the presidential barouche, they were followed by a long parade: bands, floats full of pretty girls, mounted marshals, color guards, honored veterans and a phalanx of cavalrymen. On this sunny, festive day, President Buchanan’s feelings must have been bittersweet. At the head of a similar parade four years before, he began his presidency as one of the best-prepared political leaders ever to have assumed the office; he exits, after an economic panic and mounting sectional strife, with the country teetering on the brink of civil war so precariously that the rooftops of the buildings lining the route of this procession are crowned with sharpshooters, and artillery pieces command the avenues. Buchanan’s reputation is in ruins: almost daily he suffers to see the words imbecilic, moronic and traitorous affixed to his name. “My dear sir,’’ he at one point addressed Mr. Lincoln, “if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.’’

“Mr. President, I cannot say that I shall enter it with much pleasure,” Mr. Lincoln graciously replied, “but I assure you that I shall do what I can to maintain the high standards set by my illustrious predecessors who have occupied it.’’

Few of the other remarks that President Buchanan happened to utter prior to the ceremonies has been shared; no doubt his comments would be full of the punctilious pleasantries the former ambassador perfected at the palace of St. Petersburg and the Court of St. James’s. But it would be what he was thinking as he sat on that exalted rostrum and listened to his successor’s address that one would dearly love to know. He, after all, has been scorned, and Mr. Lincoln celebrated, by the very same editorialists. And yet a number of their key statements have been nearly identical.

For example, when Mr. Lincoln said, “The Union of these states is perpetual. . . no government proper ever had provision in its organic law for its own termination,’’ Mr. Buchanan no doubt recalled his annual message that he sent to Congress last December, where he said, “The Union of these states was designed to be perpetual. . . .Its framers never intended the absurdity of providing for its own destruction.’’

There are other parallels. Where Lincoln said, “No state upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union,’’ Buchanan said, “No state has a right upon its own to secede from the Union.” Where Lincoln said, “I shall take care that the laws. . . be faithfully executed,’’ Buchanan said, “My province is to execute the laws,’’ and while Lincoln said that the would use his power “to hold, occupy, and possess the property belonging to the government,’’ Buchanan offered a bit more flourish in saying, “It is my duty at all times to defend and protect the public property.’’

Of course, the parallels did not continue all the way through. Mr. Buchanan may have been waiting for Mr. Lincoln to imitate him, and offer an explanation of the origins of the conflict that would prominently feature a sharp and lengthy condemnation of a quarter century’s worth of abolitionist provocations. Instead Mr. Lincoln was succinct. “One section of our country believes slavery is right and out to be extended,’’ he tartly summarized, “while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. That is the only substantial dispute.’’

His tone left no doubt which opinion he held. And while Mr. Buchanan may have expected something similar to his long, lawyerly explanation of why the Constitution left him powerless to prevent states from seceding, Mr. Lincoln, though not overtly threatening, was nonetheless clear that he felt far from impotent : “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to `preserve, protect and defend’ it.’’ Mr. Buchanan found no authorization for action in the Constitution; Mr. Lincoln sees one in his constitutionally mandated oath.

Reaction to Mr. Lincoln’s address has run the gamut, not only among political views, but within them. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass was disappointed, telling friends that the speech, in which Lincoln “prostrated himself before the foul and withering curse of slavery,’’ was “little better than our worst fears.’’ The equally ardent abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner, however, approved of the way the speech showed “a hand of iron in a velvet glove.’’

Most of the voices in the seceded states, predictably enough, condemned the speech, with the Atlanta Confederacy calling it “a medley of ignorance, sanctimonious cant and tender-footed bullyism’’ and the Charleston Mercury saying that a “more lamentable display of feeble inability to grasp the circumstances of this momentous emergency could scarcely have been exhibited.’’

And yet Alexander Stephens, the newly minted vice president of the Confederacy, is reported to have privately admired the address as “the most adroit state paper ever published on this continent.’’ The smirking secessionist Senator Wigfall, the fire-eating Edmund Ruffin and the legalistic disunionist Thomas Cobb have all concluded that Lincoln’s words mean war. But Lincoln’s old adversary, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, disagrees. “He does not mean coercion; he says nothing about retaking the forts, or Federal property,’’ said Douglas in response to queries. “Every point in the address is susceptible of a double construction, but I think he does not mean coercion.’’ And there are many editorialists, not from northern cities but from Chattanooga and Raleigh and Lexington, all in slaveholding states that have yet to secede, who agree.

It is to these men, the pro-unionists of the upper south, and especially to the delegates of the Virginia Secession Convention, to whom Lincoln was speaking when he said in the address, “My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.’’

Call it coincidence, but when Mr. Lincoln faced a different conflict this week, he took the same approach. Consider: Senator Seward, the man long-designated as Mr. Lincoln’s secretary of state, at the last moment withdrew his name from selection, apparently in protest that the new Cabinet would include Senator Chase of Ohio and other ironbacks who advocate taking a tougher, less conciliatory approach to the South than Mr. Seward prefers.

Was it principle? Pique? A power grab? Regardless — rather than confront Seward’s demand directly, Mr. Lincoln responded with a two-prong approach. He made it clear to a group of Seward’s friends that even though it would be regrettable to lose Seward, he was prepared to name to the State Department William Dayton, the attorney general of New Jersey; and of course he would keep Chase. At the same time, Lincoln wrote to Seward, requesting that he reconsider his withdrawal. In other words, he took a position, and waited for Seward to make the next move; and Seward, of course, acquiesced. “I can’t let Seward take the first trick,’’ Lincoln told a confidant.

Lincoln hoped to do something similar with the seceded states: take a strong position, and then wait until they either came to him on terms he found acceptable or took responsibility for starting the conflict. Shockingly, Lincoln’s plan was dead before he could articulate it. Two hours before the swearing in, President Buchanan received an urgent message from Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, informing his superiors that he was running out of supplies. If not relieved — and Anderson estimated that because of the Confederate forces massed on the shore, it would take 20,000 men to accomplish that mission — he would have to surrender the fort in six weeks. Lincoln had devised a strategy that could be expressed in one phrase: Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. Now, suddenly, time was running out.

This news did not reach President Lincoln until the afternoon following the inauguration, when the outgoing secretary of war, Joseph Holt, gave him a complete report — complete, that is, with explanations and assurances that the previous administration knew nothing of Major Anderson’s difficulties, that he had submitted no request for supplies, nor for reinforcements, nor had he warned about the construction of the rebels’ works. By that point, Buchanan was on a train, on his way back to his beloved Wheatland.
He had spoken to Lincoln since receiving the news; at the reception at the White House after the inauguration, the two men had a tete a tete. Buchanan was observed to be doing nearly all the talking, holding forth with urgent animation. Was the outgoing president imparting some final advice, sharing some guidance that would prove vital in the days ahead? Indeed. “I think you will find the water of the right hand well of the White House better than that at the left,’’ an eavesdropper overheard Buchanan say. Insights about the pantry and kitchen followed. The state of Sumter was never a topic.

Sources: To learn more about these events, please see “President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman,’’ by William Lee Miller (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); “Lincoln President-Elect,’’ by Harold Holzer (Simon and Schuster, 2008); and “Days of Defiance,” by Maury Klein (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997).
26115  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Douthat: Monogamy matters on: March 07, 2011, 07:36:27 AM
Why Monogamy Matters
Published: March 6, 2011
Social conservatives can seem like the perennial pessimists of American politics — more comfortable with resignation than with hope, perpetually touting evidence of family breakdown, social disintegration and civilizational decline.

But even doomsayers get the occasional dose of good news. And so it was last week, when a study from the Centers for Disease Control revealed that American teens and 20-somethings are waiting longer to have sex.

In 2002, the study reported, 22 percent of Americans aged 15 to 24 were still virgins. By 2008, that number was up to 28 percent. Other research suggests that this trend may date back decades, and that young Americans have been growing more sexually conservative since the late 1980s.

Why is this good news? Not, it should be emphasized, because it suggests the dawn of some sort of traditionalist utopia, where the only sex is married sex. No such society has ever existed, or ever could: not in 1950s America (where, as the feminist writer Dana Goldstein noted last week, the vast majority of men and women had sex before they married), and not even in Mormon Utah (where Brigham Young University recently suspended a star basketball player for sleeping with his girlfriend).

But there are different kinds of premarital sex. There’s sex that’s actually pre-marital, in the sense that it involves monogamous couples on a path that might lead to matrimony one day. Then there’s sex that’s casual and promiscuous, or just premature and ill considered.

This distinction is crucial to understanding what’s changed in American life since the sexual revolution. Yes, in 1950 as in 2011, most people didn’t go virgins to their marriage beds. But earlier generations of Americans waited longer to have sex, took fewer sexual partners across their lifetimes, and were more likely to see sleeping together as a way station on the road to wedlock.

And they may have been happier for it. That’s the conclusion suggested by two sociologists, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, in their recent book, “Premarital Sex in America.” Their research, which looks at sexual behavior among contemporary young adults, finds a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression.

This correlation is much stronger for women than for men. Female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability — which may help explain why overall female happiness has actually drifted downward since the sexual revolution.

Among the young people Regnerus and Uecker studied, the happiest women were those with a current sexual partner and only one or two partners in their lifetime. Virgins were almost as happy, though not quite, and then a young woman’s likelihood of depression rose steadily as her number of partners climbed and the present stability of her sex life diminished.

When social conservatives talk about restoring the link between sex, monogamy and marriage, they often have these kinds of realities in mind. The point isn’t that we should aspire to some Arcadia of perfect chastity. Rather, it’s that a high sexual ideal can shape how quickly and casually people pair off, even when they aren’t living up to its exacting demands. The ultimate goal is a sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness — by encouraging them to wait a little longer, choose more carefully and judge their sex lives against a strong moral standard.

This is what’s at stake, for instance, in debates over abstinence-based sex education. Successful abstinence-based programs (yes, they do exist) don’t necessarily make their teenage participants more likely to save themselves for marriage. But they make them more likely to save themselves for somebody, which in turn increases the odds that their adult sexual lives will be a source of joy rather than sorrow.

It’s also what’s at stake in the ongoing battle over whether the federal government should be subsidizing Planned Parenthood. Obviously, social conservatives don’t like seeing their tax dollars flow to an organization that performs roughly 300,000 abortions every year. But they also see Planned Parenthood’s larger worldview — in which teen sexual activity is taken for granted, and the most important judgment to be made about a sexual encounter is whether it’s clinically “safe” — as the enemy of the kind of sexual idealism they’re trying to restore.

Liberals argue, not unreasonably, that Planned Parenthood’s approach is tailored to the gritty realities of teenage sexuality. But realism can blur into cynicism, and a jaded attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Social conservatives look at the contemporary sexual landscape and remember that it wasn’t always thus, and they look at current trends and hope that it doesn’t have to be this way forever.

In this sense, despite their instinctive gloominess, they’re actually the optimists in the debate.
26116  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Krugman begins lucidly, but then returns to form on: March 07, 2011, 07:28:18 AM

It is a truth universally acknowledged that education is the key to economic success. Everyone knows that the jobs of the future will require ever higher levels of skill. That’s why, in an appearance Friday with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Obama declared that “If we want more good news on the jobs front then we’ve got to make more investments in education.”

But what everyone knows is wrong.

The day after the Obama-Bush event, The Times published an article about the growing use of software to perform legal research. Computers, it turns out, can quickly analyze millions of documents, cheaply performing a task that used to require armies of lawyers and paralegals. In this case, then, technological progress is actually reducing the demand for highly educated workers.

And legal research isn’t an isolated example. As the article points out, software has also been replacing engineers in such tasks as chip design. More broadly, the idea that modern technology eliminates only menial jobs, that well-educated workers are clear winners, may dominate popular discussion, but it’s actually decades out of date.

The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”: both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs — the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class — have lagged behind. And the hole in the middle has been getting wider: many of the high-wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low-wage employment has accelerated.

Why is this happening? The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information — loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands.

Some years ago, however, the economists David Autor, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argued that this was the wrong way to think about it. Computers, they pointed out, excel at routine tasks, “cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules.” Therefore, any routine task — a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs — is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can’t be carried out by following explicit rules — a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors — will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress.

And here’s the thing: Most of the manual labor still being done in our economy seems to be of the kind that’s hard to automate. Notably, with production workers in manufacturing down to about 6 percent of U.S. employment, there aren’t many assembly-line jobs left to lose. Meanwhile, quite a lot of white-collar work currently carried out by well-educated, relatively well-paid workers may soon be computerized. Roombas are cute, but robot janitors are a long way off; computerized legal research and computer-aided medical diagnosis are already here.

And then there’s globalization. Once, only manufacturing workers needed to worry about competition from overseas, but the combination of computers and telecommunications has made it possible to provide many services at long range. And research by my Princeton colleagues Alan Blinder and Alan Krueger suggests that high-wage jobs performed by highly educated workers are, if anything, more “offshorable” than jobs done by low-paid, less-educated workers. If they’re right, growing international trade in services will further hollow out the U.S. job market.

So what does all this say about policy?

Yes, we need to fix American education. In particular, the inequalities Americans face at the starting line — bright children from poor families are less likely to finish college than much less able children of the affluent — aren’t just an outrage; they represent a huge waste of the nation’s human potential.

But there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.

What we can’t do is get where we need to go just by giving workers college degrees, which may be no more than tickets to jobs that don’t exist or don’t pay middle-class wages.

26117  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Al Jazeera: A listen and a read on: March 07, 2011, 06:59:40 AM
26118  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Saudi stock market down on: March 07, 2011, 06:43:41 AM
26119  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Time to form a Tea Party? on: March 07, 2011, 06:40:01 AM

After the past few weeks, many GOP conservatives – and Tea Partiers – are beginning to understand how some of the Obamaphiles feel. Like Obama supporters, conservatives worked hard to secure leadership that, we believed, both understood what was best for America and had the courage to stand firm for real change. But the first months of GOP congressional control have been disappointing; if the GOP leadership continues down its current road, the disillusionment now being expressed by erstwhile Obama supporters like Matt Damon will soon be an entirely bipartisan affair.
Certainly, there’s no doubt that John Boehner and other congressional leaders have a tough job. In the interest of restoring America’s financial health, they are stuck proposing spending cuts and long-term, structural changes to well-beloved entitlement programs. What’s more, they’re forced to deal with a President whose budget reflected a fundamental unseriousness about the looming fiscal crisis -- and an obvious strategy of abdicating all budgetary responsibility in order to be able to demonize the GOP for any proposed cuts.

But still.

Last month, conservatives across the country were treated to fancy rhetorical footwork as some Republicans tried to explain away the collapse of their campaign-era commitment to a $100 billion spending decrease in this year’s budget. Further reductions were presented only after substantial push-back from the Tea Party and conservatives.

Just this week, Tom Coburn told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that a bipartisan “working group” of senators was considering a substantial cut in the home interest rate deduction for houses costing more than $500,000. Although the proposal may hold appeal inside the ornate conference rooms of Capitol Hill, in the real world, it would disproportionately punish homeowners in states with high-value houses, even as it devastates the home-building industry.

Coburn’s revelation came even as the GAO issued a report uncovering as much as $100 billion to $200 billion being spent on wasteful and duplicative government programs each year. It’s hard not to wonder: If more is to be demanded of the already-overburdened American taxpayer, shouldn’t the request come only after government has done its part to “sacrifice” first?

The tone-deafness doesn’t stop there. Days drag on, and Americans hear little from top GOP congressional leaders. What they do hear, too often, is filtered through left-leaning cable television shows. Nowhere are GOP leaders explaining why – in contrast to the “exploding deficit” scare of the early 90’s – our current fiscal situation presents an unprecedented threat, requiring serious and quick remediation. And amid all the hints about upcoming proposals for spending cuts and tax reform, no one is “connecting the dots” to help regular Americans understand how the proposals will create the conditions that secure economic growth, prosperity and a brighter future for all of us.

Instead, it’s beginning to look, once again, like leaders in the highest ranks of the GOP are more focused on their standing inside the Beltway than the promises they made to the people outside it. But this time, that won’t cut it; it’s an invitation for Tea Partiers to form their own, third party, and a recipe for political disaster come 2012.

But above all, the GOP has to act with the understanding that falling short won’t just mean unfortunate electoral results for their politicians. It will mean real trouble for America.
26120  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Govt. can on: March 06, 2011, 11:04:22 PM
26121  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / France on: March 06, 2011, 06:35:21 PM

Date unknown:  French police avoid near lynching by muslim youth, flee"muslim"zone. DRM Ireland

O'Reilly bit (date unknown) on communist-Islamo fascist alliance of convenience

For the record, I don't have a terribly high opinion of O'Reilly
26122  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Excrement headed towards fan on: March 06, 2011, 06:21:18 PM
Saudi Arabia was yesterday drafting up to 10,000 security personnel into its north-eastern Shia Muslim provinces, clogging the highways into Dammam and other cities with busloads of troops in fear of next week's "day of rage" by what is now called the "Hunayn Revolution".

Saudi Arabia's worst nightmare – the arrival of the new Arab awakening of rebellion and insurrection in the kingdom – is now casting its long shadow over the House of Saud. Provoked by the Shia majority uprising in the neighbouring Sunni-dominated island of Bahrain, where protesters are calling for the overthrow of the ruling al-Khalifa family, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is widely reported to have told the Bahraini authorities that if they do not crush their Shia revolt, his own forces will.

The opposition is expecting at least 20,000 Saudis to gather in Riyadh and in the Shia Muslim provinces of the north-east of the country in six days, to demand an end to corruption and, if necessary, the overthrow of the House of Saud. Saudi security forces have deployed troops and armed police across the Qatif area – where most of Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslims live – and yesterday would-be protesters circulated photographs of armoured vehicles and buses of the state-security police on a highway near the port city of Dammam.
26123  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WTF on British SAS mission in Libya? on: March 06, 2011, 06:17:41 PM

A British diplomatic effort to reach out to Libyan rebels has ended in humiliation as a team of British special forces and intelligence agents left Benghazi after being briefly detained.

The six SAS troops and two MI6 officers were seized by Libyan rebels in the eastern part of the country after arriving by helicopter four days ago. They left on HMS Cumberland, the frigate that had docked in Benghazi to evacuate British and other EU nationals as Libya lurched deeper into conflict. The diplomatic team's departure marked a perfunctory end to a bizarre and botched venture.

"I can confirm that a small British diplomatic team has been in Benghazi," said William Hague, the foreign secretary. "The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition. They experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved. They have now left Libya."

Audio of a telephone conversation between the UK's ambassador to Libya, Richard Northern, and a senior rebel leader was later leaked.

Northern suggested in the call that the SAS team had been detained due to a misunderstanding.

The rebel leader responded: "They made a big mistake, coming with a helicopter in an open area."

Northern said: "I didn't know how they were coming."

Despite the failure of the mission, Hague indicated that Britain would continue to try to make contact with the opposition.

"We intend, in consultation with the opposition, to send a further team to strengthen our dialogue in due course," he said. "This diplomatic effort is part of the UK's wider work on Libya, including our ongoing humanitarian support. We continue to press for Gaddafi to step down and we will work with the international community to support the legitimate ambitions of the Libyan people."

According to Guardian sources, the British intelligence and special forces unit were caught near the al-Khadra Farm Company, 18 miles (30km) south-west of Benghazi. A senior member of Benghazi's revolutionary council said: "They were carrying espionage equipment, reconnaissance equipment, multiple passports and weapons. This is no way to conduct yourself during an uprising.

"Gaddafi is bringing in thousands of mercenaries to kill us, most are using foreign passports and how do we know who these people are?

"They say they're British nationals and some of the passports they have are British. But the Israelis used British passports to kill that man in Dubai last year."

Rebel leaders said claimed the captives had been treated well and would be released as soon as the British government vouched for their identity with the rebel command.

The news follows Sunday Times claims that an SAS unit was being held by rebel forces it had approached in an attempt to open up diplomatic channels to opponents of Muammar Gaddafi.

Whitehall sources said on Friday it needed to learn more about the leadership of the anti-Gaddafi forces and find out what logistical support they needed, but would not give arms to the rebels, as an international arms embargo was in place.

British officials during the day declined to comment on reports that special forces were being held but defended the objective of the mission.

The defence secretary, Liam Fox said: "It is a very difficult situation to be able to understand in detail. There are a number of different opposition groups to Colonel Gaddafi in Libya who do seem relatively disparate. We want to clearly understand what the dynamic is here because we want to be able to work with them to ensure the demise of the Gaddafi regime, to see a transition to greater stability in Libya and ultimately to more representative government.

"So getting a picture of that is relatively difficult, as is widely reported. Communications are being interrupted, there are difficulties with mobile phones, with the internet potentially being interfered with.

"So we are trying to build a picture – it's essential that the government does that and it's essential that all western governments do that so we are able to get a clearer idea of what we are able to do in terms of helping the people of Libya."

David Cameron, speaking at the Tory party spring conference in Cardiff, repeated his call for "Gaddafi to go". "On Libya, our strategy is clear," he said. "We will continue to intensify pressure on the regime. We will continue to state clearly that international justice has a long reach and a long memory, and that those who commit crimes against humanity will not go unpunished. We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by this crisis, and continue to demand access for aid agencies to reach those in need.

And we will continue to plan, with our allies, for every eventuality. "

The Sunday Times reported Libyan and British sources confirming the SAS unit had been detained by rebel forces it had approached to secure a meeting with a junior diplomat to offer help in their fight against Gaddafi. The mission backfired when rebel leaders in Benghazi objected to foreign interference from governments which had not yet formally recognised them as Libya's legitimate rulers, it said.
26124  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re Williams piece on: March 06, 2011, 02:38:55 PM
That is a very good piece there Doug, well-prefaced by your comments. 

Question raised:  Given the Natural Rights basis for our Consitution, how do we articulate that in a way that can fly on the international stage, especially viz the Muslim world?
26125  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pak President Zardari writes: on: March 06, 2011, 02:20:23 PM

I hope YA will comment.
26126  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Egypt on: March 06, 2011, 02:05:51 PM
This can't be true-- the Pravdas haven't reported it rolleyes  More seriously now  cry
26127  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Reality bites POTH in the butt on: March 06, 2011, 09:16:05 AM
The editorial board of the NY Times (Pravda on the Hudson) struggles mightily  cheesy

At a time when public school students are being forced into ever more crowded classrooms, and poor families will lose state medical benefits, New York State is paying 10 times more for state employees’ pensions than it did just a decade ago.

That huge increase is largely because of Albany’s outsized generosity to the state’s powerful employees’ unions in the early years of the last decade, made worse when the recession pushed down pension fund earnings, forcing the state to make up the difference.
Although taxpayers are on the hook for the recession’s costs, most state employees pay only 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions, half the level of most state employees elsewhere. Their health insurance payments are about half those in the private sector.

In all, the salaries and benefits of state employees add up to $18.5 billion, or a fifth of New York’s operating budget. Unless those costs are reined in, New York will find itself unable to provide even essential services.

To point out these alarming facts is not to be anti- union, or anti-worker. In recent weeks, Republican politicians in the Midwest have distorted what should be a serious discussion about state employees’ benefits, cynically using it as a pretext to crush unions.

New York does not need that sort of destructive game playing. What it needs is a sober examination of the high costs of wages and benefits, and some serious proposals to rein them in while remaining fair to hard-working government employees.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pursued a reasonable course, making it clear that he expects public unions to make sacrifices, starting with a salary freeze. He wants to require greater employee contributions to pensions and health benefits, with a goal of saving $450 million.

Negotiations begin this month, but so far union leaders have publicly resisted Mr. Cuomo’s proposals. If they don’t budge, Mr. Cuomo says he will have to lay off up to 9,800 workers. That would damage the state’s struggling economy. Some compromise must be found.

Here are the three most expensive areas of spending that need to be addressed:

WAGES Last April, in the midst of one of the worst financial crises that New York and the nation have ever faced, the state’s unionized workers got a 4 percent pay raise that cost $400 million. It came on top of 3 percent raises in each of the previous three years. These raises were negotiated long before the recession began, by a Legislature that routinely gave in to unions that remain among the biggest political contributors in Albany.

During the same period, many private-sector workers had their pay or hours cut. Private-sector wages in New York dropped nearly 9 percent in 2008. In 2009, Gov. David Paterson pleaded with the unions to give up the raises to help the state out of its crisis. Union leaders attacked him in corrosive television ads, and Mr. Paterson eventually caved, settling for an agreement that reduced pension payments to new employees. The deal wasn’t enough to address New York’s serious fiscal problems.

The average salary for New York’s full-time state employees in 2009 (even before the last round of raises) was $63,382, well above the state’s average personal income that year of $46,957. Mr. Cuomo’s proposed salary freeze for many of the state’s 236,000 employees is an important step to rein in New York’s out-of-control payroll. It could save between $200 million and $400 million.

He may need to go further. Even after the current labor contract runs out on April 1, more than 50,000 workers are in line for step increases and longevity pay negotiated in that contract, which will cost about $140 million. A clause in the state labor law known as the Triborough Amendment allows contract provisions for all workers to proceed until a new contract is reached.

This clause, unique to New York, was a well-meaning attempt to give some balance to state unions, which by law are not allowed to strike and had no leverage to draw management to the table in flush years. The problem with the Triborough Amendment is that it gives the unions far less incentive to bargain, as we saw last year.


(Page 2 of 2)

The amendment should be re-examined. Allowing the state to cut wages or benefits without a contract would be unfair, especially given the no-strike law. But the state should, at least, have the power to freeze wages and benefits once a contract runs out, which would give both sides an incentive to bargain.

PENSIONS In 2000, employee pensions cost New York State taxpayers $100 million. They now cost $1.5 billion, and will be more than $2 billion in 2014. Wall Street’s troubles are a big part of that. But so are state politics. The Legislature, ever eager to curry favor with powerful unions, added sweeteners to pensions and allowed employees to stop making contributions after 10 years.
In 2009, Albany began to recognize the deep hole it had dug. Under the state Constitution, a worker’s pension benefits cannot be cut back once granted. So under the agreement Mr. Paterson reached with the unions, a more rigorous tier was created for nonuniformed employees hired after 2009. It raised their retirement age from 55 to 62, required pension contributions every year instead of just the first 10, and capped the amount of overtime that is calculated in pension benefits.

The deal did not go far enough. New employees can still retire with full benefits at 62, while most American workers must wait until 65. They can still drive up pension payments by earning overtime in their final years, up to a $15,000 cap. And most important, they have to contribute only 3 percent of their pay to their pension; the national norm for public employees is double that.

In the next few weeks, Mr. Cuomo will propose a less-generous tier for new employees. Ideally, it will address all of these problems: pushing the full-retirement age to 65, raising employee contributions to 6 percent, and ending the use of overtime in calculating payments.

An investigation by The Times last year found that 3,700 retired public workers were getting six-figure pensions, largely because of overtime abuse, and that number is expected to grow. The system even allows workers on full pensions to double-dip and return to state employment, a practice the Legislature should end. Recently, Gannett Newspapers found more than 2,000 people collecting both state salaries and pensions.

It is also worth considering giving new employees the option to join what is known as a defined-contribution system, similar to the 401(k) plans widely in use in the private sector, and reducing the reliance on a guaranteed benefit system that has proved so ruinously expensive. The 401(k) system shifts the risk of a falling stock market to the employee instead of the state, but in the long run may be necessary to protect vital state services from economic downturns.

HEALTH INSURANCE As national health care costs have soared, the state’s payments for employees’ and retirees’ care has more than doubled in the last decade. This fiscal year, the state will pay $3 billion; that is projected to keep growing by $300 million to $400 million a year.

Health care contributions by state retirees are considerably lower than for workers in the private sector or the federal government, and will almost certainly have to be raised as baby boomers retire.

Current state employees pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums for single policies, and 25 percent for family policies, which is roughly in line with national averages for the public sector. But it is considerably less than most private workers pay — 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

If the state is unable to achieve the necessary savings in wages and pensions, it may need to seek higher insurance contributions for all state workers. That benefit is not protected by the state Constitution.

Unlike Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor Cuomo is not trying to break the unions. He is pressing them to accept a salary freeze and a reduction in benefits for new workers. The unions need to negotiate seriously.

We are also urging the governor to rethink his pledge to cap property taxes and allow a tax surcharge on high incomes to expire at the end of this year. That would bring the state an additional $2 billion this fiscal year, and $4 billion the following year — not enough to solve the fiscal crisis, but a serious down payment.

The state’s middle-class workers will have to make real sacrifices. New York’s many wealthy residents, all of whom are benefiting substantially from a new federal tax break, should have to pay their fair share as well.
26128  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: MERS on: March 06, 2011, 09:01:33 AM
FOR more than a decade, the American real estate market resembled an overstuffed novel, which is to say, it was an engrossing piece of fiction.

Mortgage brokers hip deep in profits handed out no-doc mortgages to people with fictional incomes. Wall Street shopped bundles of those loans to investors, no matter how unappetizing the details. And federal regulators gave sleepy nods.
That world largely collapsed under the weight of its improbabilities in 2008.

But a piece of that world survives on Library Street in Reston, Va., where an obscure business, the MERS Corporation, claims to hold title to roughly half of all the home mortgages in the nation — an astonishing 60 million loans.

Never heard of MERS? That’s fine with the mortgage banking industry—as MERS is starting to overheat and sputter. If its many detractors are correct, this private corporation, with a full-time staff of fewer than 50 employees, could turn out to be a very public problem for the mortgage industry.

Judges, lawmakers, lawyers and housing experts are raising piercing questions about MERS, which stands for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, whose private mortgage registry has all but replaced the nation’s public land ownership records. Most questions boil down to this:

How can MERS claim title to those mortgages, and foreclose on homeowners, when it has not invested a dollar in a single loan?

And, more fundamentally: Given the evidence that many banks have cut corners and made colossal foreclosure mistakes, does anyone know who owns what or owes what to whom anymore?

The answers have implications for all American homeowners, but particularly the millions struggling to save their homes from foreclosure. How the MERS story plays out could deal another blow to an ailing real estate market, even as the spring buying season gets under way.

MERS has distanced itself from the dubious behavior of some of its members, and the company itself has not been accused of wrongdoing. But the legal challenges to MERS, its practices and its records are mounting.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last year that MERS could no longer file foreclosure proceedings there, because it does not actually make or service any loans. Last month in Utah, a local judge made the no-less-striking decision to let a homeowner rip up his mortgage and walk away debt-free. MERS had claimed ownership of the mortgage, but the judge did not recognize its legal standing.

“The state court is attracted like a moth to the flame to the legal owner, and that isn’t MERS,” says Walter T. Keane, the Salt Lake City lawyer who represented the homeowner in that case.

And, on Long Island, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in February that MERS could no longer act as an “agent” for the owners of mortgage notes. He acknowledged that his decision could erode the foundation of the mortgage business.

But this, Judge Robert E Grossman said, was not his fault.

“This court does not accept the argument that because MERS may be involved with 50 percent of all residential mortgages in the country,” he wrote, “that is reason enough for this court to turn a blind eye to the fact that this process does not comply with the law.”

With MERS under scrutiny, its chief executive, R. K. Arnold, who had been with the company since its founding in 1995, resigned earlier this year.

A BIRTH certificate, a marriage license, a death certificate: these public documents note many life milestones.

For generations of Americans, public mortgage documents, often logged in longhand down at the county records office, provided a clear indication of homeownership.

But by the 1990s, the centuries-old system of land records was showing its age. Many county clerk’s offices looked like something out of Dickens, with mortgage papers stacked high. Some clerks had fallen two years behind in recording mortgages.

For a mortgage banking industry in a hurry, this represented money lost. Most banks no longer hold onto mortgages until loans are paid off. Instead, they sell the loans to Wall Street, which bundles them into investments through a process known as securitization.


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MERS, industry executives hoped, would pull record-keeping into the Internet age, even as it privatized it. Streamlining record-keeping, the banks argued, would make mortgages more affordable.

But for the mortgage industry, MERS was mostly about speed — and profits. MERS, founded 16 years ago by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and big banks like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, cut out the county clerks and became the owner of record, no matter how many times loans were transferred. MERS appears to sell loans to MERS ad infinitum.
This high-speed system made securitization easier and cheaper. But critics say the MERS system made it far more difficult for homeowners to contest foreclosures, as ownership was harder to ascertain.

MERS was flawed at conception, those critics say. The bankers who midwifed its birth hired Covington & Burling, a prominent Washington law firm, to research their proposal. Covington produced a memo that offered assurances that MERS could operate legally nationwide. No one, however, conducted a state-by-state study of real estate laws.

“They didn’t do the deep homework,” said an official involved in those discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because he has clients involved with MERS. “So as far as anyone can tell their real theory was: ‘If we can get everyone on board, no judge will want to upend something that is reasonable and sensible and would screw up 70 percent of loans.’ ”

County officials appealed to Congress, arguing that MERS was of dubious legality. But this was the 1990s, an era of deregulation, and the mortgage industry won.

“We lost our revenue stream, and Americans lost the ability to immediately know who owned a piece of property,” said Mark Monacelli, the St. Louis County recorder in Duluth, Minn.

And so MERS took off. Its board gave its senior vice president, William Hultman, the rather extraordinary power to deputize an unlimited number of “vice presidents” and “assistant secretaries” drawn from the ranks of the mortgage industry.

The “nomination” process was near instantaneous. A bank entered a name into MERS’s Web site, and, in a blink, MERS produced a “certifying resolution,” signed by Mr. Hultman. The corporate seal was available to those deputies for $25.

As personnel policies go, this was a touch loose. Precisely how loose became clear when a lawyer questioned Mr. Hultman in April 2010 in a lawsuit related to its foreclosure against an Atlantic City cab driver.

How many vice presidents and assistant secretaries have you appointed? the lawyer asked.

“I don’t know that number,” Mr. Hultman replied.


“I wouldn’t even be able to tell you, right now.”

In the thousands?


Each of those deputies could file loan transfers and foreclosures in MERS’s name. The goal, as with almost everything about the mortgage business at that time, was speed. Speed meant money.

ALAN GRAYSON has seen MERS’s record-keeping up close. From 2009 until this year, he served as the United States representative for Florida’s Eighth Congressional District — in the Orlando area, which was ravaged by foreclosures. Thousands of constituents poured through his office, hoping to fend off foreclosures. Almost all had papers bearing the MERS name.

“In many foreclosures, the MERS paperwork was squirrelly,” Mr. Grayson said. With no real legal authority, he says, Fannie and the banks eliminated the old system and replaced it with a privatized one that was unreliable.

A spokeswoman for MERS declined interview requests. In an e-mail, she noted that several state courts have ruled in MERS’s favor of late. She expressed confidence that MERS’s policies complied with state laws, even if MERS’s members occasionally strayed.

“At times, some MERS members have failed to follow those procedures and/or established state foreclosure rules,” the spokeswoman, Karmela Lejarde, wrote, “or to properly explain MERS and document MERS relationships in legal pleadings.”

Such cases, she said, “are outliers, reflecting case-specific problems in process, and did not repudiate the MERS business model.”


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MERS’s legal troubles, however, aren’t going away. In August, the Ohio secretary of state referred to federal prosecutors in Cleveland accusations that notaries deputized by MERS were signing hundreds of documents without any personal knowledge of them. The attorney general of Massachusetts is examining a complaint by a county registrar that MERS owes the state tens of millions of dollars in unpaid fees.

As far back as 2001, Ed Romaine, the clerk for Suffolk County, on eastern Long Island, refused to register mortgages in MERS’s name, partly because of complaints that the company’s records didn’t square with public ones. The state Court of Appeals later ruled that he had overstepped his powers.
But Judith S. Kaye, the state’s chief judge at the time, filed a partial dissent. She worried that MERS, by speeding up property transfers, was pouring oil on the subprime fires. The MERS system, she wrote, ill serves “innocent purchasers.”

“I was trying to say something didn’t smell right, feel right or look right,” Ms. Kaye said in a recent interview.

Little about MERS was transparent. Asked as part of a lawsuit against MERS in September 2009 to produce minutes about the formation of the corporation, Mr. Arnold, the former C.E.O., testified that “writing was not one of the characteristics of our meetings.”

MERS officials say they conduct audits, but in testimony could not say how often or what these measured. In 2006, Mr. Arnold stated that original mortgage notes were held in a secure “custodial facility” with “stainless steel vaults.” MERS, he testified, could quickly produce every one of those files.

As for homeowners, Mr. Arnold said they could log on to the MERS system to identify their loan servicer, who, in turn, could identify the true owner of their mortgage note. “The servicer is really the best source for all that information,” Mr. Arnold said.

The reality turns out to be a lot messier. Federal bankruptcy courts and state courts have found that MERS and its member banks often confused and misrepresented who owned mortgage notes. In thousands of cases, they apparently lost or mistakenly destroyed loan documents.

The problems, at MERS and elsewhere, became so severe last fall that many banks temporarily suspended foreclosures.

Some experts in corporate governance say the legal furor over MERS is overstated. Others describe it as a useful corporation nearly drowning in a flood tide of mortgage foreclosures. But not even the mortgage giant Fannie Mae, an investor in MERS, depends on it these days.

“We would never rely on it to find ownership,” says Janis Smith, a Fannie Mae spokeswoman, noting it has its own records.

Apparently with good reason. Alan M. White, a law professor at the Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana, last year matched MERS’s ownership records against those in the public domain.

The results were not encouraging. “Fewer than 30 percent of the mortgages had an accurate record in MERS,” Mr. White says. “I kind of assumed that MERS at least kept an accurate list of current ownership. They don’t. MERS is going to make solving the foreclosure problem vastly more expensive.”

THE Sarmientos are one of thousands of American families who have tried to pierce the MERS veil.

Several years back, they bought a two-family home in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn for $723,000. They financed the purchase with two mortgages from Lend America, a subprime lender that is now defunct.

But when the recession blew in, Jose Sarmiento, a chef, saw his work hours get cut in half. He fell behind on his mortgages, and MERS later assigned the loans to U.S. Bank as a prelude to filing a foreclosure motion.

Then, with the help of a lawyer from South Brooklyn Legal Services, Mr. Sarmiento began turning over some stones. He found that MERS might have violated tax laws by waiting too long before transferring his mortgage. He also found that MERS could not prove that it had transferred both note and mortgage, as required by law.

One might argue that these are just legal nits. But Mr. Sarmiento, 59, shakes his head. He is trying to work out a payment plan through the federal government, but the roadblocks are many. “I’m tired; I’ve been fighting for two years already to save my house,” he says. “I feel like I never know who really owns this home.”

Officials at MERS appear to recognize that they are swimming in dangerous waters. Several federal agencies are investigating MERS, and, in response, the company recently sent a note laying out a raft of reforms. It advised members not to foreclose in MERS’s name. It also told them to record mortgage transfers in county records, even if state law does not require it.

MERS will no longer accept unverified new officers. If members ignore these rules, MERS says, it will revoke memberships.

That hasn’t stopped judges from asking questions of MERS. And few are doing so with more puckish vigor than Arthur M. Schack, a State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn.

Judge Schack has twice rejected a foreclosure case brought by Countrywide Home Loans, now part of Bank of America. He had particular sport with Keri Selman, who in Countrywide’s court filings claimed to hold three jobs: as a foreclosure specialist for Countrywide Home Loans, as a servicing agent for Bank of New York and as an assistant vice president of MERS. Ms. Selman, the judge said, is a “milliner’s delight by virtue of the number of hats that she wears.”

At heart, Judge Schack is scratching at the notion that MERS is a legal fiction. If MERS owned nothing, how could it bounce mortgages around for more than a decade? And how could it file millions of foreclosure motions?

These cases, Judge Schack wrote in February 2009, “force the court to determine if MERS, as nominee, acted with the utmost good faith and loyalty in the performance of its duties.”

The answer, he strongly suggested, was no.
26129  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Montana considers reversing Med Marijuana law on: March 06, 2011, 08:54:24 AM
BOZEMAN, Mont. — With his electrician’s tool belt and company logo cap, Rick Schmidt looks every bit the small-business owner he in fact is. That he often reeks of marijuana these days ... well, it is just part of the job, he said.

“I went on a service call the other day — walked in and a guy said to me, ‘What have you been smoking?’ ” said Mr. Schmidt, 39.
For Gallatin Electric, a six-employee company founded by Mr. Schmidt’s father, Richard, as for other businesses in this corner of south-central Montana, medical marijuana has been central to surviving hard times as the construction industry and the second-home market collapsed. Not the smoking of it, the growing of it or even the selling of it, but the fully legal, taxable revenues being collected from the industry’s new, emerging class of entrepreneurs. Three of the four electricians on staff at Gallatin, Mr. Schmidt said, are there only because of the work building indoor marijuana factories.

Questions about who really benefits from medical marijuana are now gripping Montana. In the Legislature, a resurgent Republican majority elected last fall is leading a drive to repeal the six-year-old voter-approved statute permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes, which opponents argue is promoting recreational use and crime.

If repeal forces succeed — the House last month voted strongly for repeal, and the Senate is now considering it — Montana would be the first to recant among the 15 states and the District of Columbia that have such laws.

In Bozeman, a college and tourism town north of Yellowstone National Park, construction jobs and tax collections dried up just as the marijuana business was blossoming; residents and politicians here say the interconnection of economics and legal drugs would be much more complicated to undo.

Economic ripples or entanglements extend in every direction, business people like the Schmidts say — gardening supply companies where marijuana growers are buying equipment, mainstream bakeries that are contracting for pot-laced pastries, and even the state’s biggest utility, NorthWestern Energy, which is seeing a surge in electricity use by the new factories. Medical marijuana, measured by numbers of patients, has roughly quadrupled in Montana in the last year.

“It’s new territory we’re treading in here,” said Brad Van Wert, a sales associate at Independent Power Systems, a Bozeman company that completed its first solar installation last month — a six-kilowatt rooftop solar array, costing about $40,000 — for a medical marijuana provider called Sensible Alternatives.

Mr. Van Wert said that his company was assertively going after this new market, and that marijuana entrepreneurs, facing big tax bills, were responding to the appeal of a 30 percent tax credit offered by the state for expansion of renewable energy.

The Bozeman City Council passed regulations last year sharply restricting the numbers of storefront suppliers downtown. But growers and providers say that even though the regulations restricted their numbers, they also created a climate of legitimacy that has made other businesses more comfortable in dealing with them for equipment and supplies.

And unlike the situation in sunny California or Colorado, where medical marijuana has similarly surged, growing marijuana indoors is all but mandatory here, a fact that has compounded the capital expenditures for start-ups and spread the economic benefits around further still. An industry group formed by marijuana growers estimates that they spend $12 million annually around the state, and that 1,400 jobs were created mostly in the last year in a state of only 975,000 people.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars a month,” one new grower and medical marijuana provider, Rob Dobrowski, said of his outlay for electricity alone, mainly for his light-intensive grow operation that supplies four stores around the state.

Mr. Dobrowski was a construction contractor until the recession hit, as were two of his brothers who have joined him in the business. He said he now employs 33 people, from a standing start of zero a year ago.

Bozeman’s mayor, Jeff Krauss, a Republican, said he thought there was an element of economic fairness to be considered in the debate about medical marijuana’s future. “I don’t think anybody passed it thinking we were creating an industry,” he said, referring to the 2004 voter referendum. But like it or not, he said, it has become one, and legal investments in the millions of dollars have been made.

“Somewhere around 25 people have made anywhere from a $60,000 to a $100,000 bet on this industry,” Mr. Krauss said, referring to the local startups and their capital costs.


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“Now the Legislature has got us saying, ‘Ha, too bad, you lose,’ ” Mr. Krauss added. “Boy is that a bad message to send when we’re in the doldrums.”

One owner of a gardening supply company in the Bozeman area estimated that a person could essentially buy a job for $15,000, beginning a small growing operation with 100 plants. Especially for construction trade workers who were used to being self-employed before the recession, the owner said, the rhythms of the new industry feel familiar.
“Forty to 50 percent of customers come from construction,” said the owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because her national suppliers threatened to stop doing business with her if their products were openly associated with marijuana. “Plumbers, electricians, the whole genre of working-class, blue-collar Montana.”

There are shadowy corners in the supposedly compassionate world of medical marijuana. The owner of one downtown pastry shop, where the sale of marijuana cookies and brownies accounts for about 15 percent of revenue, said he broke off a relationship with his first marijuana provider, who wanted the baker to use less marijuana in the products and falsify the ingredients to save the grower production costs.

And it is easy to find workers in this new economy who were in the illegal pot world before. But it is also easy to find people like Josh Werle, 29, who took a job as a grower at a company called A Kinder Caregiver after work as a commercial painter dried up.

Mr. Werle, a fourth-generation Montanan, said his family had seen many industries fade and fail over the decades — from railroads to agriculture, and now, in his case, construction. He said he had also worried about his health as a painter, breathing fumes all day. But the economy is what finally pushed him out.

“I never envisioned myself working in this,” said Tara Gregorich, 29, who graduated last May from Montana State University with a degree in environmental horticultural science. She sat under the lights in an industrial grow room, legs splayed around a plant that she was trimming lower shoots from to encourage growth. “But this is one of the few industries in Montana that is year-round.”

At Gallatin Electric, Rick Schmidt said he still made a sharp distinction between medical marijuana and street drugs. Illegal drug dealers, he said, “should have the book thrown at them.”

But he thinks medical use probably does have benefits.

Mr. Schmidt said his father-in-law, who suffers from post-polio syndrome, was considering applying for a medical marijuana card
26130  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chapman: Farm Subsidies on: March 06, 2011, 08:47:06 AM
Editor's Note: Steve Chapman is on vacation. The following column was originally published in October 2007.

Here's how the American free enterprise system works. You have an idea for a business. You find the money to start it up. You try to give customers something they want at a price low enough to keep them happy but high enough to earn a profit. Either your plan works, allowing you to make a living, or it doesn't, indicating you should find a different line of work.

Unless, of course, you are a farmer, in which case all this may sound unfamiliar. A lot of American agriculture operates in an environment where none of the usual rules apply -- where the important thing is not catering to the consumer, but tapping the Treasury. It's a sector that, ever since the Great Depression, has been a ward of the government, both coddled and controlled.

By any reasonable standard, federal agriculture policy is past due for a major overhaul. But judging from the latest farm legislation moving through Congress, not much is going to change.

Back in the 1930s, when the economy was a wreck, the survival of capitalism was in doubt and Oklahoma was blowing away, you could understand the impulse for Washington to intervene on behalf of farmers. But the days when agriculture meant a lifetime of toil for a meager living are just a memory. Today, farmers monitor soil conditions by computer, drive air-conditioned tractors and have a higher average income than nonfarmers.

Yet many of them continue to enjoy treatment other industries can only dream about. Imagine the government rigging the market to assure high prices to people selling concrete or cameras. Dairy farmers and sugar growers get exactly that, courtesy of the Department of Agriculture. Farmers who plant a host of other crops receive compensation anytime their prices fall below a fixed minimum.

That's not the strangest part. These days, you don't have to grow anything at all to harvest federal crop subsidies. Instead, Washington will send you a check based on the amount of a product you raised in the past, even if you don't feel like growing it anymore.

Homeowners in one Texas subdivision found themselves getting federal money because their land was formerly used to cultivate rice. Some farmers pocket the payments they get for one commodity but plant something else, enabling them to earn two incomes for the price of one crop.

All this is sweet for the lucky few who happen to be holding buckets when the federal cash falls out of the sky. But someone has to foot the bill, and that someone is anyone who 1) eats or 2) pays taxes. Government meddling raises the price of products at the grocery, while burning up billions of dollars in federal revenues. A study by Sallie James and Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank, put the total cost of farm programs at $430 billion over the past decade.

Some farmers, and some urbanites, assume that agriculture would plunge into a death spiral if the government ever stopped furnishing all this help. In fact, the majority of people plowing fields would never miss it. In 2005, 85 percent of all federal payments went to just four crops -- corn, wheat, cotton and rice. Two-thirds of all farmers are locked out of the largesse.

"For most commodities (such as fruits and vegetables, hay, meat products, ornamentals), there is little government involvement or income support," report economists Bruce Gardner of the University of Maryland and Daniel Sumner of the University of California at Davis. Not only that, but the commodities that get no help are just as profitable as those that do.

Yet Congress shows little interest in ridding us of this extravagant waste. President Bush proposed to trim costs and reduce payments to the richest growers, but the five-year farm bill approved by the House of Representatives in July omitted these modest reforms. A more ambitious bill to significantly reduce the federal role in agriculture, meanwhile, was cut down like a weed. The Senate is currently considering its own version, but the Agriculture Committee has indicated it's quite content with the status quo.

The American economy has undergone radical transformation in the past 75 years, and the majority of farmers have shown they can prosper outside a government-run hothouse. Yet our leaders seem to think that what was good enough for Ma and Pa Kettle is good enough for us.
26131  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: March 06, 2011, 08:41:56 AM
For what was the sentence which Huckabee commuted?
26132  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Brit soldiers held by rebels? on: March 06, 2011, 08:40:28 AM

Further developments:
26133  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Felon Spy on: March 06, 2011, 08:18:15 AM

Just type in a street name at the top of the form & your whole neighborhood map will pop up. Every place you see a red balloon or thumb tack is the home of a convicted felon. Just place your mouse over an icon & not only will the name come up, but also the crime they were convicted of. Know your neighbors..... <>

26134  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Prayer and Daily Expression of Gratitude on: March 06, 2011, 08:09:48 AM
My wife has set our TV to record the 1950s show "I love Lucy".  We watched two episodes last night with our children.  I am grateful for their laughter and for the family values of the show.
26135  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: March 06, 2011, 08:07:42 AM
What does Huckabee have to do with four LEO murders in Washington?
26136  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Saunders: Service, then Litigation on: March 06, 2011, 08:04:56 AM
Last month, the website Politico reported that the Department of Justice dropped its representation of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his former deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and other defendants in a lawsuit filed by convicted al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla and his mother. The Department of Justice continues to represent Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but no longer the Bushies.

Padilla, you may recall, is an American citizen who was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2002; authorities claimed that he was plotting to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb." After the Bush administration designated Padilla as an "enemy combatant," he was held in a South Carolina Navy brig for 44 months.

Padilla was not convicted for plotting a U.S. terrorist attack -- largely because the case against him was built on information gleaned during harsh interrogations. But in 2007, Padilla was convicted for "conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country" and "material support for terrorism." A judge sentenced him to 17 years in prison.

From his cell, Padilla now is suing Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others on the grounds that his "enemy combatant" status, military detention and the harsh interrogations -- the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation and threats -- were unconstitutional. The suit originally named former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a number of lower-level officials from the brig and 48 unnamed John Does -- including guards and orderlies whose name tags were covered -- against whom Padilla later dropped his complaint.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel of South Carolina threw out Padilla's suit.

In a way, it doesn't matter. Padilla can't lose. He's in prison already. It won't hurt him to appeal Gergel. In 2005, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Padilla's military detention -- and still he can sue. The ACLU is involved. Padilla is only seeking $1 in damages -- but the big money, as far as taxpayers are concerned, is in the legal fees his attorneys seek.

In the meantime, defendants have had to live with a nightmare hovering over their heads. Now they face the added expense of legal bills to defend themselves for defending this country. The DOJ only pays legal fees of up to $200 per hour. Former CIA attorney W. George Jameson observed, "$200 an hour, that's kind of a junior attorney in a big law firm. That doesn't get you very far."

Padilla also is suing former Justice Department official John Yoo for writing memos that authorized the use of harsh interrogation techniques. In 2009, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco ruled that the case against Yoo, who was told to hire a private attorney, can go forward. Please note: The courts haven't looked at whether Padilla's charges are factual.

Jameson recently co-founded the nonprofit Council on Intelligence Issues to provide legal assistance and other services to current and former intelligence officers. The Politico story, he told me, made the intelligence community somewhat nervous, although "it's hard to tell how nervous to be." It depends on why the DOJ did what it did.

Alas, the Justice Department won't say why it won't represent Rumsfeld and crew. Spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler explained that such "matters are confidential and covered by the attorney-client privilege." Personal counsel ensures that employees "receive full, complete and independent legal advice." An unnamed private attorney source involved in the case told Politico that the DOJ can't fulfill its duty to represent clients "zealously" for policy reasons.

Jameson tells me it is not uncommon for the feds to drop representation when there is disagreement on a case. It can be advantageous for a defendant to have a private attorney if the feds are lukewarm. One reason he is not as troubled as you might expect: "I think the president understands the importance of continuity."

Fair enough, but in dropping the Padilla defendants, Justice changed course in what seems to be a partisan move.

I fear for the next set of John Does. They're not going to be able to afford $1,000-per-hour attorneys who specialize in this area of litigation.

In August 2001, FBI supervisors impeded agents' efforts to get a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui's laptop. He later pleaded guilty to helping plan 9/11. Want more?

I feel for the muckety-mucks, too. They must go to sleep painfully aware that their public service now can mean endless litigation tomorrow. If they anger the other political spectrum's lawyers, the reward will be depositions, attorney consultations -- and now more likely, the lion's share of the legal tab.
26137  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / From Cro Dog on: March 05, 2011, 02:02:38 PM


He was a stickfighter!!!

But stickfighting wasn`t the most important thing in his life. His family was...
He leaves his widow, two grown sons and his 8 year old daughter.

Today I did a "In memoriam Akram C-Desert Dog Abu-Dayyeh Seminar" here in Munich. His widow was there. too.
Most of the Munich dogbrother clan joined the seminar today, Chris "C-Rogue Dog" Smith and his wife were there.

I am still impressed by the strength of his widow. I had the chance to speak to her for a couple of minutes.
She said, Abu did everything for his family, now that he his gone she realizes, that she had a life like a princess.
His daughter (who shows great promise for tennis) had a tennis tournament last sunday. She said, that she will win it for her father. So she did. She won the tournament...

I started the seminar with a little speech, followed by a minute`s silence.
Abu´s widow joined our circle and read a poem Abu wrote a couple of days before his passing. The poem deals with the death...
Most of us had to fight back one`s tears.

After that we had a good time (Los Triques), doing what Abu enjoyed so much. The complete earnings of the seminar and donations from the Munich clan went directly to his widow, in order to be a fast help.

The widow got today from the Munich clan 1.070 €!!!

This made me very proud...

The collection goes on, I got already an remarkable amount at the paypal account.

If you want to make donations please use my paypal account:

Also big thanks from his widow, to all of you. She read all the posts from the forum, it lightens her pain to read that her man was also respected in the Dog Brother Tribe.

Stefan Cro Dog

Munich Dogbrother Clan
26138  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB: Romney on: March 05, 2011, 01:44:43 PM
Pravda on the Beach had a piece on Romney today.  Says he is looking to make himself look less patrician, less "perfect", more human, etc.  Commented on him being poll-driven, blah blah.
26139  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hezbollah-Mex narco connection? on: March 05, 2011, 11:53:50 AM
26140  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / BATF clusterfcuk gets weirder on: March 05, 2011, 11:43:37 AM

BTW, amongst the many questions raised here, I wonder why the gun in question was dropped at the scene? Isn't that rather odd?  Why were the illegals arrested at the scene of Agent Terry's killing deported instead of being held as material witnesses or more serious charges?
26141  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Turkey's Moment of Reckoning on: March 05, 2011, 12:04:10 AM
Turkey's Moment of Reckoning
In a high-powered visit to Cairo, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met Thursday with the members of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). In addition to meeting with the military elite, the Turkish leaders are also talking to the opposition forces. On Thursday, Gul and Davutoglu met with Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and over the course of the next three days they are expected to meet with opposition figures Mohamed ElBaradei and Arab League chief Amr Mousa, as well as the Jan. 25 Youth Coalition.

” Whether Ankara is ready or not, the Middle East is accelerating Turkey’s rise.”
Turkey’s active role in trying to mediate the unrest developing in its Islamic backyard should not come as a surprise (at least not for STRATFOR readers). Turkey has been on a resurgent path, using its economic clout, geographic positioning, military might and cultural influence to expand its power throughout the former Ottoman territory. In more recent years, this resurgence has largely taken place at Turkey’s own pace, with it managing a post-Saddam Iraq, intensifying hostilities with Israel for political gain, fumbling with the Russians in the Caucasus over Armenia and Azerbaijan, fiddling with Iranian nuclear negotiations, and so on. With geopolitical opportunities presenting themselves on all of its borders, Turkey, having been out of the great power game for some 90-odd years, could afford some experimentation. In this geopolitical testing phase, Turkey could spread itself relatively far and wide in trying to reclaim influence, all under the Davutoglu-coined “zero problems with neighbors” strategy.

The invisible hand of geopolitics teaches that politicians, regardless of personality, ideology or anything else, will pursue strategic ends without being necessarily aware of their policies’ contributions to (or detractions from) national power. The gentle nudges guiding Turkey for most of the past decade are now transforming into a firm, unyielding push.

The reasoning is quite simple. The Iraq War (and its destabilizing effects) was cold water thrown in Turkey’s face that snapped Ankara to attention. It took some time for Turkey to find its footing, but as it did, it sharpened its focus abroad in containing threats and in exploiting a range of political and economic opportunities. Now, from the Sahara to the Persian Gulf, Turkey’s Middle Eastern backyard is on fire, with mass protests knocking the legs out from under a legacy of Arab cronyism. Whether Ankara is ready or not, the Middle East is accelerating Turkey’s rise.

In surveying the region, however, Turkish influence (with the exception of Iraq) is still in its infant stages. For example, in Egypt (where the Turks ruled under the Ottoman Empire for 279 years from 1517-1796), there is not much Turkey can do or may even need to do. The Egyptian military very deliberately managed a political transition to force former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out and is now calling the shots in Cairo. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) welcomes the stability ushered in by the military, but would also like to see Egypt transformed in its own image. Having lived it for decades, the AKP leadership has internalized the consequences of military rule and has made the subordination of the military to civilian (particularly Islamic) political forces the core of its political agenda at home. Turkey’s AKP has a strategic interest in ensuring the military in Egypt keeps its promise of relinquishing control to the civilians and providing a political opening for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has tried to model itself after the AKP. Davutoglu has in fact been very open with his assertion that if the military fails to hand over power to the civilians and hold elections in a timely manner, Turkey’s support will go to the opposition. The Egyptian SCAF is unlikely to be on the same page as the AKP leadership, especially considering the military’s concerns over the Muslim Brotherhood. This will contribute to some tension between Turkey and Egypt moving forward, but Turkey will face serious arrestors if it attempts to change the military’s course in Egypt.

Where Turkey is needed, and where it actually holds significant influence, is in the heart of the Arab world, Iraq. The shaking out of Iraq’s Sunni-Shia balance (or imbalance, depending on how you view it) is the current pivot to Persian Gulf stability. With the United States withdrawing from Iraq by year’s end and leaving little to effectively block Iran, the region is tilting heavily toward the Shia at the expense of U.S.-allied Sunni Arab regimes. Exacerbating matters is the fact that many of these Arab regimes are now facing crises at home, with ongoing uprisings in Bahrain, Oman and Yemen and simmering unrest in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. This is spreading real concerns that Iran is seizing an opportunity to fuel unrest and destabilize its Arab neighbors. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on March 2, in the first public acknowledgment of this trend, that the Iranians were directly and indirectly backing opposition protests in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, and “doing everything they can to influence the outcomes in these places.”

Another piece fell into place that same day when Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan said during a meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul in Riyadh said that the Saudi royals “want to see Turkey as a strategic partner of Saudi Arabia.” Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the pillars of Arab power in the region, but that power is relative. Egypt is just now reawakening after decades of insularity (and enjoys a great deal of distance from the Iran issue) and Saudi Arabia is feeling abandoned by the United States, that, for broader strategic reasons is doing whatever it can to militarily extricate itself from the Islamic world to regain its balance. The Saudis are thus issuing a distress signal and are doing so with an eye on Turkey.

Will Turkey be able to deliver? Ankara is feeling the push, but the country is still in the early stages of its revival and faces limits in what it can do. Moreover, filling the role of an effective counter to Iran, as the United States and Saudi Arabia are eager to see happen, must entail the AKP leadership abandoning their “zero problems with neighbors” rhetoric and firming up a position with the United States and the Sunni Arabs against the Iranians. Regardless of which path Ankara pursues, Turkey’s time has come.

26142  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico on: March 04, 2011, 10:01:38 PM;photovideo

26143  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WTF?!?: BATF sting operation on: March 04, 2011, 10:00:50 PM;photovideo

BATF let 2,500 guns "walk" into Mexico, including many AKs and some 50 calibers!  shocked shocked shocked  The cynical amongst us might even wonder if at some level there were Machiavellian machinations involved with an eye towards restricting US gun rights.

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I appreciate the staff briefing that Department of Justice (DOJ) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) officials provided on February 10, 2011. However, the briefers focused on general issues related to challenges in successfully prosecuting gun trafficking cases. They refused to answer specific questions about the facts and circumstances that led me to request the briefing.

Specifically, they refused to say whether the approximately 103 weapons seized according to the Jaime Avila indictment were the only seizures related to the nearly 770 weapons mentioned in the indictment. They refused to say whether the third assault rifle purchased by Avila in January 2010—the one not found at the scene of CBP Agent Brian Terry’s shooting—has been recovered elsewhere. When asked whether ATF had encouraged any gun dealer to proceed with sales to known or suspected traffickers such as Avila, the briefers said only that they did not have any “personal knowledge” of that.

Therefore, please provide the following documents to the Committee:

1) All records relating to communications between the ATF and the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) who sold the weapons to Avila, including any Report of Investigation (ROI) or other records relating to the December 17, 2009 meeting “to discuss his role as an FFL during this investigation.”

2) All records relating to communications between ATF headquarters and Phoenix Special Agent in Charge (SAC) William Newell from December 1, 2010 to the present, including a memorandum, approximately 30 pages long, from SAC Newell to ATF headquarters following the arrest of Jaime Avila and the death of CBP Agent Brian Terry.

3) A copy of the presentation, approximately 200 pages long, that the Group 7 Supervisor made to officials at ATF Headquarters in the Spring of 2010.


4) Copies of all e-mails related to Operation Fast and Furious, the Jaime Avila case, or the death of CBP Agent Brian Terry sent to or from SAC Newell, Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) George Gillette, Group 7 Supervisor, or the Case Agent between November 1, 2009 and January 31, 2011.

Please provide documents in batches on a rolling basis as they are identified and located. Also, please prioritize your search for documents and produce them in the following order: (1) documents in response to requests one through three, (2) documents in response to request four dated between December 13, 2010 and January 31, 2011, and (3) documents in response to request four dated between November 1, 2009 and December 13, 2010.

I look forward to receiving your response. Please provide the first set of requested documentation by no later than February 23, 2011. If you have any questions please contact Jason Foster or Brian Downey at ..... All formal correspondence should be sent electronically in PDF format to or via facsimile to.....


Charles E. Grassley
Ranking Member

cc: The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Chairman, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Kenneth E. Melson, Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
The Honorable Alan D. Bersin, Commissioner, United States Customs and Border Protection
Public Information Officers:

Please make every effort for the next two weeks to maximize coverage of ATF operations/enforcement actions/arrests at the local and regional level. Given the negative coverage by CBS Evening News last week and upcoming events this week, the bureau should look for every opportunity to push coverage of good stories. Fortunately, the CBS story has not sparked any follow up coverage by mainstream media and seems to have fizzled.

It was shoddy reporting, as CBS failed to air on-the-record interviews by former ATF officials and HQ statements for attribution that expressed opposing views and explained the law and difficulties of firearm trafficking investigations. The CBS producer for the story made only a feigned effort at the 11th hour to reach ATF HQ for comment.

This week (To 3/1/2011), Attorney General Holder testifies on the Hill and likely will get questions about the allegations in the story. Also (The 3/3/2011), Mexico President Calderon will visit the White House and likely will testify on the Hill. He will probably draw attention to the lack of political support for demand letter 3 and Project Gunrunner.

ATF needs to proactively push positive stories this week, in an effort to preempt some negative reporting, or at minimum, lessen the coverage of such stories in the news cycle by replacing them with good stories about ATF. The more time we spend highlighting the great work of the agents through press releases and various media outreaches in the coming days and weeks, the better off we will be.

Thanks for your cooperation in this matter. If you have any significant operations that should get national media coverage, please reach out to the Public Affairs Division for support, coordination and clearance.

Thank you,

Scot L. Thomasson

Chief, ATF Public Affairs Division

Washington, DC

Desk 202-648-7089

Cell 206-730-0005
26144  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: American History on: March 04, 2011, 08:34:26 PM
Something our President would do well to appreciate.
26145  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hillary and AJ on: March 04, 2011, 03:51:43 PM
I want my Al Jazeera!   rolleyes
26146  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury: Non-farm payrolls 3/4/11 on: March 04, 2011, 11:12:57 AM
Non-farm payrolls increased 192,000 in February To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury - Chief Economist
Robert Stein, CFA - Senior Economist
Date: 3/4/2011

Non-farm payrolls increased 192,000 in February.  Revisions to December/January added 58,000, bringing the net gain to 250,000.  The consensus expected a gain of 196,000.

Private sector payrolls increased 222,000 in February, the 12th consecutive monthly gain.  December/January were revised up 46,000, for a net gain of 268,000.  February private-sector gains were led by administrative/support services (+35,000), health care (+34,000), manufacturing (+33,000), and construction (+33,000).  The largest decline was for retail (-8,000).
The unemployment rate fell to 8.9% in February from 9.0% in January.
Average weekly earnings – cash earnings, excluding benefits – were unchanged in February but up 2.3% versus a year ago. 
Implications:  Very good report on the labor market this morning. Including upward revisions to prior months, non-farm payrolls increased 250,000. But this includes a decline in government; private sector payrolls were up 268,000 (again, including upward revisions to prior months). The strength was confirmed by figures on civilian employment – an alternative measure of jobs that is better at picking up the self-employed and small start-up businesses – which increased 250,000 in February. Meanwhile, the increase in jobs pushed down the unemployment rate to 8.9%, the lowest in almost two years. Once again, what was particularly good about the drop in the jobless rate was that it was all due to full-time workers, showing that employers are getting more confident. In fact, the net share of private industries adding jobs was at the highest level since 1998. Getting into the details of the report, we see signs of a recovery in home building: in the past two months, residential construction payrolls have increased 19,000, the most since early 2006. Although average hourly earnings were unchanged in February, the number of hours worked increased 0.2%. As a result, total cash earnings for workers increased at a healthy 3.2% annual rate in February and are up 3.7% in the past year. So far, this is more than enough for workers, as a whole, to keep up with inflation. Given better economic news on both manufacturing and service output, as well as auto sales and chain store sales, the underlying trend in job growth will continue to accelerate in the months ahead.
26147  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan on: March 04, 2011, 10:42:48 AM
When you step back and try to get a sense of the larger picture in the battle between the states and their public employee unions, two elements emerge. One seems small but could prove decisive, and the other is big and, if I'm seeing it right, carries significant implications.

The seemingly small thing is that the battles in the states, while summoning emotions from all sides, are not at their heart emotional. Yes, a lot of people are waving placards, but it's also true that suddenly everyone's talking about numbers; the numbers are being reported in the press and dissected on talk radio. This state has a $5 billion deficit; that state has projected deficits in the tens of millions. One estimate of New Jersey's bill for health and pension benefits for state workers over the next 30 years is an astounding $100 billion—money the state literally does not have and cannot get. The very force of the math has the heartening effect of squeezing ideology right out of the story. It doesn't matter if you're a liberal or a conservative, it's all about the numbers, and numbers are sobering things.

The rise of arithmetic as a player in the drama is politically promising because when people argue over data and hard facts, and not over ideological loyalties and impulses, progress is more possible. Governors can take their stand, their opponents can take theirs, and if they happen to argue the budget problem doesn't really exist, they'll have to prove it. With numbers.

The big thing that is new has to do with the atmospherics of the drama.

 Asst. Editorial Features Editor David Feith on teachers union priorities
.Let's look for a second at one of the most famous battles, in New Jersey. A year ago Chris Christie was sworn in as the new governor. He immediately faced a $10.7 billion deficit and catastrophic debt projections. State and local taxes were already high, so that if he raised them he'd send people racing out of the state. So Mr. Christie came up with a plan. He asked the state's powerful teachers union for two things: a one-year pay freeze—not a cut—and a modest 1.5% contribution to their benefit packages.

The teachers union went to war. They said, "Christie is trying to kill the unions," so they tried to kill him politically. They spent millions on ads trying to take him down.

And it backfired. They didn't kill him, they made him. Chris Christie is a national figure now because the teachers union decided, in an epic political drama in which arithmetic is the predominant fact, to ignore the math. They also decided to play the wrong role in the drama. They decided to play the role of Johnny Friendly, on whom more in a moment.

If the union leaders had been smart—if they'd had a heart!—they would have held a private meeting and said, "Look, the party's over. We've done great the past 20 years, but now taxpayers are starting to resent us, and they have reason. They're losing their benefits and footing the bill for our gold-plated plans, they don't have job security and we do, taxes are high. We have to back off."

They didn't do this. It was a big mistake. And the teachers union made it just as two terrible but unrelated things were happening to their reputation. In what might be called an expression of the new spirit of transparency that is sweeping the globe, two documentaries came out in 2010, "The Lottery" and "Waiting for Superman." Both were made by and featured people who are largely liberal in their sympathies, and both said the same brave thing: The single biggest impediment to better schools in our country is the teachers unions, which look to their own interests and not those of the kids.

In both films, as in real life, the problem is the unions themselves, not individual teachers. They present teachers who are heroic, who are creative and idealistic. But they too, in the films, are victims of union rules.

View Full Image

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Marlon Brando in a scene from 'On The Waterfront' with Lee J Cobb.
.That's the unions' problem in terms of atmospherics. They are starting to destroy their own reputation. They are robbing themselves of their mystique. They still exist, and they're big and rich—a force—but they are abandoning the very positive place they've held in the American imagination. Polls are all over the place on union support, but I'm speaking of the kind of thing that is hard to quantify and that has to do with words like "luster" and "tradition."

Unions have been respected in America forever, and public employee unions have reaped that respect. There are two great reasons for this. One is that unions always stood for the little guy. The other is that Americans like balance. We have management over here and the union over here, they'll talk and find balance, it'll turn out fine.

But with the public employee unions, the balance has been off for decades. And when they lost their balance they fell off their pedestal.

When union leaders negotiate with a politician, they're negotiating with someone they can hire and fire. Public unions have numbers and money, and politicians need both. And politicians fear strikes because the public hates them. When governors negotiate with unions, it's not collective bargaining, it's more like collusion. Someone said last week the taxpayers aren't at the table. The taxpayers aren't even in the room.

More Peggy Noonan
Read Peggy Noonan's previous columns

click here to order her new book, Patriotic Grace
.As for unions looking out for the little guy, that's not how it's looking right now. Right now the little guy is the public school pupil whose daily rounds take him from a neglectful family to an indifferent teacher who can't be removed. The little guy is the beleaguered administrator whose attempts at improvement are thwarted by unions. The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills.

This is a major perceptual change. In my lifetime, people have felt so supportive of unions. That great scene in the 1979 film "Norma Rae," in which the North Carolina cotton mill worker played by Sally Field holds up the sign that says UNION—people were moved by that scene because they believed in its underlying justice. When I was a child, kids bragged if their father had a union job because it meant he was part of something, someone was looking out for him, he was a citizen.

There were hiccups—the labor racketeering scandals of the 1950s, Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters. But they served as a corrective to romanticism. Men in groups will be men in groups, whether they run a government or a union. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan captured this in their 1954 masterpiece, "On the Waterfront," in which Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, stands up to the selfish, bullying union chief Johnny Friendly. Brando's character testifies to the Waterfront Commission and then defiantly stands down Johnny and his goons. "I'm glad what I done today. . . . You hear me? Glad what I done."

We're at quite a moment when public employee unions remind you of Johnny Friendly. They're so powerful, such a base of the Democratic Party, and they must think nothing can hurt them. But they can hurt themselves. And they are. Are they noticing?

26148  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Philippines wondering WTF was that? on: March 04, 2011, 10:35:08 AM
Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines wants China to explain why two of its patrol boats harassed a Philippine ship searching for oil in a disputed area of the South China Sea, an official said Friday.

The incident occurred Wednesday at Reed Bank near the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

"We're in conversation with our Chinese friends and we are seeking an explanation from them," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news conference.

China Confronts Philippine Oil Vessel, Spurring Dispute

.Reed Bank—about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of the Philippine province of Palawan—"is our territory," he added.

Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of the military's Western Command headquartered in Palawan, said two warplanes were deployed Wednesday after oil explorers from the Philippine Department of Energy complained of harassment. When the planes reached the area, the Chinese vessels had left, he said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Ethan Sun reiterated his country's claim to the Spratly Islands and adjacent waters, but said Beijing was committed to maintaining peace and stability in the area and resolving disputes through peaceful negotiations.

A Philippine military official said Thursday the Chinese boats maneuvered close to the Philippine vessel at least twice, apparently threatening to ram it but then turning away. They did not fire any warning shots, he said.

A Philippine navy patrol ship has been deployed to secure the oil exploration, which will resume, the official added.

The Spratlys have rich fishing grounds and are believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits. They also straddle busy sea lanes that are a crucial conduit for oil and other resources fueling China's fast-expanding economy and those of other Asian nations. They have long been regarded as a potential flash point for conflict in Asia.

26149  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: 12.7% increase in military budget on: March 04, 2011, 10:31:40 AM

BEIJING—China announced plans to increase its defense budget by 12.7% this year, a pickup from last year's sharply lower growth that comes amid fresh confrontations over territorial issues with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

China expects to spend 601.1 billion yuan ($91.4 billion) on defense in 2011, up from 533.4 billion yuan last year, Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for the National People's Congress, said Friday, ahead of the start of the legislature's annual session on Saturday.

Mr. Li said the military budget would be used for purposes including "appropriate armament development," training and human resources, while stressing that it remained relatively low as a proportion of China's GDP and overall budget, and dismissing concerns that it threatened neighboring countries.

"China's defense spending is relatively low in the world," he said. "Every bit of China's limited military strength will be used for safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and this will not pose a threat to any country."

The projected rise is faster than last year's 7.5% increase—the slowest clip in decades—but is significantly slower than the roughly 19% annual growth in years before 2010.

The headline figure does not, however, include key items such as arms imports and the program to develop a stealth fighter and an aircraft carrier, according to foreign military experts who estimate that China's real defense spending is far higher.

The figure's announcement also comes amid signs that China's growing economic and military power is prompting other nations in the region to beef up their own militaries, pushing Asia into a new arms race, and in many cases to shore up defense ties with the U.S.

Japan, which revised its national-defense guidelines last year to focus more on the threat from China, expressed fresh concern Friday about the rise in Chinese military spending.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told reporters that China's defense expenditure was "very high," and urged the Chinese government to be more transparent about how it planned to use its newfound military firepower.

"Whether it should be regarded as offensive or defensive would require a close look," he said, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry.

On Wednesday, Japan scrambled fighter jets to chase off two Chinese military planes which it said flew within 34 miles of disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are known as Senkaku in Japan and as Diaoyu in China.

Japanese government spokesman Yukio Edano said Japan would not protest formally as the Chinese planes did not leave international airspace, but he also voiced concern over China's growing military power and said Japan would monitor the situation. China's Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Relations between Asia's two biggest economies plunged to their lowest ebb in years in September following collisions near the islands between two Japanese coast guard patrol boats and a Chinese fishing vessel.

China's more forceful stance on that and other territorial issues last year also alarmed other countries in the region.

On Wednesday, the Philippines deployed two war planes to protect oil explorers who complained that they were being harassed by two Chinese patrol boats in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

The Philippine government demanded an explanation Friday for the incident at Reed Bank near the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Ethan Sun reiterated his country's claim to the Spratly Islands and adjacent waters, but said Beijing was committed to maintaining peace and stability in the area and resolving disputes through peaceful negotiations, according to the Associated Press.

South Korea's Coast Guard said Friday it seized two Chinese fishing boats and their crews on Thursday after they were found fishing illegally in South Korea's Exclusive Economic Zone, 64 miles southwest of Keokrulbiyeol island in the west sea.

During the process, one South Korean policeman was hurt by a weapon wielded by Chinese fishermen, and one Chinese fisherman was shot in his leg, the coast guard said.

China's Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on that incident.

But Chinese officials and academics have toned down their rhetoric this year in an apparent bid to address concerns that China plans to use its expanding military clout to assert its territorial claims, and to challenge U.S. military supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region.

In January, China jolted the region with a test flight of a new stealth jet fighter, indicating that China is further along in using the advanced technology than previous Pentagon statements had suggested.

China is also developing an antiship ballistic missile that could threaten U.S. naval vessels in the Asia-Pacific region, where the U.S. has long been dominant.

However, Mr. Li pointed out that China's military spending accounted for only about 6% of China's national budget, which he said was lower than in recent years—and well below the level of the U.S.

The defense budget "will see some increase, but the ratio of spending to GDP is quite low -- lower than in many countries," he added.

26150  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: UFC/MMA Thread on: March 04, 2011, 10:28:20 AM
A buddy of mine who had a number of amateur kickboxing fights out of Benny "the Jet" Urquidez's gym did a fight scene with JCVD in "Lionheart" (the remake of Charles Bronson's "Hard Times").  He told me JC had no footwork, no range awareness, and in general sucked.

You ever see the clip of JC on the Arsenio Hall show wherein he admits that he and Dolph Lungren staged a pushing match at Cannes as a publicity stunt to help promote a movie?
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